On Saturday I was a guest at Edge-Lit 2, an SFF literary convention held in Derby. I’d been to the previous year’s event and also to an iteration of AltFiction that was held at the same venue, so I was really looking forward to it.
Whilst I only did one panel this year, it was momentous in that it was my first time moderating. Luckily I already knew most of the panelists (see names in photo), so that helped to make it a more relaxing experience. I had sensibly prepared some notes beforehand (OK, at 11pm the night before, when I couldn’t sleep for nerves/excitement!), so it wasn’t difficult to get the ball rolling. Read more
I’m a bit later with this report than intended, mostly because I had so much fun at Eastercon I was too exhausted to process it!
This was my third Eastercon, and whilst last year’s was memorable for very personal reasons, this year was pretty good too. I’d been a bit doubtful about the location, as the convention venue was mainly a conference centre and had few bedrooms, meaning most people had to stay in city centre hotels about two miles away, but a constant flow of free minibuses meant that this was only a minor inconvenience. A bigger problem, as with Birmingham, was the lack of good places to eat within easy walking distance; the conference centre provided a relatively inexpensive buffet at lunchtime and in the evening, but the food was about the quality you expect from cheap mass catering. Fortunately we found a US-style diner over the road, where the food was excellent (though the service was very slow). However, enough about logistics – what about the convention itself?
There was a good selection of panels and of course the traditional Saturday evening live screening of the latest Doctor Who episode, complete with bags of jelly-babies (and a few technical glitches, so I’ll probably watch it again on catchup TV). A great new addition to the programme was the “genre get-togethers”, which were a series of informal book-signing-and-mingling-with-the-authors sessions. This was also an opportunity for authors (or their publishers) to give away books to interested readers, rather than putting them into goodie-bags at random only to be thrown away. Angry Robot kindly supplied me with a box of The Alchemist of Souls, so I was able to give some away at the get-together and the rest soon disappeared from the “free books” table on Sunday!
I was on three panels, the best of which was probably “The Changing Portrayal of Gender and Sexuality in SFF”, which moderator Penny Hill turned into a cozier discussion format than the usual “five people behind a table” panel, with lots of contributions from the audience. I also went to a couple of other panels: one on non-Western SFF, and a flash fiction contest featuring my friend and fellow Angry Roboteer Emma Newman (below).
Emma won the contest, and my side of the room won the quiz that Lee had put together to keep the audience entertained during the writing, so our plan for world domination continues apace. Also, it appears that I know more Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang lyrics than the average SF geek, which is maybe not something to boast about!
The non-Western SFF panel also gave me an excuse to talk to Stephane Marsan from Bragelonne, a French SFF publishing house, and we ended up having a long chat in the bar about Asterix, European children’s TV in the 70s (remember the Czech Mole cartoon?), and Kenneth Branagh’s Othello (filmed in Italy, with French actress Irene Jacob as Desdemona). It wasn’t all networking, though; mostly I just hung out with old friends from previous conventions (Sarah Newton, Emma Newman, Mike Shevdon, Adrian Faulkner, et al) and made new ones, or at least met people I already knew online (e.g. Brian Turner from SFF Chronicles). It was a lot of fun as always, if exhausting, and I’m now I’m really looking forward to the rest of my conventions this year, especially World Fantasy in Brighton.
Now, I really must go and sign up for Eastercon 2014…
I had planned to do a proper report on PicoCon, which I attended last weekend, but since I was unable to go on Saturday it felt a bit unfair to judge the whole event by the second day. So instead I’m going to give an entirely subjective and informal account of my day there, followed by a bit of news about EightSquared aka EasterCon 2013.
PicoCon is a small but long-standing SFF convention based at Imperial College, London. Traditionally it’s been a one-day event, but this year the organisers decided to extend it to two days. As with most such arrangements, the second day tends to be the quieter of the two, and since that was the day I attended, there wasn’t a lot happening that I wanted to go to. In fact, to be honest the main reason I went was because Richard Morgan was a guest of honour (see my review of The Steel Remains), and as far as I’m aware he doesn’t attend many conventions so it was a rare opportunity to meet him.
The morning kicked off at 10.30am with a talk by Morgan – and as a result I had to be pretty damned early in order to get a train into London, a tube to South Kensington and then locate the registration desk and lecture theatre. Thankfully this mission was accomplished, and I arrived in plenty of time. The talk itself was very entertaining: Morgan began with a reading from his forthcoming novel The Dark Defiles (the third in the A Land Fit for Heroes series) – thankfully spoiler-free, since I haven’t yet read The Cold Commands! Afterwards he solicited questions from the audience and we got a lot of insight into his writing process – he admitted he has serious trouble planning novels, which was rather comforting! – and his attitude to violence. I haven’t really digested all of the latter yet, but the gist of it is that he sees humans as innately violent and hardwired to be suspicious of strangers, but considers that to be a poor excuse for actual violent/racist/sexist behaviour.
After the talk he did an informal signing in the seating area outside the lecture theatre, which turned into a long chat with us fans, including fellow writers Michela D’Orlando and James Buckley whom I’d met at previous conventions. As a result I didn’t get my hardback copy of The Cold Commands signed before he went to lunch, so I attended another panel he was on in the early afternoon (a general discussion about SFF by writers and editors) and then hung out with him and the others until it was time to go home.
All in all it was a pretty good day, and my only complaint would be that the bar was an awful long way from the lecture theatres, which reduced socialising options a good deal.
I don’t have a lot of details at this stage, except that I’m reliably informed I’ve already been pencilled in for at least one panel (on cities in SFF) and probably several, so it’ll be another busy working convention for me. I shall be at the convention all weekend (around midday Friday to midday Monday), so I hope to see you there!
2013 is going to be a little quieter for me than 2012, but I still have a fair few events lined up so I thought I’d look ahead to the rest of the year. You know, in case you fancy catching up with me, getting a book signed or whatever!
PicoCon is a small convention, formerly only one day, that’s held at Imperial College in south-west London. I shall definitely be there on the Sunday in time for guest Richard Morgan’s talk, and will no doubt hang around for a good chunk of the day. I don’t have any programme events lined up, however – I’ll just be there to hang out with my SFF buddies (and get my copy of The Steel Remains signed!).
As far as I know the programme for Eastercon (aka Eight Squared) hasn’t been organised yet, but I’ll be there for the whole weekend and there’s bound to be some kind of signing event for The Merchant of Dreams – just ask at the Angry Robot stall in the dealers’ room!
13 July: Edge-Lit, Derby
Another great little convention, currently only one day but well worth attending. The Derby QUAD is a great venue, and since the con is small it’s a great place to dip your toe in the waters.
Another fantastic one-day regional convention with a strong programme and a great location (I went to university in Bristol, so maybe I’m biased…). I usually do a couple of panels, and hopefully I’ll get a reading slot for The Prince of Lies.
Last Saturday saw the return of BristolCon, the small but perfectly formed SF convention based in the city of the same name. It was my second year of attending, and though it’s a long way to go for a one-day convention, it’s well worth a visit. The programming is always excellent, managing to avoid the usual tired topics that get recycled every year at the larger conventions in favour of such delights as “Toilets in Outer Space – practicalities for a fantastic world” and “Women in Sensible Armour”. I attended the latter, which of course started off with general ridiculing of chain-mail bikinis but soon diverged into related topics such as women in the military and women passing as men. Of course it covered some of the same ground as many panels on gender, but the specificity of the title gave the panel a focus and direction that it might otherwise not have taken.
My own schedule was fairly modest: a place in the mass signing tables, a panel and a reading. A couple of girls from Fantasy Faction turned up with copies of The Alchemist of Souls for me to sign, which was gratifying, and I think Forbidden Planet sold all but one of the copies they’d brought with them. The panel, on “The Evolution and Future of Steampunk” was lively, to say the least, but the very dapper Philip Reeve did a splendid job of keeping us all in order. After the panel I read from The Merchant of Dreams; just a small excerpt from the end of Chapter 5, since it was only a ten-minute slot. Nevertheless it was well-attended, and I hope has whetted a few more appetites for the next book.
I was also interviewed by Mary Milton for ShoutOut Bristol – that will appear on one of their shows soon. I was a bit nervous, so hopefully Mary has been able to edit out all my hesitations and ramblings!
At the end of the day there was a short ceremony to thank the guests of honour, at which Gareth Powell was given the best GoH gift ever: a stuffed toy monkey in a flight suit., aka Ack-Ack Macaque. As Gareth’s fans will know, this is the eponymous character from his new book, due out in January next year (the same day as the UK paperback of The Merchant of Dreams, as it happens).
By Saturday night I was really tired and therefore decided to go to bed a little earlier than I normally do at conventions; an unwise decision as it turns out. I had just got into bed and started to feel sleepy when I was woken by the fire alarm! I pulled on jeans and a warm top over my nightie and headed to the stairs… Fortunately it was a warm dry night and we didn’t have to stand outside too long (it was a false alarm caused by a lift malfunction), and it gave me an opportunity to finally corner Marc Gascoigne for a chat about cover designs for The Prince of Lies
BristolCon 2013 is scheduled for October 26th, i.e. the weekend before World Fantasy. I shall be at both, of course, so I hope to see you there!
Pinterest in the new kid on the social media block that debuted in 2010. Taking a leaf out of Tumblr’s book, it’s a social media scrapbook, encouraging you to share pictures with your friends. Each image is called a “pin”, and you can organise them into “boards”, or categories. As with other social media, you can follow other people and they can follow you; images pinned by you and your followees appear on your homepage. You can then pin them to your own boards, so that your followers get to see them, or just comment or like them, as on Facebook.
At first, Pinterest was invitation-only—I picked up an invitation earlier this year through fellow author Jody Hedlund, whose blog I follow (somewhat erratically)—but it’s now open for everyone to sign up. So why would you want to? What use is a virtual pinboard to a writer? We deal in words, not pictures, right?
Well, they do say that a picture paints a thousand words, and visual material can really help to spark your imagination. Sure, you could spend hours on Google image search, but Pinterest feeds you a constant stream of material chosen by real people rather than a computer algorithm. I do find I have to be selective, though; some of the people I follow have quite a diversity of boards (image categories), and whilst I might be interested in some, others just clog my feed with irrelevance. Thankfully you can follow individual boards rather than a member’s whole collection.
This all sounds very jolly—and it is!—but there’s a catch. Whereas other social media revolve around words and informal images (e.g. photos of your cat that you took with your phone camera), Pinterest’s focus is on sharing professional-quality images. Most people cannot easily create this kind of content, which means that most members’ chosen images are predominantly or wholly created by other people. I think you can see where this is going…
What it boils down to is that it’s against Pinterest’s T&C to distribute images without permission from the copyright owner. Whilst I totally sympathise with artists whose work is being distributed for free, I don’t see how this can be squared with social media. The whole point of Pinterest is to share interesting images, and if you can’t rely on other users to obey the rules and only pin images they have the rights to (which you obviously can’t), that means you are breaking the rules unless you follow every image back to its source.
Personally I feel there’s a big moral difference between redistributing high-resolution artwork that’s intended for sale (especially if you remove any link or attribution) and linking to pictures that have been used for illustrative purposes only, but legally there is no difference at all. At any rate, I try to restrict myself to pinning book covers (which is generally considered fair use since you’re helping to promote the product), public domain artwork, and small photo-illustrations – and I always ensure I link back to the originating site.
Because of these problems, I find it difficult to wholeheartedly recommend Pinterest. Yes, it’s fun to browse the beautiful images your friends have found online, and liking/commenting is harmless enough, but you’ll have to decide for yourself how comfortable you are with breaking the law…
This year was my fourth FantasyCon and the second one in Brighton. As ever it was an excellent convention, with the added advantage of a great location by the sea.
Having been unimpressed by last year’s venue, I booked into the nearby Queen’s Hotel. It’s another old hotel like the Albion so the room was a touch shabby, but clean and spacious—and with a sea view at no extra charge. The fact that my room number was 101 was a little disturbing, but nothing ominous happened over the weekend, thankfully!
As often seems to happen at FantasyCon, I failed to attend much of the programming. There were a few reasons for this. In the case of the panels, there weren’t a great many, and they fell into three categories: the “how to” ones for aspiring writers (no longer of much use to me!), the once-interesting topics that I’ve seen again and again and sometimes even participated in (gender in fantasy – yawn), and topics I’m just not that interested in (anything about horror, for starters). So, not necessarily a bad selection, just not of much interest to me. As for readings, they were once again held in the small room on the front of the hotel that gets baking hot whenever the sun shines; it was bad enough in there at my own 11am reading, so I didn’t feel inclined to suffer a second time! That said, the reading went very well, and I got some good questions from the audience.
Mostly I hung out in the Regency bar (much less hot and stuffy than the seafront lounge), catching up with the multitude of friends I’ve met at previous Eastercons. This is getting harder and harder, as I know so many people now—my sincere apologies to anyone I missed! I went to the mass signing and got my copy of Before They Are Hanged signed by Joe Abercrombie, and although I didn’t have a formal signing session of my own I ended up signing several copies of The Alchemist of Souls just through being approached by readers (mostly friends, admittedly!). Also, Lee from Angry Robot gave me another set of author copies, this time CD boxed sets of the audio version, so I dare say I’ll be giving away one of those. Watch this space!
The one type of event I do try and catch is the Guest of Honour interview, and as usual these didn’t disappoint. I only made it to the Mark Gatiss interview, but apparently the rest were excellent as well. Gatiss was interviewed by Mark Morris, and the result was a long train of entertaining anecdotes covering his dual career as actor and writer. I particularly recall his description of being cast as Doctor Lazarus in Doctor Who; he said that the original script read “Lazarus emerges from the capsule, a blond Adonis”, but the final version that they filmed just said “Lazarus emerges from the capsule”! He also mentioned how much fun it was in Sherlock, playing around with people’s expectations that he would be playing Moriarty, e.g. Mycroft’s line about being Sherlock’s worst enemy.
I ducked out of the convention for a couple of hours after that, firstly to have my now-traditional fish’n'chips on the promenade—a somewhat surreal experience, with the full moon overhead and a motionless carousel playing traditional fairground calliope music—and secondly to watch the Doctor Who season finale on TV in my hotel room (unlike Eastercon last year, they didn’t show it at the convention itself). Add in a cup of tea whilst watching the telly, and my evening was about as English as you can get!
Saturday ended with the now-traditional FantasyCon Disco in the bar, ably hosted by Rio Youers and Guy Adams, with a little help from Sarah Pinborough. We danced and sweated from 10.30pm until the wee hours, though I confess that I bailed at 2am with aching feet. Still, I got off more lightly than Tom Pollock, who won his dance-off against Joe Abercrombie despite a sprained ankle which swelled up horribly the next morning.
On Sunday I had another official duty, and this time something that I couldn’t announce in advance. About a fortnight before the convention I got an email from fellow debut author Kameron Hurley, asking if I would accept the Sydney J Bounds Best Newcomer Award on her behalf, since she wasn’t able to make it to the UK. Thankfully all I had to do was introduce the video of her acceptance speech, but it was still somewhat nerve-wracking and I was relieved when all the photography was over! Nonetheless it was a huge honour to do it, and my thanks and congratulations to Kameron, who is now a multi-award-winning author on this side of the Atlantic.
It wasn’t all convention activity this weekend, though. Brighton is a great place to shop, and so I came home with two pairs of Terra Plana trainers (one pair free in the sale), a beautiful suede handbag and more Montezuma chocolate than was entirely sensible. Also, after the convention’s Dead Dog Party had begun to wind down, I went out to dinner with Lou Morgan, Adam Christopher and Will Hill, for steak, prawns, wings and a huge maple-pecan-brownie ice cream sundae (Lou and I shared it because, you know, we’re not total pigs!). A lovely end to a great convention; can’t wait for World Fantasy in Brighton next autumn!
Goodreads is an online reading community that’s grown rapidly in the past couple of years, easily outstripping LibraryThing and other rivals. You can use it to help manage your book collection, post reviews and ratings, and join in online bookclubs. And if you’re a writer, once you have a book out (whether self-published or through a conventional publishing house), you can upgrade your account to “Goodreads Author”, which makes it easier to find out what your readers think of your book!
As I don’t get a lot of time for reading these days, I don’t have much experience of the reading side of Goodreads. I’ve added a selection of books from my shelves, though it’s by no means comprehensive, and I use it to maintain my to-read list. If you do want to add books to Goodreads and have a smartphone, they do a great app that includes a barcode scanner—it only works with fairly recent books that have the long ISBN numbers, but it speeds up the process considerably.
Once you have an author account, you’ll get a dashboard that gives you easy access to all your books as well as a bunch of widgets to use on your website plus other promotional tools.
I’ve written elsewhere about why I read reviews, but whether or not you choose to read them I think Goodreads deserves a special caveat: do not trust the numbers! Because it’s a large busy site, they cache a lot of the statistics (total numbers of reviews and ratings, average ratings, etc) and you will soon discover that these numbers differ on different parts of your dashboard. At the time of writing, my dashboard says I have 77 text reviews but I can find only 75. Sometimes this is because people write comments in the ‘review’ field before they’ve finished and rated a book, and Goodreads doesn’t filter these out. And if a reader changes their mind about a rating, both values may be listed for a day or two. For the sake of your sanity, take the figures as a rough guide only!
Also, as with all reviews, don’t let the lower ratings get you down. You can’t please all the people even some of the time, and I’m sure you know of plenty of well-written and/or popular books that you didn’t enjoy, so cut your readers some slack. And sometimes those 1-star ratings are from people who haven’t even read your book—they may for example be attempting to “train” the suggestion algorithm by downgrading books that don’t look interesting. No fun for you, but luckily these people are in a minority.
Goodreads have created a range of buttons and widgets that you can incorporate into your own website, such as the “Read reviews on Goodreads” button that I use in my little promo box in the margin of my blog. I advise caution when it comes to the interactive widgets, however; Goodreads is down quite often, which means your widget will be empty or even slightly broken-looking whenever that happens.
Other promotional tools
If you have physical copies of your book, you can arrange a giveaway before it comes out or up to six months after publication. In my case my publisher did it for me, in the US at least, and nearly 900 people signed up! Of course a great many of these unlisted my book when they didn’t win, but around a third still have it listed as to-read, so it’s definitely an effective promotional tool. Note that you can’t give away ebooks; I don’t know if this is to prevent the system being swamped with self-published titles (since most self-pubs are ebook only), or whether the abundance of free ebooks means they aren’t seen as a valued promo, but either way you’re limited to print copies and the expense of postage that entails.
Free tools include a Facebook fan page app and the ability to set up a Q&A group, but I’ve never managed to get the former to work and I have yet to try the latter. I guess I’m worried that, being a debut author, no-one would turn up, and it would just be me and the tumbleweed!
If you’re self-published you might also want to consider advertising your book, but I know nothing about this side of Goodreads.
In summary, Goodreads is a great site to connect with readers—just don’t let yourself get obsessed with the numbers!
An unexpected post today, as I belatedly* received my Worldcon schedule this morning!
Thursday 30th August
Friday 31st August
9-10.30am Panel: Writing gender roles in science fiction
1.30-3pm Panel: “To Be” or not “To Be”: constructed languages in SF&F
Saturday 1st September
10.30am-12pm Panel: Why I love my editor
So, a busy couple of days at first, then I’ll be chilling out on Sunday so that I can enjoy the rest of the con without collapsing in a heap!
* I didn’t receive my confirmation email at the same time as everyone else – must have been lost in the ether, or perhaps caught in a spam trap? – so on impulse I contacted the organisers yesterday, just in case. So glad I did!