3/05/2019

Stephen Palmer's new novel The Autist

As part of my continuing and admittedly slightly sporadic quest to present you with new and old British and UK-resident authors with whom you may or may not be aware, I'd like this time around to present you with the new novel by Stephen Palmer.

Since his first novel, Memory Seed, came out from Orbit in 1996, Stephen has produced a dozen novels of what might be loosely termed 'post-cyberpunk', insofar as they are most often concerned with collapsing ecologies, the evolution of AI and also of humanity in response to its own technological innovations.

His new novel The Autist moves between the England of the late 21st Century, Nigeria, and Thailand, and shows his work remains as thoughtful and engaging as ever.

Here's the synopsis:

Data detective Mary Vine is visiting relatives when she uncovers a Chinese programme of AI development active within her own family.

Ulu Okere has only one goal: to help her profoundly disabled brother, whose unique feats of memory inspire her yet perturb the community they live in.

And in a transumted Thailand, Somchai Chokdee is fleeing his Buddhist temple as an AI-inspired political revolution makes living there too dangerous.

In 2100 life is dominated by vast, unknowable AIs that run most of the world and transform every society they touch. When suspicions of a Chinese conspiracy seem substantiated, Mary, Ulu and Somchai decide they must oppose it. Yet in doing so they find themselves facing something the world has never seen before...

This is what Stephen has to say about the origins of the story:

The Autist was inspired by algorithms and AI…

I’d written a couple of near-future AI novels before – Beautiful Intelligence and No Grave For A Fox – which dealt with the theme of the possibility of conscious machines. Much of my own reading is non-fiction, with technology a particular interest if it deals with the more human side of things – for instance Mary Aiken’s fantastic The Cyber Effect.

It seemed to me that I should write a novel in which AI development does not end up so well, and with my background in consciousness and the evolution of the mind I was able to bring together a few relevant themes: Savant Syndrome, the impossibility of a single conscious machine appearing, and algorithms and their effects on society – effects which I think will be profound, and mostly negative.

My influences were all non-fiction too, especially the author and researcher Nicholas Humphrey, who has done more for the field of consciousness studies than most. I’ve long been a fan of his work. He was the originator of the social intelligence theory of consciousness, and has written four masterpieces, of which one, A History Of The Mind, mentions his work on blindsight, which I used in this new novel.

Hopefully people will enjoy the story and be intrigued by the theme.

You can get the novel here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Autist-Stephen-Palmer-ebook/dp/B07PBX8R3B/

1/17/2019

New books forthcoming from me in 2019

2018 was a busy year and 2019 is looking to be even busier. I have two books coming out this year: the first is DOOMSDAY GAME, the final volume in the series that began with EXTINCTION GAME and continued in SURVIVAL GAME. The book is written and undergoing its final edits and I hope to have a cover to show you in the next couple of weeks or months. I think it ties the series up just about perfectly. More details about the plot and a blurb to come.

The other forthcoming book is DEVIL'S ROAD, a short novel in the same vein as Roger Zelazny's Damnation Alley, although in terms of content and plot it comes across more like a mashup of Death Race 2000 and Pacific Rim.

Either one or both will be up for preorder in the coming weeks and I'll be sure to let you know when that is. 

1/09/2019

My experience in self-publishing in 2018

Back in March 2018, I put out a collection of five short stories as an ebook on Amazon for just £1.99. It wasn't the first time I'd used the Kindle self-publishing market, but it was the first time the ebook I published was my own.

Back in 2011, I'd experimented with publishing languishing works by fellow pro's and semi-pro's. It did a lot to raise my profile, a ridiculous amount, in fact: but one thing it didn't do was sell any ebooks. A few, by Fergus Bannon and Hal Duncan, did okay, but just okay. I decided to put self-publishing to the side for a while and concentrate on writing books such as Final Days and Extinction Game.

Cut to seven years later, and everything's changed. The ebook market has continued to take the world of publishing by storm.

The biggest difference is that there's now a lot more information out there about how to successfully self-publish. It's not enough to just fling it out there and hope for the best, which is what I essentially did in 2011. You need to learn about and implement meta-data, ads, and make use of good-quality cover art. A lot of people who experimented far more deeply with KDP in its earliest incarnation than I ever did wrote books about their experiences and how they succeeded or failed, and so I read many of their books.

Ten months after publishing Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds, how well has it done?

Put it this way: two of the five stories in that book were previously published in paying markets, while a third story originally appeared in a non-paying market. One of them sold twice (after appearing in Interzone, I re-sold the audio rights for Scienceville to the Starship Sofa podcast. You can listen to or download it here.)

To date, the income from this one self-published collection containing just five short stories equals more than eight times the money made from the two stories that sold to pro markets. Further, the ebook has made me at least five times more than I've made from short story sales, ever.

In fairness, I've only ever sold a literal handful of short stories: I'm not a fast producer. But still.

To put it a little further into perspective, according to my agent, John Jarrold, short story collections typically make only about 15% of what an author can expect to earn from a novel. I'm cautious about extrapolating too readily from the available data to estimate what I might make from a full-length novel, but even so, the future is looking increasingly bright.

So what did I do differently that I didn't do before? I read books on how to manipulate data on Amazon using tools that Amazon themselves provide for that purpose. I carefully crafted adverts with an aim of keeping the costs low and the income high. I paid money for halfway-decent cover art. I certainly benefited hugely from having had a number of novels in print, and the ready-made readership that came with them.

What I learned from all this is that it's possible to make good money in self-publishing, but only if you actually act like a publisher and treat your self-publishing like an actual business with costs as well as profits.

One thing I know for sure: self-publishing isn't for everybody. A lot of people still go into it and face-plant from the word go because they've used a home-made cover, or a cover that isn't at least passably professional-looking (I look back at my early ebook covers and cringe) or, worse, a cover that isn't appropriate. I know many writers whom I strongly suspect would struggle with the process, or hate it, or both.

But if all this talk of self-publishing doesn't make you want to wrap yourself up in a blanket and turn the lights out, then, yes, it is worth considering - especially if you've made professional sales in the past and developed a readership.

I'm still chasing traditional publishing: it's just that it isn't the only game in town any more, and I'm finally, finally free to write any damn thing I please with the knowledge that with sufficient effort, I have a decent chance of finding an audience for it.