Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Guest Post | Zoe of Fantasy Bytes Considers Small Press SF&F

Ladies and gentlemen: welcome once again to The Speculative Scotsman!

You may or may not know that I’m in America at the moment – if not, yes, it’s true... in fact I’m as far AFK as I’ve ever been before – but never ye fear! For in my absence, a few good men and women have volunteered to make the site their own, albeit only momentarily. They’re bloggers, by and large, but also friends; fine folks one and all that I’ve met on the internet (and occasionally off) in the course of keeping this shared space set aside for burbling about speculative fiction of all shapes and sizes.

They all have blogs of their own, of course, and I’d urge you to seek them out. I care a lot about what goes on here on The Speculative Scotsman, so let me stress this one thing before I get to giving over the floor: the fact that I’m hosting the work of each of these excellent writers here speaks to my admiration and my respect for every last one among them.

If you enjoy some or all of these terrific reviews and opinion pieces, do the decent thing and click through the links in the intro and outro of each. Follow a few of my favourite internet critics. :)  

Today, the lovely Zoe of Fantasy Bytes (nee Fantasy Nibbles) sets her inimitable sights on small press and self-published science fiction and fantasy. Is it all rubbish? For so sayeth the received wisdom, let's make no bones about it. 

Zoe, however, says no...


It's been around six months now since I started book blogging, creating a site purely as a place to record and briefly review my reads. As I slowly got up and running I stumbled across other like-minded bloggers and had my eyes opened to the world of ARCs, and was rapidly introduced to the quagmire of SF&F publishers out there. Up until this point I'd been essentially just reading titles from 'the Big Boys', Epic Fantasy from the likes of Voyager & Orbit etc., pure mass market fantasy from the bestseller list on Amazon. I was completely unaware of the hordes of smaller publishers out there, and of the way in which the publishing world is so intertwined: a colossal, swollen mass of imprints and sister companies, a vast many-tentacled beast sucking up submissions and churning out titles. I was equally clueless as to the real power of blogging, and had no idea that the larger publishers would happily ship out ARCs to small-time bloggers, eager for mentions and reviews. My little site had opened up a massive new world to me. 

(There's a point to my reminiscing, honestly, I'm almost there now...)

Once I started enjoying ARCs from the better known publishers, I began paying more attention to the many other blogs similar to mine, and at this point it occurred to me to add some kind of "contact me if you’d like me to review your book" section to my site. I felt a bit daft in all honesty, and didn't expect anyone to use it, but within a couple of days the requests started trickling in. This is the point when things really got interesting for me, as I was suddenly being sent titles from all sorts of authors and publishers that would otherwise never have registered on my radar at all.

To be 100% honest, I wasn't expecting much... I had a kind of subconscious publisher snobbery thing going on [I know exactly what you mean --- Niall]. If these titles were really any good they'd have been taken up by the Big Boys I said to myself. But there was one called "My Sparkling Misfortune" which from the blurb sounded like fun, and just the thing for a rainy afternoon, so I delved in and gave it a go. And I absolutely loved it, it was extremely well written and engaging, and not only could I not put it down I also couldn't fault it. And then I hoovered up the sequel. And my eyes were opened to an whole new world of titles. I've since read and enjoyed a massive amount of novels from often tiny publishers (other notable examples being CassaStar, CassaFire & Overlord Rising ), and whilst each one that blows me away is a treat, I can't help feeling hugely disappointed when I think how many fantasy readers will never see these books.

Obviously with the increasing popularity of e-readers the odds of titles like this taking off are vastly improved. One of the main barriers to hard copies from independents, in my experience at least, is the price. If I want the newest Voyager paperback I'm usually looking at around a fiver on Amazon, but if I want a small paperback from an Indie it can be up around $20, which is an instant put-off. Kindle versions are usually a much better deal. It's much easier to take a risk on an unknown quantity with a significantly smaller price-tag.

Some of my absolute favourite reads since starting the blog have been from independent publishers. However much I shout them out on my site though, I only have a small readership and these titles don't get anywhere near the recognition they deserve. And that really bothers me. In many cases the writing is vastly superior to many of the big titles out there, so what is it that determines who gets picked up by the big names? Is it a case of 50% talent and 50% luck? Or are the odds even worse than that? Maybe it's who you know as much as it's what you write...

Let me use an example from the Urban Fantasy genre. Penguin's new imprint, Berkley UK, have got a title due out this Spring, a werewolf novel that's a walking, talking, trite and tired cliche (IMO of course). With the might of Penguin behind it they've already sold the film rights, and it will no doubt rake in gazillions of monies. Candlemark and Gleam have recently published Matchbox Girls, a fresh and innovative (IMO of course) Urban Fantasy that spurns the usual stereotypes and would make a truly fantastic film, if only it would get some serious notice. It's beautifully written, and damn near cliche free. It's not right! These two are the wrong way around.

These are of course just my personal ramblings and foot-stompings. I don't know if authors aim for a certain publisher initially, or if they try many, and go with the first one who seems keen. Maybe many of them make a conscious decision to avoid the larger houses; I clearly don't know the process. I just have an assumption that you would start high and then go lower if you're not successful. I have to admit it's a topic increasingly close to my heart as I struggle to coax the fantasy novel that has been brewing in my head for the last couple of years, out, and onto paper.

I've noticed that some of the older and more established review blogs won't touch independent titles at all. I presume time spent on reviews like this hurts their site's stats and they don't want to take the hit. They're missing out one some absolute gems though. And so are their readers. I’m thankful to have widened my reading experience, and tend to be on the lookout for the Davids more than the Goliaths these days.


Inspiring words, Zoe! And thank you ever so much for putting them thus here on The Speculative Scotsman. For my part, I'm all for underdogs - at the very least I like to think I am - so I'll make a note to pay more attention to the small press review requests that come in through the site from here on out.

Remember, everyone: you can find Zoe blogging ALL THE TIME over at Fantasy Bytes. Get in on the action on the ground floor now!

So what's coming up tomorrow? Again, I'm not 100% sure myself yet, so we'll all just have to wait and see... but judging by the last couple of weeks' worth of content, odds on it's going to be awesome.


  1. I've been following you since your blog began and I never knew your name was Zoe!

  2. Lol, sorry josh, my manners are awful! :)
    Niall, thanks for doing me the honour of posting here, and I hope your travels are going well. Safe trip home sir.

  3. I found a few gems in Small Press and Indies too. I think lots of people just don't have the time to weed out the good from the bad.