An author and marketer: An interview with Gail Z. Martin
Gail Z. Martin’s Wikipedia page is full of awards, positive reception and a busy bibliography. She’s written the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of the Necromancer and the Fallen Kings Cycle. The latest book is Iron and Blood from The Jake Desmet Adventures.
How would you describe Iron & Blood if you had to pitch the concept today?
Steampunk inventions and dark magic in a high-thrills adventure set in an alternative history Pittsburgh at the height of the Gilded Era Age of Steam.
BM predicted steampunk would go mainstream by 2014. How important is it for an author to stay ahead of the trends and therefore have books ready just when publishers want them?
While you can’t help being aware of trends and getting a feel as a reader as well as a professional when some subjects have been done to death and the market wants a new twist, I know few if any people who try to write solely for trends. A book takes an average of a year (or more) from the time the author begins to type out the first draft until the book appears in stores. A lot can change in that time. I’d think if anyone could predict trends that accurately, he or she would do much better in hedge funds or commodity futures than in publishing!
What’s the role of the publisher given the trend towards ebooks, print on demand and self publishing?
Traditional publishing was heavy on up-front risk and speculation. A lot of money gets tied up in printing physical books in large quantities, warehousing them, shipping them and incentivizing bookstores to promote them. No one has that kind of crystal ball, and the remainder bins were evident that there were plenty of misses for every big hit. Margins are slim. Publishers were reluctant to move toward ebooks and print on demand, even though it could reduce their costs and risk, even when quality rivaled traditional printing because they had not foreseen the permanence of the new business model and shifted to meet it. They were like Kodak, so sure no one would ever give up film cameras that they got creamed by digital photography when they could have owned the market had they moved more quickly to adopt change. The warning in the Kodak example is potent. Small publishers and independent authors have embraced new technology much faster, not just with ebooks and POD but also with Kickstarter financing and Patreon and other tools.
Traditional publishing said anthologies were dead. I was part of a themed anthology, Athena’s Daughters, which asked for $8.5K and got $44K, becoming the bestselling literary project of all time on Kickstarter. Small presses have proven that anthologies aren’t dead, they just needed to be reimagined. Small entities can be more willing to try new things because they don’t have as much baggage, as many layers to win over for permission, and as much inertia to overcome.
I think publishers will be around forever, but the really successful ones will re-think their roles to see where they can provide the most value. It’s no longer a daunting and risky proposition to format a print book or an ebook and produce it. Now the value-add comes in promotion, visibility, branding and distribution. Those are the pieces that are difficult for authors to do for themselves on the same scale a major publisher can do. I don’t think most publishers see that yet.
Zebra Eclipse believes that marketing and publishing are on a common evolutionary path; both about the use of great content and story telling to engage audiences. You’ve had senior marketing roles in the past so would you agree or disagree with this premises – and why?
I agree. And I believe that the publishers and publishing-based consortiums that find a way to create a strong brand for their authors and style of fiction will cut through the clutter. Readers right now are overwhelmed. They can’t browse physical bookstores anymore to find new books, and thumbnail covers on Amazon don’t do the trick. Most people don’t go to genre conventions to hear authors talk about their work and read from their books. I’d like to see the genre associations begin to behave more like industry trade associations with a focus on consumer-oriented branding and visibility. That would be hugely valuable to authors, because right now, it’s hard for a title to rise above the very cluttered marketplace.
Has the relationship between readers and authors changed at all in recent years? Do readers now expect more direct, social media-centric, access to authors for example?
Oh, absolutely. Writers today can’t get away with being Harper Lee or JD Salinger and hiding away in seclusion. Readers want to get to know you through Facebook, through live events like genre conventions, through podcasts and signings and YouTube. Authors have always been entertainers, but until now we’ve been introverted entertainers. We didn’t have to be on stage. I think that like it or not, successful authors now need to figure out how to add some showmanship or at least graceful public presentation skills to their repertoire. We live in a time that hungers for disclosure, so we need to use our storytelling skills to make our own personal stories interesting and entertaining.
How important is it for authors and creators to attend conventions?
Conventions are a huge opportunity for authors and creators to gain visibility with the most hard-core component of fandom. People who attend conventions are active and prolific consumers of fan-oriented content and products. They read hundreds of books a year, see all the genre movies, watch the sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural/paranormal TV shows, buy CDs of filk music, purchase geek lifestyle accessories and clothing. We largely know each other. Pro authors usually know some if not many or most of the other pros even at a new convention. Often, we all know each other and we share a lot of information. Fans are the same way–they not only know the pros and have built friendships over the years, but they also know each other, so the whole thing is like a big family reunion. Going to conventions builds those relationships with fans and pros, it taps you into the grapevine of important industry information, and is the place many pros pick up new publishing contracts, editing projects, anthology invitations and more. It’s the lifeblood of the genre. I’d love to see more publishers take the conventions seriously and make an effort to do more branding through convention presence. A few publishers are doing it and it pays off for them. I wish more would follow suit.
How do you see the industry evolving over the next couple of years?
If I knew that for sure, I’d invest in whatever technology or trend is going to emerge and retire wealthy. But while my crystal ball is more like a broken Magic 8 ball, here’s what I think….
I believe it will be the norm for all but perhaps the most entrenched pinnacle authors (the likes of Stephen King and JK Rowling) to pursue hybrid careers, simultaneously and/or sequentially bringing out projects with Big 5 publishers, medium-sized houses and small presses, while also keeping some story franchises for themselves via self-published ebooks and POD. I suspect organizations of some kind will emerge to create at least some degree of counterweight to the power Amazon now holds in the marketplace. Ideally, those organizations would better represent the interests of authors, without whom there isn’t a publishing business. I’d like to see reinvented business models for publishing that focus less on hitting a one-in-a-million home run with a superstar than discovering a way to create long-term profitability out of experienced and dependable writers who can be counted on to produce consistent quality and have loyal audiences. And I think readers will embrace–and reward–efforts to ‘brand’ books in a way that helps readers better find titles that suit their interests. Then again, it’s like the ancient Chinese curse. We live in interesting times.
The Hawthorn Moon Sneak Peek Event includes book giveaways, free excerpts and readings, all-new guest blog posts and author Q&A on 28 awesome partner sites around the globe. For a full list of where to go to get the goodies, visit www.AscendantKingdoms.com.
Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of Deadly Curiosities and the upcoming Vendetta in her urban fantasy series;The Chronicles of The Necromancer series (The Summoner, The Blood King, Dark Haven, Dark Lady’s Chosen) from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle (The Sworn, The Dread) as well as Ice Forged, Reign of Ash, and War of Shadows in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. Gail writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies.
Larry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.