On 2 June 2011 Marc Gascoigne, Publishing Director of Angry Robot Books, and Gav Thorpe, one of their fantasy novelists, gave an illuminating talk at NWS. Read Gaynor Backhouse’s report of the event below.
Originally set up two and a half years ago by Marc Gascoigne, Angry Robot started out as a Harper Collins publishing experiment. Today, as part of the Osprey group, it is flourishing as a publisher of ‘imaginative fiction’, which Marc describes as “all imaginative stuff influenced by comic books and X-boxes, films and Dr Who”. It also has the distinction of having published Zoo City, winner of the 2011 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Science Fiction.
Innovation is Angry Robot’s watchword. As well as experimenting with the publishing model, the company is also experimenting with how it finds new authors. It hosts the occasional Open Door Month, where un-agented authors can make submissions – as long as they follow the guidelines. There is another one tentatively planned “for sometime near the end of the year” in response to the success of the first: of the thousand entries they received, six were seriously considered and four are being taken forward for publication.
Becoming an Angry Robot author is no easy ride. In order to keep the momentum up and interest levels high, authors have to publish often. Gav Thorpe, having a night off to celebrate putting the finishing touches to his latest novel for Angry Robot, says he writes about four books a year. This means he has to be very organised, and he has a strict regime that he attributes to his background in games design – he works on more than one project at a time and keeps track of each one at different stages of development.
This is not just about supplying the readers but is also due to changes in how booksellers operate. Whereas, in the past, they used to need eighteen months to build up an author’s new work, booksellers are now asking for two years. If you’re a commercial author trying to build a career, you need to know what you’re going to be doing for the next four or five years and have four or five books in the pipeline.
There are lessons here for all writers, irrespective of genre. If you want a publisher to invest in you and your book, you need to have a clear idea of what they will get back. This doesn’t necessarily mean four books a year, but as Marc puts it: “A publisher wants to know about your career, not your first book”.