Monday, 25 April 2011

My First Eastercon, the Necessarily Short Version

Because, after all, I was only there for about three hours.  I listened to seventeen seconds of a panel debate, wandered around the art show and the dealers room, got lost a lot, helped steal a table for the Angry Robot signing, sat in the bar with AR editor Marc Gascoigne and friends for a while and then went home (or tried to - we'll come to that.)

So the upshot is that I don't have anything terribly useful or intelligent to say about Eastercon.  As such, my thoughts should probably be taken with a pinch of salt or seven.  They are, in no particular order: 
  • I wish I could have stayed a lot longer.  There was a heck of a lot going on that seemed worth investigating, and everything I saw was interesting enough that I wished I could have paid it more attention.
  • I met a lot of really cool people in a relatively short space of time.  That has to be a good sign.  Particular note should go to spec-fic artist Jethro Lentle and alt-folk musician Jordan Reyne, two brilliantly talented people who were both willing and able to geek out about obscure movies with a complete stranger at the drop of a hat.
  • Dealer passes are awesome.  They're like the con equivalent of the Jedi mind trick.
  • You want to secure a conference?  Having a single reception desk at one of the nineteen or so entrances and a couple of people sitting outside particular rooms just doesn't cut it.  Single point of entry, automated gun turrets.  End of story.
  • The Birmingham Hilton was not a good choice of venue.  Too big and too crazily expensive.  There just aren't that many genre fans who also happen to be oil barons.
  • I hope I get to go again next year.  So long as they don't hold it in a Hilton.  Or in Birmingham.
  • Angry Robot are really cool.  I mean, really.  If I pretty much knew how passionate these guys are about what they were doing before, it's absolutely burned into the crevices of my brain now.
  • When you actually get to meet your publishers and hold one of their books in your sweaty paws and see how beautifully and carefully put together it is and then realise that that's going to be you in about nine months time ... well, that's worth giving up a day for.
On a slightly more coherent note, I mainly just went to say hello to some people I'd only previously met in the digiverse, so everything else was a bonus.  On that basis, it was great to put a face to such names as Lavie Tidhar, Aliette de Bodard, Andy Remic, Adam Christopher - and last but clearly the opposite of least, Dan Abnett.

I may have geeked out a little when I met Dan Abnett.  It's one thing to have been reading someone's fantastic comics work for years and then to meet them and discover they're incredibly nice.  It's quite another to suddenly get it through your head that you're signed with the same publisher.  Heck, I even bought Dan's new book, Embedded.  How's that for adulation?

Of course, what Dan doesn't know is that while he was signing it, I was secretly stealing a lock of his hair*, which will henceforth be kept under my mattress to imbue me with magical super writing powers.  If you're reading this a year from now, wondering how I managed to write fifteen books and ninety seven comics in twelve months and they all be utterly brilliant - well, there's your answer.

So not a bad day at all ... until the train "service" stranded me in Birmingham, with no money, in the middle of the night.  Want to get a train back from Birmingham to Cheltenham on a main line route after a quarter to eight, on a day that's next to a bank holiday?  Well, that's just crazy talk, mister.  And if you end up spending the night in a fleepit hotel then you've only got yourself to blame.

Let's just call it a lesson learned, eh?

* If you've ever seen Dan, you'll have some idea how hard this was.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Bull Spec (Officially) Goes Pro

A really cheering bit of news from last week that got lost in the wash:

Anyone who's picked up an issue of Bull Spec, the multigenre, multiformat magazine just now entering its second year of life, or who's had dealings with its human dynamo of a creator, Samuel Montgomery-Blinn, will already know how downright professional both 'zine and editor have been right from day one.

Well now, it's official.  The SFWA, portal-keepers of pro, have given their thumbs-up; Bull Spec has been gifted it's shiny "SFWA qualifying market" hat and has one more thing to brag about when its trying to pick up lady magazines at the magazine night club.  Not that it needs the help, because frankly, it's already got brains and looks in abundance.  And probably even a good sense of humour too.

Obviously, this is (hard-earned) good news for Sam, and also for genre publishing in general, since it's not like we're exactly tripping over professional markets here.  But it's also particularly awesome news for me, because The Burning Room, as published in issue #4, is now a retrospective SFWA-qualifying sale.  As in, the one I've been waiting on to meet the membership terms for what seems about a million years.

Ironically - if only in an Alanis Morissette sense - I'd already met the criteria about a week earlier, on the back of the Angry Robot novel sales.  But hey, it's always good to have a backup plan, and there's an alternate universe somewhere where I'm still busily air-punching over this one.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Ten Things the Small Press Can Do As Well (Or Better) Than the Professional Press, Part 4: Design

Truth be told, of all the points in this series, this is the one I'm least convinced a small press market can actually do as well (or better!) than a professional publisher.  The most obvious reason is that design decisions - especially the ones that involve paying or otherwise persuading someone to help - tend to happen in the very early days, and start-up capital is something it's blatantly unfair to expect a small press to have much in the way of.

Then again, and maybe to cheat a bit, I'm not convinced people have the same expectations of the small press with regards to design, so that a little effort can go a long way - and a really devoted effort can seriously impress.  Also, this is something that even pro markets occasionally make a complete mess of.  So maybe that title isn't such a bluff after all?

Before we go on any further, I should probably explain what exactly I mean by design.  I'm talking here about logos, titles, fonts, cover and interior layout in the case of print magazines, or page layout for webzines.  Basically, all the aesthetic stuff that won't change - like covers and story-specific artwork do - from issue to issue.

Which, obviously, is why it's so important.  Logos, title design, fonts, all that stuff, is what gives a magazine identity, and that's one of the main things that will keep people coming back.  A magazine without an identity, even if it's publishing the best fiction on the planet, is one that's going to struggle to find and keep a readership.  And while there are plenty of other things that can provide character, design is always going to be the one that hits people first.  Visual distinctiveness makes something recognisable, and recognisability makes that thing memorable.

The other big point with design is, it's usually obvious exactly how much work's been put into it.  If you host a webzine on your blog site using the default font and standard banner art, people are going to pick up on that.  Likewise if you put out a print magazine that looks like a student essay.  And, if those people are writers who might submit to you, they're probably going to wonder how committed you are to this whole publishing gig.  If you spent ten minutes throwing together one of the most fundamental aspects of your 'zine, are you really going to be around in six month's time to publish their story?

So ... like I said at the start, design is a tough one.  It's hard to get right and incredibly easy to get wrong.  Here, for whatever it's worth, is my advice for ways in which to make it look good on a budget.  With added bullet points!
  • The first, maybe the biggest point is that it's never too late.  In theory, design is something that has to be there from the beginning.  In practise, it's something that can be developed issue by issue.  Who cares if you only come up with your final logo with issue eight?  Better to get it right eventually than not at all.  In fact, this often seems to be a mark of a good editor - fixing thing as and when they can, seeing identity as something that can be built up as and when time permits.  So if you can't do it right now then put it off ... just not forever.
  • Every bit of thought that goes into design will pay off.  And every single element of a magazine or book is ripe for design.  Don't just assume or settle for defaults with things like line spacing, margins, columns, text size and font.  An hour spent coming up with something that you find eminently readable is an hour that's going to make people love you a little bit more.
  • It's worth saying again: design is the quickest way to build identity.  You want to tell people you're a quirky publisher of comic Lovecraftian horror?  That image of Cthulhu in a hula skirt is going to key people in much more quickly than ploughing through half a dozen stories.  Want to convey in hardly any words that you're only interested in high-minded postmodernist sci-fi?  There's a font out there that says exactly that.*
  • All of the points I made for artwork are true here too.  Think you can't afford a designer?  Then find one who'll work for free in return for exposure and plug the hell out of them.  At this exact moment, there are approximately 532'702 incredibly talented artists out there who'll give you their work in return for making their portfolio that bit more shiny.**
  • I can't see any good reason not to imitate a little.  No one's going to get offended with an editor who looks at what they think is working and takes a hint from it.  I mean, unless you steal someone's name or start wearing their clothes.  Why not take a little time to figure out why your favourite magazines look great and then work out how much of that you can poach for your own 'zine?
 Well, five bullet points has to be enough for anyone.  Okay, so maybe the truth is that this isn't an area  the small press can beat the pro markets in.  But it's also one that gets ignored or neglected way more than it should.  Awesome design is undoubtedly a tough one to nail - but decent, functional, moderately attractive design is something anyone should be able to get right with a bit of work and thought.

* I admit I haven't actually tested this one.
** This, on the other hand, is based on vast amounts of research.

    Sunday, 10 April 2011

    Novel Update: Now, With Title

    I've already mentioned two or three times that I'm working on a new novel, but up until now I've been a bit cagey on the details - those little things like, say, title, genre and plot.  Well, no more!  Um ... except for that last one, anyway.

    As is perhaps completely obvious by now, the reason I've started a new novel in such an out-of-the-blue fashion is that my just-announced deal with Angry Robot is for both Giant Thief and a couple of sequels - and the new book is sequel number one.  Or, as I'm tentatively calling it right now, Crown Thief.

    Did I plan to write a sequel to Giant Thief?  The honest answer is "sort of, maybe" - or, perhaps more truthfully, "yes and no."  In the early days of its conception, I was dead set that Giant Thief should stand alone.  One of my biggest pet hates in genre fiction is reaching the end of a novel only to realise I've been reading what was, in effect, a sales pitch for a fifteen book series.  I was determined I wouldn't do that, and one of the most obvious ways to avoid it seemed to be to write an ending that was sequel-proof.

    My intentions were honest, my heart was true ... but the further I went, the more I came to understand the characters, the wider the world grew, the more I realised there's no such thing as a sequel-proof ending.  Giant Thief definitely concludes, and it's a real conclusion, one I hope ties up every loose end raised by the preceding chapters in a satisfactory fashion.  But the closer I got to the finish line, the more I just couldn't help wondering what happened next.  Because, after ninety thousand and some pages of turmoil, there was no way these people were just going to pack up and go home.  Sure, maybe some of them would try - but would those homes by how they left them?  After all the crazy stuff that had happened?  No way.  Life just doesn't work like that.  And really, what kind of book would Giant Thief if everything could go back to normal at the end of it?

    So, by the time - about a year and half later - that Marc from Angry Robot asked about the possibility of sequels, I knew the answer.  I even had a pretty solid idea of where I'd want them to go.

    Now here I am writing my first sequel.  Which is kind of a big, crazy thing to get your head around.  And, who'd have thought, writing a sequel brings a whole new set of problems with it.  Some stuff is much, much easier.  I know the characters, I know the setting, and for the first time I have a sound, detailed plan to work off.  On the other hand, I now have to wrestle with things like continuity, and my imaginary reader has alarmingly split into two people, one of whom's read (and presumably enjoyed) Giant Thief and the other just happened to pick Crown Thief up because he or she dug the cover.  Is it possible to please both of those people?  I certainly want to try, but it isn't always easy.

    Anyway, since this post is called 'Novel Update' I should probably mention that I'm almost bang on my planned wordage - actually a little ahead, because I've got a busy-with-other-stuff week looming at the end of the month.  If I don't get back into regular work, I'm all set for a late June finish.  Of course, if I don't get back into regular work, I probably won't be able to afford electricity, and I'll have to write the last few pages in my own bodily fluids on a toilet wall or something. 

    Is there anything in my contract that says I can't submit in bodily fluids and toilet wall?  I should really check that one.

    Tuesday, 5 April 2011

    Big News, Part 2: Giant Thief and Sequels Signed With Angry Robot

    I've been hinting for a while now about some very big news.  Well, now it's official and out of the bag: superb, exciting, genre-leading UK publisher Angry Robot have picked up my first novel Giant Thief and two prospective sequels. 

    I'm going to be talking about this a lot over the next few weeks (and indeed, months and years!) but for now, here's the official press release.  Congrats to Anne Lyle, my fellow announcee!

    Fantasy fiction comes in many forms, as two new signings to Angry Robot attest. The energetic indie has snapped up two series by British authors who take very different approaches to the genre.

    Debut author ANNE LYLE joins the imprint with the Night’s Masque trilogy of Elizabethan fantasies. Explorers have returned from the New World bearing strangely primitive natives – and their uncanny elders, regal beings straight out of the Norse legends who call themselves skraylings. Hired to protect these strangers, disreputable swordsman Mal Catlyn soon finds himself dragged into a world of conspiracy and dark magic. The first, The Alchemist of Souls, is an irresistible combination of dashing swordplay and cunning alternate history from a natural born storyteller. It will be published simultaneously in the US and UK in March 2012.

    Anne said: “The Alchemist of Souls came out of my fascination with the early modern period of European history. This was an England of religious terrorism, state paranoia, surveillance and rising gun crime, and the emergence of new forms of mass entertainment. Sound familiar? I don’t seem to be very good at sticking to one genre within a book, so Angry Robot’s penchant for mash ups made them the perfect fit.”

    This contrasts neatly with the new series by another debut novelist, DAVID TALLERMAN. The notorious Easie Damasco is a rogue and a thief and a scoundrel, who somehow always lives to see another day. In the first of his outlandish adventures, Giant Thief, Damasco manages to steal the wrong treasure and ends up with an entire army on his tail. Riotous swashbuckling adventure in the popular tradition of recent fantasy successes Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie, the Easie Damasco adventures will run to at least three books.

    Both deals were done between Marc Gascoigne, Publishing Director, and the authors’ agents, which in both cases just happened to be John Berlyne and John Parker of the Zeno Agency. The deal is for world English rights for physical, digital and audio editions.

    Marco commented, “These are two very different fantasy series, but they share a common quality – thoroughly engaging storytelling. Both these authors have the that rare skill of grabbing the reader in an opening paragraph and taking them off on a wild, wild ride full of magic, swordplay and adventure.”

    More information can be found at Anne Lyle is at and David Tallerman hangs out at

    Angry Robot is a new genre publisher, bringing readers the best in new SF, F and WTF?! All titles are released as paperbacks and in all major eBook formats. Distribution is through Random House (North America) and GBS (UK). Angry Robot is part of the Osprey Group.

    For more information, review copies, interview and feature requests contact Mike Ramalho ( or +44 (0) 186 581 1325).

    Sunday, 3 April 2011

    In Case Anyone Was Wondering ... A Wombot.

    As alluded to in my last post...

    This is what appears in your inbox when you mention they word "wombot" to your insane comic-collaborator pals.

    Cheers to Bob Molesworth for enlivening my day with wacky cyborg marsupial goodness.

    Fallen Antho Canned as Northern Frights Goes On Hiatus

    I suppose it was inevitable that with some of the good news I've been posting lately on the writing front - and the even better news I hope to be letting out of the bag very soon - there was bound to be something really rubbish lurking round the corner.

    And lo, it arrived on Friday night, in the form of an e-mail from Northern Frights Publishing editor JW Schnarr telling me that, for undisclosed personal reasons, NFP it going on hiatus, the forthcoming Fallen anthology won't see the light of day, and my story Fall From Grace is back out in the cold.

    I'd try to be all philosophical about it but frankly, given my desperate lack of short fiction sales over the last few months and the tenuous states of the tiny handful of publications I've still got on the way, this was a blow - all the more so because I was hugely looking forward to this one.  The three books NFP put out in its brief life were all beautifully designed and well received, and I've not doubt that both of those things would have been equally true of Fallen

    I wrote to Mr Schnarr asking if he could see any way around this, since he suggested he plans to consolidate NFP at some point in the future.  Personally, give how astonishingly hard it can be to find a really good home for a story, I'd rather give an editor a few months leeway than try to resell it elsewhere.  But I haven't received a reply, and perhaps, in the face of whatever crisis was significant enough for him to put to bed such an obvious labour of love, it was naive to expect one.  However it works out, I hope this isn't the end of Northern Frights.  There aren't enough, and will never be enough, great small press publishers out there.

    On a more positive and completely unrelated note ... I only had to mention that I'd written a wombot into the new Endangered Weapon script and Bob Molesworth sent me a sketch of one.  How neat is that?