Thursday, November 27, 2008

No Market For Sci Fi Comedy

Regular readers of this blog will be familiar with the above logo. But if anyone's tired of seeing it, have pity on the rest of the world. Before long Evil UnLtd will be taking over the globe.

Alas, not with any help from Harper Collins.

After the book rocketed to the top last month, this is what the assigned editor had to say about it:

"Evil UnLtd is well-written, sharp, witty, and absolutely succeeds in transporting the reader to a curious and lush unknown world. The book avoids much of the self-importance that ruins a lot of science-fiction, and I found your ‘Dr. Evil’ antagonist Dexter Snide and his bumbling antics to be refreshingly comic.

The plot is strong and coupled with your very accessible and extremely clean prose the reader is quickly pulled along by your story. That said, there are definitely things you could improve. It sometimes moves a little too fast...take care with this kind of small issue if you want your writing to be perfect.

I definitely enjoyed the way that you use the (supposed) antagonist’s point of view as the main voice of the narrative and made the story of Rolph Stengun – the more classic kind of protagonist – of secondary importance. I found that device unexpected and interesting, and it’s exactly this kind of hook that will make your book stand out to a reader, professional or otherwise.

It’s clear that you’ve written a well paced, witty, well-constructed book. But, for me at least, there’s still one central concern – you need to write with a market in mind. On the one hand, science fiction is actually a very small and targeted niche, and general readers, even those who love comedy, are unlikely to pick up a book in this genre. And on the other hand, I worry that your humor and your farcical tone might also alienate the core science fiction readership who would indeed give it a go. Yes, there are some very popular writers who’ve had success with this kind of book – Douglas Adams, of course, and to a lesser extent Terry Pratchett (though his fantasy world is more accessible to general readers than a sci-fi setting) – but these are notable exceptions, definitely not rules. As a publisher I worry that the market for this would be too small to make it a viable proposal for me.

Hope this input is helpful - thank you for sharing this with us and I wish you the best of luck!"

Naturally enough, there's a lot in there I agree with wholeheartedly. So, let's just examine the other part.

For one thing, they cite Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett as exceptions and not the rule. And it's true, those authors are exceptional. But it strikes me that the publishing industry have appointed those exceptions as 'the rule'. That is, if you're not Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett, you're not coming in. So, pray tell, how are other exceptions ever going to break 'the rule'? When the product is - according to their own appraisal - "well-written, sharp, witty, and absolutely succeeds..." etc, doesn't that hint of exception?

It seems to me that all it takes to market a product like that is a bit of vision and imagination. Vision and imagination can't be exclusively the province of the writer, surely? I also have heaps of ideas as to how this particular hot property of mine - this 'franchise', if you like - could be marketed. So surely marketing people have ideas too?

One of the ideas Harper Collins had was to launch a new SF imprint, Angry Robot, due to launch in July of next year. Harper Collins is big, so possibly nobody at Angry Robot is even aware of Evil UnLtd. To me it sounds just their cup of a good source of Brownian motion.

Angry Robot. Whichever marketing person came up with that clearly wanted to suggest SF that rebelled or broke the mould in some way. Good name. But if they're not willing to actually do that with their creative output, then they may as well just call themselves Robot.

Breaking the mould, with this bold new concept - with "this kind of hook that will make your book stand out to a reader, professional or otherwise" - is one of the key things that Evil is about. So if you're listening, Angry Robot, I think we're made for one another.

That aside, obviously the thing to do now is to approach other publishers. Perhaps even consider self-publishing. Time and publishers will tell. Of course, if it comes to the self-publishing option, I'm going to have to consider the marketing side carefully. There's no way I can compete with a major publisher in terms of the level of investment, but of course where I can compete is in ideas. Vision and imagination.

For now, a few points to consider regarding the allegedly non-existent market for sci-fi comedy.

The year is 2008. Doctor Who, following on the tail of shows like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and The X Files and others, has popularised SF/Fantasy to the degree of really broadening its mainstream appeal. Even Torchwood is more popular than it should be. Next year sees a Doctor Who hiatus from our screens. A gap.

Doctor Who books are incredibly popular, as I understand it. Yes, they're designed to appeal to the kids' market, but a) older fans snap them up still and b) where's the light SF adventure for the adults?

2009 sees the release of a sixth Hitch-Hikers book by Eoin Colfer. Clearly the Douglas Adams estate feel there's still a market for SF comedy. Since Douglas Adams is one of the exceptions and the series has a huge cult following, very likely this will sell pretty well. It's an old franchise and has proven its longevity, but what's also very likely is that, no matter how good a job Eoin does, people will be feeling the need for something actually new, fresh and original. Something that they don't have to compare with past glories.

2009, so I've heard, will also see the production of a handful of Red Dwarf TV specials. Again, huge cult following. Again an old franchise. Same applies.

The timing is ripe for Evil UnLtd.

I'll be reducing the uploaded sample on authonomy to the first three chapters, which is what Harper Collins and other publishers look at, but do please take a look for yourselves and comment here. You'll see on the book's page, page after page of comments from readers of all genres - people who don't do Sci-Fi, people who do - attesting to the fact that they loved it, that they would buy the book, that they look forward to having it - along with other books to come in the series - on their actual bookshelves at home. It's my belief you'll find a sci-fi comedy with mainstream appeal, series potential (I'm working on Volume 2 already) and much more besides.

Presumably most of the people who commented on authonomy were writers and therefore more discerning and not representative of the reading public? But let's say for the sake of argument that the appeal is not as mainstream as I've been led to believe by all those different people, all those diverse points of view. Would that even then lead us to believe that there's "No Market For Sci-Fi Comedy"?

I don't think so. What do you think?

Evil UnLtd. Coming to a bookstore near you. We just need to find out when.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Prefect Reads: Lit-Chicks

Last in our series - until next month's batch anyway! - of recommended reads from Harper Collins' authonomy site. And you'll have to forgive the subject header, since these books are so varied that all they have in common is that they are very good, are literary fiction and are written by women.

First up, we have a wonderfully written exploration of the fragility of romance, a journey from that idyllic sparkle on the surface of a blossoming love, down into the darker and sinister depths of shattered dreams:

Deep Water by Scarlett James. What becomes of the broken hearted? One of them gets revenge in this love story wrapped in a murder mystery. Exquisite and heartfelt, if you aren't as swept along by the tale as the heroine is by her misplaced love for one man, then you may want to consult your cardiologist.

Then, for a change of pace, a slice of historical fiction:

A Woman's Place by Susanne O'Leary. Except this, skilfully pieced together from letters unearthed from the author's family history, has the added dimension of not being entirely fiction. This is the story of two women; mother and daughter, who fought the conventions of their time and followed their hearts. A keenly observed and well researched female perspective on its period, this is told with a great deal of emotion as well as skill.

And then if you prefer something a little more up to date and with the bodices well and truly ripped:

Servicing The Pole by Lauri Shaw. "They only think they see us naked" it says in the book. Portrait of a New York stripper – a battle-worn misfit slogging her way through addiction, prostitution, and the city’s roughest clubs. Forget going to a strip club, this is like you are actually there - except this is told from the viewpoint you and I don't get to see. A brilliant journey into another world that has, at the same time, everything and nothing to do with fantasy.

And so concludes our foray into the realm of some outstanding reads. What's most outstanding of all is their publication. That is, their publication has yet to happen, is long overdue. So do hop over to authonomy and lend some of these books your attention and, if you like what you read, your vote. Because Harper Collins and a lot of other publishers besides need to see these books, so that the book stores and then the rest of us can get to see them too. The way nature intended. In print.

Happy reading.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Prefect Reads: Chick-Lit

Here we are again with more recommended reads from authonomy, Harper Collins' website that's dedicated to finding all the fresh new talent out there. The good news so far is that, whatever their dedication to the task, I've certainly found some myself.

And although before I'd even heard of authonomy my reading tastes were nicely varied, one of the aspects I've commented on has been the broadening of my reading horizons. Now I'm not afraid to say that I have *sampled* some chick-lit before, but to be honest found that not much of it was any good. The following are a few examples to be found on the site that not only struck me as far better than the little I'd sampled previously, but they were good enough to cast off that rather confining chick-lit label. You can still see why they are aimed at that section of the readership, but to say their appeal was limited to a single gender would be like saying sci-fi was only for aliens.

These are good reads, period. And between them offer a great deal of variety across their genre.

Coffee At Kowalskis by Miranda Dickinson

Warm, funny, at least as friendly as Central Perk, this was so good it promoted Kowalskis to my favourite cafe, even though the one I normally visit is non-fictional. Rosie is happy at Kowalski's florists in New York - until her past catches up with her. Romantic comedy with a cast of memorable characters. Authoress, Miranda, is also a talented singer/songwriter, so I for one will be buying her album as well as her book when they are released. Check out her song for yourselves, maybe listen while you read.

Carry Me Away by Robb Grindstaff

This was such an emotional and heartfelt journey, I honestly had trouble reading it the first time I visited it, because of the emotional day I was having. But it's a rich and moving story and much more substantial than it's chosen chick-lit label might have you believe. A teenage girl believes she will die before she has a chance to grow up. Stunningly good, but read with tissues at the ready.

Don't Forget Your Lucky Pants by Katrina Twitchett

If you enjoyed Bridget Jones, this is better. If you, like me, never read Bridget Jones and couldn't see what all the fuss surrounding the movies was about, this is - rather obviously - infinitely better. Armed with integrity, wit and a pair of lucky pants, Molly battles bravely through her hilarious teenage existence. Then her mother dies. Life seems impossible. Very very funny, but also with a lot of heart. These pants carry both the Young Adult and the chick-lit label, I am neither and I loved it. One size fits all, I guess, with these pants.

Back tomorrow with more.

Happy reading!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Prefect Reads: Humour

Continuing our daily series, pointing you to a selection of the best reads from authonomy, Harper Collins' site for stray authors and readers in search of something - don't take my word for it, see for yourselves - generally better than they can find on the bookstore shelves.

First up, one of my earlier discoveries on the site.

Punchline by Paul Fenton.

A cutting, brilliant black comedy that begins from a perspective that will strike a chord in the heart of every writer. And since everyone allegedly has at least one book inside them, we are all writers, so everyone stands to get something from this book. Publishing is a cut-throat business, but plagiarism can be murder. Brilliantly insightful, keenly barbed wit and a premise that, because we can so readily relate to its starting point, sweeps us along with it no matter where it spirals.

Secondly, if you're a Scot and you smoke, you'll love this next one. Equally if, like me, you're from somewhere else and you've never smoked, you'll probably love it just as much.

Tartare by M Trevelean.

Edinburgh, March 2006. The smoking ban begins across Scotland. Many smokers would kill to give up cigarettes. Edgar Ferrol will. Again, wonderfully black - black as a chain smoker's lung - and very funny, this isn't only for smokers, it's a great exploration of addictions, bad habits and the extremes to which we might go.

So I do thoroughly recommend you go give either or both of these a read and, if you happen to concur with my own take on them, give them your backing with even a temporary residency on your virtual authonomy bookshelf.

Back tomorrow with more recommendations for you.

Happy reading.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Prefect Reads: For Kids & Young Adults

For a writer I don't tend to blog an awful lot about writing. I would, but when it comes down to it what is there to say? I wrote this great new thing, submitted it, got rejected by this agent or that agent, even though most of them agreed it was really good. Same old story.

Same old stories, coincidentally, are what you will for the most part find on bookstore shelves these days. I've read some rubbish books in the past five years and they all had one thing in common: they were published.

The vast majority of books over on authonomy are unpublished. They are not all brilliant. Some are works in progress and the authors have posted them there in search of feedback and critiques, looking to hone and improve their works, and it is a very useful community for that sort of thing. There are also some real shining gems that really deserve to be published. I may have mentioned this before, but it's worth repeating: in the space of the two months I've been a member of the authonomy community, I've found more books on the site to excite and inspire than I've found in book stores in the past five years. Easy.

Something should be done about that.

Unfortunately we don't have the power to do a great deal about it, but one of the things we can do is draw attention to those books and get people reading them and backing them (basically, plonking them on their virtual bookshelves over at the site), so as to get them to the attention of the Harper Collins editors.

Today, I'm focusing on a range of kids'/Young Adult reads. Now this is not intended to be about my book, but in the light of a comment I received today, and with respect to publishing potential, I have to at least start this off with a mention for Kip Doodle (TM).

Today I was told:

by the way had about 8 kids in here last night and 8 phone calls from parents wanting to know where they can buy your book. So please add to your agent letter that there are children in glenrothes looking for your book.

That's 8 kids - and 8 parents - in one locale. And since I can't imagine that taste is in some way geographically limited, this is highly suggestive of a good market for Kip. It's fantastic to get good comments from fellow authors, but to know that kids love your kids' book is something special.

Now, talking of special, let's move on to the other kids'/YA reads I'm recommending this month. Between them, they're aimed at various age ranges, but I'd be very surprised if you didn't find something to appeal from among these fine choices.

The Voices Of Angels by Hannah Davis.

The current No.1 over there, and not without reason. A real achievement too for a YA book. But I know from experience that halfway through the month, even a No.1 book on authonomy still needs the votes to keep coming in. Lizzie Fisher is an ordinary girl with the most extraordinary gift. She sees when people are about to die. Handles this potentially tough subject with great sensitivity and a wonderful level of heartfelt fantasy.

Sydney Wakefield: Into The Far Away by Kimberly J Smith

Another high riser in the children's/YA genre, this is a terrific fantasy that manages what I thought was the impossible: breathing genuinely fresh new life into the Arthurian myth. Or rather, tapping into it to create something new altogether. A boy helps his favorite author's ghost write the final book in her popular series, unlocking the magic that will rescue King Arthur from Avalon. A core central idea that outdoes Harry Potter in the magical stakes, for my money, and very well-written. The sort of book that, to my mind, would inspire kids to write their own stories, which is always a great thing.

Haggis: An Unusual Name For A Cat by Sharon Hartle

Writing from animals' POVs is tricky and will no doubt put a lot of resolutely rational adults off, but kids will love it. Two brave cats and their adventures as they unmask a wicked plan for world domination by Tidal Gold a wicked organisation of ... goldfish.. Told with a gifted, light touch that really draws you into the world of its two feline adventurers.

Every Cat Has A Wish by Sally M Hughes

Oh my God, I know I'm a soft-hearted soul, but this made me cry. "A girl named Poppy once loved me as if I was the most precious cat in the world. I could never replace that." After his owner dies, a ginger cat called Alf sets out on a quest to find a new home. Another story told from a feline POV, and handled so wonderfully, emotional and deeply touching.

So there we have it. More great reads to come in other genres, but those will do for today. So please do go sample these reads and by all means disagree with me, but if it strikes you I'm a good judge of these at all, do give them your vote.

Enjoy the reading. You won't find these books in the shops. But let's hope you can before very long.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Good Books: Flying The Flag

If you've been looking in on this blog at all over the past month or so, you'll know about authonomy, Harper Collins' online community for authors that's supposed to help them cut through the slush pile and get onto that all-crucial Editor's Desk. And of course you'll know that Evil UnLtd(TM) made the cut and is awaiting editorial attention. Scary, exciting stuff.

What you may not fully appreciate, although I have touched upon this before, is that there are quite a selection of other books on the site greatly deserving of attention. Better books, in fact, than I've been able to find in the book stores over the past year or two. Books that have even broadened my reading horizons: it's fair to say I always had fairly wide tastes in reading, but I've managed to sample far more chick-lit since I've been reading on authonomy - and never once has it threatened my - admittedly sensitive - masculinity.

Of course the posted books are only there to be sampled and what really needs to change is that they need to be out there in those book stores, published and commercially available *instead* of a lot of those others that, despite not being as good as many books on authonomy, somehow seem to slip their way through the quality filter and find themselves with an ISBN and a discount sticker in WH Smith.

I know that several years back I had one children's fantasy book that a major publisher really felt was promising, and told me they would be happy to consider if I found an agent to represent it. Could I find an agent to represent that one? Could I heck as like. So that will be the next work of mine to be posted on authonomy, to see what the community thinks of it, perhaps discover what can be improved and perhaps get that one to the attention of those HC editors.

Meanwhile, I have already - as of last Saturday - posted another children's book of mine, Kip Doodle(TM) - hopefully first in a series, so if anyone would care to have a read of that one, please feel free to follow the link and lend your support if you like what you see. That's one of Kip's planes pictured above, by the way - one I made earlier :) Very easy to make: buy yourself a standard plane kit, generally a prop-driven classic (I chose a C47 Dakota, but you could just as easily go for a WWI bi-plane), paint the fuselage bright yellow, scuff it up a little if you like with touches of silver paint and then just make sure the decals spell out D00DLE with the RAF roundel as one of the zeros. Then take it out and photograph it to your heart's delight.

As an alternative project, you could try a spot of recommended reading. And as I said there's a lot more on authonomy than just my two samples. So here by way of offering a selection, these are SAF's Top Picks for November:

Punchline by Paul Fenton
Tartare by M Trevelean
Coffee At Kowalskis by Miranda Dickinson
A Woman's Place by Susanne O'Leary
The Voices Of Angels by Hannah Davis
Servicing The Pole by Lauri Shaw
Carry Me Away by Robb Grindstaff
Deep Water by Scarlett James
Sydney Wakefield: Into The Faraway by Kimberly J Smith
Haggis: An Unusual Name For A Cat by Sharon Hartle

For the record, I'd absolutely buy all of these if - no, when they are available. And frankly it was very tough limiting myself to those 10. So I'd hope that if you care to visit the site and vote for any of these books, Harper Collins may well take that as an indication of another potential buyer. Because I know these books are good. And all they need to know is that these books will sell.

Happy reading.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Evil Rules

Evil UnLtd(TM)made it to the all-important Top 5 over at authonomy on Friday night. The witching hour on what has now been renamed EVIL DAY. So huge huge thanks to everyone who supported it and now it's just a case of waiting to hear what Harper Collins have to say.

Either way the experience has confirmed that Evil UnLtd(TM) is a hot property. The responses it met with were on the whole AMAZING. Lots and lots of laughs *and* something like 97% approval from its readers, who will all rush out and buy it when it makes it to the book stores. And all in time for next year when sci-fi comedy will be back in the spotlight, courtesy of the sixth Hitch-Hikers book by Eoin Colfer and, I gather, a handful of Red Dwarf specials being made, plus a slight hiatus for the ever popular Doctor Who from our screens. There is a clear window there for the launch of some new, quality commercial sci-fi comedy. And not just a book, but a brand, a franchise, a hot - Evil - potato. :)

So my task has been made clear: find a publisher for this soon.

Many thanks again to all those who supported the book and any authors who are looking in might consider looking to authonomy as a very useful resource. Even setting aside the whole business of the charts and the rankings, this confirmed to me that I had something. And that's invaluable, because often when we look at what we've written ourselves, we might think it's good but we can never really be sure until someone else has had a look. And on authonomy there are a lot of someone elses, with really helpful support and critique to offer.

Think about it. Or just pop over and read some Evil UnLtd(TM). The sample chapters will be up there for another month or so as we await the Harper Collins verdict.

Oh and I've uploaded a children's fantasy adventure there too now, so feedback on that one would be very welcome too!