In which I change agents

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My agent Rob is moving out of agenting.  He’s sorry to go and I’m sorry to lose him. Perceptive and thoughtful, Rob picked my book from the slush-pile and got it to fly.  Who knows if Cory would have been published without him? (At least not as quickly or as well.)  He’s taught me a lot and I’m grateful.

It prompted some philosophical musings on publishing, but first the facts.

Fortunately, Rob can still give me his feedback on the next draft of Our Child of Two Worlds, so I will have that continuity.   Check out his latest books, The Toymakers and Paris by Starlight.

Rob is not one to leave you in the lurch.  I have a new agent, Alex Cochran of C&W, one of the larger agencies (and as it happens, the outfit who already partner Rob in handling my film rights).  Alex was on my top agents to try list, both for my unpublished novel, and for Cory. He likes the book, and its cross-genre appeal.  I’m optimistic Alex can help me navigate the strange waters ahead.  Getting the second book finished is the priority and then, Next Big Thing.

And the moral of this is, that publishing is a rum old game.  So many people assume that it’s all slog finishing that book and sending it out, but once you get the agent, all is plain sailing.  A book a year and the fifth book will win the Booker, the Hugo, or be in the Richard and Judy Bookclub. 

Real writing careers are more complicated. Famously George R R Martin wrote three books which were successes and the fourth, Armageddon Rag in the eighties, flopped.  He moved into TV and editing anthologies for a decade. 

Agents and editors move on, or fall out, there’s a merger or a start-up.  That brilliant idea doesn’t come off, the sequel doesn’t come off, or indeed, there is suddenly a nasty little virus. Many old hands say it’s harder now to have a steady career than in their youth.

That’s why I guess three things for authors I’ve come to realise, catching up with the wisdom of more established writers.

  • Write for joy. There will be days you hate it, but overall if you don’t enjoy it, there are other things to do.  In fact, people who write primarily for themselves can be very happy authors.
  • Make each work as good as you can.
  • Don’t define your self-worth purely by the financial and critical success of your work. 

Interview with Suanne Schafer

Suanne is an American author who runs a regular author interview slot on her blog.  It was fun to do. We covered a lot including message fiction, whether SFF has to be political, and what makes a good book.

Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel? Do you consciously ensure all of these are in place?

SC: Characters that leap off the page and that you care about, situations that do not feel contrived. For me a world which acknowledges the dark and unfair side of life but addresses it with hope and humour. Voice. The sort of writing that takes you by the hand and says, Trust me, this will make sense in the end. This will be worth the journey.

Read it here.

Going virtual

Odd how a virus can change things.  I’ve been tied up fighting it, biologically, and at work.  And I’m waiting for the feedback on the latest draft of OUR CHILD OF TWO WORLDS.

EdgeLit in Derby has moved its event to November, so that still may be happening.

Cymera (more here) is going online and I’ve just filled in a long questionaire about what I can do online. (No juggling on a unicycle, I’m afraid.)

I’ve just done an interview for an author’s blog and there might be a couple of other things.  But really it’s about staying well, keeping up with the day job, and waiting for the notes…

And my writers group has gone online, using Zoom.  I’m looking at trying to do some videos or Q+As because launching in the US in a pandemic obviously hasn’t been ideal.

More when I have it.

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Save the dates: A guest at two conventions

Scotland has hosted the big science fiction and fantasy conventions including I believe a Worldcon.  However it did not have a (big) annual convention of its own.  Cymera which is relatively new tackles that.

And I’m going, to do a panel on ‘what makes us human’.   I’ll be on the Sunday 2.45 7th June with Adrian J Walker, an Australian author new to me and whose intriguing book I have ordered, naturally.

The whole programme and how to get tickets (weekend passes look good value) can be found in their website.

This is wonderful to be asked, an excuse to visit Edinburgh, and I’ll post more thoughts as I have them.

And of course, quite a big likelihood it won’t happen because of The Virus. Certainly events are being cancelled all over the country and in the US.

I am strongly tempted to do something online with Adrian if not.

I am also at Edgelit in Derby, a friendly convention which I enjoyed last year, 11-12th July.  Put in your diaries.  It’s top secret but be naughty and tell your friends.

Nothing makes you a real writer except writing, but this certainly good to be asked.

Since the invite I have been thinking often of the great Alistair Gray and his ringing statement, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” Words for England too.

Image result for work as if in the early days of a better nation

Stephen

Our Child of the Stars on sale in US and Canada !!

Having won rave reviews in the UK, Our Child of the Stars hits the US and Canada on 3rd March. Available as hardback, the three e-book formats, and audiobook! (BTW if your local shop doesn’t stock it, they can order it.)

The LA Times loved it

“It’s 1969, the year of the moon landings, Woodstock and the ongoing Vietnam war. Against this backdrop, Gene and Molly Myers have been having a rough time since their child died some years before. [When] a meteor strikes their New England town… Molly is given the task of caring for the gravely ill survivor – an alien child called Cory.

Cory’s difference to others highlights the real messages that have been tenderly provided here – those of acceptance, warmth of human spirit along with parental love and sacrifice. It’s a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent and a reminder that at times it feels like society as a whole hasn’t really become any more accepting of those who are different since the 1960s.”

Edited for spoilers

UK praise here

Buying links here

IndieBound finds independent bookshops

Barnes and Noble HB

B+N Nook

Indigo Canada

Amazon

 

A million pounds or a million readers?

A genie offers a writer a choice.  Would they rather have a million pounds, or a million people read their first book but for no money at all?

It’s an interesting question.  Do we write to be able to keep writing, or do we write because we want to share the story?

To write solely for financial security is a mugs game.

If you have faith in your book, a million people reading it will produce enthusiasts.  Say 5% of people who read it become fans. (By which I mean only someone who is super likely to buy your next book.)  50,000 fans is an excellent base for a career, you might become established.

Conversely, a million pounds frees you to do only that work you want to do.

Of course, in the real world you are not offered this choice.

This was prompted by news that my publisher has remaindered some of my paperbacks to The Works, a company which runs 450 discount shops across the country.  You can currently buy a copy of Our Child of the Stars at £2, less than a coffee.  Three books for a fiver.

It’s a common sense move to shift copies you won’t sell otherwise. I hope the Works sell all these copies to build fans of my work.

Many people think this is the devil, and that my publisher should burn unsold copies in their furnaces. Many book people want to go back to prices fixed by the publisher.  Another debate for another time.

When you look behind this, there are other considerations.

For example, WH Smiths, the Works, and the supermarkets can reach people who rarely use bookshops.

One Year On: The joy of PLR

Wall of books in library
Library: Courtesy zaini izzuddin unsplash

One of the little joys of authorhood is seeing your book in a library, and thinking of people taking it out. It’s also a good retort for those of your friends too mean to buy it. ‘Go to the library.’

I’m a fan of libraries. As a kid, my parents showed me the local library and for years I walked five old books back and took five new books out each Saturday.  I was also tall for my age and allowed free range into the adult section rather too early.  I couldn’t tell you everything I read, the SF selection tended to be collections, and a lot of Andre Norton. Peter Dickinson’s weird fantasy about a UK with apartheid against green skinned Celts.  I’m not sure I remember much fantasy but there were some classics.  (Our school library was also rather good.)

To be a writer is to approve of reading, and to believe that  access to books is a good thing.  But also, authors need to eat.

So the PLR scheme (like a number across Europe) pays each author the princely sum of 9p every time one of their books is taken out.  What is more interesting is that it gives a rough idea of how many people borrowed your book – in the relevant period, around 500.

(I thought every book in every library was connected. In fact, they check a sample and scale up which makes sense.)

500 readers. And a little something in the bank next month. And yay for libraries.

One Year On: Influences and cutting up frogs

A dear friend asked if the character who ‘disliked cutting up frogs at school’ was a reference to a reference to the biology lesson scene in ET.  That led to a long think about influences.

At one level, the answer is no.  I did not consciously use that phrase thinking of ET.  Molly is a nurse, not at all squeamish about the bloodier side of nursing.  Although, she likes her meat and fish not to remind her they came from living beings. For her, inflicting suffering is different. Molly subconsciously links the danger to her alien son Cory to cutting up frogs, in part because he reminds her a bit of one.  (Long limbed, hairless, loves the water…)

But there is a link.  With a deft touch, ET presents dissecting the frogs as cruel, and Cory is sometimes very confrontational about human cruelty in all its forms.  Cory is often seen as other, and as fair game, a means to an end.  I think the link was Cory’s appearance, not ET, but the subconscious is not straightforward.  It’s my view that ET confronts human frailty cruelty and power less than Our Child of the Stars does, but my friend’s question shows a counter-example.

Some references in Our Child of the Stars are deliberate, even knowing (‘Easter Eggs’).. Some I made and only later recognized the origins.  The Meteor for example I knew was a lift from Superman/ Smallville, although there are also major differences. And much of it swam into my head ready formed.

One of the most amusing things is the long list of influences, which are books and films I haven’t seen, or saw after the book was written.  After all, a helpless child turns out to have strange powers goes back to Hercules, if not before.

There is an increasing tendency to reduce a book to the author’s biography.  People do borrow from their lives and interests – there is a tapestry of these in my book – but often emotional truth rather than hard facts. And an author subjects it to the comic book transforming radiation of the imagination.

Why do I have to wait for the paperback?

 

A friend doesn’t understand the logic behind issuing the hardback, e-book, and paperback in the way publishers do.  She points to all the successful reviews and publicity at the start of the year, then says – will people remember that when the paperback comes out, say eight months later?

Here’s my thoughts.

The book trade is dealing with the effects of various changes

  • Discounting – supermarkets, Amazon, and discount specialists sell books at very low prices
  • The growth of the e-book (sales may have slowed a bit depending on who you believe – still massive)
  • Audiobooks are growing fast
  • Bookshops on the high street suffer the same pressures everyone else does – high rents and combating online retailers (who sometimes dodge taxes)
  • Book piracy, which is stealing.
  • And there is just more interesting content viewable at home than there was

A big publisher must try to juggle different markets.  For some genres, hardbacks are still more likely to be reviewed in print media, and there is a market for big beautiful object books. And the hardback is to some extent the flagship product physical bookshops try to sell. Yet, those who read e-books are likely to read early and to review online.

I’ve seen pundits argue we need to make people see buying physical books is ‘best’.  (Financially for authors, that’s a moot point.)  Most authors of physical books need buy-in from local shops to get visibility.

I’ve seen other pundits argue we should publish the paperback soon after the hardback, riding on its coattails to build a larger market in size for authors.  They argue a bigger push on paperbacks would allow middling authors to reach more readers and more sustainable income.

(Fun fact: With professional authors, on average their writing is only 20% of their household income- ALCS 2019)

I don’t have a simple answer for what strategy publishers should follow.  What I do propose is to let fans of the book know how they can help in the run-up to paperback publication.  Sub to my newsletter or follow me on Twitter etc!!

(Pix annie spratt, Unsplash)