Sunday, August 31, 2014

So Where Does Luck Come Into It?

In the past week I've been on the fringes of two online discussions regarding self-publishing, gaining audiences and rejection. Both are on different venues with different participants. Both dialogues evolved from quite different starting points. Both conversations have a number of similarities.

I thought I'd look at some of the points I've noticed.

There can be a feeling among newer writers that their work is not selected for publication simply because they're unknown. This is common, and I believe it is often due to an inexperienced writer not seeing the problems with their own work. The automatic reaction, and I confess to having passed through this phase myself, is that the editor obviously missed the whole point of the story. This seems to be accompanied by a feeling of  'what's wrong with the story, and I'll change that.'  The writer seems to look for the simple fix. Did I use too many commas? Should I change the character's name? Did I use the wrong font? If the fix was that simple, the editor would have asked for a simple rewrite. No, it's often more complex than that.

At this point the consolation from other writers often kicks in. "I'm sure your writing is fine. It's simply the wrong market." Even though I concede that this can be true, this approach generally annoys me as too much false praise can be harmful. If a story has received several form rejections, then perhaps you need to consider the possibility that the problem is in the writing.

Shortly after gathering a heap of rejections, some writers decide that since editors are all too stupid to see the value in their work, they will self-publish, unleashing their masterpiece on the world. And so Smashwords and Amazon are filled with stories, novellas and novels for bargain prices. As I've pointed out before, I have concerns about publishing work that a number of editors have elected not to publish. Surely there's a message in that. Oh, and please stop pointing out the two or three self-published successes that continue to be the poster-children. They are exceptions, and extremely rare ones at that. However, I realise self-publishing has its place. The best piece of advice I received from my mentor was not to stampede towards publishing your own work or your first collection.

Accompanying this is the current trend to refer to all self-publishing as 'indie publishing.' Sure, I recognise that there is a certain amount of independence in self-publishing, but I feel it detracts from the true independent publishers, the small presses that strive to build reputations, and differentiate themselves from the major houses.

Then there is the spam I receive on these venues from a number of self-published authors promoting their latest work - often three or four times. The argument raised in their defence is that it's hard to break free from the millions of other self-published stories. Yeah? Well spamming me has simply ensured that I will never buy your work. And if your work has been rejected by a number of editors, what makes you think it will stand out anyway?

Then, of course, comes the old argument about how difficult it is to get your work published. How difficult it is to even get your work seen by an editor. How all those other successes were simply lucky. It may surprise some people, but editors want to find good stories, want to publish stories and novels that sell well and win awards. And agents, they want to have authors on their books that will make them money. "JK Rowling was rejected 17 times. All those editors got it wrong. They don't know what they're doing." Actually 17 rejections isn't that many. Many writers have had far more than that. Those editors obviously couldn't see how the book would fit into their imprint. There was no precedent for the success of that tale. The publisher who did pick it up, Bloomsbury, was a minor player, who only did a small print run. They weren't even sure if they were going to take the second book. It was only because Scholastic picked it up for U.S. schools and kids' word of mouth that caused it to go nuts. Yes, editors can get it wrong sometimes, but they're more often right and good work will be picked up eventually.

"Oh, but it's all luck," I hear. So many of those authors made it because they knew someone, or were in the right place at the right time. I actually take offence to that comment. I know that I have minimal experience and successes, but I've had to work hard to achieve those sales. I studied, learned, wrote, rewrote, submitted and resubmitted for all those sales.

Yes, luck can come into the story. But ultimately its about the quality of the work.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Coming To You From Another Dimension.

Keith Stevenson at Coeur de Lion has revealed the TOC for issue 3 of Dimension6. It will be available for download in early October.

For those who don't know this great new magazine, Keith commenced this project last year with the first and second issues already published. DRM free, it is distributed free on the internet three times a year, and has thus far garnered very positive reviews.

I'm thrilled to be included in issue 3 alongside Cat Sparks and Rob Hood. And it's great to be working with (for?) Keith again. Keith, of course, previously published my story So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper in Anywhere But Earth, a fantastic anthology which deserves greater recognition.

Issue 3 features:
Shark-God Covenant by Robert Hood
You never make a deal with the Devil. But what about the child of a god?

The Last of The Butterflies by Steve Cameron
Let me tell you a story about when I was young and the world was a very different place.

New Chronicles of Andras Thorn by Cat Sparks
Just like his uncle, Andras Thorn wanted adventure and excitement. Unfortunately he found it.
Cool, huh?  Which reminds me - I'd better get those edits back to Keith, those edits I promised him last week.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Future Career?

I have a post graduate qualification in careers development, which qualifies me to give careers advice to students. I spent two years as a counsellor, until my career path took me in a different direction. In this role I had a number of tools that I could use to assist students in thinking about their futures. There was one in particular, an online program, where you were required to answer hundreds of questions with those 'strongly agree' through to 'strongly disagree' radio buttons.

One day I needed to run through the program to get to last part where the user receives suggested careers and options to consider. I did so, rapidly, without looking at any of the questions. Some I answered randomly, others I made patterns on the screen.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the final screen to be informed that my 'most suited' careers were:

1. Writer
2. Teacher
3. Astronomer

I teach in a secondary college, I write and astronomy is one of my hobbies.

Last year I had my fortune told, and I was told that I would have some success in an endeavour and come into some money.

Sounds good, huh?  If I combine these results, watch out publishing world.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Overheard At Breakfast.

Several months ago. A couple at breakfast in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

He's having waffles with cream and maple syrup for breakfast.

"Honey," she says, and reaches over to take his hand. "I'm scared that one day I'll find you dead from heart disease."

He glances at her fruit and yoghurt.

"I'm scared that one day I'll find you've taken up jogging."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Mystery Of Writing.

Nothing we do is as mysterious as we like to pretend.

I'm paraphrasing, because I can't remember the exact words. But it's close enough to something Amy Espeseth said at a writers' workshop I recently attended. It struck a chord with me because it's something I'd recently been thinking about anyway.

There are a number of writers who seem to play up the apparent spirituality of writing, speaking of muses who won't leave them be, words that seem to have been received from some ethereal place beyond our physical universe. Writers as alchemists, turning the 26 letters on a keyboard into something much more. And I suppose non-writers may see writing that way. "Where do you get your ideas?" is an extremely common question.

Of course I get ideas and inspiration, and I make notes as soon as I can. And if they won't leave my mind, then I push them forward in the queue and start work on them.

Dean Wesley Smith offers a different approach. They're just ideas, just words, and he has hundreds of them. No pataphysical explanations, just a mind at work. I guess this is how I see it as well. When I don't have enough ideas for a particuler story, I make them. I create them. Over the past few years I've learned some exercises that help me do this.

But there are those times when I'm writing, when I'm in the 'zone' and the words just seem to pour out, and I wonder. Maybe, just maybe there is a muse watching out for me.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Vale: Robin Williams.

I woke to learn Robin Williams was gone.

I was a huge fan of Happy Days when I was a kid. We all were. I can recall the episode with Robin Williams. He made an appearance as Mork, the first time I'd even heard of him, which later was the basis of the TV show, Mork & Mindy.

That was a great show, at the time. I tried to watch some last year, and it was enjoyable enough in a nostalgic way. But that era hasn't aged very well and neither has the show. It was widely reported at the time that Williams ad-libbed much of the script, and I seem to recall hearing that the scripts often had 'Robin say something funny here' in place for many of Mork's lines.

In the mid 80s I watched Robin Williams Live At The Met, a film of his stand up routine. It truly was funny. I remember being in tears with laughter. And this one has aged well. Later I saw Good Morning Vietnam which I had to watch several time because I missed so many of his lines the first time, both from the speed they were delivered and from my own laughter. And then there was more comedy, but some great dramatic roles too. The Fisher King, Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting are a few that leap to mind.

I didn't love everything he did, particularly later in his career, but if I saw a teaser that he was being interviewed on a TV program I made an effort to watch, simply because you never knew where he was going to take it.

My wife literally bumped into him many years ago in San Francisco. Another family member once had dinner with him. They say he was as charming as the twinkle in his eye suggested.

He will be missed.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

I've Been Snapshot 2014.

Every few years, a series of short interviews with members of the Australian SpecFic community is conducted and published online. The purpose is to get a 'snapshot' of the state of Australian SpecFic. Ben Peek started it all, way back in 2005 when he interviewed 43 people in a week. By 2007 the number of participants had almost doubled. The Snapshot has since been undertaken in both 2010 and 2012.

Now it's time for Snapshot 2014, and I feel completely honoured to have been interviewed by Sean Wright.

You can find it here.

I was also invited to write a tribute to my friend and fellow writer, Gitte Christensen, who sadly passed away a few months ago.

A team of bloggers has daily been posting interviews with the participants of Snapshot 2014 across the following links:

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Overheard On A Plane No. 2.

A few months ago. A young professional woman seated directly behind me. She was speaking to someone she had just met, and speaking loud enough for people to have heard this ten rows away.

"I have to go back to work on Tuesday. I work in a school. I can't really complain, because I've just had six weeks holiday, but I will complain because I'm not ready to back yet.

I work in the western suburbs.

They're not as bad as people say they are, so don't listen to them.

I grew up in the south-east, on the peninsula, so I'm kind of like a refugee from there.

My school has about two thousand kids and I don't know half of them.

Oh my God! Two thousand kids? I mean, I don't even know how I manage half the time."

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Moogs, Tinfoil And Velour.

I'm listening to the 1973 BBC radio adaptation of Asimov's Foundation series on my daily commute. It's wonderful, a great radio play that is a lot of fun.

But in some ways it's so dated, and I wonder whether it was dated even then. Every device that is operated, every machine that is switched on, is portrayed by noisy synthesisers. Did the producers really think everything would make noise in the future?

A girl wears a chain around her waist, and with a flick of a switch she is cloaked in a nebulous, shifting cloak of light, and accompanied by a high pitched whine. Meanwhile, another character walks into a room with a portable force shield protecting him, and that is completely silent.

I know in a radio play you need sounds to convey actions that can't be seen. And I know synthesisers had only been commonly used for a few years at that time. It reminds me of all those 70s TV shows I love, the ones where people obviously thought that in the future we would all be wearing clothes made of velour and tinfoil.

They're nostalgic. They're a throwback to the age of SF I first started reading, the type of SF that made me fall in love with the genre. And I really enjoy them.