Title: The Sword And The Dragon
Author: M.R. Mathias
Published: 2010 [Date of Kindle release]
This is partially a review of the generically-titled fantasy novel, but it’s also a bit of a discussion about how authors can make or break their own work beyond what they do in the crafting process.
The Sword and the Dragon was first released three years ago as a self-published ebook and was lost in the slush pile that is Amazon’s Self-Pubbed E-Book Library. It started popping up on my purchases as “Customers who bought this also bought…” and eventually I gave in. I figured it was only a dollar and so why not?
Now it has nearly five stars and hundreds of readers pushing it to the top of the pile. There are many accolades that make it very attractive to someone looking for something new.
It’s kind of a shame that it isn’t nearly as good as those accolades would make you think. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not a terrible book or a book that causes you pain to read. Parts of the story are actually really excellent, with the author zagging where you assumed he would zig and therefore taking it in a slightly less predictable direction. I never felt like I was reading a cheap retelling of more popular titles, which is often a danger in the Fantasy genre. The problem I had with the book–initially–was that there are many characters who tell part of the story through their points of view. This is a technique I prefer, but the problem comes when fully half the POV characters are boring. There were some whose stories I was dying to follow and some whose stories were killing me out of dullness. With a book this long (the thing is the e-book equivalent of 522 pages) it’s a real struggle to finish with so many drawn-out dry patches.
Ultimately I decided to abandon it in spite of the parts of the story I enjoyed, and that’s why I want to talk about it in detail.
I abandoned it because of the author and the online persona he’s cultivated. Even though I enjoyed what was amounting to a good 60% of his book I saw some of the meltdowns he’s had on various fora and review sites and realised that if I’m going to give the consideration of my time to someone it’s going to be someone who is considerate of others–not arrogant and rude.
When a popular British Fantasy forum directed his self-promotional post to their section for self-published works he insisted that his books are not self-published:
I am not a small press. I am an author with 18 titles for sale. That is more titles that some big publishing houses. I have advertising currently running in Locus, Publishers Weekly, Fantasy and Sci Fi, and Revolver magazines. I have blog advertising across the entire blog-o-sphere. I am not a small press or even self published. M. R. Mathias’ books are PUBLISHED by Michael Robb Mathias Jr. and should be treated no differently that any big named publishers title [emphasis mine].
This conflict degenerated into a massive number of tweets about Mathias’ own wonderfulness and the “#Nazi” behaviour of the webmasters who dared to define him as what he is–a self-published author.
I don’t believe there is any shame in being self-published. I think it’s a courageous move that, when handled correctly, can be a lot more lucrative for an author than a traditional contract. We’ve reviewed a number of self-published titles here at Book In The Bag and will continue to do so as we come across ones that are worthy of notice.
It’s that “worthy of notice” thing that’s tricky for any self-publisher. Getting attention is very difficult, especially as more and more review sites (eg. GoodReads, Amazon) are cracking down on promotion in the wake of some truly obnoxious and intrusive “entrepeneurs” who stalk and harass readers, derail conversations and (in Mathias’case and others like him) go completely off the rails.
When you self-publish you’re marketing yourself as a brand; you don’t just sell your books, you sell your persona. Mr. Mathias has obviously done a better job than most self-publishers in that he has been able to draw an unusually high amount of acclaim on Amazon. That’s a key thing to remember because there are a lot of readers out there who will see your brand as distasteful if you behave distastefully. I know it’s why I put this book down, why I can’t recommend it to others and why I’m adamant about insisting that authors be mindful of the image they put out there. It’s fine if you want to sell your brand as a provocateur. Just know that it may cost you readers, reviews and–ultimately–cash.
The Sword and The Dragon without the taint of Mathias is probably a two-worm book.