Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Geeks are Taking Over: How New Media is helping genre authors

Something I find very interesting right now is that the publishing industry is beginning to sit up and take notice of certain sectors of new media as a viable source of new talent. It has certainly taken long enough. The music industry has done something similar in recent years, discovering various new artists via Myspace who have gone on to be incredibly successful. Now this phenomenon seems to be spilling over into publishing, with the release of Scott Sigler's novel INFECTED. Haven't heard of him? You will before too long. Scott is one of an ever growing number of writers who have recorded their unpublished novels in audio form and released them via the medium of the podcast. These have been either subscribed to by listeners via iTunes or discovered via authors websites, or even via resources like www.podiobooks.com.

It is a great sign of an audience starting to take over their preferred genre. Science Fiction and Fantasy has always been fan oriented, and thus it is the perfect playground for new creators to learn their craft. Granted, there's a ton of junk out there too, but there is a huge amount of good stuff too. The fact that the publishing and music industries are becoming intereactive simply because of what book and music lovers are doing themselves is a great sign that audiences know what they want, and if we can't find it, we'll make it ourselves and fill the gap.

Following an aborted attempt to release his novel Earthcore, Scott podcasted it and the story ended up garnering something in the region of 10,000 listeners. Small press releases of his subsequent books were accompanied by further podcast series, which continued to make his fanbase grow. This, accompanied by other books, podcasts and him embracing the social networking side of new media on places such as Myspace, Facebook and the like, built an audience that grew enough for him to get noticed by a publishing house. The hardback of Infected was released this year to much fan and industry acclaim and is the first major work by a podcast author to make it into the mainstream. Further projects are underway, and the buzz for them is building steadily thanks to the author basically being in constant touch with his audience. This can only be a good thing for writers and fans as it means there is an incredible amount of contact between them, which in the end will mean that fans get more of what they want.

Another big name in the podcast novel scene is Mur Lafferty, known from her Geek Fu and I Should Be Writing podcasts, as well as work on various RPG books and fiction. Her novels, such as Playing For Keeps and the Heaven series have been podcasted and, like the work of Scott Sigler, have been gaining masses of listeners and getting the word out about her work. Swarm Press recent;y picked up the Playing For Keeps novel for publication, proving once again that getting your content out there and into the heads of potential fans is a fantastic way of getting published, or at least getting your material noticed.

Mur has gained a sizeable following for the Heaven series, which has spawned sequels in the shape of Hell, and, naturally, Earth. A regular panellist at various SF and fantasy conventions, Mur is very much tapped into the New Media phenomenon, with presences on her website, Livejournal, Myspace, Twitter and more. After so much work has been put into her online presence, she is finally beginning to see the results, with the release of Playing For Keeps coming up and many more projects either underway or in the pipeline.

There are a number of other writers who have been making a great deal of headway via podcasting their work, including writers such as Matt Wallace or JC Hutchins (author of the 7th Son trilogy, one of the most popular podcast novels around), and there are many others that are also making their literary (and literal) voices heard.

Audiences are thus discovering authors and stories they would otherwise have missed, and not only that but through the medium of the internet, these writers are able to get instant feedback about their work and improve on past mistakes. This is a very positive thing, as it means that their work is always improving, and their audience continues to grow. Its like word of mouth on a global and instant scale. It I also a remarkably good thing for genre fiction in general- there may be much more material out there to choose from but it is also improving in quality all the time, as writers are aiming their material more towards an audience instead of just themselves, making for more entertainment more insight and more creativity.

This whole method is also very good for maintaining an audience once it has been gathered. This is still the early days of Podcasters and self publishers getting recognition, but with such experienced names leading the fray, and an ever growing army of writers, podcasters, listeners, readers and fans, it looks as though the geeks are indeed about to take over in a way we couldn't really have predicted. We're here, we're geeks, and we've come for your planet.

5 comments:

Iceduck said...

I'm always a bit concerned by things like this. I mean, it's great for good writers who manage to attract attention - like Scott Sigler - but my worry is that 90% of stuff marketed like this will be material that just isn't good enough to make it otherwise, and the entire medium will lose integrity.

And the "instant feedback" may well be a double-edged sword. You've written a novel, it's ready to go, you start to podcast it ... only to receive overwhelming criticism for a specific element, which is included in the entire novel. Do you rewrite it all, or continue the podcasts? Of course, the medium might suit short story anthologies.

I daresay the medium will do a great deal of good, with word of quality writing spreading quickly, and the remaining 90% remaining obscure, but I certainly wouldn't want to be among the poor fellows listening to everything they can lay their hands on in the vague hope that they'll find the next Sigler.

Andrew Hawnt said...

Good points. Incidentally you have echoed the opinions of my girlfriend, a very talented writer and columnist who does things the traditional way ;)

The main thing that I would be concerned about is the rewrite factor as you mentioned. I'm concerned that there'll be something I want to include later on that I can't give clues to earlier in the story as they've been around for ages already, you know? I will be podcasting my novel THE FOREVER GUARDIAN (check out http://www.theforeverguardian.blogspot.com for details) as I've been working on that particular story for a decade, but further projects will have to be meticulously planned before I write each episode.

Iceduck said...

On the subject of rewriting as you publish, I'm part of a writing blog, which a friend of mine created in order to send out first drafts quickly (http://scribblepit.blogspot.com/). The idea being that, before you forget the idea or lose the passion for it, you write either a short-story version, or the first chapter, and run it by the others for insight.

The problem with it is when there's an unforeseen irritation. A character is more annoying than you'd expected, or there's a major plot hole. What it really needs is a complete rewrite, but since the remit of the blog is first drafts, the temptation is to write a sequel post or second chapter to "fix" the first.

And that, I think, raises another concern. It's clear that your project is a long-term one, with a decade of time spend thinking and working on it, but I can easily imagine plenty of young writers using the method instead of writing the whole thing. For many, writing is about recognition, and if you can get that for one or two chapters, why bother writing the whole novel?

But enough cynicism! I'll see you at the Forever Guardian blog.

Evo Terra said...

Great post, Andrew. Thanks for raising awareness of this growing movement. Some feedback on points raised if I may:

... 90% of stuff marketed like this will be material that just isn't good enough to make it otherwise, and the entire medium will lose integrity

New media isn't immune to Sturgeon's Law.


On the subject of rewriting as you publish...

I can count on one hand the number of times that's proven successful, with overwhelming odds against it. All to many underpublished authors see new media, podcasting, blogging or other bleeding-edge approaches as a shortcut to quality writing. WRITE > EDIT > REWRITE > REPEAT AS NECESSARY... and then get busy. Why would you put anything but your best foot forward?

Evo Terra
Podiobooks.com

Andrew Hawnt said...

Hi Evo, thanks for your comment. The whole New Media approach to getting new writers' work out into the public consciousness is fascinating, as is the scene that is building up around it, like with the whole universe that is being built around J.C. Hutchins' 7th Son stories. That level of user interaction is something that really hasn't been explored that much and the fact that these stories can be circulated so easily means that new fans are able to find the things they want easily. I do believe that putting your work out online in either podcast or PDF form (or whatever) is a great tool for writers to improve their work and get much more out of the creative process, which doesn't have to be quite such a solitary endeavour now. It is a method I'm looking forward to trying for myself in the near future :)