For Fantasycon this year, I decided to try something a little different.
In fact, I decided to try plenty of different things, I guess - actually attending being the main one - but for this post I'm just going to focus on one, since I covered the rest in the first part (Buying art! Spending £20 on a book! Staying in a hotel that had clearly been designed by Stalinists!)
For a variety of reasons, most of them to do with my day job, I ended up going almost directly from finishing my first novel, Giant Thief, to beginning my second, currently known as Funland. That meant I didn't have much time or energy with which to submit or promote Giant Thief - and the more time passed, the more my enthusiasm waned. With novel number two out of the way, I knew I had to turn that around, but even when I started tentatively submitting my heart wasn't entirely in the process.
I'd been telling myself for months that if I made it to Fantasycon, one of the justifications for the expense would be trying to sell Giant Thief. I had a few ideas, but one in particular stood out, something Rafe McGregor had suggested. Rafe's idea - perhaps influenced by the decidedly unconventional theories of self-promotion ninja J. A. Konrath - was to print up a promotional sampler via a print-on-demand service like Lulu, and to hand that out in place of the leaflets, bookmarks and such that authors tend traditionally to go in for.
Now, before Rafe accuses me of trying to pass the blame for my dumb ideas, it's worth mentioning at this point that I'd completely misremembered the conversation. In fact, Rafe had been considering the samplers as a method to promote an existing novel, not as an alternative to the traditional submissions process. This, of course, makes far more sense than my version, which possesses very little logic at all. Unfortunately, by the time Rafe reminded me of this, and pointed out what a potentially terrible idea it was, I'd already decided to go ahead. I figured that the risk - of alienating publishers by appearing to buck the traditional submissions process - was worth the potential gains. It wasn't that it seemed like a particularly great idea any more, or that I thought for a second it might lead to a sale. But thinking about my samplers had done far more to rekindle my passion for Giant Thief than cobbling together synopses and sending out sample chapters had. For the first time in months, I felt excited about it, and could remember why it had consumed me for the better part of two years.
So, at great expense, and with much screaming and throwing of furniture at Lulu's bewilderingly obtuse cover-designing software, I put my samplers together. I compiled three chapters, my bio, and a short story - Imaginary Prisons, as published in issue #29 of Theaker's Quarterly Fiction - the latter partly because I was still hanging onto my misremembered version of Rafe's theory, and more rationally, because I thought I might conceivably peak the interest of anthology-only publishers.
The end results, pictured left, weren't exactly mind-blowing, and were a million miles away from what I had in mind, but at least they looked half decent. I was particularly lucky to discover that Francisco Goya had been decent enough to illustrate an image from my first chapter in his 1818 painting "The Giant". Unfortunately, neither of us banked on Lulu's deciding to reproduce it approximately thirty-seven shades darker than it had originally appeared, but it still looked just about okay. I was armed and ready.
Now, it's worth pointing out at this point that I'm not the most naturally gregarious of people, and even if I was, I doubt that attending a conference on my own and then harassing complete strangers with samples of my novel would have been an entirely pleasant or relaxing process. Despite encouragement and interest from the likes of Alisdair Stuart, Alison Littlewood and Geoff Nelder, the Saturday proved less than productive, and most of the samples I got rid of ended up with friends and acquaintances. By five o'clock, I was a little despondent, not to say exhausted, and I'd barely shifted one in three of my Giant Thief booklets.
Sunday, however, went a little better. Perhaps I was still drunk from the previous night - it's physiologically unlikely that I could have sobered up much from four hours sleep - and it definitely helped that the seller's room was much quieter. Maybe more importantly, I was a little clearer on what I wanted to do ... that being, get rid of samplers, say 'hi' to complete strangers and learn a little about the publishing scene. With my expectations realigned, I found that I was actually enjoying myself. The highpoint of the whole experiment came from Nicky Crowther of P S Publishing, who was kind enough to actually be impressed, and to point out that my pamphlets would be much easier to read in bed than normal submissions.
So would I recommend this approach to other writers? Not hardly. It was expensive, time consuming, stressful and probably won't be in the least productive -certainly no one's expressed any interest yet, despite me including my contact details not once but twice! But it did open my eyes to a lot of things that as a writer I can and perhaps have to be doing. I can see now that it's vital to take the opportunity to talk to publishers - too often the only communication between our two camps is submissions and rejection letters, which gives each side a false impression of the other. It's no bad thing to look at my work with fresh eyes, and failing that, in a fresh form. I don't think anyone was grossly offended by my unusual take on submitting, so I guess it's okay to push the envelope a little.
Anyway, thanks for everyone at Fantasycon who encouraged and took interest in my mad endeavour, and especial thanks to the publishers who accepted my samplers. It would have been a much, much less fun weekend without you.
Now to think of a crazy scheme that actually succeeds in getting Giant Thief published...