20Books London Writers Conference 2018. My write up.

This time last week, I was on the train to London to attend the 20Books London writers’ conference. The event was a great success for me personally, and I heard nothing but praise from the other writers there. Since a lot of busy people gave up a great deal of their time to make this possible, I thought the least I could do is write up my experiences, and maybe persuade someone who would get a great deal out of these conferences to attend a future event. I want to thank the many people who made this event possible and such a great success, and in particular Craig Martelle for organizing and wearing the loudest shirts, and Michael Anderle for many reasons)

The event took place over the weekend at the Runnymede-on-Thames hotel (which was an excellent venue) and was billed at an education and networking event for (IIRC) 170 attendees. The conference sold out. I’ve mentioned the 20Booksto50K Facebook group recently here, and you can get details of speakers and timetable at the event website here: http://20bookslondon.com/ .

AL Knorr and Martha Carr both spoke at the conference and had plenty of good advice about what had worked (and not so much!) for them.

If you spend a lot of time with online groups of writer-publishers, you will have encountered most of the ideas explained by the guest speakers before, at least in outline. However, I can honestly tell you that every speaker introduced me to something that was both valuable and new to me, and that I can and will introduce into my writing business. Topics included keeping mental and physical health, advertising good practices, retailers beyond Amazon, how to engage readers at an emotional level, combining cover art and book descriptions to grab reader interest, professional networking, and many other topics besides (the list of topics is here).  At one point, I found myself scribbling frantically through 8 pages of my notebook when a passing comment made by one of the speakers triggered a complete rethink of my new series launch later in 2018 (thanks AL Knorr (Abby)).

Then in the breakout sessions, meals, and evening drinks there were plenty more discussions on potentially any and every aspect of writing and publishing. For example, one topic raised over beers was the return on investment for advertising English language books in Germany. Is it a good idea? The answer is… it depends. But that’s where this works so well, because several people had actively marketed in Germany, and those who hadn’t knew the right questions to ask to relate the experiences of other writers to their own context. And that’s what the 20Books attitude is all about: thinking of ways to hack publishing to make it work for you; hacking the way you write and work to increase the chances of achieving the success that you define on your own terms.

Personally, I found it very helpful to critically examine so many perspectives of my craft and my business in a single concentrated weekend. That whole-picture perspective was even more useful than I expected, and has helped me to prioritize changes to the way I work, which will make themselves felt when I move to my next book series in a few weeks.

As writers, we often look for the telling details that allow us to imply with a few carefully chosen words a great deal of depth to our imaginary worlds and their inhabitants. So, rather than list everything that happened in detail, I’m going to give you a telling detail that, to me, summarized the event, the people, and what the 20Books movement means to me.

A couple of writers mentioned that they had succeeded in making small changes to an existing book in a series that had led to a big increase in readthrough rates. One added an epilogue; the other added a few sentences to deepen the emotional engagement with a secondary character, who was an unexpectedly great hit with readers judging from their online reviews.

That’s it.

Just a single paragraph. Doesn’t sound much, does it? But I think the attitude behind that advice is something that the kind of writer who gets the 20Books idea will find natural, but I don’t think comes so easily to everyone in this business.

So let’s unpack that paragraph a little.

First off, readthrough rate for a title in a series is simply the proportion of readers who go on to read the next book. It’s true that it is partially a measure of your success in putting your product in front of the readers who will enjoy it, but assuming your marketing is largely consistent, it is also a very good measure of product quality.

When you take your artist’s hat off, and your business one on, your books are products, just the same as chocolate bars,  phones, and guitar amplifiers. In my own neck of the publishing woods – science fiction – there are currently about 150,000 science fiction books available on the Amazon Kindle store. Every one is a substitute product for mine. Why on Earth would anyone buy another book from an author if their previous ones were poor quality? Well, maybe they could earn a second chance if they had written a great book the reader enjoyed previously, but that’s it. You simply cannot succeed as a professional author if you churn out mediocre books, because consumers will desert you.

You can attract consumers through effective packaging and marketing, but once you’ve got them reading your book, the only way you can compete with all the other authors is through quality. That consumer on that day must feel that they are enjoying a quality reading experience. All the comments from critics, and reviewers in magazines and newspapers, comments made at convention panels, Goodreads reviews and all the rest is utterly irrelevant by that point. Does that reader on that day think your book is good enough to pay more to read another one of your books? That’s the only quality assessment that determines whether or not you can earn a living through the sales of your books.

In every other business where consumers can switch with frictionless ease between product suppliers, successful producers try very hard to measure customer perception of product quality. Publishing is no different; not anymore. And for those authors who choose to write in series, readthrough rates are a gold standard in quality metrics.

So here’s what those two authors did, expressed in non-writerly business language.

  • They measured customer perception of product quality (readthrough rate).
  • They made incremental changes to an existing product in order to improve quality (in both cases, by increasing reader engagement).
  • They remeasured their quality metric to see the effect.
  • Good or bad, they fed anything they learned into improving the quality of their other products, including those not yet built.

Now, I have to admit that my background is with quality management, so all this talk of quality metrics and the like is as natural as breathing to me. But strip out the business jargon, and this is really just common sense. Succeeding in business is hard, but success usually comes from a flexible attitude rooted in the bedrock of common sense.

Being a career novelist is a business too, and succeeding commercially is hard, just as with any other business. In some ways, to succeed in the US and UK markets today is even harder than a decade ago, because there are so many new authors attracted by the money that flows to authors so much more readily these days, and some of those authors are very smart at the business side too.

But there are still people new to writing and new to publishing who are succeeding at this today, as measured by their own idea of success. And there are people like me who have been around a lot longer but are upping their game (I was surprised how many writers at the conference regarded me as a veteran novelist – I hadn’t thought of myself that way). And the key to doing this is networking with your peers, and keeping abreast with the smorgasbord of techniques and good practice that professional writer-publishers are so generous at sharing. None of that is prescriptive. 20Books to 50K has never been about writing 20 books to earn $50k, it’s about having that flexible approach rooted in common sense, and using it to take advantage of both your network, and the techniques you learn or develop yourself, to hack publishing so you can succeed on the terms you desire.

There are no guarantees of success in this business, but nor is success down to random chance. Most authors who are succeeding today have engineered their own luck. And a perfect example of how to do that is to attend a writers’ conference such as 20Books London, where not everyone has published their first novel, but everyone has the attitude of a professional.

There’s another conference in Las Vegas November 2018, and one in Bali early in 2019. There may be more to come in Europe too. I recommend them to all professional authors. Fiction or non-fiction. Tradpub, Newpub, or SelfPub. Fifty books into your career, or gearing up for your debut release. It is well worth your time.

Crikey! I feel like I should be on commission! But that would be highly inappropriate, and I’ll leave you with the reason why. The speaker and organizers were volunteers, and the modest ticket price was meant to cover costs of putting on the event and no more. As it turned out, the costs were not as high as budgeted for in the ticket price, and so attendees are being refunded the difference. Perhaps that’s another telling detail.


 

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 ‘Hill 435’ and other exclusive stories, which make great jumping off points into his multiple book series, join the Legionaries by following THIS LINK.

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SF Publishing in 2017 pt.5 The end of bookstores.

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*.

2037: Bookstores? Yes, I remember them.

Twenty years ago, every town in the UK had record stores. Go back thirty-five years and I’d often stop off on my way home from school to flick through the second-hand records at Mr. Toast in Crouch Street; they were some of my most precious memories from my youth.

Today I have to explain the concept of record stores to my son because he’s never seen one (not quite true, but that’s what he tells me).

In 2037, will my son have to explain book stores to his children?

Across retail (not just with book stores) 2017 saw a continuation of a general trend from brick and mortar to online. Toys “R” Us is the latest high-profile casualty, Sears looks like it’s in trouble, and so too is Barnes & Noble.

One of the trends for 2017 was the speculation about B&N’s demise and what that would mean for publishing.

B&N: Resistance is NOT futile!

I am certain that the health of B&N is significant for science fiction publishing, although maybe not in the way you would expect. However, I think there’s a danger of the talk of a collapse at B&N overtaking the facts on the ground.

Quarter after quarter, B&N reports losses and declining sales, but so did its closest UK equivalent, Waterstones, which made losses from 2008 until turning a profit in 2016. In Canada, the bookstore chain, Indigo, is expanding.

So recovery is possible, but it’s far from inevitable. Equally, while comparisons between each country’s leading physical book retailer are tempting, they may mislead.

Waterstones returned to profitability after what seemed like a perpetual death spiral, but it achieved this not by growth in book sales, but by running the business more efficiently, reducing rents, and breaking with long-standing traditions. And it did so with a clear strategy from James Daunt, its new CEO installed after it was bought by private equity in 2011. For example, Daunt described reducing the ‘co-op’ money Waterstones receives as being like “coming off heroin” (‘co-op’ is where publishers pay them to stock and promote the books the publishers want to get star billing). But by doing so, Waterstones has significantly reduced the rate of returns and improves efficiency use of store space by stocking books the customers want to buy, rather than stocking books the publishers want to sell.

I visited an Indigo store a couple of years ago, and it seemed to me that its closest UK equivalent was not Waterstones but WH Smith. In other words, Indigo was a much more generalist retailer than a bookstore with a few extra product lines and a coffee machine added on. Indigo’s latest accounts say that 58% of revenue came from books, magazines, and newspapers. (See this example of an Indigo opening in 2016). store

I don’t want to see the idea of a bookstore in every town disappear; nor do wish to see tens of thousands of people lose their jobs. Nonetheless, B&N doesn’t currently seem to have the same vision as their Canadian and British equivalents, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see the purpose of Barnes & Noble. They became dominant in the US by putting the existing book stores to the sword by using pretty much the same tactics that Amazon is now using against them. Except Amazon does it better. The big B&N stores hold a huge selection of books, but not as big as Amazon. With Amazon Prime and Amazon Kindle, why drive to the book store when you can get a better choice and often a better price without leaving home?

The result in 2017 was an increasing volume of articles written about Barnes & Noble’s imminent demise and the consequences for OldPub’s US imprints.

What happens if B&N goes under?

First of all, we must always remember that the parent companies of the major traditional imprints are true international conglomerates, and a great deal of their interest is placed on the growth markets of China, India, Malaysia and elsewhere. If B&N goes under, the long-term impact on US-centric imprints will be large (though not fatal) but it won’t mean an existential threat to the parent companies. Nonetheless, a key part of their current US success is their dominance of the sale of printed books through physical stores.

As a SelfPub and NewPub publisher myself, the moat around selling to bookstores is so impassible that I don’t waste my time even trying to sell through bookstores. Years ago I went through the rigmarole of setting up the bureaucracy to sell through B&N’s closest UK equivalent, Waterstones, and did sell a handful of copies, but lost money on every one. I shut it all down and officially mark all my books as out of print, even though they aren’t.

However, if B&N were to go under, amazon.com would reign supreme as the retailer of printed books in the US, and that’s a sales channel where I can compete very effectively with OldPub.

That, at least, is a common view of B&N, but the latest data from Bookstat/ Authorearnings, and discussed by veteran industry analyst Mike Shatzkin here, suggests that when combining physical and online channels, Amazon is already selling twice as many printed books in the US as B&N.

I think that once the excitement and wails of despair die away, we’ll find the full impact of a hypothetical collapse of B&N for those who don’t work there will take years to work the way through the industry. The biggest effect will be on the next generation of authors who will ask even more assertively than today why it is they should sign an OldPub contract with traditional publishing when TradPub can no longer entice with the possibility of getting their book into local book stores (because those stores no longer exist).

For many new authors in 2017, the dream of seeing their book on the bookstore shelves is still utterly compelling. For all their sales success, especially in science fiction, NewPub and SelfPub cannot offer that.

In 2037, I predict the likes of Wal-Mart and Target will continue to sell discounted bestsellers and sell even more than they do today. Academic bookstores linked to colleges, and specialist books linked to tourist attractions will remain healthy. Specialist and charismatic independent bookstores that can offer an experience that you cannot get online will survive, but the idea of a chain bookstore in most towns will be long dead.

Midlist fiction authors selling to the American market will no longer sign up the traditional publishers, which will be the reserve of celebrity authors, tie-ins to major franchises, and frontlist authors. The likes of John Scalzi and NK Jemisin will continue to be published by the major traditional publishers, but if B&N goes then the next generation of Scalzis and Jemisins will first have to deliver commercial success through NewPub and SelfPub.

My prediction for B&N in 2018

Barnes & Noble will stagger through 2018, attracting an increasing swarm of speculation about its demise. It will not go bankrupt in 2018. However, now that it has reduced the losses of its Nook division, I speculate it will try to sell it (possibly a strategic opportunity for Kobo).

My prediction for B&N in 2019

Barnes & Noble files for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.


Books that caught my eye in 2017

Set in contemporary Northern Ireland, in Waters and the Wild (2017) by Jo Zebedee, Amy is off with the fairies, literally. But are the fairies she sees a symptom of mental health issues, or is she seeing a level of reality most people are blind to? The deaths, though. They’re real enough.

Waters Wild

Although I’ve enjoyed Jo’s science fiction books (such as Abendau’s Heir (2015) and Inish Carraig (2015) ) Waters and the Wild is more a short psychological thriller with a strong paranormal theme (which may well be delusional… read the book and decide for yourself). And it’s very good!

Jo is a hybrid author (by which I don’t mean she’s a cyborg, rather that she mixes traditional publishing with self-publishing and other work) and you can find out more about her here.

P.S. In an earlier post, I mentioned collaboration and the Explorations series edited by Nathan Hystad. Jo was in the first one Explorations: Through the Wormhole (2016), as well as the Andre Polk Memorial Anthology (2017), set up by the Space Opera: Writers FB group.

Books that caught my eye in 2017 AND in 2018

An author I got to know and appreciate through social media last year was Yudhanjaya Wijeratne, whose self-published futurism/ tech-thriller, Numbercaste (2017) came out last year. Yesterday, he announced that the book had been picked up by HarperCollins in a four-book deal together with the Commonwealth Empires trilogy he’s working on at the moment. Yudhanjaya says that this is a big deal for Sri Lankan science fiction. Well done, mate, and good luck. 😊

Numbercaste

P.S. In an earlier post, I mentioned collaboration and the Expanding Universe series edited by Craig Martelle. Yudhanjaya was in Expanding Universe 3 (2017).

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.

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


JOIN THE LEGION.

An alien race divided!

Humans or Hardits? Who should prevail?

Only the Night Hummers decide.

I_hum_the_future_560px

Members of the Legionaries group not only receive a Human Legion Universe starter library, but exclusive content through the Legion Bulletin. You can read Bulletin #17, which contained I Hum the Future here.

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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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.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 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 , , , , , , , , | 6 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 , , , , , , , | 5 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.

Posted in A review of 2017 in science fiction, Rebirth of the midlist | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

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.

Posted in Book launch, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments

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 🙂

 

Posted in Announcements | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

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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