On indie press: Simon Haynes

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 Simon Haynes, an author who has experienced success professionally and is also experimenting with self-publishing. 

I’ve had a long association with small press. My first paid publication was an SF/horror story in issue one of Ben Payne’s Potato Monkey. “Sleight of Hand” won the Aurealis Award for horror that year, which I’ll put down to beginner’s luck.

From 2000 to 2003 I self-published three novels, which put me into contact with editors and artists active in small press. I chose self-publishing because I was writing for a niche market, one which trade publishers weren’t interested in. My goal wasn’t to sell lots of books, it was to prove there WAS a market, and then snag a deal with a publisher.

I helped set up Andromeda Spaceways in 2001/2002, and I spent almost ten years assisting in the running of the magazine. As a writer, if you ever get a chance to read slush … take it! Learning to evaluate stories – to decide which are publishable and which aren’t quite ready – was a massive help when it came to my own work.

In 2004 my self-pub gamble paid off, and I was offered a contract by a trade publisher. Over the next four or five years I worked with industry professionals to get four Hal Spacejock novels edited and released to bookstores. I absorbed as much knowledge as I could, and enjoyed every minute of the process.

Fast-forward to 2011, when my next niche project was ready for submission. This time I’d written – of all things – a hard science fiction comedy novel for readers aged 9+. Okay, ‘hard sf’ is probably an exaggeration, but I tried for something as realistic as I thought I could get away with for that age group. (Hal Junior features a young lad living aboard a space station in the distant future. It’s the opposite of the kids-flying-spaceships scenario you get in movies like Jimmy Neutron).

Why did I write junior science fiction? I’ve always loved kids’ books, and it seemed a natural progression to me: mix things up a bit, graduate from writing for adults, and publish something to fire up younger readers. Plus I do a lot of school and library visits, where I usually speak to upper-primary kids about the magic of science fiction. It always seemed a shame to get them interested in SF, then explain all my books were for adults.

I submitted Hal Junior to a couple of publishers, but I was already debating whether to self-publish. When a certain someone familiar to readers of this blog (thanks T!) informed me Lightning Source had just set up in Australia, I wrote to the publishers I’d queried and asked them to delete my submissions.

Yes, I was that keen on self-publishing.

The term ‘indie-publishing’ appears to be fashionable these days, but I don’t think the terminology matters. I just think it’s important to write a decent book and employ professionals to bring it to market: especially the cover artist and editor.

Working with small press gave me the confidence to publish my own work. Without Andromeda Spaceways and the odd science fiction convention I’d never have met the network of contacts which are so vital to the future of small press in this country.

Here’s one example: Last night, at well past midnight EST, I had a three-way email exchange with several people involved in next month’s Conflux SF convention. On the spur of the moment they organised a launch for my new novel, agreed to hand out signed bookplates, and gave me the address to deliver copies of my book. Ten minutes later, via Facebook, someone else attending Conflux agreed to do a reading. (Thanks Gillian, Mary, Karen and Devin!)

That’s why small press is strong in this country. We all work together.

Simon Haynes was born in England in 1967. He moved to Spain with his family in 1976, and enjoyed an amazing childhood of camping, motorbikes, mateship, air rifles and paper planes. His family moved again in 1983, this time emigrating to Australia. 

From 1986-1988 Simon studied at Curtin University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Film, Creative Writing and Literature. Simon returned to Curtin in 1997, graduating with a degree in Computer Science two years later. An early version of Hal Spacejock was conceived during the lectures.

Simon divides his time between writing fiction and computer software, with frequent 25-40km bike rides to blow the cobwebs away. His goal is to write fifteen Hal books (Spacejock OR Junior!) before someone takes his keyboard away. Find out more at www.spacejock.com.au

On indie press: Martin Livings

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 Martin Livings, a well-known name in the Australian speculative fiction field. 

My bookshelf is filled with mammals!

Sixty five million years ago, the world was dominated by enormous coldblooded creatures. These mighty beasts roamed the lands and swam the sea, and even flew the … airs? At any rate, they, like, totally ruled the Earth. But there were other creatures there too, small, furry animals that mostly lived underground. They may have been minuscule compared to the kings of the world, but they were fast and smart and nimble and, importantly, adaptable.

Then the thunder lizards died out. Nobody knows exactly why. Some say climate change, others a comet striking the planet. A few even suggest the rise of a Justin Bieber-style dinosaur, and the rest simply lost the will to live. At any rate, the enormous reptiles faded into pre-history, and we mammals rose in their place. Small and adaptable defeated huge and restricted. We were the kryptonite to their Superman, the paper to their rock.

Sixty four million, nine hundred and ninety nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty one years later, I was published for the first time. And by a mammal, not a dinosaur.

I keep a shelf of books and magazines that I’ve been published in, right here on my computer desk. They’re arranged there to remind myself why I keep writing; it ain’t for the cash or the chicks, after all. And you know what? All bar one were put out by indie publishers. My first two stories appeared almost concurrently in 1992, fighting one another for precedence, one in Aurealis and one in Eidolon, both published by independents. Glancing across the spines of the publications on my shelf, I see indie press after indie press; Agog, Mirrordanse, CSfG, Altair, Brimstone, Ticonderoga, Twelfth Planet, Morrigan, Eneit, Fablecroft, Tasmaniac, Blade Red, Apex … it’s like a who’s who of local independent publishers, with one or two internationals thrown in for good measure. I look at these books, almost twenty years of working with indie presses, and I see … yes, furry little creatures hiding in burrows.

Stretching the metaphor a bit? Maybe, but let’s take a look at indie versus mainstream. Firstly, indie presses are small. Which would seem like a disadvantage, but it really isn’t. Smaller can mean that you can take chances, experiment with form and content in a way that the large mainstream publishers simply can’t afford to do. When you have a print run of a million books, that book had better sell a million copies, and thus appeal to a million people. Lowest common denominator becomes an absolute business necessity. When your print run is a hundred, you can publish things that are less generic, more daring. Tightly themed anthologies like, for example, Morrigan’s Scenes from the Second Storey, based around songs off an album by the God Machine, could never have been published by a mainstream dinosaur. Morrigan have done not one, but two excellent anthologies on this theme. Two books we’d never have seen, if it wasn’t for the mammals. I could go on; Agog’s Daikaiju books, Ticonderoga’s Scary Kisses, Fablecroft’s Worlds Next Door all thanks to small furry animals. The most adventurous, challenging and fantastic fiction comes out of the indie presses, simply because it can. And long may it continue to do so.

Another advantage the mammals have over the dinosaurs is adaptability. The larger you are, the harder it is to cope with change. With the recent rise of the e-book, mainstream publishers are struggling to adapt to a whole new market, a whole new way of selling books. But the indies have taken to it like a duck to water. After all, taking paper out of the equation must be a godsend to the average independent publisher, no longer having to deal with the dramas of print runs, the costs involved, the postage, occasional stuff-ups (I absolutely treasure my contributor’s copy of Twelfth Planet’s New Ceres Nights, which has the entire book bound upside down! I tell you, it’ll be worth a fortune one day!). E-books are becoming not just an acceptable alternative for indie publishers, but in many cases it’s becoming the standard form, with a print run as a secondary option. What threatens the dinosaurs provides nothing but opportunities for the mammals.

But you know what I think raises indie presses above the mainstream ones the most? The fact that they’re not doing it to make money (though it’d be nice if they did!), but because they’re entirely passionate about what they do. Why else would crazy, wonderful people like Alisa Krasnostein, Russell B. Farr, Tehani Wessely and Mark Deniz, just to name four, continue to put themselves through the pain and suffering? Why would new publishers, like Craig Bezant’s Dark Prints Press, go into it with their eyes wide open, filled with horror stories from the existing presses? These people are clearly dedicated to what they do. They must love it, or else they wouldn’t be doing it, it’s as simple as that. And thus their editors are quite simply the finest I’ve ever worked with. I’ve learned more about writing by having my work covered in red pen by editors like Jeremy G. Byrne and Angela Challis than I ever did through reading or writing or, heaven forfend, attending some sort of creative writing course. With broad crimson strokes, the editors pretty much taught me everything I know today. Even my one mainstream dinosaur of a book, my novel Carnies from Hachette Livre, was painstakingly edited by the amazing Sarah Endicott from Edit or Die and ex-publisher of Orb Magazine, so it still inevitably arcs back to the indie presses. And so that’s the third advantage of these mammals over the dinosaurs. They’re warm blooded.

(What? Oh yes, I know dinosaurs were probably warm blooded as well, but, y’know, for the sake of the metaphor, let’s say they weren’t, okay? Geez…)

Indie presses are, in my opinion, the most fantastic place for writers to grow and develop, because they’re allowed to there. The shoehorning into genres, the stereotyping into particular kinds of writing, the pandering to a public with apparently-severe attention deficit disorder and an obsession with anyone called Kardashian … none of this is present in the indie press. What we have instead is freedom, and creativity, and support, and a genuine camaraderie that warms the heart in an increasingly cutthroat world. I look at my shelf, and the mammals that inhabit it, and I feel privileged and proud to have worked with them, and hope and pray to continue to do so in the future.

Of course, I wouldn’t mind a couple of dinosaurs up there at some point to make things interesting. Everyone loves dinosaurs, after all.

Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had over sixty short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His short works have been listed in the Recommended Reading list in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and have appeared in both The Year’s Best Australian SF & Fantasy, Volumes Two and Five, and Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror: 2006 and 2008 editions. His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and was nominated for both the Aurealis and Ditmar awards.

His next book will be Living With the Dead, a collection of short stories, to be published by indie publisher Dark Prints Press in 2012.


(c) Martin Livings 2011

On indie press: Alan Baxter

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press in its various forms to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Alan Baxter, an author who has experienced some different aspects of indie publishing. 

When Tehani asked me for a guest post on indie press I was happy to oblige. I’m a huge fan of the small and indie press scene for a lot of reasons. The people involved are invariably passionate about their work. As a writer that’s very satisfying, as you know those people are buying your work because they love it and they want to share it with others.

The indie scene also gives authors a chance to get things into print or published online that would otherwise never find a home. Indie press can take chances the bigger publishers won’t risk. They can put together themed anthologies that people enjoy but larger presses avoid due to the work involved in getting stories, producing and marketing them. I love to write for that kind of project.

I know for a fact that being published in the small and indie press has directly helped my career. I’ve had people tell me they bought and enjoyed my novels because they had already enjoyed my short fiction. And vice versa, people have sought out my short fiction after reading my novels.

It’s also true that success with indie press helps to generate success in other areas of writing. Bigger publishers will pay more attention to people who have run that indie gauntlet. It’s hard to get noticed otherwise. After all, if an editor of a publication, however small, has bought a story from someone, that author must have some skills worth considering. And the better reputation the indie press has, the more vicarious credibility is passed onto the writers whose work they buy.

I’m still enjoying a slow build in my career. I’m becoming a better writer all the time by practicing my craft and I’m finding success with higher profile publishers as a result. But all this is built on the back of indie and small press success. I’ll never forget that and will always try to write for indie press as often as time allows. They produce quality stuff, from talented authors and their publications are always worth reading. They support authors at all stages of their careers, but especially emerging authors. It’s certainly how I got my start. They deserve our support in return.

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author living on the south coast of NSW, Australia. He writes dark fantasy, sci fi and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. His contemporary dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign, are out through Gryphonwood Press, and his short fiction has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US and the UK, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror. Alan is also a freelance writer, penning reviews, feature articles and opinion. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – http://www.alanbaxteronline.com – and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything.

Recent publications include Murky Depths, Wily Writers, Pseudopod, Midnight Echo and a variety of anthologies from publishers like Coeur De Lion, Ticonderoga Publications, Dark Prints Press, CSFG Publishing, Seven Realms Publishing, eMergent, and Kayelle Press. Also, the non-fiction writers’ resource, Write The Fight Right.

On indie press: Alisa Krasnostein

I’ve invited a number of people who have worked in indie press to write about their experiences. Today, Alisa Krasnostein of Twelfth Planet Press talks about her ongoing indie journey.

I fell into indie publishing by accident. A friend of mine where I was doing postgrad, Barbara Robson, was getting her first publications in places like AntiSF and ASIM and that was how I first found out we even had a scene here in Australia. After finding out more about it, I joined the ASIM cooperative. I’d been noodling around writing and editing science nonfiction and was really interested in learning how to edit fiction and also to see how a magazine worked. I slushed for about a year at ASIM before I coughed up my entry fee to the cooperative and spent another year seeing the backroom secrets of running ASIM. In the meantime, I’d started up ASif! as a means to provide more dynamic criticism of the local scene.

I always look back nostalgically at the time I spent at ASIM. I made some lifelong friends in the cooperative, several of whom have had large roles and influence in the founding and evolution of Twelfth Planet Press. After learning the ropes and the obstacles for small press during my time at ASIM, I wanted to have a go at it myself and see what was possible. And so without ever having edited an issue of ASIM, I had a go at publishing myself with two electronic projects – New Ceres and the YA magazine Shiny (coedited in various combinations with Tansy Roberts, Ben Payne and Tehani Wessely). I learned a lot from both of these projects and I’m very proud of the work that they produced. But back then epublishing, whilst promising to be something, was still too out on the cusp and didn’t really get much circulation.

And so the Twelfth Planet Press label was born and our first anthology 2012 which I coedited with Ben Payne, was printed. And from there it has been one wild ride. In a blink of an eye we’re now working on getting our 15th book in four years to the printers! I think a major highlight for me was having a booth at Worldcon last year in Melbourne and having so many of my friends, mentors and supporters come by to say hi and stand in under the Twelfth Planet Press banner. Because it hasn’t just been my labour of love. And that’s probably what I love most about small press – it’s so personal. I love the synergy of working with other editors, designers and writers and interacting with our readers first hand at the sales end.

I have made so many lifelong friends and found so much to energise, inspire and challenge me in indie publishing. I love the freedom I have to take an idea and run with it. And I am always humbled by how generous people are with their time and expertise. Because without the in kind investments that others have made, and continue to make, in Twelfth Planet Press, it wouldn’t be where it is and wouldn’t have produced what it has.

Sure there’s the downer parts of indie publishing – I’m still yet to see most of the money I have invested come home again. Distribution is hard. It’s a bumpy and challenging time for publishing as an industry. And the short story is a niche market. But those also work to make better products, sharper plans and a clearer vision. And, I love a challenge.

Alisa Krasnostein is an environmental engineer by day, and runs indie publishing house Twelfth Planet Press by night. She is also Executive Editor at the review website Aussie Specfic in Focus! and part of the Galactic Suburbia Podcast Team. In her spare time she is a critic, reader, reviewer, runner, environmentalist, knitter, quilter and puppy lover.

On indie press: Lee Battersby

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 Lee Battersby, a well-known name in the Australian speculative fiction field. 

I’ve always loved short stories. My first SF book — which I still own, thirty mumble mumble years later — was a collection called SF Stories for Boys put out by Octopus Books in the 70s. I met Asimov for the first time in that book, and Harry Harrison, and began a thirty year obsession with a just-about-forgotten Australian author named Frank Roberts, whose story “It Could Be You” freaked the bejesus out of me, as well as foreseeing the logical extrapolation of reality TV forty years before the proliferation of shit-awful Mastersurvivorbrotherloser clones forced me to join Murdoch’s evil Pay TV empire.

When I began writing, properly, because I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to write short stories above all. My first publication — a poem — was in 1989, and I’ve written just about everything in the last 20 years: poetry, stand up comedy, jokes, advertising copy, educational material, interviews, reviews, articles, theatre, film scripts, late notes, apologies, novels, death threats, legislation, instruction manuals… But I always come back to short stories. I love to read them, I love to write them. I love to edit collections of them. And when I’m gone, and nobody remembers who I was, and those who do remember are pretending not to so people won’t pity them, I want just one “It Could Be You” left behind to fuck up the mind of someone young in my name. Consider it my black-hearted little gift to the Universe.

Somewhere, whilst I was growing up in small-town Australia, the publishing world changed when I wasn’t looking. The SF magazines that had been the bastion of alternative expression during my youth — all those second hand copies of If and Galaxy and New Worlds I’d been sniffing out — went broke, and those that remained became increasingly conservative. By the time I hit Uni aged 18, every copy of Analog I read felt like every other copy of Analog, and so did Asimov’s, and F&SF, and they were the only ones I could find on a newsstand. Conservative ideas expressed with the most conservative words, in ABC plots where nothing was wild, nothing was untamed, and the ghosts of Sladek and Aldiss and Bester were long forgotten. I’d grown up with the understanding that art existed to push the envelope of what was conceivable, and even if I couldn’t yet articulate it, I could point to Gahan Wilson, to Spike Milligan, to Alice Cooper and HR Giger and David Bowie and Charles Addams and Rene Magritte and shout, “Them! It’s meant to be like them!”

Art is not comfort food. Art should never be comfort food.

But everything I read tasted like the literary equivalent of a microwave cheeseburger: glaggy, half-cooked, and deeply, deeply unsatisfying. And soon enough, you end up sitting on the couch wondering why the hell you spent money on something so awful when, if you’d expended a little bit of effort, you could have made something much more enjoyable from scratch.

In 1990 I bought the first issue of Aurealis in a little newsstand in the centre of Perth because my bus home was late and I ran out of reading material. And promptly had an “It Could Be You” moment. For the first time since I was nine years old, SF fucked me up again.

Not because the stories were at the cutting edge of brilliance (although I remember them as being, on the whole, pretty good). But because they were Australian. There was no internet in 1990, no online ordering, no e-zines, no way for me, as a poverty-stricken student (And I was poor. Bloody poor. Ask me about it sometime) to connect with an SF community: I couldn’t even afford the membership dues for my university SF club. So all I had to go on was what I read, and there was nothing, not a bloody thing, to indicate that Australians wrote SF. Like acting careers and joining the space program, it was just something other people did. In my world, in my family, you didn’t hold such hopes for yourself. My family and I, well, these days the best you can say is that we share the same basic genetic structure and we live on the same continent.

It took me eleven years of doing other things, but when I started writing SF with a sense of purpose in 2001, I aimed for Aurealis. And in doing so, I connected with an SF community that shared my passion for that mad, wild, alternative SF style that had fuelled my childhood imagination (I discovered The Goon Show the same week I was given that first SF book. And people wonder…). One of the writers from that first issue of Aurealis is now a good friend, one is a peer I look up to and whose works continue to inspire me, and one I still see at the occasional convention. But we know each other, and can sit and share a drink should we so choose. It’s hard for people within our genre, I think, to understand how special that is, to be able to form a relationship with an artist outside the scope of their work: we take it for granted because the SF genre has created a tradition of conventions and intimate contact, but there’s still something visceral for me, as an artist who still aspires in so many ways, to share space with those who serve as pathfinders for my own artistic ambitions. And those writers I first read in 1990 are all still writing short stories, and all still stretching the boundaries of what they can accomplish in the short form, in their various ways.

But why the fascination? Why do I still write and read so much in the indie press? For the same reason why my workmates have never heard of the bands I listen to, or the comics I read. Because the core of the genre has become conservative, and the government of our thoughts has become centralised, and the walls of the establishment have become higher, and thicker, and more soundproof. Outside, where the barbarians live, in the small presses, the chances of failure are greater, and the readership is smaller, and an artist can look at the world in a way that scares or damages or inspires the wild thoughts of others, and find a home for those thoughts without worrying what effect it will have on their market penetration. Because the fringe is where the fun is. Magazines live and die like mayflies. Entire careers flourish, flower, and die without a single book deal being struck. Chaos is part of the dynamic. Chaos is part of the charm.

And I love it. I love it all. I love it to the detriment of my career: my peers, those who sold their first stories at roughly the same time as me, and whose careers have similar time lines, are striking those book deals, and publishing their novels, (And good on ’em, too. Just because I love shorts, doesn’t mean I don’t want one of my own) and I have, in many ways, fallen behind them. But I keep turning on the computer to find the guidelines for an anthology of gay-werewolf-pilot stories staring me in the face, and as much as I don’t want to, as much as I know I should be adding another 10 000 words to the novel-in-progress instead, still I wake up one morning and think, “If he’s only gay when he’s in wolf form…” and off I go again.

Lee Battersby is the multiple-award winning author of over 70 stories, in markets throughout the US, Europe and Australia. A collection of his work, entitled Through Soft Air, has been published by Prime Books. He currently lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby, and an ever-changing roster of weird kids. He currently divides his writing time between novels and short stories, and tutors the SF Short Story course for the Australian Writers Marketplace Online. He can be found at www.leebattersby.com and is unhealthily addicted to Lego and Daleks. 

On indie press: Tansy Rayner Roberts

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. Here, Tansy Rayner Roberts shares her experience.

Indie press caught me when I fell.

We didn’t call it indie press so much back then, in the early days of the new millennium. Before a firm rebranding, it was small press and proud. But after my first professionally published novels sank, crashed and burned and I found myself having to reassess whether I was a writer or not, it was small press that gave me a community to belong to while I built my skills up to the next level.

I embraced the short story, and wrote a bunch of them, mostly published in tiny little ‘zines that few people had heard of then, let alone now. I also joined the Andromeda Spaceways collective and learned about publishing a magazine from the ground up (spoiler: it’s really hard work).  Later I edited YA e-zine Shiny and played in the New Ceres paddling pool, two projects that were integral to the launch of (World Fantasy Award nominated) Alisa Krasnostein’s indie publishing house, Twelfth Planet Press. My goals kept shifting: I wanted to make sure I had something published somewhere, every year, and then it was all about getting that novel career back, and one of the things that had to be sacrificed was my involvement in making small press happen for other people.

Also, there were babies. Actual babies that needed my time and attention. (spoiler: they are hard work too. Who knew?)

Then, finally, the novel career came back, and contracts were signed. Deadlines. Real books with actual distribution and publicists and that sort of thing. I was playing in the Big Kids Playground again.

But just because I had promised myself not to get involved in the making of small or indie press again didn’t mean that some of my work didn’t have a place there. As Alisa built up Twelfth Planet Press into something that was attracting global attention, my stories found a home there, one after the other, until I realised that what with all my novel deadlines and baby juggling, I was pretty much only writing short fiction when Alisa asked me to. And it seemed, I had finally got good at it – after years of writing short fiction that sank without a trace, the stories I sent to Twelfth Planet Press started to get attention. Award nominations. Positive reviews. When you haven’t had those things for a long time, they make you giddy!

I wrote a story I loved, “Siren Beat”, for a friend’s charity anthology project, and when that didn’t get picked up by a publisher, Alisa gave “Siren Beat” a home. It won me my first international award. When she asked me to produce a four story collection for her Twelve Planets project, I knew that I had to do it, even if it meant taking a chunk of precious time out of my novel deadlines, which had become a little bit deadlier upon the birth of my second daughter.

Without the existence of Twelfth Planet Press, I wouldn’t have written those stories, into which I poured all of my love and obsessions and annoyances with Roman history, the other career path that I had been passionate about, a decade ago. Love and Romanpunk is a beautiful book, and one that has absolutely no place with a big pro publisher. It also gave me a breath between big fat fantasy novels, and serves as a wonderful introduction to the kind of work I write, for those people who are likely to balk at a big fat fantasy novel or three.

I get so irritated that the current wave of self-publishing has taken on the label ‘indie’ and devalued it. To me, indie publishing involves a publisher who finds the work that will appeal to a niche audience, the editor who hones it and makes it better, the cover artist and designer, the proof readers. And sure, some of those are the same people, and it’s very likely none of them are getting paid for their work (yet) but it’s a business that contributes some amazing work to the field. To me, indie publishing is the field that brought me the gorgeous restaurant novels by Poppy Z Brite, the collections of Kelly Link, Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierres, and the WisCon Chronicles. Maybe I’m just some grumpy old pedant railing against the internet, but I don’t see why self-publishing needs to take terminology that means something else, not when the stigma is peeling away from the self-publishing process in big wet chunks.

Self publishing is hot right now. But it’s not indie publishing, to me.

All this is not to say I haven’t had my dramas and disasters with indie publishing. Contracts to e-publish with no end clause, and a publisher who refused to negotiate any detail of said contract, forcing me to remove the work for publication. A publisher who dropped out of contact more than half a decade ago and yet still think they have the rights to put my work on the Kindle. Publishers who never produce the actual product, editors who don’t understand how the editing process works, and on one particularly awful occasion, a friendship lost because the author-publisher relationship became so deeply damaged.

But it’s a rare author who has a career longer than a decade and hasn’t picked up some horror stories along the way, and I can tell you that I have quite a few traumas attached to my experiences with pro publishers too (though not, thank goodness, recently).

Indie press doesn’t offer the big money, and it doesn’t offer major distribution, especially not in Australia. But for those works that are never going to appeal to the big business side of major publishing, it can lead to beautiful books, and the promotion of work that helps to build a writer’s reputation. For me, at a time when my pro novels are still confined to Australian and NZ territories, it’s rather glorious to have a little book that can fly to every corner of the world. Also, it’s purple.

I love Harper Voyager for everything they have done to relaunch my career, putting my heart and soul (and falling naked men, and frocks, and shapechanging animals, and magical cities) on bookshelves around the country, but they never gave me purple.

Tansy Rayner Roberts is the author of the Creature Court trilogy (HarperCollins Voyager) and short story collection Love and Romanpunk (Twelfth Planet Press).  In the last year she has won the Washington SF Association Small Press Short Fiction Award, the Ditmar for Best Novel, the William Atheling Jr Award for Criticism and Review, and the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, among other awards.  It’s been that kind of year.  Tansy blogs at http://tansyrr.com and can be found on Twitter at @tansyrr.  You can hear her every fortnight on the Galactic Suburbia podcast.

Perth YA Fans Unite

Came across this via Marianne de Pierres today – a fledgling movement, but one I support wholeheartedly. In fact, the WA School Library Association is already working towards this goal in some ways. The more people who agitate for speakers and authors to visit our side of the island, the more chance people will listen!

Let’s not forget our local writers either though – we’ve got some great ones!

On indie press: Sean Williams

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 Sean Williams, one Australia’s most prolific and best-known writers of speculative fiction, shares his love of small press with us.

“Small Press: An Ongoing Reminiscence”

It seems strange now that there was ever a time when small press was thin on the ground in Australia, but in the early nineties publishers big and small had pretty much abandoned the field. All that remained was a tiny handful of small, independent zines, and it was in these that my stories found their first homes – from the Esoteric Order of Dagon magazine, in which I saw print for the first time exactly twenty years ago, to the future powerhouse of Eidolon, where I found a space to experiment with different types of speculative fiction and different forms of fiction, too (such as the mammoth 25,000-word “The Perfect Gun”, my longest story in print at that time). Under the close editorship of Jeremy G Byrne and Jonathan Strahan, I learned to be a better writer all round, garnering several Ditmar and Aurealis Award nominations, and even the odd gong or two.

Those exciting early years ultimately brought me to the attention of HarperCollins, which published my first solo novel, but there were a couple of serious milestones to cross before then. Bill Congreve of MirrorDanse books published the very first book with my name on the spine – a collection of two unpublished stories and a novella under the title Doorway to Eternity, which sounds a bit New Age-y to me now but aptly captured my aspirations, none of which would have been achievable without this crucial nudge in the right direction. Bill’s confidence in my work and his close stewardship of the book and its contents were critical in keeping me moving onward and outward.

Around the time of Doorway’s publication, the now-legendary Peter McNamara got in touch to propose a joint project with Shane Dix. At this point, Aphelion Publications had become the only small press publisher of science fiction novels in Australia, and our discussions resulted in The Unknown Soldier, my first full-length work in print, beating HarperCollins and Metal Fatigue by a year or so. It garnered my first award nomination for a full-length work and gave me critical experience for what was to come.

So experimentation, exposure and experience – three things every writer needs to accumulate in order to succeed – all came from small press. That was my experience then, and it remains so today for writers new and old.

The important role small press played in my career didn’t end with my transition to traditional publishers. Russell B Farr of Ticonderoga Publications has published no less than three collections of my short work: A View Before Dying, themed reprints to accompany my second solo novel, The Resurrected Man; my first full-length collection, the Ditmar-winning New Adventures in Sci-Fi in 1999; and a retrospective collection, Magic Dirt: The Best of Sean Williams, which won the Aurealis Award in 2008. (Exposure – tick.) He also commissioned the strangest collaboration I’ve ever been part of: the intro to Stephen Dedman’s The Lady of Situations, consisting of a conversation between myself and a dead racehorse channelled by Simon Brown. (Experimentation – huge tick.)

In 2007 Rob Stevenson of Altair Australia Books published Light Bodies Falling, a collection of my rarer works, many of them unpublished or out of print, many connected to novels such as The Crooked Letter. This is Exposure on two counts: good work that might have been forgotten (even by me!) is given a new lease of life and my interest in the short story form remains vital.

I do write less short fiction than I used to, but the odd small-press commission does occasionally spike my interest. Such was the case when Chris Roberson invited me to write a standalone novella for his small press, Monkeybrain Books. Cenotaxis was the result – my first serious experiment in non-linear storytelling and a work that plugged an important gap between the first two Astropolis books. The same goes for Rob Hood’s Daikaiju series of anthologies (published by Agog! Press), which resulted in giant monster-themed haiku and limericks that would never have existed but for the invitation (some might not regard that as something to be thankful for).

I’m far too lazy and nowhere near crazy enough to do any of this small press stuff myself, although I did once self-publish a leather-bound edition of a book co-written with Simon Brown (without his knowledge, just for lolz). Only four copies of The Butler Codex exist, but bringing them into being gave me a much greater appreciation for those who take on tasks like this – from those who publish several books a year, to passionate individuals putting together a single fund-raiser anthology to raise money for victims of natural disasters (I’ve been in several of those, too, such as 100 Stories for Queensland, Tales for Canterbury and Hope). While some of these people go onto become Jonathan Strahan (TM), celebrated world-wide for the awesome forces for good that they are, all of them deserve to be celebrated and thanked for everything they’ve done to shape the field, by providing homes for niche or experimental work and by nurturing new writers. Their dedication, hard work, and serious financial investment do not go unnoticed.

I don’t think it’s outrageous to claim that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of these wonderful people. I think it’s the absolute truth. Small press is just about the purest expression of community in this mad and magnificent field of ours. Long may it thrive.

Sean Williams was born in the dry, flat lands of South Australia, where he still lives with his wife and family. He has been called many things in his time, including “the premier Australian speculative fiction writer of the age” (Aurealis), the “Emperor of Sci-Fi” (Adelaide Advertiser), and the “King of Chameleons” (Australian Book Review) for the diversity of his output.  That award-winning output includes thirty-five novels for readers all ages, seventy-five short stories across numerous genres, the odd published poem, and even a sci-fi musical. He is a multiple recipient of the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards in multiple categories and has been nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Seiun Award, and the William Atheling Jr. Award for criticism. He received the “SA Great” Literature Award in 2000 and the Peter McNamara Award for contributions to Australian speculative fiction in 2008.

Tehani says: Sean has written far too many great books to list them here, but check out his new website for more on Sean and his extensive publications list, including his most recent book Troubletwisters (with Garth Nix).

On indie press: Kaaron Warren

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. In today’s post, dark fiction writer Kaaron Warren shares her publishing journey.

My history with independent press is the history of my writing career. I sold my first short story, “White Bed”, to the Women’s Redress Press, after finding a flyer in my letter box. I’d been sending out stories for a couple of years by then, gathering rejections and a wonderful ‘This is a very satisfying story” from the fiction editor of Penthouse. So when I received the phone call from the editor of Shrieks (I‘d moved from Sydney to Canberra in the interim) many months after submitting the story, I was stunned and thrilled beyond words and I still think of that phone call as the moment I became a professional writer. Until you make that first sale, you’re not really sure it will ever happen.

My second short story I sold to Aurealis. Like Trent Jamieson, Aurealis was a major career goal. I’d been reading it since the first issue, and considered it an impossible dream, to be honest. I’d received some ‘good’ rejections, ie ticks at ‘this was almost there’ and ‘send us more of your work’ rather than ‘thanks but no thanks’. A couple of times I’d had ‘revise and resend’ and I  took a week off work each time, to work my butt off as a real writer. It worked for ‘The Blue Stream’. When Stephen Higgins called to tell me they were buying the story, my excitement must have been clear. “You haven’t sold too many stories yet, have you?” he said, very kindly.

From then on, when people asked me if I’d been published, I could proudly say, “Yes.” And it made a difference to the way I was perceived.   I think there is passion in all parts of publishing; most people work in the industry because they love books. With the independent press, this passion can be seen through from the initial dream to the end result, and I love being part of that process. A publisher has an idea for an anthology and has the fun of finding stories, cover artists, layout artists and all. I love some of the anthologies and magazines I’ve been in for their creativity in concept and style. Here’s just a few:

Scenes from the Second Storey from Morrigan Books, came from Mark Deniz’s love of the eponymous album by The God Machine. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in mainlining the album while writing my story.

Baggage from Eneit Press, came from Gillian Polack’s desire to explore the nature of migration to Australia. What we bring with us, what we leave behind.

The Alsiso Project, from Elastic Press, came from a typo!

These are just three. I’ve also been in inspired anthologies from our host, Tehani Wessely’s Fablecroft Press, Alisa Krasonstein’s Twelfth Planet Press, the CSFG anthologies and many more. I love that these publishers have creative ideas and that I get the chance to write for them.

My short story collections, The Grinding House from CSFG Publishing and Dead Sea Fruit from Ticonderoga Books, both came from the passion of the publishers. Donna Hanson, from CSFG, and Russell Farr, from Ticonderoga, approached me to publish my stories. Both overcame my fears and my self-doubt and pushed me to produce books I’m hugely proud of. Both times I had the opportunity to choose the cover artists, which is something else wonderful about the independent presses. Robyn Evans did the cover for The Grinding House and Olga Read did Dead Sea Fruit. I adore both covers.

I continue to support and be published by the independent presses. I can’t wait to see what they’re going to come up with next.

Kaaron Warren has been publishing fiction since 1993. Her three novels, all from Angry Robot Books, are Slights, Mistification and Walking the Tree. Upcoming, she has a novella upcoming in Visions Fading Fast, from Christopher Teague’s Pendragon Press, another in Ishtar from Gilgamesh Press, and a series of four stories inspired by the Australian landscape as part of Alisa Krasnostein’s Twelve Planets series. She has a story in Ellen Datlow’s Blood and Other Cravings anthology.   You can find her at kaaronwarren.wordpress.com and on twitter @KaaronWarren

On indie press: Jim C Hines

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 Jim C Hines, a US author who has experienced success professionally and is also experimenting with self-publishing. 

When Tehani e-mailed to ask if I’d be interested in doing a guest post about my experiences with indie press, I said I’d be happy to … but, um, what exactly did she mean by “indie”? Were we talking about indie as a deliberate alternative to the mainstream? The small presses who publish titles too different or risky for the big publishers? Or is this indie as it’s come to be used, where everyone from vanity presses to bestselling authors dabbling in e-books try to lay claim to indieness?

I admit I cringe a bit at the term “indie” these days. Often (but not always), the word signals that I’m about to be sold to. I’ve come to associate indie with authors who send multiple invites to be their fan on Facebook, daily messages asking me to retweet their contests, comments begging me to like and +1 their books, and so on. Not all self-identified indie authors are obnoxious self-promoters, but in recent years, it feels like most obnoxious self-promoters identify as indie.

To me, indie is more than a sales pitch. I’ve always appreciated the role of the small press in publishing works that were too risky for the big publishers. My first novel Goldfish Dreams was a mainstream book about an incest survivor. I don’t know that a book like that, written by a fantasy author, would have sold enough copies to justify the time and money most major presses invest in their titles. But this smaller, specialty publisher was able and willing to take that risk.

The same holds true of short fiction collections. How many single-author collections do you see from big vs. small publishers? These are important works, but not works that generally sell well enough to make it as major releases.

Following that logic, self-publishing could indeed be the culmination of indie. When Goldfish Dreams went out of print, I released it as a $2.99 e-book. I’ve also published two electronic collections of my short fiction, with a third on the way. I have the freedom and independence to publish anything I’d like, and no marketing group or sales committee or editor has any say in those choices.

Heck, I could post my grocery list for sale on Kindle and declare myself an indie author. (A bestselling indie author, even, if my book makes it into the top 100 list in the Kindle > Kindle E-books > Nonfiction > Produce > Contemporary Grocery Lists category.) But when people talk about wanting to read indie books, or to listen to indie music, the assumption is that they’re looking for something a) different and b) good.

Which makes me believe that self-publishing =/= indie. Some self-published titles would qualify as indie, but not all, and not by the mere virtue of being self-published. My suspicion is that most of the truly indie titles continue to be found in the small press, where editors can deliberately select those stories that are both different and good. (And if you believe “good” is in the eye of the beholder with no true meaning, then you’ve probably never been on slush reading duty.)

I’m pretty sure I’ve gone off on a tangent from Tehani’s original topic. Coming back to myself and my own career, I very much appreciate the small publishers who took a chance on my earliest books. Those first books provided a tremendous boost to my confidence. And while I don’t know that I’d describe Goblin Quest as indie, I do think Goldfish Dreams feels like an indie title, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have published something I feel was both different and important.

Long live the indies!

Jim C. Hines is the author of The Snow Queen’s Shadow, his seventh fantasy novel. This is in no way an indie title, but does feature Sleeping Beauty as a kick-ass ninja, so that’s pretty cool. He’s self-published two short collections, Goblin Tales and Kitemaster & Other Stories, and spends far too much time online at http://www.jimchines.com