The biggest change that comes immediately to mind is the recent passing of beloved author Sara Douglass. She was our spec fic pioneer and with her death I think every SFF writer in the country has paused to think of how far we have come and how much the efforts of single individuals can change the entire collective. We need to remember that and follow her example.
The changes in the industry (ie closing of bookshops, fluctuating economy, increase in electronic delivery, necessity of social media, book trailer craze etc) have touched readers, writers and publishers alike. We are all in flux. Do we go the trad publishing route or self-publish? Do we buy/write physical books or ebooks? And if we go with electronic delivery, how do we stop pirating. Should we stop it?
We write in a genre that is expanding in depth and breadth. Spec Fic is capturing the eye of the reading public, especially YA readers, and because of the growing popularity there is hope for greater opportunity and exposure for writers and increased diversity of works for readers. In a generally flagging industry, I see new types of bookshops (with a mix of electronic and physical offerings) sprouting up and readers, who are always looking for good stories, finding their way to the books they love. It has always been so, and will always be!
That’s so true about critics only getting noticed, flame war style, if they say something controversial or rude about a book. Even the best critics out there – a number of whom you’ll find on Strange Horizons – get very few comments.
Two words: gender recognition. Not parity. Not equality. But recognition. In my opinion these last two years have seen Australian fandom and genre literature lead the way in terms of recognizing the substantial role female writers, publishers and administrators play in the local scene. And this has been emphasized in the recent Ditmar and Aurealis award ballots.
I self-published Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz: Three Adventures as an experiment to test new digital waters. I like to keep up with and investigate publishing trends and changes were I can. I do like to be involved in various ventures and activities, and I like to use my business mind as well as my fiction-writing faculties.
I’m not sure changes are obvious until much later, perhaps six, seven or even 10 years, when you can look back and point to things that have become significant or made an impact over time. That said, I think in general it is encouraging to see so many people involved in reading and writing speculative fiction, and to see more and more Australian authors getting a foothold in the USA and UK, and in translation.
The challenging part is the part that comes after publishing – trying to get people to hear about it and to consider reading it. There’s so much out there at the moment and more every day, especially independently published ebooks. Some are very good and a lot more are very bad, but good and bad get just as much attention and seem pretty much the same to buyers. To stand out you need to spend as much or more time promoting your work than writing something new; you have to use word-of-mouth, push books at reviewers, monitor social media for opportunities.
I find that challenging. It turns me from a writer into a publisher, a publicist, a marketer. None of which are roles I particularly want to fill, but the alternative is having my books vanish without trace as soon as they’re released. Which I don’t really want, oddly enough. So I do my best to be honest about what I’m doing, to stop short of spamming people with constant ads for my stuff and to genuinely share the passion I have for writing with others.
One of my favourite themes in science fiction is the what-if, and I’m also fond of apocalyptic sf, particularly the classics such as Alas Babylon and Earth Abides from the ’50s. I became a member of the Greens and started paying attention more to environmental happenings. I remember murmurings in the 90’s which got a lot noisier through the 2000s and I started thinking about a new what-if, not “what would my characters do if the bomb dropped?” but “what will happen to my city if the temperatures really go up like they say?” Worst-case scenario, an increase of 6 C, doesn’t sound like much but have you ever thought of the difference between 35 C and 40 C? What happens if it’s 45 C? What about the plants that need frosty conditions? So I guess this series is my first lot of stories about maybe-real conditions, as close to mainstream as I’m going to get. I’m trying to do my own thing more now rather than writing what someone wants for one certain book.
I think the Australian market as a whole is responding to the same changes that the whole publishing world is facing with regard to digital books. While this new form is a phoenix to some and a spectre to others, I am delighted to see that it seems to have sparked a re-emerging interest from writers and readers in the novella. This is a form I’ve loved since adolescence when I first read seminal works like Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men and The Old Man and the Sea. Given that a novella can be created in a third the time or less that it takes to craft a novel, the rich excitement of furious creation can often be sensed on the page. A story has a life of its own, and to be effectively told it needs to fill into its own body without constraint or artificial inflation –- some stories are simply too long for to be a ‘short’, and too contained to warrant novel length. I think since the 1980s, the bang-for-buck book purchasing mindset has made it increasingly difficult for publishers to justify the printing and marketing of the novella form, but the e-book format is making it much easier for publishers to price the form back into popularity, and also for self-publishers to get their works to market. I am delighted that a number of authors I know are working in this form right now. It is good news that this important middle sibling is coming back in force.