On Tuesday I took a little time to tell you how to submit a manuscript to Amazon imprint 47North. I talked about how it made me feel when I crept carelessly back into that miserable process. But I didn’t tell you why I suddenly wanted to pursue a semi-traditional print publishing deal. I also didn’t mention which title it was for.
In fact, it’s for a title you’ve probably never heard of before. Ghost Targets: Surveillance.
Near-Future Science Fiction Technothriller Cop Drama
You might have heard of my science fiction series, Ghost Targets. It has no ghosts in it. Not the spectral sort, anyway.
No, the series focuses on a world very much like ours, set about thirty years in the future with all the cool techno gadgetry that might come along by then. The most interesting change is the introduction of total universal surveillance.
Cameras and microphones everywhere record every word spoken, every movement, and do their best to map that data to actual identities and store it all in a massive database. That information is available to the government and law enforcement, but it’s also available to all manner of services–think of the apps you might install on your smartphone–and even available to the general public.
Something like Gods
So the databases know where you are. They know how much money is in your bank account and (statistically) what you like to have for dinner on a day like today (especially given what you had for lunch today and what you’ve had for other dinners this week). They know the nutrition information for every restaurant in town and they know the results of your most recent blood tests and they know how much you care about that sort of thing.
In my back-cover description for the Ghost Targets books, I always start with this:
We abandoned privacy and turned databases into something like gods. They listened to our prayers. They met our needs and blessed us with new riches. They watched over us, protected us, and punished the wicked among us. We almost made a paradise.
And that’s why I called the first book in the Ghost Targets series Gods Tomorrow. It’s a reference to the databases. They’re almost gods, they’ll be gods tomorrow, but for now there are still gaps.
One of the gaps is that it’s still possible for some people to deliberately hide their actions. Little bits of data disappear from the historical record, and they can get away with murder. When the police try to search through the database records to review the scene of the crime, there’s a big hole where the perpetrator ought to be. He’s invisible. He’s a ghost.
And so the FBI established a special high-tech division to track down these special cases. They called them Ghost Targets and tasked them with doing the impossible. That’s a fantastic premise for a long-running sci-fi mystery series.
Missing the Market
They’re good books, too. They’re action-packed and fast-paced and fun. The technology is pretty well researched but also deliberately accessible to the “Law & Order” crowd. The characters are vivid, and their conflicts are consistently entertaining. I love writing them, and I’ve gotten really positive feedback from everyone who’s read them.
Unfortunately, “everyone who’s read them” isn’t that large a number. I’ve sold some frankly astonishing numbers of my fantasy books, but my sci-fi series is barely moving at all. I think I know why, too. I’m convinced the problem is marketing.
The series is called “Ghost Targets,” but it’s not a ghost story–neither horror nor fantasy, despite the distressingly long list of categories it does fit in. That’s a big problem, too. Taming Fire sold a lot of copies on its own, I think, because it was so squarely set in the very heart of a well-established genre. Everything about that book screams epic fantasy.
But you try screaming “near-future science fiction technothriller cop drama for the ‘Law & Order’ crowd” without running out of breath. It’s a challenge, and while I’m prepared to argue in defense of the slightly misleading “ghost” in the series title, I do have to admit that it doesn’t help offset the marketing problem I’m already dealing with.
And then, on top of that, I titled the first book Gods Tomorrow. It’s a terribly poetic title once you know what it means. But then, once you know what it means, I no longer have to convince you to take a chance on the book. If you don’t know what the series is (and especially if you accidentally read in an apostrophe to make it God’s Tomorrow), the book looks an awful lot like it’s going to be inspirational religious lit.
I’ve got nothing against inspirational religious lit, but it’s a long way from near-future science fiction technothriller cop drama that’s not about ghosts for the ‘Law & Order’ crowd.
In Defense of Outsourcing
I really think I shot myself in the foot with the promotion on God Tomorrow. It’s a story that could be really, really popular if it could find its market, but even with all the success I’ve had with Taming Fire, I just don’t yet have the marketing muscle to make the Ghost Targets series work.
I’m trying, though. I’ve decided to rename the first book from Gods Tomorrow to Surveillance (so it’ll match the other one-word titles in the series). That doesn’t just eliminate the religious-lit confusion, it also better characterizes the central focus of the story.
We’re working on that now, designing a new cover for the new title. But while I was at it, I decided to take a stab at outsourcing the heavy-duty promotion. I decided to see what a (sort of) traditional publisher could do to build a market for the series. And that’s why I went begging to Amazon’s science-fiction and fantasy imprint 47North. I offered them the chance to find an audience for Ghost Targets.
It could be a very interesting partnership. I’ll let you know when I hear back from them.
In the meantime, if you haven’t ever checked it out before, give the series a try. You can get a free sample on the Kindle app or pick up a rare first-edition of the Gods Tomorrow paperback before it gets re-released as Surveillance and sells a million copies.
Either way, you win. And I get my story told, so I win, too. Awesome.