Reflections on 2018

This has been The Green Man’s Year for me, and who could have predicted that a year ago? Cheryl of Wizard’s Tower Press and I were aiming to get the book out for Eastercon, with the expert input of Toby for editing, and Ben’s outstanding artwork. If we made oh, say, a few hundred quid over and above our meeting our costs, that would count as a success. Reader, we did that in the first six weeks… As the year draws to a close, we have sold over 8000 copies – and that’s before the current sale.

What has this meant for me, beyond the massive boost to morale after a few years in the publishing doldrums? For a start, I now have the budget for attending Dublin 2019’s WorldCon in the bank, and that eases my mind tremendously. I could also afford to go to Octocon in Ireland last October, and to travel to Baltimore for the World Fantasy Convention. I was able to replace my aging and increasingly flaky computer, and buy a new printer to replace the even older and more temperamental incumbent.

Beyond the practicalities, writing a book that’s reminded the publishing industry that yes, I can spin a yarn that a whole load of people love to read, has significantly improved my chances of placing a new fantasy novel/series. So that’s what I’m working on, alongside plans for a Green Man sequel from Wizard’s Tower Press. I’ve also enjoyed myself writing an alternate history short story for ZNB’s 2019 slate of anthologies.

Though those people who’ve said to me, with all goodwill, that the bigger publishers must be kicking themselves for not picking up Green Man, are somewhat behind the times, as far as the book trade goes. Something that this experience, and the year more generally, has shown me, is how massively the book business has changed in the twenty years since The Thief’s Gamble was first published in January 1999. Those who did turn The Green Man’s Heir down for the mass market did so after honestly assessing the commercial chances of this very different style of book from an author best known for epic fantasy, and concluding that the odds were against it. Who’s to say they were wrong, as far as that particular bookshop/supermarket sales environment goes? Not me. But these days, the mass market is by no means the only game in town and that really is the game-changer. We’re seeing time and again that small press and ebook-led titles can succeed online in a wholly new way. For writers, this underscores how vital a hybrid career is becoming; combining independent projects with mass market writing.

Serving as a judge for the 2018 World Fantasy Awards showed me still more aspects of the changing nature of publishing and the SFFH genre. Online publishing and publicity, as well as fans’ ever-evolving digital reading habits, have given shorter form fiction like novellas and short stories a massive boost. We saw a wealth of excellent submissions, both individually and in collections and anthologies. We also saw novels from small, independent presses as good as anything from the mass market publishers. A significant element across all the submissions, regardless of length or publisher, was the presence of voices hitherto minimised or excluded in the last decade or so of mass market, hard copy publishing where the blunt instrument of commercial pressures skewed everything towards what was perceived as the centre of the readership bell curve.

As a judge, I saw these new voices, from indigenous writers, from writers of colour and various diaspora populations, from authors across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and others besides, bring fresh perspectives and unexpected twists to classic SFFH themes and ideas, enriching and broadening the genre. This has definitely also invigorated white, western writers, encouraging them to explore new ideas and influences – as well as challenging them to up their game, because these more recent entrants really can write. If you think anyone got on this year’s WFA shortlists as any kind of token, or by being held to some lesser standard on account of some undeserved credit, think again. As judges we were unanimous on that score.

This trend towards an inclusive, expansive and diverse genre was a feature of all the conventions I went to this year, both in terms of programming, and in the informal conversations around the bars and restaurants, alongside discussions of the shifts in publishing and new opportunities arising from such changes. This really is an interesting and exciting time to be writing, though equally, it’s no time to be complacent. Decades of cultural inertia still take a lot of shifting. Thankfully, readers and fans are increasingly aware of that as well. My essay on challenges and barriers to broader participation on SFFH writing was shortlisted for a 2018 BSFA Award, which I find very encouraging, as well as a tremendous honour.

I could go on, but it’s Christmas Eve, and I have things to do. So now that I’ve looked back on this rewarding year, I’ll wish you and yours a happy holiday season, however you choose to celebrate at this time of year. I’m signing off social media pretty much till the New Year, so see you in 2019!

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