I do jump around a lot. That’s not a winning strategy for a commercial writer: you’re supposed to establish a particular way of writing and stick with it, so the customers know what to expect each time.
I gain the impression that fantasy and horror have largely saturated Australian fantastika markets, at least among well-heeled publishers, and that science fiction struggles terribly to get through the publishers’ doors. One change I am conscious of is Cat Sparks’ editorial work for Cosmos, where she took over from me as science fiction editor about a year and a half ago and has found some more good writers. And I get the impression that, as in the United States, most of the innovative work is coming from small, brave, underfunded presses. I applaud them all and wish them well.
I suppose the biggest changes are those caused by the collapse of A&R and Borders – certainly the increasing popularity of e-readers and online sales were already evident at the time of A4. Many small publishers and suppliers went to the wall once 2/3 of all the booksellers in Australia vanished overnight.
Even bigger publishers had to tighten their belts, which has resulted in many of them being more cautious in taking on ‘unproven’ authors. On the upside (for me), booksellers are being pushed to explore alternatives to their usual business models in order to make ends meet, and one of the more successful growing trends is in niche marketing.
Horror is such a difficult genre to define — certainly the ’80s slasher/thriller/schlock is still on the nose with the major houses, though small press like to dabble. You’re more likely to find psychological or Gothic horror or suspense shelved in general fiction; dark fantasy edges that territory. Paranormal romance is not, as the genre title suggests, horror, though it has done a fine job of emasculating the tropes of classic monster horror.
Boutique presses are increasing in number and expanding their range of operations, but it’s the rise of e-publishing and arrival of mobile reading platforms that’s really changing the publishing landscape. Will it increase the reach of Australian writers across the traditional regional boundaries due to access to Amazon and iTunes, for instance? Can self-publishers and small press forge relationships and (social) media campaigns that can cut through the noise? Legacy publishers are lowering their barriers, too, with some accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Supernova and similar corporate pop culture conventions have opened a new avenue for writers to reach a market that the traditional conventions don’t seem to have had much success reaching out to. GenreCon in November is a new industry-focused convention model for Australia (at least outside of romance, perhaps). Spec fic commentary has continued to move online with the rise of podcasts as a chief method of discussing new work and issues within the genre.The Australian Horror Writers Association has suffered some crises of direction, and other attempts to form genre-specific associations appear to have falllen by the wayside. On a more positive, final note, we’re seeing Aussies such as Margo Lanagan, Shaun Tan, Angela Slatter and Kaaron Warren being recognised by overseas awards bodies, so the word is getting out and the geographic boundaries are being eroded. With writers such as Trent Jamieson and Lee Battersby being added to UK publisher Angry Robot’s line-up and a global focus becoming more the norm for the legacy publishers, that reach will hopefully keep expanding.
Supanova at the Gold Coast meant thousands of people, many of them dressed in fabulous costumes, so much buzz and so much fun. I found it really exciting! What it didn’t have was the sense of community you get at a Continuum or a Swancon – the pleasure of chewing the cud with old friends. Supanova closes down when the ‘show’ closes down; there are cocktail parties and such for the special guests, but no general get-together. With the traditional type of con, what happens outside the formal events is often the best part of it.
I’ve been up and down many times since then. Soar and plummet, soar and plummet – you never find this out about writers because we have to keep talking ourselves up, but it’s the common experience of almost every professional writer I know. Nobody ever makes it permanently!
For short story publication, well, the anthology model has now largely taken over from the magazine model. The big positive in Australia is that our anthologies tend to be broad spectrum rather than pinned to a niche readership or straitjacket theme. At the moment, WA is clearly the hub of the universe, with Ticonderoga and Twelfth Planets Press.
In terms of fandom, it’s still Melbourne and Perth in front, with Canberra a creditable third. Brisbane and Adelaide seem to have gone quiet, and Sydney is still desperately struggling to utter a peep … But correct me if I’m wrong, I may have missed some important new developments.
Collaborating is not an entirely natural thing for writers to do, which is why, I think, it’s so important that writers do it at some point in the career. Given our druthers, writers would happily keep on doing whatever the hell we want until we drop dead at our keyboards. It’s only through engaging with editors, critics and other writers that we improve in ways that will (hopefully) lead to better writing. Some people might be naturally good at regarding their work with an objective eye, but I’m positive that even those fortunate types benefit from someone poking their nose in and messing around. That’s what collaboration’s all about: having someone step into your kitchen and say, “Have you thought about adding a little chilli? Or maybe taking out the meat?”
A good collaborator will get you over the hump, revitalize your dead ideas, catch your blind spots, keep the project alive when it is dead to you, and creatively stimulate, challenge and surprise you. To work productively and happily, the members of a collaborative team must all trust each, respect each other, communicate with each other, have similar aspirations to each other, and be able to rely on each other absolutely. They must each bring something unique to the project, and they must also be prepared to give something up in the process of bringing it to fruition. A good collaboration never reads like any one of the people involved; it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of many parts that lives and breathes in its own right. That said, however, it’s important for one person to have the final say, and that everyone involved knows who this is before setting pen to paper. Make an agreement that all parties will sign. Stick to it. And have fun!
The trouble with white Australia is that we’re not black enough. WithWaterboys I went searching for answers, which led me simultaneously to the past and the future (no doubt influenced by my rudimentary understanding of the only true Australian expression of spirituality -– The Dreaming –- which is a place/time/situation existing simultaneously in the past, present, and future). This certainly gave me the freedom to explore themes like the inevitable failure of democracy, and the ultimate outcomes of ‘constant growth’-based capitalism on the land, and the peoples whose entire material and spiritual existence is tied to that land. I am constantly searching for grand metaphors to discuss the soul of our nation.