On indie press: Margo Lanagan

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and are professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Here, Margo Lanagan shares her thoughts.

Indie presses—an extremely author-centric view

The recipe for building a career in speculative fiction publication is as follows:

  1. You write your half a million apprenticeship words.
  2. You send out shorts to magazines and anthologies large and small, with gradually increasing likelihood of being published in higher and higher-status publications and even, sometimes, paid.
  3. When you’ve racked up enough hits, you put together a novel, or a collection.
  4. You send it out, listing all your credits in your covering letter.
  5. The publisher sees that other people besides you think your work is okay, and takes a second look instead of slipping a form rejection in the envelope and shunting it back to you.

My publishing history, from a speculative fiction perspective, looks as if I did the exact opposite. My first spec fic publication was White Time, a collection of the stories I wrote for Clarion West in 1999, with a few additions. It came out, it got some good reviews, it quietly sank beneath the waves. Having published ten teen romances, two junior fantasy novels and two gritty realist YA novels before this, I decided that this writing lark was never going to work as a reliable money earner. I might as well stop trying to second-guess markets, I thought, and write purely for the reward of the writing itself.

Black Juice came out in March 2004. In October it started winning prizes, and it didn’t stop for about eighteen months.

At some time in 2005 Jonathan Strahan said in an email that I must be madly busy with writing stories for every magazine and antho under the sun. I wasn’t. I hadn’t sent out a single story, and I hadn’t been asked for one by a single editor. Any short stories I was writing (let’s not mention the crash-and-burning novels) were towards my third collection, Red Spikes. I was an iland, intire of my selfe.

This sounds as if I was pigheaded, possibly snobbish about where I’d put my work. But in fact I’d already done the rounds of a different series of indie presses—although we didn’t call them that, back in my day, she says toothlessly.

I’d spent my teens and twenties posting out poems to Australian literary magazines of various sizes, mostly small—Saturday Club Book of Poetry (that was my first, in 1976), Compass, riverrun, Post Neo—but some bigger, like Overland, Poetry Australia, Scripsi. I had about a dozen credits, enough to look okay on a Literature Board grant application. I’d played the rejections-slips-collecting game, I’d read and thought about and acted on the editors’ kind letters; I’d banked cheques amounting in total to, ooh, about $75?

And I was over this elaborate form of being ignored. I still loved poetry, but I wished I could pour out reams of prose. I wanted to produce whole books, not just a page at a time of compressed meaning, half-strangled by its own allusions. I was a reader of novels and stories, and I wanted other readers, not just other poets, to feel towards my writing what I felt towards books that I loved. When I heard, at Clarion West, that magazines-then-books was the way to climb this spec fic tree, I thought, Been there, bugger that.

‘A Pig’s Whisper’ was my first published story that wasn’t a reprint from the collections. When Cat Sparks published it in Agog! Ripping Reads people asked her, ‘How did you get a Margo Lanagan story?’

‘I asked,’ she said.

And there I was, perfectly happy to be asked, but not willing, with work and children and everything else in my life, to move into the hit-and-miss world of magazine and antho submissions. I didn’t have time to read them, let alone create the spreadsheet and have the 12-stories-out-at-any-one-time that some of my fellows at CW99 claimed to be aiming for.

Since ‘A Pig’s Whisper’ I’ve published two more story collections, and a couple more collections’ worth of stories that have come out in anthologies by mostly independent presses. Most requests for stories I’ve fulfilled; of those I’ve passed on, some have been on themes I don’t relate to, or the deadlines have been wrong for me, or, as lately, the requests have come in when the well is dry from my having said yes too often.

But when that well fills up again, I’ll go on. Publishing with small, or smaller presses, seems to me the most useful, relevant publicity a writer can do. After all, you can only visit so many schools, festivals and workshops before you get sick of the sound of your own voice. You can only travel so far and connect with so many people in person. But you can send individual shorts out into the world (or packets of shorts, like the Twelve Planets boutique-collection series). Who knows where they’ll end up, or who’ll open them, and happen on your work, and like it and look out for more?

If you’re not much of a con-goer, or a blurber, or a critique partner, publishing with small-presses also keeps you in touch with the genre communities your work makes you part of. In the course of the editorial, publishing and launching processes, you can keep up with the gossip that doesn’t make it online. It can be the way you support those communities; in some ways it’s the best and most direct form of support outside of buying their publications.

Margo is the author of award winning short story collections like Spike, White Time and Black Juice which won  two World Fantasy Awards. Her novel Tender Morsels won the Printz Honor Award. Her latest collection is Yellow Cake and she is one of the Twelve Planets, forthcoming from Twelfth Planet Press.


On indie press: Joanne Anderton

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today, Joanne Anderton, whose first novel, Debris (Angry Robot Books) was released just this week, shares her journey.

Indie press has been many things to me, and still is. It is opportunity, passion, and community. I also believe it’s the future, or at least a very big part of it.

Like so many writers, I started my publishing journey with Indies. My first fiction sale was flash fiction to an online horror publisher, and most of my short fiction has since found Indie homes. Opportunity, right? Opportunity to see my name in print, to cast my words out into the great story sea and help them swim. This in turn helped me create an identity as an author (being someone who can answer the inevitable ‘oh, what have you published?’ question at parties, rather than mumbling about novels tucked away in dusty drawers) and the all important publishing history. Indie publishing also offers opportunities to different kinds of stories, ones that don’t fit neatly into genre categories or marketing plans. I’ve always thought this puts them ahead of the trend, and parallel to the trend, and on a totally different but much more exciting planet than the trend, all at the same time. Indie publishers create this opportunity for writers like me by publishing short fiction in the first place, by opening their doors to unsolicited manuscripts and wading through the slush they get in response, and by working hard – damned hard – to promote their stories far and wide. And that’s where passion comes in.

It takes passion to be a publisher of any kind. Trust me, I spend my day job hours in an office across the hall to several publishers, I sit in meeting with them, I chat to them around the water cooler/coffee machine/packet of Tim Tams. Publishers live and breathe their books, they fight for them, they sing praises, and pick up the pieces of their nervous authors when necessary. Despite this, it still takes something special to be an Indie publisher. It not only involves a massive commitment of time, and energy, and emotional wellbeing, but more often than not it involves an injection of funds. You’ve got to love something a lot to volunteer so much of your life and yourself to it, and throughout my dealings with Indies I have found that love – that passion – to be inspiring and infectious. They love what they do, and when my stories have been fortunate enough to become what they do, I’ve seen them with different eyes. Indies have helped me see my words and worlds differently, they’ve helped me fall back in love with them, and be inspired to work to make them as good as they can be. This leads me to community.

All the Indies I’ve worked with have had a wonderful way of making me feel included. They are not distant, scary dictators controlling all your hopes and dreams from afar. I was also a part of the Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine Co-operative for a time, and there my sense of community grew. Reading slush was an invaluable learning experience for me as a writer (I can’t recommend this enough!), as was editing my own issue of the magazine. Both broadened my view of writing and publishing considerably. Just as important was the connections I made, the community I found, and that found me, of authors, editors, and publishers.

This combination of opportunity, passion and community have meant that Indie publishers have been an integral part of my writing career. But add these together and you realise that Indies have one other, seriously important, thing going for them: flexibility. We all know the publishing world is changing, big time. It’s hard, but Indies are in a good position. Passionate about their stories and eager to tell them to as many people as possible, they are quick to take advantage of the opportunities created by changes in technology, and truly establish themselves in the global community of readers.

See what I did there?

Honestly, though, Indie publishing has been vital to my past. I believe they will be key to all our futures.

Joanne Anderton lives in Sydney with her husband and too many pets. By day she is a mild-mannered marketing coordinator for an Australian book distributor. By night, weekends and lunchtimes she writes dark fantasy, horror and (according to some people) science fiction. Her short fiction has appeared in all sorts of Indie publications, but most recently in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, After the Rain and Dead Red Heart. She was a finalist for the 2009 Aurealis Award for best young adult short story.

Her debut novel, Debris (Book One the Veiled Worlds Series) will be published … well, right now … by Angry Robot Books, followed by Suited in 2012. 

Visit her online at: http://joanneanderton.com and on Twitter @joanneanderton

On indie press: Jason Nahrung

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and are professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Here, Jason Nahrung shares his thoughts.

Small press, indie press … the nomenclature is changing with the boom in self-publishing and the subversion of the established tag of indie press. So at the pub the other day, where all great decisions are made, my writing buddies and I reached consensus that “boutique press” was a cooler, more accurate name for those who publish the works of others on a cottage industry basis. Or something like that. We were, after all, at the pub.

It’s not just the tag that’s changing. The production quality is lifting, too. With e-publishing and print on demand slicing the up-front costs, indie publishers can put more of their cash and their effort into quality: well-designed covers, decent paper stock, attention to detail in the editing. Some still don’t quite get it – the internet is littered with ugly covers, so muddy and obscure the image is barely recognisable, the spray of multi-fonted, rainbow-hued text damn near unreadable. Hold the outer glow on the Photoshop, dude: I wanna read that spiel!

And proofreading. For pity’s sake, whether you’re a multi-national publishing conglomerate or some keen mogul wannabe establishing your empire out of your home office, is it really so hard to proof the bloody thing before you throw it at the publishing wall to see if it sticks?

There, rant done. Don’t let the cowboys put you off, that’s all I’m saying.

There are plenty of publishers beavering away with the spare change from their day jobs who manage to make the effort: they put their money where their heart is, draw up contracts, pay their writers, send them proofs, send them galleys, publicise the end product, hawk it to book sellers and convention goers and awards. It exhausts me, just looking at how damn professional they are. How passionate they are.

I, as a relatively recent newcomer to the writing-for-publication game, am in their debt.

More than that. I love them. The new chums, the old hands, the pros and the amateurs: I relish the opportunity they present for dweebs like me who have the temerity to think someone else wants to read the narratives dribbling from brain onto keyboard. I love that they love what they do and they do it as well as they can. And I really love an editor who can make me look good. Hell, yes.

The money, however much or little it might be, is secondary. It’s nice – very nice, very affirming – but the real warm and fuzzy comes from that acceptance letter, and then the byline on the shelf: the pretty. I luvs it. I am, as it turns out, an egotistical prick. But then, why else would you write? It sure ain’t the money!

Short stories this year have saved my ego, have maybe even given me the confidence or at least the small flicker of hope, to keep hammering out the words. To persevere. You bet I feel a big debt of gratitude. Hey, I finally got a story into Aurealis this year, man. That’s a big deal for me; that’s a big box ticked off.

How fortunate that there is such a vibrant community of boutique publishers, of independents, in this country prepared to put their time and money and all that frustration into giving Aussie writers a place to learn their craft, to find some exposure, to make a mark, to build some confidence. A proving ground to foster home-grown talent and take it to the world.

With the changes turning the publishing world on its ear, this could be a new era for boutique publishers. As book as artefact becomes even more pronounced, as technology opens new formats and delivery systems, the indies are in a unique position to exploit niche markets and, indeed, to access a global niche market.

So, indie dudes, thanks for being there. Thanks for giving me something to aim at. May you keep on fighting the good fight, and may you make your money back.

Jason Nahrung grew up on a Queensland cattle property and has worked as a newspaper journalist for more than 20 years. He is the editor for Queensland Writers Centre’s magazine Writing Queensland and also does freelance editing and manuscript appraisal.

Jason’s writing has won the William Atheling Jnr award for Criticism or Review, been highly commended in the Aurealis Awards, and been shortlisted in the Ditmars and the Australian Shadows.

His debut novel, The Darkness Within (Hachette Australia), is based on a novella written with his then girlfriend Mil Clayton by email when they were living two states apart. It has also sold to Germany.

Jason now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife, and fellow writer, Kirstyn McDermott.


On indie press: Michael Pryor

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today, Michael Pryor shares his experience.

Very early on in my writing career, indie press was vital to me. One of my first short story sales featured in the first issue of Aurealis, which kicked off a long association with that publication. I’ve had nine stories published in Aurealis, two of which picked up Aurealis Award shortlisting. I’ve also done a fair bit of behind the scenes work with Aurealis, working on submissions and story selection, writing articles, carrying boxes and generally helping out. I’ve been an Associate Editor and now I’m one of the three publishers behind the scenes.

This experience has been crucial to my writing career. For a start, it’s let me see behind the scenes of magazine publishing and how it works. I’ve seen the passion and the enthusiasm of all those who work on a small press publication. I’ve seen the hours put in. I’ve seen the keenness of the writers out there, published and unpublished. I’ve seen the joys, the disappointments and the misunderstandings.

All this means that I approach my own writing career with a level of insight. I understand the rejection process and how it works. I know how much time it takes to work through submissions. I jump to it when an editor asks for a rewrite. I adhere to deadlines, because I know of all the concomitant arrangements that are dependent on that story coming in on THAT date and no later. Coming to terms with the concrete demands of publishing emphasised to me that small doesn’t have to mean amateurish. A professional outlook and approach is something that most indie press strive for, so I was determined that as a writer I could do no less.

As genre publishing began to boom, I also had stories published by Wakefield Press, Ford Street Publishing and FableCroft Publishing. Behind each one I saw the people involved and their dedication. It’s both affirming and inspirational to see how they appreciate a good story, and I admire the way they put a collection together.

I firmly believe that it was my track record as a successful writer of short stories that helped my first novel get published. Partly it was the contacts I’d made after breaking out of the ‘unpublished writer’ rank and into the ‘published writer’ rank, but also it was the contacts I’d made once I’d made this step. The people looking at my first novel submission knew who I was, and that never hurts.

Now, twenty-eight novels later, I work with Random House, a major international publisher, but I maintain my contact with the world of indie publishing. Why, just a few weekends ago I was with the other Aurealis people, stuffing envelopes, making sure the mail went out on time…

Michael Pryor is a best-selling author of fantasy for teenagers. He has published over twenty-five novels and more than 40 short stories. He has been shortlisted for the Aurealis Award six times, and five of his books have been CBCA Notable books. His current and new releases include Hour of Need (Laws of Magic 6), published in May this year from Random House, and the first book of his new series, The Extraordinaires, is called The Extinction Gambit and will be released in December, again from Random House.

Find out more about Michael and his works at his website.

On indie press: Robert Hood

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and are professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Robert Hood, who considers some of the differences between small press and the pros.

Photograph by Cat Sparks

Independent vs Mainstream Publishing

In some ways, issues of small-press vs mainstream publishing have been a bit moot in my own writing history – and I think it’s fairly typical. In part it’s the difference between being a short-story writer and being a novelist. For genre short-story writing (in particular), small presses are inevitable, at least in the long term.

My writing career was undoubtedly forged in the cash-strapped world of the small press. In those early years, though story publication sometimes came via well-paying mainstream markets (such as the National Times, a Century Hutchinson anthology, The Bulletin, Rolling Stone), small-press literary journals and more left-field non-genre markets such as ABC Radio, The Australian Way inflight magazine, Woman’s Day and a Campbelltown Council-funded anthology of ghost stories offered more consistent publication than the mainstream book publishers. This was the 1980s, when simply getting manuscripts into the hands of US magazine editors was logistically difficult and virtually no professional SF/horror markets existed at all in Australia. Few, maybe none, of us were sufficiently well-known for overseas editors to offer invitations to submit to the bigger anthologies.

For me, winning a crime story competition led to publication in a series of Allen & Unwin crime anthologies and then UK editor Karl Edward Wagner chose to include a story originally published in a small literary journal in his prestigious Year’s Best Horror series. But even then single author short story collections weren’t high on the to-do lists of the big publishers, certainly not when they were the demanding progeny of little-known authors. It was inevitably a small press that gave me that opportunity.

A group of (mainly) poets centred on the University of Wollongong foolishly decided to create a co-operative press, as the mainstream presses were even less interested in publishing poetry than they were in publishing short stories. To avoid it being an exercise in vanity or mere self-publishing and to ensure a certain level of independent critical evaluation, anyone wanting to be part of the cooperative had to subject their manuscript to a general cull. Full agreement from prospective members was necessary to get in, so the large number of applicants was gradually weeded down to a few. Eight writers ended up forming Five Islands Press. My collection of genre/semi-literary stories – Day-Dreaming On Company Time – represented the only prose involved. Of course, being published by Five Islands Press felt a little like self-publishing even so – though when the book went on to be shortlisted in the Best Collection by a Single Author category of the 1990 Readercon Awards in the US, it went some way to convincing me that taking the right approach to “self-motivated” publishing (that is, a critical one) was a viable option in the production of quality work. After the first round of publications, however, the co-operative nature of Five Islands Press evaporated and the press, under the auspices of poets Ron Pretty and Deb Westbury, went on to become (for a time) one of the most significant and prolific poetry publishers in Australia.

Before morphing into a solely poetic enterprise, however, FIP managed to produce two other genre anthologies – Crosstown Traffic (edited by Stuart Coupe, Julie Ogden and myself) and Intimate Armageddons (edited by Bill Congreve). The latter, appearing in 1992, was arguably the first anthology of original horror stories ever published in Australia. It also introduced me to Bill, who became a life-long friend and later established MirrorDanse Press – one of the first and most successful genre-focused independent presses in the country.

This was in the early days of generally available computer layout programs – the same ones the “mainstream” used, now accessible to all. It was a form of democratisation brought about by the spread of the home computer that has continued to today. Suddenly “amateurs” could produce books that looked identical to those produced by the Big Publishers, if they had the talent and critical ability, and at a fraction of the cost (because they didn’t have to absorb corporate overheads into their budgets). Available talent and editorial skill, and issues such as how to get good artists and designers to work for peanuts, remained a problem, but it was no longer impossible. Only distribution (and consequently payment levels) remained as a major difference between small and mainstream press.

Since Day-dreaming on Company Time I have had two further collections of short stories published, both through small presses. Still today the likelihood of a “mainstream” publisher being interested in a single-author genre collection is minimal. As always they don’t mind considering “literary” story collections, being generally willing to forego high sales for respectability and the prestige value of good reviews and mainstream awards. They’ll consider collections by bestselling novelists, too, if only to keep them happy while they’re writing their next bestseller. But generally, the answer is, “No thanks!” to everyone else, top-quality writing notwithstanding.

My highest selling collection, Immaterial: Ghost Stories, was published by MirrorDanse Press, put together and edited effectively with the expert help of Bill Congreve. Creeping in Reptile Flesh followed in 2008, published first by small-press Altair Australia and then reprinted (and re-edited) by Morrigan Books (Sweden) – released in both book form and as an e-book last month. I’m interested to see how being readily available on Amazon affects the sales of this one.
During the 1990s I found myself getting published more often in “mainstream” (that is, “professional”) publications (such as Leigh Blackmore’s Terror Australis anthology from Hodder & Stoughton, Paul Collins’ Strange Fruit anthology from Penguin, even the Sun-Herald) and in the odd significant overseas publication (Dark Voices 3: the Pan Book of Horror Stories, edited by David Sutton and Stephen Jones for Pan UK, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine and the US magazine Aboriginal SF), but meanwhile the small-press in Australia loomed ever larger. Who among my generation of writers could avoid the influence of Aurealis magazine and its Western Australian compatriot Eidolon? At the time, getting published in these two small-press publications was a major aim of Australian genre writers and both fostered many of the older writers still working today.

At this time, too, Bloodsongs, the first ever “professional” and widely distributed Australian horror magazine, appeared on the scene, emerging from a group of enthusiasts rather than any of the big magazine publishers. Bill Congreve and I managed to get the very first issue slapped with an “R” rating and subsequently banned in Queensland. It was an odd high point in my publishing career – a good anecdote to tell at parties. Bloodsongs was in reality a small-press publication, but it paid reasonably well, offered effective and discerning editorial oversight and achieved good distribution through specialist bookstores and newsagents. Then, as now, the difference between “professional” and “small-press” markets for genre short stories in Australia was more-or-less insignificant – at least at the high end.

These days most of my short-story sales are made to anthologies – sometimes produced by the “mainstream” (such as recent sales to Zombie Apocalypse! edited by Stephen Jones, and a major franchise tie-in anthology, Zombies vs Robots, edited by Jeff Conner for IDW Publishing in the US), but mostly “independent publishers” in Australia and overseas. Some of these small presses, being located in the US, have print runs equal to or exceeding those of Australian mainstream publishers. The books, too – as artefacts – are the equal of those produced by the Big Guys. Often they exceed them in quality and sheer beauty, even in Australia. Take a look at the products turned out by Twelfth Planet Press or Ticonderoga Press, for example: award-winning, internationally recognised work in books that are beautifully produced.

As has been the case for as long as I’ve been in the game, the market for short stories still tends to be dominated by the small press, except for Big-Name Authors. If anything, current technological trends have given independent presses a definite edge over their “legitimate” mainstream rivals, certainly in terms of anthologies and collections. And let’s face it: there’s not that many “professional” genre magazines still in business these days. Some of the most prestigious of the genre magazines are in effect small or semi-professional in business mode.

My first novel, however, was definitely a “mainstream” publication, and usefully so. Hodder Headline editor Belinda Bolliger contracted Backstreets on the basis of a proposal. I already had a relationship with Hodder through the publication of a series of short children’s horror/comedy novels under the franchise title CREEPERS, co-written with Bill Condon. Belinda was a great example of a professional editor; her input and oversight helped make Backstreets a significant and successful publication. It wouldn’t have been nearly as effective without her. My experience with the editorial aspects of the subsequent SHADES series of YA supernatural thrillers was equally effective – though the marketing of the books illustrated the fact that the Big Publishers could be just as clumsy and ineffective at selling and distributing a book as the small press was generally reputed to be (and often isn’t).

The future? I have no doubt that small and independent publishers have played a vital role in the development of genre fiction, and, I believe, are increasingly important to its survival, at least as an innovative medium. As book publishing undergoes significant changes and mainstream publishers struggle with profit margins, independent presses represent a viable option for writers and creators generally.

In the past, ensuring production quality, adequate distribution and significant market impact were almost impossible goals for small presses to achieve. However, changes to technology and more importantly to the way readers access product have given small presses a chance to flourish. Mega bestsellers may still be outside their purview (though I think that will change) but at least the level of available financial resources and the expensive technology it provides play a lesser role in book production. The mechanics of publishing have become more “democratic” and quality product is now only hindered by the same sort of quality issues faced by all publishers – finding and recognising the best work, having talented artists and designers available, and gathering personnel with editorial skill to whip authors’ work into its best shape. All hard enough to achieve, but in a marketplace where mainstream publishers are becoming more and more conservative – restricted by the cost levels they are forced to maintain by the nature of their corporate structures – their independent brethren can afford to be and are generally more willing to embrace risk. Innovation and imagination require risk. Also as mainstream publishers dump their mid-list authors in favour of the instant profit gratification of the bestselling celebrity, many of these dispossessed authors are looking to small presses as a source of artistic survival, if not continued full-time employment.

Small presses are here to stay. All they have to do is make sure they maintain editorial standards and design/production quality, and find the best way to get their books to the general public – just like the mainstream publishers. Both struggle with marketing and distribution. The mainstream publishers still offer the best hope of gaining “bestseller” status, of course, and hence a full-time writing career, but beyond that it seems to me there’s little difference between them.

Robert Hood’s many stories, which have appeared in major Australian and international genre magazines and anthologies, range from crime to science fiction to dark fantasy, often mixed. Some of these are in his three collections to date: Day-Dreaming on Company Time (Five Islands Press, 1988), Immaterial: Ghost Stories (MirrorDanse Books, 2002) and Creeping in Reptile Flesh (from Altair Australia Press in 2008 and as a second revised edition from Morrigan Press in 2011 – in both physical and digital formats). His novel, Backstreets, was published by Hodder Headline in 1999 – and is soon to be re-issued by Hachette Australia as part of its proposed e-book program. The Shades series – four connected YA supernatural thrillers – appeared in 2001, also from Hodder Headline. He has co-edited five anthologies, including the award-winning Daikaiju! Giant Monster Tales and its two sequels (Agog! Press, 2006-2007), and has published many short children’s books and stories.

Often nominated for Aurealis and Ditmar Awards (most recently for ‘Wasting Matilda’ from Zombie Apocalypse! from Robinson Press/Running Press and for Creeping in Reptile Flesh – both as collection and a novella), he has won several Ditmar Awards, the Canberra Times National Short Story Competition, the Australian Golden Dagger Award for short crime fiction and two William Atheling Awards for genre commentary and review.

Coming up, he has stories in Anywhere But Earth (edited by Keith Stevenson for Coeur De Lion), In the Footsteps of Gilgamesh (edited Karen Newman and Pete Kempshall for Gilgamesh Press), Exotic Gothic 4 (edited by Danel Olson for PS Publishing) and in a major anthology of stories based on the Zombies vs Robots comic franchise (edited by Jeff Conner for IDW Publishing). Hood’s website is: www.roberthood.net. He also has an award-winning blog, Undead Backbrain (www.roberthood.net/blog/), which he posts to with varying frequency, as time permits.

On indie press: Marianne de Pierres

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today, Marianne de Pierres shares her experience.

Like hundreds of writers, I owe a lot to small press. My first ever stories were published with Eidolon, and Cat Sparks Agog! series, magazines which are all now a part of Australia genre history. I know for a fact, that without those opportunities, I would never summoned the confidence or the inspiration to try and become a novelist. That knowledge solidified my opinion that indie publishers are not just welcome in publishing but are a complete necessity for the continued existence of story in written form. They are part of writing ecology.  And frankly, I’d hate to see where would be without them.

Many years after my first stories were published I was approached by an up and coming young publisher called Twelfth Planet Press who wished to compile a boutique collection of some of my short fiction. The journey I embarked on then was one of the most, enjoyable and enriching that I’ve had in my career as a writer. You can read my article about the experience here.

There was something so intensely personal and rewarding about being able to be more closely involved with every aspect of the project – from design right through to sales and marketing. It left me with a true sense of ownership and a lasting creative afterglow. I would do it again in a flash given the right publisher and circumstance.

All hail the Indies!

Marianne de Pierres is the author of the acclaimed Parrish Plessis and award-winning Sentients of Orion science fiction series. The Parrish Plessis series has been translated into eight languages and adapted into a roleplaying game. She’s also the author of a teen dark fantasy series and has a collection of interlinked short stories from Twelfth Planet Press.

Marianne is an active supporter of genre fiction and has mentored many writers. She lives in Brisbane, Australia, with her husband, three sons and three galahs. Marianne writes award-winning crime under the pseudonym Marianne Delacourt. Visit her websites at  www.mariannedepierres.com and www.tarasharp.com and www.burnbright.com.au

On indie press: Richard Harland

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and are professionals in the field to write about their experiences. In today’s post, Richard Harland considers the differences between indie and pro publishing.

Most of my novels have been published by pro publishers (Pan Macmillan, Penguin, Scholastic, Allen & Unwin, plus Simon & Schuster and other overseas publishers for Worldshaker and Liberator), while most of my short stories have been published by indie publishers (in Australia, US, Canada and France). But The Vicar of Morbing Vyle and The Black Crusade were two novels that came out from indie publishers, Karl Evans and Chimaera; and I’ve had three stories that came out first in anthologies from HarperCollins, Penguin and Harper Voyager (as distinct from stories reprinted in pro anthologies). So I guess I’ve seen publishing from all sides—except one. I’ve been very very lucky with all my publishers and editors. I’ve heard some scary tales about high-handed, unsympathetic pro publishers, but I’ve never copped rough treatment myself. And I’ve heard scary tales about erratic, incompetent indie publishers, but I’ve escaped that too. Maybe there are differences that come out when things get ugly, but that’s outside my experience.

I guess the basic principle is that the more people pay you, the more you have to listen to them! Only my very biggest advance for a pro short story — novella, really — comes anywhere near my smallest advance for a pro novel, and that was for “The Heart of the Beast” in Tales from the Tower, Vol 1, published earlier this year by Allen & Unwin. And yes, in that case I did have to take in quite a few structural revision suggestions, as many as for my pro novels. But I’ve never encountered a pro editor who was unreasonable: suggestions are only suggestions, and while you’d be mad to turn them all down (for the good of your book, quite apart from the good of your future career), there’s always room for negotiation. American editors tend to be more blunt, Australian and British editors more
tactful, but nobody just lays down the law in my experience.

Indie publishers can sometimes be blunt, bull-in-a-china-shop blunt, but they’re not usually in a position to lay down the law. I think a good indie publisher tries to work with the writer; a pro publisher is more likely to say, we see a problem here, can you think of a way to deal with it?

I can’t remember a time when an indie publisher has said to me, this is great, but we can only publish if you make such-and-such major revisions. I guess that might be because my indie experience is mostly with short stories, and a short story either works or it doesn’t.

When it comes to copyediting and proofing, most indie editors really aren’t far behind most pro editors. Maybe I’ve been lucky, but I’ve found most indie editors very painstaking. Though nobody compares with the Americans — or at least Simon & Schuster in America — for sheer amount of care and trouble. Unbelievably thorough!

The worst thing about pro publication are the deadlines. Not so much the big first draft deadline as the little, later ones—for the various levels of revision to be completed, for checking, incidental material, etc etc. Everything is always needed by yesterday. I pride myself on never having missed a deadline, but hey, I can work all hours of the day only because I don’t have a second job.

The worst thing about indie publication — I suppose it’s the other side of the coin — is that publication schedules get changed and all sorts of unexpected things happen. I had one year when four magazines that had accepted my short stories all went down the gurgler, one after the other. I had almost nothing published that year. It’s nobody’s fault when publication gets postponed or axed altogether — it’s just the different conditions that indie publishers work under.

Actually, I wouldn’t blame any publisher, pro or indie, for anything—at least, not when I’ve had time to calm down and reflect! Indie publishers work for love—as an author, you just have to thank God they exist. For me, they’re my only means of getting SF and horror ideas out in the world. As for pro publishers, well, the people in the industry are there for love rather than money too, because no one in their right mind would put in so many hours of work for so little pay!

Richard Harland is the author of many fantasy, horror and science fiction novels, including Liberator, Worldshaker, the Eddon and Vail series, the Heaven and Earth trilogy, and the Wolf Kingdom quartet (winner of the Aurealis Award.) He lives in Australia. Visit him at richardharland.net.

On indie press: Cat Sparks

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Cat Sparks, who not only knows small press publishing as an author, but as an editor and publisher too. 

In 2005 I had the great privilege of attending a prestigious writing workshop in the US. One of the tutors was a writer I hold in great esteem but I had cause to argue with one piece of advice he offered the class. Never go with small press, he told us. Small press is below the professional writer, or words to that effect.

I argued. I pointed out that in Australia, if small presses didn’t publish SF short stories, no one would. Back then the internet was not the golden gateway it is now and cracking US markets via snail mail was a lengthy and troublesome process for my countrymen & women.

Years later the esteemed tutor approached me at a World Fantasy Convention room party with the express purpose of reminding me of that moment when I challenged him in class. You were right, he said. I’ve just signed to do a collection with a small press and I’m very happy with the arrangement. This author’s star was – and still is – on the rise, so he wasn’t settling for less than he was worth. Rather, the playing field had changed.

The term ‘small press’ can be misleading. The US’s Nightshade Books is considered a small press, yet it has produced titles with print runs of 80,000+. Most people would be shocked to learn how few books an Australian print run for a new author actually contains.

Small press fills a niche and as the publishing landscape continues to morph and evolve, those niches are getting bigger, wider and more varied. Major publishers are not the only major players any more. Readers are increasingly taking power for themselves and the industry is being forced to adjust itself accordingly.

I’m employed three days a week by a small press which is still in the process of adjusting itself to the e-book revolution. A couple of years ago it became starkly evident that we would have to tailor our products to suit a readership that wasn’t yet certain what it wanted. E-books? What formats? What distribution systems? How do these factors affect copyright permissions? We’re surviving OK, probably because we’re a small press rather than in spite of it. We were able to act quickly, reskill, adapt, think on our feet because we did not have committees to explain things to, boards to appease, shareholders to convince, etc. We just learnt what we needed to know, applied the knowledge and got on with it.

The age of the stately publishing gatekeepers is coming to a close. New auxiliary industries will spring up as navigating the oceans of unfettered self-published crap become the primary challenge for eager readers. How do I find the stuff I like to read? Power bases will shift, empires will fall, new ones will rise from the ashes. One thing amongst so many others seems a sure bet: small presses with identified readerships, myriad delivery systems and quality merchandise are certain to survive the flames.

Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography.



On indie press: Patty Jansen

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Patty Jansen, whose stories have been finding homes with many indie publications, and who has recently started self-publishing some of her work.

New authors and indie press: a few thoughts on publishing venues

When Tehani asked me to write about my experiences with indie press, it occurred to me that the term ‘indie press’ is the most incorrectly-used and loaded in publishing at this point in time.

As far as I’m concerned, indie press means small press not associated with any of the big guns in publishing.

Indie – small – press in Australia is very healthy. Not only do small presses publish almost all Australian SFF short fiction, they also publish the majority of new writers before they make it big, and often continue to do so afterwards, with special collections and boutique editions and fun projects that aren’t commercial enough for the big guys. I’ve sold a number of stories to Aussie small presses, most of them to Russell Farr at Ticonderoga Publications. Australian and overseas indie presses gave me my first sales.

Lately, the term indie press has become a euphemism for self-publishing as a way for an author to say that they’ve self-published without saying so. What are those authors afraid of, really? Do they want to sound bigger than they are? I will say it out loud: my name is Patty Jansen. I have self-published. OK, that wasn’t so hard. Where is the stigma?

The pro market for SFF in Australia is miniscule. If you write short fiction, you will need to go overseas for the vast majority of submissions at this level. Ditto if you write Science Fiction novels. I’ve sold enough short fiction at pro level to be a full member of SFWA, but none of it in Australia. When you submit at this level, you’re competing with many, many people and your chances are small, even when you’re an established writer.

I mention these three avenues – small press, major press and self-publishing – because I think they’re all valuable tools in a new author’s toolbox. Much as you may dislike the marketing lingo, the words audience and platform are mere synonyms for readers. Which sensible writer would willingly ignore opportunities to get more readers?

People who primarily buy their mass-published books at brick-and-mortar bookshops are different from those who will buy many of their, small press, books at cons or mail order them from the small press’ website, and both of those groups are very different from people who buy most of their books as ebooks. Like a Venn diagram, there are overlaps, but each group reaches into demographics the other groups don’t.

Small press in Australia is uniquely excellent. Small press can give you a leg-up or can give life to projects no one else wanted to tackle. Small press wins awards. Good small presses aren’t grabbers of rights. You may sell print or e-rights only, or rights revert back to you after a certain period. Small press often puts out books that are really beautiful, crafted with love and not conforming to a single publisher’s template.

My experiences with small presses worldwide have been mixed. For an author, it is definitely a try before you buy situation. Small presses are often run by single individuals and, being human, they overcommit, get sick, develop a severe hatred for accounting and lose enthusiasm. They don’t tend to warn their authors if this is going to happen. They may be skilled in certain areas and not-so-skilled in others. They may be simply too busy to give your work enough attention. Or they may be wonderful and do none of these things.

There are a lot of overseas e-presses springing up, and while as new author it may feel good to say I’ve been published by so-and-so-[never heard of]-press, it definitely pays to do some legwork and check out the press’ editing and marketing efforts. You probably won’t be the first person asked to sign a crap contract asking for rights the minuscule press will never use, for a crap return, with crap marketing and no efforts from the publisher to get reviews. And that is if the press honours all its commitments and actually publishes your material. I suspect that in some cases you’d be better off publishing the manuscript yourself.

Apart from the fact that self-publishing is a great way to keep out-of-print material available, and that it’s simply a lot of fun if you like the hands-on approach, I have discovered that the greatest advantage of self-publishing is the ability to give stuff away in formats that, with a bit of effort, resemble professionally published ebooks. You can do this for promotion or fun or whatever reason. Industry people can – and do – check out these give-aways. The chance that anything self-published will make it big is probably the same as landing a major publishing contract, but an upcoming author no longer risks damage to a future career by self-publishing. It is all about–and I’ll use another hated marketing term–exposure. In other words: readers.

Patty Jansen is a writer of hard Science Fiction and daft fantasy.  Find information about her fiction and the science behind her stories at http://pattyjansen.com/  She is currently giving away free e-copies of her collection Out of Here, which contains short stories which have been published in various small presses. Patty is a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America and her story “This Peaceful State of War” won the second 2010 quarter of the Writers of the Future Contest, for which she recently attended the annual workshop in LA. She has also published in the Universe Annex of the Grantville Gazette and Redstone SF. In Australia, she has most recently published in Dead Red Heart, Midnight Echo, Belong and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. While she continues to seek traditional venues for her short stories (watch this space), she has temporarily abandoned the agent search in favour of self-publishing novels, because it is a heck of a lot more fun.