Kitschie shortlists reflect the “mainstreaming” of spec.fic

The Kitschies have become a fixture of the speculative award season,  joining the Hugo and Nebula’s, BSFA and Clarkes as among the most interesting awards in SF.

This year The Kitschies reflect the new emerging reality of speculative fiction – the most interesting and creative work in speculative fiction isn’t coming from within the field, but from outside it. The mainstream of literature and publishing have embraced spec.fic in all its forms. And they are now creating significantly more interesting work than the “genre fiction” community where spec.fic is most popular.

In contrast, genre fiction is retreating ever further in to what is generally called “core genre”. Books that please a shrinking coterie of hyper-specialised fans, while being somewhere between confusing and unreadable for general readers. Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is the favoured “core genre” novel of the year, and likely to feature widely on award shortlists. As I discussed in my recent column for The Guardian, it’s a book of big ideas marred by a problematic writing style. And as Nina Allen commented in her review for Arc magazine, even those ideas are far from cutting edge.

Does this “mainstreaming” of speculative fiction matter? In absolute terms, it is only a good thing. Better books, with better writing, that delve deeper in to the themes that speculative fiction opens,  are simply a sign that the field is continuing to develop. But in relative terms for the genre community where spec.fic is most popular, it poses a challenge. Hang on to a “core genre” becoming increasingly irrelevant, or open up to the new horizons the field is advancing toward. To me, there’s only one possible answer.

The Kitschie Award Shortlists

The Red Tentacle (Novel), selected by Kate Griffin, Nick Harkaway, Will Hill, Anab Jain and Annabel Wright:

Red Doc by Anne Carson (Jonathan Cape)
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon (Jonathan Cape)
More Than This by Patrick Ness (Walker)
The Machine by James Smythe (HarperCollins / Blue Door)

The Golden Tentacle (Debut), also selected by the above panel:

Stray by Monica Hesse (Hot Key)
A Calculated Life by Anne Charnock (49 North)
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)
Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)
Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (Atlantic)

Read the full shortlists here.


Piracy is the least of publishing’s many problems

With the rise of indie authors and the closure of bookshops, piracy is an easy scapegoat for publishing’s woes.

The community of SF writers has reason to dislike digital copying, or “piracy” as it’s commonly labelled in the tabloid press. Genre writers exist, by and large, in the publishing mid-list, where mediocre sales might seem most easily eroded by the spectre of illegitimate downloads. SF, fantasy and horror are also the literature of choice for the culture of geeks most likely to share their favourite authors’ works on torrent sites. Not surprising, then, that many professional genre writers and editors respond to the growing reality of copying with the absolutist position that piracy is theft, and should be punished as such under the law.

But SF writers are far from united in that position. Novelist, blogger and digital rights activist Cory Doctorow is well known for providing free digital copies of all his books as a marketing strategy, arguing that in a digital economy, obscurity is a far greater threat than piracy. Charlie Stross blogged such an effective argument against digital rights management on ebooks that it influenced at least one publishing imprint to drop DRM on its novels. And interviewed on the subject in 2011, Neil Gaiman, ever the gentleman, kindly points out that if you are a writer courting fans, screaming “THIEF!” at them and threatening legal action for copying might be … counterproductive.

Copying and file-sharing are the internet’s word of mouth – and as all good booksellers know, it’s word of mouth that really sells books.

Of course the easy response is that Doctorow, Stross and Gaiman are all successful writers who can afford to hold such opinions. But like most easy responses, it misses the fundamentals of the argument. Successful writers understand the marketplace they are working within, and they understand that digital copying and file-sharing, like all disruptive changes wrought by technology, create as many opportunities as problems. The digital economy operates on the model of the long tail, and copying is part of how a book or any digital creation moves up the tail. Copying and file-sharing are the internet’s word of mouth – and as all good booksellers know, it’s word of mouth that really sells books.

It’s at the confluence of file-sharing and self-publishing that a new kind of “artisan author” is emerging. In his guide to self-publishing, Guy Kawasaki with co-author Shawn Welch coins the term APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur. Kawasaki argues that by fulfilling all three roles, writers open tremendous new creative opportunities for their work that major publishers are too slow and cumbersome to meet. Self-published writer Huw Howey, whose collection of SF novellas, Wool, became an ebook bestseller before it was published by Century and the film rights bought by Ridley Scott, says that he and the pirates “are tight”; he loves his readers, “even the ones with eye patches”. For a self-published author like Howey, downloads from torrent sites aren’t a sale lost but a reader gained, the sites themselves not dens of piracy but places where people who are fans of cool stuff go looking for new cool stuff to be fans of. For the artisan author, self-publishing is a preference and file-sharing is an opportunity.

Creative control is the lure for the artisan author. Want to hand-make limited editions of your book and sell them on Etsy? You can. Want to find a kick-ass illustrator on deviantART to make your cover? You can. Want to set up a Kickstarter to fund the next volume of your epic fantasy saga? You can. Want to make a marketing deal with a sponsor who likes you brand? You can. Want to put copies of your book on Pirate Bay to find new readers? You can. The options open to artisan authors are huge, and the potential for creativity truly exciting. In the past, writers have relied on publishers to make these creative decisions for them, but the changes in digital publishing mean that many writers are not just creatively but financially better off either going it alone or negotiating new kinds of relationships with publishers.

If the rise of the ebook and the growth of file-sharing are a huge meteorite careening towards Planet Publishing, then the artisan authors are gambling on being the fast, adaptable mammals who will crawl out from the rubble of Random House and feast like cannibals on the dismembered careers of dying mid-list writers and their editors. If the artisan authors are right, then file-sharing is the least of the problems traditional authors face. They are tied to a publishing eco-system that may simply be too big and too slow to adapt to the extinction-level event of digital technology.

Originally published on Guardian books.

Does the Wheel of Time deserve a Hugo award?

The Wheel of Time began turning in 1990. Initially planned as a trilogy, by the time of author Robert Jordan’s death in 2007 the series had grown to a mighty 12 volumes. Working from Jordan’s notes, Brandon Sanderson added a further three volumes of eternal struggle. This sprawling fantasy epic has gone on to sell some 44m copies in north America alone, with global figures estimated as closer to 80 to 90m. That may be about a squillion times more than every Booker prize winner put together, but The Wheel of Time remains oddly unacknowledged beyond the fans that adore it.

Read more @ Guardian Books

The DOs and DO NOTs of getting your book reviewed

Writing a regular column for The Guardian on weird books, I get asked by writers of all kinds to read their latest tome. And sometimes that question becomes “how do I get my book reviewed?” In the age of social media and the internet the book review is a much different beast than it once was. A tweet from Neil Gaiman can be much better publicity than a national newspaper book review today. And a groundswell of interest from fans talking on blogs can shift more copies than old style book clubs. So while I’m discussing this in terms of “getting reviewed”, it might just be better to think of this as some thoughts on how to get people talking about your book. And as most authors – whether indie or traditionally published – have to do their own publicity these days, I think these apply equally in both cases.

There are two overarching issues to consider in relation to publicising a book. The first is quality. The brutal, but eminently fair truth, is that good books attract more reviews than bad ones. So if the following advice garners you 0 book reviews, the bottom line is you need to write a better book. The second is to put yourself, as a writer, in the shoes of the people and publications who review books. Book reviews, for better or worse, do not exist to help writers. Or to sell books. Consequentially, reviews and the wider conversation about books are not fair or balanced. There is no committee giving reviews out to the writers on the basis of merit. It’s not difficult to think through what any given outlet gets from its book reviews, but you have to see things from their perspective before that will happen. These do’s and don’t will help you see it that way.

DO NOT issue a press release.
Press releases are a relic of the mass media, when a limited pool of news sources communicated to a limited number of news outlets. If you want to hear cursing and swearing, go and ask anyone who works in the media how they feel about the relentless torrent of press releases from incompetent PR agencies clogging up their email inbox.

DO put coherent publicity information on your website (and have a website)
Have a page for media enquiries on your website. On this page have an extract from your book, a synopsis, your author bio, author photo and book cover. Images at resolutions for print and the web are a nice bonus. Make it obvious all this material is rights cleared. Also useful can be a few bullet points that help shape what a review might say. IE if I want to write about Jeff VanderMeer and his first bullet point describes him as “ultra-orthodox amphibious author Jeff VanderMeer” then that’s likely how I will describe him in the review.

Whoever it was this week who spammed the entire membership of the SFWA begging for award nominations has probably done themselves no favours in actually getting any. Email exists on a trust system, the trust being that you do not abuse the time and energies of people who make themselves publicly available. But how do I get people’s attention? I hear you cry. Read on.

DO win the respect of super-fans

You can try and get reviewers like myself or newspaper and magazine editors to review your work. But in truth, most such people don’t decide what’s new and exciting on the basis of who emails or tweets us. If I want to know what the tastiest fruits of the science fiction genre are, I wait for a super-fan like Paul Weimer to tell me. If Paul, as a fan who dedicates a lot of his time to reading new writers, tweets that he loves anew book, I take that very seriously. In the US / UK spec.fic communities, there are a few hundred serious and dedicated fans who, when you really get down to the way things are, are arbiters of much of what succeeds in the genre. And of course, many of these super-fans are also writers, editors, reviewers etc etc. DO NOT SPAM THESE PEOPLE EITHER. How do you win their respect? Engage – respectfully – with the fan community. Get involved in their discussions. Go to conventions. By definition, fans are paying attention. If you build it, they will come.

DO NOT make overblown and hyperbollic claims
“BOOK X by AUTHOR Y is the next Stephen King IF he had given birth to a love child with Daphne Du Maurier.” OK, so, I would probably read that. But in general the hyperbole that hits my inbox and fills out too many book descriptions on Amazon is not even that imaginative. When an unknown indie writer makes these kind of absurd claims, it makes them seem naive. When it comes from major publishers, its actually more off putting. Think about the super-fans above. These are not stupid people, and they know their beloved genre very well. If the new author is NOT the next Stephen King (they never are), then they will rightly wonder why you said they were.

DO tell people what your story is
And by this I do not mean the story of your book. If you want a publication of any kind to publish a story about your book…then what is the story? News stories, are, by definition, new. We’re in a little bubble where “indie author becomes Kindle millionaire” is a story. But it’s already deflating. The new story is “indie author turns down publishing deal”. Anyone who does that in the next six months is a story, but not afterwards. “Random unknown man publishes horror novel”, isn’t a story. “Stephen King publishes horror novel” is a story because King is a famous public figure. But here I make a guarantee, if your book is creative and good in its own way, there is a story behind it you can tell people to engage them. Finding that story behind the story is the key challenge in any marketing / publicity task.

DO NOT fake popularity
If you follow 52,345 people on Twitter, you may well get 52,345 people to follow you back. They are about as interested in you as you clearly are in them, which is not at all. If you buy 52,345 Twitter followers, or 523 Amazon reviews, a three page spread in the kind of publications that will sell you such a thing, people can tell. Authenticity is in fact the most valuable thing of all, and by faking you’re public popularity you resign all claim to it.

DO talk about your victories…and your defeats
A lot of people are scared to promote themselves. The simplest advice I can offer to overcome that fear is, just talk honestly about what you are doing as a writer.  Did you just sell a three book deal? Great, tell me. Did your book die half way through second draft? Great, tell me. Sometimes it can seem, as a writer, like the world is full of writers. But the truth is, you’re doing something both special and hard by dedicating your life to the art and craft of writing.  If I follow your blog or Tweets, it’s because I want to check-in on how your journey is going, and how it is changing you. So tell me!

The most important resource for any digital nomad

Over the last few months I’ve met with and spoken to dozens of digital nomads in Chiang Mai to research my feature article on the nomad lifestyle – Slouching Toward Nimmanhaemin. I’ve chatted with dozens more online and via email, and followed the progress of hundreds of nomads through their blogs and on social media. People interested in pursuing a digitally nomadic lifestyle can find great advice from successful nomads like Erin and Simon at Neverending Voyage, the Legal Nomad Jodi Ettenberg and Spartan Traveller Clayton Cornell. And I’ve captured some lessons from my own digital nomad experience – 4 steps to going nomad and the 3 core qualities of a digital nomad. But there is one truly essential resource that all digital nomads rely on, and every nomad I have spoken to has thought about it either directly or indirectly.

The network.

Digital nomads are a 21st century counter culture. The choices they take today will shape how we live and work tomorrow.

Read Slouching Toward Nimmanhaemin at The Ascender 

On the level of technology this is obvious. The internet – the network of networks – is the foundational technology without which digital nomads could not work. Websites, blogs, social media, podcasts, even just simple email. Without the now ubiquitous frameworks of the internet the idea of running a global business from a remote corner of the world would simply be unthinkable.

But it’s the intangible networks of human relationships that are most valuable to successful digital nomads. And precisely because they are hard to see, they are too often neglected by people who set out on the nomad trail. They are as important in any traditional creative career path, but when you add the additional dynamics of travel and the digital nomad community itself, it’s hard to overstate how central the network is.

If a web designer in Chiang Mai is working regularly it’s because they’re connected to a widespread network of other designers, and have likely been cultivating a network of clients for some years. If a coder in Ho Chi Minh City is equaling the income they might have made in Europe of America, it’s because they know the network of the programming world that can bring that work to them. For an entrepreneur the equivalent networks include business advisors, venture capital funds and other investors and so on.

For creators of all kinds, artists and even jobbing writers like myself, those networks can be tremendously complex. The more creative the task, the less established and obvious its networks are. Earlier this week I spoke to a well established painter whose work sells across the United States and Europe and who spends nine months of the year in Chiang Mai. When he isn’t absorbed in the creation of his work – the main reason he chooses to live in Thailand – he is busy maintaining relationships with the few dozen collectors who admire his work, the galleries and agents who represent it, and the fellow artists whose work it is conceptual related to. It’s this network of less than a hundred people that allows him to practice as a professional artist.

Because the technology of modern networks is so shiny and impressive, it’s all to easy to waste a great deal of time and money on it. You can spend £$thousands on computers and equipment, invest weeks in developing a website, and hours of every day in generating content and placing Google and Facebook ads. And these can all be worthy investments. But only if there is a network there to engage with your product – be it high art, a business start-up or an online app. Beyond the quality of your project – which is always paramount – it is the health of the network supporting and engaging with it that will determine its success.

(As an aside, it’s worth noting that the primary reason many digital nomad projects are directed at digital nomads is because this is the first and most obvious network many have to work with. And it’s not a terrible starting point. But, it is a limited network unless you can quickly reach beyond it.)

The most valuable question you can ask of any new idea, project or business is, what network does it engage with? What is your existing network? How can you grow your network? Who are the other people and businesses that you will naturally connect with if you execute your idea? Building a network is a whole skillset in and of itself, but it is not one any digital nomad can afford to ignore. And being aware of its importance is the first step to engaging with it.

I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now.

Yesterday I spent the evening with the Green Papaya sangha at the Yoga Tree in Chiang Mai. Around forty people where there, many regulars, some visitors like me. The sangha – a Buddhist term for a spiritual practice group – are in the Plum Village meditation tradition. A little different from vipassana meditation, which trains students to analyse their thoughts, Plum Village is more slanted towards engagement with the present moment.

We did three sessions of meditation – one guided, one walking, and one silent sitting. For the walking meditation the meditation leader recited a chant to help pace our footsteps.

I have arrived.
I am home.
In the here.
In the now.

Being in the here, in the now, is at the heart of – not just meditation – but all spiritual practice. But it is soooooooooooo hard! And another load of oooooo’s and it’s sill harder than that. The mind – my mind, your mind, our mind – isn’t very good at being where it is. It likes to be in either the past – remembering what has already happened – or in the future – imagining what is to come.

If you have some spare minutes, sit quietly for a while and watch what your mind dos. Label the thoughts that arise. Are they of of the past? Of the future? Are you perceiving the present moment? You’ll find that very little of your time is spent in the here and now.

What you remember of the past is not real, just a memory. What you imagine of the future is not real, just a projection of your hopes or fears. The only thing that is real is where you are, in the here, in the now. There is no past or future, just the ever changing now.

The first time I encountered this idea was through the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. It’s the pivotal idea in his now world famous book The Power of Now. But I heard it in a recording of a four day retreat conducted by Tolle, published as the Journey In To Yourself. I was 30 and, by any measure, deeply unhappy. I’d been pushing down a lot of horrible emotions from a damaging childhood, grief from many losses, and had trapped myself in a life I didn’t fit in to from a desperate need to fit somewhere, anywhere. I had no kind of spiritual practice at all. I was a standard issue atheist, and any encounter I had with religion was edged with inherited and unexamined scorn. Consequentially, I really had no tools to process the pain I was feeling. Today, my argument with the radical atheist rhetoric of people like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett – both of whom I had read heavily at university – is that it leaves the bulk of its believers utterly amputated from their own emotional reality. It certainly had me. I was miserable, and in trying to escape from the causes of the misery I’d driven myself, repeatedly, to the borders of emotional collapse where I had, at long last, collapsed.

So downloading a talk by an odd sounding German guy from Audible was probably, on the level of latent spiritual instinct, a last ditch attempt to pull myself out of a very dark place. For some reason I lay down on the floor of my apartment to listen to Eckahart Tolle’s characteristically odd voice as it pipped out of my laptop. And the next thing I knew, I was caught up in uncontrollable laughter…not that I was making any effort to control it. Not the laughter of scorn and anger that so much modern humour is rooted in. Not truly the laughter of humour at all. But the laughter of release. Massive, explosive, unexpected release, like a lock had been unpicked to the chain holding my emotions in place. And the key was Eckhart Tolle’s words about past and future, and our mind’s obessive need to escape to one or another, away from the present.

Walking in meditation with the Green Papaya sangha I remembered that first moment of radical contact with the present. The first time I had arrived, home, in the here and the now. And in the studio of the Yoga Tree, I found myself there again. “Home” is a very good word for the here and now of the present moment. When you come back to the present, even for a second, and regardless of where you are, however foreign it may be, it feels like arriving back at home. It’s why I think meditation, yoga and other spiritual practices are so common among travellers. Once you have found the present moment, you carry your home with you wherever you choose to travel.

It is easy to wander off the path and loose your home though. For some months after getting there, with the help of Eckhart Tolle, I felt elated, ecstatic, barely part of the world any more. Liberated, in a very real sense, from the sadness I had been carrying around. As I later discovered from the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield, this is a common period in a meditation practice. Inevitably, it is followed by a return to normality. I spent the next four years trying to understand that experience, reading widely about Buddhism and other spiritual paths, and learning to meditate. That period culminated on a trip to California in late 2011, where I spent most of three weeks meditating and running on the beach in San Diego. In the two years since then that spiritual practice and meditation have settled in to the background of my life. I’ve returned to more worldly pursuits, spending more time on my writing career again.

Padding in circles at the Yoga Tree, I realised I had lost the moment for a long time. In day to day life it’s so easy to stay wrapped up in your memories and imaginings of past and future. It’s easy to sit down and meditate and spend an hour thinking through your hopes,fears and ambitions and never hit the here and now once. This is both natural and sad. It’s like being right outside the front door of your home, but never going in, staying on the cold steps outside instead. Last night, for a while at least, I came home again.

I have arrived. I am home. In the here. In the now.

There is a 21 day meditation retreat at Doi Suthep, the temple above Chiang Mai. Later this year, I’m going to go and do it.

The poem above is by Thich Nhat Hanh. You could read it and an extended talk by the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher here.

The Indie Sci-Fi Revolution

In late 2012 Hugh Howey was an unknown writer of science fiction, even to most dedicated science fiction readers. And yet he had sold over 250,000 books, optioned film rights to the legendary Ridley Scott, and agreed a six figure book deal with major publisher Simon & Schuster. All this before his dystopian sci-fi novel had even, in traditional terms, been published.

Howey has gone on to become the poster boy for a small but quickly growing band of sci-fi and fantasy authors who are independently publishing their own books, and making a small fortune in the process. These ‘indie authors’ are surfing the crest of a wave driven by the rise of the e-book, the smartphone and the Amazon Kindle. And the popularity of the sci-fi & fantasy genres is putting them at the cutting edge of the revolution.

Sci-fi and fantasy writers have always had an air of mystery. Men and women in high castles sharing their outlandish visions of other worlds. We know them by their attention catching names; Issac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, China Mieville. Or the enigmatic middle initial employed to give that air of mystery; Arthur C Clarke. Robert A Heinlein. Iain M Banks. J R R Tolkien. Their books are proclaimed as winners of the Hugo or Nebula awards, as though the powers of the universe had decreed that you must read these books.

These mysterious authors and their wondrous stories fascinated a generation of young sci-fi and fantasy fans, growing up in the sprawling suburbs and grey cities of the mundane world. Through the decades sci-fi evolved as more than just B-Movies and pulp fiction, but as part of an escapist counter-culture. It could be hard to find. Books had to be hunted out in the back rooms of 2nd hand bookshops. Finding a stash of Analog or New Worlds magazines at a car boot sale in Bracknell was the geek equivalent of striking gold. And many sci-fi fans held the same dream, that one day it might be their middle initial gracing the cover of a sci-fi novel. A dream that, until very recently, seemed nigh on impossible.

And then came the internet.

In the land of the technically incompetent, the semi-HTML literate geek is king.

Sci-fi culture had already grown to embrace comics, role-playing games and video games, and a rapidly multiplying number of film and television franchises. But with the internet came the realisation that, even if you were the only sci-fi geek in your family, school or entire town, you were not alone. There were thousands and even millions of geeks, all over the world, and now they could talk to each other. And sci-fi fans didn’t just populate the internet with Star Trek sites, they were building the technology of the web itself itself. In the land of the technically incompetent, the semi-HTML literate geek is king. And geek culture took to its new status with gusto.

Sci-fi and fantasy writers now have a celebrity status that reaches far beyond sci-fi fandom. Neil Gaiman isn’t just a rockstar writer of kick-ass fantasy, he’s the leader of a tribe of 1.8 million Twitter followers that makes him one of the best known entertainment brands in the world. Cory Doctorow doesn’t just write groundbreaking visions of the near future, he’s influencing the world of today as a leading voice of tech culture. Being a sci-fi writer is now seriously cool, and seriously big business. And tens of thousands of people are after the job.

Until very recently, getting a gig as a sci-fi writer meant penetrating the labyrinthine world of sci-fi publishing. The major sci-fi imprints like Del Rey, Tor, Gollancz and Orbit have been gatekeeping what does or does not reach the shelves of major bookshops – and hence the imagination of most readers – for many decades. Some argue that those gatekeepers ensure quality in pursuit of creativity, others that they stifle diversity in pursuit of profits. The truth is probably equal parts of both. But the gatekeepers have lost control of the gate, and a mob of ambitious wannabe sci-fi writers are pushing their way through.

In early 2010 Amanda Hocking was a struggling, unpublished writer living in a tiny apartment in Minnesota when she chose to self publish one of her completed manuscripts. Amazon’s independent publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing had then been active for just over two years. But the platform, which allows writers to self publish an ebook to anyone with a Kindle device for up to 70% royalty, was still unproven. Hocking uploaded her first book to the Kindle store, the Twilight inspired urban fantasy Switched, expecting only to earn a few hundred dollars to pay outstanding bills. Six months later Hocking had sold 150,00 copies of her Trylle trilogy, and is now estimated to have earned over $2.5M from Amazon ebook sales alone.

The time and discipline required to write a great book are still beyond all but a very few.

The roster of authors joining Amanda Hocking in the ‘Kindle Millionaires’ club has grown steadily. Fantasy author J.R.Rain has sold a reported 400,000 books through the store. Between them Tina Folsom’s 14 paranormal romances have sold over 300,000 copies. B V Larsen and H P Mallory, both prolific authors with dozens of novels for sale, have reported sales of over 200,00 copies each. Brutal economics underly the massive popularity of the Kindle platform with indie writers. With a 70% royalty, compared to as little as 5% offered by major publishers, writers stand to keep much more of the profits of their labour.

Tens of thousands of indie writers are now flooding the Amazon store, and its competitors; Apple iBooks and Kobo, with a tidal wave of indie published sci-fi books. A recent hunt for quality self-published sci-fi books conducted by The Guardian received over 800 recommendations, but found only 5 worthy of publicising to readers. Self-publishing an ebook is technically within the reach of almost anyone who wants their share of stardom, but the time and discipline required to write a great book are still beyond all but a very few.

But for those who can, indie publishing may now be the first choice for talented young writers. At least Hugh Howey believes so. “Self-publishing is the best way to launch a career.” Claims the worlds bestselling indie author. Rather than spend years whooing agents and editors, writers can now get their best work directly to readers. “Your books never go out of print. Both the ebook and the print on demand book will be available for decades. And you own your work forever.”

Howey’s words reflect the attitude of many indie writers, for whom self publishing is as much about taking and keeping control of their own creativity as it is about becoming the next Stephen King. But Howey is clear that in the age of indie publishing, it is readers who chose the sci-fi stars of tomorrow. “You will be responsible for connecting with readers, for promoting your works, for answering emails, for all the things that give your work a fighting chance. If you aren’t interested in doing these things, self-publishing is not the way to go.”

Originally published in SFX magazine.

Thanks to Hugh Howey for his contribution.

My Top 5 Picks of Indie Published Sci-Fi & Fantasy Novels

Wool by Hugh Howey
Mankind clings to survival in underground Silos, where dystopian government rules and justice is harsh. But is the world above all that it seems? Gritty storytelling built around a classic Hard SF concept.

Switched by Amanda Hocking
Wendy Everly is just an ordinary young woman, until she meets Finn Holmes and discovers her true royal heritage. Fans of Twilight will enjoy this urban fantasy saga.

Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan
Epic fantasy may have gone to the dark side, but Thief of Swords drags it back to the more light hearted and humorous side of sword & sorcery.

Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales
A group of astronauts marooned on the Moon, a forgotten Nazi artefact and a quest through parallel dimensions, all wrapped up in classic golden era sci-fi style. What more could you ask for?

The Vorrh by Brian Catling
Bakelite robots lie broken – their hard shells cracked by human desire – and an inquisitive Cyclops waits for his keeper and guardian, growing in all directions. A classic of weird fiction praised by the great Alan Moore himself.

Kitchener’s coin will fuel the fantasies of UKIP

Liberal Britain’s complacent attitude to its own colonial history is a gift to the nation’s resurgent far right.

First published at New Left Project.

Symbolic issues are fiercely fought over by politicians because they matter. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the decision by the Royal Mint to place Lord Kitchener’s head on the new £2 coin got its political stamp of approval from the standing Tory regime before it was announced to the public this week.

No doubt Lord Kitchener’s pivotal role in the development of the concentration camp was raised at the relevant committee meetings. The Germans horrified the world with the strategy of confining and starving the women and children of an enemy population, but it was the British who deployed it to brutal effect in the Boer War. Kitchener’s actions in South Africa saw an estimated 26,000 innocent women and children die of disease and starvation in these camps.

That alone would seem sufficient to keep Kitchener from being honoured on our coinage. The iconic ‘Your Country Needs You’ recruitment poster that made Kitchener’s moustachioed visage famous played a pivotal role in luring a generation of young British men to their deaths in the trenches of the Western Front. They were told it would be over by Christmas, but Kitchener knew better. He had seen wars of barbed wire and machine gun, and drove the recruitment of the nation’s largest ever army to feed in to the meat-grinder of mechanised warfare

Liberal Britain has been slow to muster a response to the new £2 coin. Fantasy writer Juliet McKenna’s blog post on the subject is an informative insight in to what leads otherwise perfectly nice people to consent to a war criminal on their coinage. World War One, in McKenna’s assessment, has been safely rewritten as a Very Bad Thing. Everyone has seen Blackadder and read Michael Morpurgo. We don’t need to worry about representing a hero of colonialism on our coins, because everyone will view the image through the pacifist tinted worldview of liberalism.

It’s a good thing that Michael Gove is on hand to remind us not everyone likes Blackadder. Indeed beyond the middle class, theatre going world the liberal worldview is very far from universal. Or even widespread. For many Britons, as Gove well knows, any war fought by Britain must be supported as a just war. But the complacency in McKenna’s argument goes deeper still. It assumes that Britain’s imperial history is, indeed, history. That the very same forces of greed and expansionism that lead Kitchener to brutalise the children of  Africa are not still at play. That they did not lead us in to the tragic, futile wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. And that they do not fuel our powerful—and profitable—weapons industry today. These are not just complacent assumptions. In the face of a resurgent right wing, they are frankly dangerous.

But authors of epic fantasy aren’t the only people content to see a British colonial hero on the £2 coin. A far worse kind of fantasist is cheering at the news. Will the legions of embittered supporters of Nigel Farage interpret Kitchener’s moustachioed visage as a salutary lesson against Britain’s imperial history? For UKIP, the Kitchener coin is a massive victory delivered by a home goal from the liberals they despise so deeply. It is the symbolic return of Britain as world power; the Britain that ruled the waves; the Britain that damn well didn’t let Bulgarians in the country, but sent heroic men like Kitchener out to subdue them by the sword. That’s the nasty fantasy that is UKIPs narrative of our imperial past. And from now on it will be stamped on to every new £2 coin in the land.

How did this come to pass? There’s a whole cabinet of Tory and Lib Dem ministers who might have had a hand in the affair. Who might have stood up for Kitchener? Who has the undoubted rhetorical skills to justify the presence of Lord Concentration Camp on the £2 coin? Who might have argued that Britain should not be ashamed of its imperial history? That much good came from Empire? That traditional values should be respected, and that a Conservative government should not back down from employing nationalistic symbols like Kitchener in the face of potential outrage from the left? To me, all this smacks unmistakeably of Michael Gove. Are you going to let him get away with it?

The sci-fi you will be reading in 2014

Science fiction has arguably been the mainstream of pop-culture since the internet displaced TV at the centre of our lives. The younger, geekier internet audience is living in a weird, complicated world, and sci-fi provides the metaphors that let us talk about it en masse. Young audiences aren’t stupid, and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire isn’t killing the box office just because it’s the latest teen sensation. It’s how a generation growing up in the ruins of late-stage capitalism are articulating the experience. And SF today is articulating an ever wider range of experiences.

Read more @ Guardian Books

Stop wasting your time on trivia

A thought for the new year of 2014.

There is a lot of noise in modern life. Finding your meaning is sometimes a matter of filtering everything out except the signal you need.

Set aside anything you do that is on this list. Competing for status baubles. Trying to look like someone on TV. Comparing your car / house / job with your friends. Worrying about your hair. Holding a grudge. Eating for comfort. Trying to help other people solve their problems. Running away from shadows. Living like you’re in a soap opera. Chasing after girls / boys / entities. Dreaming of the future. Mourning for the past. Being the narrator of your own drama. Greasing the machinery of power. Sucking up to a clique. Playing online poker. Counting your gold. Caring how others see you. Waiting for the phone call. Waiting for the email. Waiting for the status update. Waiting for anything. Working for The Man. Raging against The Machine. Arguing on the internet. Congratulating yourself for being clever. Berating yourself for being lazy. Any and all time spent in shopping malls. Gossiping. Collecting reward points. Categorising your collection of anything. Working in marketing / advertising. Being a banker. Being unemployed. Being underemployed. Being scared.

If you weren’t doing all of that, what would you be doing?

Go do it.