12/27/2019

Obligatory 'end of decade' post

Well. that was quite a decade, wasn't it?

In my own case, it's contained both triumphs and tragedies. I had a whole bunch of books published through Pan MacMillan up until Survival Game, which emerged essentially orphaned and unloved after I got kicked to the kerb almost on the eve of its release. That stage of my writing career stretches from about 2004 to late 2015: just a little over ten years.

I'm still trying to figure out what to do next.

I didn't stop writing. I wrote a book, Echogenesis, which has been doing the rounds of publishers looking for a home for about three years now. I wrote a short novel called Ghost Frequencies and had that published by Newcon Press. I wrote two-thirds of another book, Ely Strong, but abandoned it-temporarily, since at some point I'll go back to it.

I also wrote another short novel, Devil's Road, and then had a frustrating year and a half during which...well, ask me some time, or email me. Let's just say it didn't leave me feeling greatly enamoured of certain publishers.

Here's the weird thing though: being dropped by my publisher felt...weirdly freeing.

The thing I learned writing for Pan Mac was that publishers expect you to write books as much like each other as possible. In many ways, this actually makes sound business sense. It means readers come to you seeking the specific type of experience you can provide them with, and it also makes it easier to market you. You always knew with an Iain M. Banks Culture novel what you were going to get. Ditto with an Peter F. Hamilton book, or even a Clive Cussler book, and so on and so on.

My problem was that no one fucking told me this, so I had to figure it out largely for myself. Unfortunately, I had a problem: I get bored easily. Worse, while I have no trouble generating story ideas, they aren't automatically ideas that fit in the context of starship+alliens+space travel. Or rather, I had plenty of mediocre ideas for space operas, but brilliant ideas for entirely different kinds of books.

Being let go by Pan Mac, I gradually realized, meant I could write those books if I wanted to.

So I did. And while that was going on, so was the ebook and self-publishing revolution, which I'd played around in back in the early 2010s. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing, but in my defense, neither did anyone else. While I subsequently continued having books traditionally published, other people spent the intervening years becoming very, very good at self-publishing, including people I knew.

So taking a step into self-publishing turned out to be something of a no-brainer.

It's been interesting so far, but it's still early days. I still very much value traditional publishing, and I'm still seeking traditional book deals. But they're not the only available option any more.

So far I've published a short story collection and a sequel to two other traditionally published books. Neither of these are the best tests for self-publishing: sequels are hard to sell, especially when you don't retain the rights to the previous books, and only a relatively small number of people buy short story collections compared to novels.

That said, the books have done reasonably well, I think. To my surprise, the short story collection has done better than Doomsday Game--although in fairness, Doomsday Game has been out for less than a year, costs more to buy, and has an advertising budget close to zero. Because, again, there's no point trying to market the third book in a series. You market the first, and hope people who buy that will also buy the second and third.

After a dismal experience trying to get another book, Devil's Road, published by a certain company I decided to give up trying to get other people to publish it and do it (mostly) myself (mostly, because a limited hardback is coming out from Newcon Press). One other reason I chose to self-publish it was the realisation that the vast majority of companies who publish novellas - which Devil's Road, at least technically is - are deeply opaque when it comes to what they pay and how much effort they put into marketing such books.

I've since learned that what most publishers in fact pay for novellas, bar a few exceptions, is laughably small. I'm not really knocking them: they mostly do it for the love of publishing great stories, and I buy books from them. But the fact is if I'm going to put a solid two or three months work into something, I'd like to get something more for my efforts than a cheque that'll cover maybe one weeks' grocery shopping.

I also don't really regard Devil's Road as a novella: at 38,000 words it's barely a few thousand words shorter than some books that won the Hugo in past years.

It'll also be my first publication of the next decade. The first publication I had in this decade was, I think, Empire of Light.

I don't know where I'll be in ten years time, although I strongly suspect I'll still be writing. To be honest, I find it quite difficult to imagine not writing. I'm also fortunate in that I now make (just) enough money from book doctoring and structural editing to live on, which I hadn't expected.

Hopefully I'll score another mainstream deal. It might not be under my own name, or, if circumstances dictate, perhaps it won't even be far-future hard sf. However, I've come to accept that far-future hard sf is, in fact, what I'm best at doing. Hence, I'm planning to get back to writing precisely such books sometime in the new year. Ideas are stirring for books set in the furthest reaches of the solar system and beyond.

I've also decided to try my hand - again - at script writing. I tried it before, some years ago, but I think I'm more capable of writing a solid script now than I was back then.

At the start of the 2010s I had just moved back to Scotland after a couple of years in Taiwan. I've been back in Taiwan since 2014, and I'm likely to be here for a while yet, barring occasional visits home. However, even when I was getting traditionally published I didn't make a great deal of money, so to be honest, I can't really afford to travel home or anywhere else for that matter. I can't begin to tell you how irritating this can be, especially since I occasionally still get invites to events and conventions back home for which I simply can't afford the plane fare and accommodation.

I have every intention, however, of making it to the 2024 Worldcon in Glasgow, come what may. By then I'll have been writing this blog for very nearly two decades.

I've finished this year by completing a final draft of another book called Proxy. Proxy, along with Echogenesis, was originally submitted to my editor at my former publisher, to her considerable enthusiasm. Unfortunately, the marketing department appeared not to agree, and why marketing departments get a say in such things is a matter of considerable fucking confusion on my part.

However, I have noticed a significant number of other sf and mainstream writers are also struggling to get book deals where before it would have been something of a shoe-in: I'm tempted to wonder whether the publishing industry realises quite what it's doing by knifing the very people who make it what it is, and how much damage it may ultimately be doing to itself.

And you never know: maybe I'll eventually make something resembling an actual living from self-publishing and wonder why I ever worried about this stuff.

Thanks for reading all the books I've written this far. I certainly intend to write some more of them. 

2 comments:

Unknown said...

hi Gary, I picked your book up of my shelf where it has been waiting to be read since a hay on wye visit. this lockdown has given me some me time to read. I thought I would check you out or stalk you first, so they say on the internet before I dived in. I think you are inspiring genuine, committed, honest and made me feel excited to get through your works and hopefully support your self publishing. keep the good work up!

Gary Gibson, science fiction writer said...

Thank you for the kind words!