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