I’m still only slowly emerging from my writer’s block. Writer’s block sucks, and I’ve been struck down by it for almost 6 months now! Bleurgh. Luckily though, that doesn’t matter when you run your own business. And books have been happening which is awesome But I am remiss in not having talked about them here.
At the moment, we are midst of our second crowdfunding campaign. This time to publish the Defying Doomsday project. Stories already acquired include authors John Chu, Seanan McGuire, Janet Edwards and Corinne Duyvis. And they’re brilliant!
“We love apocalypse fiction, but we rarely find characters with disability, chronic illness and other impairments in these stories. When they do appear, they usually die early on, or are secondary characters undeveloped into anything more than a burden to the protagonist. We believe that disabled characters have a far more interesting story to tell in post-apocalyptic/dystopian fiction, and we want to create an anthology sharing those stories.
Defying Doomsday is an anthology of apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled characters, which will be edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench, and published by Twelfth Planet Press in mid 2016.”
We’re 9 days away from the end of the campaign and are looking today to boost the tally up over the $10k mark. Pledges tallying $751 would take Defying Doomsday to the $10k mark. Do you think we could do that today? Is that a big ask? What if I threw something in to tempt you?
How about – for every pledge today, backers will get an extra ebook novel from the list ie there are 4, if you back the Triple Ebook Deluxe, you now get ALL FOUR. Everyone else gets an extra one of their choice.
Already backed? Help us out today through signal boosting – share a Defying Doomsday post on Facebook, tweet/retweet on Twitter, hey we’d even love a blog post or Google+ shout out etc. Just send us a link (firstname.lastname@example.org) to where you boosted our signal and we’ll get an ebook to you!
(N.B. Pledges already made today still count!) More information about the project is here: http://www.pozible.com/project/188146
We’re offering some supercool rewards. Though I have to warn you, there is only 1 mini hamper, which includes a knitted tea cosy or fingerless gloves from me, left.
Our submissions guidelines for the book have also just been released – should the Pozible campaign fully fund, Tsana and Holly will be reading from May 1.
And more on other recent TPP projects in the next post update!
Tags: defying doomsday
, Twelfth Planet Press
I’m really pleased to announce the following changes to format delivery at Twelfth Planet Press.
Since I’ve had my baby, I’ve been thinking a lot about convenience and maximising time. I’m often held up or waiting for something or sitting with a baby who needs cuddles or settling or feeding and might not have had a chance to prepare myself adequately. I want the book I’m reading to be within arms reach whether that be the print version that’s by my bed or thrown into my handbag on the way out the door or if I’m stuck on the couch or in a carpark or in a dark room at 3am and only have my laptop or iphone or ipad, I want to be able to continue reading that book. I just don’t have the predictability of habits/lifestyle anymore and all I want is to be able to access the book I’m reading no matter where I am when I get the chance to read a few pages. Otherwise, I just won’t get back to it at all. And these thoughts have prompted me to tweak some things at Twelfth Planet.
As of now, direct from our website, all our ebooks will be delivered with both epub and mobi formats. At the point of purchase download, both links will be provided and customers can choose their preferred format or to download both. (Our Twelve Planet Subscriptions have already been providing subscribers with both.)
In addition, we’ve rolled out our long intended paperback and ebook bundle option. Customers now have the option to buy the ebook version of their print book purchase for just an extra $3. And I’ve tidied up the website so that all formats are now available for each title on the one page. Hurrah!
, print and ebook bundles
, publishing models
, Twelfth Planet Press
Serendipity is the strangest thing. Yesterday I was having this long talk with Ben about combating negativity and personal attacks – reconciling the hateful things people say about you or to you with how you see yourself. Today, I’m sitting here watching an interview that Oprah did with Sheryl Sandberg which aired on Jan 21st but I’ve been putting off watching. She’s talking about her book Lean In, which I vaguely recall got some negative press when it was published but I forget what.
Anyway, they’re talking about the bullshit labels/pressure people put on women – eg “having it all” and “work life balance”. Noone ever really asks successful men how they manage to have it all or balance work and life (they have wives for that, right?). And work life balance is a privilege that not everyone gets to contemplate anyhow.
Then they get on to the “imposter syndrome” and I start nodding my head. And realising how much this ties into yesterday’s conversation. Sandberg says that whilst some men do suffer from it, more women than men do. And when you ask a woman and a man about their success, a man more often than not will own his success, that it’s from what *he did*, from what he knows and his skills. Whereas a woman will “attribute her success to luck, help from other people and working hard, and not from her own skills. And even if you’re confident enough to own your own success, the world will attribute her success to luck and working hard and not from her own skills.” And then she says, “we do it to ourselves and the world does it *to* us.”
Wow. I have to sit with that for a while. But just Yes. What an interesting discussion to come past me just when I was thinking these things through only yesterday. So many passing snide remarks in my direction over time- it’s my friends who all voted for me, I sucked my way onto that list (I’m very tired now), editing collections is so much easier than anthologies cause they are all the one writer’s work (and I guess I just put the staple on the pages and hand it in with my name on it?), who is she? I’ve never heard of her, I don’t understand why these female run small presses are doing so well. And on and on.
It’s interesting to deconstruct. Isn’t it very telling to assume that working well with others or working hard are the parts of success that hold no value? Imagine having all the skills in the world but never actually applying them. Or not applying them consistently or with perseverance. Imagine having all the skills in the world but being a totally foul person who makes teamwork intolerable. Actually, I don’t have to imagine these two examples at all.
One of my favourite TV shows is Dragons Den. A panel of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs (or businesses in marketing, branding and so on) sit in judgment as they get pitched business ideas, mostly for inventions. Some contestants have done prototypes and small-scale production runs. All are looking for cash investment and mentoring in marketing, branding and taking a start up to a fully fledged viable business. My favourite bit is when one of the Dragons decides there is a good idea that they think they could make fly and then they offer X cash to buy in to the company for Y percentage partnership. Almost without fail, the person will reject the offer of lots of money because the deal is for more than 50% ownership of the company.
Their thinking being that an idea is worth equal or more than its execution. Or that having an awesome idea is enough alone to make it successful. The Dragons usually smile serenely. To them, it’s easy come, easy go. They know that an idea is not enough. That there are more ideas in the world than can be developed. The negotiation also tells them a lot about what that partnership might be like. Are they going to be overly possessive and territorial? Are they going to be open to mentorship? Are they going to step aside to let others with experience handle things like packaging, branding, marketing, promotion and access to delivery channels? Where will they decide the line is between “mine” and “ours”?
I think a lot about this show as I watch the narratives about the evolving models of publishing. Publishing is (as always) in a state of flux, in a reinvention of sorts. Small press models don’t look anything like they did when I started my press back in 2007. And it’s not a risk to say it will look markedly different in five years time. I’m very passionate about speculative fiction and about writers. As a small press, we sit very decidedly outside mainstream/big publishing and our role is very distinct. We try to offer the best and fairest deals we can when we acquire manuscripts and we try to offer a value addition of personal care and interest beyond the publication date. I like to think there is a very clear narrative that runs through the books I acquire that embody the ethos, direction, and yes, branding, of Twelfth Planet Press. I’m gradually building an argument, a response, a discussion point and when I read submissions, I’m looking for pieces that will expand, broaden, deepen or emphasise that narrative.
Of course, the other aspect that I look for at acquisitions is whether I think a work is likely, or has the potential, to sell to break even, or, you know, one day, make profit. I’m running a business after all. So far, I’m still waiting for the long tail to kick in and kick back most of my investment dollars. The thing about the old skool publishing model is that it works across all the titles bought in a year – some you win (make profit), some you lose (make losses) and across the board you cross your fingers and hope you come out ahead. This approach is what enables publishers to invest in books they know won’t ever earn out or end up in the black but that they believe should exist.
It’s a different model to self publishing. And like self publishing, it works for some cases, and not others. But I saw a t-shirt the other day that said “What part of 70% royalties do you not understand?” and it took me back a bit. Sure, there is an element out there with a pretty strong hate on for publishers but it strikes me as a bit naive or deliberately simplistic. It comes back to the Dragons Den and the idea that the only person who works to create a book is the writer. And that the only costs are paying said writer. Or that the writing might be the most expensive/only part of creating a book.
I’ve run the maths of going to digital only publishing to play with the business model. I’ve also tried to look at offering our ebooks at that $0.99 or $1.99 price point. I really hope we don’t see this flux in the business model end up with books only costing 99 cents. It’s such a huge undervaluation of what it costs to produce the product. To think that you deserve 70% royalties means you think that the cover artist, the book designer, the layout, the editors, the proofers, the marketers and promoters, the promotion material including launch events, and overheads like electricity, software, website management, bank charges, fees for online sales transactions and so many other costs, as well as publisher reputation and branding should somehow be covered by that 30%. That’s one helluva turnover of book sales. It also suggests that all those people take almost no role in the success of your book. I mean, as we all know, no book of excellent quality has ever been overlooked or failed to succeed, since cream always rises to the top, all on its own.
Which is not to say that 70% isn’t a great deal. I don’t have anything against self publishing. It’s the obvious choice in some situations. But when considering all those choices, that 70% really needs to be viewed honestly – what costs will also need to be covered by that? Editing costs? Proofing? Ebook conversion? Buying a cover? Spending time learning layout and publicity? Advertising and promotion? How much time will be required to be invested in product awareness? There are outdated aspects of the publishing business model. And the changes we are currently experiencing will force that hand. But the changes that will happen, and need to, will happen within the realm of economics and viability.
, publishing industry
First of all, it’s important to realise that the absence of formal prohibitions against committing art does not preclude the presence of powerful, informal ones. For example, poverty and lack of leisure are certainly powerful deterrents to art … It’s commonly supposed that poverty and lack of leisure did not hamper middle-class persons during the last century, but indeed they did – when those persons were middle-class women.
As for the leisure .. Emily Dickinson seems to have had it (although she participated in the family housekeeping and nursed her mother in the latter’s last illness), but according to biographer Gordon Haight the time of the famous Marian Evans (later to become George Eliot) was demanded, through her late twenties, for managing the household and caring for her dying father … Marie Curie’s biographer, her daughter Eve, describes her mother’s cleaning, shopping, cooking and child care, all unshared by Pierre Curie and all added to a full working day during Madame Curie’s domestic years, which were also the beginning’s of her scientific career.
Nor does the situation change much in the twentieth century. Sylvia Plath, rising at five in the morning to write, was – as far as her meagre work-time went – fortunate compared to Tillie Olsen, a working-class woman, who describes the triple load of family, writing, and full time outside job necessary for family survival.
Joanna Russ, How to Suppress Women’s Writing (University of Texas Press, 1983)
We haven’t really fully decided what’s going to happen post-baby. In our first broaching of the conversation, my husband asked me what I was thinking of doing and I told him my plan was to submit my PhD Candidacy application on time (due Sept 30), hopefully get candidacy, and then go on maternity leave. He nodded. And then I said I was planning on withdrawing from my degree for a year once the baby was born. To uh, you know, do the thing you do with newborns. And my beautiful husband stood there, and looked at me and said, “Really? Uh … are you sure … are you sure you will be happy doing that?” Frankly, he looked really skeptical that that was a good plan for me and I possibly kissed him.
*Obviously* I’m not taking time off Twelfth Planet Press! When I stated such, he nodded and seemed much relieved. (Seriously … how is it that I ended up with the perfect person for me, who actually understands me?)
But in all seriousness, I’m preparing for the next chapter in my life. I’m well aware that my life is about to change. And I’m also really aware that I can’t expect myself to perform the way (or in the timeframe) that I am used to. At TPP, one of our focusses is to support female writers. And a big part of that has been to be ensure that we understand that timeframes for writing for women with family commitments need to be flexible, longer and understanding. Life happens. And it’s really easy for writing to fall off the radar when more pressing matters have to be dealt with. And when you haven’t published for three or five or ten years because you’re raising or caring for your family, well, it’s really easy for everyone else to decide you don’t write anymore. We have a few projects in the background at the moment working on supporting writers who are just going to take longer than commercial timeframes demand, because that’s the way it is. And I’m really proud of them, even if I don’t get to talk about them yet.
But that’s also why I’m not as hard arse an editor as I should be about deadlines. I’m way too soft with writers about meeting their timelines, and I think that’s possibly a weakness of mine. On the other hand, we’re all grown up professionals. And writers who are serious about writing, will write. And the rest are not. I make back up plans and I work with what I have. But I certainly don’t think that creativity being stuffed into 1 hour of writing before the kids get up or the last 10 minutes of lunchtime is going to be improved by hardlining.
That said, that pushing creativity into the hour before the baby wakes up, or grabbing a spare 10 minutes where I can find it, is going to be me soon (again, I guess, since that’s how I ran TPP when I had that pesky day job). So in preparation, I have been carefully planning what the heck I’m gonna do. I’ve blocked out a good chunk of time assuming I will be completely nonproductive (it’s possible I haven’t given myself enough time – Oct to Feb/March at the moment, thoughts?) And I’m trying to get ahead of that big block of down time with some titles finished early so that we can still roll out our books on time. A few authors got advanced warning of my news – I’m pregnant, you have to write faster! – so that we could bring forward some deadlines, shuffle some others around. Everybody’s been really great about it and I’m completely overloaded at the moment with work. If it doesn’t get done, it’s on me.
I don’t know how it’s going to go. But what I do know is, if you really want something, you find a way to make it work. And for now, I’m clinging to my plan
Yesterday, I attended the opening for the Through Splintered Walls Art Exhibition at the new Rockingham Art Centre.
Background: Last year, around this time, we launched the sixth volume of the Twelve Planets series – Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren – at Natcon in Melbourne. We had a great launch and sold a bunch of copies and then later in the con, we discovered that there had been a printing error – the top line of every page was missing. After manic searching to check this error didn’t happen at our end, we promised everyone we would replace their copies and then we set about thinking what we could do.
It was such a let down and disappointment. You work so hard to get a book to print and then you proudly release to the world and anxiously anticipate how it will be received. And you hope it will fly. So when it dives and crashes and burns … well it’s a devastating feeling. And one I hope to never experience again. Whilst we stood around feeling sorry for ourselves, Narrelle Harris suggested that we think about turning the spoiled books into artworks – to find a way to get artists involved to use the books for art instead of pulping them. As an environmentalist, I was totally broken hearted about the idea of the waste of all that paper. So the idea sounded perfect. Plus, we had a chance to tank a mistake and turn it into something better.
The three of us worked on some ideas and a pitch and then I took this to Lee Battersby who works at the City of Rockingham (the city I and TPP are now based) as the Cultural Development and Arts Coordinator. His immediate response was “we can do that!” and when I turned around, he’d organised the whole thing. He organised four artists to give four different workshops for anyone who wanted to come along and learn about paper art techniques. And then he organised for the participants to submit their finished works (made from three copies of Through Splintered Walls each, the ruined copies which I donated to the city) for a final art exhibition.
And yesterday, we attended the opening for the exhibition. Here is the Mayor of the city opening the exhibit. It turns out, this is the very first exhibition to be held in the long awaited Rockingham Arts Centre!
Kaaron was brought over for the event and to give a writing workshop whilst she was here.
Here she is giving a few remarks and raving about how awesome the finished artworks are.
I wandered around and took photos of most of the pieces. Here’s a gallery of them – every one used to be a copy of Through Splintered Walls!
This one, the artist came and gave me the story to the piece. It’s not quite as she intended. You see, her new puppy accidentally chewed up that copy of the book and so she had to change her plans! I love this piece, I think it’s really great!
And these are works that one of the workshop tutors made as examples:
It’s quite an unsettling feeling to be pleased to see copies of your book shredded, cut up and folded. I’m so happy with the way this project turned out!
, through splintered walls
, Twelfth Planet Press
Longterm readers of my blog(s) will recall (perhaps with fondness, or the kindly shake of the head whilst they skip about in the daffodils ’cause they did their tax already) my ongoing Accounting Saga. There tends to be a flare up about yearly, ahead of the tax season, as I grapple with yet more spreadsheets that don’t balance, or some new forensic audit for a new system that will definitely absolutely once and for all sort out my financial recording woes.
It’s that tiiiime!!!!
Now with added bonus New Drama!
Let’s see. I should catch you up first. See. I want to be able to apply for Arts Grants. I *should* be applying for Arts Grants. Arts Grants are the holy grail. With an arts grant, I could pay those who work for TPP the real actual monies they are worth. I could pay full pro rates for writers. I could have an actual marketing budget (imagine not having to bake a zillion cupcakes the night before a book launch. Oh my!). More importantly, with an arts grant I could afford to do the things I believe we need to do for the Next Step (TM). Which is: Grow.
Applying for arts grants as a publisher seems to be a little bit more tricky. Firstly, you have to be an incorporated body. So last year, we incorporated. I think that cost about $500 in fees but I’d have to check that. That’s when TPP became a Pty Ltd entity and I got shares in the company and became a director. Then, you have to register with the Australian Arts Council Literature Board in order to be eligible to apply for their grants. This basically requires you to show that you are a legitimate entity, have a track record of publishing quality material and have established distribution streams and so on. And then, to present a balance sheet ie … and here it comes .. have freshly audited books.
See, ’cause. And I want to just say up front, I’m really busy. I got married last year. I switched jobs *twice*. I published 4 books. I travelled twice overseas. I did *stuff*.
But um. Yes. Of all the things I did, the one thing I did not finish doing was move all my accounting spreadsheets into Quickbooks, which was the free software that came with my incorporating paperwork. I really liked the invoicing ability inside this program and I got that up and running. And it worked ok for some things. But, it turns out that a) forensic auditing of 6 years of records of various levels of perfectionism in their keeping takes *a really long time* and b) the software is not really set up for publishing where you also want to keep track of inventory and the per unit cost make up (it really wasn’t flexible in the per unit cost accumulating over time – like, say, I pay an author the first instalment of an advance 6 months or a year ahead of publishing, and I also take preorders for the book but later on there will be additions to the cost like the rest of the advance, the design fee, the artwork fee and the printing costs and maybe launch costs and various marketing costs). And I also wanted to be able to track projects and their bottom lines versus the entire press’ bottom line (to look at breakeven points for each project vs for the whole press). It’s not really set up for that.
And somewhere along the line I got too busy or distracted to keep up with even the front end of entering records into Quickbooks. And it got to be a big huge mess. Again. WHY DO I ALWAYS END UP HERE?
So you’ll appreciate the hyperventilating, chest thumping and loud sobbing that accompanied the having to get audited aspect of this whole gig.
I believe a text message to my brother-in-law with the question “so is 11 days a reasonable amount of time to get audited in?” kicked this off. He is very lovely and has come to our house twice this week to sit down and look at my numbers and go through my spreadsheets with me. He has approached the Mess with calm and logic, which has been reassuring. He seems convinced that this all could be Sorted out and rational and tidy. (I live in hope. I cling to it sometimes during the nightsweats) And the first step of all this was to pull together numbers for the balance sheet needed for Literature Board Registration.
My exciting news today was all that blood and sweat and tears was worth something!! I lodged all the forms and requirements last night at 11pm and this morning I got word that Twelfth Planet Press was successfully registered! Hurrah! I can’t even explain how uplifted and excited I’ve been all day. I’ve had *ideas* spilling out my ears. I feel completely reinvigorated and reenergised!
Of course, all this is overshadowed by the more painful exercise to come in actually bringing the whole books up to date and neat and tidy. And thus has a whole bunch of complicating factors now – firstly, actually finding an accounting software package that works and/or admitting that I will never fully separate from my spreadsheets and may have to run a software package and my spreadsheets simultaneously to get all the information I want. I really really like to know which projects have broken even, which might break even and which never will. And there’s all kinds of interesting data that you can look at to do with estimating print runs, advances, actions leading to sales correlations, which times of the year books sell better etc etc.
And um … now TPP is a company and that changes things. I’d always operated on the premise that the money I invested in the press I would get paid … at some point in the future … should there ever be funds. But as of March 2012, when we incorporated, there are all kinds of tax implications and you can’t just “take money out” from a company to a person willy nilly. Now I have to look at structure, shares and loans, liabilities and debts and all kinds of things like auditing, annual reports and tax and so on and so on. And a way to somehow be able to get back the money I’ve been investing in this project, at some point, should there ever be money to be got. The pipe dream, eh?
And if we’ve learned nothing else, we’ve learned it’s that the one most important thing in any enterprise is to get the foundation sorted before you run off into the distance. Oh hindsight. You’re so cute.
You know what this all boils down to, don’t you?
Yep. You guessed it.
ANOTHER FORENSIC AUDIT.
But it’s not all bad. I’ve been having to calculate royalties to figure out liabilities – and hopefully next week I will be paying some. This is the first year my authors have earned out their advances. More than one author. More than one book. That’s really exciting. You take your milestones where you can find em.
And the other thing of course – how lucky am I to have such a lovely brother-in-law!
, Twelfth Planet Press
Not only for the current obvious reason, am I very interested in following what’s been going on lately in publishing.
As we hit the ground in Canada, the merger between Penguin and Random House was being announced and it was certainly a topic of conversation for the week long we were there. For small press publishing, I could sit down and look at how this is probably a good thing, in the short term. But in general, I feel quite depressed about the state of publishing – things are grim right now, there’s no pretending they aren’t.
Why the merger and what does it mean? Here is the final wrap up from Seattle Pi in their article A Merger in Publishing – and then there were five:
In the end, what does this merger mean for writers (and readers)? Will the Bertelsmann Foundation’s sink-or-swim economic stance bleed over into the realm of literature? Will Random House/Penguin, now in control of more than a quarter of the entire book market, stick to a bottom line that reduces the supply of ideas while increasing its intellectual price? Will Random House/Penguin, increasingly free from serious competition, no longer feel a need to invest in writers with new ideas, new concepts, new ways of interpreting the world?
Like all things involving dead trees, the new chapter has been prompted in large part by the march of the digital giants, including Amazon, Apple and Google. The print publishers hope their merging of resources will leave them better placed to cope with the onset of the ebook era.
‘In the short term, I don’t see much changing for readers. The battle between retailers and publishers is always about price – the former want lower and the latter want higher. Choice might be affected adversely as there will be fewer publishers to fight over new writers and subsequently fewer risks might be taken by the publisher.
‘However, the book industry is fundamentally healthy in that people want to read and for the right handful of books they will read in big numbers.
Cross posted from the Twelfth Planet Press blog:
Twelfth Planet Press is looking to develop a new line of dynamic, original genre novels. Twelfth Planet Press novels will push boundaries to question, inspire, engage and challenge. We are specifically looking to acquire material outside that which is typically considered by mainstream publishers.
We are looking for science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime. We will consider borderline literary, new weird, steampunk, space opera, hard science fiction, soft science fiction, urban fantasy, cyberpunk, military science fiction, young adult, paranormal romance and everything in between.
Please note we are not looking for epic fantasy, splatterpunk, novellas, nonfiction, previously published material (where published includes electronic or audio ie on your blog, as a podcast, ebook etc) and unfinished work. We will not consider multiple or simultaneous submissions. Please take some time to familiarise yourself with the kind of content we publish. We are not interested in gratuitous violence, misogyny and gore or sex scenes for shock value.We are looking to acquire all English language territory rights and ebook rights. We are offering advances and royalties.
How to Submit:
The manuscript submissions period will commence January 1, 2012 and end January 31, 2012.
Email the first 3 chapters of your finished manuscript and a brief (1-2 page) synopsis to email@example.com in rtf file format. Title your subject heading with the genre/subgenre for our email management. You will receive an automated email receipt of your submission.
Your synopsis should include a summary of all the characters and plot (including the ending) and a brief discussion of your intended audience, your likely sales market, what other books are like yours and why your book is better or why your book is needed.
Include your full contact details, including email address, manuscript title, word count and a brief biography. Full manuscripts will be requested from those submissions which make it to the second round.All submissions will be considered by our team of readers. Manuscripts will be read in the order of their receipt. The team will pass up manuscripts for the second round and submission of full manuscripts will be on request at that time. Depending on volume, we are intending to respond to all submissions by June 30, 2012. There will be subsequent submissions periods after January 2012.
Submissions period: January 1, 2012 – January 31, 2012.
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
First 3 chapters and a 1-2 page synopsis of your book with marketing and sales outline in rtf file.
Include your full contact details, word count and brief biography.
, Twelfth Planet Press
From Chapter 5 The Double Standard of Content:
Critics who are too sensible to succumb to some version of She didn’t write it and too decent to resort to the (always rather snide) She did, but she shouldn’t have can often find other ways to dismiss the tuneful yodelling and graceful ice-sliding of those wrongly shaped – or wrongly tinted – Glotolog who somehow persist in producing art despite the obstacles arrayed against them. Motives for the dismissal differ: habit, laziness, reliance on history or criticism that is already corrupt, ignorance (the most excusable of all, surely), the desire not to disturb the comfort based on that ignorance (much less excusable), the dim (or not-so-dim) perception that one’s self-esteem or sex-based interests are at stake, the desire to stay within an all-male, all-white club that is, whatever its drawbacks, familiar and comfortable, and sometimes the clear perception that letting outsiders into the club, economically or otherwise, will disturb the structure of quid pro quo that keeps the club going.
- How to Suppress Women’s Writing, Joanna Russ, University of Texas Press, 1983
, what I am reading
I’ve been trying to develop a particular topic/theme as Pet Topic for Galactic Suburbia for over a month now and it just hasn’t worked out. It needs a lot of research and a lot of thinking and I just haven’t had time to prep it for any of our recent episodes. It is though something that I’ve been thinking about a lot, off and on for a while now.
I’ve described before marketing and promotion of fiction as being akin to standing in a stadium filled with 30 000 people and shouting your name and hoping to get heard. Something that interests me, and a lot of others, is finding a way to get heard. There are many examples of people who have managed to successfully carve a message out over the white noise. We can all think of examples of writers who have managed to gain a platform and use that to successfully advance their own, and others’ careers. And there are many many more examples of those who purport to know the formula to replicate these. Some offer this advice for free and others for a small fee. But the thing I’m really interested in is, of course, what works? And why? And more importantly, which work more than once? Which were one off novelty techniques that will and can only be successful once – that any replication of can only ever be imitation?
A lot of advice I’ve seen around is that if you want something for yourself, you should first give back. The whole “pay it forward” idea. Giving something back benefits not just you (writer/editor/reviewer/publisher) but contributes to building and improving the community you want to be a part of. And supports the idea that to move forward (or upward) we must all move forward and upward – that the community/scene is better and stronger because you are a part of it. Rather, than, I guess, taking what you need from the community and what it has to offer.
The thing is, just because you contributed your time and passion and worked hard, doesn’t mean that you’re owed or deserve anything in return. The reward you get for contributing is in the act of doing it, itself. In the learning all the things that participating or trying something new has to offer. And if you aren’t enjoying the doing, you shouldn’t be doing it. Or in other words, if you’re contributing solely in order to advance your own career, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. And ultimately it shows. The speculative fiction community has so much to offer, is filled with so many talented, inspiring, intelligent and fascinating people and there are so many facets to the publishing industry to discover and learn. If you volunteer for something with the narrow vision of how anything you do must pay off your own career objectives, it’s likely that you will shut yourself off to the serendipitous learning opportunities which might mean nothing to you now but some time down the track might prove valuable. And um, getting to work with smart, cool people is … well, damn cool.
The other thing I’ve noticed in some corners of the internet is a culture of encouraging and rewarding faux-expertise. I spend a lot of time listening to podcasts, reading blog posts and visiting websites purporting to be offering advice on the industry only to find much of it basic and uninsightful. I’m not sure it’s beneficial for writers who have never sold a novel to be blogging advice on how to sell a novel, for an extreme example. It’s a Catch 22, I suppose. If you want to gain a platform, you have to kinda just get up on one and start speaking.
I’ve been thinking a lot about these two things. And I think, when it comes down to it, the trick is that there is no trick. There is no quick pathway to fame and fortune. There is no formula for career progression. Blog, don’t blog. Sit on panels at cons, don’t go to cons at all. Write reviews, join a writers’ centre, join a forum or write alone in your room for years. There’s no right or wrong way to make a sale. If you’re genuine and open, people will respond to that. And if you aren’t, they will respond to that too. We’re all well experienced in what it feels like when someone is trying to sell you something you don’t want. Everybody’s story is different and there are many roads up the mountain, what works for one person may never work for anyone else. And sometimes, it’s not how hard you work or how long you work at it, sometimes it comes down to luck and being at the right place at the right time, and there’s no formula for that.
I do think that these days, as a writer, you can no longer get away with relying on your publisher to promote and market your work alone. Big publishing houses have very short timeframes for deciding the sales success of a book. Small publishing houses work on tighter budgets and are understaffed. I’ve observed in my own press the financial difference in sales between books by authors who rely solely on my own marketing machine and those by authors who share the role with me. (It’s more fun in the second instance too.) Which of course means I’ve argued myself round in a circle. How then, can writers/editors/publishers/reviewers shout above the din and hope that pays off in terms of sales and career progression? I still think it comes down to being genuine about who you are. And doing things that you enjoy that also happen to work as marketing and promotional tools. And that that’s the bit that has no formula and the balance of tools to use will be unique to each individual.
I think in the end, I’m arguing that rather than replicating what worked for others, take the time to throw yourself in the deep end and see what you enjoy doing and what brings it’s own reward. Because there is nothing more interesting and contagious than someone having fun.
Yesterday I got a phonecall from reception informing me that I had “received an urgent parcel” and could I please come down and collect it right away? Reception is a fair walk across the campus here and I spent the time wondering what in the hell I’d received that could possibly be urgent? I hadn’t any proofs from printers coming, I couldn’t possibly be being served for anything, could I? Maybe, just maybe, somebody sent me flowers? Though really? Why would they do that to work? I freaked out, just a little, cause I’m a bit sensitive at the moment. But I headed down and behind the reception desk, I did spy some flowers. And then I told them who I was and the flowers were indeed for me! And the “urgency” was that they would otherwise have snaffled them home for themselves! I think they loved being in on the conspiracy. And to add to it I said, “I have no idea who they could be from!”
Which in fairness, was kinda true in the moment. I’ve been sent flowers before – lovely friends and aunts who knew I was feeling down, or when I was sick in hospital, and wanted to show me how much they love me. And receiving flowers is always a special treat! But I’ve never been with anyone who sent me flowers before. And as I was walking away with my beautiful bunch of flowers, I opened the card and found the most romantic and meaningful words inside. Of course C sent me flowers! He knew how sad I’d been the night before and how I’ve been feeling. Of course he was thinking about me and wanted to tell me how much he loves me. (That I actually get to have love in my life still surprises me) And his card made me melt. We’d had a meaningful conversation the night before and the four words he wrote spoke back to that. And reminded me that I am loved, by a great man who sees me, really sees me, and loves me still.
I’ve had a really rough month. And months before that I spose. Speaking to a lot of people who have gone before me, I understand that it takes months to recover from running a convention. I’m at least glad that the nightmares have finally ended. I’m very slowly recovering back to something resembling who I was two years ago before I started out on this particular journey. Though I have learned a lot along the way – most of it not pleasant, or if not that, then hard lessons learned the hard way. Those of course are the ones that stick the best but still, why do I always have to choose the hard way? But now as I start to get some distance, and hopefully some perspective, I’m thinking a lot about all that happened, wanting to glean what I can, learn from it and make the pain worthwhile. Because it was painful. And a lot of hard work. And it can’t be for nothing.
I think possibly the single most important thing I’ve learned is that the only thing you can control is your reaction. And this alone is a very very powerful tool. When you’re the public face of an entity, be that a convention or a publishing house, then how you behave represents that entity. That means that no matter how much you want to shout and scream or argue, those may not be the most productive ways to resolve or fix a situation.
I learned a very important skill these last two years, and I owe this one to my friend Amanda, that the best way to respond is to not respond in the moment. To go away and cool off and think about it and to come back and always always be polite and diplomatic. No matter how you were addressed or what was said about or to you. (I think I drove her a bit over the edge for a good six months before I got the hang of this.) I can’t count the number of times that my initial response would have been one out of defense or justification or matching in rude/terse/blaming/inflammatory/critical tone but a cooling off day later became a polite response and or offer to help or fix, which _then_ moved the whole issue positively further along.
I learned that much more can be achieved by giving the other person the benefit of the doubt, by trying to resolve an issue in a generous way and by choosing not to respond in kind even if the “in kind” was not itself so. I learned that I need to have the final word on everything and that actually lots of things don’t need or deserve a response. That in the past I have done so _in order_ to have the last word. And doing so achieves very little. Most people can see the elephant in the room. I don’t need to point to it and call it so aloud. And not needing to have the last word helps reduce the email inbox _a lot_ (who knew?). Wins for the sake of winning aren’t really worth the energy of the fight. And I also learned that not everything can be resolved. Sometimes there are no solutions, there is no compromise and some things are irredeemable.
And I learned who my friends are. These are the people who I want to be like when I grow up. That they weren’t always who I thought was a very painful and hurtful process. Of course. But that’s life. But the flipside to that is that I discovered who my friends are and how truly awesome a group of people they are. These are the people who push me, inspire me, energise me, celebrate and cry with me and fuel my creativity. They are why I do what I do and are the how I do what I do too. Because no one could do all the things I’m involved with alone! And every day I am blown away by the amount of support I receive – the people why buy and read the work I publish, the people who lend a hand or offer advice and the people who just are there, smiling at me in the rain.
This month has been truly mentally grueling. There have been days of great struggle for me. There have been days when I truly questioned why I was here, why I do what I do, why it was ok to be attacked like an intangible idea rather than a person with feelings and why, after all was said and done, no apology seemed necessary for my hurt, distress and harm. This month has had me thinking a lot about bullying and victimisation. And where the line lies between these two. That if the only thing I can control is my reaction, then … how do I learn to control my reaction?
Because the truth is, with all this grappling with why do I do this anyway?, I realized/remembered why I do. I love science fiction. I love reading it, I love finding new talent, I love being confronted by new or uncomfortable ideas, I love being stimulated to think about things deeply, I love working with writers on new projects, I love the synergy and creation and the coming together of a vision. I LOVE publishing. And I love the privilege of talking about it and working on it with the brilliant, talented and inspiring people I get to work with and hang out with every single day. I love every part of publishing from the conception of the idea, to the development of the project, to the production of the work and the marketing and promotion of the finished product. I love keeping up with what everyone else is producing and from that being inspired to work on my own next project. The answer to where do I find the time to do all this is simply that – I love it. My soul feeds off it. And I grow every single day by being a part of it and by contributing. I love getting to be involved. And the more I am, the more I want to be. And the more I learn, the more I take with me to everything I do, not just science fiction but my life at large.
This month I had to dig deep and backpedal hard against the pull of the abyss. There were moments where I wasn’t sure who was going to win. Really really rock bottom moments. But in that struggle I forced myself to look for the light, and I found a lot of it, shining all around me. Thank you to those of you who turned on a light. It’s meant a lot to me.
, mental health
I’ve been working on marketing and promotion for the Twelve Planets this week. A book doesn’t finish when it arrives in bountiful copies in numerous boxes on your (mother’s) doorstep. In some ways, it’s only just the beginning of the process. This realisation is a hideous one after the months spent working on finetuning the contents.
But it’s the way it is. So this week I have been working on some media releases (Nick, I can call it that because I *am* sending them out to actual real media outlets :P). I sent my draft to a couple of people for comment and both of their individual responses were “dude, if this is what you do when sleep-deprived, OMG” (I paraphrased slightly, whatev).
And that had me thinking about a couple of things. I’m dog-tired. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in well over a month and before that too. I feel run down, I’m in post-con crash and emotionally I’m very fragile. All true. But I’m also a small business owner. And there are no days off or tired days or emotionally fragile days when it’s your own business. There’s no sick leave, no annual leave and no holidays. It’s my own hard-earned day job money that I’ve invested in this business. And the outcomes are mine to wear. I could have spent the money on a golf club membership or several trips to Paris or many other expensive pursuits. But I chose to invest it in this project of mine, this idea that I believe in and that I think, if I work hard enough at it, might just, one day, be something.
So media releases and promotion and marketing go on. And so does the beat.
And as I sit in full life reevaluation mode, questioning the direction I want to choose for my future, wondering if I’ve backed the right horse, I still plug away at the night job. I don’t even question it. The programme works if you work it. But you have to work at it every single day. Every day, I make sure that in some way I have promoted or publicised a title. No matter what else I do in the day, I make sure I’ve told someone new about the work I’ve published.
, Twelfth Planet Press