Author Laura Anne Gilman joined the illogiCon guest roster a few months back, and now I’m very happy to have her on bullspec.com’s “Coming to Town” series, the first of hopefully a few features on the incoming illogiCon guests and other panelists. Gilman is the author of multiple fantasy series including Retrievers, Paranormal Scene Investigators, Grail Quest, and The Vineart War, along with media tie-in and other novels, non-fiction books, not to mention a long list of short stories, on and on. She’ll be at illogiCon this weekend, January 10-12, at the Embassy Suites RDU, and I for one am looking forward to hearing more about her work. Enjoy!
Interview by Jaym Gates:
The worst thing is that you know you’re going to lose readers when you switch – I have some fans who adore the urban fantasy but really dislike historical/high fantasy, and vice versa, and when I wander into the darker areas (as with DRAGON VIRUS), it happens again. My publishers get twitchy about that – they want me to build my readership, not confuse it. And I do understand their point – I was on their side of the desk for a long time, and I can hear the sales force saying “for god’s sake, Gilman, be consistent!”
But the stories show up as they will, in the styles and voices they need, and trying to force myself into one narrow category… it might be better for building sales, but I don’t think it’s a good thing for the writing. You have to push boundaries, expand your territory, not contract it.
And that leads into the best thing about genre-hopping: that switching things up keeps me from getting stale. Every switch, I have to learn new things, up my game. And convince editors that yes, this new project is something they must have.
The Sylvan Investigations series has been independently published. What do authors need to know about using an established career/audience to independently release their backlist, or new works?
No matter how you publish, you’re diving into a very crowded pool. If you’re going to go direct-to-readers with backlist, either on your own or via Kickstarter, or a collective like Book View Cafe, success requires that you stand out from that crowd. The best, easiest way to stand out is to have established proof-of-quality, and word-of-mouth. But those are two things you can’t create out of whole cloth. Having at least one book from a known publisher is where it starts.
Yeah, there’s been a lot of griping about publishers not establishing new writers, not supporting their releases, and that’s too often true. But the traditional release mode does give you a platform, gets you reviews, bookstore shelf space, a place in the infrastructure of books-and-readers.
Yes, social media and ads can, properly used, raise your profile without all that, but it’s also really easy to get overlooked – or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, annoy more people than you entice, by overdoing the promotions. Twenty tweets a day of “I have a new book out!” may raise peoples’ awareness of your book, but not always in a positive fashion.
If you’ve gotten into the infrastructure, though, you can bring reviews, maybe a chain bestseller list placement, into the game, to make some noise. You can rouse the loyal readers – be they a thousand or ten thousand – and have them build momentum though word-of-mouth. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s a leg up that newbie writers lack (especially for brand-new work).
For example – the Cosa Nostradamus books I wrote for Luna have a very dedicated core following. When I decided to Kickstart the spinoff series, Sylvan Investigations, I was able to approach the readers and say “you know this world, you’ve followed it for ten books! Here’re two characters you guys loved, in their own adventure!” And their positive experience with that world did a lot of the heavy lifting for me.
In the Vineart War trilogy, you have a very unique magic system. How do you keep something like that from being gimmicky, and how much personal research did you have to do to make sure it was accurate and consistent?
I think… I think the only way to keep something from being gimicky is for the writer to love it honestly, with a real passion. That’s what carries it. No book works unless the writer believes in it, plot and characters and world, entire. God knows I loved the world of the Lands Vin, enough that I was willing to take four years of my life – years I could have been sticking to the urban fantasy novels that were a surer thing – to create it.
As for the research… I already knew a lot about wines before I started writing. Part of why I came to the idea was my love of wine and the traveling I’d done colliding with the desire for an agriculturally-based hero/culture, and the idea of magic as a commodity rather than a personal skill. I knew the basics of making wine, from the growing conditions through harvest and the actual fermentation process, but it was a surface knowledge, the kind you get from reading books and taking winery tours. I talked to a lot of winemakers, both in American and in Europe (including dropping in on some very startled but friendly wine-trade people in France), got my hands dirty (and my backs aching) picking fruit, spent time in vineyards, just wandering among the vines, and listened to wine experts talk, not about the wines themselves but their relationship with wine: how it made them feel to be involved in the process. I also got to talk with a woman who had done her PhD on the medieval Burgundian wine market (she’d written it in French: my French is nowhere at that level, alas).
And the notes I took on all of this, they were terrifying. I had an entire wall in my office covered with post-its and tacked-up sheets of paper, tracking seasons and varietals, and…. yeah, people who walked into my office tended to back out again pretty quickly.
You’ve been involved with Book View Cafe for some time now. How do they differ from a writing group or publisher, and what are they doing for the industry?
Book View Cafe is a co-operative publishing company founded by a group of writers who were tired of waiting around for traditional NY publishing to do All The Things for Us (mainly because TNYP can’t). We were all seasoned pros, oft-published, who had backlist titles that had gone out of print and the rights reverted back to us, or who had new projects that publishers didn’t feel were commercial enough (on a TNYP scale) to acquire. We work together, pooling our skills (editorial, design, publicity, marketing, etc) for every member’s benefit, for every book we publish, sending nearly 95% of a book’s profits back to the writer (the remaining percentage goes to support Book View Cafe itself). We’ve got a bookstore, we have a blog, we have our first NYT bestseller (Chris Dolley), we have library and audiobook rights sales… basically, we’re fine-tuning the concept of direct-to-reader (and we’re doing it DRM-free).
We’ve been in operation for more than five years, with more than forty members, and over two hundred books in our store – and we’re still growing.
What’s next for you?
First up, there’s the Kickstarter for the new Sylvan Investigation novellas. That will have just launched as you’re reading this, so I’m still in the jittery-nervous-hopeful stage, and probably babbling about my love for these stories. Urban fantasy PI novels with a touch of noir, featuring a jaded half-faun ex-cop and his partner, a young Black woman who happens to be a Seer (she sees people about to die). Plus, my alter-ego L.A. Kornetsky is working on the 3rd “Gin & Tonic” mystery, DOGHOUSE, which will be out later this year.
And after that…. well, there’s a project I can’t talk about yet….
Jaym Gates is an editor, author, and freelance publicist, as well as the Communications Director for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. She is currently editing War Stories, an anthology of military science fiction. More about her publications and publicity rates can be found at jaymgates.com, or follow her on Twitter as @JaymGates.