Recovering from Xmas? I can only hope that this is because it was very merry indeed… on with my retrospective on 2012…
While it’s been a chaotic year on a personal front, things have been decent from a writing perspective. It hasn’t been a year of plenty – and that should come as no surprise given the other stuff I’ve been dealing with – but what I’ve seen published this year has been work I’m very proud of. It hasn’t all been plain sailing with the writing itself, and behind the scenes I’ve dropped the ball at least once on a major project that I need to make good on, but in the publishing front I can be satisfied with a year that put quality over quantity.
With everything that’s been going on, it’s oddly appropriate (and mostly coincidental) that the stories I’ve had in print this year have weaved around faith and the end of days.
World’s Collider – The first short story I saw in print this year was ‘Twitchers’, my contribution to the mosaic novel that is World’s Collider. It’s an odd book to try and describe. An anthology of stories set in the same world, each telling it’s own short story while also progressing the plot of the book to its conclusion. A novel in many voices, is how we often refer to it. The book kicks off with a disaster at the Large Hadron Collider that tears a hole to somewhere other, and tracks the slow subjugation of the planet over several years. ‘Twitchers’ is set towards the end of the book, bringing one of the supporting characters to the fore as a last desperate grab for the world’s destiny is initiated. It’s a genuinely unique book, one I’m flattered to have had the chance to contribute to. The book has had some good formal reviews, and if the Amazon comments are to be believed readers have for the most part got behind what we were trying to do.
Dark Faith: Invocations – Actually, the last thing I saw in print this year. My story in this anthology is called ‘The Sandfather’, and like my contribution to the original Dark Faith in 2010 is a painfully personal tale that fictionalises parts of my life that I rarely talk about directly. I think it works well as a story, though I’m probably too close to it to say that with any authority. What I can say is that this book as a whole is a wonderful examination of faith in its many guises. The tone is broader than the first volume, and the lighter stuff nicely balances the darkness in other tales. I really do think this is a top tier anthology, and am therefore all the happier that ‘The Sandfather’ made the grade. Reviews have been slow in coming, which surprises me a little, but where the likes of Fangoria and Rue Morgue have picked it up they’ve given excellent reports.
His Work To See – A story that was first published over a decade ago under the title ‘When The Stars Threw Down Their Spears’, and which led me to eventually write Thy Fearful Symmetry (below). For a long time, this tale of an angel and demon paying the ultimate price for the most innocent crime was attached to that novel as a prologue. When it came to rewriting TFS ahead of publishing it though, I removed the prologue again – it never quite worked for that purpose, and threw the pacing of the novel off. I released it as a separate chapbook instead. It was supposed to be free – a sort of sampler to encourage people to buy the book. That plan was thwarted by the mighty Amazon, who simply won’t allow me to list the cover price as zero. Other stores had no problem doing so, and it’s been downloaded for nothing for the Nook, Kobo, on iTunes, and so on, many times over. I’m not convinced that any of the people downloading it have necessarily gone on to read the novel though. On Amazon, I was forced to set the price at 99 cents, and it’s hardly moved at all. The novel it’s supposed to promote has ended up outselling it hundreds of times over.
From a publishing standpoint then, this can only be considered a failed experiment, having not to achieve what it was supposed to. I don’t regret publishing it this way though. It will remain free at those stores which list it as such, and maybe Amazon will one day notice that it’s the only retailer that is charging for the tale, and price match it to nothing. I like the story, and am glad it isn’t consigned to the cutting room floor. Putting this little book together also gave me a chance to commission art from Malcolm McClinton, and it’s always a pleasure to find an excuse to work with that man.
Thy Fearful Symmetry – If you’ve popped by at all this year, you already know that this novel is the visible result of about six months worth of effort and investment. Preparing, publishing, and launching the book has soaked up much of my summer and autumn, and it’s been worth every second. The novel is set in Glasgow, and places the city at the centre of the apocalypse. At its core, this is a book about faith – what people believe in and how that powers or destabilises them.
So far, Thy Fearful Symmetry has far exceeded my hopes for it. On sales alone, it’s now outsold everything else I’ve ever written, and been downloaded thousands of times more on the handful of days it’s been available for free. Dedicated reviewers have given it a universal thumbs up (it even ended up on one best of the year list, which I’m still amazed by), and readers at large have responded to it enthusiastically (reader reviews on Amazon are plentiful and overwhelmingly positive, with only a couple of exceptions).
When I self-published Cuckoo in 2011 the mission was reasonably straightforward – I was just trying to bring the only full length novel I’d had published back into print, so it was available again. With Thy Fearful Symmetry, I was looking to try something else. The publishing industry is changing incredibly quickly, and with TFS I wanted to try to engage with some of those changes, particularly exploring the possibilities of the independent publishing model. There are no ‘rules’ for any of that yet, and the only way to find out how it can work in your own career is to try it for yourself. In the course of doing so, I’ve got a firm grip on how publishing seems to work right now. After feeling my way through the potential pitfalls this year, I’m satisfied that self publishing some of my stuff over the next couple of years has a proper and useful place in whatever writing career I end up having. Beyond that? Who knows. Everything is in flux in the industry right now, and long term guesses are a mug’s game.
So, that was my 2012 in print. I took control of some parts of my publishing career, and still got the benefits of working in the traditional publishing arena. As far as I can see, any of the many noisy people who consider their career to be defined by either traditional or indie publishing is probably doing themselves a dangerous disservice. The best place to be, for now, is in the middle, trying to work the best aspects of both models and staying flexible in anticipation of as yet unforeseen changes still to come. Authors have long been used to being in the background of an industry which moved sedately along, towing them in its wake. It seems, to me at least, that we’re now being cut adrift and forced to paddle. That horrifies many, and excites others. I’m in the latter camp. If authors can stay agile and flexible, it’s a less scary time than it appears.
A bit more on that in a day or two, when I take a look at what I think might be happening in 2013. It’s going to be a crucial year for me, and I’ll set out why then.
For now though, that’s what 2012 looked like for me as a writer. As you’ll have noticed from Twitter, Facebook, and your email inbox, the publishing industry at large hopes that you got a new electronic reader for Xmas, and that you want them to tell you to buy their books to read on it. Meh. I reckon that, unless you struggle with basic tasks like working out how doors open, you already know that you’re going to want some books to put on such a device, if you now own one. If any of the above sound like something you’d like to read, I going to trust that you can manage to search for them at the relevant online bookstore (or follow the direct links from the book pages here). If they don’t sound like your sort of thing, then my haranguing you to pick a copy up isn’t going to do either of us any favours.
Currently reading (novel): The Casual Vacancy, J.K. Rowling
Currently reading (non-fiction): Richard III and the Murder In the Tower, Peter A. Hancock
Currently reading (short stories): ReDeus: Divine Fiction, ed. Aaron Rosenberg and Robert Greenberger