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)
Last couple of months, I’ve been talking to authors and poets about book publicity. (Broadly, the stuff that promotes the book which you don’t pay for.)
I’ve spent 30 years working in publicity – small organisations, individuals, big household names. I’ve done difficult TV interviews, I’ve taught plenty of people how to do them.
The main things that came up from authors of all types were as follows.
How can I be interesting talking about my book?
I’m frightened people will ask me horrible questions and I will look like an idiot.
What does a publicist do? How do I work with them, or could do it myself if I haven’t got one?
What value does publicity add? Should it be a priority?
Many people are worried about talking about their book – whether at events, on video, or talking to a journalist. They don’t think they’re important enough or interesting enough. They are paralysed with fear of looking stupid or not being able to answer questions. Even people who are confident in other contexts can be stressed by promoting their work.
You wrote a book. You can be as interesting as you need to be! I build confidence in dealing with these events. Simple preparation tools will help answer questions.
Book marketing is in some measure, about you as well as the book. People are worried they’ll be dragged into talking about things they don’t want to. How do you keep good boundaries?
I assure you, and I will show you, that you have far more control than you think -Including freedom to decide what events you do!
Many people don’t know how book publicity works – and what it can and cannot do. The basic information is straightforward – although experience and contacts and some tricks of the trade make a big difference.
I explain how it works, how you can work with a publicist if you have one through your publisher, and whether and when it’s worth hiring one…
What works? What’s a good use of your time?
Most people buy books based on more than one mention of the book. A few paid for activities deliver measurable results. I’m optimistic I can help you, particularly with how you feel about doing this. Publicity won’t sell 100,000 copies. On the other hand, it is more people who know about your book.
What are the stories in the book
What are the stories about the book
What are the stories about me and my writing
And how can I use the ones I want to promote it.
My Media Masterclass
I run two different types of workshop.
A one-hour group introduction to book publicity which gives you the basics. It’s on Zoom. There’s some opportunity for questions. I welcome contacts from existing groups. This is currently free although I circulate a tip link!
I also run an in-depth 1-2-1 focusing on your personal needs and questions. Currently this is £50 an hour (by Paypal) and includes some handy factsheets.
Email me about either.
I’m open to doing these face-to-face. Additional cost to be discussed. I like doing this convenient for British time, and also, I know the UK market better than elsewhere. But I’m open to wider engagement.
My two novels are suitable for strong readers aged 12+.
I don’t consider them to be Young Adult Novels.
I don’t have a problem with Young Adult Novels – I have read a good number which are as good as anything not labelled YA and indeed, address issues which are not often enough addressed in mainstream work. Famously the Hunger Games attacked class, poverty, and state inspired violence glorified on TV at a time when many adult novels were on much less political themes. I might write a YA novel.
The wikipedia entry for YA genre is good but to my mind does not go far enough.
“Young adult fiction (YA) is a category of fiction written for readers from 12 to 18 years of age. While the genre is primarily targeted at adolescents, approximately half of YA readers are adults.
The subject matter and genres of YA correlate with the age and experience of the protagonist. The genres available in YA are expansive and include most of those found in adult fiction. Common themes related to YA include friendship, first love, relationships, and identity. Stories that focus on the specific challenges of youth are sometimes referred to as problem novels or coming-of-age novels.
Young adult fiction was developed to soften the transition between children’s novels and adult literature.” (In fact, ‘juvenile novels’ were a thing long before the YA term existed..)
For me, A YA novel usually has one or more teenagers as the **main** protagonist, and contains in some measure that teenager working out themselves and their relationships with world. My work covers the following main characters
Gene and Molly start the book in their twenties
Cory an alien is a child in the first book and early adolescent towards the end of the second book – although exact matching with his species is difficult.
Dr Pfeiffer, an adult well into his professional career, at least his late forties.
An alien adult.
So I don’t mind Young Adults reading my books, I hope they do. But I don’t see it is a specific YA book written at least half for that audience. Hope that makes sense.
This post contains modest spoilers for Klara and the Sun, and The Fear Index.
Some people in the literary world are massive snobs. They assume that romance, or crime, which sell vastly more than other genres, must be bad.
It is interesting that Austen, Eliot and Dickens were not considered ‘great literary writing’ by the literary greats of their day.
Science fiction and fantasy are considered weird books for unwashed boys despite having many diverse enthusiastic readers. The genre feeds a great many successful TV series and movies, and the electronic games industry. And as a lifelong reader, it interesting to see journalists wrestling with issues of ethics and technology which I first met in ‘books with rockets on the cover’. John Brunner for example wrote books which kind of got how fast, disjointed, and alienated modern life might become. Where wars are fought online and while computers know all about you, they can be hacked.
People who write in genre can be quite prickly about it. A big chunk of the literary world puts it down. It can lead to genre peeps getting protective when people breeze in and talk rubbish about it.
For example, a literary author – let us call him Ian – who has stopped having much interesting to say decades ago – decides to write a book about a robot who develops feelings. To do this he has to explain that he is writing literary fiction and therefore addressing things much better than (sniff) science fiction. In further defensive interviews it appears he has not read any SF published in the last twenty-five years or any by a woman.
The moral question of what we owe a being we created is the theme of Frankenstein and its myriad successors. The issue of what happens when an artificial person develops feelings and seeks independence drives the plot of Rossum’s Universal Robots, the 1920s Czech play which gave us the word Robot. And myriad successors.
This and similar debacles fuels the idea that, say, science fiction is a body of knowledge only the adept should tackle. Enthusiasts say no one should write it unless they read it widely and know its canon and its roots. Perhaps we should go so far as to say you should read terrible writers because they were once ‘important’. We are a guild, with sacred mysteries, and people should stay in their own lane.
I think this is a mistake. It conflates three issues.
Should writers tackle themes they think are of interest? Yes. The creative imagination shouldn’t be full of demarcation disputes. It is good if people see the role of artificial intelligence and want to write about its possibilities for good and ill.
Should writers be informed about the existing works on that issue -, whatever that is? Obviously, that’s helpful. Is it essential? No. There are so many books on some themes I couldn’t hope to read more than 5% of them. But if you think you are doing something imaginative and new, worth checking?
Should writers puff themselves about their originality with no knowledge of the genre? Well, that’s a conceited belly flop into the cold custard.
A better author, the late, great Iain Banks, wrote in both literary and science fiction worlds, and he said that anyone can write a detective story. To have the butler do it as a brilliant twist, they must expect and deserve mockery. (1)
It’s a good sign of someone not having read widely if they claim originality for ideas which turn up constantly. (“Magic and science in the same book” and “orcs are good really” being two of them.)
I have just read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, whose narrator is an Artificial Friend, brought into the home of a teenage girl. It is science fiction because it asks – what are the consequences of scientific advances?
In this book Klara is a wonderfully off-centre narrator, and clearly sentient. The introduction of AI has led to widespread economic disruption. It is also revealed that society allows some children to be mentally ‘lifted’ – a process which is clearly imperfect – and which creates a divided society between those families which can afford the process and the rest. (Just because we could, should we?)
Many writers would have written big symbolic clashes about these issues. What we have is a story of how it affects a couple of families, seen through a sympathetic but otherly observer, and where we readers have to fill in the gaps. It’s science fiction in a literary mode. And like Frankenstein it asks what we owe the people we create?
Another example I quote is Robert Harris’ the Fear Index, a thriller about an AI which trades on the stock market which develops sentience. It is a wonderful monster, because it figures out a better way to do what it needs to than its creators. It has no interest in hurting humans or helping them. It just does what it needs to boost its returns… (Just as computers which play Go develop werid moves no human ever thought of, driving the human players to re-engineer their own game as they play.)
So science fiction is good and matters. I don’t think as a writer I should tell people what they can write. I reserve the right to mock them if they claim originality for well-trodden ideas. After all, science fiction writers often revisit well-trodden ideas themselves.
It is infuriating when a well known writer slums it in SF and gets paid well in attention, respect, and cash, when a far better writer does not. I don’t think our anger should quite extend to being against outside writers who make an effort and do it well.
My own books sought to reach a wider audience than convinced science fiction readers. I don’t think I have ever been guilty of running the genre down. It’s a big galaxy with room for a great many approaches.
(1) It is interesting that the first comment that the butler being the murderer is a terrible cliché appears to predate any real work in which this was the plot.
Photo of robot bewildered by literary snobs by Alex Knight Pexels
So been reworking through John Yorke’s Into the Woods, a book on story structure I read on retreat. This is a topic I have a lot of difficulty with but I’m at the stage that I want to understand story mechanics more formally. I’ve got rather stuck with another project and I have been hoping this helps.
Woods argues that some of what makes stories work is instinctive and a writer can often get it fairly right without following a formal structure (and it turns up anyway.) He also says that all the competing structure theories largely map onto each other. His ‘Five Act Structure’ is quite openly a development of the three act structure first described by Aristole. Finally, he says people who work within the structure sometimes play with it – so Shakespeare occasionally skips an Act and Raiders of the Lost Ark can be seen as having seven Acts.
So colour me surprised when I studied Draft Two of my Work in Progress which turns out to follow… the five act structure.
It fits best if I discard my rough idea of what the great turning point in the book is – the midpoint – to something a little later which happens to better unite the different strands of plot. The story kind of works as written and the shift in conceptualising it works.
My existing method leans rather a lot, after the first sloppy draft, on not boring the reader and keeping the story going. So I look at how far into the book must A, B, and C, happen. This has a similar effect to formal planning.
Fun fact about stroy structure – if you post on it, people immediately recommend two other books about it….
I have a section on the cool new book website http://www.shepherd.com. It allows authors to share their books and promote them with five books by other people on a relevant theme. There are various other developing features – check it out. I feature Our Child of the Stars because if you like the first, you will buy the second, right?
Writers must be careful handing out great power, as it can wreck the sense of peril. In Our Child of the Stars, Cory is innocent, enormously kind, engaging, and lovable. He brings his new family into many dangers. One power is first used to save his parents, not understanding the terrible harm it will do. His empathy makes it horrific to use and he is frightened of it. It becomes an absolute last resort.
The list has five strong candidates, and one at least was a direct inspiration for my books. I think there are several newer books from more diverse backgrounds, and I am building a broader list. TV and film have some classics – Eleven in Stranger Things for example. I welcome examples that are
(ii) CHILDREN or naïve childlike teens
I have had so many suggestions where (i) BAD (ii) TEENAGERS with (iii) WELL KNOWN AND WIDELY AVAILABLE powers are suggested.
Suanne is an American author who runs a regular author interview slot on her blog. It was fun to do. We covered a lot including message fiction, whether SFF has to be political, and what makes a good book.
Regardless of genre, what are the elements that you think make a great novel? Do you consciously ensure all of these are in place?
SC: Characters that leap off the page and that you care about, situations that do not feel contrived. For me a world which acknowledges the dark and unfair side of life but addresses it with hope and humour. Voice. The sort of writing that takes you by the hand and says, Trust me, this will make sense in the end. This will be worth the journey.
It’s a month till the UK launch of the paperback of Our Child of the Stars. (Thursday 19th Sept.) Anyone who wants one can pre-order it now from all good bookshops and the usual online retailers.
I’ve been blown away by the support and interest I’ve had from family, friends, and colleagues. I’ll take a little bit more of your patience if I can.
Pre-orders count towards the first week of sales, helpful for the charts. And also, not every shop will have it in, but most shops can order it.
The oddity of the way publishing works is that having devoted masses of effort to promoting the e-book, audio-book, and the hardback – despite the paperback being crucial to its commercial success – the paperback often gets less of a push. Although my publishers are doing some good things, which is more than some people get.
If you are on good terms with a bookshop or in a book group which might like it, let me know. The paperback has Readers Notes which I can share.
Word of mouth – or its shiny new friend, sharing on social media – really helps. If you feel moved to share the details I will be pushing out, I’d be grateful.
And the national press has been very generous to the book. In this anniversary of Woodstock and the Moon Landings, exactly why I decided to write about a childless American couple adopting an alien in 1969, remains a bit of a mystery. But most people who read it are not disappointed.
‘heartfelt, richly imaginative and gripping’ (SciFiNow)
‘sympathetic characterisation and fine storytelling’ (Guardian)
‘compelling… the same combination of science fiction and heart-tugging tenderness that Stephen King does so well.’ (Grazia)
‘An out of this world winner’ (Weekend Sport)
‘This strong and generous first novel wears its heart on its sleeve and embeds all the thrills and chills in credible human, and non-human, emotions.’ (Daily Mail)
‘A pleasing, big-hearted read’ (Financial Times)
‘Wholly fresh and intensely gripping’ (Interzone)
‘a wonderfully emotional, heart-warming journey of what it really means to be a parent’ (Los Angeles Times)