Monthly Archives: September 2011

Queen Bee: an experiment in cheap, short SF

Queen Bee - short science fiction by Keith Brooke

Continuing my exploration of electronic publishing, first started almost exactly 14 years ago with the online genre fiction showcase infinity plus, I’ve brought out one of my short stories as a standalone ebook.

Will people buy it? Priced at 99 cents, short stories have been successful for some e-published authors: tapping into the market of impulse buyers, people looking for a quick lunchtime read, and those looking to discover new (to them) writers.

I’m not expecting to retire on the proceeds, but what I am hoping to do, with this and other ventures, is try to find ways that writers can find their best audiences. It’s clear that there are a lot of people buying ebooks; what’s missing, or not yet complete, is the way of matching them up with the best writers. I’d hasten to add that I’m not making great claims for myself here: this is about exploring market mechanisms and seeing what’s emerging. It’s what I’ve been doing for 14 years, at least.

Anyhow… here’s the blurb:

Domed cities; a lost lover; alien lifeforms whose biochemical excretions might kill you or worse…

Colvin Stark must battle deadly jungle and primitive settlers to find his fleeing lover, and his destiny. Traditional science fiction with a contemporary spin, Queen Bee showcases the short fiction talent of an author described by Locus as belonging in “the recognized front ranks of SF writers”.

Available from:

Amazon US | Amazon UK | Smashwords

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infinities: now free on Amazon UK too… and more lessons from ebook pricing experiments

It’s taken a while, but now Amazon UK has caught up with the US and dropped the price of our infinities anthology to zero.This is yet more good news for us, as the purpose of the book is to draw new readers in to explore the work of our authors and friends.

infinities

When the price dropped in the US this book raced up the freebie charts and has lodged itself firmly in the top ten anthologies; within an hour infinities hit the number two spot in Amazon’s UK anthology chart. We’ve had a similar experience with Iain Rowan’s Derringer-winning short story One Step Closer, which has been the UK’s top free short story for more than a week now.

So our experience so far is that freebies shift copies. Not so much of a surprise, but nice to see that the ones we’ve released have competed extremely well with all the other free stuff that’s knocking around.

What will be really interesting is seeing whether these freebies are just hoarded – downloaded because they’re free, but not necessarily read. Or if they’re read, but the kind of people who download freebies aren’t inclined to actually buy the other books we have to offer.

Or, as we hope, the freebies will introduce our authors to new readers who will then go on and buy more from that author.

It’s hard to prove cause and effect, of course, but we’ll be doing what we can over coming weeks to see if there’s a freebie effect or not!


Seven things you can do to help the reader

Back in April I wrote about seven things readers can do to help favourite authors. But it goes both ways, you know. The online world makes interaction between readers and authors ever more frequent, more immediate, and often more intense. An arrogant, unappreciative author can do a lot of damage. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing: who likes arrogant, unappreciative people anyway? If the online world outs them, then that’s fine by me.

But it’s still useful for an author to pull him or herself up short occasionally, to make sure we’re not taking our position for granted. It’s easy to get lazy, easy to get carried away with the knee-jerk response, or the delete key.

Here are some of the things authors should consider. It’s all about being professional. It’s all about being appreciative. It’s all about being nice.

  1. Pricing
    If you’re with a big commercial publisher, you have little say in the price that appears on the cover of your books. Increasingly though, authors do have control over the pricing of at least some of their work. Readers… readers are smart enough to know that it’s far cheaper to produce an ebook than a print edition; and that it’s far cheaper to produce a print-on-demand edition than a nationally-distributed and marketed mass market edition. Don’t take the piss. Don’t reason that if someone’s willing to pay £9.99 for a trade paperback it’s reasonable to charge that for your Kindle edition. It’s not. Even if your fans buy it, they’ll resent it. They’ll resent you. That’s not a good way to maintain your beautiful relationship.
  2. Engage, respond
    It almost goes without saying these days, whether you have a mighty commercial publisher behind you or you’re doing it yourself, that as an author you need to be online. You need to blog. You need to Facebook. You need to tweet and get Linkedin and Google-plus yourself left, right and centre. So we do. And some of us SHOUT. When someone follows us on Twitter we have an automated response set to send a ‘personal’ message to the new follower, asking them to buy our latest book. Just to be sure, we tweet about that book every day or more. We Facebook about it. We blog about it. And about nothing else. Writer as Jehovah’s Witness just doesn’t work. I don’t want you knocking on my door to flog your latest book. Several times a day. As a reader I love being acquainted with writers online; I really am a fanboy sometimes. And I like to know what a writer is working on, and what is available to buy. But I want more than that: I want to engage. I want to get to know the writer and his or her preoccupations. I love to get a response to my own tweets and comments and emails. Being nice and considerate is far better marketing than marketing. And it’s fun too: it’s so much more rewarding for a writer to have genuine interaction with readers than just to shout at them all the time.
  3. Give it away, go on
    Back when I started out in ebook publishing, the lovely Steve Savile pointed out to me that for all the genre readers who know an author’s name, there are thousands who don’t. It’s galling, but true: most people don’t have a clue who I am, and why they should give me time of day. There are lots of ways to reach these people, and one is to give stuff away for free. This was the principle on which I founded the online genre fiction showcase infinity plus way back in 1997: a bunch of authors getting together to put fiction online for free, to draw new readers in and share them around. If someone doesn’t recognise my name, why not make stories available for free? At infinity plus ebooks we published a free anthology of fiction from our authors and friends in the hope that it would draw in new readers who might want to buy our books. It also rewards people who do know our work. For the last week or two it’s been in the top three most popular free anthologies at Amazon, finding a huge audience. Freebies are good. We all benefit.
  4. Don’t ever cruise
    I remember years ago reading an interview with an author in a small press magazine, where he said that he was assured of selling everything he wrote to small press magazines and so he was happy. He never made it to the big presses, and even though he was prolific, within a year or two he vanished. Complacency murders creativity. It’s every writer’s duty not to take the easy route: never cruise. Readers won’t hate you for it. They just won’t care.
  5. Attention to detail
    If your tweets are sloppy and ungrammatical, if your blog postings are rough first drafts, that says a lot. Some people won’t care. But remember: most of the people out there really don’t have a clue who you are. Who would bother to spend $2.99 or more on a book by someone who can’t even be botherd to proof-read? Sloppiness undermines your reputation. And nowadays, when – in addition to commercial publishing – most authors will be self-publishing or publishing through cooperatives and small presses, there are even fewer quality controls in place: pay attention to the detail. Get it right. Show you care. Or readers will assume you don’t.
  6. Pay it forward
    Communities build up around writers and writing. A lot of fans are aspiring writers. Some of them will make it. Back in 1989 when I went to my first science-fiction convention, the sorely-missed and total sweetie Rob Holdstock spent the weekend introducing me to people in the business and getting me set up with an agent because he knew that I was about to get offers from two publishers for my work. I ran infinity plus for ten years, and some of my most powerful memories of that time are the comments from writers who have appreciated the fact that I backed them and promoted their work. For me it was simple: if I loved a writer’s work I did my utmost to find an audience for it. Just like Rob did with me, back in ’89. Lots of people are surprised about how supportive writers can be to each other: it’s a competitive world, after all. But kindness repays kindness. Whether the people a writer meets at a con are fellow writers or readers, everyone benefits if we just gave a toss. I choose to give a toss.
  7. Boredom shows
    If a writer gets bored with what they’re doing it shows. Really. Publishers don’t help with this. If a book does well they tend to encourage the author to write something Very Much Like It. Again and again. Writers, even the very best of writers, will do this. They need to make a living. They know that if they compromise just a little, the publisher will probably take the book they really want to write too. And most writers finish a novel knowing just what happens next to their characters. It’s easy to return, easy to pick up the story. Which is all absolutely fine, unless it really does bore you. Most readers won’t hate a writer for doing this. They’ll be grateful for a return to a loved setting, to loved characters. They’ll rush to buy it and that book will be a success too. But even as this happens, most readers will be just a little disappointed; it wasn’t as good as the original. It wasn’t bad, as such. But when the next one comes out, fewer will rush to it. A bored writer doesn’t piss many readers off; she or he just bores them a little. Is that how you want your career to end?

In the increasingly devolved world of publishing, where everyone can be a publisher and everyone can be an author, everyone can also be an unappreciative, arrogant twat. I like my readers. I like that they appreciate what I do and that some of them are interested in engaging with me. So if I get it wrong any time it’s not deliberate: let me know. I’ll be sure to reply! I really hope I can avoid the seven sins outlined above, but I’m sure there are more. If so, tell me. Engage with me. And I’ll try to be nice.


A book of reviews? Really?

That was pretty much my first reaction when John Grant approached me with the idea of putting together a collection of his book reviews. Who on earth would buy such a thing?

Warm Words and OtherwiseBut then I started to think a bit more. Back in the ten years I ran the infinity plus online genre showcase, John was one of my favourite reviewers. (I know that, as with our children, editors shouldn’t really have favourites, but you just know we all do.) He was productive and timely, for a start, which is always helpful. But far more than that, his reviews were eloquent, witty, opinionated and, above all, great reads. While most of our reviews were only a few hundred words long, John’s were often over a thousand words in length, articulate and entertaining essays that were filled with his genuine passion for good writing.

Another thing I liked about John’s contributions was the way he took books at face value. One week he might review Stephen King or Jeanette Winterson, and the next a book effectively self-published by iUniverse. He didn’t care about the names on the cover: it was all about the words. And he uncovered some real gems by taking such an egalitarian stance.

He did also stumble across some some turkeys, from large publishers and small, name writers and newcomers. And these turkeys were dissected, often with thoroughly scathing wit: never harsh or ridiculing, John analysed just what it was that made some books work and some choke, in an object lesson to any aspiring writer who wants to understand their craft, and their industry.

This is starting to sound like a sales pitch. And while I’d be the first to confess that I’m drawing your attention to the book in the hope that you will buy it (over 150,000 words, covering SF, fantasy, horror, crime and more, for a mere $1.99? how could you not?), my primary intention here is to set out my journey from “Really? You must be mad…” to “Aw, go on then,” to thinking that, actually, if enough of the right people read this book it would be a genuine contender for things like the British Science Fiction Award’s non-fiction category.

It’s funny. It’s breathtakingly intelligent and well-informed. It strikes that perfect balance between serious and a great read.

I made that journey from “Really?” to “what a great idea” quite quickly, and I’m sure a lot of other people will too.

John Grant’s Warm Words & Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviewsinfinity plus ebooks’ first venture into non-fiction is now available from the usual suspects:

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)

A bumper collection – over 150,000 words! – of book reviews, many of full essay length, by the two-time Hugo winning and World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and author, among much fiction, of such recent nonfiction works as Corrupted Science and (forthcoming) Denying Science.

Scholarly, iconoclastic, witty, passionate, opinionated, hilarious, scathing and downright irritating by turn, these critical pieces are sure to appeal to anyone who loves fantasy, science fiction, mystery fiction, crime fiction and many points in between … and who also enjoys a rousing argument.


That moment where you realise you might have started a new book? Yes, that one.

I always knew this story sequence might turn into a book, but I hit the point on Saturday where I started to wonder that if I’m writing the second story then, technically, have I crossed over that tipping point into actually writing another book?

It started with ‘likeMe‘, a short sharp near-future tale that made it into science journal Nature‘s ‘Futures’ fiction column late last year. But for various complications the story would also have been in one of this year’ Year’s Best anthologies.

One of the sessions I did at this year’s Alt.Fiction in Derby was a reading with the lovely Al Reynolds, and I chose ‘likeMe’ for that: keep it short and hopefully leave them wanting more. This got me thinking about the story again, and I realised that there was a lot more to be written. Discussion at the reading confirmed this for me: I’d written a snapshot of a pandemic-ridden future where reality is overlaid with layers of real-time-everywhere social networking, a brief view into a world I knew I would have to revisit.

On Saturday, a change of plans left me with a day suddenly free. I was ahead on the ebook publishing for infinity plus, I didn’t have to be anywhere… it was a chance to write a short story on spec for the first time in months.

I had a lovely time browsing through my notes, reminding myself just how many stories are sitting there waiting to be written, and then I settled on ‘War 3.01’, another shortish story set in the ‘likeMe’ future. After a good day’s writing I have that one written in draft, and now my mind keeps coming back to the possibilities.

The idea is to try to portray this fragmented, sensorily-swamped, falling-apart future in a set of short stories, ranging from flash fiction of maybe 2-300 words up to stories of around 3000 words. Characters will appear as walk-ons in one story, central in another, peripheral in another. And gradually, through this barrage of splinters, a mosaic should emerge.

Blimey, I really do think I’ve started what will turn into a book.

What kind of book? It won’t be a long one, that’s for sure: even 70,000 words of story splinters would be pretty tough going, I reckon. I’m thinking around 20-30,000 words would be enough for the bigger picture to emerge, for it all to start to cohere, without losing its way. The idea, after all, is for a densely-packed set of images.

Not exactly commercial, I know!

There are some excellent indie presses out there, though, who aren’t scared of shorter books. Or I might go straight to ebook with it, which in many ways would be appropriate: a new medium, and an incredibly fast turnaround from writing to publishing.

The final confirmation that in my head it’s now a book slotted into place yesterday evening when I was out running, always good thinking time in a busy life. An explanation for events in the new story… what if I applied that on a grander scale? Hmm… Suddenly there was a rationale for the whole story sequence, something that pulled them together and gave them shape.

So: this is how it’s possible to start writing a book by accident. Be warned.


John Grant’s Warm Words and Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviews

Warm Words and OtherwiseJohn Grant’s Warm Words & Otherwise: A Blizzard of Book Reviewsinfinity plus ebooks’ first venture into non-fiction is now available from the usual suspects:

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)

A bumper collection – over 150,000 words! – of book reviews, many of full essay length, by the two-time Hugo winning and World Fantasy Award-winning co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and author, among much fiction, of such recent nonfiction works as Corrupted Science and (forthcoming) Denying Science.

Scholarly, iconoclastic, witty, passionate, opinionated, hilarious, scathing and downright irritating by turn, these critical pieces are sure to appeal to anyone who loves fantasy, science fiction, mystery fiction, crime fiction and many points in between … and who also enjoys a rousing argument.

Includes reviews of

– Kevin J. Anderson: Hopscotch
– Isaac Asimov, Janet Jeppson Asimov (editor): It’s Been a Good Life
– Clive Barker: Coldheart Canyon
– Hilari Bell: A Matter of Profit
– Mark Billingham: Lazy Bones
– Ray Bradbury: From the Dust Returned
– Ray Bradbury: Let’s All Kill Constance
– Lois McMaster Bujold: The Curse of Chalion
– Jonathan Carroll: The Wooden Sea
– Nancy A. Collins: Tempter
– Thomas H. Cook: Into the Web
– Thomas H. Cook: Peril
– Wes Craven: Fountain Society
– Michael Crichton: Prey
– David and Leigh Eddings: Regina’s Song
– Sylvia Louise Engdahl, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon: Enchantress from the Stars
– Jeffrey Ford: The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque
– Katherine V. Forrest: Daughters of a Coral Dawn
– Gregory Frost: Fitcher’s Brides
– Lisa Gardner: Alone
– Lisa Gardner: The Killing Hour
– Lisa Gardner: The Survivors’ Club
– Martin Gardner: Science Good, Bad and Bogus
– Dashiell Hammett, Vince Emery (editor): Lost Stories: 21 Long-Lost Stories from the Bestselling Creator of Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man
– Laurell K. Hamilton: A Caress of Twilight
– Greg Hurwitz: The Program
– P.D. James: The Murder Room
– Graham Joyce: The Tooth Fairy
– Stephen King: Bag of Bones
– Dean Koontz: From the Corner of His Eye
– Jack London: Fantastic Tales
– Ed McBain: Fat Ollie’s Book
– Jack McDevitt: Deepsix
– Nick Mamatas: Northern Gothic
– George R.R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle: Windhaven
– Richard Matheson: Come Fygures, Come Shadowes
– Richard Matheson: Noir: Three Novels of Suspense
– Elizabeth Moon: Remnant Population
– Elizabeth Moon: The Speed of Dark
– Michael Moorcock: The Dreamthief’s Daughter
– Larry Niven: The Integral Trees
– Terry Pratchett: Thief of Time
– Christopher Priest: The Extremes
– Ian Rankin: Resurrection Men
– Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt
– Peter Robinson: The First Cut
– Dan Simmons: Worlds Enough & Time: Five Tales of Speculative Fiction
– Victor J. Stenger: Has Science Found God?
– Sheri S. Tepper: The Companions
– Sheri S. Tepper: Singer from the Sea
– Donald E. Westlake: God Save the Mark
– Connie Willis: Passage
– F. Paul Wilson: The Haunted Air: A Repairman Jack Novel
– F. Paul Wilson: Hosts: A Repairman Jack Novel
– Jeanette Winterson: The World and Other Places

. . . and many, many more!

amazon.com (Kindle format, $1.99)
amazon.co.uk (Kindle format, £1.44)
Smashwords (various formats, including epub, mobi, Sony and PDF, $1.99)


Writing again

It’s good to be writing again, almost a month after I finished the first draft of alt.human.

After the long slog of a novel draft I usually end up taking a break, but I do miss the writing. Real life tends to get in the way too, particularly when the day job’s as stressy as it is right now. Getting home exhausted and run down each evening, there’s just nothing left in the tank for writing.

But today: I’ve managed to grab a few hours to have a crack at a short story. It seems such a luxury just to sit down and right something from new like this, with the prospect of actually finishing a draft on the same day I started it.

One of the nicest aspects was the half hour I spent this morning going through story notes. This one’s been bubbling away for a few months, so I had to go through lots of notes to bring everything together; a perk of this was that I reminded myself of all the notes for other stories I’ve accumulated. So many stories to write!

The current story is one related to my story “likeMe”, which appeared in Nature last December. Long term, the plan is to write more stories with this backdrop so that they build up into a mosaic-like snapshot of an enhanced-reality, going-rapidly-downhill nearish future, which I’ll then have to work out what to do with. I might pitch it to one or two indie publishers, or I might just put it out directly as an ebook.

We’ll see. Right now, I’m 1200 words into the new story, and loving being a writer again.


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