Saturday, 16 July 2011

bite me: the week in bite-sized chunks

*Writing from somewhere in a hermetically sealed room* As I am now writing my dissertation/dragging it out screaming, these round ups are focused on what dedicated SFF UK imprints are doing to digitally market themselves, their books and their authors to their fans and wider readerships.

Angry Robot Books: have always done things a bit differently, and prided themselves on it (while still managing to publish this year’s Arthur C. Clarke Award winner, Lauren Beukes). Normally you have to take pains to point out (usually in a 5,000 word essay) the brand of a publisher. ‘Look,’ you might say (but less casual, it is an essay), ‘This publisher has been subtly putting their mark on their books for years because in the left-hand corner, they usually sneak in a little swirl design that could be interpreted (by the more optimistic) as the corner of their logo, without being too off-putting to the general reader.’ Angry Robot, on the other hand, have thought ‘sod the general reader’, or, more likely, ‘the general reader will never read our blog, they will never know the true extent to our geekiness.’ So they have taken the notion of the publisher as a brand and run wildly into the night with it. The Angry Robot Army just got a uniform. From Zazzle UK or USA you can now purchase an Angry Robot hat. And they haven’t stopped there (why would they?). You can buy a t-shirt (either ‘Robot’ or ‘Angry’, depending on what relates to you), a Zoo City t-shirt, an iPad case, a skateboard (they have a mixed target audience), bag, mug, pins, a baby grow (get ‘em while they’re young), and, my personal favourite, a skin to (irony alert) make your phone look a bit like a robot. Maybe that’s the secret to branding. Pick a logo your readers will want to wear.

Orbit: granted, this may be something only I (at the height of my dissertation fever) find fascinating, but back in the 1970s horror author James Herbert was not very happy when his publishers, the New English Library, were marketing his work as pulp. He threw in some political and thriller tropes, and intended to elevate his titles above this ‘throwaway’ fiction status. Now, Orbit are revelling in the pulp. Their covers for Philip Palmers books are absolutely gorgeous, with their plastic figurines, bold, white typography and block, vibrant colours, and the great Lauren Panepinto, Art Director, is ecstatically happy about their pulp connotations: ‘His writing has this fabulous pulp sci-fi feel to it’. In my research, I’ve read a lot about authors, editors and readers bemoaning the popular culture representation of sci-fi, that it is all adolescent ray guns and space battles (extreme paraphrasing). But Orbit are embracing it, and pushing this retro ‘pulp’ writing unashamedly, without attaching the throwaway tag so often associated with it. They achieve this rather well by quoting a Guardian review of Palmer’s Red Claw in the post announcing the book’s launch, which states: ‘Red Claw is a rare treat, an intelligent action adventure replete with intellectual rigour, human insight and superb storytelling.’ If this is the modern day pulp, then sci-fi has come a long way.

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