Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Waterfront Festival

Other Worlds 2 at Nottingham Central Library

4 August 11 words: Jared Wilson
Readings and panels on the realities of the publishing industry and the gap between what people imagine a writers life to be like and the grim reality


Angry Robot books

Angry Robot books

Saturday the 16 July saw Nottingham host the latest event in Alt.Fiction’s annual festival of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction. For the best part of a day five publishers and writers from Angry Robot Books gave readings and held panels on the genres, the realities of the publishing industry in these times of woe and the gap between what people imagine a writers life to be like and the grim reality. Tea and biscuits were thrown in gratis. 

Marc Gascoigne of Angry Robot Books and his writers Gary McMahon, Andy Remic, Gav Thorpe and the ebullient Peter Crowther (who also runs the highly respected PS Publishing) opened proceedings with a panel on the state of the genres under discussion. The oft-derided genre of Fantasy has been enjoying some rare positive attention from the mainstream media of late, as George RR Martin’s immense series A Song Of Ice And Fire blows the top off the bestseller charts with the release of its latest instalment and HBO sits back and admires the critical plaudits gained for it’s adaptation of the first volume of the series. Just as the Twilight phenomenon saw countless imitators cashing in on the popularity of sparkling vampires and teenage abstinence, so I’m sure we’re due for an avalanche of brick-sized books that owe more to the realpolitik of Martin’s warring kingdoms than the elves and dwarfs of Tolkien any day now. But the main thrust of their discussion was the breaking down of barriers between the genres: where once Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction operated along clearly defined lines with their own tropes and settings and could be easily sorted on to different bookcases, increasingly the genre shelves of Waterstones are full of titles that borrow from each others traditions and end up inhabiting two or three (or more) genres.

The effect such unpredictable pop-culture hits as Twilight and Harry Potter was touched upon in several discussions, and while no one wants to see a bookcase full of suspiciously similar stories about, say, Barry Snotter the boy wizard, it’s a fact that millions of people who may well not have been readers before have been dragged into a bookshop because of them. And once they’re in there looking, the chances of them picking something better increase considerably. Phillip Pullman’s much-respected His Dark Materials trilogy rode the coat-tails of the sudden fascination with stories aimed at children with a magical bent to great acclaim and far higher sales than it might otherwise have expected. So while you might wince at the sight of an entire bookcase devoted to ‘Supernatural Romance’ titles with identikit covers (pale man looking intensely at the reader, with perhaps a spot of blood at the corner of his mouth, or a woman, dressed in something red and slinky, looking over her shoulder at the reader), take comfort in the fact that the people buying those books are helping sustain the publishing industry in a time of need, and the possibility that they may check out the other shelves while they’re there as well.

Alt Fiction



In March of this year Angry Robot Books indulged in an open month, inviting submissions from anyone who cared to send a manuscript via email, resulting in a thousand eager would-be writers clogging up their server. Of those, perhaps two, said Marc Gascoigne (Angry Robot’s Publishing Director), will be published. He seemed pleased with this haul of 0.2%, indicating that it was more than he’d hoped for. Such are the odds that await the prospective writer who has no foot in the door, no previously published works, no agent and no friend in the industry willing to wave their manuscripts alluringly underneath the noses of someone who might be interested. And once you’re published, according to a survey bought up by the panel, you’re looking at an average yearly salary of  … drum roll … £14,000. Those of the audience still nurturing even the slimmest hopes of fame and wealth were encouraged to abandon such unlikely thoughts. Tellingly, only one of the writers present plied their trade full-time, and even then it seemed at least partly down to his astonishing productivity, having four novels in various stages of readiness on the go at once. And yet: a thousand submissions were sent. People write, and want others to read what they have written. The rewards aren’t the point to those who write, and continue to write without being published.

The panel took pains to bring up helpful things would-be writers could do to improve their chances of being published, or of selling books once they beat the appalling odds against that ever happening. Being an effective self-promoter doesn’t hurt, especially now that a Twitter account, a Facebook page, a blog and a website are all things a writer can set up for themselves to put the word out. They go down well with publishers as well, as it shows you’re willing to do some spadework yourself, help with the marketing and accomplish the number one aim of the publishing industry: selling books. And while it helps if you’re writing a story about something that suddenly becomes popular (vampires last year, zombies the year before), the long gap between writing and publishing (sometimes three years or more) may mean that the vampires vs pirates vs zombies epic you’ve penned misses the wave it’s trying to ride by a couple of years by the time it reaches the market. Or, even worse, arrives just as the market sees a glut of similar attempts to cash-in, and yours is lost on the remaindered pile. The panel also noted that something as random as having a surname close to that of a very popular writer could increase your sales. People gravitate to what they know, and if your book happens to be right next to that of a million-selling writer, it means more prospective readers eyes pass over it. With digital publishing, this sort of thing is harder to make pay off, but opportunities to try and sell a buyer other, similar things are legion. Browsing through the shelves yourself is harder to do online, but sellers are able to recommend things to you far more easily. “If you liked this, why not try this kind of similar thing?”

All four writers gave readings during the day, with excerpts from books about, among other things, a fantasy saga inspired by the life of Phillip of Macedonia (Gav Throrpe’s The Crown of the Conquerer), a marriage of steampunk and vampirism (Andy Remic’s Clockwork Vampires), a truly gruesome series of murders involving power tools and heads (Gary McMahon’s Dead Bad Things) and a world in which 99.99% of the population disappeared, only for some of them to return changed (Peter Crowther’s Darkness Falling). The audience were also treated to a description of two scenes Andy Remic was forced to cut from his books, one of them excised on account of them being so disgusting they made his editor feel physically ill (A sex scene with a rapidly disintegrating zombie), something which obviously delighted Remic..

Date for your diary:  Thursday 15 September will see Alt.Fiction and Gollancz bring Robert Rankin to the Phoenix Square in Leicester to celebrate the release in paperback of his latest book, “The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age”.

Alt.Fiction and Angry Robot Books present Other Worlds 2 at Nottingham Central Library on Saturday the 16 July 2011.


We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now