A dystopian tease

As I mentioned in this post a couple of weeks ago, I’m writing a short story for an indie collection that will appear later in the summer. Well, I’ve finished it, and it’s the longest short story I’ve ever written. I promised that I would reveal its title as a teaser, so… [internet drum roll]… here you go:

The Information Monster

And now, as an extra teasy teaser, here’s the opening line:

“The darkness is our friend,” whispered Sigi.


This is the Atacama Desert – the driest place on Earth. They tested the Mars Rover here. It’s rather inhospitable. And a great setting for a story.

You can’t say you haven’t been teased! The Information Monster takes place in the Atacama Desert in Chile in 2053, and the main genre it fits into is science-fiction. It also belongs to a sub-genre called dystopian fiction: what happens when society goes wrong. One of the most famous dystopian fictions is Orwell’s 1984. (Although in North Korea that book is filed in the non-fiction section.)

The final ebook will be a novel-length collection of new voices in indie publishing and I’ll keep you posted on its publication details as soon as I get them. I haven’t read any of the other stories yet, since my fellow authors are delivering theirs this month too, but I’m very excited about the project.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Cory Doctorow’s self-publishing insights

Cory Doctorow is a science-fiction author who has lived his life inversely to me, in the sense that he was born in Canada and moved to Britain. In this recent interview he talks about a range of issues related to self-publishing, including DRM (Digital Rights Management, in other words, file copying restrictions), traditional bookstores, and copyright. Here’s his very interesting take on the definition of self-publishing:

To be self-published is not to prepare a file for distribution, nor to put it in an e-commerce system, it is to have and execute on a theory of how to connect the audiences with the works you are publishing. And unless you can elucidate that theory and test it and act on it and revise it, you are not publishing, you are merely formatting.


Cory Doctorow, sitting at his desk. And presumably working, although he could just be pretending to work so the picture looks good. Photo by Jonathan Worth.

This is a great definition. Writing in a journal every night and locking it in a bedside drawer isn’t self-publishing. Making an ebook and uploading it to Amazon is almost identical to locking it in a drawer, in the sense that no one will know it’s there. That’s why connecting with an audience is the key to self-publishing. There are a thousand-and-one theories out there about how to do that, and my job as a publisher (who happens to be publishing my own works) is to filter through those theories, concoct one of my own, try it out, and see whether it’s working.

Of course, self-publishing might not mean attempting to actually sell any books. For example, I’ve already connected with an audience of thousands with Silent Symmetry through my Amazon free promotional days. But this is all part of a long-term professional marketing plan. Maybe there should be a distinction between the two activities – finding readers and selling books – although “professional self-publishing” is a very unwieldy term to describe the latter. Then again, it’s not as unwieldy as selfpropub or proselfpub or ishouldjustgotothepubinsteadofthinkingaboutthis (though some would say I’m already a pro at the last one of those).

Marketing probably seems distasteful to some self-published authors. These are the types who believe that if they put their work of genius “out there”, fellow geniuses will discover it and they will be lauded and feted and get laid.

This is at best pretentious and at worst simply lazy. In Britain, self-promotion is often frowned upon. Interestingly, the British idiom for showcasing your talent is “to blow your own trumpet”, while in North America it’s “to toot your own horn”. But here’s the bottom line: if you’re a creative individual who doesn’t blow your own trumpet, all you’re doing is sucking on your own horn.

The Guardian begins serious coverage of self-published authors

On Thursday, Britain’s Guardian newspaper began a series on self published authors with this article on Polly Courtney. In her interview she describes the negative experience she had when her third book (following two self-published novels) was marketed by HarperCollins in the UK:

Polly Courtney

Polly Courtney. Photograph: Hanna Palmer.

When I signed with HarperCollins, I thought “Great! This is the golden ticket I’ve been waiting for!” I thought it would be a great collaboration between me and the publisher, given my success self-publishing my first two novels. The reality was a big disappointment. The publisher seemed intent on pushing my books into pre-existing moulds (“misery lit”, “chick lit”) that didn’t reflect
the contents.

“Brand Polly Courtney” was increasingly muddled, leading to confusion for readers. It turned out that my editor hadn’t actually read my first two books. There was no marketing budget, which meant that it was up to me to promote each book. This wasn’t a problem per se, but my job was made hard by the frivolous book covers and titles assigned to them. I actually felt ashamed of the product. Now I’m back to self-publishing, I’ve regained control.

20 FERAL YOUTH Front cover Amazon

The Guardian appears to be making a genuine effort to provide its readers with coverage of self-published books such as Polly’s novel Feral Youth, which will be released next week. I’ve already touched on the issue of gatekeepers and quality control mechanisms in the traditional publishing industry as well as the ones that are springing up for self-published authors, such as the Awesome Indies website, independent reviewers, and the True Review Pledge. But one of the principal gatekeepers that has always existed in the world of traditional publishing is professional reviewing of new books in newspapers and magazines.

Reviews that appear in quality newspapers like The Guardian are trusted by the readership and have a huge influence on consumer behaviour. Many self-published authors are not writing with any expectation of profit, but for those that do, influencing consumers is the way to bridge the gap between amateur and professional status.

I’m already a professional writer (copywriting, book sales and translation work account for 100% of my income) so that gap doesn’t exist in quite the same way for me as it does for other self-published authors. But whether professional or not, pretty much every author, myself included, would like their work to be read by as many people as possible. Mind you, “read” isn’t necessarily a synonym for “consumed”. I’ve managed to give away over 5,500 copies of the Silent Symmetry ebook, and presumably the vast majority of those copies will be read at some point in the near future. Some will also be shared with family members and maybe some even pirated, which leads to even more readers but no actual consumption in a financial sense. For me, as an unknown author, this is all part of a professional long-term marketing plan. But it if that plan doesn’t ultimately translate into income through sales, it has failed.

So what makes people lay down their hard-earned pounds, dollars and yen (yes, Silent Symmetry has readers in Japan!) and buy a book? Trust. That’s why The Guardian’s series is an enormous step in the right direction for self-publishing. Of course, any single book may turn out to be rubbish, whether traditionally or self-published, but at least positive coverage for the indies in the mainstream media increases the overall credibility factor for self-publishing, and may encourage more readers to consume books that authors such as Polly Courtney have laboured so diligently to write and market.

On another note, if any self-published authors out there have the slightest idea why the Silent Symmetry ebook was downloaded over 2,500 times last week in the US but only 9 times in Canada and 58 in the UK, I’d love to hear their theories! Since Facebook,  Twitter and blogs are essentially international, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these figures are so disproportionately skewed in favour of the US. More copies were downloaded in India than in Canada where I live and wrote the book! As Jerry Seinfeld used to say, “What’s up with that?”

“Liking” that means really liking, not just Liking

Silent Symmetry received a very short, but positive review today.

The reviewer wrote that she (I think it’s a she) likes “getting free books to see how I like the author.” At first I glossed over this, but then realized that she had managed to succinctly encapsulate the entire raison d’etre behind running free Kindle promotions like mine for Silent Symmetry that ends today.  It’s to give readers an opportunity to get to know you as a writer, as simple as that. If you’re an unknown author, then by definition they don’t know you. And the reality is that people buy a novel because of the author’s name as much as because of the story or the reviews. (I, for example, am still waiting with baited breath for Cervantes to come out with a new book because I thoroughly enjoyed his last one. Come on, Miguel, get a move on…)


Cervantes was, quite literally, an egghead.

Actually (thinking aloud here, as per my typical blogging methodology), it’s not so much the author’s name, but what that name represents that matters. Maybe an author makes a reader laugh out loud, or feel warm and fuzzy, or excited, or sexy, but whatever that feeling is, it’s exactly what a reader hopes will be repeated with the author’s next book. And THAT is what my new reviewer was talking about. If she likes the feeling, she’ll come back for more.

Maybe I should get a T-shirt made with a big Facebook Like logo on it…

Frugal, free and flying high on Amazon

Silent Symmetry is listed as a Frugal Freebie on the website of the same name. Why? Because it’s free today and tomorrow!

Click here to go to the Frugal Freebies website.


Attaining an alliterative apogee. Also an annoyingly addictive activity. Arrgh! Anyone? Aidez-moi!!

In other news, the promotion is going great guns, with Silent Symmetry currently sitting at #4 on Amazon’s free Kindle Science Fiction Romance chart (who doesn’t love a bit of sci-fi romance, let’s face it!) and at #5 on the Teen Literature and Fiction Ebooks chart.

I’m almost at an alliterative apogee with this post, by the way.








Photo credit: jurvetson / Foter.com / CC BY

New short story

Right now* I’m working on a new short story that will appear in a collection of works by indie authors sometime around the end of the summer. It’s a good way to get back into the swing of writing fiction every day before I head out into the uncharted territory known as Starley’s Rust, aka the sequel to Silent Symmetry that some people seem to be clamouring for.

The story is science fiction. I’ll post its title in the next couple of weeks as a teaser, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here’s a photo. It’s significant in the story.


Ever been teased by a radio telescope? You have now.

(Can we still say “stay tuned” now that everything’s digital? “Keep your eyes glued to the screen” seems a bit much. “Heads up – there might be a tweet flying by!” could work…)

Oh, and the story features one of these.

Teasing over. Back to work.

*DISCLAIMER: Obviously right now I’m writing a blog post. That’s because I took a short break from the story. But I’m publishing this post and getting right back into it. Promise.

Photo credits: Source: ESO, Author: ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Indie Book of the Day! Today! Right now! (Please ignore this headline if you aren’t reading it today)

You know, you send out these submissions like messages in bottles, and once in a while one of them not only arrives on a distant shore but is opened by someone who likes what they read in the message, possibly because they have drunk the half-litre of scotch that was in the bottle too. Whatever the reason, today Silent Symmetry is the Indie Book of the Day on the appropriately named Indie Book of the Day website. Here’s the link: BIG LINK.


Now the IBD badge isn’t just a laurel wreath wrapped around what looks like a trampoline. No, it’s also a seal of approval from one of the gatekeepers for self-publishing that I was mentioning in my other post today. Sites like IBD don’t give away their awards easily. I submitted Silent Symmetry to IBD months ago. Someone who reads a lot of books took the time to read it, compared it to other books and decided that the site’s membership should be told about it. Okay, so it’s not a Pulitzer or a Booker Prize, but this is how independent publishing works: a myriad of little ants beavering away (clearly schizophrenia exists in the animal world) to construct an edifice of mud and spit in the shadow of the publishing industry brontosaurus.

Now to apply for the award for Bad Use of Metaphors using Animals that are Chronologically and Historically Exclusionary award, or the BUMACHE Prize, as it is known in blogging circles…

Self-published genre fiction takes off in Britain

News today from the UK that self-published titles now account for 20% of ebooks sold in certain genres: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/11/self-published-ebooks-20-per-cent-genre.

A typical publishing industry genre fiction gatekeeper.

Interestingly the counter argument from a publisher quoted in the article refers to the industry acting as a gatekeeper, which I discussed (with myself, as most bloggers do!) in a previous post here. The thing is, the gatekeeper issue is getting fuzzier. Mainstream publishers routinely pour their marketing budgets into celeb-penned books and name-brand authors, while websites that act as gatekeepers for self-published books gain more traction with every passing month. Maybe it’s because they’re truly independent?

Photo credit: info@djophoto.com / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND