Part Four: One Book For the Price of Many

 

“The Ruin Mist Tales are an alternate history for best-selling author Robert Stanek’s Keeper Martin’s Tales. For every fantastic story you’ll ever find, there are often other stories that retell the adventures from different points of view – so why should it be any different in Ruin Mist?”

“…there are two sides to every story. Our version of a story may be different from yours, even if we’re witnessing the same events. Now, if we’re talking about history, the stories from opposing societies and peoples are often very different. The contrast may be as different as night and day.”

– Robert Stanek, on how to deceive your readers into buying two copies of the same book.

Some authors choose to re-tell a story from a different point of view. This is frequently done within books for dramatic effect: we first see the scene, learn some information, and then a chapter later the author goes back and tells the scene again through someone else’s eyes. Depending on what the author wants, we could then realize our first assumptions were wholly inaccurate and a product of our viewpoint, or we could merely gain some deeper appreciation and insight into what’s happening. Or, if the author isn’t particularly talented, we learn nothing new and are irritated that the story keeps repeating itself.

Usually, though, authors don’t write entirely new books with the new point of view, but even that is not necessarily a bad thing. Probably the most well-known example is Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow. Both stories follow more or less the exact same storyline, but reading Shadow after Game was still enjoyable, despite the fact that the entirety of Ender’s Game is building towards a massive twist at the end, a twist that the reader knows is coming while reading Ender’s Shadow. Orson Scott Card took a story that his readers knew backwards and forwards and still managed to write a parallel book that was gripping, compelling, and surprising.

But writing books is hard work. And when your entire M.O. is to trick people into buying your books, why not repackage your story with new covers and titles and pretend it’s an entirely new series? And then do it again? And again?

The books on the same horizontal section are the exact same story.

Stanek has written a single fantasy series that was four books, Keeper Martin’s Tale through Mark of the Dragon, which he markets as the “adult” version of his story. He then split each of these four books in half and released them as the “children’s version”, with The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches I-IV and In the Service of Dragons I-IV. These series are exactly, word for word, identical.

Now, doing this just strikes me as being ridiculously greedy. And it would be bad enough…if Stanek were actually honest about what he was doing. He isn’t. I have found two references, on his personal website, that talk about the ‘dark path’ version of his stories, which I’ll get to in a moment, and a few references, also on his personal sites, that mention the difference between the “children’s” and the “adult” series. If Stanek is an honest, moral person, why would he re-release the series under a completely different name and not make it clear that they were the same series? I didn’t realize this until after I’d spent hours researching Stanek extensively. Nowhere on Amazon (except for in a few negative reviews), or on the book’s covers, does it state that these are the same story. It’s almost as if Stanek is hoping that people will accidentally buy books from both series, assuming they’re completely different stories…

…which, incidentally, has happened. I’ve read reviews from people who were very pissed off to have been cheated out of their money this way.

Incidentally…if you’re not convinced that Stanek writes his own reviews, take a look at these two on Amazon. If this Maureen Newbower is actually a real person, and has actually read and enjoyed Stanek’s books….why would she write two glowing five-star reviews…of the exact same book? Hell, even if she didn’t care that Stanek did this, you’d think she’d at least note that they’re the exact same book. Or at least she wouldn’t copy and paste her own review. Or lie about Publishers Weekly

Moving on. Stanek also released what he calls the ‘Dark Path’ versions of the story, which he calls a retelling of the story of Ruin Mist from a different point of view. If this is true, I would expect him to be open about that. I would also expect the book to say that it’s a retelling of the story from a different point of view…say, on the back cover, or front cover, or inside the flap. It doesn’t.

More importantly, it’s not a retelling of the same story. I would suspect that it’s an older draft of the same story, except I don’t think that Stanek ever wrote more than a single draft. However, the stories are functionally identical, with several small differences:

  1. There are several more errors in the ‘Dark path’ versions.
  2. The story has been rearranged slightly, so it’s even more confusing to follow. By ‘rearranged’, I mean Stanek made liberal use of the copy and paste function to randomly shuffle scenes around.
  3. There are two extra scenes in Dark Path; these scenes are short and don’t make sense.
  4. The first few pages have been rewritten a bit – the story is exactly the same, Stanek just rewrote half the paragraphs. After about the first few chapters, this stops and they are word-for-word identical again.

And, if that wasn’t enough, Stanek decided to split the Dark Path in half and release them as two separate books….again. Elf Queen’s Quest is identical to The Elf Queen and the King I & II. And again…neither of these books say that is what was done to them.

For some reason, Stanek never bothered to finish putting out the Dark Path. Although The Elf Queen and the King III & IV were announced, and are actually listed in the “Other Books By Robert Stanek” pages of several other books, they were never published.

If you have any doubts, I would recommend using Amazon’s very helpful “Look Inside” feature. Check out The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches, and Keeper Martin’s Tale. Read the first few pages. And, for your convenience, I have some screenshots and scans:

This is the first page of “Keeper Martin’s Tale”.

And now, compare it to this page:

This is the first page of “The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches”.

Notice any similarities?

Let’s now move on to the Dark Path. The image on the left is from The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches, the ones on the right is from The Elf Queen and the King. I have highlighted the similarities.

As you can see these are very similar, and identical in places. You can also see the rearrangement – the scene in The Elf Queen and the King with Midori is a scene that took place much later in the book in certain editions of The Kingdoms and the Elves of the Reaches.

There are also crass stupidities that are played upon the reader in The Elf Queen and the King. For example, the executioner beginning his day’s work? Just how many criminals do they have in this city? And, I note, in this version of the story Imtal is apparently under siege by the bandit kings…which makes me wonder just how the heroes walk out of the city later in the story, completely unmolested.

But I’m getting off-topic.

Part Five: The Photoshop Debacle

  10 Responses to “Part Four: One Book For the Price of Many”

  1. Actually, the quoted bits pretty clearly *are* two different drafts. My guess, from your description, is that it went something like this: Stanek wrote the first few chapters of his opus, tinkered with them a bit, then decided all this re-writing was just too much work and went on to finish the rest of “Keeper Martin’s Tales” without any revision at all. Then later he remembered he had a slightly different draft of the first chapter or two lying around *not earning him any money*, and so dismayed was he at this state of affairs that he felt compelled to rework it into a “alternative” version.

    What surprises me is that he didn’t simply use the search-and-replace function to change all the names so he could market it as a whole new series.

  2. You should investigate Stanek’s claim of writing 150 books. He is making a big deal on Facebook and his blogs about working on what will be his 150th book. I tried counting, but it is tricky. For example, from your diagram above – 15 books are really just 4 books that are packaged differently. And then he has special and “ultimate” editions of books, which just have different covers and maybe an added glossary (or fixed spelling errors). There are maybe a dozen of these, which he includes on his book lists and new books.

    And he seems to shit out a couple of his children picture bug books a month. They only have 20-30 pages and very little text from the previews available on Amazon. And I’m sure he uses the same drawings book after book. And there are the collections and “complete editions”, etc.

    And of course, all his non-computer books are self published – so he can spew out as much crap as he wants. In mid 2009 he was patting himself on the back for writing 100 books. If he actually wrote 50 more books since then, that would be 2 books a month. Which is quite ludicrous if it were true. But it is probably a lie and just padding the list with multiple editions.

  3. What is the difference between this and an actual mugging? Well, I feel like a mugging is more dignified, because at least the mugger doesn’t try to convince you that you’re getting an Ultra Deluxe Super Special Robbery that was rated as among the best robberies in the world according to Mugger’s Weekly (Muggers Weekly). Stanek rips you off and then tries to make you feel like you should be thanking him for the privilege.

  4. This comment had me crying tears it was so funny. I truly think I’m in love with this comment. Thanks for that.

  5. Since Stanek is nothing if not tenacious, he has re-released the Ruin Mist books with new titles yet again. The “In The Service of Dragons” re-release (or re-re-re-ad-infinitum-release) is of particular note, what with its very creative titles that appear strikingly similar to another bestselling fantasy series:

    A Clash of Heroes
    A Dance of Swords
    A Storm of Shields (I love this one, its both a blatant rip-off AND truly stupid)
    A Reign of Dragons

    http://www.amazon.com/Boxed-Anniversary-Edition-Service-Dragons-ebook/dp/B00ITC80GM/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_7

    To be fair, Stanek does make some (very minor) efforts to indicate that these are a re-release of “In the Service of Dragons”, but its hard to see this as anything but a cynical ploy to trick Game of Thrones fans into buying his books, in the spirit of Asylum Films.

    Oh, and if you check his various box-sets for the “Ruin Mist Chronicles”, they all bafflingly include “The Elf-Queen’s Quest”.

    http://www.amazon.com/Boxed-Set-Ruin-Mist-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B00IWJVE9W/ref=pd_sim_kstore_2?ie=UTF8&refRID=1W34MA3XTM7Y8RHMA4RC
    http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Chronicles-Martins-Kingdom-Alliance-ebook/dp/B00ALDZEIE/ref=pd_rhf_dp_p_img_4

    Imagine being someone who genuinely enjoyed the series, then getting to the final book in the set, all excited to find out what happens next, and finding out to your dismay that it was more-or-less identical to the first book!

    That’s what is so bewildering about so many of Stanek’s promotional tactics. Even if his books were good, and had actual, real-life fans, he still would quickly turn those people against him with dodgy trickery like these re-titled books. Can you imagine if JK Rowling or George RR Martin or Stephen King tried something like this? They would become instant pariahs!

  6. Looking through that deeply unsettling sock-puppet forum of Stanek’s, I found this thread where a “fan” asks about these re-titled editions:

    http://ruinmist.proboards.com/thread/1180/confused-reading-order

    The reply from “Shire Hobbit” leaves a bit to be desired:

    “Gator, the best way to explain the books then is there are young adult Ruin Mist books and adult Ruin Mist books. Lots of books are available in both adult and young adult editions. Like with Harry Potter in Canada and UK where my other half is from they have both editions. One is in kids section, one is in adults section. Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of Rings, His Dark Materials too. Like that.”

    Except, of course, that both the adult and children’s versions of Harry Potter have the exact same title, the only difference being the cover art. There’s no ambiguity whatsoever about whether they are separate books or not. (Sure, there’s the whole Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone thing, but that was limited to the US release, and had specific (albeit dumb) reasons behind it)

    Likewise, a couple of books in A Song of Ice and Fire were split in half as two books. In this case, it was due to the books being too big for the standards of the particular publishers (as opposed to Stanek’s tiny books), and, again, there’s little ambiguity about whether “A Storm of Swords I: Steel and Snow” is the same book as “A Storm of Swords”. While some markets (like Australia, where I live), will have both the split editions and the solo books on the same shelf, it’s still a result of decisions made by separate people in separate publishing imprints, instead of decisions made by one man pretending to be many people.

    In the same thread, another moderator, “Huntress”, helpfully adds that:

    “I think wpgator wants to know which to read. Ruin Mist Chronicles books (Keeper Martin’s Tale, Kingdom Alliance, Mark of the Dragon and Fields of Honor) is the adult edition. The Kingdoms and the Elves and In the Service of Dragons are young adult. I think the stories are same, hard to say.

    They are organized differently and with different inclusions. The young adult books have illustrations (lots and lots of very very cool illustrations) and additions and are organized different. I don’t know about some of the new editions, like if the Ultimate editions in adult have all the extras from the young adult editions but maybe.

    One cool thing about the newer editions is they have lost scenes and chapters restored. I know the special editions and reader’s editions have this. My favorite addition is the graphic novel extension in KE2 special edition.”

    Apart from blatant lies like “I think the stories are same, hard to say” (as if “Huntress” wouldn’t know!), the “lost scenes” and “restored chapters” part just baffles me. We’re not exactly talking about Franz Kafka here. Stanek is his own publisher and editor, and has complete control over what goes into his books, not to mention living in an age of word processors and permanent file storage rather than dusty manuscripts in old trunkboxes. And I have a hard time believing he has ever written a word of prose that didn’t see print soon after. That would require a level of objectivity and self-awareness that Stanek clearly does not possess.

  7. Between all of his computer manuals and the endless Bugville books, I wouldn’t be surprised if he has somewhere close to that many books under his name(s). But he’s almost certainly inflating that number too, since, well, its Stanek, and exaggerating his achievements to ridiculous levels is what he does best.

  8. Haha thanks! I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

  9. I’ll never understand why “number of books” is meant to be an impressive achievement, especially if the books themselves are self-published. Nothing against self-publishing, but if you didn’t have to persuade someone to publish the book then you shouldn’t count it as an achievement. Writing the book might be an accomplishment, but Stanek barely writes anything (excluding the computer manuals and Bugville).

    Reply

  10. It’s bizarre reading that forum. It’s likely that everyone on that thread except possibly the OP is Stanek.