Posts Tagged ‘Publishing’

So, remember that thing where Mark Oshiro and I are co-editing the Speculative Fiction 2015 anthology? The fabulous cover and even more fabulous TOC are here! Feast your eyes on the magnificence!

SpecFic2015FrontCover4 (1)

And here’s the TOC:

  • Aaron Bady
  • Abigail Nussbaum
  • Aidan Moher
  • Alex Dally MacFarlane
  • Aliette de Bodard
  • Amal El-Mohtar
  • Arkady Martine
  • B√°rbara Morais
  • Bogi Tak√°cs
  • Carrie Sessarego
  • Cecilia Tan
  • Charles Tan
  • Chinelo Onwualu
  • Claire Light
  • Claire Spaulding
  • Daniel Jos√© Older
  • Erica McGillivray
  • Erin Horakova
  • Fabio Fernandes
  • Fran Wilde
  • Iona Sharma
  • Ira Gladkova
  • JA Micheline
  • JY Yang
  • James Whitbrook
  • Kari Sperring
  • Kate Elliott
  • Keguro Macharia
  • Lauren Smith
  • Leah Schnelbach
  • Leslie Light
  • Lincoln Michel
  • Liz Bourke
  • L. J. Vaughn
  • M. Sereno
  • Mary Anne Mohanraj
  • Mathilda Gregory
  • Maureen Kincaid Speller
  • Miranda Dawson
  • N. K. Jemisin
  • Nalo Hopkinson
  • Octavia Cade
  • Phenderson Djeli Clarke
  • Renay Williams
  • Rochita Loenen-Ruiz
  • Rose Lemberg
  • S. L. Huang
  • Sady Doyle
  • Samantha Field
  • Sarah McCarry
  • Savannah Stoehr (honesteve)
  • Sofia Samatar
  • Sunil Patel
  • Tim Phipps
  • Troy L. Wiggins
  • Usman T. Malik
  • Vajra Chandrasekera
  • Veejane
  • Will Partin
  • Zen Cho

SpecFic’ 15 will be released in the summer and all profits from sales will be donated to Room to Read. We really hope you enjoy it!

So, there’s been some talk on the internets today about the YA Mafia: specifically, about whether or not it exists, and what people think it could be (or is) regardless. Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier have both weighed in, and there’s also a¬†hashtag discussion happening¬†on¬†Twitter. The term has been coined by book bloggers – a significant number of whom are aspirant writers – who fear that writing negative reviews will see them put on a publishing blacklist at the recommendation of disgruntled authors. Regardless of anything else, it does appear that some bloggers genuinely have had their careers threatened in this way, and while this is truly awful, both Black and Larbalestier are right when they point out how little influence authors really wield. No matter how successful we are, or how much smack an indignant few might talk, none of us hold so much sway with our publishers or agencies that we could get them to ignore a great submission on the basis of not liking the person who wrote it. Really!

That being said, the fact that such fear is groundless doesn’t mean it’s irrational. It makes sense to want to try and stay onside with the people whose community you want to join, and given how labyrinthine and impenetrable the publishing industry looks from the outside, the fear of being judged on the basis of anything other than your writing skills is an understandable one. Superstition has always thrived among sailors because the ocean is large, mercurial and remains, even for the most seasoned captain, beyond individual control: and this is just as true of writers and the publishing industry. Sending a book out into the world is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done, and even now that my first novel is on shelves, I still maintain the ritual of kissing each manuscript three times before posting it to the publisher. As for the social aspect of mafias everywhere, I’ve said before that, when you’re on the outside looking in, it really does feel like all the most awesome people know each other already, like they’re constantly having rad sleepovers and drinking schnapps and telling wicked jokes, and all you can do is sit there and feel paralysed by the injustice of not being allowed to join in just because your book hasn’t been published yet, but how can it ever get published when the awesome people don’t even know your name, and so on until you’re reduced to assuming the foetal position around a cask of Fruity Lexia while whimpering the lyrics to¬†Beautiful.

Or maybe that’s just me.

The point being, writing bad reviews will not get you blacklisted. But the question of when and how to write bad – or rather, critical – reviews is something I think about constantly, because while I’ve never been an official book blogger, I’ve always enjoyed reviewing books and films. Certainly, I’ve never shied away from making my views public, but ever since becoming a published author, I no longer write book reviews on my personal blog unless they’re amazingly positive – though as a glance at the archives will prove, I’m still more than happy to go to town on obnoxious Hollywood cinema. The thing is, while 99% of all authors understand that disliking a book is not the same thing as disliking them, these are still people I’d like to meet at some point, and should that day come, I don’t want them to think of me as That Chick Who Hated My Book. This wouldn’t be an issue if I refrained from writing book reviews altogether, or if I confined myself to writing only positive ones, or if I kept the negative ones off the internet. Lots of authors go down all these roads, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.

But I don’t like the feeling of self-censorship which, for me, accompanies those options. My opinions haven’t changed. I’ve always posted reviews online. It’s not as if I criticise for the sake of it, or write snark for laughs. I review as a response to stories, as a way of helping put my thoughts in order to better understand them, and I like having those discussions where other people can join in, because that way, I learn even more. As a published author, I’m very aware of the fact that whatever I write is fair game for critics, and as a member of a writing group, I also know that I can be friends with other writers regardless of how harshly we might critique each other’s work. So why, then, do I hesitate to put negative reviews on my blog?

In the end, I suppose it comes down to professional courtesy: if another writer Googles me, this blog is the first thing they’ll find, and I’d rather it made a good impression. And so, by way of compromise, I now put all my reviews – both positive and negative – on Goodreads, which feels like a much more appropriate place for them. In fact, it’s given me the confidence to start reviewing more frequently than I did before, because I don’t have to worry about a piece being too short or poorly summarised before I get to the meat of things. That’s obviously not an option for someone working as a dedicated book blogger, but as an example, it hopefully highlights the legitimate balancing act of reviewing the output of a community to which you either aspire or belong.

And as for those authors whose threatening actions have sparked this conversation in the first place: grow up and get over it. Not everyone has to like your work, and it’s far more constructive to try and learn from criticism than flail about at the fact that it exists. No author in the history of ever has managed to avoid¬†receiving negative reviews – so why should you be any different?

So, as per the ancient prophecies, by which I mean yesterday’s post, The Key to Starveldt now constitutes some form of finished product. I have completed my changes, read over the whole thing, and am feeling confident enough to pass it over to the eagle eyes of my publisher and editor. I do not have a release date, but you may now rest assured, dear readers, that Things Are In Motion. Huzzah!

That would be the good news. The bad is more of a rantish thing and completely unrelated to the above, so unless you share my rage at the current team of morons responsible for marketing Vegemite, feel free to leave class early.

Now, look. I have about as much native brand loyalty as the next person, which is a fancy way of saying that I am disinclined to making informed decisions about irrelevant shit. By and large, I do not care about ad campaigns, but seeing as how I am both a lazy mammal and prone to the influence of subliminal messages, there are doubtless times when my purchasing one brand of toilet paper or pasta sauce or whatever has less to do with the price and everything to do with the fact that I’ve heard of it before. If the product doesn’t entirely suck, I’m likely to buy it again – but then, the same is equally true of something I’ve tried and enjoyed, but never seen advertised. At base, humans are conservative creatures. We might like a wide variety of products from which to choose, but in reality, that only allows us to feel superior about our choices when money isn’t a factor in making them, and relieved that there’s a lower-cost option when it is. (For an interesting assessment of this phenomenon, I recommend you look here.)

For me, the main reason I try new brands at the supermarket has to do with money. If I see something cheap that appears to fulfill the same function as the more expensive item I originally reached for, chances are I’ll give it a shot. But, like it or not, there are a few instances in which I find myself buying the costlier product simply because of some wrongheaded, ingrained notion of its betterness. This is called brand loyalty, and for me – and, I suspect, most people – it manifests in the conscious mind as the end result of a skewed cost/benefit analysis. The logic goes like this: I know that the more expensive product is good, or at least, not so bad that I’ve stopped buying it, which has lead to an unresearched belief that what makes it good cannot possibly be duplicated at a lower price without a significant loss of quality. However, I am unwilling to test this theory on the offchance that it turns out to be right, because in the event that it is right, I will have wasted good money proving something I already knew. If I am wrong, then ignorance is bliss, and I am still getting something useable for my dosh. If the product is one I’ve been exposed to for a long enough period of time – like, for instance, the Australian institution that is Vegemite – then my brand loyalty is all the stronger. Stupidly so, because familiarity does not equal quality, but stronger nonetheless.

Not so long ago, there was webwide furor over Kraft’s blunder-slash-publicity-stunt with the iSnack 2.0, which occurence had me grining my teeth with frustration. It’s not that I spend large amounts of time lounging around and thinking about how marvellous Vegemite is, but the whole thing was so ludicrous that it was hard not to feel as though the global human intelligence had somehow been insulted, regardless of whether the move resulted from idiocy or base cunning. And then I found myself in the UK, where Marmite is plentiful and not at all frowned on as some kind of¬† usurper, and realised that actually, not only was it cheaper, it was also just as good. I mean, salty yeast product? How the fuck can Kraft have a monopoly on that? It’s not like there’s a secret Goddam recipe. The stuff is basically edible tar.

So when we came home to Oz, I went to the supermarket. I ignored the Vegemite and bought a jar of its cheaper, equally-as-delicious cousin. Exchanging one brand loyalty for another might not seem like the most momentous event in the world, but the thing is, I didn’t realise that was what had happened until just now, when I saw a rerun of this 2009 article, wherein the phrase “the new Vegemite experience” was used without irony to describe the original iSnack fiasco. And I thought, what the fuck, Marketing Guys? Foodstuffs are an experience now? Are they fucking really?

As a direct result of which, I have decided never to buy Vegemite again. In fact, I’m tempted to forego Kraft products completely! Because while my passive consumer hindbrain is mostly content to putter along on its own, there comes a point at which the idiocy of any one marketing department causes me to lose all faith in humanity. I have now reached that point, and damned if my hard-earned dollars aren’t better directed towards a product whose corporate engineers have not so blatantly assumed me to be a moron.

So, now I have a new consumer choice to feel smug about. I believe there’s phrase occasionally used to describe this phenomenon – something about cycles and visciousness, I wasn’t really paying attention – but I’m pretty sure it started life as part of an anti-dryer campaign organised by the Hills Hoist Liberation Army. Bastards.

Alright. So. I haven’t exactly been blogging recently, what with The Stuff being sort of busy, and as I refuse to become one of those bloggers who only updates to lament their lack of appropriate updates, I’ve basically been keeping my type-mouth shut until such time as I have (a) something relevant to say and (b) time enough in which to say it. By way of relevancy to this approach, I have spent all day working on The Key to Starveldt, and am literally a hairsbreadth away from finishing my edits, which I will read over tomorrow, and thereinafter dance the dance of writerly accomplishment, which I’m pretty sure is code for Eat Curry And Watch Action Movies. But! Tonight, there has been a Thing, in the form of Controversy On Steph Bowe’s Blog, which can be found here.

Now, for those of you who are too lazy to follow that link, or who might appreciate an external summary in any case, the key of the brou-ha-ha is this: that Steph is a 16-year-old author. Her first book is being released in September this year, and, as might reasonably be expected, she tends to blog about it, as well as other things. The above post was sparked by negative comments here, wherein some of her bloggy remarks were discussed sans context, and which, not unsurprisingly, have prompted her to ask her readers for their take on the situtation. Which I have now chosen to do, here, rather than clog up her comments page. Obviously.

The quote that caused the contention goes as follows:

‚ÄúI’m 16. I got a book deal when I was 15. There are authors that were published at 13 and 14 and I always find myself thinking, God, must I fail at everything I do? They were published younger than me!‚ÄĚ

Now, I remember reading this when Steph first blogged it and thinking, ‘Shit! I know exactly what she means.’ Because although I am talking to you from the year 2010, when, as a 24-year-old married woman with one published novel and a second (see above) that I am on the brink of handing over to my publisher, there was a time, readers – not so long ago, even! – wherein I was eleven, writing a fantasy story for children and feeling absolutely convinced that if said manuscript was not on shelves before I turned thirteen, then I was doomed to failure. Because writers are self depricating that way, and in order to get absolutely anything done, we must set ourselves arbitrary – often crazy! – deadlines. Note that this makes us Interesting People, and not at all mad. No sir. *Snorts into wineglass.*

Let me also state, for the purposes of absolute accuracy, that said manuscript was never published. Probably it has been relegated to the farthest reaches of my Documents folder, there to wither and die like a winter mango. But the point is, all writers are intimidated by other writers, and doubly so by the prospect of anyone getting the drop on them, publication-wise. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we might colloquially refer to as a fact. In this sense, it does not matter if you have wanted to be a writer since you were six or only made the decision on your sixtieth birthday: as in all creative endeavours, we carry around with us the fear that we are not good enough; that someone, somewhere will beat us to the punch; and, worst of all, that someone younger – more untried, with fewer years invested in making such a difficult career work – might land their book on shelves ahead of us. Don’t lie, writers: each and every one of us thinks we’re special, and even though we yearn to meet fellow wordsmiths, there is always that moment of tension, a sizing-up in which we determine the likelihood of their talents surpassing our own, and try to gauge how jealous we should be.

Yes, I can see how, to someone who is in their thirties and as-yet unpublished, the idea of a teenager lamenting that they weren’t signed to an agency at a younger age might read as the punchline to a very bitter, very personal joke. But that same person would also be equally within their rights to land over here at Shattersnipe, assuming they’d ever heard of Foz Meadows – which, granted, is unlikely – and bitch about how unfair it is of me, a twentysomething, to be anything but utterly one hundred percent super-duper all the time grateful for having a book on shelves. But somehow, that resentment doesn’t carry quite as much weight, does it? Because as least I’ve put in the hours. At least I’ve suffered for my art, or something equally Goddam pretentious.

Look: every writer wishes they could be published tomorrow. The publication process is not easy, and it is not always fair. Sometimes, it can feel like creative masochism. But one neither gains nor loses writerly cred contingent upon the age at which they were published. Some adult writers are awful! So are some teens! The envy we feel on hearing of someone younger producing a book has nothing to do with the quality of their work, and everything to do with how long therafter we imagine they will have to ply their trade uninterrupted by such mundane necessities as Other Jobs and Paying The Rent and Everything That Does Not Involve Being An International Writing Superstar. Which is ludicrous, when you consider that the average annual income for an Australian author is $13,000. Thirteen-effing-thousand. OK? I once worked at a cafe for ten bucks an hour washing dishes, and probably earned a better yearly wage than that. Take out the few top earners after whom the rest of us lust, our canine tongues lolling against the hot pavement, and maybe the statistic gets a little better, but ultimately, we write because we love to write, because the words are in us to be told, and if we do not get them on paper, then there is a distinct possibility that we will implode. As my favourite teacher once pointed out during a friendly exchange of ideas, anyone who claims that they would happily do this without pay, forever, is lying – or at least, they are not quite telling the whole truth. If stories are truly a part of you, then the money doesn’t matter. Telling them is just a thing you will do, in odd corners of the day, forever, no matter that the world is slowly eating your soul. But not a one of us would turn down payment for the privilege of doing so, were it offered to us. And, as in all creative industries, writers worry that their Great Work will be kept out in the cold, not because it lacks merit, but because some other upstart, talentless johnny has stolen their shelving space.

Where am I going with this? Oh, right: teenage writers. Yes. The point being, we are all fearful of the Young Turks Usurping Our Dreams. At least in terms of maturity, we feel there must be a cut-off point for publishable works, which is understandable – a point below which there are no junior competitors –¬† but in reality, that fear is native to our profession, and not to our age bracket. If it were impossible to get published at any age other than thirty, naysayers would still show up on the blogs of their aspirant peers and question whether or not they had, as it were, The Goods. Because tying writerly cred to the age of publication, and trying thereby to dismiss the achievements of younger writers as publicity stunts, is essentially an exercise in ignoring actual talent – perhaps more understandably, it is also a way of coping with the apparently random machniations of the publishing industry. We want to believe there is some reason why our book is not yet a household name, while Jimmy Unknown Teen has been signed to write a trilogy. As a teenage writer, I used to feel an uprising of brute despair every time my considerate and well-meaning father would point me towards a newspaper article lauding the success of some teenage author or other. What he was trying to say was, you can do it, too! but all I heard was, you haven’t done it yet, and what’s more, they’ve got there first, which makes your eventual success seem that much more unlikely. Self-depricating, yes, but also honest. It’s that fear factor, see?

Yes, there are times at which adolescent writers seem to get more media coverage than the rest of us, if only because some parts of public view them as a novetly act. But that does not mean they cannot write, and in cases like this one, it seems to suggest that actually, leaving their age out of it might be the kinder thing to do, as there are few things in the creative world more insulting than the assumption that one has not gained success via any possession of actual talent, but only because of some native and utterly unrelated quality – such as, for instance, youth, beauty and/or pre-existing fame. It is tantamount to an accusation of Selling Out, but as Jane Lane of Daria once made clear, in order for that to happen, you have to have someone interested in buying, which would seem to put a damper on the whole teen-writers-have-no-real-skills argument.

Plus and also? Blogs are for blogging. What that means depends on the blogger. If you want restricted content, go read a newspaper, ‘coz we here on Teh Internets ride tall in the saddle, which is code for Doing What We Find Interesting In the Absence Of A Paying Audience, Which, Like, You’re Not, So Shut The Hell Up.

Here endeth the rant. And now, back to editing! Enjoy your long weekend.

Yesterday kicked off with a trip to the hairdresser’s. My last cut was at least six months ago, with the result that my hair was starting to look like the business end of a witch’s broom. So there was shaping and trimming and layering, and also the addition of a purple streak, which I’ve been wanting for a while, but always forget to ask about, because while I enjoy having someone else massage and shampoo my head, being in any sort of fashionable establishment tends to fluster me into an unnatrual state of awkward, mumbling pseudo-silence. I’ve never had a streak before; I thought it would take maybe ten minutes of salon time, half an hour tops. Instead, it was an extra hour and change. Totally worth it – the purple looks awesome – but seeing as I hadn’t mentioned this part of the plan to anyone else, there was some degree of speculation as to why I was taking to long just to get my hair cut, with the main theories being that I’d either died in the chair, or was getting a perm. (Which of these seems the worse fate, I’ll leave up to you.)

The launch started at 2, but we showed up at Carlton Library an hour early, “we” being myself, Toby and his parents, who (massive thanks!) helped out with the catering. Our alotted section of the library housed the YA and picture book sections. We plonked our stuff down on one of the tables to wait, then said a temporary goodbye as Toby’s parents went to get a pre-launch drink down the road. Toby found a children’s book on 70s rock music to read. I sat and tried to be calm.

After about five minutes of this, a small boy came running in, his father and younger sister following behind. The boy was called Harry, we soon overheard. He was bright, inquisitive and very, very confident – enough so that he made talking to Toby and I his first order of buisness. We had three main conversations. They went like this:

Conversation the First

Harry: Is this the old library?

Me: I don’t know. I’ve never been here before today.

Harry: Yes, you have.

Me: Have I? When?

Harry: Two days ago.

Me: Oh, OK. Well, maybe I was here, but I just don’t remember it.

Harry: Yes, you do. Do you mind if I run around in here?

Me: You probably shouldn’t. I don’t think the librarians would like it.

Harry: Alright. [pauses, walks away, thinks, comes back] Do you know where the old library is?

Me: I don’t know.

Harry: Yes, you do.

Me: Well, maybe it’s here, but we just can’t see it.

Harry: Yes. I think the real library must be hiding in the books.

Me: Actually, that’s probably very true.

Harry: Or it could be behind that broom closet door. Or under your chair. You’ll have to jump up, though, so I can look.

(I obliged, of course, and he inspected. But if he found anything important, he kept it to himself.)

Conversation the Second

Harry: I’ve just turned four, you know.

Me: Really? That’s great. It’s my birthday tomorrow, too.

Harry: How old will you be?

Me: Twenty-four.

Harry: No, you’re not.

Me: No? How old do you think I’ll be?

Harry: I think you’re turning twenty-eight hundred thousand million years old. And then you’ll die.

Me: I look good for my age, then.

Harry: [eyeing me critically] You’re really old.

Conversation the Third

Harry: I really like Star Wars legos.

Toby: Oh? I like Star Wars legos too. They’re pretty cool. Do you have droids?

Harry: I think so. I have lots of different ones.

Toby: Do you have the Millenium Falcon?

Harry: I’m not sure. I don’t know what that is.

Toby: It’s a ship. Does yours fly?

Harry: No, it doesn’t fly. You have to pretend that it does.

All of which was, I thought, a rather wonderful start to the day.

So: we set things up, both sets of parents arrived – as did the amazing Ford Street team – and I started to feel this strange sort of disconnect between the words coming out of my mouth and the rest of my body, which intensified as more and more people appeared. It was great to see everyone, though when Paul finally called a start to the proceedings, I’ll admit to having been just a weensy bit terrified. In a good way.

The fantastic Kirstyn McDermott gave me a warm and lovely welcome. I bumbled into the spotlight, grinned a lot and hopefully wasn’t too incoherent as I tried to explain about my brain being on a different planet, and what Harry had said about the real library being in the books, and how great it was to be there with Solace & Grief and my friends and my family, in a sort of garbled rush that hopefully made more sense to the audience that it did to me as I was saying it. And then it was time for the prologue; I calmed down a bit, and although I spoke too fast at times, as soon as I started to read aloud, I felt confident. My voice changed in my own ears. Everyone writes in a cadence unique to them, and as I narrated, every pause and emphasis felt natural, right. And then it was done, and nobody seemed to mind that I took a bit more than five minutes, and we drank champagne, and I signed books like a Real Author, and posed for photos, and tried not to be ambushed by the Leopard of Falling Over At Inappropriate Moments. Which I wasn’t. Which was good.

The pub followed; we went to the Kent, which was conveniently situated over the road, and had merry drinks with friends – although I am ashamed to say that, in my baffled, joy-oblivious state, I failed to notice that four SuperNovarians were sitting at a different table to everyone else, and so ended up not speaking to them until they came over to say they were heading off, about two hours later. Which I felt guilty about, and which makes me a Bad Foz, but hopefully in an understandable way. (Sorry, guys!)

Eventually, there were just four of us left: Toby and I, plus two philosopher friends, with whom we grabbed an Italian meal. Afterwards, we all trooped back to their place and watched The Lady Vanishes, which was just as much fun as ever, while eating fruit salad and ice cream; we weren’t able to pick up any more wine on the way over, but Borders was still open, and as I’d been given a birthday voucher by some other friends at the pub, I made used it to grab a copy of Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. And then we came home, and that was the Day of the Melbourne Launch. Heartfelt thanks to everyone who gave encouragement, support and helped it to be so great. Which is all of you.

Today – Sunday – was my 24th birthday. My parents, who are visiting from Sydney, shouted us all to a civilised midmorning brunch at a local cafe/restaraunt – I had eggs benedict with salmon on the side, and it was delicious. While other people did other things, mum and I wandered around the city – where I finally found a pair of shorts to call my own, and which, amusingly enough, cost lest than the four pairs of socks my mother bought at David Jones – and then met up with Toby to watch Shutter Island at the Melbourne Central cinemas. It wasn’t a great film: the acting was solid on behalf of DiCaprio and Williams, there were some amazing shots, and the music was beautifully atmospheric, but over all, it left the three of us feeling a bit hollow. Not to be all spoilery, but when you start a Hollywood film with the premise of an outsider investigating the goings-on at an asylum, the ending is almost guaranteed to go one of two ways, and while the whole set-up served to reinforce this fact, I think we’d been all hoping that a Scorsese film would employ some shaper, more deviously satisfying climax than the “oh, of course” fizzle on offer. Still, it wasn’t a complete waste of time – my mother rediscovered the Choc Top.

Finally, the day finished up with drinks and nibbles left over from the launch at my sister-in-law’s place – just the family, which was a nice wrap to the weekend. 2010 is well underway, and though there’s much more still to come, I’ll face it with the successful launch of Solace & Grief and my belt, and the confidence which comes from being another year older.

Tomorrow, my husband and I will leave the house we’ve lived in for nearly four years, ever since we first moved to Melbourne. With the exception of the few clothes, books and things we’ll be taking with us to the UK, everything we own is in boxes, ready to go into storage for the next six months. Our bookshelves are bare, the daybed is stacked on its side, and thanks to Toby’s overzealous packing of the kitchen utensils, we’ve been living on tinned soup, frozen¬†pizza¬†and takeaway for the better part of a week. The cats have been in Bowral for nearly a fortnight. I find myself lying awake in bed,¬†staring at the shadow-tinged walls and wondering how we’ll remember the place in a year, two years, five, ten. Physically, it’s a skinny terrace that feels like a train station. The bathroom is the size of a postage stamp with barely enough room to turn around.¬†Leaky pipes have caused the¬†paint on several walls to flake. There’s mould on the ceilings and not enough powerpoints. The ceilings are high enough that changing lightbulbs is a royal pain, even with a stepladder – the bedroom has¬†stayed unlit for over a year, and only half the hall and lounge bulbs work. Even if we had one, there’s no space for a dining room table. The rent has increased 30% since we first moved in. Like hermit crabs in a too-small shell, we’ve gradually outgrown the place, accumulating more books, films and possessions than comfortably fit the interior, so that we’re constantly living amidst our own clutter.

But for nearly four years, it’s been ours. It’s the first house we picked together, the place we lived while engaged and to which we returned after our honeymoon. Toby’s parents and sister all ended up living in Albert Park because we were there, sliding down from Queensland in the space of three years. I’ve lived in other places since starting university, but this is the first house that’s felt like home. And small though it is, cramped as the bedside tables are and as much as the dodgy washing-line makes me grumble, I’ll miss that about it.

Between¬†tomorrow and the 20th, we’ll be staying with my parents-in-law, whose current house is just up the road. Despite all the preparations for our five months in the UK, I didn’t quite believe we were going until earlier today, because I hadn’t really processed that we were leaving our little house forever. Whenever I think about getting on the plane, I feel a rush of exhiliration: we’re nearly there. We’ll be overseas until January 2010 – just two months before Solace & Grief is published. Next year is already significant. But 2009 is the year its all been built on: the year I signed a contract, went to my first convention, (hopefully) finished the sequal, spent my first New Year’s Eve in another country,¬†visisted Scotland, celebrated my second wedding anniversary – and there’s so much still to look forward to.

But until then, I’m taking a moment to remember our funny, thin, impractical¬†house. We’ve loved it, and now we’re leaving. Chances are, it won’t remember us, unless it turns out that walls have memories as well as ears. But we’ll remember it.

I signed my first book contract yesterday. In a way, it was a more momentous event than actually hearing¬†the novel had¬†been accepted, because¬†it was concrete, fixed in paper.¬†For the first time, I spoke to my publisher on the phone. We chatted about the contract, diverting fragmentarily¬†into what comes¬†next, and now it’s finally hit me that there is a next, that I don’t have to start reshopping again, and that all the emailed back-and-forth about series names and schools and libraries had a point.

I’m actually getting published.

Dazedly, I keep wandering into Reader’s Feast at lunch, greedily eyeing the ‘M’ slot on shelves and noting where my book, potentially, could sit. At home, working on the next volume, it startles me to think of not needing to submit all over again; that, like a privileged second child,¬†it¬†will never know the anxiety and heartache of its elder sibling’s early days. Wandering into Readings, I feel my stomach jump to recognise books on display as originating from my new publishing house. And so on.

I don’t have many details yet. I’m new at this. But the book, for those who are interested,¬†will be¬†called Solace and Grief. It’s young adult fantasy. I’m working with Ford Street Publishing and the wonderful Paul Collins. Also, I’m now on Twitter. And I am – and will continue to be – extremely, wonderfully excited.

After the first flush of reading¬† – and enthusing – about Authonomy, I’m ready to calm down, put on my serious glasses and give it a long, hard stare.¬†Since first consciously deciding to Be A Writer at age twelve, I’ve maintained a cynical wariness about putting any novel-in-progress online, due largely to paranoid fears of plagiarism or concept-theft. Though I’ve posted¬†dozens of poems¬†and the occasional short story on¬†various sites since then, I’ve always remained firm on the Magnum Opus rule.¬†Good thinking! I tell my younger self, and through the veil of years she grins wearily back at me, slugging her way through pages of dross, half-oblivious to the few sweet embers strewn within. She’s like that.

As an unpublished writer, news from a publisher – any news – is like a kick to the heart. It doesn’t matter how old you are. The impenetrability of the publishing industry is there for a reason, we know; and yet the act of pounding desperately¬†on theose heavy doors can’t help¬†but¬†instil the conviction of being wrongfully locked out; as though some lofty guardian¬†need only peer over the ramparts, gasp, and let us through at once, a kinsman found. The unreality of this scenario does nothing to diminish its potency – more often, in fact, the reverse is true, with each successive rejection only increasing the perceived likelihood that next time, doors will open. So imagine, then, the collective heart-kick¬†generated by hundreds of authors hearing about Authonomy! Small wonder they were gripped.

And yet now, it seems, even as published works are being announced, that old enemy of amateur authors, Print On Demand, has reared its head – at least according to one Authonomy member. HarperCollins have been swift to point out that POD will become a voluntary feature of the site, and not their primary mode of publication for Authonomy members; nonetheless, feathers have been ruffled. That kick to the heart is a traitor, methinks: the tug of hope over experience.

Still, the venture remains far from solely negative. Authonomy represents the efforts of a major publishing house to embrace the digital age and do something different for unpublished authors. If there’s a complaint to be levelled, it should be¬†at the ‘greasy pole’ approach of rewarding the most-read books with an editorial glance. Realistically, this was never going to be more than a dangling carrot: apart from the fact that any editor can peruse the site at whim and select a worthwhile morsel off their own bat, the participants themselves have actively diluted the system. In fairness, it was easy to dilute, but it’s a simple thing to acknowledge that a you-back-my-book, I’ll-back-yours approach has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with networking – exactly the kind of scenario that most members, at least on the surface, purport to loathe. Small wonder, then, that HarperCollins hasn’t asked for more.

To this effect, there’s been ongoing debate¬†between contributors, interested parties, and those being published¬†as to Authonomy’s real agenda. (Ironically, in this particular instance, the forum is the Authonomy blog, arguably one of the concept’s most pleasing features.) With the rosy lenses still on, I’d even considered submitting my own manuscript, assuming it gets rejected again; but in a more sobering light, I’m inclined to believe that my adolescent self had the right idea. We unpublished authors might not like it, but the great filtration mechanisms of the publishing industry – selective submission, literary agents, slushpiles – are set in place to keep bad writing out. Peer-to-peer review is undoubtably good, but it’s not a useful arbiter of what is or isn’t publishable,¬†while the egotism requried to continually get back on the horse is frequently ill-suited for objective self-assessment.

I still maintain that the Authonomy interface is a positive step forward, particulary if adapted by smaller houses or used as a means to promote genre publishing¬†and less mainstream titles. Similarly, as an avenue for critical feedback, no matter how flawed, it beats having no such avenue at all. That doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t be improved upon – and at this juncture, it might behoove the collective interwebnological consciousness to remember that, as fast as things move in cyberspace, Authonomy is firmly rooted in the real world, weighted down by the terrible Slow Zone gravity of an actual corporation. It’s still a new venture. Give it a break.

 And HarperCollins? The bloggers are watching you. Kick softly.

Since discovering it yesterday, I’ve been ceaselessly¬†intrigued by Authonomy, an online¬†forum created by HarperCollins. According to boingboing, it’s been up and running since September ’08, and is currently still in beta; nonetheless, there are already¬†hundreds of contributors. The premise is simple: aspiring writers upload their unpublished novels using a shiny new interface, tag the relevant genre/s, and let other site members promote their favourite books. Despite the sophistication of the website, the mechanism itself is nothing new; the real innovation is in holding a monthly top ten, wherein HarperCollins editors will read, comment on and – potentially – publish those books which get the most votes. They’ll also be looking for trendspotters: site members who consistently reccommend good or popular books ahead of the curve, thus strengthening the incentive for writers to spruik work other than their own. In the words of its creators, it’s a search for new talent: filtering the dross through howevermany pairs of eyes and seeing what floats to the top.

Conceptually, it’s¬†a brilliant embodiment of killing two birds with one stone. For the publisher, it decreases the dreaded slushpile: by providing a sanctioned, online¬†outlet for new submissions,¬†they will likely¬†cut down on receipt of unsolicited hardcopy, while simultaneously gaining a free, enthusiastic, slushpile-reading committee. For the aspiring authors, there is a drastically increased chance of receiving feedback or being published, plus a chance to participate in what is, essentially, a mammoth (but extremely well-executed) writing group. And for passive¬†members like myself, there’s the fun of talent-trawling: reading free books, picking the best and pimping them.

Authonomy is such a¬†deviously simple, workable, natural idea that I’m stunned nobody thought of it before; and¬†if HarperCollins really does sign some new talent this way, it could revolutionise the publishing industry, particularly if other¬†companies pick up on the concept. Especially for smaller, more specialised¬†houses, it could be a fantastic way to expand the business without excessive outlay; and thinking of the local Australian market, where there are few dedicated genre publishers, it could help to demonstrate both the presence of new writers and a viable audience for their work. Even more importantly, allowing digital submission erases the barrier of distance: whereas¬†UK-based writers might baulk at submitting hardcopy to a New York firm, there can be no such qualms about uploading to an internationally accessible¬†website run by an internationally recognised publisher.

One of the biggest¬†hindrances as a writer¬†is¬†the dearth of authoritative feedback: without an agent (or even with), it’s frequently impossible to learn why a manuscript was rejected by a given editor, or what might be done to improve it. While amateur criticism is sometimes unhelpful, creating a resource for such is nonetheless positive, especially where levened by the potential for more measured, professional¬†commentary with an eye to commercial success.

In short, I’m excited by Authonomy and what it might achieve –¬†and if¬†its expanding membership is anything to go by, I’m not the only one.

Submission!

Posted: January 11, 2009 in Ink & Feather
Tags: , , , , ,

The last time I shopped my novel around, I sent it to a local Victorian publishing house specialising in young adult fantasy. They read the book, sent me a report on its pros and cons, and expressed an interest in seeing it again once I’d made some structural edits. As I agreed with about 98% of the constructive criticism, I set to work. This was back in early October 08, or so Gmail informs me. Anyhow, in a burst of creative energy, I finally finished this evening. It’s odd to think that the bulk of the task was actually completed this week, at the end of my holiday – sure, the biggest, newest, longest¬†bit went in last year, but otherwise, I’ve pretty much ploughed on through since last Sunday night. And now it’s done, and I’m happy with the results. Extremely happy – not just because I feel like my writing is right on track, but because the publishers have confirmed their interest in seeing it again.

Which means I’m submitting tomorrow.

My job starts up again in the morning. In between the getting-back-into-the-swing-of-things and work-doing, I shall make my way stealthily to the printer. I will replicate my manuscript on paper. Lovingly, I will place it in a plain, purloined envelope. As always, I will touch a¬†finger to my lips, rest it lightly on the cover page and then, unable to help myself, repeat the gesture twice, because if there’s one superstition I cling to, it’s that good things come in threes, and must therefore be encouraged by threes. And then I will send it off, and wait, with heart in mouth.

It may well get turned down. I’m ready for that. Well, no, I’m not – that is, in point of fact, a baldfaced lie. As before, there’ll be one soaring moment when I sight the crucial email and my whole internal infrastructure will clench, waiting; and then, as I read the reply in the negative, I’ll feel something burrow into me, devouring and deep. Only for a moment. It can’t be helped. But then, I’ll smile and move on, knowing that, if nothing else, my novel has come out all the stronger for the experience, and that I am stronger, too. And if the answer comes back yes? I have no idea. But I suspect shrieking will be involved.

In between now and whenever this is, I’ll develop a curious anxiety towards my phone. Any unfamiliar number will send a tingle of anticipatory fear through my hand, as though the buttons were humming. I’ll check it madly, pedantically, when I usually ignore the thing for days on end. I’ll carry it with me compulsively, reaching down to touch it, make sure it’s safe. These reactions are all ludicrous: whether the book is good or not, they¬†won’t help me a jot. But I do them. They are my rituals. They anchor me to something more practical, more tangible than anxiety. ¬†

I’ve written a lot already this year, given that it’s only the 11th of January. I’ve read three books, too, and taken something valuable from each one. The other night, for the first time since I first picked up a pencil with an idea to storytelling, I jotted down an idea from beginning to end, sculpted characters, scenes and scenarios without so much as a single guiding name in my head. If you’re not me, that probably makes no sense. But for years, I lead with character names; from them came the characters themselves; from the characters, a scenario; from the scenario, a story. The fact that I’ve suddenly learned this process in reverse thrills me, as did the spontenaity of its execution. I feel like my writing has kicked up a gear with the turning of the annum; or maybe I’m only just noticing what’s been there for a while. But either way, I’m confident now if I never was before: that I can write. I will be a published author.

Maybe not this time around. But someday. Soon.