Stephen is wondering why you haven’t subscribed to his newsletter.
I’ve launched a newsletter post on my novel and my novella. The good news is that it is good news, so read the post here. And subscribe as the best way to keep getting updates.
Photo S Dodgson. Me at York Art Gallery. The Lamp by Amy B Atkinson is poetic and evocative – she was a female artist who did quite well (exhibited RA at 17), unmarried, and toured Europe with her female ‘room-mates’ for many years.
The late Victorian, mystical, possibly sapphic vibe means I really like this although it doesn’t represent anyone in this book. Maybe the next
Back in my home town and you can specifically find me at BristolCon – I believe you can book in advance or come to a panel on the day. The full programme link will be added when up probably 16th or so. It’s at the Hilton Double Tree Hotel, in central Bristol.
Friday 20th October
Launch of The Green Man’s Quarry by Juliet McKenna. The latest in the brilliant Green Man series which put a fairly ordinary bloke (except, he sees weird stuff others don’t) into a world where folklore is real and bloody.
15:00 – SG1 Interview skills for authors and other creatives – a workshop helping you be confident in interviews, dealing with media, identifying stories. Me! And my 30 years in PR!
16:00 – Room 2 “Point of View” – First, second, third person? Stories told in emails, or in stream of consciousness. Endlessly fascinating topic, actually.
(Yes, one panel after the other is going to be fun)
I was signing the paperback of my second book. A man came up to me, introduced himself as Owen, and said,
‘I love Our Child of the Stars! I didn’t know you had written a sequel.’
He bought another copy for a friend, and a copy of Our Child of Two Worlds for himself. So, lovely, but also, I felt like banging my head on the table.
I’ve named this the Owen Problem. Everything I did to promote the book for six months hadn’t reached an enthusiastic reader. In fact, sales suggest a great many Owens are out there.
186,000 books are published in the UK each year. Traditional publishers rely on the retailers to sell to individuals. Some small presses and some online retailers retain contacts for the purchasers – so Amazon can tell you a sequel is out.
Marketing and publicity is expected to reach the millions of Owens. But I believe 95% of marketing goes on 5% of titles. Not everyone reads book bloggers, and no one reads all of them. Not everyone reads the reviews in papers.
Furthermore, the traditional model relies on publishing the paperback six months later than the main publicity drive. (Some publishers now do eBook and paperback first, and then do a hardback if demand justifies it!)
Every commercial social media platform becomes progressively less effective, demanding more payment to make your content widely visible, or at all. TikTok (which only works for some books) is starting to go down that route.
The traditional publisher arguing the author on social can sell the books has never been brilliant and now looks very out of date.
Self-publishers of course have a similar problem.
Mastodon is a federated, non-commercial social media platform. I quite like it, it has potential, but it’s really not the main solution.
If I sold handbags on Etsy and the like, I would have emails from my buyers. I could warm them up for new products, within reason, and they’d at least know when the new one was out.
It’s why I run a newsletter and why I want to expand it. But still, I cannot expect people to follow me and 99 different authors. Our email inboxes are already very full.
If you like my content, sign up to the newsletter anyway! Free, special offers, not too frequent.
It’s one reason why I am moving into training authors in media skills, useful across a range of publicity activity.
I woke up this week and thought – you should run media skills workshops for creatives.
Stephen, you worked for twelve years at Great Ormond Street. You supported world class doctors and nurses and fundraisers with the media. You helped parents and patients get through tragedies, and to get their side of the story across. I helped with research and fundraising and public interest campaigns. You enjoy doing this. You were good at it.
Last century, you led a successful consumer campaign, much of which was empowering local branches. You did turnaround PR support for the Nursing and Midwifery Council six months after it was described as ‘failing at every level’. You helped pro bono all sorts of small organisations.
My publisher publicists knew what they were doing. The publicity for Our Child of the Stars was excellent. But they’re overworked. Social media is becoming steadily less helpful at reaching audiences. It’s fragmenting, punishing small creators, and increasingly asking for money.
I thought – why not use these skills for authors and other creatives? You’ve been a writer and talking about that journey for years. Hell, you sent over a friend exhibiting her art a free PR plan last month just cos you could.
Being confident and interesting, and knowing how to answer difficult questions, will help in many ways. Some obvious opportunities on your doorstep will take little time. Speaking in public, doing interviews, getting coverage…. a bit scary but doable.
I’m piloting these workshops free, then I’ll be running them for a modest fee in the autumn. Interested? Drop me a line through contact asap.
A survey of independent (self-published) authors shows several interesting features of the market. Report is from CREATe at the University of Glasgow, commissioned by ALLi, the alliance of independent authors, and the Self Publishing Formula.
The headline figures for indie authors was a median income of $12,755 for 2022, which is higher than a similar survey of traditionally published authors (reported here), and an increase on the indie author 2021 figure.
(The median means half of all authors earn more and half less than the median figure.)
The indie market offers good opportunities with more women than men answering the survey (traditional publishing is roughly equal), women earning more than men, and LGBTQA+ authors earning more than those outside that community. However, both black and disabled authors earned significantly less than others. The argument that self-publishing widens access to the reader clearly has some truth, but not universally. Benefit could work in different ways – the LGBTQA+ authors also appeared to write primarily in community tagged genres.
As with traditional publishing and many creative endeavours, the rewards are unevenly divided – 1% of authors received 31% of income. And those who had been self-publishing the longest, and with the most works available, tended to do better.
These figures refer to authors who spend at least half their working time on writing and allied activities.
The report notes that many of the successful indie authors make money from direct liaison with their readers – crowdfunding, subscriptions, paid content newsletters, patron platforms etc. At a time where reaching your fans directly and cheaply, owning a mailing list becomes ever more important – however you publish.
Analysis: “Turnover is vanity, profit is sanity.”
ALLI, the alliance of independent authors said the survey showed that independent authors earned more.
However, this needs to be interpreted with caution. This is income, not income after costs. CREATe has yet to study the difference in costs between traditionally published and indie published authors.
An independent author must pay for their own editing, cover design, printing, advanced copies, and promotion etc. A traditional author largely doesn’t – the exception being perhaps promotion. If an independent author advertises, they directly raise their own income more than a traditional author would. (Independent authors receive a cut on each sale. Traditional authors receive a lower cut, but are usually paid a lump sum assuming a certain level of sales, even if they never make that. Trad authors advertising their books benefits their publisher more than them.)
A very large number of independent authors lose money on their publishing career. One might ask how many of them filled in the survey?
What is clear is that independent publishing is a world away from thirty years ago – where it was a bit quixotic, although some still made it work. Now a businesslike author who writes fast, to a specific audience, probably in series, and promotes their work well, can get their work into print quicker, stay in print as long as they want, and generate a significant income. Traditional publishing has probably got more vexing for many of its authors. But there’s no guarantee, just as with in traditional publishing.
Doug Johnstone’s The Shape Between Us has an alien land in Scotland, adding to the large number of alien landings whose story is shaped by where they land, and who finds them.
ET lands in Modesto California, since it is a story about Spielberg’s childhood. Superman in Smallville, Kansas, for his Jewish creators wanted him to be an immigrant but raised by an all American family.
I have often mused on how Pilot, Cory’s mother, might have landed somewhere else, and the infinite stories that flowed from that. To write is to choose.
Contains mild spoilers for Our Child of The Stars and Our Child of Two Worlds – spelling out some things not spelled out before.
Cory’s mother, the Pilot, flies Forager Ship Four towards a lush world of green and blue and white. A world of war, a world of summer and winter. Her son Little Blue Frog is unconscious, and her best friend and her child are already dead. Her body is wracked with pain, she cannot shake off the pain from the wounds of so many deaths. She knows she is alone dying.
Behind her, the huge colony ship tries a desperate move. It launches one of its engines into the swarm of alien machines and detonates it…
A swarm of murderous alien machines heads for Earth, dragging a meteor as a shield. What havoc it could wreak… Can she, dare she, destroy them as they fall?
This is a primitive planet, gripped by the psychosis that violence is an appropriate response to feeling beings. She may need to hide. Where on that world does she land…?
In the beginning, was a small New England town. The characters were American, except for the small purple boy with a heart of gold and a dreadful secret. His adoptive mother named him Cory. The characters and the setting existed before there was thought of anything as fancy as a book or two. I had a short story that obeyed Aristotle’s unities – a few characters, and the whole action in one place and on one day.
What if Pilot, dying, bereaved, not wholly rational, had landed somewhere else?
Fellow writers challenged me why I did not move the setting – set it in the country I knew from experience, perhaps the Meteor striking somewhere in Somerset with an improbable name like Abbot’s Balcony or Fester St James, with the Ship down in the Bristol Channel. A story set in the UK in 1969, where the times were a changing too. I was a little younger than Cory is, not remembering the Moon Landings but I did remember Apollo 13.
How different the flavour of the book would have been! Maybe I should have written a book of optimism and starry-eyed hope about Britain…
In part I set it in Amber Grove, New York, because that was as exotic as I felt up to – and because the characters came as liberal North-Eastern Americans and weren’t up for changing.
Where does Cory land and who finds him first?
Infinite books spread out. In many, Pilot’s gamble fails and Cory dies. Where there is no medical attention, his death is all but certain. In many, the authorities learn of the boy, and in every one of those he becomes a plaything of the powerful. How many governments would rush to tell the world and how many to keep him a secret? How many keep him tucked away as Molly feared, like a lab rat? How many see him first as a person?
Perhaps some of these stories are not too dreadful for him. Maybe even in an unkind world and for cynical reasons, those around him are still kind. If the President’s scientific advisor Dr Pfeiffer gets hold of him… he’s an ambitious and conceited Cold-Warrior but a kind and almost indulgent father. Many options will be nightmares for Cory and for me thinking of them.
Of course, Cory is not human. He has ways to flee captivity, before his powers are known. Afterwards I see little chance.
Look at an equal area map of the world. Look how much is Russia, China and their satellites. Look how much of it is Africa. Imagine Cory on the Serengeti, laughing at elephants, or staring at the blazing stars in longing… not knowing which star is home.
Imagine Cory’s first Earth winter – sledding in Alberta with other children, or skating a frozen pond in some Communist dacha… He does not like the stern men who come, but the Grandmothers are kind.
He might have learned Danish or Igbo or Minnan or one of the countless tongues of Papua New Guinea.
He could have fallen into a hot war… into ignorant or criminal hands…
Cory is a child who has known nothing but love. He will be a challenge to all of us, our systems and our hypocrisies, wherever he lands. What would Harold Wilson have done, or Pierre Trudeau? Indira Gandhi or Seretse Khama? How quickly the great powers would move on a lesser power – with threats and bribes.
Cory in Japan, Cory among the Amish, Cory bought and sold…
Alien ships tend to deposit their precious cargo in rural places – not just because there is more rural to land in, but for plot convenience. Imagine the Ship being seen over a city. Imagine trying to hide him in a Brazilian favela, or Manhattan. But even cities have possibilities.
There are some stories it is perhaps not mine to tell. I have a secret wish, where a kind and strong-minded widow with children of her own takes him in. She has a small circle who know their place, how people like them exist under a ration of tolerance, who know how to keep their mouths shut. Her son is a hothead, a loudmouth who renounced the name she gave him for an African name, but he is smart and he knows people on both sides of the law. Her older daughter is sleeping with a white slacker, connected to the seedier bits of youth culture. She would use those connections, and her church. The youngest daughter would love Cory in this story as much as she does in mine.
Somehow the wheel turns, and Cory is taken in by Diane Alexander… a teacher, a Black woman, a widow, head of one of the few Black families in Amber Grove. Molly, her crazy friend and neighbour would soon find out, and help with this bewitching child, but Diane would be Earth Mom.
Maybe when the big money comes calling, the film will follow that story instead.
The feedback you gave was well thought out, perceptive and very useful. It was also at an appropriate level for a draft 2 as it focussed on whether the story and characters were working rather than primarily on the prose level. The pointers you did give on the latter were both enough and useful.
It reassured me that the setting, characters, and structure of the plot largely worked although you did make some important suggestions to strengthen and make more credible the key developments of the last third of the book.
(Approx 3000 words of feedback including a synopsis as I saw it, the themes, positives and negatives in a report, and copious notes in the margins.)