Nobody was as surprised as Mur Lafferty herself when the print version of her podcast novel 'Playing For Keeps' flew up the Amazon charts on its official release day. Not only did it hit number 16 in the overall books chart, but it took the number 1 spot in SF, action/adventure and hot releases. Not bad at all, considering the book had long been available as a podcast series, a free PDF and a print-on-demand edition. Where many writers would want to leave all the hard work of marketing their work to their publishers, renowned podcaster Mur (I Should Be Writing, Geek Fu Action Grip, and at one point Pseudopod as well as her podcasted fiction) followed in the footsteps of people such as Matthew Wayne Selznick and did the lion's share of the marketing chores herself. It certainly paid off, with the book garnering rave reviews on it's Amazon page and across the internet. Publishers Swarm Press have found themselves with a cult hit on their hands, and after all the hard work that went into it, quite rightly so.
Reading the book itself, it is quite easy to see why it wasn't picked up by a major publisher and instead finally went to the smaller (and rather interesting) Swarm Press. Quite simply, its premise isn't one that the mass market would really get. Sadly many readers would be turned off by the superhero aspect and the use of powers throughout the story, and miss out on something really quite enjoyable. The fact that the main characters, the Third Wavers, have seemingly useless abilities when faced with the iconic Heroes and Villains, is a great strength. The characters must learn to use their limited powers to greater effect in order to stay alive, and in the case of lead character Keepsie, find out just what her power is capable of.
The prose is sprightly, and though the format of the book is rather unwieldy (I'm not a fan of these oversized trade paperbacks), it does work as a book as well as a podcast series. Thankfully, the episodic nature of the podcast version hasn't left the story feeling like an anthology. While the action scenes are great fun, it is in the character interaction that the book really shines. The bunch of misfits that fill Keepsie's life are written well, with definite personalities and struggles of their own to deal with as well as the main action.
The success of this paperback edition of Playing For Keeps is another example of the world at large starting to take notice of what fans are creating themselves. The entertainment and publishing industry, slowly but surely, is catching up with the audience. With writers such as Lafferty, Sigler, Hutchins, Selznick and their ilk, it really does seem to me that we are witnessing the birth of a new set of stars in the realms of genre fiction, and with their continued efforts (that stretch far beyond just writing the books), they are earning every sale. That is to be admired, and should set a good example to the rest of us: If you're not willing to make the effort to get people interested in your material, why should anybody else?