4/15/2004

If you write and you have your first book coming out, you can be expected to spend some time thinking about just what you’re going to do when it finally hits the shelves. What can you do to promote it, to make people aware of it?

The rules aren’t the same for all writers. Some already have a degree of profile – perhaps they’ve sold several short stories to the professional markets, or they’re well known for some other reason. But most of the time when you have a first book coming out, your name is unfamiliar to the reading public at large. The question that’s been floating around in my head for a while is, what can I do to promote Angel Stations when it comes out? Or is the effort really necessary?

When his first novel Shadowkings came out, Mike Cobley – another Glasgow writer – arranged a book launch at the local Waterstones. A lot of friends and family turned out, a couple dozen copies of the book were sold on the spot, and everybody had a pretty good time. He’d had several short stories published in the professional market over a period of several years. But with my own publication date fast approaching, I couldn’t help but wonder how much difference this really makes. At Eastercon last weekend, I asked another author with a couple of books under her belt what she did to mark the occasion when her first novel came out. Well … she had a packet of peanuts and half a pint of lager, apparently: they launched it at an Eastercon some years back and nothing else really seemed necessary.

What about pre-signing copies of books available in local bookshops? Does it actually make a difference if you’re a new author? My niggling feeling on this was, no. If it does have any advantage, maybe it’s that the ‘signed by author’ sticker grabs the attention for just that extra fraction of a second: and there’s also a greater chance your signed copies will be displayed face-out on the shelves – not a bad thing. Still, I remain ambivalent. If you’ve got several books out and people want to put a face to the name, then it all makes sense. But at the start of your writing career …?

So what can you do if you’re relatively low-profile and you want to make your book stand out just that little bit more from the rest? There are ways. One – and probably the best – is try and sell a couple of short stories to the pro magazines, and hope they come out within a couple of months of your book. Easier said than done, sure, but it’ll get attention. So I’ve been thinking about finishing off some short stories I’ve had lying unfinished on my hard disk for a while. Another approach I heard was running off some posters of the cover of your book and persuading at least some local shops to stick them up. It sells copies and the bookshop makes money. In the meantime, I’m thinking about what to do come September 3rd, and the release of the book.

Eastercon
Eastercon turned out to be a lot better than I’d expected, although the venue – the Winter Gardens – was terrible. Blackpool achieved the amazing feat of making even the worst parts of Glasgow, by contrast, look quite nice. And if the seafront is anything to go by – Jimmy Cricket and Frank Carson’s All-Star Show – Blackpool is where entertainment goes to die.

Although the actual event didn’t turn out to be quite what I hoped for, as a social event it went very well indeed. For me the surprise turn-out was William King, once a member of the Glasgow Science Fiction Writer’s Circle in the late Eighties and early Nineties: he went to live in Prague about the same time I joined the group, and he’s been writing for Games Workshop ever since. It was also nice to see Miller Lau again, after meeting her for the first time at last year’s con in Hinckley.

Who else did I run into? Mark Roberts, Jeff Vandermeer, Tony Ballantyne, Richard Morgan and Liz Williams spring to mind. Looks like quite a few reviewers have got their hands on advance review copies of Angel Stations, too.

I haven’t been doing a great deal since I sent Against Gravity off to my agent. I’m still working on the outlines for two separate novels I want to write. I learned the hard way to plan everything as much as I could beforehand. ‘The Fracture’ is currently the front runner for getting written first. The plot feels fairly strong, and it’s beginning to occupy more and more of my attention. ‘Leviathan’s Fall’ is still in there, however. The thing is, ‘’Fall’ has strong themes, but not much (yet) in the way of a plot. ‘The Fracture’, on the other hand, has a solid plot, but no great depth thematically. That’s okay, since you can figure out what the book’s ‘about’ while you’re actually writing it. But again, this is all in relation to my current obsession with knowing completely and absolutely what I’m going to be writing before I sit down to write it.
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