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Archive for the ‘On Publishing’ Category

I’ve had a few of the same conversations in the past month and I generally, eventually, take that as a sign to ‘blog on the theme’. So, today’s theme is this one: authors usually don’t have boxes of books in their garage, waiting for you to come and ask them for a free copy*.

Here’s the thing: as an author the number of author copies of your book you get will depend entirely on your status, earning power and, sometimes, the clauses you’ve specified in your contract.

Relatives and close friends are particularly bad for this – and it’s really bad form especially if they’ve seen you go through the lean times when you were eating the cardboard remains of the cracker packet coz it was all that was left in the pantry and it kinda still smelled like the crackers. The assumption that authors all make big money and can suddenly start bathing in Moët is sadly off-base. After your first book, you might be able to afford some butter to spread on the cardboard, but there will be no jam for an while to come and certainly no caviar.

So, if an author offers you a free copy of their book, say “thank you” and be grateful. But, for the love of all that’s holy or otherwise, please don’t go sidling up and saying “Sooooo, how about a free copy of your book, grandma/uncle/distant cousin’s dog manicurist?”

It is bad form. It is cheap and nasty. It sucks.

Put your hand in your pocket and go buy a copy of the book so the impoverished author gets her/his miniscule royalty payment and can afford to buy real crackers. Support the writer and the publishing industry.

* Unless they have self-published and then they won’t be wanting to give you a copy for free, coz, y’know, it’s their bread and butter.

PS: I believe the photo is a Spencer Platt.

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Sophy Adani’s collection, The Last Outpost and Other Tales, will be published by Hadley Rille Books in 2011. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as The Tangled Bank, Origins, Alternative Coordinates, Something Wicked, to name but a few. She has also edited Destination Futures with Eric T. Reynolds. Here she speaks about being a writer, themes, Frank Herbert and custard-filled donuts. 

1. I first knew I was a writer when …
. . . I got my third acceptance, although the very first one was the most memorable. Still, I had this thought at the back of my mind that one acceptance could be a fluke. Also, by then the rejections were piling up, and it took some effort to keep sending the stories out. That part was more difficult than writing; it still is.

But even before that, I’ve always been writing. Being a visual person, my creative outlet was painting at first, and every painting had a story attached to it. They all clamored in my head for years, decades, until one day I felt that my head would explode. And that’s when I started writing seriously.

2. I love/hate writing to a theme …
. . . love it when I can come up with a plot that has a positive resolution. Or at least there is a shred of hope in the end. I find the end-of-everything themes too depressing, especially when it’s the end of the Earth or Humanity or the universe. I love futuristic themes in which biology and astronomy influence the characters’ lives.

3. If I could be any other writer than myself, I would be …
. . . Frank Herbert comes to mind, even though I don’t try to emulate his style. I love world building, and his Dune series has that, carefully interwoven within the factions of galactic society, human nature, and human adaptation. The combination of his world building, character development, and plot took my breath away. I have read the series three times already and I’m sure I will read it again.

4. A story can always be improved by the addition of …
. . . wit or humor. And the proper placement of commas. World building. Emotional depth of characters. A program that would delete overused phrases and pedantic exposition.

5. Donuts or danishes?
. . . if it has to be one of these, I’d say donuts with custard filling, but I prefer custard filled puff pastry.

She blogs here.

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Alex Adsett has sold books, worked for publishers such as Penguin and Jacaranda Wiley and now she runs her own publishing advice bureau. She is savy, smart and extremely helpful to have looking at your contract. If you can’t get a literary agent, then having a company like Alex Adsett Publishing Services look over your contract is the next best thing. You’ll receive contract and negotiating advice for a flat fee, without paying the 12-15% commission an agent will take.

She is also a voracious reader who just luuuurves books and here she answers some random questions.

The first book that blew my mind was …
Aiee! So many in so many different ways. The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper was my first undeviating shutter vision obsession and Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody was the first book I ever wanted desperately to live inside (I had so much to offer their world!).  But I think the first book that blew my mind into the beginnings of the shape it is today was The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen Donaldson.  Over one long hot summer I was 14, those books drew me in, hypnotised, forcing me to realise the darkness, passion, good and evil that was possible in the world. Part of me has never recovered from the power of those books. 

I can also blame The Bicentennial Man by Asimov in first year Uni as the reason I stuck with Law degree, and see that it could be used as a force for good.

2. You get to be a fictional character for a day – who do you choose, where do you go, what do you do?Elspeth Geordie from the Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody, I’ve been reading this series almost since it was published 20 years ago and it’s still not finished – Argh!

Firstly, I’d really like to be in the world of Obernewtyn, and drag the love interest off to a hayloft (he’s been my fictional crush for 20 years too), but that probably wouldn’t be very polite, plus I’m older than him now, *sigh*.  If I were Elspeth in the real world, I’d have a conversation with my dog on the nature of things and have a few long distance telepathic conversations with my best friends scattered around the world. (If I had a second pick, I’d want Bessie’s birthday fairy wings from the end of the Faraway Tree).

3. Three reasons why writers need someone qualified to look at their contracts *before* they sign them are …
… what a great question, Angela, I’m so glad you asked. *g*.  Although publishing is still a small and fairly friendly business, there are a lot of disreputable people out there.  Authors should have someone who knows the publishing industry check the contract to make sure a. they’re signing with a company that is reputable and can do what they’re promising to do; b) that the contract does not include terms that are at odds with publishing industry standards; and c) to make sure that the contract is not missing some vital protections for the author.

One of the most important things is for the author, or someone they trust, to read and understand every word of the contract before signing.  As an added complication at the moment, the rights and royalties surrounding ebooks are in a state of flux, and it is important to make sure your rights are protected and that you will get a fair income from any exploitation of those rights in territories around the world. It’s a tricky issue – watch this space.

4. I’m a proud spec-fic nerd because …
… I’m a proud spec-fic nerd because of the stories. I don’t think any other genre (and literature is a genre like any other) consistently comes up with new and exciting stories and characters and worlds year after year. Spec fic opens my mind, challenges me with new ideas, explores the ramifications of decisions we make now and allows us to experience other people’s lives.  Plus, spec fic readers are the best fun to hang out with – they’re my tribe.

5. Donuts or danishes?
Ooo, Up until last month I would have always said danishes – particularly the sour cherry danishes from King of Cakes in Brisbane.  After Aussiecon in Melbourne a few weeks ago, I’m afraid the hot jam donuts of Melbourne have won me over. It’s hard to beat a freshly baked warm jammy ball of dough as one wanders home from the Con bar after an excellent night out with friends.

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Marshall Payne has posted his query letter here.

It is well worth having a look at, as it’s what got him representation by the Donald Maass Literary Agency – well, that and the fact his writing rocks. So, go to his Super-Sekrit Clubhouse and learn something that may well help!

And how about the coffee-monkey? I love the coffee-monkey.

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Cat Sparks is an award-winning writer and editor, talented photographer and graphic designer, and owner of THREE cats – and author Robert Hood :-). She was one of the inaugural Clarion South grads in 2007, a Writers of the Future winner, and has a small but significant pyramid in her backyard built from her nine Ditmars and four Aurealis Awards.

1. I knew I was a writer when …
… glancing at my desk one day, not so very long ago, I saw that it was piled high with ruled, A4 note pads, each one dog eared, coffee ringed and filled with crappy handwriting. As well as these (and the inevitable laptop) were graphs and charts, plotting the peaks and troughs of my protagonist’s journey. Goodness! I thought. That’s all starting to look a bit serious.

2. The worst sentence I ever wrote was …
… most of them prior to 2001. Here’s a sample: ‘she said she saw mirrors in the sky but I saw only reflections’ Thankfully I grew out of my poetic phase. Today, most of my sentences contain explosions, car chases, knife fights or descriptions of people with really bad hair.

3. How many cats are essential to the production of an award-winning story? 
Well, as you know, you can never have too many. Unless you have too many in which case you’re probably a crazy cat lady. I tend to write at my best with three. Any more than that and the chair tips over.

4. If I wasn’t a writer I would …
… have time to read the whopping massive stack of books beside my reading chair. Also: renovate the house, weed the garden, visit my non-writing friends, travel to exotic countries, be wearing something a little more classy than daggy tracksuit pants, try my hand at hot air ballooning, parachuting, hang gliding and a bunch of other dangerous, aerodynamic addictions, and I would most definitely get a real job so as to earn enough money to finance all of the above.

5. Donuts or danishes?
I am appalled by the lard content of question five but I must confess to having a bit of a thing for those sugar coated donuts with the squishy red jam at the centre. Danishes would, of course, have been the more elegant response.

She can be found here.

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“You’re cool with that, right? Yeah, I know the grocery bill is $120 – so how about three sonnets? You’re not cool with that? Dude, you used to be cool.”

And so, another starving artist is thrown out of Woolworths or Coles or IGA, etc. I bring you this tone of disdain because (a) it’s my default setting, and (b) because the other eve I had one of those conversations that makes my head go “pop”.

Not thirty minutes earlier, I’d listened to someone bang on about creating sustainable careers for writers. Nice, a good goal, keeping writers out of the Poorhouse – we don’t do well there, we tend to steal other people’s socks and pens. Then the next chat I had (not with the same person) was with someone who uttered the words “But you don’t do it for the money”, with quite a degree of contempt when I spoke about attempting to make one of those sustainable careers for myself.  

And so we fall into the yawning abyss between artistic integrity and the compelling need to eat and pay bills.

Certainly, if you become a writer thinking it’s the path to fame and riches, then please go away and hand your pen in at the door. This is crazy talk. You don’t know what’s going to next catch the reading public’s imagination. You don’t know your book is going to be a best-seller. Publishers don’t know what’s going to be a best-seller – they surely have some role as taste-makers, but they cannot guarantee that the next book they release with go all Harry Potter on your ass. The next wave of the zeitgeist is notoriously hard to predict.

If, however, you write because you cannot do anything else, and you find you have some success, and you decide you’d like to do this as a career, then by all means, approach it as you would any career: train, learn, advance, and get paid for your efforts. The last one isn’t an unreasonable expectation – writing has value. Work has value. Writing should be a paid career. The fact of the matter is that we don’t all get to be Bryce Courtney, Neil Gaiman, Wilbur Smith, JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyers.

As you move up the ladder, your payment should, in theory, increase as you get into better paying, more professional markets (I speak as someone who cut her teeth in short stories and is now trying to transition across to novels). As your reputation and skill grows, people will begin to seek you out for submissions. Publishers will start to notice your name appearing in various places (hopefully not on toilet walls), and with any luck one of them will sidle up to you at a conference and say ‘So, got any novels on the boil?’

If you’re not writing fiction, but non-fiction, then this is often the place where money is more easily made. Recognised writerly jobs include publications and promotions officer, advertising and marketing copywriters, textbook writers. In fact, non-fiction writing is an area where you can approach a publisher with an idea for a book without actually having written the book, and be commissioned to do so. Not always, but sometimes. But you better have a kick-ass proposal.

Most of the time, you’re going to have to have other day jobs to supplement your income – receptionist, bus driver, waitress, gynaecologist, pole dancer, lawyer-by-day-writer-by-night. I have it on good authority that Batman is still trying to finish his first novel but he just can’t find the time, what with all the crime and taking his Batsuits to the cleaners.

We certainly don’t do it for the money, but we are entitled to expect to be paid for our efforts. So, don’t curl up the lip at someone who wants to make a living out of their writing and mutter about “filthy lucre and sell-outs” because I, for one, will find a way to get you in a dark alley and yell multisyllabic words at you from an Oxford Thesaurus (not the concise version either).

Writing for a living is a hard row to hoe. It takes planning and strategising and sacrifice, and not a little writing talent. People who pursue this dream give up a lot to do so, to make the space in their lives to have writing time – which I have blogged about previously here.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to try and exchange a villanelle for a new fridge.

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Gillian Polack is an Australian hsitorian and writer of fantasy. She is the author of the novel Life Through Cellophane, edited Masques (CSFG) and the new anthology for Eneit Press, Baggage, which contains stories from such luminaries as Kaaron Warren and Deborah Biancotti. She has written fantastic entries for one of the most useful books on my shelf, Lindahl’s Medieval Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Myths, Legends, Tales, Beliefs, and Customs. She’s also a medieval foodie and she bloggeth here.

1. You recently edited the Baggage anthology for Eneit Press – how did that come about?
I thought it came about because I was involved in a discussion with my editor (of Life Through Cellophane) about my dream book, but it recently transpired that she set the whole thing up. In other words, Eneit Press wanted an anthology from me, because Sharyn rather thought I could do something she would want to publish.  From my end, though, it went something like:

Sharyn Lilley:  “What’s your dream anthology?” 

Gillian Polack: “Cultural baggage, of course, Australian and very spec fic.  Pushing boundaries.  Giving writers nightmares.” 

Sharyn Lilley: “Who are your dream writers?” 

Gillian Polack:  “In the real world, I’d have to think about it.  In a perfect world, I’d start with Jack Dann and Janeen Webb and Lucy Sussex and KJ Bishop and Simon Brown and Maxine McArthur and Kaaron Warren and…” 

Sharyn Lilley:  “Write to them today.  Just the first ones on the list, mind.  You can write to the others later, if there’s space.  Offer them a place in Eneit Press’s new anthology.”

Gillian Polack: “But I’m shy.”

Sharyn Lilley:  “Don’t care.  Write now.  This minute.”

Those weren’t the exact words, but that was how it happened.  I never even got to the rest of my list of dream writers, because the first list mostly said ‘yes.’  And their stories gave at least three of the writers nightmares.  I thought I was sweetness and light and a gentle soul, but it seems not.

2. You get to be your favourite fictional character for a day with no consequences: who are you, where do you go and what do you do?
I am so torn. I want to be Belle from the Disney cartoon, simply so that I can own her library.  I’d find the lost books of Livy there and spend my day reading them. Or I’d look up the books that have the unwritten Jewish history I’ve only seen hints of in stories.

I also want to be Aslan, so that I can fix up the Susan error and create my own world. 

I want to be Emma in Emma Tupper’s Diary and to be non-meek and still inherit the Earth (why does she have to be so nice and so gentle, even under provocation?).

I want … to be a bunch of characters, not just those few.  There are too many things to do and too many places to imagine.  I think I’d better give up and become a writer.

3. You are forced to choose: editing or writing?
Writing, of course. With writing I still get to edit, but with editing it’s always the dreams of others.  I hope I never have to choose, though, because the dreams of others are so very wonderful.

4. How much does your academic work feed into your fiction writing?
Who I am feeds into my fiction writing.  The academic side of my brain shows in my fiction, if you look closely enough. I edit my own work so that you can pin it down to a precise time.  No vaguely ‘contemporary’ for me, because I can see the history happening and I use it in my writing.  If I set a novel in 2004 in Canberra, then there are going to be scars from the bushfires.  Not just landscape scars, but in peoples’ minds.  This is the historian in me, reminding the writer in me that place and time count.  We’re not neutral about them.

On a more obvious note, I’m currently writing a novel mostly set in the Middle Ages, but with modern characters.  That uses my academic self extensively.  The trick is going to be not letting the historian take over and not overload the whole thing with footnotes and analysis. 

There’s a third direction where my academic self feeds into my fiction self. Very little of my fiction is free from theses.  I don’t always make them obvious, but they’re there. I’m always poking holes in someone’s ideas and prized thoughts with my fiction.

5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes.
It depends on the recipe.  It depends on the date of the recipe.  If you added ‘the early 80s’ to your question, I’d say danishes for Australia and doughnuts for the US, for instance.  I like both, though.  Good ones.  The sort you can’t eat more than once a year without losing a bit of your soul.

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