Earlier in the month, Irish author Conor Kostick was recruited by the UK’s Ockham Publishing to lead a new imprint, Level Up Publishing. Writing.ie caught up with Conor to find out more about his new role and the manuscripts he is now looking for.
Congratulations on this new position, can you tell us more about the imprint?
Thanks. Back in March 2018 I wrote a feature for you about Ready Player One and LitRPG. In a nutshell, LitRPG is a sub-genre of Sci-Fi and Fantasy whose premise involves some kind of online game. And it is a genre whose popularity is growing. Today, for example, a new LitRPG release by author Dakota Krout is number forty-seven overall in the Amazon kindle store and number one in various Sci-Fi categories.
In the main, LitRPG is growing through Amazon sales, but Ockham Publishing believe — and I share that belief — that its popularity could easily transfer to physical books sold through bookshops. I can envisage a shelf in larger bookshops being dedicated to such titles.
So I’ve been asked to commission new works in the genre. Which is a role that’s a great fit with my own interests of course. Not that I do much gaming these days, but the possibilities of new plots and new dramas based on interactions in virtual reality really fascinates me as a reader and writer.
Your own YA novel, Epic, is an example of LitRPG?
Exactly, Epic is set in a world where a fantasy online game of the book’s title has become the medium through which economic and political activity takes place. The money you earn in the game is real. We see a team of teenagers advance in Epic, becoming a threat to the conservative and self-serving elite who run the world thanks to their control of the game. Back then (Epic was first published by O’Brien Press in 2004) there wasn’t a distinct genre with a label for this kind of book. Nor were there the kind of online communities of genre readers that we have these days. It’s a much more supportive environment for a genre author now, where you can engage with your readers more easily. After Epic came out, I used to get fan mail in the form of letters, which was always a lovely experience, but still, all the readers were isolated from one another. Now, fans of LitRPG (like many other genres) chat in forums about their favourite books, anticipated new releases and so on.
What kind of stories are you looking for?
I was talking to fellow Sci-Fi author Oisin McGann about this and he asked a crucial question: what is it that readers of the genre enjoy? Naturally, like any read, you want an immersive world, engaging characters and a page-turning plot. But when future readers pick up a Level Up book, what, specifically, will they expect?
Here, I think part of the answer lies in a weakness in online games as an art form. Some games are beautifully written (and as an aside, if Bob Dylan can get the Nobel Prize for literature, watch out for a game-writer winning it!), but their narratives are all pretty much distorted by the market. A company that has invested millions in attracting a massive user-base of subscribers does not want the story of their game to end. So they put arbitrary challenges that absorb hours and hours of game time in the way of players. And there’s never a fully satisfactory closure of story lines. The owners have to keep the game going.
I think readers of LitRPG enjoy both the usual attractions of SciFi, plus the vicarious pleasure of seeing a character progress within a game world in a fashion that would take years of actual gameplay. And too, the enjoyment of ending a story with a proper aesthetic payoff. In short, if you buy a book branded LitRPG, you expect the online game to feature very strongly. I’m tempted to say, it’s a genre for gamers, because people who have invested a lot of time in playing online games will really appreciate this aspect of the books. But that’s too narrow because in the same way as you don’t have to be interested in a particular period of history to enjoy historical fiction set in that era, you don’t have to be a gamer to enjoy a good book with a gaming premise.
You’re open to direct submissions?
Yes. If you’re a writer reading this, you don’t need an agent. It’s the ground floor for this imprint and while I anticipate the situation will change as I do more mentoring and less commissioning, right now I’m keen to see lots of pitches. There a submission form here.
Having said that, please don’t try to shoe-horn a different concept into a game-related one, just because the opportunity is there. I’ve had several of these types of submission already and they don’t work. Embrace the possibilities for original plots and character developments involving an online game and I’ll be glad to hear from you.