Right now I’m reading Lisa Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony – that’s a very impressive book. There’s any number of writers who can do a story that affects you deeply, considerably fewer who can do gorgeous prose, but it’s very rare to find both in the same place. And I’ve just re-read The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines – as have many people with a connection to the SpecFic scene, I imagine. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to edit Paul in Scenes from the Second Storey, and being very new to the local writing scene at the time, it was the first time I’d been exposed to his work. There are only a couple of writers of whom I’m properly jealous and Paul was one of them – every time I read something he wrote I realise how much further I have to go to be anywhere close to that good.
Regardless of actual quality, there’s still a (somewhat deserved) stigma attached to self-publishing. Having books produced by a reputable publisher adds a level of credibility to the work. That publisher has said, “I’m going to put my name to this work and my money behind it”, so the public have a better degree of certainty that it’s worth their time and money. I saw that potential when Gryphonwood made the offer. Gryphonwood also re-edited the novels and have since commissioned new cover art, and both books are far better for it. Of course, there are no guarantees – a lot of publishers are producing crap, and there’s the whole taste aspect too. Just because a publisher thinks something is great, readers may not.
However, besides all that, being with a respected publisher means my work can reach more people than I could hope to manage on my own. As a writer, I want to be read. A publisher does a better job of producing a book and distributing it than I could do on my own. And I can concentrate on writing and general engagement with readers, and worry less about numbers and production issues.
For future novels I’ll now always pursue good traditional publishing deals first. Most really successful self-publishers have an established trad name, which I’m still too new and unrecognised to have. The few other successful self-publishers out there are lottery winners. I’d rather stick to the trad route for now and concentrate on writing good books that good publishers will get behind. But never say never – it’s a fast-changing world out there and I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Editing & publishing the Agog! anthologies was a definite highlight, although I probably didn’t feel that way at the time. A couple of authors have since credited me with kick starting their careers. The press made a difference & made its mark, but it definitely hobbled my own writing output, both in terms of quality and quantity.
Everything is now online and super fast. Hoary old arguments that used to fester over months now boil, brew and spew in the space of a single afternoon, mostly on Twitter and Facebook, Live Journal having fallen by the wayside. The community has ascended from the corporeal world like a plague of malcontented ghosts. I can’t help but feel many of us may have lost something valuable in our media-savvy quest for what is widely being misunderstood as ‘professionalism’. The tsunami of writers’ self-promotional spam is aggravatingly mind numbing, like a giant plasma telly notched up to eleven blasting all adds, no program content.
Why do you want to be a writer if all you ever have to say is LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME!!! Writing is first and foremost about content. Without content, you’re just sucking up pixels and my time.
More books are being produced now than ever before, a direct result of improved digital printing technology. There are good sides to this — and bad. There was a time when an author needed to make a reasonable number of pro sales before scoring a collection.
Newer writers used to read mags and anthologies with the intention of learning the score and improving their own chances of being included in the next one. No need to read anything anymore, just upload your stories straight to Smashwords or wherever. Does the elimination of gatekeepers make you a better writer? I doubt it.
The 2012 aether overfloweth with podcasts! This is an excellent development, especially for busy types like me as they are the perfect accompaniment to one’s exercise routine. My two favourites are Jonathan and Gary’s Coode Street and Galactic Suburbia.
The second is that I received very little encouragement as a young writer, and I do believe it would have made a difference early in my career to have had someone advise me, critique me and push me. I want to provide that to other new writers.
As far as influence goes, when you read that many books in a genre, ou see the tropes, the clichés. I have a short list of things I want to avoid, including titles. One that surprised me was twins. I would say at least half the books had twins as main or minor characters. Fascinating!
I can see more creativity battering down the walls of the literati. ‘Why not!’ is now a recognisable and valid answer to the unspoken accusation of not following the Australian model. Speculative fiction especially sets out to stir the imagination, prompt discussion and push the boundaries, so I feel very hopeful that young Australian writers won’t be crippled by the disasters of the past, such as the lionising of Darville/Demidenko because she followed this spurious model. I think those days are dead and speculative fiction can now thrive in a more creative landscape.
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that seizing or maintaining political power can undermine the legitimacy of a realm – it happens all the time in history. For instance in Australia, the current Gillard government is constantly being white-anted because of the way its previous prime minister was overthrown. Malcolm Fraser’s government 30 years ago also suffered from the way the previous Whitlam government was deposed.
This issue formed the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm – a nation, scarred by a deep sense of national guilt about its own origins, that now faces a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.
Then suddenly I was in the writer’s ‘death zone’ where every word came with an effort, every sentence sounded banal, every character was done to death, every situation boring and repetitive. Nothing worked; nothing felt inspired. What had gone wrong? Had I used all my ideas up and burned myself out as a writer? I started to think that I’ll never write anything worth reading again.
However, looking at the publishing and bookselling side of things, we face challenges we haven’t seen in the past decade and a half, since Aussie SF publishing, sales and international success exploded in the mid-to-late ’90s. From now on, due to the high dollar, the demise of book chains and the explosion in e-books and self-publication, it’s going to be a lot harder to get published by a traditional print publisher than it has been at any time since 1995, and sales, for the most part, are liable to be smaller because we’re also competing with a million self-published e-book titles. They might only sell a handful of copies individually, but because there’s so many of them, they add up to a significant chunk of the market. So, tough times ahead, but fantastic opportunities as well.