Tag: backstage


Top Posts & Searches

For the stats curious, here are some of the top posts and search terms for 2010.


1. Getting Women
2. Genre Diversity
3. Show Don’t Tell, And Other Myths
4. Travels & Embargoes
5. Cover Art For The Book of Transformations – You Decide
6. Sexual Healing
7. City of Ruin: UK Paperback Cover Art
8. The Fiction Of Neal Asher’s Science
9. New Cover: The Book of Transformations
10. Fantasy Names

Search terms:

1. mark charan newton (top search by a long way)
2. fantasy names
3. mark c newton
4. mark newton
5. nights of villjamur
6. mark charon newton
7. kowloon walled city
8. prypiat
9. mark charan newton blog
10. show don’t tell

A little duller, this one, but for those of you who like to analyse these things at an industry level, note how the book doesn’t feature that highly for the searches – it’s more about the author as an entity/brand/whatever. It just goes to show that authors should really have some internet presence, since people are indeed very interested in them. I’m sure publishing types can use this as a stick to beat reluctant authors.


General Book Industry Gossip

With a UK leaning. Firstly, UK libraries are looking rather vulnerable at the moment:

Campaigners have warned that there are just “six weeks to save the public library service” with more than 330 libraries now at risk of closure.

It is estimated around 1,000 libraries will be threatened with closure next year, out of 4,500 nationally. Campaigner Desmond Clarke said there were six weeks to save the service before councils finalise their budgets in February.

And sales are down, too:

But although spending at UK booksellers last week was much higher than the weather-afflicted week ending 4th December (when spending was down 18.4%, or £11.4m year-on-year), the recovery was not large enough to drag book sales into positive year-on-year territory.

Christmas is huge for bookselling. In the general shopping period of this time of year, the bulk of the industry’s sales are made. Admittedly, these sales are swayed massively by gift books – the usual crap you find by the tills or on ‘humour’ tables, and during recessions or hardship these tended to be the ones people stopped buying because of the very transient readership. Genres like SF, Fantasy, Crime – I’d be interested to see their end-of-year stats broken down.

Yet it seems that ebooks are growing.

E-books accounted for 5% of Hachette’s total sales in the fourth quarter of this year, the publisher’s c.e.o. has said.

In a letter to authors dominated by digital issues, Tim Hely Hutchinson said e-books were now a “significant” part of Hachette’s business. He said in the United States, e-book sales had been tripling year on year, from 1% of total sales in 2008 to 9% this year. He said: “Our market in Britain and the Commonwealth is not far behind and, actually, I would not be surprised if the British and Australian markets were to end up with a higher percentage of ebook sales than that of the USA.”

Too early to tell where these sales are coming from, or if they’re cannibalising physical copies, but it’s certainly a silver-lining. I’ve heard mutterings that in the US hardcovers are down massively and ebooks are up – and they’re possibly taking the hardcover sales. This always surprises me, because I thought the hardcover readers were the collectors, but they’re possibly just the early adopters of literature instead. If that is the case, you can see why publishers want to resist lowering their prices.


Publishing’s Freeze

And I thought I was the one writing about ice ages:

But how much trouble is the British publishing industry really in?

Certainly publishers are frozen. The rate of announced acquisitions in this country has dropped to an extraordinary low over the last year. The US, a market that is five – six (let’s be generous) times our size has deals running at a rate of 25-30 a day; in the UK it is less than one a day.

Traditionally at this point publishers talk about lack of retail outlets, tough market conditions etc.

All no doubt true enough, but when has the market been anything but tough? How about this: there’s an almost total industry wide loss of editorial confidence? UK publishers are deeply unsure about what they should be publishing any more…

The trouble is that sales marketing and publicity only want what’s already popular. Really they’d just like to republish last year’s successful books. In theory publishers hire editors to judge what the trends are going to be two years from now.

That involves making mistakes. The only books that the committee will ever feel entirely happy about acquiring are either by celebrities, brand authors or New York Times bestsellers: books that represent the lowest possible risk and the probable death of British publishing.

That’s from the Bookseller, too. I can’t imagine a more pessimistic outlook for struggling writers, which just goes to hammer home the fact that – first and foremost – you should write because you enjoy the process of writing. I used to think that you should write because you want to be read, too, but I’m never sure how quixotic that is these days.

My other tip – to minimise the chances of being rejected – has always been to get into a bookshop to get a flavour of what editors are looking to buy. I wrote about it a couple of years ago. I know it has the whiff of selling out, but it’s not meant to be – more of a reality check that publishing is a business. Given such a bleak outlook, I think those thoughts still make a great deal of sense.


Interview With Tim Waterstone

This is a very interesting and surprisingly open interview with the man who created the biggest UK bookchain, Waterstone’s.

“I became increasingly frustrated – frankly pissed off – with the way it was being run. I was chairman of HMV and was watching my own baby being absolutely murdered. And it was so stupid because the book market was just growing and growing, and people coming in from Tesco or Asda or Boots seemed to think their job was to get Waterstone’s away from books, and move it towards multimedia or something. It was very hard for the people who worked in the stores, who I’d known for years – great, terrific people, wonderful people.”

If anyone wants an insight into how publishing operates at the frontline, they should read this.

It was interesting when they acquired Ottakar’s and turned a successful book chain into a more troubled chain, have more recently decided that the Ottakar’s philosophy was the way to go after all, and that booksellers should have more of an influence in what gets sold at a local level. Because they know their stuff and it’s good for everyone.

Yes, I did once work for Ottakar’s, so perhaps I’m biased.


If You Build It…

First, my next Amazon.com post is online, where I talk about the similarities of mystery and fantasy fiction. Feel free to jump in with your thoughts.

Now to business. I thought I’d share the graph of my web stats, month by month over the last couples of years.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? Yes I’ve covered up the numbers, because I was questioning the etiquette. (If you do want to know, drop me a line.) The spike in December was the infamous Death of SF period. The leap in hits for this month is, I’m guessing, because of the US debut, combined with the UK mass market release, and everything reaching a critical mass.

The point is, given that authors are told to get out there and publicise themselves, you can go from nowhere to somewhere, just by sitting at your computer. I’ve been on a few panels talking about social media and all that nonsense, where people come for advice on this subject, but there’s no secret really. It’s like a relationship, and like in any good relationship, you should not look to see what you can get out of it yourself (I must blog to get sales! Uh, no), but you should look to nurture it for the sake of enjoyment – which means you must put in effort.

And before someone says, “But look, you are doing all this to sell books!” – well, if I didn’t want to sell books, I wouldn’t write them in the first place. Writers all have egos, let’s not deny it. We all want to be read – there’s nothing malicious about it. Blogging is not a direct way to sell books, and should never be looked at in such a way. It’s about a chance to connect to the community, and also it’s about the author brand, which I’ll mention later.

Making the assumption that, as a writer, you aren’t going to inherit a five-figure marketing budget to heavily promote your work across all media (welcome to the real world), here are the basic things I’d suggest to get nice, upward-sloping lines:

1) Blog regularly. I’m talking at least three times a week. We no longer live in the age of news items, but constant updates. It’s not rocket science – how many times are we ourselves put off by seeing graveyard blogs, updated once every two or three months? Exactly. It stinks. And that’s what people will think of you.

2) Put dark text on a white background so people can actually read what you’re writing about. The more readers are forced to squint to understand what your point is, the less they’ll want to come back.

3) Be yourself, so long as “yourself” is something vaguely interesting. Do I care how many words you typed today? Nope. Unless you’re George R. R. Martin, a few million others won’t care either. With all this white noise online, readers will need a reason to keep coming back. Your daily word count, or your grocery list, is not a reason to return. And “interesting” doesn’t have to be much: your thoughts, a video, a muse, something you saw, a funny anecdote about your editor, whatever. Just keep number 1 in mind.

That’s pretty much it. Simples. You can do other stuff of course – and for that, I’d recommend visiting Mr Edelman – but I’ve not consciously gone out to market myself. I’ve just set up a digital soapbox. Sure, you’ll get a few haters, but that will happen simply because you’re out there. It’s amazing how people can secretly be enraged behind their monitors, since it lacks the human touch.

It’s all about the author brand. My general observation is that – online at least – writers are viewed in the same way as brands (or music artists or sports teams – you get the idea). We might not like that situation, but it’s my gut instinct on how writers are perceived online. Or if you don’t like to think that, would style be a more applicable word? To authors who want to take advantage of the opportunities of the internet, you might need to think of yourself in the same way. Blogging is another way you can control your brand or style, outside of your writing. People might choose to listen to what you’ve got to say because they enjoy your blog style.

And luckily, authors also have books with which to build a brand – what you represent as an author with a particular style or niche of writing – but as I say, without a massive marketing budget or a commercial cover, there’s no guarantee your work will miraculously fall in the hands of readers overnight – it could take years.

So to deliberately misquote Field of Dreams, as the graph shows: If you build it [and maintain it properly], they will come.


Forbidden Planet Signing & Singing

It is a balmy summer’s evening and a crowd is gathering. China Miéville, Adam Nevill, myself, publicists and organisers, all head into Forbidden Planet and down the stairs, preparing ourselves for the signing.

China Miéville: I feel like there should be some kind of grand music on our arrival.

Me: What, like the kind of thing you get at a wrestling match?

CM: Absolutely. What song would you have playing as you head out for a signing?

Me: Um… I’ve never actually thought about it.

CM: Oh come on, surely you’ve got a song you’d want playing as you go out for these things?

Me: Nope. So what’s yours?

CM: “Original Nutter”, by Shy FX & Apache Indian. This song changed music in London.

Me: Huh?

CM: Oh you must have heard of it? [China begins to sing the main riff]

At this point I make an observation that I’m of a younger generation (as I will continue do until I am no longer the younger generation). Later, China whips out his iPhone to reveal the video. And here it is, in fact, the song that Three Clarkes Miéville would have playing, if authors were to walk out to music at signings.


I never got to find out what Adam’s music would be, but since he was going to Download, you can be sure it’s none of this Drum & Bass filth. And I still haven’t decided upon my own. More thought required.

The Forbidden Planet signing was, quite simply, a great event, and while I remember I should thank Danie Ware and the gang at FP, as well as Chloe Healy at Pan Mac, for making it such a splendid evening for myself, Adam and China. Here is a picture of me doing some actual, live signing, stolen from courtesy of the lovely Adele:

There was such a big crowd there, and a huge turn-out of bloggers, and given the open-plan nature of the day, it meant that many people could attack the authors from all sides. I signed solidly for the hour, met lots of very lovely people, signed their books, signed a monstrous pile of stock, then did a short video interview, which I failed to take seriously again. A lot of people were extremely kind about the blog, too, which makes typing into this little box a little more rewarding.

Afterwards, we all went to the Phoenix Club, and I enjoyed chatting properly – you know, in meatspace – to readers and bloggers. I’m not going to name everyone here, mainly because I’ve just got back and currently my memory will neglect someone. Oh, but Gav from Next Read, deserves a mention because he gave me a tarot reading on the night. There were several people who I didn’t get the chance to talk to for long enough (including Adam – top guy) but I’m sure the chance will come again in the near future. Other write-ups are materialising, and I’m sure there will be more very soon.

By the way, for those of you seeing me moan on Twitter, I finally managed to get copies of City of Ruin. While I’m at it, here is a very lovely review of the book.



Whilst it seems I have to wait until tomorrow morning to collect my copies of my books from the post office, other reviewers are flicking through it already. One thing that has come to light is this:

I just wanted to add that this isn’t some marketing ploy (I’d apply something much more sinister than this if I was interested in pleasing the gods of publicity). No, this is a genuine thanks. It’s incredibly difficult to forge a new career as an author, especially with all the white noise out there, and many bloggers have been directly and indirectly supportive through lovely reviews, but mostly constant coverage and links, and the cumulative effect is that it has significantly raised my profile. I’m doing far better than I should be, so I felt it would be foolish not to mention that.


What’s The Best Way To Enter An Author?

Think about it. You suddenly hear about Author X from a friend, but when you get to the bookstore you find out you’re ten years late to the party. Author X has a dozen novels under his or her belt, and a vast career stretches out before your eyes. They might have written series or stand-alones. Some novels might have sold massively, others titles not so well but might have won an award or two.

If you want to get into Author X, where do you start?

Traditionalists might say you should start at the beginning and work your way through Author X’s career, tracking the developments of their themes, observing the subtle nuances of prose, and how they develop over time.

Others might equate high levels of sales proportionately with utility, and will say you MUST by Author X’s bestselling title to date because that’s the one EVERYONE loves and ZOMG by definition is TEH BEST. And by bestselling, I mean the one that got the most review coverage / advertising spend / award noms / best cover art. You get the picture: it had everything going in its favour.

Booksellers might direct you to their latest 3 for 2 offers. Publishers to the one most recently published (and if you wouldn’t all mind buying it on the release week so it stands a better chance of hitting the charts?)

What do authors think?

Perhaps those with commercial sapience might point readers towards the novel at the highest price-point. Hardcover royalties, if you please. Artistes might suggest their latest offering as something truly representative of the accumulation of their career. Authors with an anarchistic bent might direct you to torrent sites. (Me, I’d actually point to City of Ruin, because I think I’ve grown massively since Nights, and I would want people to enter me somewhere that shows me on my best form. First impressions count.)

What approach do you take when discovering a new old author?

Note: this was prompted by a conversation on Twitter with Next Read, when recommending where people should start with a particular author.


School Daze

I don’t like to comment on the day job – mainly because I like to keep it distant from the writing career – but I did something rather fun yesterday. Three of us from work went into a secondary school, to try and enthuse a Year 7 class (12 year olds, to American readers) about writing and reading. Quite a tough mission indeed, especially since I’ve never done anything like this before.

Our plan was basically to inspire them, and to get them engaging with stories. So with around 30 or so students, we set to work. The plan was to get them thinking about characters as the starting point – we discussed as a group our favourite characters from film or TV, as a bit of an ice breaker (I’m surprised how popular the Simpsons is after all these years).

Then, we split them into three groups, and each were shown a huge poster of a SF/F artwork that featured a character. They had to describe who they thought the person was from what they look liked, and to make up other stuff around that (what were their likes/dislikes, were they angry/kind etc.) writing it all down, then presenting it to the rest of the class. Next, back in groups, they built a story for their character, and came up with all sorts of whacky stuff which was again presented to the rest of the class. Finally, they ebbed away to write the first few paragraphs of that story, leaving me in a state of happy exhaustion, though a bit of a daze.

I’m pretty sure the whole morning (three hours of this) was a success. We took them through the whole process of thinking up a character and telling their story. That’s the basic tools for the job.

I was amazed by the imaginative power of some of these kids. They had no problem with thinking up bizarre concepts. They had a limitless imagination, and this was hugely pleasing, because adults can be quite jaded about all of this stuff. Many adults just don’t seem to be able to think of secondary world concepts and characters; as if there’s some mental barrier that stops them acknowledging otherness. I guess when you’re at an age where the world is approached with a fresh, open mind, it’s easier to accept the weird.

I was happy to help out with the school – it’s fundamentally great to enthuse younger readers about literature, and by the end, they were assiduously creating stories, so we couldn’t ask for more than that. Hopefully there will be some future SFF writers to come from this, you never know. Sometimes, at the business end of this industry, you forget just how useful it is – how utterly important it is – that people are simply excited about literature.

And what topped it all off was my first school lunch in over a decade. The rice pudding was a vast improvement on how I remembered these things to be.


Another Way

I came across a review recently. The reviewer and the book are not directly important to this post; I merely wanted to highlight this simple statement within the review:

Then I thought: but what if I’m taking this the wrong way?

The reviewer then challenges himself to consider his responses up to this point, and ponder if it is right.

How amazing is that? In this world of quick response statements about books, how great that someone actually takes time out to consider why they’re feeling a certain way and if their opinion is correct – more importantly, that they might appreciate a book better if they tried to understand it in another way.

Today, I share this viewpoint. I will confess that, years ago when I wanted to be a writer, I would view books in a very black and white manner, and such tones were calibrated by how I thought a book should be written, be it in plot or style, rather than trying to understand the creative process more open-mindedly. I sometimes consider revisiting works I had previously dismissed; maybe I’ll get more out of them this time around.

The amount of times people trash a book on a forum or a blog, merely because it wasn’t what they wanted it to be (or the more heinous crime, how they would have written it themselves), is disconcerting at times, and it’s so warming to see such a consideration in a review.

Then again, this reviewer does go to town on another book. You can’t win ’em all.