Dear Damo : Why isn’t my space opera novel selling?

Welcome to the first in a new series of blog posts where I answer your questions about life, love, and self publishing. All names are changed to protect the innocent.

Send your questions to me on Twitter @damiengwalter using hashtag #DearDamo

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Dear Damo!

I’ve always wanted to be a BESTSELLING writer! So, a few weeks ago I sat down and wrote a bestselling novel in a genre I know to be super popular…SPACE OPERA! My book it has space ships, space battles, space marines and even space cadets! My book is on Kindle now…but it isn’t bestselling! This surprises me because space opera novels are huge bestsellers! I also went the extra distance and made my space opera novel an EPIC space opera cover! It’s of a space ship that looks like that cool one from Aliens and it’s in orbit above a gas giant planet which is all swirly colours…how could that not stand out! What’s wrong with people?!

Yours,

Lucas

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Dear Lucas,

I’m glad you’re having fun being a bestselling author, even if the bestselling part hasn’t shown up yet! That’s the spirit!

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However…what you describe here is a common problem among many self published authors. We tend to assume that if something is successful, other things like it will also be successful. To an extent, this is true. Some people like to read within one genre, and big bestsellers can have a “halo effect”, as readers look for another hit of a story that gripped them. BUT, like a goth kid who wants to be unique but ends up one of thousands wearing identikit black eyeliner and DM boots, copying popular trends like “space opera” actually has the opposite effect. Tens of thousands of other people had exactly the same idea, and their books also have space marines and a space ship orbiting a gas giant on the cover.

So what’s the answer? Great writers have an instinct for the kinds of stories that will grab an audiences attention, stories that are both comfortingly familiar and indescribably new and different. Harry Potter wasn’t the first story about a kid who goes to magic school, but J K Rowling twisted archetypal elements and blended genres to create something truly new. Technology opens up surprising & powerful ways of analysing data about successful stories, with platforms like K-Lytics offering detailed reports into the “hot niche” sub-genres that are coming into popularity.

Always, always, always write what you are passionate about. But once it’s written, you can use research and analytics to find the best niche genres to market your work, and then create a cover design that really stands out for that audience.

Hope that helps!

Peace & love!

Damo!

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Urban Fantasy : more than just sex with were-leopards

The numinous. The weird. The fantastic, or even the spiritual. Whatever name it goes by, humans have a profound need to glimpse some greater reality beyond our mundane existence. And there’s nowhere more mundane than a modern city, where everything down to the light fittings is human-made, and even the darkest alley is under CCTV surveillance. If there is anything numinous in modern London, it must be perfectly camouflaged in the colours of a Caffè Nero.

Read more @ The Guardian

Three hard earned lessons on building a Patreon

This was originally published as part of my regular newsletter, which you can sign up for here. Over the last 4 months I’ve built up my Patreon account from $18 to $176 and with luck it’ll carry on growing ;) Here are three lessons I’ve learned.

1. Getting new backers is hard! But worth it.
A monthly donation, even of $3, is something most people put a lot of thought into before committing to. Even though patrons can stop at any time, most people don’t want to start unless they’re going to continue. But once a backer does sign up, it’s like having a new friend, and a great boost to your confidence as a creator.

2. Your patrons are people who like you and your work.
Patrons are often more interested in you, and seeing you succeed, than in just getting a new story or essay to read. Of my 32 patrons, not one is a family member or close friend. But they are people I have connected with through my writing, and that I often talk with on platforms like Twitter. It’s a great feeling when those people decide they value what I do enough to help me carry on.

3. Patreon is a creative space.
I soon realised that Patreon was, for me as a writer, a space to create in, not just a place to collect donations. Throughout July I’ve been posting a daily series of posts on overcoming creative fear, and connecting with the signal of our creativity. These posts have also become a discussion forum for my patrons, and future posts will be guest authored by some of them. And of course they’ve helped to attract a number of new backers.

Later this year I’ll be publishing a serial fiction as part of my Patreon work. I’d love it if you got involved.

Science Fiction is a global language describing our shared future

First published as part of the Impakt Festival 2012.

In 1873 Jules Verne described the remarkable possibility of a journey made around the world in only eighty days in his pioneering science fiction novel. Less than a century later the same journey could be made in less than eighty hours. The facility of science fiction to help us absorb the future-shock of such radical and high paced technological change goes someway to explaining its influence in the contemporary culture of the developed world. And as developing nations are swept upin the tsunami of new technologies shaping the 21st century, the culture of science fiction becomes a global language describing our shared experience.

China is managing a technological revolution on a scale unprecedented in human history. In just a few decades it has navigated stages of technological development that proceeded over centuries in Europe. As is well documented, it now challenges in economic and industrial might that other behemoth of high-speed technological development – the United States of America. So it’s not entirely surprising that among the many models for development China shares with America, is the cultural influence of science fiction.

In October 2012 the World Chinese Science Fiction Association will award it’s annual Xingyun (Galaxy) Awards for SF. The Xingyun are similar to the American dominated Hugo awards, and will be given in Beijing, at a convention only slightly smaller than the WorldCon at which the Hugo awards will be announced just two months earlier. But in other regards Chinese SF fandom dwarfs its American counterpart. SF World magazine claimed at its peak a circulation of over 300,000 copies, with millions of readers receiving the magazine second hand from friends. It’s a scale no American SF publication has reached since the Golden Age of magazine fiction publishing in the 1950s, when Amazing Stories defined Science Fiction as a genre.

Liu Cixin is unarguably the leading voice in Chinese science fiction. An eight time winner of the Xingyun award, his work has been celebrated for setting the positive, forward looking character of Chinese SF. It’s another notable echo of America’s Golden Age, when writers like Robert Heinlein expressed America’s post-war future as a global super-power. By the 1980’s with the emergence of cyberpunk authors including Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, American science fiction reflected a far darker vision of technology’s impact on the human condition, one dominated by hyper-capitalism and political corruption. Will Chinese SF take a similar turn in to darkness and cynicism? For now it is content on the whole to explore the manifold wondrous possibilities technology holds for our future.

Liu Cixin shares a background in the hard sciences and computer technology with the majority of the readers of his stories and of Chinese SF as a whole. As a literary genre SF does little to please the reactionary audience for contemporary literary fiction. But through the 20th century it emerged as the culture of choice for the people doing the hands on work of making the future happen – the engineers, programmers, designers and various creatives most exposed to future-shock. It’s the geeks who love SF, in books, comics, films and video games. And as geeks have taken over the world, geek culture has become inextricably part of mainstream culture, so that now ideas born in SF, of space travel, intelligent machines and cyber-enhanced humans, have become common place.

What in the West evolved as an outsider culture has in China been embraced as an essential component of technological development. In a 2011 talk at the British Library world famous author Neil Gaiman explained his perspective on the transformation of science fiction from subversive outsider art to government approved culture in Chinese society. China has established itself as the powerhouse of global manufacturing. But it also wants to invent and design the products it manufactures, and to capture the creative ingenuity that still resides primarily in the United States. The geek culture that powers that creativity is a culture in love with science fiction, and to encourage one means implicitly to encourage the other.

The century ahead of us promises to deliver only more and faster technological change. And China is, all agree, where that change will come fastest. The culture of science fiction will undoubtedly become a culture influenced and perhaps dominated by Chinese creators. The role of science fiction then is to continue to communicate the accelerating rate of change shaping the world we all share.

This is why Amazon’s ebook lists are full of crap

Recently I was talking to a friend who reads intensely, but has no interest in or knowledge of publishing. He’s a coder, who reads a half dozen non-fiction books a week. This is the kind of reader the industry needs. He’s also the kind of reader who until last year bought ebooks and print exclusively from Amazon. Now he doesn’t even look at their site. Why?

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My friend liked to use Amazon’s bestseller lists to find new reads in specific categories. But now, my friend says bluntly, those lists are full of crap. Above is a screencap of the category bestseller list for Political Philosophy from Amazon.com. And low, it is indeed full of crap. With #1 #2 and #4 positions occupied by a series of pamphlets that amount to nothing more than an internet flamewar being played out, not on some obscure forum, but on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

And I literally mean that these “books” are just long blog comments reformatted as ebooks. They have ZERO content of any interest to an actual reader looking for works of Political Philosophy. Nothing. Zip. Nada. Theodore Beale hates John Scalzi, so he wrote a very long list of ways in which he has been wronged and published it as an ebook. Alexandra Erin found the thing so hilarious she wrote a parody and published it. Fans of Beale published a response. The outcome? Three totally inconsequential works of nothingness occupy the top spots on Amazon’s prime marketing space.

Imagine a reader who knows nothing of the Beale / Scalzi argument – which is basically everyone in the world except about 300 scifi fans – buying any of these books. What will they make of “John Scalzi is a r¢$^¥t?” Who knows, but I think its fair to say there’s a major risk they won’t buy from Amazon again.

There’s a lot of information in the world, most of it junk. We all need sources we can rely on to show us the rare non-junk info. While Amazon is competent at selling ebooks, it has completely abandoned any effort to help readers find quality information. It’s bestseller lists are so easily gamed that a clique of crazy scifi fans have hacked all the top spots without even trying. That’s a serious chink in the armour of one of the world’s most powerful businesses. And it’s losing them the attention of readers like my friend.