New bits and bobs

Striking Fire cover-1Author of the new short story collection Striking Fire, Dirk Flinthart, has been diving into his archives and posting some free fiction on his website. Highly recommended if you would like a taste of his work!

Dirk has also been posting some musings on the dimensions of storytelling:

Part 1: Telling Stories

Part 2: The Nifty Idea

Part 3: Make It Bleed

He says some pretty interesting things about writing and stories, and I recommend the posts highly!

ITH CoverAlso around the traps, Matthew Morrison has reviewed Insert Title Here, saying: “There are some amazing, even must read, short stories within.”

Thanks to everyone who takes the time to review our books — it’s hugely appreciated!

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Conflux Writers’ Day – Saturday April 5 2014

9837-Conflux-writers_blkThe very clever Conflux team, headed most ably by Nicole Murphy, have decided to run the inaugural Conflux Writers’ Day on Saturday April 5 – that’s the day of the Aurealis Awards, which are of course now hosted by the Canberrans!

Details!

The inaugural Conflux Writers Day will take place at University House, Australian National University, Canberra. For one day, Australia’s speculative fiction writers will gather for hours of professional development.

The theme of the day is ‘The Writers Journey’, which will be covered by four sub-themes – ‘Writing Skills’, ‘Writing Processes’, ‘Submission and Publication’ and ‘Building a Career’.

Four plenary speakers will be addressing these themes. These speakers are:

Joanne Anderton
Kaaron Warren
Ian McHugh
Keri Arthur

There will also be concurrent presentations bringing great thoughts and ideas to writers at all stages of their career.

For more information, including the full program, head to the website!

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the day as I have to be at the CBCA Judging Conference, but I’ll look forward to hearing all about it after the Aurealis Awards that night!

So you’ve written a book… What now?

Screen shot 2013-04-13 at 8.43.51 PMToday I presented for CBCA Tasmania on the topic of publishing. It was a well attended session and I thoroughly enjoyed both the preparation of the presentation and the talk itself. I spoke for nearly an hour and a half (thankfully there were questions too!) and was followed by Nella talking about the nuts and bolts (things like ISBNs, CiP application, legal deposit and so on) and Richard, who gave a brief overview on copyright for authors. My part focussed on the various options authors have for getting published, focussing on traditional, boutique and self-publishing routes. My presentation is made available to download here, for the purposes of the participants, but I don’t mind who else reads it (and it is licensed under Creative Commons, so you are welcome to use it under the licence conditions).

Obviously I spoke a lot more than what is contained on the presentation but you get the gist.

I didn’t really talk a lot about the specifics of marketing your book (whether you self-publish or not, you still need to market!) but did mention that it’s always useful to have ephemera such as bookmarks or postcards to pass out to potential readers and that Vistaprint has been having some excellent deals (you have to be patient and wait for free upload combined with discounts/freebies for the best bargains, but these do happen!). It also occurred to me that I might have spoken in more detail about social networking, but I think that’s a whole other session!

Thanks to all the participants who seemed to find the information useful, and particularly to Nella, both for inviting me and for practising her grandma skills so successfully with the baby I had in tow!

ETA: A couple more useful links that are relevant!

10 ways self publishing has changed the world

A contractual obligation (looking at contracts and what you are signing)

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License.

On indie press: Dirk Flinthart

So it turned out we had one laggardly author with indie publishing thoughts to share – the indomitable Dirk Flinthart tells it like it is…

Photo courtesy of Ellen Datlow

So, what’s it like working with small press in Australia?

Except for the money, it’s bloody fantastic.

Take a look at the last few years worth of Ditmar and Aurealis awards. You will notice that except in the novel-length categories, small press is wildly over-represented. Why?

Well, you could argue that the big press has no real interest in short stories, novellae, anthologies, and so forth. But look more closely. Ask yourself why that’s the case, and you’ll find it comes down to one thing: money. The big kids don’t want to put money into shorter works because there’s not enough profit in it for them. Meanwhile, the poor small press folks have trouble competing at the novel length because quite honestly, most of us who write a novel-length MS would rather like to be paid for it … and small press can’t manage that. Yet.

I’ve had a damned good time working with small press in Australia. To date, I’ve found the people doing the editing and publishing are energetic, co-operative, friendly, skilled, and helpful. Best of all, they’ve got that rarest and finest of qualities: a sense of wonder.  They’re in it because they love this stuff. The small press people are doing the hard yards. They’re uncovering new writers, people with interesting voices and personal viewpoints. small press takes risks, and in so doing, makes us all much richer.

Take Cat Sparks’ agog! press, for example. Aside from the rather fine series of anthologies of that very name, Cat was kind enough to give me the opportunity to create the Canterbury 2100 anthology. It was an unusual, experimental form: not a ‘future history’, but an anthology of future oral fiction, aimed at depicting a possible England in 2100 or so by showcasing the kind of stories that people from that future might tell to each other.

In terms of sales and reviews, we didn’t achieve much, limited as we were in our print run and distribution. On the other hand, out of something like twenty stories, I can point to first (or very nearly first!) sales to Thoraiya Dyer, L. L. Hannett, and Laura Goodin – all three of whom have gone from strength to strength. The anthology also picked up an early piece from Matt Chrulew, and another first from Durand Welsh.

Big Press doesn’t do that. By the time you’re printed in the big press, either they’re taking a punt because they hope you’re the next Matthew Reilly, or you’ve already done the weary rounds of magazines and small-press anthologies. Big Press doesn’t take risks because Big Press is there to make money. They’ll put $300 million worldwide into advertising a sure thing (the last Harry Potter novel being the case in point) but they won’t risk $50,000 to try out someone genuinely new and interesting.

I’ve got no objection to money. But I do object to lack of vision. It’s fine to keep churning out the same old stuff in genres like crime and romance. But science fiction and fantasy? Most of us got into reading this stuff because it offered a new vision, a chance to escape the familiar and discover something dangerous, something daring. The point of speculative fiction is speculation, and therefore, risk.

And this is why I love the small press folk, particularly here in Oz. Look at the work being done by Twelfth Planet Press, with its collections of work by new female voices. Consider the last-gasp publication of Paul Haines’ big collection by the late, lamented Brimstone Press – or Mr Haines’ career in general, if you will. Haines has what I think is the most original and viscerally disturbing voice I’ve seen in a generation of horror writers, with more awards under his belt than is really legal … and he doesn’t have a contract with the big kids. My guess? Probably it’s because he doesn’t sound like Stephen King, or Dean Koontz, or someone else with a few million sales behind them. He’s a new and demonstrably different talent, you see. Risky.

Small press takes risks, gets to be creative and discover new voices. Big Press waits, and invests big money in what it hopes are sure things. Is that a reasonable state of play? Can we live with this, as writers and as readers?

Sadly, no. The small press game burns people out. It costs money, and it takes time. Editing and layout require tremendous concentration at a high level of skill. Dealing with writers takes diplomacy, tact, and strength of will. Getting books together, getting them printed and launched and distributed, making sure the money goes to the right places: that’s a full-time kind of job, and unfortunately, it doesn’t pay full-time money. We get wonderful, brilliant people coming into the small press here in Australia, but it wears them down.

It’s not much better at the other end. Big companies get bought by even bigger companies. Costs get cut. Editors and sub-editors get canned. Fewer risks than ever are taken. When you’re down to just a few big players, the potential outlets for new writers are vanishingly small.

In the end, nobody wins.

Change is coming via the Internet. The rise of e-readers, tablet computers and smartphones as reading platforms is already reshaping the marketplace. Self-publishing is now ridiculously easy, and everybody’s doing it.

Into this fray Amazon has entered, signing up new writers as aggressively as it promoted its Kindle reader. This isn’t good from the reader’s viewpoint. Amazon’s Kindle is a nasty bit of work, with a proprietary format to lock their content away from other devices, and an inbuilt backdoor so Amazon can retain control over everything on the system. You don’t really buy books for the Kindle: you lease them until Amazon says otherwise. With an already massive market presence, if Amazon becomes the major online publisher, simultaneously applying leverage with the Kindle as the most popular reading platform, we’re just going to see the promise of e-publishing turn into a new ‘Big Press’ situation.

However, there’s one line in that NY Times article which really stands out to me. Russell Grandinetti of Amazon is quoted as saying: “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader. Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

That’s interesting. It reflects the point of view of a market-man, a person who lives and dies by sales, and figures, and money. But it doesn’t quite reflect the reality of the situation, because the truth is that with so many people churning out books, readers aren’t simply spoiled for choice: they’re drowning in it. Sadly, most of those choices aren’t good. Of every hundred new SF novels self-published into e-print, experience says that ninety-nine will be pretty damned ordinary. I speak here as a slush-reader (for small press, of course) of considerable experience.

Perhaps the reader and writer may be the only ‘necessary’ elements in this new marketplace, but a good, critically-savvy gatekeeper with a reasonable public profile is extremely damned helpful. With Amazon moving to establish a monopoly around the Kindle and its existing book-sales business, it looks very much as though the time is right for someone with a track record in finding new talent and bringing it to the light. Someone who already knows how to work with an author, edit an MS, lay out a book in a readable form, and place it attractively in the market.

In fact, I’d say the situation is just about ripe for someone in small press to hit the big time.

Dirk Flinthart is a writer, mostly of speculative fiction, who lives in Northeast Tasmania. Every year he gets a little older, which alarms him at times, until he remembers the alternative. Between teaching martial arts, raising kids, and maintaining a chunk of rural property, he’s a lot busier than he ever hoped he’d be, but writing is still his first love, and he’s just taken on a Masters degree … because he’s a glutton for punishment. Flinthart has won the occasional award, been published in most of Australia’s small presses, written non-fiction and humour (and a best-seller with John Birmingham) and likes to cook dangerously spicy food. How much more does one need from a life?

On indie press – thank you!

I wanted to express my appreciation to all the wonderful professionals who generously gave of their time to write posts for the “On indie press” series. It was fascinating to read about all the different experiences people have had, and the widely varying points of view. I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have!

Here is a full list of the posts for the On Indie Press series. Thank you again to all the contributors!

Trent Jamieson

Paul Collins

Dave Luckett

Jim C Hines

Kaaron Warren

Sean Williams

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Lee Battersby

Alisa Krasnostein

Alan Baxter

Martin Livings

Simon Haynes

Patty Jansen

Cat Sparks

Richard Harland

Marianne de Pierres

Robert Hood

Michael Pryor

Jason Nahrung

Joanne Anderton

Margo Lanagan

Nicole R Murphy

Sue Bursztynski

Angela Slatter

Shaun Tan

Jonathan Strahan

Dirk Flinthart

Licenced under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0), courtesy of woodleywonderworks on Flickr

 

On indie press: Shaun Tan

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, the amazing Shaun Tan, perhaps Australia’s most well-known author/illustrator, shares his incredible journey.

Photo by Jophan - licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

My career as an illustrator, writer and film-maker can all be traced back to very humble origins in small press Australian science ficiton.

My first illustration was published when I was 16, the cover of a small press SF magazine Aurealis, which I had discovered at my local newsagency in outer suburban Perth (now that I think about it, if it hadn’t been for than newsagency, my life may have taken a different direction!). I was very interested in SF at the time, and ended up being invited to illustrate many stories for different small press publications on the strength of early unsolicited submissions, including the stylish Eidolon, (which I eventually came to art direct some years later, since it was based in Perth). Lots of strange concepts came through the mail box that proved very challenging to illustrate, which was very good experience, especially as I had no formal illustration training. All of the artwork I produced was A4-sized, black and white, and paid a rather token $20 each, $25 if I was lucky. But I would have done them for nothing at the time because they were a great opportunity to be published, get to know other writers and artists with similar interests, and also be granted a certain license to develop novel illustration styles without any real commercial pressure or client briefing. Perth had (and continues to have) a fairly distinct community of some of the best SF writers, artists, academics in Australia; and I made many new friends through editorial meetings and annual conventions.

For me, the process of producing about two hundred story illustrations for small press magazines throughout the ’90s sharpened my interest in illustration as a conceptual practice, not simply a clever way of furnishing written words with attendant visuals. For instance, I became increasingly attracted to images that were independent from text in some way, and told their own story. As I moved further and further from literal depiction, I started to draw things that were not necessarily described by writers, and the experimental, non-commercial environment of small press SF meant that I could do this without much fuss; I don’t think I had a single rejection (although I did for my writing, which is a whole other story!). It’s much harder to be innovative when working in professional publishing as I later found out, because they need predictable outcomes, hence more conventional painting styles.

I occasionally produced illustrations that accompanied no story, other than what was impressed upon the reader’s imagination; stuff that was irreducibly mysterious, inviting (if not demanding) explanation from the viewer, given some stimulating clues. This inevitably fed into my later picture book work, and bigger projects like The Arrival and The Lost Thing.

When I finished an Arts degree at UWA, I was not sure how to go about getting work, and for a while had limited success. Eventually, I got a few jobs and my foot through the door – one was illustrating some books in a series of short young adult horror stories put together by Lothian Books in Melbourne, who have since become the publisher of all my picture books. Notably, I was hired on the basis of recommendations from the writer Steven Paulsen, a guy I had worked with pro bono on small-press SF newsletters – it’s a good example of how unpaid work can lead to paid work. Other writers such as Sara Douglass, Greg Egan and Sean Williams also helped me secure book cover commissions, with a good word put in by fellow illustrator Nick Stathopoulos, who I had also met through work in Eidolon, along with our mutual editor Jonathan Strahan. That commercial work ended up paying my rent, and allowed me to commit time to more experimental picture book projects, which have since become internationally recognised, leading to work with the likes of PIXAR, Blue Sky Studios and Passion Pictures (the latter resulting in an Academy Award this year). The Lost Thing trailer

So all in all, it’s fascinating to consider that all of this was seeded by a dodgy drawing of a robot kangaroo (folded into an envelope!) sent to Aurealis, back when I was still in high school. I can thank both my training as an illustrator, and the slow creep up the professional ladder, on a decade or so of small press work, and the support of everyone else behind these small experimental magazines, many of whom have gone on to international acclaim as authors, illustrators and editors.

Shaun Tan grew up in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia. In school he became known as the ‘good drawer’ which partly compensated for always being the shortest kid in every class. He graduated from the University of WA in 1995 with joint honours in Fine Arts and English Literature, and currently works full time as a freelance artist and author in Melbourne.

Shaun began drawing and painting images for science fiction and horror stories in small-press magazines as a teenager, and has since become best known for illustrated books that deal with social, political and historical subjects through surreal, dream-like imagery. Books such as The RabbitsThe Red TreeTales from Outer Suburbia and the acclaimed wordless novel The Arrival have been widely translated and enjoyed by readers of all ages. Shaun has also worked as a theatre designer, and worked as a concept artist for the films Horton Hears a Who and Pixar’s WALL-E, and directed the Academy Award winning short film The Lost Thing with Passion Pictures Australia. In 2011 he received the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, honouring his contribution to international children’s literature.

On indie press: Angela Slatter

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, Angela Slatter shares some tips.

Introductory Caveat

Let me start out by saying that over the past six years I’ve worked with and encountered a lot of small and indie presses, both in the Land of Oz and overseas. So, this is not directed at anyone in particular – although if you happen to recognise yourself in any of this … well, maybe consider pulling your socks up … or pat yourself on the back, as the case may be.

I’ve had good experiences and I’ve had bad experiences and I think the most useful thing I can do is outline some traps for young players. Even though I no longer work for a writers centre, I still have a burning proselytising zeal to make people understand that an informed writer is a responsible writer and vice versa. So, I give you information; convert it to knowledge and use it wisely.

The Good

The good stuff about small/indie press? This has included:

  • fast turnaround times
  • lovely interactions with people who are not faceless drones in a giant corporation
  • the chance to have a lot more input on the appearance of my books than I would otherwise have had with a big publisher
  • I’ve made friends
  • Small/indie press is the home of the anthology!
  • in the case of my two short story collections, I have two books that are beautiful and of which I am very proud.

One really good reason why the small/indie* publisher is a good place for a newbie author to start is that they will take the short story collections that the big publishers won’t unless your name is Miéville. Big publishers have an economic imperative – they need to make money and experience has shown that no-name authors with short story collections very seldom make money (at least not for trade publishers). I’m sorry it’s true – deal with it. No one gets to buy their beers with artistic credit.

A small/indie press is most likely run as someone’s night job – it’s a matter of passion rather than economics. So, there’s a good chance that a small/indie press will be more willing to take a chance on you than one of the mega-publishers.

Here’s another thought: in the current economic climate where the biggies are having trouble (a) making their business pay and (b) coming to terms with the ebook threat (cue dah-dah-dah music, attach twirly waxed moustache to ebook), the savvy small/indie publisher can find a warm cosy home with a fireplace, two wing-back chairs and several tortoise-shell cats purring loudly.

The Bad

These are the highlights, things to be aware of, not an exhaustive list.

Appearance

A book is a product. It is designed to be sold. It should look like something for which someone will willingly part with their hard-earned cash. There are still some small/indie presses who don’t get this. A book from a small/indie press should look no different to one produced by a trade publisher. No different.

It should not look self-published. It shouldn’t have tacky stock images on the cover with the world’s ugliest font over the top. The binding should not be wonky, the margins and spacing should look exactly like those in a book from Hachette or HarperCollins. The book should be proofread professionally – “infelicities” in the text must be taken care of – and if an author supplies a list of amendments to make because they’ve found spelling mistakes, then please, please, please for everyone’s sake, those changes should be made.

And a publisher should never, repeat NEVER, add typos in. 

Marketing

Small/indie presses don’t, by their very nature, have access to large sales and marketing departments, so you – I mean you ‘the writer’ and you ‘the publisher’ – need to work with what you’ve got. That’s pretty much word of mouth, social media, networking, launches and sales at cons, and your author’s efforts. Unless you want the book to sell to no one other than your mum, your author’s mum and your collective mates, then learn to market. Know how to write a press release. Work out what social networking channels can be of use to you – but please don’t blanket email everyone in the entire world to buy the book. (Can you say ‘alienating the marketplace’?)

Marketing doesn’t just happen. Authors and publishers need to take responsibility for the promotion and sale of the book. Authors, be prepared to do readings, interviews and appearances – and be prepared to organise a lot of these yourself. Even if you’re with a big publisher you’re probably not going to get a book tour. But you can do things to promote yourself and your book.

Publishers, if you’ve got a motivated, smart, talented, highly presentable author who is willing to go and do interviews, blog regularly, make appearances and basically pimp themselves out to promote their book then, FFS, take advantage of this situation. Thank all the gods, dark, light and plaid, that you have someone who is doing some of the hard yards and, here is the important bit, HELP THEM OUT. Make sure books are available if needed; send review copies to the places that can do the most good (yes, postage costs are an issue, so think carefully about a targeted rather than scatter-gun campaign); send the books to awards and competitions in a timely manner. Why is this under the Bad section? Because a lot of small/indie presses fall down here because they refuse to understand that the days of the Gentleman/Gentlewoman Publisher, when one did not stoop to anything as vulgar as marketing, are over. This may be your passion, but if you don’t run it like a business your passion will bite you on the arse.

Professional behaviour

Professional behaviour goes both ways and I’ve seen bad behaviour from authors and publishers. Small/indie press needs to be a collaboration betwixt author and publisher – it’s the only way it works properly. Why am I mentioning the below? Because it’s happened; all of it.

Authors: any time you feel a need to say ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ bite your tongue – go and sit in a corner and think about what you’ve done. You don’t get to demand cartons of Perrier or freshly peeled strawberries to be eaten off the stomachs of virgins. If you use the word ‘artist/e’ then go back into the corner and hang your head until I tell you to come out.

Publishers: do not stress your authors out by telling them ‘Maybe the books will make it, maybe they won’t’ a week before a book launch. Pay advances and royalties on time. Don’t try to “keep your authors in line” by belittling them.  If you say you’re going to do something, fucking well do it.

Be a professional: if you want to stay afloat, if you want your business to grow, then behave like a professional.

Beware of the publisher who is a frustrated writer – this person will try to rewrite your story into the story s/he would have written if only s/he could write. Or they will tell you the story is great – but just add another 1500 words to it and change the ending a bit. In this case, run, run far away from this small/indie publisher.

In this arena, everyone gets to see everyone else’s psychoses. This is close quarters, baby! The thing is, your psychoses, your publisher’s psychoses, should not interfere with the business at hand: publishing books.

You may be a noob but there’s no need to get pwnd

If you want to try the small/indie press scene, here are some tips:

Who else do they publish?

If you’re thinking of approaching or have been approached by a small/indie publisher (or indeed a big one), then do some research. Who do they publish already? Check the internet; look at their site. Do you recognise any names? Do you fit in this list? Are you targeting them properly? Are they targeting you properly? Do your research.

Ask around

What experiences have other authors had with this particular publisher? Good? Bad? Indifferent? Keep in mind the sanity levels of the person you’re asking, of course, and take everything with a grain of salt. However, if five out of five authors say ‘Worst experience of my life, haven’t been paid a thing, the book was pulped and the publisher ran over my cat’, then thinking to yourself ‘Oh that won’t happen to me’ is probably a sign you deserve everything you get. Be wary!

How do their books look?

Look on the website and go into bookstores – what do this publisher’s books look like? Indistinguishable from a trade publisher’s product? Thumbs up! Indistinguishable from a Grade 5 art project? Thumbs down.

In conclusion, Watson

You will not become rich with small/indie press, but it can be a great starting point in your career. And the small/indie press is not hurt by having been the first home of an author who goes on to win awards and makes deals with big publishing houses. So, publishers, try to stay on good terms with all your authors (professional behaviour again!). They may remember you kindly, and in later years you may ask them for a story and they may say ‘Sure!’ and having their story in your anthology may well increase your sales, and help keep your press going along. Better that than for them to say ‘No, screw you. You inserted typos into my MS, you did no promotional work whatsoever, sent no books to reviewers/awards – I still haven’t seen a payment from you and am beginning to wonder if you did indeed publish my book!’

At the moment, the small/indie press is a hub of activity in Australia. It’s picking up the stuff the trade publishers are ignoring. The books are getting better and better as products, both in terms of content and appearance. The pond is small and I would like to see Australian small/indie presses working together to take over the world rather than just fighting amongst themselves over the small market we have here. If ever there was a portable genre, it’s spec-fic. We are stronger if we stand together.

I’m just saying.

* Gods help me, I just want to write ‘smindie’.

Angela Slatter writes speculative fiction. Her short stories have appeared in Dreaming Again, Steampunk Reloaded, Strange Tales II & III, 2012, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet and Shimmer. Her work has had Honourable Mentions in the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies and has three times been shortlisted for an Aurealis Award. She is a graduate of Tin House 2006 and Clarion South 2009, and she blogs at www.angelaslatter.com. She had two short story collections out in 2010: Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press, UK), which has been shortlisted for a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection, and The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales (Ticonderoga Publication, Australia), which won the Aurealis Award for Best Collection. In 2012, Ticonderoga Publications will publish her collaboration collection Midnight and Moonshine with fellow author Lisa L Hannett.