So you want to write about Warhammer 40,000?
I wanted to blog a little today, in order to keep typing through my lunch break and keep the focus going, but I needed a decent topic to eat up 20 minutes of time. Luckily, I found it.
I get this kind of thing a lot: “Do you have any advice for…?” “I’m about to submit my first…” “Any tips for a budding…”
And so on.
There are plenty of writing guides out there. I’ve linked to them before. Other authors also published by BL are free with their writing tips, and – in all honesty – I find tedious as shit to talk about. If you’re good enough, you’ll get in. If you’re not, you won’t. If you suck and you’re lucky, you might get in anyway. Them’s the breaks.
What I can do, however, is prepare you for the bullshit you have to deal with in licensed fiction.
Anyone reading this probably knows I’m pretty fortunate when it comes to my reputation in the fandom, and I rarely bump into any “AD-B doesn’t know the lore” criticisms. My attitude to 40K is usually mentioned as one of my major strengths in my reviews and on various forums. So this isn’t a blog post about how I’m personally treated. That’s largely useless as advice, because it’s so individual.
So what can I offer as advice? My advice is simple. Remember the Betrayer cover from yesterday? Well, only write professionally for a license if you’re perfectly okay with the kind of fucking nonsense like this:
Here we clearly have a fan in desperate love with some very serious punctuation.
Some people won’t read the whole series. Many of them just won’t know the lore all that well, or consider one of the many contradictory sources of lore from the past to be more worthy than any other. That’s fine, and it’s to be expected. But what you sometimes get is rage and ignorance in such excellent measures, that a genesis of purest madness is born.
Clearly, he saw that artwork, and his brain didn’t do any of the following:
- “I know from Aurelian that Lorgar and Angron are up to something elsewhere in Ultramar.” (That’s fine. It’s limited edition. Not everyone read it.)
- “I know from The Butcher’s Nails that Lorgar and Angron are up to something elsewhere in Ultramar.” (That’s cool. It’s a very new release, and not everyone likes audio dramas.)
- “This is a new event in the many years of galactic warfare that the series is showing in detail for the first time.” (That’s less cool; to still not get that shows a level of ignorance beyond what you’d expect, but whatever. All good.)
- “This couldn’t possibly be about the Siege of Terra, as it makes no sense for one novel to leap ahead like that. Also, as I know my lore, in addition to there being no Ultramarines at the Siege of Terra, Angron and Lorgar were Daemon Princes by then. So this is clearly not a representation of the Siege, as there isn’t a single detail about it that would make it accurate. Everything, in fact, is wrong. So it’s probably not about that.”
But then, when he realised it wasn’t the Siege, there was this:
Here we descend into something you, as a 40K author, will have to deal with all the time. And that, quite simply, is the setting’s own fans getting it wrong.
As we all know, from the very novel he’s claiming to have read, he’s dead wrong. Know No Fear clearly states that many thousands of Ultramarines didn’t join the muster at Calth. They were stationed elsewhere in Ultramar at the time.
This is a minor thing, but take it to its eventual closure. These are the kinds of fans that, in their ignorance, downrate novels for being incorrect. They’re the ones that just lurve their Caps Lock crusades, despite arguing bullshit from a position on the shakiest ground. While I know many come around or get corrected over time, I’ve seen plenty of reviews (again, thankfully not too many of my own) where people give the novel a low score almost entirely on the basis that it’s done something wrong, when it’s the reviewer himself or herself that has no clue what they’re talking about. And I’m referring to the tiniest details, sometimes.
I couldn’t help a snide grin as I was reading his anger based on his own, uh, we’ll say “incomplete understanding” of the lore. Because this, ladies and gentleman, was time travel for me. This was looking into the future. This was a glimpse into a forum comment, or an Amazon review, in X months time, when someone will doubtless say something similar, wailing about “RETCONS” and “the HOLE of the Ultramarines” in Know No Fear being at Calth, when they very much weren’t. Indeed, there was a specific reference saying they weren’t.
EDIT: For the record, I suspect English isn’t his first language (and I’m willing to bet his Portuguese or Spanish is a lot better than mine…), so I’m not taking the piss out of his spelling of “whole”. The punctuation, however, is fair game.
Being published by Black Library is awesome. Writing 40K is awesome. Contributing to the setting and lore is awesome. You’ll find, though, when you’re sat at your desk in the same position as me, that it’s the stupidly annoying things that get to you with all this. Not when you get stuff wrong. But when they do, and they blame you for it.
So my advice is this: If you are, in any way, the kind of person that finds being misrepresented/lied about online or in your workplace to be something that makes your blood boil, don’t do it. If you’re the kind of person that cannot let an argument die with someone who refuses to admit they’re wrong, then don’t do it. If you’re the kind of person that cracks when accused of getting stuff wrong when you’re plainly and demonstrably correct, then – again – don’t do it.
Because you will meet readers like this. Away from any complaints of actual retcons, story quality, or genuinely getting lore wrong (if you get it wrong, that’s your call), there will always be the people that accuse you of it anyway, without evidence, and for the wrong reasons. Some people won’t know as much as you, some will know much more, and some will know different parts of the lore. That’s unavoidable. But when they’re dead wrong, and citing recent sources they’re dead wrong about…
Of all pluses and minuses with writing licensed fiction, this one is my truest ball-ache.
I don’t know this guy. I don’t hate him, or want him to explode into tiny bits. He posted in public on the BL Facebook page, so I considered his comments fair game as an example for this. Hell, I even agree with his first post; that would be a weird and pointless retcon. But he was the perfect example for this petty, petty point, by a petty, petty writer.
Because I very much shouldn’t be doing licensed fiction. I’m the kind of person I warn you all not to be, whose eye twitches at the first sight of those kinda posts.
But I like writing it, so there we go.
EDIT II: The Revenge of Editing: I come back to this post fairly often now that it’s a few years later (and I’ve ended up speaking to Pedro a bunch of times). Every time I think about editing it or updating it, I decide not to – the points stand up, and are shared across the length and breadth of licensed fiction, but I was plainly in a shitty mood to express them so meanly.