Wednesday, 29 September 2010

My First Fantasycon, Part 2: All the Stuff That Is About Trying to Sell My Novel

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...

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

My First Fantasycon, Part 1: All the Stuff That's Not About Trying to Sell My Novel

So I not only went to but survived, and not only survived but enjoyed my first Fantasycon - that being, for anyone who doesn't know, the annual conference organised by the British Fantasy Society - and it seems only right that I say a few words about it.

I went to Fantasycon with a few ulterior motives - to be discussed in part 2 - but I mainly went because it seems to be the UK event that people consistently rave about.  I had no idea what to expect, but as a miserable cynic, that didn't stop me expecting the worst: perhaps me and and two other people in a room slightly smaller than the average broom cupboard, forced to debate the relative merits of the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings for thirty two hours straight.

That didn't happen, (believe me, I wouldn't be taking the time to post about it), but tons of other stuff did.  That said, because I missed the first day and it took me a few hours to tune into the whole thing I suspect I missed more than I saw.  I completely failed to go to any readings, for example, and I only made one panel, though at least it was thoroughly interesting - Robert E. Howard discussed by folks including the prodigious Ramsay Campbell and Stephen Jones, who edited the excellent Gollancz volumes of Conan that really got me interested in Howard.  Similarly, although I only went to one signing, I picked a good one: the Never Again anthology from Gray Friar Press, including too many great writers to name but specifically from my point of view my friend Alison Littlewood, whose work never fails to impress me.

Apart from that and the stuff I'm going to talk about in part 2, I mostly spent my time browsing stalls, mingling, drinking (oh, so much drinking) and catching up with people.  Some of these were old friends that I haven't seen in ages like the multi-talented Alasdair Stuart and Angry Robot and Hub editor and all-round nice bloke Lee Harris.  Others were well-known names that I finally got to put a face to, like Stephen Theaker (who between Dark Horizons and Theaker's Quarterly Fiction has accepted more of my work than any other editor, and is every bit as nice in reality as he seems in the digiworld) and author-editor Geoff Nelder, who I hope I run into again so we can finish the conversation I rudely rushed out of.  A few were complete strangers - and I realise that isn't catching up, exactly, but it's a way of mentioning just how damn friendly most people were, and how willing and eager to share their knowledge and experience of the industry.  Of these, BFS Publicity and Events Co-Ordinator Martin Roberts particularly stands out, since I only approached him in a muddled attempt to sell my novel to PS Publishing and we ended up chatting for about half an hour.

I was determined not to spend too much money, or at least only spend it on absolute necessities like food and alcohol, but in the last couple of hours I went a little mad, and I still think I got off lightly given how much awesome stuff I could have splashed out on.  Most expensive single purchase was PS's sci-fi movie essay antho Cinema Futura (pictured left), and I also picked up The Places Between by Terry Grimwood, (right), because I was bothering Pendragon Press's editor Christopher Teague and that lovely cover kept catching my eye.  But my biggest purchase was five art prints by the astonishingly talented Les Edwards - four of these, a series based on Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, can be found in the bottom right of this page.  I nearly split them up to save a few quid and I've never been so glad to have defeated my cheapskate Yorkshireman instincts.  Now if only I had some frames and wall space!

Were there any low points?  Well, having to point out to Terry Martin which issue and then which page of Murky Depths he'd published me in before he remembered who I was was a sobering moment, though completely understandable in retrospect (and congrats, by the way, to Murky Depths for picking up the Best Magazine / Periodical award, it was well deserved.)  Complimenting Lisa Tuttle on a story actually written by Sarah Pinborough wasn't my finest moment, (and then I completely failed to tell Sarah I liked it either - Sarah, if you should happen to read this, Snow Angels blew me away).  There was the point where I realised that all the less miserly and antisocial people had all gone off for the banquet and that I'd have to find somewhere to eat alone amidst the sinister and alarming surrounds of Nottingham - although that ended up in fantastic take away pizza, so all was more than well.

Apart from that, the two days ranged from relaxing and interesting to flat-out great, and I know that I'll have a better time next year for knowing the ropes.  The really great bit was seeing, with my own eyes, that the British genre scene is truly healthy - definitely struggling, who or what the hell isn't these days? - but definitely alive and definitely kicking.  And the best bit?  That'd have to be getting to feel like a part of that scene for a couple of days.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Spotlit at Lightspeed

It's been a fair few weeks since I've posted anything here, mainly because not a damn thing has happened that's been good enough - or resoundingly bad enough - to be worth mentioning.  That only makes me that bit more grateful to Lightspeed Magazine for giving me something to talk about - and even making it a pleasant something.

I now have a definite month for Jenny's Sick appearing in Lightspeed, December this year, but that's not the news; the news is that I also get to be the spotlighted author for that issue.  And what that means is that I get to answer a load of really, really difficult (but also really considered and interesting) questions about my story, and both the questions and my rambling answers will appear in Lightspeed for the world to try and make sense of.

What the team at Lightspeed don't know is that I never have the faintest idea of why anything happens in my stories!  Unfortunately for me, I'm guessing that answers like "I only write this stuff" or "the moon was in the forth quarter and I'd eaten too much peanut butter that day" probably won't cut the proverbial mustard.  So I should probably stop posting about it and start coming up with some vaguely coherent answers!