I'm still working on "Rule 34" (due from Ace in 2011), but as some of you probably noticed I've reached a stopping place in my Merchant Princes series (published by Tor) and need a break. More importantly, I've been ploughing a stony field for the past few years; writing the same stuff time and again is draining. So it should be no surprise to you to learn that I've been discussing possible new projects with my agent for the past year.
There are other factors at work besides a lack of fresh ideas, of course. We've been taking a hard look at the market realities; things have been particularly grim in SF/F publishing ever since November 2008, and it has become clear that in light of a downward spiral of diminishing sales things can't go on as before. The poor market conditions (Tim Holman of Little, Brown says the British publishing industry as a whole shipped 1% fewer books in 2009) are resulting in downward pressure on new book advances: as an agent of my acquaintance put it, with respect to advances, "five grand is the new twenty grand". Despite my editor's kind offer to increase my advance by 50% in real terms if I'd accept payment in repossessed Hummer H2's, I am afraid that for me, the opportunity cost of producing science fiction has become too high relative to the untapped revenue potential inherent in other genres. So it's time to branch out.
Late last year my agent and I conducted an exhaustive review of my skill-set and background, to the extent of commissioning a focus group to look into my work to date and suggest new directions. Readers commented favourably on the interpersonal romance subplots in the Merchant Princes series and the depiction of sexual relations in "Saturn's Children"; they also liked the paranormal elements in my Laundry novels, but expressed reservations about the tentacle count. A/B testing of a series of book proposals yielded some interesting insights into why people read books carrying the Charles Stross brand, and what could be done to improve their sell-through and market penetration. Finally, after a mammoth overnight brainstorming session, we put together a collection of new and extremely promising proposals for works that I feel are compatible with my interests and the reality of this age of changing market conditions we live in.
My agent issued a proposal package and deadline for auction among the most likely-to-be-interested New York publishing houses. One thing led to another, by way of one of those whirlwind romances for which the publishing industry is famous, and we're now engaged: I'm pleased to announce my new five book deal, for a very strong six-digit sum, with one of the largest publishers in the United States!
Harlequin Romance will publish my first paranormal romance, "Unicorn School™: The Sparkling", in Q1/2012. US:TS is the first book of the projected series, and introduces Avril Poisson, who moves with her family from Phoenix, Arizona, to Forks, Washington with her divorced father, and finds her life in danger when she falls in love with a Sparkly Unicorn™ called Bob. Stalked by and in fear of a mysterious horse-mutilator, Avril must practice her dressage skills with Bob and qualify her steed for a scholarship to the elite Unicorn School™, where he will be safe to grow (and sparkle) without fear of the vampires who infest the senior's common room. In the second book, "Unicorn School™: The Exsanguination" Bob and Avril must stalk a Vampire Unicorn™ who is draining her fellow pupils of the will to live back to the rocky outcrop where he lives. In book three, "Unicorn School™: The Deflowering", Bob and Avril confront their most ghastly foe yet, a moustache-twirling villain who is intent on seducing all the pupils (as we all know, unicorn/human relationships are only possible if the human party is a virgin) in order to sell their heart-broken steeds to evil French multinational meat conglomerate Hachette. In book four, "Unicorn School™: The Big Chill" the swindle that is global warming is exposed and, as glaciers pounce on the Louisiana Bayou, Avril and Bob are hunted by monstrous black-and-white swimming birds. And in book five, "Unicorn School™ Forever", our young lovers are going to get married — but not if the evil, bigoted anti-unicorn Sheriff Osama gets his anti-unicorn-marriage by-law passed first!
Editorial director Connie Cozened said, "we're delighted to have Stross on board, bringing his inimitable style and fizzing dialogue to the fastest growing sector of the romance market! (If only from a very small base.) His Sparkly Romance Unicorns™ marketing concept is sure to be a massive summer hit with immense spin-off marketing potential, and we've already been in discussions with Archie McPhee about co-branding. Movie rights are still available, but hurry! Stocks won't last!"
For further information relating to this press release, please contact Aprilsnar Maj-Kat, administrative assistant, Liza Dawson Associates.