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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
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
Start reading Hill 435 today.
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.