Saturday, July 20, 2013

Links 20/07/13

Chuck Wendig - So, You Just Had Your Book Published.  Ha ha ha. Oh.

'An intelligent knife that knows when it is cutting through cancerous tissue is being tested in three London hospitals.'

'Today, Dongjin Seo and pals at the University of California Berkeley reveal an entirely new way to study and interact with the brain. Their idea is to sprinkle electronic sensors the size of dust particles into the cortex and to interrogate them remotely using ultrasound. The ultrasound also powers this so-called neural dust.'

'A few Septembers back, on a Saturday afternoon, I took a long drive, from a leafy neighbourhood in Boston, Massachusetts, to the remotest parts of the outer solar system. I set out from Cambridge in a dusty, rented Volkswagen, with my co-pilot Andrew Youdin, a planet-formation theorist from the University of Colorado at Boulder. We drove north to Maine, aiming for Aroostook County, where, stretched along close to 100 miles of small towns, big farms and empty highway, you’ll find the world’s largest three-dimensional scale model of the solar system.'

Fly through a canyon on Mars.

Phobos over Mars.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Cover Space

Publishers spend a lot of time trying to get covers right: industry wisdom has it that a great cover snags the attention of casual browsers and boosts sales. That may change, if online sales of deadtree and ebooks continue to increase (although books will still need smart covers to stand out in those 'customers also bought these titles' ID parades), but at the moment, catching and holding that casual glance is one of the key parts of book marketing.

I think I've been pretty lucky with the covers for my Quiet War novels:

By Sidonie Beresford-Browne for the Gollancz hardcover/trade paperback covers, they are amongst my all-time favourites (and the cover of the US editions of the Pyr editions of The Quiet War and The Gardens of the Sun are pretty good too). But I'm aware that while spaceships and planets may be catnip to genre fans, they can be hugely powerful deterrents that underscore innate prejudices about the other-worldly skiffy nonsense for readers who aren't much acquainted with science fiction, or think they don't like it. Spaceships are, to many people, signifiers of brash escapism rather than serious intent.

As, indeed, can be any kind of painterly illustration. As Tim Kreider pointed out in a recent article in The New Yorker, 'children’s books, Y.A. literature, and genre fiction still have license to beguile their readers with gorgeous cover illustrations, but mature readers aren’t supposed to require such enticements. For serious literature to pander to us with cosmetic allurements would be somehow tacky, uncool.'

Kreider has some very smart things to say about what makes a good cover, and why so many covers look the same, and why the new minimalism is not always a good thing. He's a cartoonist, so his insights on cover design come from a different, sharper angle than those of most authors. He also celebrates the covers of science-fiction novels he read as a teenager, and his examples are good ones. So it's unfortunate that they're labelled (perhaps not by Kreider - I certainly hope not) as 'silly book covers'.  There were, and still are, plenty of terrible genre covers thrown together in haste with little skill or attention. But while the psychedelia of, say a Richard Powers' cover from the 1970s may be quaint, it isn't silly. It's the kind of thing that was, as Kreider points out, designed to wow. The problem is that not everyone wants to be wowed:
For serious literature to pander to us with cosmetic allurements would be somehow tacky, uncool. The more important a book is, the less likely there is to be anything at all on its cover (look at most editions of “Ulysses”). Even the ancient equivalents of summer blockbusters like Homer and “Beowulf” or the sex romps and gorefests of Shakespeare tend to get stodgy public-domain paintings on their covers. There are actual marketing hazards to making your book look too enjoyable—I wrote sixty-thousand-some words of prose, but because I threw in half a dozen cartoons and put a funny drawing on the cover, my would-be literary essays often get shelved in Graphic Novels or Humor. 
In UK SFF publishing, there are ongoing attempts at cross-over appeal with some titles, deploying bold graphics, reissuing classics in plainer covers, and so on. Gollancz have just produced a terrific example for Simon Ings' new novel, for instance. But most genre novels still have some kind of painterly representational element because that's what twangs the pleasure centres of genre fans. And novels set in space often still have spaceships on their covers, even if they're mostly about other things. And while they're no longer as boldly monolithic as those examples from 1970s British paperbacks I posted recently while they may be reduced to graphics, as in The Quiet War cover above, or depicted with delicate realism, as in the paperback cover of Al Reynolds' Blue Remembered Earth, they're still spaceships, with all that entails.

That the kind of imaginative literature that builds on the great collective triumphs of science can be judged and dismissed because of its covers is a great shame. Not only because (of course) I want my books to be read as widely as possible, but also because it's kind of sad that here in the strange and unpredictable maelstrom of the twenty-first century people cling to the straight realism of modernism like ship-wrecked sailors, as if it is still the only way by which we can make sense of the world and the capabilities of the human mind.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Evening's Empires

Happy birthday, little book.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Out There

Last week my British publisher, Gollancz, dropped the price of the ebook version of The Quiet War to £1.99, to help promote the publication of Evening's Empires, the fourth novel in the Quiet War universe. Some American readers wanted to know whether they could get in on the deal, and I realised, to my chagrin, that I didn't know. So I thought it might be useful to make a list of what is available in the UK and the US - to keep things simple, I'll skirt around the more complicated issue of translations for now. Some of this information is available in the sidebar, by the way, but not all of it. So this, by way of clarification, is what's current as far as the Anglo-American axis goes:

First, in the UK, the following novels are definitely available as deadtree books:

Evening's Empires
In The Mouth of the Whale
Gardens of the Sun
The Quiet War
Cowboy Angels

Five titles from my back list - Four Hundred Billion Stars, Eternal Light, Red Dust, Pasquale's Angel, and Fairyland - may still be available as paperbacks, but are I think mostly out of print.

All of the above are also available as ebooks in the UK. The rest of my back list as at present out of print, but I have plans to revive several titles as ebooks.

A short story collection, A Very British History, was published by PS Publishing in March, and is very much in print. And a single-volume anthology of the Confluence trilogy, with two associated stories tipped in, will be published by Gollancz in December.

In the US, only Gardens of the Sun, The Quiet War and Cowboy Angels are available as deadtree books. (Three other titles are still under contract with Tor, but have long been out of print, and haven't been turned into ebooks because, amongst other reasons, Tor have a vast pre-ebook-era backlist.) They are also available as ebooks - but as I discovered, they aren't available as the British versions. That's because I have a different publisher, Pyr, in the US, and while Gollancz was briefly able to release its ebook versions in the US, that ended when they sold US rights to Pyr. And that's why, I'm afraid, the price of The Quiet War hasn't dropped in the US: it's a special offer on the British ebook associated with a new novel coming out from my British publisher.

The five back list titles mentioned above are available as ebooks in the US, by the way, because I took back the rights after they went out of print in the US, and offered them to Gollancz. If you're confused at this point, I don't blame you.

Availability of books still reflects the old territories carved out by publishers in different countries.  British publishers claim the UK and most Commonwealth countries; US publishers the US and Canada. Back in the day, US readers would not have expected US editions of books to reflect the pricing of editions in British bookshops. Now that the internet connects everyone with everyone else, it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that someone in the US should be able to download a British edition of an ebook; but rights and territories, and the geolocatory vigilance of platforms like Amazon, prevent that.

Neither In the Mouth of the Whale or Evening's Empires have a US publishing deal.  At present, if American readers want to buy either novel, I can do no more than point them towards the Book Depository, which sells deadtree books with free worldwide shipping. And if they want the ebook versions, then I'm afraid it won't be possible (outwith spoofing your location) unless and until an American publisher buys the rights, or until Gollancz decides it can't sell them.

However, there are a few other ebooks which are available in both the US and UK (and in Canada and elsewhere). These are titles I published myself to Kindle Direct, including the stories 'City of the Dead'[, 'Dr Pretorious and the Lost Temple', and 'Prisoners of the Action', the short story collection Little Machines (originally published by PS publishing), and two collections of Quiet War short stories, Stories From The Quiet War and the latest, published just last week, Life After Wartime.
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