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PK Interview: Mark Charan Newton (Part 3)

Our week's worth of interview with Mark Charan Newton is, sadly, coming to an end.

Previously, we discussed his start as a writer and Nights of Villjamur (Monday) and City of Ruin and The Book of Transformations (Wednesday). In the final portion of the interview, we moved the conversation to something near and dear to both our hearts: the blogosphere.


Bentham's Panopticon You’ve got a close relationship with the UK genre “blogosphere” - five minutes on your site (or the dedication to City of Ruin) gives it all away. Just so our definitions are straight, what do you mean by the term “blogosphere”?

And back to our original discussion about starting out as a writer - what sort of support can a new author get from it?

Blogosphere: basically, the bunch of folk who champion fantasy fiction to a wide online audience. They’re more important than review sites because they’re based around community, and that’s what the internet (and championing books) is about. Review sites are worthless in terms of enthusing about books and communicating with readers (they’re niches of niches, talking to a specialist audience). By all means they can do their things – and I am interested, often, in what they have to say, but it’s the bloggers who are dynamic, engaged, having conversations in many places, get off their arses to book launches or just to have fun. They’re talking (as a hivemind) to a vast audience.

As for what can a new author get out of it? It depends. If they’re willing to assiduously contact, engage with, and give their time to a lot of bloggers (possibly dozens, and spread over quite some time – which is tiring)  then they’ll slowly build their profile and get some good sales from it all (though, they should be doing it because it’s fun, too). If an author doesn’t do that, then they’re not going to really get much coverage. They’ll be lost in all the white noise online. Of course, some authors are lucky to have dedicated publicists and editors who champion their work; some publishers just throw a bunch of authors against the wall to see what sticks.

Nothing beats a good book cover and money spent by the publisher in promoting it heavily in stores or online. Money goes a long way in creating successes. 

Nights of Villjamur - Google search But it working with the blogosphere can also mean that you get something like this [see picture, right]- where the Guardian - a voice with mainstream appeal - is almost pushed off the front page by specialist genre blogs.

Is there a time in a writer’s career where he or she is better off focusing on the traditional media outlets and just letting the internet take care of itself?

Well, the thing to remember about the Guardian is that it’s both print and website giving you massive amounts of exposure in one relatively short period of time. The Google rankings are there as an after thought – and are probably not that important. (People tend to search for author names rather than book names. I’ve had infinitely more number of hits for my name over that of the books.)

The thing about the Guardian is that it looks cool to have that as a quote (though secretly I’m really after a quote from the Sun or the Daily Star – something really down-market) that you can slap on the cover of a book and it stays there indefinitely. It means something to a broad audience who are browsing in a bookstore. Newspapers, major magazines and other famous authors are probably the most effective cover quotes you can get – but there’s precious little opportunity for those. The internet is usually all most new authors can hope for – it’s not really a matter of choice. And, if you could control it all, you’d want exposure everywhere!

In a recent post, you snuck in the possibility that the blogosphere may have less of an effect than we (the blogocliques) like to think. This was in a discussion regarding equality and minorities in genre fiction - a situation where the shelves haven’t been reflecting what the bloggers are saying online. How could this be?

Aren’t bloggers just ordinary, book-purchasing, demographically-statistically-significant representatives of the genre-reading community?! Is it that all of those descriptors are completely wrong, or is there something that transforms bloggers once they immerse themselves?

Bloggers – and people online – are a small percentage of the book buying audience. There’s no other way to say it. Books that have had a lot of exposure online quite often don’t perform that well when you look at the cold hard light of sales figures. Likewise, books that are barely discussed online can do breathtakingly well in stores  - they’ve had huge advertising campaigns, good placement, discounts offered etc.

The people that make or break a career for an author are the casual buyers, the ones who are browsing the shelves on a wet afternoon, who might only occasionally check something out online or read a review in a newspaper. They want to see a cover with which they can identify, an enticing back cover blurb, perhaps a good cover quote – and if it’s in a discounted offer, that’s even better. 

What would you like to see from the blogosphere that would be helpful to you as a writer that isn’t happening already?

More autonomy; more reading of stuff that isn’t frontlist; more independence from publishers; less reliance on freebies (I say this despite wanting freebies myself). I’m glad there’s less angsty navel-gazing than there used to be - it was a huge distraction from book reviewing. People get so precious over snarky comments (IT’S THE INTERNET).

But then that’s more helpful to the health of the genre rather than me as a writer. I’d like to see more coverage of me, in that case.

As an aside, I’d like to see more variety and personality in general – that’s what made the original wave of bloggers so interesting. More articles, more thoughts and ideas. And, in general, I’d love to see more reviews that aren’t rehashing the synopsis.

Your series has been out in the US now for some time, and you’ve got fans on both sides of the Atlantic. You’ve got a good view on the differences between US and UK fan bases - is there anything they could learn from one another? 

I think US fans are more open to dropping authors a line to say they enjoyed a book, but – honestly – I think we’re one homogenous, neoliberal organism these days. US fans tend to do things with more vigor and passion; UK fans are more reserved, but these are cultural things. Ultimately we’re sold the same stuff and read the same discussions, we’re all one family now.   

Thank you very, very much for your time. Just one final, extremely important, question. What extinct creature would you want as a pet? 

I’d like a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) because I could then make amazing Lolcat pictures thanks to its weirdly huge jaw. I’d be the envy of the internet. 



The interview began on Monday with a discussion of Nights of Villjamur and continued Wednesday with City of Ruin and The Book of Transformations. The Book of Transformations is released on 3 June 2011. Excerpts, cover art and more are all available on Mark Charan Newton's site.