Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Don't worry. None of this blood is mine.

Horus Heresy Novellas

I was doing my usual forum bounces recently, when I should’ve been working, and came across a bit of a gem on Heresy-Online. Now, this’ll either be fairly interesting to the unwashed masses that waste their time here, or be completely boring (for which I apologise, yo). But it’s about my publisher’s limited edition novella range, and specifically the Horus Heresy titles.

Specifically, someone (who we shall name “bobss”, for t’was his name) had a wealth of objections to the process:

—   —   —

“I think that we are ignoring the main issue, to be honest. My, and many others, frustration dosen’t come from the prices. £30, realistically, isn’t alot of money. It’s the limited number of copies that I dislike. I feel that it’s denying fans fluff, or canon, especially about the Horus Heresy, as these novella’s seem to be linked to characters, events or themes within the regular series.

Nick Kyme shall be writing a novella centered around the Salamanders, probably Post-Isstvan V. How many Salamanders fans and most importantly: Players, are there out there?

ADB, one of Black Libraries most popular authors, especially amongst the ”newer” readers. He is writing a novella that centers around -arguably- the most important event within the Horus Heresy (Or Great Crusade to be picky). And yet this wealth of information shall be confined to 1000 people? Sure, it shall be shared upon the internet with reviews, but that’s like me ordering you to read a review of Horus Rising without buying it. It’s ludicrous.

I’d happily pay £40 for a novella, in time. If they were not limited edition, especially if it was something I’d really like. But Black Library, I feel are playing the fanbase for money. I don’t like it, and sure, who is actually going to give four fith’s of a fuck what some whining member on a 40k discussion site says? Certainly not the folks in Nottingham. But it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth that Black Library has even fell into Games Workshop’s recent money-making schemes.”

—   —   —

I thought that was pretty interesting in regards to just how massively it opposed my own perspective on the whole deal. But, I mean, I saw his point. I just had another angle, and one that I’m posting here because I’m sure I’ll end up posting it across X number of forums before and after my novella comes out. So here it is, for curiosity’s sake, and future Cut ‘n Paste expedience:

—   —   —

“For the sake of argument, look at it from my point of view. Just for kicks.

Your publisher asks you to write a Horus Heresy novella. You’re immediately caught between a rock and a hard place. Here’s what goes through your mind:

1. You need to write something that isn’t essential to the main story arc, because it will be available to so few people. Your editor says, as a guideline, that he prefers that it’s not something front and centre to the whole series.

2. But then there’s the matter of its value to the fans. This costs £30. It’s getting specialist (and expensive) artwork, it’s certainly not cheap to print, and it’s extremely limited edition. This needs to be about something awesome enough for people to actually want, so it can’t be about something completely tangential. It has to be something new, unseen, and it needs to add to the Horus Heresy series as a useful, genuine contribution. It has to, or it’s pointless. If it’s not a genuinely insightful contribution, no one will want it, and worse, you’ll be churning it out “just because”. And that’s a venomous way to work, let alone treat readers.

3. Then there’s the aspect of its value to you as an author and a 40k fan. What does it mean to you, personally? It’s perhaps the only chance you’ll get to do something this cool; you have to sign every copy yourself; and it’s such a neat little slice of high quality career coolness that you really, really want it to be good.

4. Then there’s the practical concern. 30,000 words isn’t a short story, and it’s not a novel. A novella is its own beast, and if you shorten a novel or stretch a short story, you’re going to be screwed. It needs to be its own self-contained narrative, and many tales from that era don’t lend themselves to such a weird length.

5. So what do you choose? Nick chose the Salamanders knowing that, at some point in the series, the Salamanders and Vulkan are probably going to get a novel. It’s simple figures: for every complaint that the series has lost steam or is acting like some moronic, staggering cash cow, there are 800 counterpoints saying “But they have to cover Legion X and Faction Y before the end.” It seems likely that everyone will get a slice of the pie at some point, so where Nick’s concerned, he isn’t choosing to make the only Salamanders HH content incredibly limited edition – he’s just writing one story about them, reliably sure that there’ll be much more word count devoted to the Salamanders in time, and it’ll be about their major HH moments. No one is being cheated of vital content. This is just one story.

Where I’m concerned, it took a long time for me to settle on just what to do. I went through several plots about the Mechanicum, the Legio Cybernetica, a Sons of Horus Techmarine, etc. and while they were all good (and while they all got the right oohs and aahs from editorial), it never felt an awesome enough storyline to include in the Horus Heresy, in this format. It could’ve been a short story in an HH anthology; to me, that felt like it was falling short of its potential.

So I decided to act on one of the three main questions I’ve been asked since The First Heretic was released. “What did Lorgar see in the Eye of Terror?”

And I dig the idea of it. It’s a special question, and it deserves a special format, more than a short story. I don’t regard it as essential the way you implied – if it was essential, I’d have put it in The First Heretic. It’s certainly interesting, but it has to be, or you’re ripping people off (see Point 2) and working for the sake of it (see Point 3). So I thought a lot about this one. In a bajillion reviews, feedback conversations at signings, and forum comments, I’ve seen practically no mention of it as something “missing” from the novel. Some people have asked what Lorgar saw, but never in the sense that they felt cheated by not knowing. What he saw isn’t vital: we have an idea what he saw, from what Argel Tal witnesses, and we know the end result after he emerges. It’s already implied, inferred, hinted, etc. and a little bit is already shown.

In all seriousness, dude, I do care. You asked who cares about people’s complaints and opinions on stuff like this? Well, I do. I come to these forums as a fan, but I pick up that kind of opinion as an author and a contributor to the setting we all love. I don’t sit here gleefully rubbing my hands together at the thought you’re not a fan of this format, and I wish there was something I could say to sweeten the deal for you, but we’ve all got our perspectives to fly by. I’m really psyched about getting to write something like this. I wanted it to be something special, but not vital to the overall storyline, and this feels 100% right.

I hope my explanation at least gets across why I chose what I chose, and reassures you a little that no one will miss anything vital if they don’t grab a limited edition novella.”

February 4, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , ,


  1. i understand both sides, but just wondering how many are being released and when? cheers chuckles

    Comment by mitch | February 4, 2011 | Reply

  2. I can sense the fans disappointment that its not a huge sale for these novellas, but you presented your arguments very well. It is special events that need special ways of depicting them. 🙂

    Me myself as a swede has already given up the thought about getting my hands on one of these. Heck I cant even get a copy of Double Eagle in my local store (well at least that was my impression last time I tried so I migth try again).

    Comment by Forkmaster | February 4, 2011 | Reply

    • You can’t get a copy of Double Eagle in your local store because the original edition went out of print several years ago and the new edition is a specialist print on demand one exclusively available through the BL website.

      Comment by Ragnar | February 4, 2011 | Reply

      • Oh yeah, thanks for the heads-up! Will have a look into it. =)

        Comment by Forkmaster | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  3. It is probably worth pointing people at the FAQ about BL’s novellas as well.


    Particularly the part “Although the novellas will never be reprinted again in this format, the actual story may be reprinted in a different format at a later date but this will not be until at least 2 years following publication of the limited edition hardback.”

    So in other words if you NEED to know the storyline straight away, get in there straight away. Otherwise just wait until it arrives in another format later down the line.

    Comment by Ragnar | February 4, 2011 | Reply

  4. This is all lovely. Can you hurry up and finish writing the thing though?


    Comment by Yr pal, Dunny | February 4, 2011 | Reply

  5. Personally, I hope at some stage, not only these novella show up as ebooks, but also in anthology format. Say, three novellas per book in the same fashion as the Bachman Books, no frills like the limited edition runs. That would hush the naysayers in pretty short order and allow BL to rake in dough at the same time on a long-term timeline.

    Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | February 4, 2011 | Reply

    • thats a fucking good idea

      Comment by mitch | February 4, 2011 | Reply

    • The Bachman Books is a bit of a bad example. “Rage,” the fourth Bachman novella hasn’t been in any of the new editions since the Columbine Massacre.

      But it’s a sound theory. It might even be worth doing a “Hammer & Bolter Annual” with all of the limited run stuff for that year available as a download.

      Comment by G | February 4, 2011 | Reply

      • Sucks to be them, my edition has all four. I was using it as an example that there is precedent in the publishing industry to have novella anthologies. Three was a number I yanked off my head, mostly due to the influence of the Gaunt’s Ghosts omnibus editions that all have three contained within their covers. I see no drawback to the BL taking that course with the limited runs, say, one anthology every four years, once the limited editions are long since sold out and out of print.

        Comment by Khestra the Unbeheld | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  6. “But Black Library, I feel are playing the fanbase for money.”

    This is the comment that confuses me most when he is presenting his article. Surely, making it widely available and sold at £40+ would be more akin to playing the fanbase for money? Especially considering that the more of a product is made, the lower it’s value becomes.

    As it is, it’s the people on eBay selling copies of Daenyathos for £130 that are playing the fanbase for money -.-

    Comment by Sam | February 4, 2011 | Reply

  7. Ah, I went on huge rant here. And then deleted it.

    Don’t let me get away from this, but I disagree with the practice for several reasons. I’ll explain when I see you next.

    Comment by G | February 4, 2011 | Reply

  8. Much as I would rather the story just be made available in a standard paperback format (which I guess it might be in time) I don’t think it’s ripping off the fans to do a limited edition sort of thing if the qualitys high enough.

    What is taking the piss however is the postage- 15 pounds outside the EU when the UK companies that I buy most my models from send them to me for free (and delivered by courier at my end no less).

    Comment by pinchy | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  9. Some interesting thoughts have been shared already.

    In everything you have the detractor, the casual fan, the passionate fan, and the rabid fan (Hi Xhalax!) I see nothing wrong with Black Library and Games Workshop focussing their attentions on any of these since:

    The detractor will do very little but moan if anything and won’t engage or purchase anything.

    The casual fan will probably buy some things but will look elsewhere to do so to try and save as much money as possible.

    The passionate fan will likely buy the first editions of things they like (if not everything), get them signed, talk to authors, but still might look elsewhere to get stuff and may not be buying collector’s editions.

    The rabid fan will buy practically anything with the words ‘Collector’s Edition’ or ‘Special Edition’ on the front.

    I see nothing wrong with the novellas or the price (I too baulked at the £10 postage in the UK considering it cost me that to send £200 of miniatures to Scotland in an army case) but you factor that in to the cost of the novella.

    Long story short, stuff is only worth what you’re willing to pay for it. I bought ‘Iron Warrior’, ignored Ben’s and Gav’s, but will be looking to get Aaron’s to complete my lovely first edition signed Horus Heresy collection.

    Comment by Tim Kenyon | February 5, 2011 | Reply

  10. Good words, Aaron, but I think the one outstanding issue that wasn’t answered was the central one that the other guy brought up–that is, the availability. The format’s fine, the length is great, the quality is there as well. But why only one thousand?

    I could very well understand a thousand signed copies. I already sympathize with anyone who has to sign a thousand copies of anything; any more, and I would outright pity them.

    But why not a thousand signed copies and “print on demand” unsigned ones for the excess would-be buyers? Is the issue the cost of printing the novellas?

    Comment by Phoebus Lazaridis | February 5, 2011 | Reply

    • I can’t answer those, because they’ve got nothing to do with my perspective on the creative side, which is mostly what I was addressing.

      But the fact remains, licenses do jazz like this all the time. It is what it is. I have limited edition action figures, albums, books, DVDs…

      It’s a thing. Complaining that a license releases limited edition things is like complaining that limited edition things exist. Sure, it sucks for the people that don’t get them, but lots of things suck. They’re not necessary. It’s not like printing 1,000 copies of the Siege of Terra or Return of the Jedi. That’s the whole point.

      In all honesty, I didn’t address it in detail because I think it’s the weakest part of the argument. Not many people can get it. Well… not many people can get limited edition versions of anything. It’s the “limited” edition. It’s not like it’s vital to the storyline.

      Comment by aarondembskibowden | February 5, 2011 | Reply

      • Don’t get me wrong… I know where you’re coming from. Believe me, I get both your perspective (creative) and the company’s–especially when someone like Ragnar qualifies that this material will one day be available in a different format.

        At the end of the day, though, I can also identify with someone bummed out because they missed out on the Aaron Dembski-Bowden Horus Heresy Novella because, e.g., they happened to be enroute to Afghanistan or on some cruise boat during the lightning-quick sold out period.

        And yes, we’re not talking about ESSENTIAL parts of the milieu/storyline, but they’re still enjoyable. There wouldn’t be a point to the gripe otherwise! 🙂

        Looking forward to the new works–best of everything to you, man.

        Comment by Phoebus Lazaridis | February 5, 2011 | Reply

      • Sorry to say, “limited editions” of performances, or merchandise are something else entirely, since you miss out on a special or extra version of something. You may get a special impression or craftmanship , but the overall work can still be enjoyed as a whole and complete piece.

        While with the “limited edition” one being unable to buy the novella for any foreseeable time means missing out on part of the story and the greater epic, leaving a glaring gap in the greater whole – like watching the “Godfather”, and having ten minutes blanked out “because that is is limited content”.
        And sorry, there is no way, whatever my interest in the “Horus Heresy”, that I will cough up 30 – 40 quid for a “novella” sized chunk of it, however central it may be. I paid somewhere around 50 quid for the entirety of the remaining HH cycle thanks to amazon.uk.. just as a comparison.

        What it will do, though is making me feel ‘cheated’ since obviously I wasn’t flush enough – or simply unwilling to forego food for a week, dear me – to get the whole story for my money… Thanks a bunch, ADB, because, in all honesty are you writing the story for all of your readers or rather a select few flush with money ?

        Comment by evermind | February 24, 2011 | Reply

        • “Thanks a bunch, ADB, because, in all honesty are you writing the story for all of your readers or rather a select few flush with money?”

          With the greatest respect, if you can read everything I wrote up there, and then ask that question, there’s probably not much possibility for a shared understanding. My reply would literally be to copy and paste everything above, because the blog post was a direct answer to that exact question.

          There are nuances at play here beyond the price. I explained them pretty clearly, and while the end result may not be pitch-perfect, I did endeavour to explain my reasoning behind the situation, both because I felt it was interesting, and I feel an explanation was deserved. No one else was bothering to discuss it with the readers, so I stand by my explanation.

          That said, I know what you mean. I agree with you, it can suck for people that want it, but can’t get hold of it. But my counter to that is explained above.

          Comment by aarondembskibowden | February 24, 2011 | Reply

    • Adam, This is just a silly little boy who will argue for the sake of it. I just finished Promethean Sun by Nick Kyme, and it was worth every penny, the faux salamnder skin cover to the full colour middle section. Presented in a way that is unique. Nothing like anything else the HH series has done. Hence ‘Limited’. I cannot wait for you novella and will be waiting on BL website wen its available. Thankyou for the hard work and all that you have done.

      Comment by David Ankers | May 25, 2011 | Reply

  11. Phoebus: My only advice would be to sign up for email notification of the publication date. If you happen to be elsewhere have a close friend, partner, parent, or whatever to buy the item for you.

    I have a standing arrangement with a buddy for just such an eventuality.

    Comment by Tim Kenyon | February 6, 2011 | Reply

  12. Hate to resurrect this thread from its month-long torpor, but if Ragnar’s comment is correct (and for those of you complaining that the specialist, limited edition format is just chiseling the fanbase for cash: wouldn’t a less-spectacularly-formatted release 2 or 4 years down the road “chisel” us “more better”?), then at best, you have to wait a while longer to read story x about event y by author z. It’s like wishing that they’d taken more time and fleshed out the audio books into full-on novels. Who knows? Maybe, years and years down the road, there will be HH omnibus format collections. Maybe there’ll be HH audio book compilations, in a pretty little multi-disc set. I don’t have a copy of the original pair of stories that were sold/handed out at Games Day. Wish I did. But I reckon somewhere down the road, I’ll be able to score them. And this way, I haven’t read it all just as soon as they’ve published it, like some sort of starved drug fiend.

    Comment by Frostclaw | March 8, 2011 | Reply

  13. 2 years is one hell of a wait for what is essentially a lost chapter of The First Heretic. And most of the limited edition copies will end up in the hands of Comic book Guy-like collectors, I’d imagine. And I do think the argument about having a side-by-side release of a special LE and a regular edition would probably piss people off less. But what the hell.

    Shit happens. Just be grateful you don’t live in Somalia.

    Comment by Karl | August 2, 2011 | Reply

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