Sunday, 29 May 2011

digital marketing - Tor

Over the next few weeks this blog is going to focus on what the four imprints I’m using as case studies for my dissertation do to digitally market their books. Like a bookish clash between Come Dine with Me and Whose Line is it Anyway?, each imprint gets a turn, the rules are made up and the points don’t matter. This post is about Tor UK.


Website: the imprint has a section on the Pan Macmillan website, but it works as a shop rather than a marketing tool (although it does contain a list of author events). This is unique for a publisher – to sell direct to customers and cut out the middle Amazon-man, so points to Tor for that. If you select a particular book by an author you can then go to a page specifically about the author, and subscribe to certain RSS feeds. More points.

Twitter: this site is Tor’s hub for marketing. Events will get mentioned, review links posted, pictures of tours, author ventures plugged (like China Miéville’s short story 'Covehithe' in the Guardian not long ago). Editorial Director of Tor Julie Crisp is always present on Twitter, tweeting their latest campaigns, communicating with readers and providing relevant links, whilst not being overly pushy about the books she’s publishing, so kudos points for that last part. Tor trends topics like #towelday – 25 May is Towel Day in memory of the great Douglas Adams - really taking advantage of what Twitter can do. Tor UK is on there too, obviously tweeting about subjects relating to their list, but with personality and, dare I say it, vim. They’re also using Twitter to advertise their competition in cahoots with SFX magazine for cover designing. More points to them.

Facebook: I can’t find their Facebook page, so I’ve assumed there isn’t one, or it’s nigh impossible to locate. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Digital advances: Amazon’s Kindle store lists 81 of their titles, and it can be assumed that this list is going to grow. They’re all ‘vanilla’ at the moment, however, in 2009 an anniversary iPhone app for Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was created that had plenty of special features. A Bookseller article from February 2008 details how Tor gave away free copies of some of their titles in eBook form to advertise a ‘website’, but it provides no further detail other than saying that readers were, understandably, pretty well-pleased. There are no other articles in the Bookseller that talk about Tor’s digital initiatives, and none that I can find elsewhere. It was a great start – but did it end here?

YouTube: ADDITION - When I wrote this I hadn't found Tor's YouTube page, which is part of Pan Macmillan's page - you can see trailers, interviews, TV appearances from their authors, and more. Points to them, and a few more because I missed it the first time around.

Blog: N/A

Extras: Tor UK do have an e-newsletter that you can sign up to, which is great, but it’s not released nearly as often as I’d like to receive it. Genre for Japan: the imprint offered a year’s supply of their books for the cause. Charity points to them.

Conclusion: contain yourself - an exciting summary will follow after all four imprints have had their turn. Disclaimer: they will not win £1000 presented to them on a silver platter. They will not get to read out the end credits in the style of a sports commentator.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

China Miéville and his giant brain

For numerous reasons *@&&~~~# computer error code 124323### I was unable to write my weekly round-up this week, but don't worry, it should be back in force this time next ~~~@' unknown sandwich error***

China Miéville has been making waves recently at the Guardian - they've been lavishing him with some fabulous coverage. I’m going to case study him for my dissertation, because, according to the Guardian, he’s making Sci Fi cool again (plus his brain is so large his head has no room for hair). The only person to win the Arthur C. Clarke award three times, he’s just graduated to being the sort of writer who deserves to be featured in an A life in writing article. Basically the Guardian has trumped my dissertation topic by stating that Miéville has ‘combined his love of genre, geeky in its enthusiasm but scholarly in its depth, with an ambitious literary sensibility.’ He’s come a long way. In 2003 Miéville was credited by Granta’s editor as being ‘an extraordinary writer of dark fantasy’, but he still wasn’t included on their Best Young British Novelist list for that year. He might have been writing in an acceptably literary fashion, but he was still doing it by writing fantasy. Bad times. But that was eight years ago, and the snobbery (that’s ‘stigma’ according to my dissertation) isn’t as prevalent. Better times. He would hate my dissertation, because he’s waxed eloquent about this sort of ‘why are we so put-upon’ moaning, describing it as: ‘the endlessly arse-achingly expressed complaint from genre that no one takes us seriously.’ Yet, despite that, he recently wrote in his blog: ‘The sooner literary fiction recognises and accepts its generic identity, the sooner it can get help.’ Which is now a valid new section for my dissertation. I do believe that Miéville is the final push for genre. OK, so SFF isn’t as derided as I’d initially hoped thought it would be when I set out to write this beast, but it just needs a little bit more help to become as accepted as, say, crime (that’s the genre, not the act). Some people are always going to dislike it, but I think it would be great if this wasn’t just on principle. Now, if only I was writing my dissertation circa 2003…

Saturday, 14 May 2011

D&D Encounters – RPG for beginners and lessons in what not to call a room full of gamers

In the name of researching information for my dissertation on stigma and Fantasy publishing, I have contacted publishers, interviewed editors and sent questionnaires to readers of different genres. But last week I decided the time had come to look into a different corner of the Fantasy market, that of the Fantasy gamer.

The generalised stigma surrounding Fantasy, Science Fiction and, to an extent, Horror (if the stigma exists, and I think it does), by which I mean the negative perception of SFF books (eg, they’re for children, they’re escapism, they’re wish-fulfilment, they’re badly written), also includes the negative perception of the readers themselves. I think many people who scorn the genre (please step forward by the way, I need you) still have this image of the ‘geek’ in mind when thinking of SFF readers.

That is, the spotty teenager/middle-aged man still living with their mother, with a deep lack of social skills and an unhealthy pallor earned from late nights spent basking in the glow of their computer screen, barking orders at their elf-self that’s done more exercise going from one end of the tavern to another than they’ve done in a year.

I blame television. Obviously, this is blatant stereotyping; it’s negative and, let’s face it, plain mean. Why is it a bad thing to enjoy gaming, online or otherwise? Who cares if some of those people who enjoy gaming also enjoy wearing their hair as long as their beard and t-shirts that say ‘What Would Leeroy Do?’

There are different sectors of the gaming world. There is LARPing – Live Action Role Playing (people who run around the woods acting out Fantasy battles and what not). MMORPGs – Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (role-playing video games like World of Warcraft, EverQuest, etc). MMOG – Massively Multiplayer Online Games (online poker, puzzles etc). And there is RPG – Role-Playing Games (complex board games like Warhammer, Dungeons and Dragons, etc).

Of all of these, I felt that RPG was the one where I could find a bunch of like-minded people together in the same place (as opposed to distributed all over the world), and speak to them face-to-face.

However, when I emailed a shop that specialised in RPG, I didn’t expect the following response:

Me: *explains project and asks for help*

Store: Sure! But the best way is to take part in a session. We have D&D Encounters for beginners, we’ll set you up a character.

Me: ?!

Store: What would the slightly gothy version of yourself be like?

Me: ?!!!! *Out of my depth* A cross between Tyrion out of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and… Buffy? But that’s probably not what you meant.

Store: That’s exactly what I meant ; )

So that’s why I cobbled together my questionnaires and, with younger sister in tow for support (she wanted to be Xena – we were clueless), embarked on a three and a half hour gaming session, the majority of which I spent completely bewildered.

To cut a long session short, there was a lot of background information the others on the table knew that we didn’t (not to mention incomprehensible in-jokes that provoked rounds of laughter we politely joined in on). This is because there are whole books published on the universe, including a number of regular publications that reveal new characters, abilities and locations, and a considerable online community fostered by DCI where you can swap stories, build characters and buy their countless, expensive player products.

D&D Encounters is, not a dating for geeks as the name might suggest, a series of weekly ‘epic encounters’, and ours was called ‘Dark Legacy of Evard.’ You can find out more here – and more details are released weekly so that gamers everywhere can take part.

I was Luusi, the human slayer. Our Dungeon Master was called Ian. Dungeon Master Ian, an ex-academic with long grey hair, explained the rules as we went along with supreme calm and patience. Our fellow gamers were similarly patient and helped us make our moves, looking past our expressions of confusion. There were just so many numbers and variety of dice involved. I rolled a D20 and a D10 (for damage, obviously), but one man declared something incomprehensible before throwing five different kinds of dice onto the table and making his move. The rest of us were suitably astounded (or at least, I acted suitably astounded to hide my lack of understanding). When I was first up I rolled a crit, which drew gasps, but I felt only panic, and had to fight the urge to say ‘Maths. Very dangerous. You go first.’ However, I didn’t want to look weird in front of the gamers.

The gamers consisted mostly of middle-aged men or boys that still looked teenaged, with hair in lots of exciting lengths and arrangements – and for the most part were lovely. There was an element of seriousness involved, such as when DM Ian was voicing the parts of the characters in the inn, although when he ducked behind his cardboard barrier to eat his pasta salad, this diminished somewhat. But mostly it was a relaxed atmosphere. There were tables set out where different games were taking place, and people came in and left when they pleased, bringing sandwiches, pizzas, more pasta salads and cans of pop along with them. The atmosphere was relaxed, safe, and you could tell people felt at home.

But then the time came for my questionnaires to be handed out. Suffice to say that I learned a few lessons. Namely: to check my grammar and to never use the word ‘geek’ in a room full of gamers (particularly in a questionnaire full of errors). My questions were openly mocked. It was like being back in high school. Essentially, I’d entered their inner sanctum, disrupted their gaming session, and demanded they answer questions about what it’s like being called ‘geeks’ and ‘steriotypes’ (sic). I think I would have mocked me too.

Having done a session, I only have admiration for the sheer volume of information the players are aware of, and their mathematic ability. I mean, doesn’t a die only have six sides? Any more than that and I'm lost.

Fun fact: the feedback from my questionnaires indicated that gamers don't equal genre fans, and it's a misconception that they are automatically going to be as geeky as, say, me about SFF fiction.

For a keen gamer this place is amazing. For an enthusiastic beginner (sans questionnaires), they're going to get a great welcome. Although this was one lair I don’t think I’ll be invading again.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

bite me: the week in bite-sized chunks

Voyager: one major part of my dissertation on stigma and genre fiction is that SFF books, in general, don’t get the press they deserve. They’re seldom seen in Guardian reviews, or in train stations (on posters, not waiting to catch the next one out), they’re often not ‘worth’ the advertising space for bigger publishers, who have fiction lists to take care of with their marketing spend. So no wonder Voyager is celebrating their ‘Read a Brett yet?’ campaign, for Peter V Brett’s sequel to his frankly awesome The Painted Man, The Desert Spear. With tube posters and Shortlist spreads, this is a huge deal for an SFF title that isn’t True Blood, or had its own HBO series. Although apparently there is rumour of a film in the works, which you can check out on Peter V Brett’s own site.

The David Gemmell Legend Award: speaking of Brett, he is one of the finalists who have just been announced for this year’s Fantasy award, alongside:

BRETT, Peter V - The Desert Spear (Voyager)
HEITZ, Markus - War the Dwarves (Orbit UK/US)
JORDAN, Robert and SANDERSON, Brandon - Wheel of Time: Towers of Midnight (Orbit UK/Tor US)
PEVEL, Pierre - The Alchemist in the Shadows (Gollancz)
SANDERSON, Brandon - The Way of Kings (Gollancz/Tor US)
WEEKS, Brent - The Black Prism (Orbit UK/US)

The ceremony will be held on 17 June and fan tickets are £20 each. The price includes exclusive mingling, champagne and canapés. Request your tickets by emailing

Tor UK: China Miéville, the only author to win three Arthur C Clarke Awards, saw the official UK publication date of his latest behemoth, Embassytown, yesterday. Tor very much appears to be whipping Miéville’s backlist into shape with the recent re-jacketing, almost as if it’s gearing up for something awesome. Great reviews are coming in thick and fast for his eighth novel (not including shorts Looking for Jake and Other Stories). SFX magazine’s 4.5 out of 5 star review sums up this Science Fiction offering perfectly: ‘no other novel this year will offer up both a zombie apocalypse keyed off by a new kind of Ambassador and a crucial plot twist involving semiotics.’ Sounds amazing. It’s definitely time I dusted off the old Perdido Street Station and gave it another go.

Orbit: author Kate Griffin (of the Matthew Swift series) has written a blog post about the role of women in Fantasy fiction. The portrayal of women in genre fiction is a topic I’m fired-up about (despite being entirely ignorant of feminism), because, as Griffin writes, there were traditionally two types of female heroines: the Damsel in Distress and She-Ra (I may be paraphrasing here). Recently, particularly with the invention of the Kick Ass Female Lead (I’m looking at you, Urban Fantasy), the role of the woman in genre fiction tends to swing between the femme fatale and the damsel, sassily smiting whilst secretly harbouring the need to be rescued from the metaphorical tower of her sad past. So this, Griffin writes, is why she doesn’t write heroines (as well as a number of other reasons, but you should really read it yourself, she’s a great writer). Writers shouldn’t be afraid of just writing characters, rather than chromosomes, and Griffin shouldn’t be worried either – if her next hero happened to have a pair of boobs, I’m pretty sure her readers wouldn’t be too put off. Clearly Griffin will read this and immediately be moved to write her heroine-centric next novel. Loyal reader (readers, if this is a good day), repeat after me: characters not chromosomes!

Gollancz: interesting fact. Charlaine Harris’ Dead Reckoning, her latest True Blood/Sookie Stackhouse novel and the 11th in the series, has been the most pre-ordered book on Amazon UK this year. What’s more, two other SFF titles have already held the lead this year for being the most pre-ordered title, George RR Martin’s A Dance with Dragons and L J Smith’s The Return: Midnight (The Vampire Diaries). OK, so all three are linked with TV equivalents, but still – SFF’s fan base is rapidly expanding. *Crosses out dissertation topic and starts from scratch.*

RPG: something happened to me this week. After many months of faithful service, my car died. At a loss as I was unable to travel (public transport be damned) on the day I was due to go into university, I decided to do some research for my SFF and stigma-topiced dissertation. This somehow (although I’m still not entirely sure how) lead to me deciding that in order to fully understand the stigma that affects readers of SFF, I needed to fully understand the world of LARP (Live action role-playing) and RPGs (role-playing games). So, I am now booked in for a beginner’s session by the lovely people at Fanboy3, who will be setting up a character for me. Completely inept on a daily basis anyway, when asked what the ‘slightly gothy version’ of me would be like, I replied with ‘A cross between Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire, and Buffy.’ What could go wrong?