SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

2017: The Year of Mashup.

Space opera is one of the key growth area of science fiction publishing. It’s an elastic term that can be stretched to encompass many writing modes and story styles. Always has been. I believe that what lies at the heart of both writing and reading space opera is a sense of wonder sparked by stories set on such an epic scale that our mundane lives feel drab in comparison. Space opera is often served up with lashings of adventure, fast pace, romance, and external threat (which is a writerly term to mean the characters are about to get blasted by a laser or gobbled up by a space monster).

When Kindle self-publishing kicked off the current science fiction boom in 2010, many of the books that were selling well fit into one of several tightly defined core areas within the wider category of space opera.

You had your science fiction romance bestsellers (not a surprise to me — I knew self-published authors making a good living writing science fiction romance as far back as 2001). Then there was military science-fiction, which often starts off with a boot camp before the space marine/ junior navy officer starts blasting bad people and aliens or the equivalent shipboard combat. Then you had your hard science-fiction in a space opera setting.

I can think of many reasons why this was so at the time, but in 2016, and more strongly in 2017, SelfPub and NewPub science fiction publishing decidedly pushed beyond. There is still a strong demand for classic military science fiction tales, and it is being satisfied by marvelous new stories. However, many authors who once restricted themselves to core areas, reached out from their jumping off points to go exploring within the wider universe of space opera, freely borrowing, being inspired by, and mashing up whatever took their fancy. Your space marine writers might now include sexy werewolves and spellcasters, taken straight from the pages of paranormal romance and urban fantasy. LitRPG is very influential. Westerns and superhero themes join in too. At the same time, romance writers are pushing deep into the territory of fleet combat, galactic empire, and political intrigue, stiffened by greater observance of science and engineering principles (something that has been on the up for many years now).

Yes, I know, those sorts of books were always being written (for example, the Napoleonic Wars with Dragons of the Tremeraire books by Naomi Novik that started in 2005), as were many other modes of science fiction, but in the earliest days of the self-publishing boom, there was a grain of truth to the criticism that successful SelfPub science fiction novels were cookie-cutter replicas of each other. Not much more than a grain, yet it was there. Take Ark Royal (2014) by Christopher Nuttall, Warship (2015) by Joshua Dalzelle, and Constitution (2015) by Nick Webb. All great books, all infused with the unique style of the author, and all highly successful. Nonetheless, if you read them back to back, you can see a resemblance in their surface features.

But that is much less true now.

Speaking for myself, one of the reasons why it was so tempting a few years ago to write a book about space marines featuring a prominent space soldier on the cover (as I did in 2014 with Marine Cadet) is because even in thumbnail, your cover and title effectively communicate what your book is about. Matching products with consumers who might enjoy them is, after all, what marketing ultimately tries to achieve.

 

Back in 2014, I deliberately chose to write Marine Cadet over the book I would have preferred to launch, because Marine Cadet was in a sub-genre that I could more easily communicate through the cover (and the title). It was the right decision. But in 2017, with the explosive growth in the science fiction literary audience now settling down, readers are less inclined to say ‘I’ll try this book because it’s cheap and got a picture on the front of a space marine/ dragon/ sexy man with big pecs’ and more inclined to say, ‘I’ll try this book because I recognize the author or publisher as a brand I trust.’

With readers increasingly trusting the top authors to take them someplace new, in 2017 I had an increased sense of successful SelfPub and NewPub authors feeling the confidence to break free of the prop offered by a cliché on the cover and freeing up their imaginations.

Of course, that’s always been the case for well-established writers. The recent release by Andy Weir, Artemis, has been a huge success because vast legions of readers trust Andy Weir to tell a compelling story. It almost didn’t matter what he wrote about (although Weir’s success in wowing readers with Artemis will profoundly affect his ability to sell books in the future). Same with Margaret Atwood, and John Scalzi. What changed in 2017 was the degree to which that reader trust extended far into the areas of NewPub and SelfPub.

Mashup Predictions for 2018

We will see mashups galore. Space opera with spells sold very well in 2017 and we will see that go in new directions. Also, paranormal hard sf, military fantasy blended with superhero romance… LitRPG and mecha everywhere. The works. We will see much more exuberance and more experimentation from the SelfPub and NewPub sectors. One key trend for 2018 will be already successful authors of paranormal romance and urban fantasy (and I predict the most successful will be women) pushing deep into traditional space opera territory.

Books that caught my eye in 2017

Chris Fox: Tech Mage.

Chris is a hugely prolific writer who caused a stir in 2016 when wrote a novel to break into a new genre in 21 days and he filmed himself every day of the challenge. The result was Destroyer, which sold like gangbusters.

Tech Mage (2017) is an exciting romp I read earlier this week and it was fantastic in every sense. It had Confederate Marines teaming up with tech mages and battleships to fight evil sorcerers and dark creatures who could have come from Mordor. Powerups, potions and spell cast levels give a subtle flavor of LitRPG. The series is titled Magitech Chronicles, which really says it all.  I’ve decided to show the cover for the sequel, Void Wrym (2017), because… well, it is space opera, it is military science fiction, and it does have a mean dragon on the front.  Very 2017, but it’s also going to be very 2018.

Void Wyrm

As I was hunting around Chris’s site looking for his 21-day novel videos, I came across this video from September 2017 in which Chris talks about many of the same things I do in this post, but from a more practical point of view.


Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 – Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.


Start reading The Sleeping Legion today.

SleepingLegion_Book0_eBook_01_590px

A lethal orbital defense platform.

A squad of green Marines.

A silent alien killer.

WHO DIES NEXT?

Classic military science fiction: The Sleeping Legion by JR Handley

Click or tap on the cover to join the Legion and start reading this novella.

 

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

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Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

2017: the Year of Collaboration.

Science fiction in 2017 saw a further deepening of cooperation between authors, particularly those in the SelfPub and NewPub areas. Collaborative anthologies and box sets that have proved so successful for several years in the romance and fantasy markets became yet more commonplace with some high visibility successes, such as last summer’s Dominion Rising anthology (Gwynn White & PK Tyler). For a while last summer, it seemed the whole of Facebook’s science fiction author community was cheering them to the rafters when they reached 28,000 sales by Day#6.

Other notable successes came from Woodbridge Press (the Explorations series by Nathan Hystad– which takes an essentially TradPub approach but tends to involve SelfPub and NewPub authors), Seventh Seal Press (Four Horsemen anthologies — NewPub), Craig Martelle (Expanding Universe series), and Samuel Peralta continued to demonstrate why he has established himself as one of the essential science fiction anthologists of recent years. There were many other examples; I have been particularly enjoying the pulp delights of The Syndicate Studio’s Adventures in the Arcane.

Explorations 4HU 6 in top20 highlighted

At one point in 2017, both the Four Horsemen Universe anthologies and all four of the Explorations anthologies were in the Amazon SF anthology top-20. Well done Woodbridge Press and Seventh Seal Press.

Co-writing

In 2017, even more noticeable than the collaborative anthologies was the increase in co-written novels.

The concept is hardly new. Science fiction has a long history of co-written fiction. L. Sprague de Camp described Henry Kuttner and C.L. (Catherine) Moore’s prolific mid-20th Century collaboration as so seamless that they would alternate at the typewriter, continuing mid-paragraph where the other had left off. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle co-wrote a dozen novels, including the classic The Mote in God’s Eye (1974). Most recently, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck have seen great success under the pen name James S.A. Corey and the Expanse series, starting with Leviathan Wakes (2011).

I tried this myself, recruiting Ian Whates early in 2015 to co-write the second half of my Human Legion series, starting with Human Empire (2015). I can tell you from experience that co-authoring demands much of both authors’ skill, ego, discipline, flexibility, and commitment. It’s a risky business, because you simply cannot be certain the partnership will be fruitful until you try working together for real.

humanempire_eBook_400px

Co-writing from yesteryear

The reason I recruited Ian was to keep up the speed at which the books were released, to keep up the quality, and to keep the writing fresh. I’m sure those same goals are driving the move to co-writing at a time when many science fiction readers are ever more demanding of quality and expect series to complete quickly.

Some co-writing that caught my eye in 2017

Ell Leigh Clarke  & Michale Anderle — The Acension Myth, starting with Awakened (2017)

Nick Cole & Jason Anspach – Galaxy’s Edge, starting with Legionnaire (2017)

Sarah Noffke, J.N. Chaney & Michael Anderle – The Ghost Squadron (2017)

Richard Fox & Josh Hayes — Terra Nova Chronicles, starting with Terra Nova (2017)

Craig Martelle & Scott Moon — Darklanding, which promises to deliver a new book every 18 days, starting with Assignment Darklanding (2017)

Michael Anderle co-writes with many people! Some of the others include Justin Sloan, PT Hylon, Ellen Campbell, and Craig Martelle.

Swapshop

Newsletter swaps and joint marketing became ever more commonplace and successful, sometimes based around collaborative web portals and newsletters (Discover Sci-Fi,  Sci Fi Explorations) and sometimes loosely allied to podcasts (Keystroke Medium,  The Dead Robots’ Society ) although podcasts are increasingly popular in any case (Creative Writing Career,  Tea & Jeopardy , and the not-on-often enough Dataslate).

rca-poster-wide_orig

Keystroke Medium branched out into hats and charity auctions. Also awards. Click or tap on the image to nominate in the Keystroke Medium awards.

One of the standout successes is the 20BooksTo50k movement, which was a goal Michael Anderle set himself (write 20 books that would generate $50k in annual  income). At the moment it most strongly surfaces in its Facebook group (>16,000 members), but delivered a successful Las Vegas conference in November 2017, organized by Craig Martelle. Next month I’m booked for the 20BooksTo50K’s writers’ conference in London, which I’m sure will be absolutely fabulous but also very useful on a practical level.

20BooksLondon

The past few years have seen several professional writer and small publisher conferences, in which science fiction has been strongly represented, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I personally saw these real-life training and networking events emerge from Facebook groups.

In fact, Facebook is becoming an ever more important means for author collaboration (Space Opera: Writers is another big and active group). For non-American writers like me, FB is particularly useful to network and agree deals with American authors and publishers (and I like to think the reverse is useful too, though admittedly to a lesser extent!).

I also saw OldPub getting in on the collaboration game, becoming more aggressive in cross-selling through coordinated deep discounts rather than discounting piecemeal. For example, in November 2017 Gollanz (a UK science fiction and fantasy imprint of MacMillan) were once again offering 50 titles for 99p each, mostly the most recent title from their list of active authors, and I dutifully helped myself to a handful (the sequel to War of the Worlds from Stephen Baxter, Principles of Angels (2010) from Jaine Fenn, Justina Robson’s Glorious Angels (2015), and an oldie, Revelation Space ( 2001) from Alastair Reynolds). Admittedly, these books are patiently waiting in the crush at the foothills of Mount TBR, but I will get around to reading some of them and I probably wouldn’t have bought these books otherwise. Limited time, heavily discounted cross-selling around a list of authors as powerful as Gollanz’s is a form of collaboration that makes a lot of sense.

Collaboration Predictions for 2018

The loose and temporary collaboration between SelfPub authors, and between SelfPub and NewPub will increase in frequency and effectiveness. Some of this essentially comes down to collaborating on the development of brands. This will accelerate the separation between authors and publishers who have brands that are recognized by consumers, and those who do not.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

CC Ekeke is a fabulous writer and I’m sorry to say that although I was aware of him and his Star Brigade series, I hadn’t read him until last year. I was missing out! He delivers greatly satisfying slugs of space opera wonder in which I recognize the best of EE Doc Smith’s, Lensmen, Star Wars, and 90s cyberpunk all brought up to date, secret ingredients added by Ekeke and given his own unique spin. Fabulous!

There were several Star Brigade releases in 2017, but the series relaunched a while back with Resurgent (2014). You can pick up this book by subscribing to Charles’s mailing list.

SB151uc3UbNF3L

Charles has had a very successful year and I think the collaboration angle may have helped (as did rebranding recently with new covers and new logo). I don’t know everything he’s been up to (because that would make me a stalker!) but during 2017, we’ve collaborated on group promotions, one of which he project managed. I see him and chat with him occasionally on a couple of the Facebook groups where I’m active (20Books50K and Space Opera: Writers), saw the Galactic Frontiers anthology he edited, and heard him on one of my favorite podcasts (Keystroke Medium Ep 2.40).

I’m not suggesting for a moment that I had anything to do with Charles’s successful year; rather that it’s interesting from my point of view to see a successful author spinning the wheels of collaboration behind the scenes.

 

Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


Start reading Hill 435 today.

Hill435_02_small_mchimp

In the brutality of the Human Marine Corps, there had been no room for Marines who grew old; you served the alien masters until your usefulness ended, and then you were ended too. But then Marines rebelled to form the Human Legion and fight the War of Liberation. What now for Marines at the end of their career?

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

This is part of a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

The boom is slowing.

How many science fiction books were bought in 2017 in America and the UK? How many authors earned enough to make a decent living? Is the audience expanding or contracting?

For those of us who earn our living as science-fiction writers, these are vital questions we must keep asking. I can’t feed my family on daydreams; I need to know whether my career remains viable. And yet the answers are difficult to come by, and made harder when trade bodies such as the American Association of Publishers and the UK’s Publishing Association are so keen to spin misleading narratives such as the one that says eBook sales are down (Reality Check: these trade bodies represent only a tiny minority of eBook publishers and their figures only tell us that their eBook sales are down.)

Nor can we turn to all the surveys that tell us the pitiful amount professional writers earn (Reality Check: none of them are based on representative data, and some conflate earnings of novelists with those of journalists, script writers and other forms of writer).

Consequently we’re forced to collate anecdotal evidence from as many people as possible, read all the trade figures, and use our inside knowledge  and tools such as KDSPY to examine the charts and sales ranking on Amazon, where at the least a rough correlation can be made to unit sales and earnings (an attempt is made to summarize them at authorearnings.com).

BTW: This is why I urge anyone who wants to understand the state of science fiction publishing to spread their wings and consult widely different sources of data.

Anyway, here’s what I discerned during 2017.

The flood of science-fiction authors quitting the day job to write full time has slowed significantly, after peaking around 2013-14. However, quitting the day job was still a realistic possibility for some authors during 2017. Two of my friends have done so in recent weeks, and one of the surprises that impressed me personally in 2017 was discovering that authors I’d known for a while had actually been writing full-time for years.

The problem here is that it’s no longer possible to identify professional authors by visually inspecting the Amazon science fiction bestseller lists, something I once did. In 2017, a hypothetical self-publishing author earning a low six-figure income from Amazon sales of their science fiction books can do so while barely scratching the Top-100 of minor bestseller sub-lists, such as Space Marine and Galactic Empires. Being self-published, they will almost certainly never be mentioned in any traditional review or news medium (such as Locus Magazine — although there are a handful of review sites that freely mix up books from different types of publishing) and if they aren’t prominent in science fiction fandom (few are) then unless you move in the same social circles as the author you will probably never hear of them. And yet they will have sold hundreds of thousands of books; just not to you.

spaceoperachart

As I wrote this post, I grabbed today’s top-selling space opera Kindle books on amazon.com: 9 SelfPub, 2 NewPub, 1 OldPub/TradPub. This has been typical throughout 2017. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Children of Time’ (a great read unless you’re terrified of spiders) is not only the sole TradPub title, but Adrian is the only author who got his professional break with traditional publishing. Also of note, five of the self-published titles are from Harper Voyager authors (i.e. these are TradPub authors who mix it up with SelfPub). The point here is that so many of the top SF authors at the moment only rose to prominence in the past five years, and if you don’t follow the newer means of discovering authors, you may never hear of them, and consequently have a highly distorted view of the state of science fiction publishing. Four of these authors between them have sold collectively over five million copies.  (Allan, Arenson, and Anderle are all million sellers, and Riddle has sold two million of his Atlantis Gene trilogy in the US alone).

Elsewhere in science-fiction world, friends of mine are reporting a difficult year. I’m one of them, so I know what it feels like and understand how exhausting it can be when so many of one’s friends are killing it with their sales. In fact, despite the huge growth in the science fiction market in recent years, during 2017 I still heard some people complaining of the ‘death of the midlist’ (by which they mean that unless you’re a huge star, you can’t earn a living as a writer).

Although my year, and those of some friends, were not great, my reading of the data is that science fiction sales and audience both continued to grow in aggregate, though at a reduced rate.

I add that emphasis because earning a living as a science fiction writer is still extremely hard, and there are no guarantees of success no matter the quality of your writing or marketing. Although the number of authors earning good money has soared, the number of authors vying to claim a spot as a full-time SF pro has grown by an even greater amount, and this showed no signs of slacking during 2017.

The ‘boom’ in context. The number of authors earning a good living writing science fiction novels appears to have grown, but remains tiny (I estimate a highly speculative 200-300 authors). But for every one in this group, I estimate there are about 50-100 authors earning less.

To put that in perspective, when I sell a book on amazon, it’s a competition in which the reader has to choose mine over 150,000 other competing Kindle titles in the category of science fiction, each one instantly available at a click of a button.

Many readers are responding to the enormous volume of professionally produced books by retreating to a comfort zone of brands. As in every other industry, if consumers are overwhelmed with choice, they will turn to brands they recognize as delivering quality products, and perhaps also to recommendations from voices they trust. Despite many flaws (oh, don’t get me started on #?&*ing Amazon reviews <grrr> ),  amazon.com has become the dominant voice of recommendation, and I would argue because it gives the most effective recommendations. I don’t get many things right in my predictions, but this is exactly what I said back in 2011, as did many others.

LindsayBuroker

More than just a great writer, podcaster, and dog whisperer, this author has been successfully developing her brand.

In 2017, John Scalzi, Margaret Atwood, Andy Weir, and Alistair Reynolds were successful consumer brands; so too were Sara King, Lindsay Buroker, Black Library, Star Wars, Baen Books, Christopher Nuttall, The Kutherian Gambit, and the Four Horsemen Universe (amongst many others).

Gollancz, Harper Voyager, Crown, and Head of Zeus are not successful consumer brands; most readers will tell you they have never heard of them. Bookstores, literary agents, and newspaper reviewers will certainly know these brands, but not everyday science fiction readers. These are business-to-business brands rather than business-to-consumer.

A key trend in 2017 was to see science fiction authors collaborating to boost their brands, or signing NewPub deals that would associate them with strong consumer brands.

Predictions for 2018

The race for brands will continue. Sales, audience, and also revenue will all increase during 2018, but only in aggregate. I predict 2018 will be the first year since 2010 when over 50% of professional science fiction authors selling into the Anglo-American market will report a year-on-year decline in earnings from their books.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

Wearelegion

The Bobiverse.

Space opera. Dark humor. Hard-as-diamond SF. The quirky Bobiverse books by Dennis E Taylor are all these things, but mostly to me these unique gems are just Bobiverse books. Like many of the key science fiction books that broke out of the core SF literary audience to sell in ridiculous amounts to mainstream readers, a great deal of that breakout was due to the huge success of the audio edition.

Kicking off in 2016 with the fabulously titled We are Legion (We are Bob), the books built strongly through word of mouth until at one point in 2017 Amazon’s new Amazon Charts was listing the first one as the most read fiction book. Taylor finished 2017 with the final book in the trilogy: All These Worlds.

All these Worlds

 

During 2017, We are Legion (We are Bob) was the book I saw with the most personal recommendations and from the most widespread of sources; it was fascinating to see it grow its reputation month by month. There were other titles plenty of people were talking about last year, the TV tie-in edition of Handmaid’s Tale (1986) by Margaret Atwood for one, but nothing came close to Dennis E. Taylor’s masterpiece.

In fact, with Dennis E. Taylor being so successful and Jodi Taylor continuing to show during last year why she is one of the UK’s leading SF authors, 2017 taught me that I am very much a junior in the ranks of Taylor science fiction authors 🙂

Other posts in this series

Part 1: 2017: they year NewPub came to stay

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 – Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


Start reading The Battle of Cairo today.

TheBattleofCairo_560

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.1 – The year NewPub came to stay.

This is the first in a series of posts about developments in English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK that caught my eye during 2017, along with predictions for 2018. I’ll explain why I’m restricting myself to these markets at the end*.

It’s not just Self-Publishing vs Traditional Publishing. 2017 was about NewPub vs. OldPub.

Since around 2010, self-publishing has grown from barely noticeable in Anglo-American science-fiction to a powerful force. Not only that, but in doing so, SelfPub has grown the audience enormously. So it’s hardly a surprise that commentators on the state of science fiction publishing often talk about the dynamic of SelfPub versus TradPub, but 2017 saw the another key part of SF publishing come to maturity. I call this NewPub.

NewPub publishers produce books by authors, same as TradPub, but they use one or more of the innovations in publishing models to arrive at something that is not SelfPub but deviates so profoundly from traditional publishing that it can no longer be classified as TradPub either.

As much as anything, NewPub is an attitude. NewPub is innovation. NewPub shrugs away OldPub’s shackles of convention and forges a shining new path. At least, that’s how it looks when it works. It’s lean, agile, fast and learns quickly. Publishing is a brutally competitive business and NewPub does not win its proponents an exception. NewPub’s failures slough away to soon be forgotten except in the hearts of disappointed authors, but those that climb to the top do indeed shine brightly.

In comparison with TradPub, NewPub contracts may acquire rights for a more limited duration, and be more limited in the rights take. Often NewPub will offer a considerably more generous royalty rate too. A NewPub standard seems to be emerging of offering 40-60% of net revenue in return for exclusive publishing rights for 7-10 years. As part of this lean and collaborative attitude, NewPub will frequently bypass agents, making direct contact with successful authors who have retained the rights to their own intellectual property. That’s one of the unintended consequences about Amazon’s position: everyone can see how many books you’re selling through the most important retailer of the lot. Whether you’re succeeding or failing, it’s plain for all to see, and NewPub is watching.

Not all NewPub rolls the same way, but I said NewPub is as much about attitude and a key way this manifests is that NewPub is more of a collaborative partnership than the one-way IP grab of larger TradPub, or a small publisher who might be responsive but sells too few copies to pay more than hobby amounts.

Take as an example, last summer’s Dominion Rising anthology led by P.K. Tyler and Gwynn White (which sold 16,000 copies in pre-order and a further 12,000 copies in its first six days, and was available for only six months). That’s a co-operative of successful science fiction authors doing more than tweeting their new book has come out. The team worked hard together to pool their impact in a highly competitive market. Those sales figures are tiny in comparison with science fiction titles that break out of the science fiction homelands and out into the mainstream. Nonetheless, a few tens of thousands represents a nice slug of money for the contributors, and more importantly an introduction to tens of thousands of potential new readers in this crowded market.

woolreviews

Take a look at the huge number of reviews for Wool (2012) by Hugh Howey. It’s an example of a science fiction book that broke into the mainstream, and the movie version hasn’t even been released yet. But one of the changes wrought by NewPub and SelfPub is that you no longer need to sell anything like this number of books to earn a good living as a writer.

NewPub is Podium Publishing and other audio-only publishers. It’s the Michael Anderle publishing empire, and Four Horsemen Universe; it’s science-fiction anthology cooperatives that sell tens of thousands of copies and earn five figure sums to distribute for the authors (such as the Empire at War anthology I helped to launch). Many of the NewPub publishing imprints are being set up by science fiction authors who made a killing in the Kindle gold rush a few years ago.

NewPub will derive the majority of its sales through Kindle and audiobook sales, and may fund some titles through Kickstarter.

NewPub has transformed the careers of several of my author friends during 2017. I wouldn’t go that far to describe my own experience, but here are a few ways I’ve been involved myself.

I signed deals with Seventh Seal Press, who had an incredibly successful 2017. Not only have they delivered many high-selling books, but while they offer a traditional publishing contract (in the sense that I give them exclusive publishing rights and they pay me money) it is one that would make OldPub authors weep. So I class Seventh Seal as NewPub.

I’m still receiving plenty of royalties from the NewPub Empire at War (2016) co-operative anthology (possibly the most successful ever launched at a British science fiction convention).

During 2017, my own imprint, Human Legion Publications, published an entire book series from debut author JR Handley, securing an audiobook licensing deal with Podium Press, and sold tens of thousands of copies along the way.

For_a_Few_Mchimp

A NewPub anthology with a publishing model that had elements of the TradPub anthologies I’ve been in, but also elements of SelfPub cooperatives. Plus, great stories!

And to be clear, these ideas of OldPub vs NewPub and SelfPub vs TradPub are crude tools to help understand the nature of the rapidly changing nature of science fiction publishing. Nothing more. Other important developments fall outside of this model. One of these I watched during 2017 was the continued success of crowdfunding and Patreon. I’m going to cheat by going back beyond last year to May 2016, but it’s a wonderful story. TradPub author, NK Jemisin, pointed out that despite her high profile and success of her novels, she couldn’t see how she could earn a living as a writer. So she launched a Patreon campaign in which supporters pledge a certain amount of dollars each month. Within 24 hours, she had enough to quit the day job. As of today, 1,330 patrons pledge her a total of $5,633 per month.

Many other authors have run similar campaigns, although I haven’t heard of any in science fiction delivering such a large and stable income as Jemisin’s. Part of the argument for midlist authors to sign with NewPub or go SelfPub is the greater earnings per sale, but in Jemisin’s case, I suspect it is precisely TradPub’s ability to deliver prestige without necessarily great income that allowed her to earn so much from her pledges. Interesting.

2017 NewPub highlight.

Without a doubt, this is Michael Anderle and the runaway success of his LMBPN publishing empire (Its lead series sold a million copies in its first two years). Before 2017, Michael was merely one of the standout science fiction authors of the past decade with a knack for collaboration. But the end of 2017, Michael has become the James Patterson of science fiction, earning him what seems to be a permanent slot in the top-40 fiction authors on Amazon.

Predictions for 2018

NewPub will continue to expand. Yet more successful authors will launch spin-off series in collaboration with science-fiction authors who can boast a successful track record of writing high-quality books. Michael Anderle will reach mainstream new attention as the single most influential individual in the world of science fiction publishing.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

The year saw Amy DuBoff  release Scions of Change (2017), which closes out her Cadicle space opera series that opened with Architects of Destiny (2015). They’re epic multi-generational space opera books; kind of Dune meets Star Wars. But that wasn’t what most caught my eye from Amy (nor were the couple of anthologies we both wrote for). That would be Covert Talents (2017), the start of a spin-off trilogy to Michael Anderle’s Kutherian Gambit series, and co-written with Mr. Anderle.

Covert Talents

Speaking from experience, it’s nerve wracking as a professional author to  see whether the success you enjoyed with your first series will translate into success with subsequent ones. The trilogy was released over three months and the third book, Veiled Designs (2018) hit the #1 spot in amazon.com’s space opera bestseller lists for a while last week. I was delighted to see Amy prove to the world that she’ll be a major name in science fiction for many years to come.

 

Other posts in this series

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.2 – Science fiction is still booming.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.3 – Collaboration: Let’s work together… and make a killing.

SF Publishing in 2017 pt.4 – Can I have dragons and man chests with my spaceship?


Start reading Damage Unlimited today.

Tim C. Taylor is a British author of popular science fiction who quit the day job in 2011. For a free starter library of exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.


*So, why restrict myself to English language science fiction publishing in the US and UK? It’s not that nothing else is going on of importance. For me personally, I am greatly indebted to my loyal fans in Australia, Canada, and elsewhere. More generally, I suspect that in 25 years’ time, we’ll look back at this time and consider that not only were the biggest changes in SF publishing taking place outside of the English language, but that they will profoundly impact Anglo-American science fiction over the coming decade.

The reason is simply that it’s with the US and UK that I have the most meaningful data and consequently the deepest understanding of how those markets work. Also, I succeed or fail in earning my living as a writer by my success in selling to American readers, so I watch trends there like a hawk.

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I’m back at #1

Ebook Colony CoverIt’s been a while since I’ve been at #1 in an Amazon.com bestseller chart, but here I am again today as part of the team effort behind the latest Explorations anthology. I’ve had a busy schedule this year, but I decided last Christmas to make room to write a few stories for the fun of it rather than to tie in directly with my main novel series.

That’s why I wrote a novelette for the Four Horsemen Universe anthology, For a Few Credits More, which was released a  few weeks ago, and another for the Explorations themed anthology series. Simply put, I was already a reader of both series and what could be more satisfying than to deepen my appreciation than to get involved myself? Of course, in order to have a story commissioned, there was the minor detail of begging/ threatening/ fooling/ bribing the editors as appropriate.

Both series reflect a trend I’ve seen for a while in science fiction literature towards a sense of adventure and close attention to excellence in the basic mechanics of storytelling, and all this coupled with an increased interest in the ‘hard’ sciences and engineering (I say ‘increased interest’ but that’s not always quite the same as ‘rigorous scientific accuracy’!).

That may seem an odd thing to say (what writer aspires to mediocrity in storytelling?) but it’s really a question of emphasis. An award-winning British science fiction writer proudly stated on Twitter recently that he is not and has never been a storyteller; he is a writer. Good for him. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s been a big trend in science fiction over the past decade of readers searching out a fundamentally different mindset.

An example of this trend is Andy Weir’s The Martian, and in that I do include the scientifically inaccurate sandstorm at the beginning, a conceit Weir freely admits he added to turn the rigor of his speculative science blog posts about someone stranded on Mars into a blockbuster audiobook/ novel/ movie (there really are sandstorms and high winds on Mars, but Martian air lacks enough density to carry much force). I see authors in this trend taking a starting position of “let’s get the science, engineering, military, social, economic and other aspects right”  with varying degrees of “but let’s consider monkeying around with the realism in a few cases if it gives a big boost to the story”.

For_a_Few_200pxIn the Explorations series, for example, we have sentient stars, which don’t feature heavily in textbooks (unless you count the excellent Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon). On the other hand, in The Light of Distant Earth, the story I contributed to Explorations: Colony, the editor checked out my stellar geography and that the stars I mention match the data observed by real life astronomers. In For a Few Credits More, and my follow-up novel, Midnight Sun, the universe bible insists that we have no artificial gravity or inertial dampeners. Space battles need to observe such little details as the laws of physics. Starfighters don’t have a resistant medium to push against, so they cannot maneuver like airplanes or boats, and if you accelerate too rapidly, you crush your crew to death.

And always, the storytelling must be excellent.

While this trend has been apparent for years now with novels, it is only recently that I’ve seen it so prominently in short science fiction. I suspect what’s happening is that a critical mass of successful novelists – most of whom have established themselves through self-publishing or the new independent presses – are applying their same writing mindset and skills to writing shorter fiction simply for the love of it. Just like I did.

Of course, whenever we talk of trends in publishing and literature, it’s important to remember that there are many trends all  expressing themselves simultaneously, and often in apparently contradictory directions. Also that for every norm you suggest, there will be plenty of exceptions, and cases that don’t fit well with any attempt to categorize them.

Nonetheless, trends are real, and it’s part of my job as a professional writer to watch for them. Given that a decade ago, I canceled my last subscription to a science fiction periodical because I’d finally accepted that I rarely enjoyed the type of stories featured in any of the contemporary top-flight magazines, I find it significant that when I looked at the top-20 SF anthologies chart on Amazon.com today, I saw it contained all six of the Explorations and Four Horsemen anthologies ( at positions: #1, #6, #7, #11, #15 & #18)

Explorations 4HU 6 in top20

Congratulations to Explorations anthologist Nathan Hystad and his team at Woodbridge Press, and Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy at Seventh Seal Press.

They’re all great books, and not just the ones I’m in. Try them out! With the Explorations anthologies, there is a brief 99c/ 99p promotion on all the Kindle editions of the Explorations anthologies in most regions for the next day or so. Many of them are also free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. You can find the series in the US here and UK here.

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I just signed my first traditional publishing deal

The title isn’t quite true. I’ve signed trad deals in which I’ve published other authors, and ones in which I’ve signed audiobook-only deals for my novels. Then there are magazines and anthologies. But I’m really excited about this one with Seventh Seal Press because it’s the traditional multi-format novel deal, with the exceptions that:

  • It’s much more generous than the sign away all rights forever for as little as we can give you contract.
  • Seventh Seal Press is still a new imprint, but it’s already established a reputation for winning fans, critical acclaim, and of selling a lot of books.

And that last point is the killer one for me. I’m a midlist author, and I can’t afford financially or in terms of career development to sign a deal with a publisher without a track record of good sales within the genre I write in. While I’m always open to serious offers, there are two, maybe three publishers in the world that I would definitely consider signing with. Seventh Seal Press is one of them.

For more info, I’ve written it all up with pictures here 🙂

 

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Dresden Files in Space?

DresdenLast year I picked up a Jim Butcher book I chanced upon at the library where I write my books. I’d heard about the author for years, but mostly during the debacle of the 2015 Hugo Awards when his Dresden Files novel, Skin Game, was no-awarded (which means voters are saying the book was so awful that it should never have been shortlisted). Was it really that bad? My experiences with contemporary fantasy novels hadn’t been successful in recent years, so my expectations weren’t high.

My reaction? Within a few months’ I’d not only devoured the entire 15-novel Dresden Files series but during an enforced break in my book project at the time (War Against the White Knights) I started writing a series of my own that in my head was ‘Dresden Files in Space’. It’s not a copy, and many details are completely and unrecognizably different, but in my little author’s head I was channeling the excitement Jim Butcher delivers in spades. And my characters too were more vivid in my imagination than ever before. I’ve been reading novels for over 40 years, and that must mean hundreds of authors — thousands — but I’ve never encountered an author who could write characters as convincingly as Jim Butcher. The guy is a writing genius. And that makes him a powerful source to channel.

I think that when creatives inspire each other to new heights, then this channeling idea is how it often works. If you try to copy another artist’s work, you’ll get an uninspired dull echo. But if you fill your head with the same vibe you get from your inspiration, and then allow your own unique creative juices to flow, then you get a much more special result. And the most gifted among us will keep that virtuous cycle going by then going on to inspire others.

RSquad_pbs

Inspired novels…

I remember reading an interview in the mid-80s with Gene Simmons of KISS talking about a bass player in a contemporary rock band who was inspired by Simmons’s bass licks on the early KISS albums. Simmons was bemused by the whole thing because he couldn’t hear any echoes of his playing in his devotee, but that didn’t matter because the inspiration worked. [I’m not certain which band Simmons was talking about, but I think it might have been Toad the Wet Sprocket].

 

So there’s my writing tip for the day: fill your head with something good and then get writing.

Were the results of my Butcher inspiration successful? I think so. Certainly they were the most enjoyable novels to write so far. You could always find out for yourself. I launched the second novel in the series yesterday, and for a few days it will be available for 99c/99p. So will the first book, Hurt U Back.

Second_Strike_LaunchDay_1128px

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Interview with June Book Cover of the Month Winner, Shawn King.

steamTo succeed as a professional author, you need to write superb books, and never more than at present with the unprecedented level of competition in publishing today. (For example, when I sell a copy of a science fiction novels through Amazon, I have to compete against 169,000 other SF books, and beat every one of them.) But writing great stories is obvious; there are other things you need to do too.

I’ve been writing and publishing for a living since 2011, and if there’s one ‘other’ thing I’ve learned in that time, it’s to get the typography on your cover right for both your book and your brand. And if there’s another thing, it’s to get the right negative space on your cover. And then there’s the use of color. And having the image simple and strong enough to look good in a thumbnail.

Yes, covers sell books; there’s no getting away from that but they are also a fascinating topic in their own right. One of the most informative and fun places to think about covers is on M.L.S. Weech’s website where you get to vote on a series of cover contests to find the cover of the month. Here’s June’s winner being interviewed about his second win, for the excellent cover of ‘For Steam and Country’ by Jon Del Arroz.

Source: Interview with June Book Cover of the Month Winner, Shawn King.

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Not idle

I’ve been promising for a while to blog more on this, my home site. I keep sketching ideas on the topics of science fiction, writing and combining the two with science fiction publishing, but I keep not posting because I find I’m always too busy writing the kind of thing that pays the bills. I’ve been promising my writing group for several months that I’d post something about a series I workshopped there reaching 100,000 sales. It’s added another 25,000 since then, so I’d better do that once the family’s back at school. Once I’ve started, I don’t think I’ll stop, because there’s so many exciting things happening in science fiction publishing at the moment.

Since I last posted, I’ve sold two novelettes to major anthologies, signed a trad-publishing deal (somewhat to my surprise) and written a lot. I’m expecting five book launches during the fall. It will be busy!

I was looking back at what I’ve done this summer because my next book is not quite as ready as I’d hoped. But I realize that I can’t really say I’ve been idle.

Here are some of the things I’ve launched or written in the last quarter, many exclusive to my Legionaries mailing list (which you can join here).

and some more over the past couple of years…

Armory_2017_v2_RGB_nobleed_1000px_lores

I look forward to blogging more soon 🙂

Tim

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A new trend for publishing retail?

Most days I spend time looking around the world of publishing when I should really be in that world and writing novels. Here’s something I found today that really caught my eye.

Sometimes authors get together and talk about how major publishers are and will respond to the disruption coming from self-publishers, Amazon imprints, and other new publishers. For example, the consistent line spun over the past few years that print books are resurgent and would everyone please forget about eBooks and go to your nearest bookstore. It’s a fascinating topic, and an important one if you earn your living writing novels. But that’s about publishers; we don’t spend as much time debating changes to brick and mortar retailers.

Cue this article about a keynote speech by James Daunt, boss of Waterstones, one of the two remaining national bookstores in the UK (if you include WH Smith). Waterstones has been taking hammer blows from Amazon for many years now, but Daunt seems to have stabilized the business.

The change that caught my eye was that Waterstones has come off a reliance on co-op payments. Now, co-op for those who don’t know, is a complex and evolving class of negotiations that basically boil down to this: publishers pay bookstores to promote their titles. It’s not always as simple as the description I’m about to give, but if a bookstore has big stacks of a major new release on prominent display, then there’s a good chance that they’ve been paid to stock those books, and to place them in the prime real estate at the front of the store.

It’s not always this way. If I ran a bookstore, I would want plenty of copies stocked for a brand-new Harry Potter book, for example. But sometimes when you go to a store and it’s overflowing with a title, it isn’t because it’s the big new thing; it’s an illusion that the title is the next big thing that publishers hope will become self-fulfilling. And if it doesn’t, the bookstore will return many of those copies to the publisher for a refund.

Unfortunately, you still won’t find these sort of novels at Waterstones.

Coming off co-op (like ‘coming off heroin’, says Daunt) is a big part of the reason why Waterstones has shrunk their returns from 20% of stock to 3%. In other words, Waterstones are now carrying more of the books that their customers want, rather than stocking the books their suppliers want.

It’s a bold move, and it sounds like a transformational one (which only goes to show how distorted the industry had become). After all, the radical philosophy that has made the Amazon bookstore so successful is that they always put the needs of their customers ahead of their suppliers. OK, that’s the theory. Sometimes they stray a little from their core principle, but not too far. And as I think about it, that Amazon principle is how I make a living writing books. If people buy and enjoy my novels then Amazon will recommend them to people they think will also enjoy them. I don’t pay Amazon to do this (although I have also advertised separately in the clearly labelled ‘sponsored’ parts of their storefront).

I hope this works for Waterstones. I really do and maybe Daunt’s move will be copied by bookstores around the world. Perhaps Waterstones will be seen more like an indie bookstore, rather than how it used to be: a corporate chain where every store in the country looks the same and carries the same stock. (Although that wouldn’t be such a good outcome for indie stores, though).

I’m enthused… but enough to step inside Waterstones? There’s one in Bedford, just outside the library where I often write my novels during the week. Hmm… maybe not.

Here’s why.

My love of science fiction literature was suffering a long death during the noughties. I cancelled all my short story magazine subscriptions because I didn’t enjoy most of the stories. I had followed the book recommendations in those magazines, and in the Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction and BSFA Vector, but too often they led me to novels that I could sometimes see were impressive in various technical ways but didn’t enthuse me. (With an occasional exception). The grimmest symptom was that not finishing a science fiction novel had changed from a rarity to the norm.  I thought my long love affair with science fiction literature had ended.

Then came the flood of new authors that hit the Kindle I received as a leaving present when I left my last ‘proper job’ at the start of 2011. They were sometimes rough and ready in the earliest years, but they told exciting stories that filled my imagination to bursting point. Instead of taking months to work my way through a book before giving up, I was now reading late into the early hours and finishing in a few days. I fell in love with science fiction literature again.

And once I’d started buying, Amazon started giving me recommendations of more great books. True, some ridiculous suggestions were thrown up, but what enabled my connection to this new talent was the Amazon principle of recommending what it thinks its customers want, not what its suppliers want.

That focus worked for me. I hope it works for Waterstones too. It won’t in my case, though, because only a tiny proportion of the authors I follow are stocked in the science fiction & fantasy shelves at Waterstones. It’s got to be a decade or more since I bought a novel at a physical bookstore.

But Waterstones has taken an interesting step in coming off co-op and I wonder where it will lead.

The article link, by the way, takes you to The Passive Voice, which quotes articles on publishing. Sometimes the comments are the most interesting aspect of the posts here as you can get a fascinating range of informed opinions, although there is a tendency to champion the many smaller rivals to the Big Five publishers and the incumbent publishing establishment. If you are interested in the world of English language publishing, and your main sources of information are the likes of major newspapers, Publishers Weekly, and The Bookseller, then you are in serious need of a more balanced view of publishing. The Passive Voice will help you to do that.

 

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