16 November 2010

London Games Conference

I confess, I'm not much of a gamer. Not because I don't love video games but because I have a slightly obsessive personality that prevents me from stopping one once I start. It happened with Super Mario Brothers, with The Sims, and then a few years ago, I started playing King Kong on the XBox, finished it, and never picked up a console again.

But if the games industry has its wicked way then we'll all be gamers one day. If not on the XBox, then on our mobile phones, PCs, iPads and televisions. Or at least that was the impression I got at the London Games Conference last week. I was covering the event for Digital Planet on BBC World Service radio (it aired today but you can listen again on iPlayer).

My obsessive fears aside (nothing's going to make me sign up to Farmville), it's actually a pretty exciting time because gaming is opening up to new demographics, such as older people and women, who tend not to game as much as young men. Shuji Utsumi from Q Entertainment in Japan, for example, recently launched a role-playing game based on the life of a geisha, which has turned out to be a big hit with middle-aged Japanese women. There are other examples, but you'll just have to tune in.

12 November 2010

We're all fimmakers now

I've spent this week working as a trainer with the incredible team at Rosenblum TV, an American outfit with a radical approach to television. Their philosophy is that huge crews, separate cameramen and separate editors aren't the only way to make great TV; why don't we shoot, edit and tell our own stories? After all, technology has made this possible. Good-quality cameras are so cheap and editing software is so easy to install that every one of us is a potential filmmaker. The great thing is that the vision you have as a producer or director can be translated exactly the way you want it, not through another person's lens.

Of course, television (news in particular) has been slower to catch up with this digital revolution. When I was a reporter at the BBC, for example, editors still tended to value material shot by cameramen over material shot and edited by skilled VJs. But I'm sure that's already started changing. I was stunned, for example, that many of the people I helped to train this week in Final Cut Pro had never done any professional shooting or editing in their lives and yet produced the most incredible, humorous and touching stories.

Sadly my own film-making has taken a back seat for the last year because I've been working on my book... But when my publishers told me the other day that they wanted me to be interviewed for an author video (the kind of thing you see on Amazon), I was itching to get back behind a camera and so I suggested to them that I make it myself. My last big editing project was cutting my wedding video and it's about time to get back in the saddle. Instead of the usual sit-down interview, I'm going to try something more creative. Watch this space!

8 November 2010

How to get a book deal

I've had lots of emails and phone calls in the last year asking me how to secure a book deal and so as promised I'm going to share my experience (such that it is... I'm only on my first book and still learning).

First of all, not all ideas are equal. A subject that you find important and fascinating may not catch the imagination of many readers, so before you start developing your thoughts too much, it helps to do a quick calculation of how many people would be likely to buy it. The marketing bumpf in a book proposal is almost as important as the idea itself. So for example, if you would like to write a history book about the Spanish Civil War, then find out what other books have been published on the topic, how well they did, who bought them, and whether there might be any special reason for people to buy that book now (like an anniversary).

Now that's not to say that something obscure wouldn't sell: The Cloudspotter’s Guide doesn't sound like it would be an immediate hit, but it has turned into a runaway global bestseller. And this brings me to my next point: how are you going to tell the story? Seemingly dull subjects can be transformed by a wonderful treatment. Sometimes the skill lies in the writing, but sometimes it's also about your approach. Why not tell it from a different point of view? Find an interesting device, character or narrative? Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, for example, is a book about biology told through the story of an amazing woman and her family. It's more fun than reading a boring explainer about genes.

Lastly, follow the rules. Publishers are quite explicit about how they would like to receive book proposals so if you just do exactly what they say, your odds of getting a deal go up immediately. Usually, you will need a well-written proposal that includes an introduction, chapter outlines, your biography (why should you write this book and not someone else), marketing information and a draft chapter or two. Don't skimp. If you mess up the proposal once then you damage your chances of someone looking at it again.

These days most submissions also have to go through a literary agent. So send your proposal to those you feel would best represent your work. The one I plumped for, for example, is Peter Tallack because his agency focuses particularly on science writers. Also, don't just settle for the first publisher who offers you a deal. Figure out which one is most enthusiastic about your work. I accepted a deal with Hodder not just for the money, but because they loved my idea from day one and have shown nothing but passion for it.

Simples! Hope that's useful! If you have any extra questions than leave a comment and I'll reply as soon as I can.

1 November 2010

London Science Book Club

This has been a pretty sad week for popular science readers in London. Firstly, the Royal Society announced that it would no longer have a prize for the year's best science books. Secondly, I've found out that the British Science Association's London book club is no more.

Writing my own book has reignited my passion for other people's science writing, so if you are another one of those people with a strange yet irrepressible love of non-fiction then you'll be glad to hear that I'm thinking of starting a small science book club in central London. Every two months we'll be meeting to discuss a brilliant read over a cup of tea and some cake. If you're interested (and if you do join, you must attend like clockwork) then please send me a Tweet @AngelaDSaini. The idea came to me only this evening and I already have two signed up, so be quick because there will be a cap on numbers!

UPDATE: The book club membership is now full. Sorry! If you'd like to go on the waiting list, let me know.