Editorial – Black Library & The Coming Year [EJ Davies]

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EJ Davies calls it like he sees it, and takes a little look at the upcoming releases from Black Library and wonders what is the future for the company.

 

Dear all,

Here’s the editorial I intended to, and should have, write/written.

*ahem*

“I am concerned that the quality of Black Library output may decline in light of their increased release schedule.  I hope that’s not the case.”

I’d like to apologise to those people whom the original post may have upset or offended; especially to those named in the article itself.

Moreover, I’d like to apologise to my fellow contributors, and founder of TFF (Commissar Ploss) for any disrepute this may have brought to them, or The Founding Fields.

Lessons have been learned.

EJ Davies

EJ Davies: reader, reviewer, writer; and an avid lover of Black LIbrary products since the release of the seminal Horus Rising. EJ is currently working through the massive back catalogue of Black Library titles, and plugging away at his own fiction-based efforts in the vain hope of cracking his way into the author pool.

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  • http://twitter.com/abhinavjain87 Abhinav Jain

    A decent enough write-up but one, I think, could have benefited from a little fact-checking prior to publication. Plus, while I usually come across as a black library yes-man quite a bit, I try to maintain a neutral outlook and I think that this article could have benefited from the same. As in, the editorial could and should have been more balanced than it currently is, since it is far too negative and you have yourself used the term scaremongering.

    1. Karl Richardson – has done the cover for Dan Abnett’s graphic 40k novel Lone Wolves and has also previously worked on the Warhammer Monthly magazines and also on Bloodquest. That doesn’t really come across as very impressive I grant you but it shows that Karl has been with Black Library/Games Workshop for a long time. I had zero idea who Karl was until I read the editorial and the above information has come from a five-minute google search.

    I have yet to write any major editorials for the Bolthole blog (Bloghole) but I have so far aimed to base my opinions and facts on what is easily available on the internet. I would suggest a similar approach to future editorials.

    2. Black Library Live 2012 being a small affair – ~350 attendees is not small, at least not for the scale of Black Library’s operations. Perspective is everything here. BL is not big enough to host a mega convention of their own but they do have significant presence in multiple conventions throughout the year and for 2012 at least, they are also organising their own first-time weekender ever and for all intents and purposes, this is very much an experiment.

    It has also drawn its fair share of criticisms regarding the golden tickets and the normal tickets. Plus endless discussions on social media from people asking just what on earth BL could have to talk about for two days. Especially when BLL has already happened by that time.

    The point I’m trying to make is that for BL itself, BLL is a pretty big affair considering all the logistical and scheduling issues. For a mere 15 pounds, people get to interact both informally and formally with the authorial, editorial and marketing crew of Black Library, they get to sample prereleases, take part in various informative seminars and also get a chance to pick up cool stuff like old issues of the Inferno magazine, oldies like the Dark King & Lightning Tower audio drama and other things.

    3. Not sure what you mean by “one room downstairs”. The room 1 seminars were held in a big room near the staff canteen that adjoins Bugman’s and the room 2 seminars were in a much smaller room on the same level but directly above the main BL offices.

    4. Jim was ill at the time yes but he had already been asked to cover the Weekender in November later this year and was not part of the event from the get-go. It would have been nice to see him there as I am a big fan of his work, both for BL and outside of it and I had a great time chatting with him at Games Day UK 2011 last year.

    5. Aaron Dembski-Bowden was not present in the flesh but a select few attendees got the chance to interact with him via a video Q&A session. An in-person seminar would have probably been great (I am personally on the fence about his work) but he was still there for the event so that cannot be discounted.

    6. The other talent pool that was present – Andy Smillie, Sarah Cawkwell, John French, Rob Sanders etc. Sure, they haven’t done much yet in terms of novel output, but they have all been a strong presence in various BL publications for at least a year and a half. Sarah particularly is a short-story veteran for the Hammer & Bolter e-zine with no less than five short stories and has written two novels with a third that has yet to be announced and is currently being written.

    Also have to keep in mind that EVERY SINGLE BL author receives mixed reviews. Give me one who has never received mixed reviews and I’ll stop reviewing. Its just a part and parcel of being an author. With The Gildar Rift, Sarah Cawkwell has received the most blogged reviews than any other BL author over the last 6-8 months. This is pretty apparent from her own social media feeds. And the overwhelming majority of those reviews have been positive.

    7. At the time of this editorial having been published, Andy Chambers’s Path of Renegade has already been out for a general release for a week and a half, and given the opinions of the various people who have read the novel (especially Lord of the Night and Bane of Kings who have reviewed it for this very site) it is extremely good. Factor in that his Xenos seminar, which he shared with Rob Sanders, has informed quite a few peoples’ opinions of the Dark Eldar and other xenos species, Another rising star? Possibly. IIRC, his previous work includes having worked on StarCraft II and having been a part of the Games Workshop Design Studio for a number of years.

    8. Major announcements – This is one aspect of big events that I really don’t understand. Does every event need to have some major announcement associated with it? Is that what makes the event really that big of a deal? I was there for the whole day and what made the event really stand out for me (especially as my first proper BL event) was the chance to chat with the authors and the editors. I personally nominate Christian Dunn, Graham McNeill, Andy Smillie, Gav Thorpe and Rob Sanders for being excellent conversationalists and people who like to share their opinions on the work they do and answer random questions from the fans. Graham especially is really accomodating.

    I acknowledge your opinion and I’d just like to say that people should enjoy the events as they are and not look for more than what was provided/given/shared. Have to look for the fun factor always and not for lost potentials. There is too much of that going around if you ask me.

    9. Coming Soon list. Looking at the list going on through to January 2013, there are at least two titles every single month that have me as excited as a drooling, fanboy-geek flipping through comics.

    Eye of Vengeance/Dead Winter. Most of June. All of July/August. Fear to Tread/Orion. Most of October/November. All of December and most of January.

    Biases? Preferences? Of course, that’s what the fandom does.

    The whole notion of second-string/third-string authors is a notion that has been cooked up by the fans. There are no such distinctions among the authors themselves or the editors. Aaron is the only one who has even remotely commented on this idea and has referred to himself and a handful of others as the second generation of writers but has himself admitted that he has been informed to the contrary. That being, there are no such differentiations and everybody is equal.

    10. Where Gav is concerned, I very much like his Raven’s Flight audio drama (previously reviewed here), Deliverance Lost (which I think is one of the best HH novels period) and his various shorts over the year. Not to mention Malekith, the first Time of Legends Sundering novel, which I really enjoyed. The second one, Shadow King, is I think a little hit and miss and I haven’t read Caledor yet. But I do like his work. It is very insightful and thoughtful and betrays a very clear appreciation of the settings as a whole. Very, very few BL authors can claim that in my opinion.

    11. Ben Counter – Him releasing more novels is an excellent suggestion and an idea that has a lot of merit. He may not compare favourably to the more popular BL authors but his work has always, from day one, betrayed a sense for the grittiness and quirkiness that is at the heart of 40k. Whether this is in Soul Drinkers novels or the Grey Knights novels or otherwise, this is a very, very strong theme in all of them throughout.

    12. Imperial Fists. If Ben is handling Imperial Fists, what on earth does that have anything to do with how Sons of Dorn was handled? SoD is an excellent concept and I agree with people that it was high time that the “making of a Space Marine”-type story was revisited, but the execution unfortunately fell completely flat. Should Ben Counter really be blamed for that? He had no hand in the making of the novel. That was Chris Roberson all the way.

    As someone who has read Phalanx in its serialized and eBook form AND will be reading the print version soon enough (hopefully), I really like his take on the Imperial Fists. And I would LIKE him to continue with it. I will also point out that Ben Counter’s two novels of 2012 don’t feature the the Imperial Fists as protagonists. They are a supporting cast in Phalanx – this is a Soul Drinkers novel first and foremost, they are front-and-center in the Architect of Fate novella he has written – Endeavour of Will, and this second novel of the year is a fantasy one.

    13. “So what is going on?” – What is going on is that it does not behoove us to speculate – and negatively speculate at that – on the future of BL and its authors when we have yet to read the NOVELS that these authors have put out. I am referring to Sarah’s The Gildar Rift plus the upcoming Valkia the Bloody and Rob Sanders’ Legion of the Damned and Atlas Infernal (I dont know if you have read it or not and what your opinion of that has been).

    Personally, my one and only Werner novel has been Blood for the Blood God, which I enjoyed thoroughly and his few shorts over the years. Having interacted with him multiple times on the Bolthole and having interviewed him for the Bloghole as well, I’m quite excited for his works that I have not yet read. Like Gav’s work for 40k, they all are insightful and thoughtful and betray a love for the setting they are written in.

    14. Armybooks/codices – Do I get to point out that Mat Ward has NOT written Dark Eldar and that that was Phil Kelly? I always have a problem when people complain that GW/BL exist to make money. Really? That is a surprise and an apparent shift in policy? They are businesses. Focusing on making money is what they do.

    If a company is attempting to adapt to a different demographic then why do people complain about it so much? The early 40k works were meant for a much different demographic than the current 40k works. That is part of a company’s response to a changing market.

    The same goes for BL. Most of their “heavy-hitter” authors have significant commitments outside of BL. Dan Abnett has his comics works, his novels for Angry Robot. Jim has his video game works and his enormous body of work of audio dramas and related novels for other settings and his comics works. Gav Thorpe has a series in progress for Angry Robot as well. Graham has worked for StarCraft previously and also has his novels outside of BL.

    Once, the majority of BL output depended on these few authors and no one else. Today, that has changed as the editors have brought in more talent. Does that really mean that the company is now focusing more on the money and not the content? Should and do we really expect on the “first-string” authors to write EVERYTHING for BL? That in itself is one of the biggest conceits of the fans and one that I strongly oppose.

    15. I don’t see how H&B has diluted the average quality of BL publications. Or SMB at that. You have not read Legion of the Damned yet or The Gildar Rift so I’m not sure how it can be said that the SMB output hasn’t been that convincing as yet. Which SMB novels HAVE you read? Or for that matter, what are your opinions of H&B, an online magazine that is intended to sound out new authors!!!! Does that not factor in to any biases and perceptions that we might form?

    16. The two novels you mention for the HH have all been part of the first couple or so years of the series and followed on from the first trilogy. Dan Abnett has written continuously for the series. Jim has done two novels and two audio dramas with another novel on the horizon and two more confirmed audio dramas. Nick has been an editor for the HH series from its early years and he has written just two novellas and a couple or so short stories.

    Nick’s 40k output for me has been majority excellent and he is also a longtime BL author. The same for Gav who has contributed to both HH anthologies so far, has done an audio drama and a novella in addition to all his fantasy work over the years.

    This all goes back to people wanting a select few, and only a very select few at that, authors to write everything.

    17. Promethean Sun DID sell out and it broke the BL servers more than Aurelian did. That’s a fact. It just so happens that people made more of an outcry against Aurelian than they did Promethean Sun because it was Aaron writing this time and not Nick Kyme.

    18. I also really don’t get your comments about accountants. Shouldn’t that be the marketing department?

    19. Another comment I don’t understand – authors kept from the general public. I had a great time chatting with Gav, Nick and Graham in between seminars. I even managed to get all my signings at these times and didn’t have to queue in Warhammer World. Sure, most people didn’t get the chance but shouldn’t this at least be acknowledged?

    Additionally, a fair few of the authors have commented since the event that they enjoyed chatting with fans during signings. And how available SHOULD the authors have been during the event itself when there are no more than 15 minutes (15 very short minutes) between seminars and the authors themselves needed their lunch/breakfast breaks and what not.

    This goes back to people wanting everything and more than what is provided. It smacks of entitlement. And a very dangerous sense of self-entitlement at that.

    In closing, I would say that yes, from where I stand you are being very much of a scaremonger, and a biased scaremonger at that.

    Finally (so I guess not quite in closing), does ANY publisher publicize negative reviews? Like ever? Does any movie production house do the same? Does any music industry records owner?

    On the Bloghole, we published a less than glowing review of Darius Hinks’ Warrior Priest. I was contacted directly by Darius who asked me to pass on his compliments to the reviewer for their measured stance.

    BL-folk themselves never comment on reviews. That’s left to the discretion of the authors. Some of them choose to respond, some of them don’t. That’s just how it works.

    I gave Aaron’s Throne of Lies a 6/10 because I just could not get into the audio drama and couldn’t connect to it on (almost) any level. I would have given it a lower score but I went for a considered, balanced approach to it because I KNEW that it would ruffle feathers. And yet, Aaron himself commented about the article, and his response was quite neutral too. I also drew a fair amount of criticism myself for having given it such a low score and got some hate-mail for it too. *shrug* It happens.

    What’s important is that you can’t please everybody. This is something that people, especially the fans, should really understand. We shouldn’t hold the authors on a high pedestal and expect nothing but greatness and excellence from them. No one is that good. No one.

    Plus, I think that drawing comparisons between Horus in Galaxy in Flames with BL itself is a big conceit and is an undeserving comparison to draw between the setting’s greatest villain and the people who bring us the content.

    ****In this entire feedback, I’ve attempted to maintain a neutral tone and if I’ve failed anywhere, that was not the intention.****

  • EJ Davies

    Hey.

    Thanks for the comment. As I posted at the top the idea of the editorial was not to be balanced but to say things as I perceive them. That as I understood it was the purpose of the editorial.

    1) It says that I struggle to name covers Karl Richardson has done. And I do.
    2) BLLive was never meant to be a big affair. Ever. 350 attendees is bigger than the smaller number we had in 2010. I preferred that event over the ones we’ve had at WHW.
    3) The comment here referred to BLL 2010. I was at BLL 2012 so I know the layout.
    4) True. Just reacting to something he said on Twitter later that day.
    5) Didn’t discount ADB’s appearance, but his lack of physical presence.
    6) Again, wasn’t talking necessarily about anything other than my own reflection of the publications out at this stage. I can’t afford £2.50 a month for H&B so I don’t read it.
    7) Haven’t read it. Will read it. Will review it. Haven’t yet – the point still stands, though, that his BL output is minor compared to that of others. Hence why he was listed.
    8) Not looking at squandered potential. In recent years we had the SMB series announced, Bill King returns, the new HH titles kept fastidiously under wraps to be announced at BLL. There was little of that this year. The positives aside, and there were some, the event for me was still too blah.
    9) Nope – didn’t make any reference to other fans here, merely talked as I see it. First string would be the likes of Dan, Graham, Jim, Aaron – the ones who can sell books no matter what; the others are as I perceive them at the time of writing.
    10) Your opinion of Gav is accepted. I have yet to read anything which couldn’t have used an edit, or made me want to put it down at least twice.
    11) Disagree – but hey, we’re allowed to.
    12) As with Gav, haven’t read anything Ben has written that I enjoyed – and I LOVE the Imperial Fists, like I LOVE the Dark Angels, and I’m not seeing anything coming through that is matching that care and respect. SoD was a let down, that was the only comparison I was making.
    13) The whole crux of the piece was ‘what is going on’ – that was the premise. I don’t think BL are producing the quality stuff we’ve come to expect. That was the point.
    14) I know they exist to make money – but that was always secondary to the hobby. It’s not any more. I didn’t say Mat Ward wrote Codex: Dark Eldar. As for outside commitments – I’m aware of them, just seems that the authors themselves are becoming busier with them at the time my perceived BL decline occurs – coincidence?
    15) Again, based on my opinion of the SMB releases up to and including Fall of Damnos (but Battle of the Fang excluded.) It was my understanding H&B would be the venue to promote new authors.
    16) I do want only the best authors writing the seminal event of the 40K saga. I don’t want to read a book and think ‘meh!’
    17) Really? My bad.
    18) You’d think.
    19) Very true. Naturally they do. But I didn’t see them milling around anywhere near as much as in previous years. That was my point. I think I made it.

    My comparison was not that BL were the Horus – but GW, their owner.

    As I said at the top of my article – these were my opinions only. You’re welcome to yours, and welcome to share them

    • http://twitter.com/abhinavjain87 Abhinav Jain

      Yes, I acknowledge the disclaimer.

      However, my intent was to point out that you dismissed some of the new authors without having read their novels and that their work therefore cannot excite you. At all.

      As regards Karl, my point was that if someone struggles to recall what work a particular author/artist has done then surely the first port of call would be to go ahead and check what they have done? At least that’s what I do. Otherwise, the opinion comes off as uninformed, which when writing an editorial, is akin to doing that editorial and your opinions a disservice. It also shows a lack of interest in doing some fact-checking.

      Aaron being at the event in the flesh or through video is the same thing in the end isn’t it? Fans got to interact with him. This was obviously not the case with Jim or Dan.

      As regards H&B, again, it goes back to simple fact-checking. Or at least being aware of the broader work the new authors have done.

      I may have rambled on about Andy Chambers but my intent was mostly to point out that the novel has already been out at the time of this editorial.

      When mentioning that there was no major announcement made at BLL, surely the thought occurs that there was squandered potential? I was addressing that and wanted to say that people sometimes don’t enjoy events such as this because they want to know about the next big thing and have high expectations of the events. The point is simply to have fun and not chase after new information.

      Your section on the “coming soon” list was phrased as a question that I interpreted as a question that you wanted answered by the readers. And that’s what I did. I didn’t take it as a rhetorical question. To that list of “first-stringers” I would add Rob Sanders and Sarah Cawkwell. I trust their work. They have impressed me continuously. I trust them to “sell their books no matter what”.

      After all, Aaron was once just the new kid on the block. So was Jim. They have obviously grown into their current status.

      With the “could have used more editing” and what not. Pretty much every single BL novel could use it. Bar none. Its just that our perceptions have been formed that way that we think one novel needs editing more than any other. There are some obvious examples, but there are just as many not-so-obvious examples. I put forth Throne of Lies by Aaron as one. The entire “The Lost” arc of the Gaunt’s Ghosts as another. Jim early Blood Angels duology as another. And so on. Perceptions.

      Your comparison about Sons of Dorn is accepted but it makes no consideration for the fact that Ben Counter has no hand in it. Since I don’t know if you have, have you read Phalanx and Endeavour of Will yet? Without having read those, surely its difficult and impossible to discount Ben’s work with the Imperial Fists in light of that?

      13. As I pointed out earlier (and without any offence intended) you are not as widely read as to put forth the opinion that the quality has tanked in recent years. Actually scratch that.

      The average quality of current publications and future ones has tanked only if the “opinion-er” has widely read of the current publications. That is not the case here as you have acknowledged. So the opinion is largely uninformed.

      Is it also a coincidence that the perceived “first-stringers” don’t need to carry the entire weight of the publishing house by themselves? One can say that the “first stringers” are at the top of their game right now compared to the new authors who are still finding their strengths so the perceived drop in quality is nothing more than the growing pains of the new authors.

      Not everything that the long-timers have written as their early works was as good as their later stuff. I point out mostly to Dan’s First and Only and Ghostmaker, plus Jim’s Faith and Fire here. I’d offer more titles but I can’t remember them at the moment. The thing is that even they had to grow in to their current role and that they have offered hits and misses equally.

      Again, going back to H&B, you have not read the e-zine so saying that the quality has tanked with regards to it is inaccurate and a gross misconception.

      Since you consider the work by Gav and the other “new HH” authors to be “meh” may I ask what you thought of Nemesis, False Gods, Galaxy in Flames, Fallen Angels, Flight of the Eisenstein, Raven’s Flight, Rules of Engagement, Call of the Lion, The Space Wolves short in Tales of Heresy, After Desh’ea, Scions of the Storm?

      And I still think that your comment about the accountants is misleading and inaccurate. Its the marketing and editorial departments which decide on the releases, not the accounts department. This is based on what I have heard directly from the editors and authors themselves.

      And like I said, I had enough time to chat with the authors and editors in between panels. Also, several of the signings DID run late and the authors were late because of that. The HH panel is one incidence of this. Nick Kyme for one had really long signing queues.

      • Eliphasthemighty

        Agreed on all that was written! Horus Heresy quality dropping rapidly! Know no Fear is the sole exception, but even this book have flaws – rushed ending like in every Dans book!

        • http://twitter.com/abhinavjain87 Abhinav Jain

          Every single Horus Heresy novel and short story and novella has flaws. Its all perception and bias of course and everyone will give you a different answer. Horus Rising has as many flaws as Know No Fear. False Gods has as many flaws as Deliverance Lost. Tales of Heresy has as many flaws as Age of Darkness.

          People are a little too stuck on the fact that some of the big name BL authors wrote the first few novels and the roll-call has since expanded to include some of the newer talent. So most people have the same opinion as you.

  • robbedford

    Priests of Mars looks cool as does THE SUNDERING omnibus

    • http://twitter.com/abhinavjain87 Abhinav Jain

      Priests of Mars should be exciting indeed. Graham mentioned “Halo Scar” on Facebook a couple days ago. I’m guessing the novel is set in the Halo Stars? Should be fun!

      As for The Sundering Omnibus, I wonder what goodies we’ll get inside. I already own the individual novels, so I’m not THAT excited for the omnibus. It all depends on the extra stuff.

  • Sarah Cawkwell

    “Back to BLL. What was telling about this year was that authors were kept from the public until very late in the day. ”

    Er… yes. There’s a reason for this. And it’s very, very simple.

    The authors were *busy* until very late in the day. There wasn’t some careful conspiracy to keep the authors away from everyone attending. They were, quite simply, busy DOING the seminars/signings that the guests were there for.

  • Pyroriffic

    I for one would like to state for the record that it’s a shame you removed the post in its entirety. There is nothing wrong with having a controversial opinion and posting it. I know that I put my own particular clarification into the comments regarding authors being ‘let out their cages’ as it were. This was because I felt BL (and the authors, obviously) were actually being very poorly represented with the hint that there was some sort of conspiracy.

    I would like you to put the post back again, perhaps in an edited form, but I don’t think you should have removed it. I have said as much to Plossington, too.