9/03/2020

Newsletter: story in Interzone, and a couple of books on sale

Thought I'd try and do something different this time and post a slightly altered version of my monthly newsletter to my blog as well as to my mailing list. 


Important things first: the digital edition of Interzone magazine (number 288) featuring my story Warsuit is out. You can buy the physical copy directly from TTA Press, or get the Kindle edition, or alternatively buy it through Weightless Books in a variety of digital formats

In conjunction, I've decided to put a couple of my recent books on sale, because why not?

So if you haven't tried either Devil's Road or my collection of short fiction Scienceville And Other Lost Worlds, you can pick them up for the next couple of days for just 99p/99 cents/euros/whatever on Amazon Kindle in the US and UK markets.

Note: there's an Audible version of Devil's Road, so if you buy the ebook and you're an audio fan, you should be able to get the audiobook cheap on Amazon (and which doesn't require you to have an Audible account).

And I do hope you think about picking up that issue of Interzone — not just because I'm in it (not that that's not a valid reason) but because it really is one of the finest and indeed one of the very best-looking science fiction magazines out there.

FRIENDS IN UNEXPECTED QUARTERS

So here's an oddity for you: Donald Trump's niece Mary Trump, who recently wrote a tell-all book about her uncle, is a stone-cold science fiction fan. This small revelation, according to the fansite File 770, was uncovered by science fiction writer Michael Blumstein, and the proof is in her book Too Much and Never Enough. Here, she recounts an incident when she was just thirteen years old.

“Is that yours?”

At first I thought she [Ivana] was talking about the gift basket, but she was referring to the copy of Omni magazine that was sitting on top of the stacks of gifts I’d already opened. Omni, a magazine of science and science fiction that had launched in October of that year, was my new obsession. I had just picked up the December issue and brought it with me to the House in the hope that between shrimp cocktail and dinner I’d have a chance to finish reading it.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Bob, the publisher, is a friend of mine.”

“No way! I love this magazine.”

“I’ll introduce you. You’ll come into the city and meet him.”

It wasn’t quite as seismic as being told I was going to meet Isaac Asimov, but it was pretty close. “Wow. Thanks.”

If you're not familiar with Omni, it was a very glossy and very colourful science and science fiction magazine published from the late seventies by Bob Guccione, who was also the owner of the magazine Penthouse, of all things.

Omni is significant because it published some of the best science fiction around before its eventual demise in the nineties, and it's where I first encountered the short fiction of William Gibson amongst many others.

Notable names involved in editing the magazine included Ben Bova and Ellen Datlow, and there are few science fiction writers of note whose work didn't appear in the magazine. It also carried numerous science articles which were like catnip to a kid like me. I also know it was an equal influence on a number of other writers, including Richard Morgan.

WRITING

At the moment, I'm fifteen thousand words into the book I'm calling The Europa Door. So far, it's going fine. I've been posting occasional rough first draft chapters (very rough) to my Patreon page. I've also got a couple of flash fiction pieces out on submission to some magazines.

The Europa Door contains many elements readers will be familiar with from my work — gritty, hard SF elements abound and the story is based around a mission sent to the outer solar system to find out what happened to a previous exploratory mission that went missing.

That said, I'm the kind of writer who gets bored very easily writing the same kind of thing over and over, and rather than doing that, I prefer to try and do something at least slightly different.

If you want to have some sense to what direction I'm taking the story in, I refer you to the classic British science fiction/horror TV series and film Quatermass and the Pit (better known in the United States as Five Million Years to Earth) made in the late 1960s.

I think one of thing that distinguishes British science fiction from its colonial brethren is that it tends to be much darker, and it's that darker quality that appeals to me as a writer.

SEQUELS

I'm also trying a new approach to work, by working in more than one thing at once. I never used to do this because I used to have to work under deadlines, and didn't have the time for anything but the book I was being paid to write.

But because I no longer have to labour under such restrictions, I can work on other projects simultaneously with Europa Door. At the moment I'm putting together ideas for a sequel to Ghost Frequencies which will be called Phantom Circuits.

Ultimately, I hope to have three stories featuring the scientist and protagonist Susan MacDonald that might eventually be bundled together. That, however, is still some time away.

REVIEWS

Okay, time to have a look at what I've been reading but I recommend to you.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
This one feels broadly comparable to Stephen King's famously huge book The Stand, in size if nothing else: I can't tell you how many pages it has because I listened to the audiobook, but since the audiobook run to more than thirty hours I'm guessing this thing is huge in physical format.

And, like The Stand, it shows a world dealing with a deadly pandemic.

That right there is probably going to put a bunch of you off, and under the current circumstances, that's fair enough. But if it doesn't, while it's at best broadly comparable to King's book, I'd say it's a great deal better. Further, unlike King's book, it lacks the mystical element, having a much more hard science underpinning to its events.

Even better, there are some points in the story that really took me by surprise, genuinely jaw-dropping moments that make this one of the most enjoyable things I've read in the past many months. So, definitely recommended if you like your books huge and long and epic.

Burning Chrome by William Gibson
I've been meaning to reread this one for a very long time - New Rose Hotel was always a personal favourite of William Gibson's stories, and I was very, very into the cyberpunk fiction coming out from the early Eighties through to the mid-Nineties. So I chose to listen to the audiobook and experience the stories in a different way.

What's funny is realising how much the stories are showing their age now - the Soviets appear in several stories, and even though dates are rarely specified in Gibson's stories, one might reasonably assume they are set in about the present period, writing from the perspective of the mid-80s. And there are other small elements that age the stories here and there - such as a reference to a cowboy hacker wearing a white terry headband, which is about as 80s as you can get. Still, all in all, it's the incredible style of the writing that carries you through, and while perhaps some of the details have aged, the writing itself hasn't. 

The Fisherman by John Langan
I haven't finished this one yet — Wanderers' huge size/length took me as long to listen to as any three other average-sized books – but so far it's pretty good. This may not be your speed if you're not into Lovecraftian fiction, but if you are, chances are you will find this right up your street.

And that's it!! Next time I'll try and post some pictures from my complimentary copy of Interzone when it finally arrives here in Taipei.

4/13/2020

Newsletter

Up until now I've been sending out a newsletter at most once or twice a year, most often when I have something coming out, but I've decided to switch that up a little and start sending out a monthly newsletter instead.

This decision comes after a lot of thought, but at the very least it's going to function mostly as a replacement for the blog. I don't blog much on my website these days (although I continue to post very frequently on my Patreon, including all kinds of stuff I'm working on being made available to subscribers), so the newsletter will for most people be the main way to catch up on what I'm up to, what I'm working on, and what I'm reading. Plus the usual stuff/ranting/etc and maybe the odd interview of other writers as well.

I started the first monthly newsletter at the beginning of April and the response was pretty positive. Next one should be out at the beginning of May. Remember also that if you sign up to my mailing list, you get a freebie prequel to Devil's Road, Our Lady of Holy Death, which isn't available anywhere else

4/06/2020

Newcon Press virtual book launch

No Eastercon this year so Newcon Press, who published my books Ghost Frequencies and now Devil's Road, have opted for a virtual book launch. Newcon Press really excel in publishing some of the highest quality sf and fantasy in the UK, so check out this link not just for my book but all the others from their increasingly vast list including the brand new book by Liz Williams, and many others.

3/02/2020

Devil's Road is out! Plus sales and freebies

Devil's Road is out now in paperback, ebook and audiobook with a signed, limited-edition hardback coming from Newcon Press in a couple of weeks time. Here's where to get it:

Ebook & Audio: Kindle | Audible US | Audible UK | Audible Germany | Audible France

Limited-Edition Signed Hardback (ISBN 978-1-912950-47-8): Newcon Press

Paperback (ISBN 978-9574364602): Amazon UK | Amazon US | Waterstones | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Abebooks and others

There are also a couple of special offers running as of today.

1. Doomsday Game is on sale for £1.99/$2.99 on Amazon;

2. Scienceville & Other Lost Worlds is also on sale on Amazon for 99p/99c;

3. The lead story from that collection is free for the next week;

4. For a limited time, mailing list subscribers will be able to download a free audiobook of Ghost Frequencies, my 2018 novella published by Newcon Press and available on Audible. Note that there's a limited number of copies available, so it's very much first come, first served. A newsletter will be going out in a few hours to subscribers with a download link.

5. I've written a prequel story for Devil's Road, Our Lady of Holy Death, which is also free to mailing list subscribers. Again, a link is on its way with the same newsletter.

If you're not a subscriber and you want that story and/or that audiobook, now's the time to join. It doesn't cost you anything, and I only send out emails a couple of times a year.

Note: I use a service called Bookfunnel to host Our Lady of Holy Death so you don't have to dick around with downloading and then uploading a file. Once you've signed up and you click on the link, Bookfunnel will download the story directly to your phone, tablet, computer, Kindle, Nook or whatever you use. It's the same with Ghost Frequencies: there's very little faffing around.

I should also probably remind you that I have a Patreon where I post much more frequently than I do here, and where I mostly talk about book promotion and about writing, as well as posting up early drafts of new books and stories. I also talk about stories I'm either working on or that are planned for the near future.

And that's it! Devil's Road was enormous fun to write, and I hope you have as much fun reading it. 

2/11/2020

Almost there

Just a couple of weeks to go and Devil's Road is out in the world.

I've pulled out the stops for this one. There's a simultaneous audiobook release, it has a great cover, and it's up on Netgalley (so if you're a reviewer or a librarian, feel free to eheck it out there. It's up until the end of the month). Some of the Netgalley reviews are already up at Goodreads.com and hopefully most of them will also make their way to Amazon.

And of course there's also the special Newcon Press limited-run hardback coming in the middle of March. The paperback of Devil's Road is going to be available to order from pretty much anywhere.

I've written a story, Our Lady of Holy Death, set in the world of Devil's Road. It'll be free to mailing list subscribers and I'll post a link to it on or about the release date - March 2. I workshopped it the other day and feedback was pretty positive.

All that, plus the day job, is pretty exhausting, but I'm enjoying every minute of it. My next post here will be on the day of release, and if you're signed up to the mailing list you'll get advance notice of some freebies as well as have access to that exclusive short story.

1/01/2020

New Year's Resolutions and thoughts on publishing

New Year's Resolutions:
1: Blog more in 2020.
2: Write, at minimum, a complete first draft of a full-length hard sf novel. Think Interstellar, Expanse...and Event Horizon.
3: Write, at minimum, a complete first draft of a novella or short novel of between 30,000 and 50,000 words.
4: Write, complete and submit a television or film script.
5. Write, complete and submit a minimum of one short story no longer than 2,000 words.

This is going to be an interesting year for me, because it's the year I get to really test whether or not self-publishing provides me with a viable financial platform that can support me as I continue to write more.

To be clear, this doesn't mean I'm writing solely for money, but in order to write as much and as often as I would like to I need to be able to generate income from it so that it becomes self-perpetuating. If it's putting food on the table and paying my rent, I can afford to write more, knowing that will generate further income, and so on.

So far I've self-published two books. It bears repeating that neither of these are strictly the best ways of testing self-publishing in this respect. The first book I released was a short story collection. Such books sell a relatively small fraction of the number of copies an author can expect to sell of a full-length novel. That story collection by that well-known author you really like? It sold about a tenth as many copies as one of their full-length novels.

Nonetheless, my short story collection did well - much more so, in fact, than I could possibly have expected, and it continues to sell each and every month. My hope is that if I can sell this many copies of a short story collection, then if and when I publish a stand-alone book, it would, by an inverse arithmetical relationship, sell that many copie.

Or that's the hope I'm clinging to, anyway.

Doomsday Game was not,  I think, an adequate test of this relationship. Somehow it didn't occur to me when I wrote it that it might prove to be difficult marketing a book that's a sequel to two others that were traditionally published.

However, I had good reasons for writing and publishing it: if I'd written an original novel unrelated to any others, I'd have been stuck with the dilemma of whether or not to publish it myself or have my agent submit it to actual publishers. It would have seemed wisest to market it to traditional publishing markets. Further, the whole book was planned out and ready to write--although Tor UK turned it down for what don't really strike me as adequate reasons, given how well I'm given to understand Extinction Game did.

But if I'd written an entirely original and separate novel and sent it around publishers, I wouldn't be immediately generating cash from self-publishing and, to be frank with you, I kind of needed the money. Things were a little tight in the first year after Tor UK dropped me, and putting Doomsday Game out has, together with the sf collection, helped me catch up with myself, financially speaking. Together, they've made a decent amount of money. Not remotely enough to live off of, but enough to make further pursuing self-publishing seem worthwhile.

(I'm lucky in that what had until then been at best a part-time gig as a book doctor turned into an essentially full-time gig)

As I said, Doomsday Game was hard to market because the only people who would want to buy it were the people who'd already bought the previous two books. The first book did really well - in fact, as far as I can tell Extinction Game might well have been my most successful book since Stealing Light, and that's saying something. But Tor UK dropped me right before Survival Game was released.

Want to know what happens when a book is released by a publisher just months after they drop its author? It's abandoned and orphaned. It gets zero support and is effectively written off before it's even printed as an expected loss. It had a great cover, went through multiple edits working with a really great editor, had an intricate and carefully-worked out plot...and good luck, I suspect, finding it in many bookshops.

So if (say) ten thousand people bought Extinction Game, then maybe three or four thousand of those might have been lucky enough to find Survival Game...and since the audience for each successive book in a series always shrinks, that further reduces the potential audience for a third in the series, for which the only advertising I was able to afford were some Amazon ads and...that's it, really.

Nonetheless, it has sold, and well enough to make it worth it, even if it hasn't shifted quite as many as I'd been hoping.

So you can see by my reasoning that a book unconnected to any prior volumes, if self-published, has a better chance out of the gate. Hence my forthcoming book, Devil's Road.

It's short, but tight. I've come to an agreement with a narrator to produce an audiobook of Devil's Road through Audible's production arm, ACX. This time, the paperback edition is going to be available through Ingram Sparks distributor, meaning you could walk into almost any bookshop anywhere and order a copy (for reasons way too complicated to get into here, it won't be stocked in bookshops, but ordering it is certainly possible).

There'll also be a paperback edition simultaneously published through Amazon. The ebook, however, will be Amazon only: no Kobo, or Apple iBooks or anything like that.

Why? Because I made both Scienceville and Other Lost Worlds 'wide', ie available on digital stores other than Amazon, and it simply wasn't worth it. For every hundred ebooks I'd sell of either title on Amazon, I'd sell maybe two or three on all other stores combined.

This means my audience, such as I have, buys ebooks almost exclusively from Amazon.

I've seen other, well-known and otherwise traditionally-published authors taking their own steps into self-publishing come to the same conclusion and go Amazon-exclusive with their ebooks.

Yes, Amazon is evil. I agree. But Amazon is merely the sporing body of an underlying economic structure that increasingly rewards behaviour that works against, rather than for, the greater social good. I don't like that I have to rely on them so much, but to do otherwise is equivalent to giving up writing entirely.

Slave if I do, starve if I don't. Not much of a choice, really.

Ahem. Rant over.

It's also why this time I'm enrolling Devil's Road from the start in Kindle Unlimited.

For a monthly fee, it allows people to read a book 'for free' if it's enrolled in KU. This is in some ways a tragic and evil affair, in that it appears to be an attempt to turn reading into something closer to a Spotifiy experience, which would Not Be A Good Thing.

But in other ways it could also be a good thing, in that it allows those who have a KU account to sample books at zero risk by authors they've never heard of--most of whom are both self-published and have never been traditionally published.

I only occasionally had Scienceville...in KU, but when I did, it generated a small but substantial income. I went wide, because that's what I read I should do, but as I showed above this is not viable. I'd have been better off keeping the book in KU throughout its lifetime (at the moment, it's not in KU so I can offer it free to people who sign up to my mailing list).

Doomsday Game isn't in KU simply because the previous two books, being traditionally published, are by their nature 'wide' and not exclusive to Amazon.

Therefore the real test is to put Devil's Road into KU right from the start and see how that affects sales. And it can positively affect sales, directly and immediately.

So I have a lot riding on how well Devil's Road does. It'll tell me if it's worth my self-publishing at least one of the full-length novels I've written since being dropped by Tor UK, either later. in 2020 or in early 2021.

Okay. There's more I could say, but I'm going to save that for later blog posts. More coming up.