Why I Don’t Care About Book Pirates

by Josiah Bancroft


I’ve heard many apologies and rationalizations for book piracy. I’ve heard how stealing books actually benefits the writer because it raises awareness of their work. I’ve heard how piracy is a way to subverts the corrupt system, and to stick it to the ‘Zon. I’ve heard how it’s only fair that the reader (who is a customer after all) be allowed to demo something before they buy it. You can return a shirt, why not a book? I’ve heard pirates explain that they steal because they are too poor to pay, too poor to support their local libraries.

I find all these excuses flimsy at best because they all ignore the unique experience of reading a book. Reading a book is the closest I’ve ever come to sharing a dream with one other person. And it’s always a risky proposition. Before I start a new book, I don’t know what I’m getting into. Am I going to be disappointed? Will I be delighted? Is this the sort of book that is going to make me cry in a cafe or stay up all night? And what if the ending’s bad? What if the last chapter ends with, “And it was all a terrible dream!”?

Reading a book is an act of good faith. I have to have faith that the author will entertain me. I have to have faith that the author knows where she is going with her story and is making good use of our time. I have to have faith that when my expectations are challenged, the author has something more interesting in mind. I must suspend my doubts and my past disappointments, and begin reading with an open mind and heart.

That’s why I think book pirates are poor readers. They do not read in good faith; they read from a place of suspicion, entitlement, and a lack of respect for the work and the author. They begin by declaring, “this book and its author have no value,” and from that cynical start, they expect to experience the book the same way as someone who buys the book, who takes the risk, who reads in good faith. Book pirates risk nothing, and their reading experience suffers for it. They’re bad readers, and because of that, I don’t really care what they think about my work.


The Trope Wars

by Josiah Bancroft


It's not uncommon for readers and reviewers to reference a book's tropes to explain their reasons for disliking (or sometimes liking) a book. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a trope is an established narrative device. For example, a common fantasy trope would be "the Chosen One," where the protagonist, often the subject of prophesy, is born into a role possessing all the innate gifts necessary to succeed in the role.)

Some tropes are more heavily used than others. But dismissing a work out of hand because it employs tropes seems a little silly. At the same time, tropes can be useful for identifying and discussing genre trends which readers find irksome or overused. A nuanced discussion of tropes can be rewarding and worthwhile, I think.

Some readers who excitedly and simply equate a particular trope with bad/flawed/evil writing are going through that sophomoric thrill of discovering a new term or concept. I think most of us can relate to this process. When I first learned the term "bourgeois," everything was bourgeois for a solid six months.

So, I would say:

  1. Labeling a thing is not the same as understanding it.
  2. If you are determined to label a thing, you will often mislabel it or ignore the aspects that don't match the label, which leads to a poor or incomplete understanding of it.
  3. Labeling things is part of the learning and discovery process, and though some people will stop there and never progress beyond simple labeling, for many, it is just a step along the way to a more nuanced understanding of things.

I think that readers who've already gone through this process find people who are going through it particularly irritating. When I hear a twenty year old say, "Dude, don't be so bougie!" I want to yell, "Stop that! Bad! You're doing it wrong." But I don't, because once upon I time I was that twenty year old, and you know, like, I don't want to be bougie, man.

(This post was adapted from a thread on r/fantasy.)


The Winners of Senlin Ascends ARC Giveaway

by Josiah Bancroft


Thank you to everyone who took a moment to build and share an unlikely tower with me. Your imaginative monuments brightened my day! If you didn't win this time, don't worry: There are more giveaways coming! And if you did win, send your shipping information to thebooksofbabel@gmail.com so that I can put your ARC in the post!Now, without further ado...

The randomly-selected winner of a Senlin Ascends ARC is Charlie Davis, whose spire was indeed magical. Congratulations, Charlie!

Charlie Davies.jpg

I had a very difficult time selecting a favorite entry because there were so many excellent and creative efforts. But after much deliberation, I've decided that SK Farrell's bleak tower of cosmetics stands just a little taller than her competition. Congratulations and well done, SK!

SK Farrell.jpg

The Danger of Disbelief

by Josiah Bancroft


In recent days, I've heard many people express the sentiment that they can't believe we as a society are still grappling with neo-nazism and white supremacy in 2017. Some are surprised by current events and the resurgence of fascism's popularity in the US and Europe. We want to know how it's possible that we have not yet evolved beyond such petty, transparent evil.

The danger of civilization is that it begins to feel like a natural state, a permanent thing. It feels like we have ascended to the next plateau in human progress, and though we may stumble, we as a whole will continue to ascend. (After all, technology develops and improves, and isn't technology a reflection of the human condition?) But if history has taught us anything it is that civilization swings rather than ascends. Regression dogs enlightenment; tyranny chases after freedom; and technology increases our ability to destroy as well as create.

When we are surprised that the same monsters that terrorized our grandparents and our great-great grandparents continue to terrorize us, our incredulity makes it easier to fall into a state of denial. And denial makes us inactive and unaccountable. I am angered, heart-broken, and repulsed by the embolden neo-nazi movement in America, but I am not surprised. Fighting violence and bigotry with indignation in ineffective. We must fight the bastards with deeds.


Three Types of Flash Fiction

by Josiah Bancroft


The Battle of the Bards, a flash fiction competition I’m helping to judge, has had me thinking a lot about genre recently. I like to describe the major genres as Olympic events: the novel is the marathon, the short story is the hundred-meter dash, and flash fiction is the pole vault. (Poetry is a gymnastic floor routine, with ball, of course.) I like to conceive of them this way to emphasize the point that the length of a piece is not equal to its difficulty or merit. (That’s right, novelists: a greater word count does not equate a greater literary accomplishment.)

Flash fiction requires perfect focus, absolute vision, and an economy of words that does not result in terse, halting prose. Despite these constraints, good flash fiction will be complex, nuanced, and even surprising. It will conjure up a scene or sequence or a history that is as vivid as daydream, and just as fleeting. Most importantly, it will elicit an emotional response that leaves the reader feeling differently than they did at the start.

There are many types of flash fiction. The scope, structure, and intent of those types varies widely, and rarely will a piece fit snugly into any single type. But here are three types of flash fiction I’ve encountered and enjoy.

The Microcosm

Some flash fiction pieces seem larger than their presence on the page. They give us a taste of another world and sometimes infer a plot of epic or generational proportions. Usually, these stories don’t focus so much on the individual stars (the motives, conflicts, and flaws of characters) as they do the constellations that result. These stories can feel historical, grandiose, and polemical.

The Vignette

Subtle and constrained, the vignette offers us a glimpse of another life. They are painterly, and focus on the textures and surfaces of a moment, a memory, or a scene. These are meditative, descriptive pieces that aren’t usually concerned with conflict or consequence; they have no dramatic arc, and little inflection. They often challenge the assumption that all human perception is about the same.

The Open Door

A character stands before an open door. They are deliberating about whether to go through or not. Like an unsolved mystery, the Open Door presents us with a dramatic question, gives us some sense of the stakes, and tells enough about the character’s motivation or history to give us a sense of inevitability, then concludes without showing us what the character decides, leaving it to us to finish the story ourselves. Open Door stories depend upon a sense of fate to be successful, and yet readers will often disagree on the answer to the open question. As a result, Open Door stories can tell us a lot about how we view the world.

This is far from an exhaustive list. There are many, many other types of flash fiction pieces. I’m looking forward to seeing what new worlds, scenes, and characters result from the Battle of the Bards. I hope you enter and help us to spread the word.


Orbit Books: The New Home of the Books of Babel

by Josiah Bancroft


I'm very pleased to announce that my Books of Babel series has been picked up by Orbit Books. This wonderful, surprising development was made possible by the contributions of many, many people, and I would be remiss if I did not take a moment here to thank some of the people who have supported me in recent months and years. (This will have to be an incomplete list for the moment, but I will endeavor to expand it in the future.)

If you know anything about my books, chances are you have Mark Lawrence to thank for it. His tireless efforts to promote the series helped thousands of readers discover my books. Were it not for him, and his wonderful Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off, my books would've likely been consigned to the oblivion of the unread.

I have my agent, Ian Drury, and indeed all of the people at Sheil Land Associates, to thank for finding such a wonderful publisher for me to partner with.

I wish to thank all the people who have taken the time to write reviews of the books, including Pornokitsch, who first attracted Mark Lawrence's attention to the series, the Wertzone, who fanned the flames of interest, and Emily May, who helped to spread awareness of the series to the Goodreads community. I'd also like to thank the thriving and welcoming subreddit, r/fantasy, for providing me with a much needed online community.

I'd like to thank the community of writers who participated in the 2016 Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off for being supportive of my work: Dyrk Ashton, Phil Tucker, Timandra Whitecastle, Benedict Patrick, and David Benem, among many others, all of whom are incredibly talented and hard-working and deserving of your attention.

I owe Ian Leino more thanks than can be expressed in a few lines. He supplied the series with its striking cover art, which has attracted many, many readers. He took me to conventions, shared his expensive booth space, and taught me how to flog my books. He encouraged me to persist with the series when I was whinging and threatening to quit. And he did all of this out love, generosity, and faith in my work.

Finally, I wish to thank my wife, Sharon, who supported me emotionally, creatively, and financially through so many ill-conceived creative projects, and who, despite my best efforts to dissuade her, never lost faith in my abilities. Were it not for her tireless love and support, I would not have had the confidence, focus, or opportunity to write these books. 


Four Bits of Writerly Advice

by Josiah Bancroft


Don’t talk about your ideas or intentions.

It’s normal to get excited about a personal goal. It’s also normal for writers to think about their current projects compulsively. So, it’s only natural for us to want to talk about our ideas and current projects. We want to share our passion and excitement, and we want someone to validate those feelings. But by receiving this premature validation, we erode the motivation that we need to do the work. We are less likely to finish something if we talk about too much. Productive writers are often secretive about what they’re working on because they don’t want to lose the drive to finish it. They’ve learned to take validation from doing the work rather than talking about it.

Reading will teach you everything you need to know about writing if you read broadly and carefully.

Workshops, conferences, creative writing programs, and writers’ residencies are primarily social engagements. Writing is a lonely business, and so writers naturally look for access to a community. These interactions have an interpersonal value, but they will never teach you half as much about writing as reading will. Read classics, read your contemporaries, read outside your genre, read books that intimidate you, and read every day. Don’t be discouraged by people who brag about all the important, obscure, or difficult books they’ve read; many of them are exaggerating, anyway. Read at your own pace, but don’t stop reading. 

Develop your own standards and define your own expectations for your work. Don’t look to your peers for validation.

You can always find someone who is worse than you, and if you’ve read enough, it’s also easy to find someone who is better than you. While it’s natural to be aware of other writers’ failings and strengths, you’ll drive yourself crazy if you spend too much time measuring your work against the genius of others. Learn to appreciate your accomplishments; learn to identify your weaknesses. Neither critical acclaim nor popular reception will give you lasting self-confidence or self-knowledge.

Uneasiness, insecurity, and failure are essential to growth.

Learning is often an uncomfortable process. It requires a lot of effort: some of it tedious, much of it discouraging. We can’t grow unless we are dissatisfied with our first efforts and our past accomplishments. We can’t grow unless we risk failure and exposure to scrutiny and criticism. It’s important to remember that failure is unavoidable. Those of us who never take risks don’t avoid failure, we just defer it to the end of our lives when we have nothing to celebrate, nothing to take pride in. That final failure is infinitely worse, not least of all because there is no opportunity for success. If you persist and if you learn from your experiences, you will eventually succeed. There are, of course, many different kind of success, and not all of them end in mansions and mobs of adoring fans. But the success that you earn by dent of diligence and sweat will be incredibly rewarding. I promise.

- Josiah Bancroft

 


A New Publisher for the Books of Babel and a Final Fire Sale

by Josiah Bancroft


It's a near certainty at this point that I will be signing with an excellent and venerable publisher in the next few days. We've hashed out our terms, and they are drawing up the contract. I look forward to making a formal announcement very soon.

This means the Books of Babel will have a new home, and my days of self-publishing the series will come to a close. When that happens, I won't be able to sell my editions any longer. I had hoped to release the hardcover of Arm of the Sphinx sooner. Unfortunately, I won't have time for a broad release. I was able to order 50 copies, which I will be numbering. 

So, here is my current inventory:

  • Senlin Ascends (Trade paperback edition) - 7
  • Senlin Ascends (Hardcover edition) - 11
  • Arm of the Sphinx (Trade paperback edition - 5
  • Arm of the Sphinx (Hardcover edition) - 50

The paperbacks are $15 apiece, and the hardcovers are $30. I use PayPal to handle transactions, and I'm happy to ship anywhere in the world. (Shipping and handling in the US is $5; Canada $15; UK/EU$25; AUS$30. Multiple books will increase shipping costs slightly.) If you'd be interested in buying a copy, please email me at thebooksofbabel@gmail.com.

In the interest of fairness, I'm going to limit everyone to one copy of each edition per order. (So, you can order the series if you like, but I'm not going to send 10 copies of Arm of the Sphinx to a single reader.) I'm selling the books on a first come, first serve basis.

I am, of course, happy to sign and dedicate your copy as you request. Sadly, I don't have time to doodle at the moment.

Chances are, the new editions will feature new cover art. I will do my utmost to keep Ian Leino involved in the series. His covers and conceptual art has been essential to the series' identity and has undoubtedly contributed to the books' success. But if you, like me, are a fan of Ian's original covers, this may be your last chance to get a copy of them.


A Collection of Wonderful, Whimsical Flying Machines

by Josiah Bancroft


I recently received this collection of dirigible diagrams from one Master Weston Early, age 11. I was so impressed by the ingenuity and diversity of his imaginary fleet that I could not help but share it with you.

I appreciate the attention Master Early has given to the manner and means of flight. Fantastical engineering requires a special sort of creative thinking, one which embraces physical laws while imagining fantastical exceptions. The flourishes here are also excellent; not only do I believe these machines are capable of flight, I'm sure they'd be aesthetically pleasing to sail upon. And one should not discount the military might of these crafts. Well placed batteries of ten and twenty pound guns await any foes who might be foolish enough to challenge them.

I suspect that Master Early has a long career ahead of him as a designer of dirigibles. We'd all do well to keep one eye on the sky for his creations.


The Winners of the Doodle a Dirigible Contest

by Josiah Bancroft


Before I announce the winners of the contest, I would first like to thank everyone who entered for their incredible artistic efforts. Your doodles brightened my day! The Grand Prize and Runner Up winners were chosen using a random number generator. I selected the third winner myself. I'd ask all the winners to please email me their address so that I can send the prizes on their merry way.

The Grand Prize winner of my Doodle a Dirigible Contest is Charlie Hopkins, who doodled The Disco.

Congratulations Charlie! You will receive an original drawing of the Stone Cloud in addition to both book cover posters.

The Runner Up, who will receive a poster of their choosing, is Khiem, who submitted the Cetcaelum. Well done, Khiem! 

It was difficult to choose a favorite entry because there were so many worthy airships. In the end, I chose the entry that I personally found the most evocative. Congratulations Marc Rasp for your splendid craft, the Postale. And thank you again to all who took a moment to share their vision of ships that never were and never flew except upon a paper sky.


Doodle a Dirigible, Win Some Art!

by Josiah Bancroft


It's time for a contest, my friends! This time, I'm giving away an original, signed drawing of the Stone Cloud and posters of the book covers (10"x13"). The winner will receive the original art in addition to both posters. A runner-up will receive the poster of their choosing.

To enter, all you have to do is DOODLE A DIRIGIBLE. Draw an airship and email it to me at thebooksofbabel@gmail.com, or Tweet it to @thebooksofbabel, or upload it to my Facebook page. The winner and runner-up will be drawn at random, so don't fret if you're not an artist! I will also send a poster to whoever's drawing is my favorite. So, you have three chances to win. Not bad for a doodle!

Anyone can enter, but only one entry per person, please.

CONTEST EXTENDED: Several of you have asked for a little more time to create your art, so I have extended the deadline for entries to March 15th (Noon, GMT).

"The HMS SENDMETHEPRIZENOWDAMMIT" by Mark Lawrence

"The HMS SENDMETHEPRIZENOWDAMMIT" by Mark Lawrence

"The Gallant Wind" by Nick Welsh

"The Gallant Wind" by Nick Welsh

"The United Free States Airship Las Vegas" by Phil Norris

"The United Free States Airship Las Vegas" by Phil Norris

"The Observer" by Kristel

"The Observer" by Kristel

"The SS Probable-Brick" by Kristen

"The SS Probable-Brick" by Kristen

"The Cetcaelum" by Khiem

"The Cetcaelum" by Khiem

"Valiant Skyguard by Lucy

"Valiant Skyguard by Lucy

"The Postale"by Marc Rasp

"The Postale"by Marc Rasp

"The Crayonemnon" by J.P. Ashman

"The Crayonemnon" by J.P. Ashman

"The Disco" by Charlie Hopkins

"The Disco" by Charlie Hopkins

"The Indefatigable Gambler " by James Ode (and friends!)

"The Indefatigable Gambler " by James Ode (and friends!)

"The Ark Kent" by Mia

"The Ark Kent" by Mia

"The RNZ Nona" by Fiona Sambrook

"The RNZ Nona" by Fiona Sambrook

"The SS How Does It Even Fly" by Paul Shepherd

"The SS How Does It Even Fly" by Paul Shepherd

"The HMS Led Hed" by Jonathan Dearman

"The HMS Led Hed" by Jonathan Dearman

"The Ascendant Valkyr" by Evan Kelly

"The Ascendant Valkyr" by Evan Kelly

"The Royal Airship Pericles" by Eamonn Wilson

"The Royal Airship Pericles" by Eamonn Wilson

"The Noontime" by Leo Traub

"The Noontime" by Leo Traub

"The SS MS Painted Falcon" by Shvaugn

"The SS MS Painted Falcon" by Shvaugn

"Ablearm's Hammer" by Brian Decker

"Ablearm's Hammer" by Brian Decker

"The SS Target Practice" by Mike (OfThePalace)

"The SS Target Practice" by Mike (OfThePalace)


The Hardcover of Senlin Ascends is Out

by Josiah Bancroft


After many months of searching for the right printer, I'm happy to announce that the hardback of Senlin Ascends is now available! You can purchase it from Amazon, have your local bookstore order it, or buy a signed copy directly from me (which will take a little longer because I have to order the books and then ship them out again). 

If you'd like a signed copy, please message me or email me at thebooksofbabel@gmail.com so I can get a sense of how many books to order. 

Happy New Year, everyone!


Time for Another Contest!

by Josiah Bancroft


Last time I asked you to help me name a dandy. (I got so many excellent responses. I'm never in danger of running out of foppish monikers again!) This time, I need your help naming an airship. Two winners will receive a signed copy of Arm of the Sphinx.

Christening airships has turned out to be one of the funnest parts of writing the series. The Stone Cloud, the Ararat, and the State of Art are some of the names I came up with. Now it's your turn! To enter the contest, just put your ship name in the comments below.

The contest closes this Friday at noon (GMT). I'll select two winners. I'll choose my favorite name, which will be included in the next book in the series, and I'll randomly draw a second winner from a hat. That gives you two chances to win!

One entry per person. There is no restriction on region. If you can receive post where you are, I will mail a book to you! Good luck!


Contest: Name a Dandy, Win a Book

by Josiah Bancroft


Naming characters is one of the great pleasures of writing fiction. It's so much fun, in fact, that I want to give you a chance to join in. What would you name a dandy, a fop, a man about town? 

This to-be-named character is the sort of person whose wardrobe is fuller than his library, whose snuff box is always empty (might he have some of yours?), and whose version of "wit" relies upon the liberal application of winks and brandy. In short, he is an irritating, pompous, garrulous nitwit who plagues parties and chases ladies. (For further inspiration, refer to Lord Percy Percy of Blackadder fame.)

How this is going to work:

1. There are two ways to enter. You can Tweet your best name for a dandy to me @thebooksofbabel, #nameadandy, or you can post a comment below. Names should include a first and a surname; titles are optional.

2. The contest will close at noon (GMT) on Monday, September 26th.

3. There will be two winners. One will be selected at random, via a process that will likely involve slips of paper and a hat. The other winner will be selected by me for inclusion in the next book. That's right: you have a chance to name a character in the next installation of <i>the Books of Babel!</i> I will choose the winning name based on the entirely subjective criteria of personal preference. (I don't want to end up with a character named Foppy McFopperface.) By entering, you are agreeing to the possibility of having your entry appear in my books.

4. Winners will receive a signed copy of Senlin Ascends. (I'm not restricting the contest by region. Anyone, anywhere may enter. That said, if you reside on the other side of our fair planet, it may take a little while for the book to reach you!) Winners will be announced on Tuesday, September 27th.

5. One entry per person.

That's it! Help me spread the word!