Monthly Archives: April 2011

On recording a video interview and the question of book trailers

Keith Brooke at YouTubeSo… I’ve just recorded my first video interview: 45 minutes of Q&A, split up into four chunks at YouTube.

It was an odd thing to do. I wasn’t really prepared – I hadn’t even realised it was to be a video interview when I agreed to do it. The interview was for the Reddit SF community, and members of that group posted questions and then voted on them, the top dozen or so being sent on to me for the interview. Each of those questions tended to include several sub-questions, hence the length of the finished recording.

My main challenges were technical: I simply didn’t have a computer that could record good quality audio (the video was fine). Added complications included my fiancee being in and out of hospital, various illnesses myself, and sheer pressure of work meaning that it was remarkably difficult to find a slot long enough to do it all in.

I managed, though. I recorded it, and I learnt how to edit the video into chunks, how to add opening and closing title screens, etc. It took me back to when I used to edit educational videos as part of my day job, something I loved doing.

The end product is very clearly of home-video standard. It’s me talking into a webcam in my front room, looking shifty as I keep checking the other screen for the questions. I’m not sure how well it’ll go down, or if it’s even a better format than written interviews (personally, I’d rather read an interview than sit through a video clip).

It does raise the whole question of vodcasts and book trailers. I’ve been considering doing an infinity plus trailer for YouTube for some time now. Apparently book trailers are becoming an expected thing. Is it really worth it? Do people actually watch them and decide to buy books as a result? It could be interesting to do, but when it comes down to it, it has to justify the time it would require – time that could otherwise be spent on writing.

I’d be very interested to hear from anyone with views on the subject: do you care about book trailers? How might they influence you? Would vodcasts and short interviews be of more interest than a promotional trailer?


“The best short story writer in any genre” – New Scientist

New release: Phoenix Man by Garry Kilworth

Phoenix Man - short fiction for Kindle, Nook and other e-readersThe man who learned to walk on water and one who discovered how to beat fire, a visionary who sees a world filled with people quite unlike his own, a man who can soak up anything that’s thrown at him.

Thirteen eclectic stories of discovery and wonder – five of them original to this collection – from a writer described by New Scientist as “the best short story writer in any genre”.

Available from:
amazon.com (Kindle format, $2.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £2.14)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $2.99)

“The best short story I have read for many years.”
— JG Ballard, on Kilworth’s “Sumi Dreams of a Paper Frog” (Songbirds of Pain)

“As a whole the book is a captivating collection!”
— Murio Guslandi, in Emerald City Magazine, on Kilworth’sMoby Jack and Other Tall Tales

“Garry Kilworth’s stories refuse easy categorization; they’re gorgeously written, heartbreakingly poignant, multiculturally savvy, sharp and smart, and always strange and surprising.”
— Claude Lalumiere, on Kilworth’s Moby Jack and Other Tall Tales

 


infinity plus: the birth of a new eBook imprint

Here’s an interview about the infinity plus ebook imprint, over at Jerome Parisse’s Alive With Words: http://alivewithwords.com/2011/04/11/infinity-plus-the-birth-of-a-new-ebook-imprint/


The cozy world of reviewing

Publishing is a small world. Once you’ve been knocking around for a few years, you tend to have at least a passing acquaintance with most of the people in your branch of the business. So what do you do when it comes to reviewing? Should we still review each other’s books?

It’s a decision all reviewers have to make at some stage, and I know more than one writer who has given up reviewing for this reason. Others of us draw the line at different points. My own line is that there are one or two writers I’m very close to – we collaborate, we’re good friends, we crit each other’s work before publicaton – where it would just be wrong for me to review their work; no matter how objective my review was, the perception may be otherwise. But for most, I carry on and review; I work hard to be objective, and if a book deserves criticism then it gets it. Blunt reviews of a weak book from someone you know can be hard for the author to handle, but I think most writers accept and appreciate that approach.

My most recent example is copied below, a review of Andre Jute and Andrew McCoy’s critique of the Stieg Larsson phenomenon. As you can read in the review, I’ve used Jute’s thriller-writing guide in my teaching, and it was useful to me back when I was starting out in writing. I recently stumbled upon the author on an Amazon forum, where we both commented on a thread (I can’t remember what it was); we exchanged emails, and then Andre invited me to write a guest entry about infinity plus ebooks on his blog. All very cozy, but hey, publishing is – generally – an incredibly friendly business. My reviewing Andre’s latest work could easily be seen as a quid pro quo arrangement, but then we’re back to my line-drawing: I’m not going to avoid reviewing (most) books just because I have some kind of acquaintance with the author; and equally, I’m not going to pull punches just because a favour may be owed or because someone has a nice smile or whatever; and another equally, I’m not going to be over-critical because I may disagree with an author’s views on an unrelated topic (as I do on environmental issues with Andre, but that’s another matter entirely).

Jute and McCoy’s book on Larsson is definitely flawed, and the ranting tone of parts can grate, but I’d recommend it to anyone who wants a no-holds look at publishing in the 21st century. One of the wonders of electronic publishing is that it’s so fast: now in April 2011, this book is as current as it gets, reporting on events and figures from the turn of the year. No 18-month wait for it to appear in print and then be reporting on what, by then, is history.

So here is the review, in full:

My first encounter with Andre Jute’s work was way back in the 1980s when I was working my way towards writing my first novel, when I read his excellent Writing a Thriller. I devoured any writing book I could find at that time and, to be frank, most were regurgitated pap. Jute’s was different. Much like John Braine’s book on novel-writing, Jute took a strongly individual approach, but unlike Braine he was more open to variation: rather than “this is the way to do it and if you don’t like it, stop reading” of Braine, Jute showed alternative approaches, was open to people doing it their way and, above all, applied a sharp intelligence to the whole process of novel-writing.

In The Larsson Scandal, Jute (with collaborator Andrew McCoy) turns that analytical intelligence to the recent phenomenon of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. The Larsson Scandal is a work of criticism, but more, it’s a study of how a collision of circumstance can lead to an entertainment industry happening, with books that sell by the million and high-budget movies to follow. While The Larsson Scandal is worth reading for the criticism alone, for me it was the story of the story that made this book required reading for anyone with an interesting in the publishing industry.

It should be acknowledged that criticism, by its nature, focuses on the negative, and at times this book is bitingly critical. Jute and McCoy do state often that they are fans of Larsson’s work, but inevitably they focus on its shortcomings. This shouldn’t be off-putting to admirers of Larsson – far better a healthy debate than yet more hagiography. Indeed, despite the critical tone of this book, an indicator of the authors’ achievement is that, although I haven’t read the Larsson originals, this work leaves me more eager to seek them out, rather than putting me off.

The weakest aspect of this book is its tone, lapsing at times into rant mode, although this should perhaps be regarded more as a rhetorical device. It grates a little that benificiaries of Larsson’s estate, his brother and father, are barely examined other than us having to trust that they are basically decent types, while others in the story get a far closer critical examination. The at times sweeping dismissal of “politically correct ‘literary’ criticism” and references to “the sly Larsson” and similar undermine the argument at times, too: I’d far rather be allowed to reach those conclusions myself than have them repeatedly labelled as such.

Those minor criticisms aside, The Larsson Scandal is a fascinating study of how publishing does and doesn’t work. I use Jute’s Writing a Thriller when I teach university novel-writing classes, and now I’m planning to use The Larsson Scandal alongside that for its insight into the publishing world.


Guest blog, Eric Brown and Slightly Foxed: The Other SF

For over seven years, Slightly Foxed – The Real Reader’s Quarterly has Slightly Foxedbeen reviewing books of all genres: some new, some old, some very much out-of-print. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Slightly Foxed is a magazine of ‘literary enthusiasms’ which never fails to introduce its readers to neglected or forgotten books of the highest merit. What’s more, each issue is elegantly presented on cream paper with black and white illustrations throughout, making it both a delight to handle and a pleasure to behold.

In the latest issue, for spring 2011, there is an article by author and Guardian columnist Eric Brown on the work of Michael G. Coney, a writer who, Brown believes, should be ranked among science fiction’s finest, despite his nineteen novels and collection of short stories never having quite reached the audience they deserve. Coney died in 2005 and since then only two of his novels have been reprinted in small limited editions; the rest remain out of print.

Here is an extract from the Brown’s article, entitled Coney’s Islands, followed by his short guide to science fiction for beginners:

I first came across Coney’s work in 1985 when I read his short story ‘The True Worth of Ruth Villiers’ in John Carnell’s New Writings in SF 17, and a few weeks later ‘Bartholomew & Son (and the Fish-Girl)’ in Issue 27 of the same series. The stories made a big impact on me. The former was set in the near future, in a well-realized southern England coastal locale, and featured a first-person narrator and a single science fiction idea from which Coney had extrapolated a society changed by that idea: that an individual’s worth could be estimated by a harsh points system of social credit. The latter tale was part of a series of futuristic stories and novellas set on the ‘Peninsula’, a strip of land separated from the body of mainland America after a devastating tsunami, featuring artists and their creations, mood-affecting ‘emotion mobiles’.

What I liked about both stories, quite apart from Coney’s expert handling of narrative and plot, was that they were principally about people, and how a few small changes in society had an effect on character. Coney wasn’t so much interested in the science behind the stories, or the mechanics of the technology, but in how science and technology affect individual human beings, and how he could combine new ideas and interesting characters to tell compelling stories full of incident and narrative twists.

Over the next few years I read and reread most of Coney’s novels and all but a handful of his short stories. Among his early novels, Syzygy and Brontomek! stand out – the latter won the British Science Fiction Association award for the best novel of 1976. Both are first-person narratives set in the colony world of Arcadia, featuring a cast of believable, likeable characters. In Brontomek! especially, Coney achieved a total synthesis of character and narrative, producing a fast-paced, entertaining novel about people with whom the reader could identify in a story that gripped and constantly surprised. The Girl with a Symphony in Her Fingers brought the Peninsula stories together in a skilful mosaic novel that tells the story of Joe Sagar who farms alien creatures, slithes, for their skins, and his dealings with a series of fascinating locals: the spiteful and neurotic holovision-movie star Carioca Jones, the bonded slave girl Joanne, the snobbish and bigoted Miss Marjoribanks.

[…]

I came across Coney’s finest novel, Hello Summer, Goodbye, after reading all of his others. I had inadvertently saved the best till last.

Hello Summer, Goodbye, first published in 1975, tells the story of Drove and Pallahaxi-Browneyes on a far-flung alien world. They are not human, but stilk, a humanoid race. In a short prefatory note to the novel Coney explained: ‘I have assumed my aliens to be humanoid and, being humanoid, to be subject to human emotions and frailties. I have assumed their civilization to be at the stage of development approximate to our year 1875 . . .’ The planet undergoes long periods of summer, and a gruelling winter lasting some forty years, and is made real by some brilliant world-building: the tidal effect of the ‘grume’, a spectacular thickening of the sea water; ice-devils who inhabit tidal pools and have the ability to freeze the water when prey enter it; and the lorin, the peace-loving, furry humanoid co-habitees of the planet, with whom the destiny of the stilk is mysteriously bound. To quote Coney’s introduction again: ‘This is a love story, and a war story, and a science-fiction story, and more besides.’ It is also Coney’s finest intermeshing of character, incident and event – a sensitive account of growing up and the experience of first love, with one of the finest endings with a twist in modern science fiction.

~

GETTING TO GRIPS WITH SF

Science fiction (known among aficionados as SF) is a genre which some people find inaccessible, with its weird scientific nomenclature and confusing acronyms – not to mention some of its staple concepts: aliens, faster than-light starships and time-travel. But the best science fiction, like all literature, is about what it is to be human: the finest SF examines how scientific advances – or disasters, for example alien invasion – can affect society and by extension individuals.

SF became popular after the Second World War: John Wyndham found a mass audience with his ‘cosy catastrophes’ about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. His most famous novel, The Day of the Triffids, had giant man-eating plants savaging humanity. Around the same time, John Christopher was also writing about the breakdown of society; his chilling Death of Grass, about the end of all vegetation, has just been reissued as a Penguin Classic. More recent highly readable, thought provoking works include Chris Beckett’s penetrating novel about the artificial intelligence/human interface, The Holy Machine; Stephen Baxter’s Flood, about rising sea levels and humanity’s belated response; and Keith Brooke’s mind-boggling examination of virtual reality, The Accord.

~

Slightly Foxed

Slightly Foxed Issue No. 29 ‘An Editorial Peacock’ Spring 2011 – OUT NOW

96 pages, illustrated throughout
Single issue – UK £9, Rest of the World £11
Subscription – UK £36, Europe £44, Rest of the World £48
Buy online at www.foxedquarterly.com

Slightly Foxed Ltd, 67 Dickinson Court, 15 Brewhouse Yard, London EC1V 4JX

tel 020 7549 2121/2111 / fax 0870 1991245
all@foxedquarterly.com


Collecting short fiction

When it came to launching the infinity plus ebook imprint, I had to decide which titles to launch with. I already had interest from a number of fine authors, but in the end decided to put my own five volumes of collected fiction up first: I was new to this, and it only seemed right to use some of my own work for the trial run.Embrace by Keith Brooke

And so it was that Embrace was the first infinity plus ebook. All went very smoothly, and soon I had five volumes of my own collected stories available, along with titles from Eric Brown, Anna Tambour, Kaitlin Queen and John Grant.

The thinking behind my collections came one very cold evening while I sat with a large coffee outside the O2 arena. My partner and her daughter were in there for a gig, but for a variety of complicated reasons we only had two tickets, so I sat outside working on various book proposals (including my current novel, but that’s another story; literally).

It was a productive evening, and by the time the gig was over I had split short stories written over the previous twenty or more years into five loosely-themed collections. The stories just seemed to fall that way:

  • the first obvious grouping was my darker fiction, gathered in Embrace; this was when I decided to go for semi-explanatory subtitles, so this one was appended with tales from the dark side;
  • the next clear group was the overtly science-fictional, which I gathered in Liberty Spin: tales of scientifiction, the subtitle a nod towards Hugo Gernsback’s original name for the genre;
  • Faking It: accounts of the General Genetics Corporation is a book I’ve wanted to do for a long time, pulling together stories that feature GenGen, the brash company that moves from 1990s bio-engineering start-up to (in my Expatria novels) a galaxy-spanning religion;
  • and that just left a gathering of my fantasy tales together in Segue: into the strange, and some downright weird stories which happened to be about strange transformations, which slotted into Memesis: modifiction and other strange changes (that subtitle another nod to Gernsback).

Could it really be that easy? Other than shuffling a handful of stories around for the sake of balance, it all just slotted into place. What remained was the task of writing an afterword for each of something like 60 or so stories. That took some time, but was interesting to do: revisiting old stories, remembering what it was that inspired them, what problems I hit and so on. In some cases it was easier than others, and there were even stories I’d completely forgotten, but which came rushing back on re-reading.

The covers were produced as a set by my partner, Debbie. She’s an excellent web designer, so it was a matter of transferring these skills to ebook cover design – just another form of screen design, with its own special requirements. I love them, and it’s only marginally frustrating when the covers get more praise than the books…

Segue by Keith Brooke Embrace by Keith Brooke Liberty Spin by Keith Brooke Faking It by Keith Brooke Memesis by Keith Brooke

Feedback has been great, with reviews saying things like, “As usual with Keith Brooke, there are some excellent, clearly-written stories here… if ‘Passion Play’ is not a warning against the dangers of unprotected sex in an sf milieu, then I don’t know what it is”, “very inventive and clever… five stars for entertainment value”, and “If Roald Dahl had written science fiction, he would have written this kind”.

All that remains, now that I’ve filled up five volumes, is to write some more stories! The question is, should I try to theme them, so that they fall into a coherent sixth volume, or will I have to wait another twenty years until I have enough to split up in this way again?


Seven things you can do to help an author

It’s a noisy world out there.

Increasingly writers are expected by their publishers to play a proactive role in marketing and promoting their work. This is not necessarily a bad thing: long gone are the days when we could write a book, then write another book, and not have to worry about the wider world into which those books were launched.

These days we have to get out there, be seen, be interesting. It can be hard work… And it can steal valuable time away from writing that next book.

And there are lots of us doing it. Indie- and self-publishing are so much easier now than they were even five years ago, and so there are a hell of a lot more books out there, and more authors vying for readers’ attention. Again, not necessarily a bad thing: in the last couple of years we’ve seen a string of examples of authors who didn’t click with mainstream commercial publishing who have been very successful in finding audiences through alternative means.

But for most professional authors it means we have to spend even more time on the promotional side of things, making sure we get noticed.

You can help, though. Readers play an increasingly important role in filtering the noise, particularly for ebooks, where there is so much noise.

So here’s the infinity plus checklist of things you can do to help an author you like (or indie publisher, hint hint):

  1. Play tag
    On Amazon and other bookselling sites it’s possible for anyone to add tags, or agree with existing tags, for books. So on Amazon, as an example, just scroll down to below the customer reviews and you should see a section showing existing tags for that book: you can tick to agree with any or all of these, or add your own. These tags help classify a book, so that later when someone is searching for “alien cats in space poetry” they’re more likely to find what they want. Tags are good.
  2. Customer reviews
    Did I mention customer reviews just then? Sadly, for most authors, the majority of our potential readers either haven’t heard of us or have only done so in passing. One of the key factors when readers are buying online is a quick glance at customer reviews on sites such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. I’m not saying here that you should go out and give us all five star reviews. But a book that has a dozen reviews shows that readers care enough to engage; far more so than a book that doesn’t have a single review. So go on: even if your review is only a star-rating and a couple of sentences, it means a lot to the author to get some feedback and it can be a big help too.
  3. Other reviews
    Reviews on blogs, forums or anywhere else you regularly post are lovely. We want to know what you think. Writers spend months and years working on a book, and it can be soul-destroying for it to disappear into a vacuum once it’s let loose in the wild. We write for readers, and it’s great to see what readers think.
  4. Like us
    There are lots of ways to like an author you … erm … like. By this I mean Like, as in clicking those Like buttons: Amazon have added them to book listings (at the top, by the title), and like tagging it’s another way of trying to identify books a particular reader may like, based on past preferences and on patterns across similar readers. If an author has a Facebook page you can Like that: it helps you get the latest news, and it also makes the writer feel appreciated.
  5. Follow us
    I’m not necessarily asking you to become a stalker, but writers are increasingly active on Twitter, Facebook, etc. It’s another way for you to get the latest news; it’s a good way to make the writer feel appreciated and that all these efforts are worthwhile; and it shows our publishers that we’re actively engaging with our readers, which goes down well when we’re pitching the next book.
  6. Engage
    I don’t use the word cynically, the way a marketing pamphlet might. Even in these interblogtweetbooking times, writing can be a lonely business. Typically, an author will spend several hours a day for months on end to produce a novel. That book will then wait anything from a few weeks (in the high-speed world of indie/self-publishing) to a few years until it starts to find an audience. And in the meantime, we shut ourselves away, writing. Most writers really appreciate contact with readers: discussion on social media sites, email, chat over a drink at a convention, meeting people at signings, etc. Please don’t send us your novel drafts for critique (it takes huge amounts of time and only ends in tears), but other than that, it’s lovely to talk.
  7. Word of mouth
    Tell your friends about the books and authors you like, tell people on forums, tweet about us, retweet our tweets.  No cynical marketing campaign can generate real word of mouth: only readers can.

Publishing, and book-selling, is becoming increasingly devolved: it’s being passed down into the hands of the authors, and ultimately the readers. You all have the power to make a difference, and often suprisingly so: a tagging, a couple of mentions on forums, a customer review – can all make a big impact.

As authors and publishers, the best thing we can do is please you, so that you care enough to do these things. Hopefully we’re getting that part right!


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