The bittersweet taste of traditional publishing

book-436507_640One of the many reasons I have been more than usually absent from this blog in recent months is a rather large side project – a non fiction book. Now that we are in the final stages of reviewing the contract with the publisher, I think it may be worth adding my two-bobs worth to the discussion about self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

The new book, which will be about playspaces, came about in the most unlikely of ways. A chance in a million. On a whim, back in the dim dark days at the start of the year, I entered a competition on Goodreads. Remarkably, I won it, and some time later received a lovely hardback edition of a landscape design history book. Finding it hard to maintain the CPD points I need to maintain my qualification with a bub, I inquired of our professional magazine if they would like a review of the book, to which they agreed.

Now comes the remarkable part. I wrote to the publisher, asking for some of the images from the book to accompany the review. They forwarded these, and then came back asking if I would be interested in writing a book on playspaces. It’s a little eerie to know that you’ve been googled.

Joining forces with a friend of mine, we spent the next three or four months nutting out the exact contents of each section – chasing contributors from around the globe, and writing the first chapter. My other books have been much more ‘pantzer’ enterprises – they have been organic, growing during the process of writing. This one is firmly a ‘planner’, which is a real novelty for me. It remains to be seen if it will remain so, or if the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’ shoot us into uncharted territory.

After that, it was all bundled off to the publisher, and went into limbo while it was reviewed by them and independent experts. All very rigorous, and very serious. Then suddenly, after a little back and forth, we have been offered a contract. Hardback and paperback, worldwide distribution. Hooray!

But wait…

The contract, as far as we can tell, if quite standard for the industry. It is, as a friend said, “no crapper than anyone else’s”. However, after getting used to the idea of 70% royalties in the self-publishing world, 6% on received royalties seems, frankly, more than a little exploitative. We worked out that on the first run, assuming all copies are sold, we won’t make enough to cover our communication, let alone any of the hard labour in writing the thing.

The other major difference of course is that we will have little or no control over the appearance of the book, where it is sold, or the marketing of the text (which may be a bit of a relief!). My other books – ‘The Artemis Effect’ and ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’, I have complete control over, and it may not be easy to let that go. I chose to self publish them for exactly that reason.

So – nearly a year down the track we are faced with a hard decision. Should we go ahead, on what is basically a pro-bono basis? There is the intellectual challenge, the kudos, and maybe the hope of improving playspaces around the world. One the other is a serious time and mental commitment when I have a small child, work, and have other things I would like to be writing. My co-author is trying to run her own business.

It looks like I may end up writing in every genre after all: Science Fiction and Parenting – done. Speculative Short stories and Poetry – underway. Non-fiction – pending.

I suspect we will go ahead, but I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and thoughts…

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Book launch!

MOFK COVER front finalI’m very excited to announce the launch of our new Anthology about honest motherhood – The Milk of Female Kindness!

It’s out now on Amazon and Createspace, with The Book Depository to follow.

Terrifically proud of the 28 women from all around the world who have shared their thoughts, creativity and time to make this book. It’s wonderfully diverse, with artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews, from women at all stages of motherhood. Many are established writers and artists: others are new to the world of publishing. Some of them have been featured in Writer’s Block already, and more are to come.

So – if you are a mother, know someone who is, or have a mother (and let’s face it, most of us have at some point ;)), then this book will touch you, challenge you, confront you, and best of all, make you rethink the role of motherhood.

If anyone is looking for a book for the holidays – this could be the one for you. 🙂

Cover reveal! Milk of Female Kindness

Finally, I can reveal to the world the face of all our hard work over the last year! Drum roll please….

Here is the cover of our anthology of honest stories about motherhood – ‘The Milk of Female Kindness’.

MOFK COVER front final

The Anthology is a collection of the work of twenty-eight women from around the world, who have been brave enough to write honestly about their experiences of motherhood. I’d like to extend my most sincere thanks to all the contributors. It has been an honour working with such an inspiring group of people! 🙂

Unlike most other books on the subject, we have a creative focus – there is artwork, poetry, short fiction, essays and interviews.

The collection is deliberately diverse, in all senses. All stages of motherhood are reflected, and really the aim is to broaden the range of stories out there, and allow women to think for themselves what it means to be a mother, rather than relying on the shallow and market focused roles that the media might like to push us into. You may disagree with some of the work: others pieces will resonate with you. Whatever happens, it will make you think more deeply about being a parent.

The book will be released in paperback first, with e-book to follow soon after. Stay tuned for developments!

Art dirtied by the mighty dollar

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In a reversal of the usual roles, yesterday I interviewed a psychiatrist. Perhaps it was novel for her: it was certainly informative for me. The interview will hopefully form part of the Anthology I’m working on, with many other writers from around the globe, on the subject of motherhood. It’s even tentatively acquired a title now (which I will post about another time), so it must be starting to resolve itself, like the image appearing gradually on photographic paper. I’ll just have to keep swirling it in the developing fluid of continued effort, and hopefully it will emerge as something beautiful.

Anyway, one slight stumbling block in the interview was her continued confusion as to what the Anthology was for, and whether it would be commercial. Had I looked at all the other works about motherhood out there? Was ours going to fill a niche? Would it be useful? What, in short, is the market?

I suppose that a more mercenary person would have considered these issues in more detail, but for me, to complete the project as well as I am able is actually enough. If I’m going to give it the self-aggrandising name of ‘Art’, then I think art can, and perhaps needs to, be created just for itself.

Not that I’m saying that I wouldn’t like it to be successful, but it feels like something that needs to happen regardless. One of the best rewards a writer can have, I feel, is to have people enjoy their work. In the case of this Anthology, we’re perhaps hoping even for some social change, by deepening and widening the discussions around the experience of motherhood. The current level of conversation on the subject in wider society seems to be at the moment at best trite, and at worst shallow and deceptive.

Anyway, the psychiatrist’s emphasis on the commercial viability of the project got me thinking. I’ve always been someone who writes and paints ‘just because’. It’s an outlet of my subconscious, which has taken me to some surprising and very varied places. I don’t have a consistent painting style, and perhaps that is a reflection that I am an amateur. But I also write about diverse subjects – few things could be further apart than this current Anthology and my novel, which is science fiction! Perhaps my brain would explode if I didn’t let this stuff out.

I’m aware that other writers do find a niche, research a market, and write accordingly, and no doubt many of them are more commercial successful than I am. In the case of non-fiction, that seems an entirely justified approach. But I wonder if that whole process doesn’t compromise the creativity of fiction writing. It feels to me a little manipulative: like having an ulterior motive to do a good deed. I read a great post over at the ‘the Writing Blues’ some time ago about how she might lose her real voice if she started to think too much about what her readers would like to hear.

I’d be very interested to hear what others think about this issue. Is creation of art for arts sake enough? Am I just naive? Does having a market in mind compromise your work?

The next big thing

Although I have been sadly remiss in letting this go, I was flattered, chuffed, humbled and generally pretty cheery to be tagged as one of the authors in ‘The Next Big Thing‘ by the very talented Marc Schuster, for my debut novel, ‘The Artemis Effect‘.

It’s a lovely way for us to share some of the books we have really enjoyed. Having spent some of this afternoon in the garden enjoying our gorgeous autumn weather, I can’t help but think of it in terms of the jungle, which my garden is increasingly resembling. Sometimes the big plants shade out the small, which may be especially lovely things, and this is perhaps a way of letting in a bit of light, and bringing them to other’s attention.

As presumably I can’t tag Marc Schuster’s ‘The Grievers’ back, much as I enjoyed it, I’d like to tag the following from my recent reading:

Fires of Justice‘Fires of Justice’ by Sabrina Garie. This is an erotic romance, but with a fun and highly cohesive fantasy element. It is, in short, a romp and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who needs to escape, in te words of Tom Lehrer, ‘their drab, wretched lives.’

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‘Rich Pickings for Ravens‘ by Tom Conrad. A truly unusual and funny who-dunnit, starting with the lead character’s death, and his subsequent quest to find out who killed him, and why.

 

‘Ththe-jpeg-of-graves-3_desolation-ware Prince of Graves’ by W.E. Linde. In the tradition of Tolkien, this fantasy novella is the first part of what will be a truly epic trilogy of books. Amazing battle scenes by an author who obviously loves the genre.

 

 

I look forward to seeing their recommendations, and also your opinions of these books if you’ve also been lucky enough to give them a go! 🙂

The faulty magic of spellchecker

magic wandIn my limited free time, I’ve been reading a novel by an Indie author on my Kindle, and although the story is fine, I have to say that I am finding it just a tad irritating. Although we turn out books often with no budget and very limited returns, I think Indie authors still really need to do their best to make sure that the book reads just as well as one produced by a commercial publisher. In this case, the spelling is driving me bonkers! It really interrupts the flow of a passage when you have to stop and decide whether the author is getting a bit funky with a metaphor, or if they have just bungled the spelling.

This book has not only the ubiquitous ‘your’ instead of ‘you’re’, but also walking across a sandy ‘dessert’, and lifting his ‘shinning’ knife. Ouch! I can understand how the proofreader would have missed ‘mummer’ for ‘murmur’.

I’m not saying that my own work is perfect – every time I reread it I seem to find something which makes me cringe – but sometimes it seems as if people are relying on the computer’s spellchecker alone. Unfortunately, nothing replaces human eyes for picking up these bloopers. In an early draft of my novel, a character entered through the French ‘widow’ (window), which was rather unfortunate for both of them!

Enough ranting for now. I’ll calm down and keep reading, and perhaps you can join me in Visualising Whirled Peas.

All aboard the Omnibus!

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about my next big project, which will be a collection of short stories. I’m probably at least half way through, with planning done for another 25%. I’ve been mistakenly calling it my Anthology, but apparently that term refers more accurately to a collection of works by different authors. What I’m working on is more properly an Omnibus, but that sounds rather cumbersome and lumbering to me.

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Could this be a Steampunk Omnibus?

A few things I’ve discovered so far:

  • It should be about the same word count as a novel (70K+)
  • Arguably, it should follow a ‘tent’ structure, leading and finishing with the strongest stories, and with another strong story in the middle like a tent pole.
  • The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts: stories should be organised to complement and bounce off one another.
  • Variety is a good thing, but there does need to also be some kind of unifying theme.

All well and good so far. The theme issues does bother me a little, in that my stories are sometimes scifi, sometimes bordering on fantasy, and sometimes just plain quirky (as you may know if you’ve read any of the free published works out there – see my Publications page for links). At the same time, I don’t particularly want to force the production of stories in a particular area to make them fit some contrived theme, so I think I’ll just keep writing the stories which I’d like to tell, and then perhaps discard those which are the sore thumbs of the collection.

I’d love to discuss with anyone out there their thoughts on short story collections.

Do you find it necessary to have a theme? Do you agree with the ‘tent structure’ theory? When reading short story collections, do you dip in, or read them from start to finish (the album vs. the single I suppose, in music terms).

Exhibitionists

This year, I’m entering two paintings in the Linden Gallery’s postcard exhibition.  I entered last year, and was blown away when someone actually bought one of my paintings! Astonished that someone would hand over their hard-earned for my daubs.

The exhibition is open to everyone, the only restriction being that the pieces have to be 30 x 30cm or less. I did wonder what the quality of work would be like, but in fact it was very high. The variety of pieces was fascinating, and the different ways that people had embraced the small format.

Here are my entries for this year. Please don’t laugh too hard.

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The abstract is a representation of different colours I’ve seen in particular landscapes, and overlaid with interventions – they might be people passing through, fire events or even fenceposts.

The other is a portrait of the tattoo artist Lyle Tuttle. It’s done all in colour (no black within his face), and in pointillist style to reflect the movement of a tattoo needle. The borders show flash on skin.

I suppose it would be quite appropriate to draw a parallel between this exhibition and Indie publishing. In both cases, the artists and writers do it for the love, rather than the money (usually!), and yet we choose to bare our souls and share that work with a wider audience. Does that make us overly self important exhibitionists? The old phrase “vanity publishing” would suggest so.

However, I would suggest that perhaps there is something more democratic at work. The Linden exhibition allows people who are not full time artists to show their works, in the same way that indie publishing allows people who are not full time authors to share their writing with the world. The good stuff will hopefully be well received. Either way, the public are allowed to choose which work they like, free of the conventions and prejudices of professional critics and publishing houses.

Image courtesy of lookupatthesky.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of lookupatthesky.wordpress.com

For me, I think it is also perhaps something of an act of bravado – a challenge to somewhat introverted self to lay myself open to a wider audience. It’s not an easy thing to do, unless you have a thick skin. I recall strongly the first time I did a dance solo, in front of about 350 people. I was absolutely terrified beforehand, but regardless of how it was received, afterwards I was proud that I had been able to do it. It’s a great feeling to challenge yourself and rise to that challenge.

How about you? I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts about these subjects. Are Indie authors and artists just blowing their own trumpet?

Cultural sensitivities

Courtesy of gringosinparadise.com.mx

Courtesy of gringosinparadise.com.mx

It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that all English-speaking places have more or less the same take on things, but I am occasionally reminded of the advice that was given to someone I know when they were moving to the U.S.:

It will be easier if you think of Americans as aliens who speak English.

I realise that this may be an incendiary comment to some people, but the logic behind it is reasonably sensible. There are undeniable cultural differences between nations, and trying to pretend that we are all the same might not only make you miserable when you can’t understand why people react or act in a certain way, but also denies the richness and diversity of all those nations. How dull would it be if we really were all the same?

However, as an author, there are certain pitfalls which I think it pays to be aware of, even if we decide to ignore them.

In my novel, The Artemis Effect, I chose to set the story in three nations: Australia, the U.S. and Britain. Now, as I live in Australia, I was fairly confident of not tripping up too badly there. The others I felt I had to be more careful with, even though I have lived for years in the UK, and have spent a fair bit of time in America. Only my readers will be able to advise me how badly I screwed up the cultural mores of those places.;)

One of the first pieces of feedback I received when the book came out was from a distant relative in New York. She said that she really enjoyed the book, but had to decipher some of the terms I’d used, such as ‘the boot of the car’ (as trunk). Now this was something that my editor and me thought about carefully when we were finishing the book, as it is available in the US. Should we Americanize the spelling and vocabulary? I know that many authors do, and I’ve read specific reference from Neil Gaiman that he has assistance to do this, and so doesn’t accidentally call a ‘sidewalk’ a ‘footpath’. In our case, we decided that as we were unlikely to be able to pick up everything, it was best to stick to Australian spelling and vocabulary except where absolutely necessary. The risk of doing it so that it didn’t read properly in either nation was too great.

Another book I’ve read recently has a different cultural issue: that of humour. Now everyone has a different sense of humour, and some poor people have none at all. However, as a gross generalisation, there are cultural differences in humour, although they are probably getting increasingly blurred as mass media makes everything available to everyone. However, in my eyes at least, the Brits often have a blacker sense of humour than the rest of us, and Australians have quite a dry sense of humour. The book I mentioned above, although beautifully written, had what seemed to me quite an American sense of humour. I could see that it was funny, but it just didn’t make me spontaneously hoot and snort with laughter.

Even countries as culturally close as Australia and New Zealand have different vocabulary, and of course we have great fun mocking one another’s accents. Fush and chups, anyone? A casual kiwi I used to work with, who always wore those shoes made of flat rubber to work, strenuously denied that he wore ‘thongs’. He said that a thong wouldn’t suit him (as in skimpy underwear), but he liked his ‘flip flops’. Likewise, no Australian talks about ‘jandals’, ‘trundlers’ or ‘chilly bins’. To us, they are ‘sandals’, ‘trolleys’ and ‘eskis’. I’m not 100% sure what an eski is to someone from the U.S., but I can tell you that the term ‘fanny bag’ makes anyone from Australia or Britain blush.

What can we do as authors in an increasingly international book market? We could have different editions for each country I suppose, with suitable vocabulary and grammar, but the amount of work would be phenomenal.

Vive la difference, I say.

The Artemis Effect – the real thing!

After much impatient waiting, the final proofs of my novel ‘The Artemis Effect‘ have arrived in the post! I can’t say how odd and exciting it is to hold the real thing in my hands.

Hardback available from Lulu

The hardcover version (via Lulu), and paperback (via Createspace) arrived within days of one another, and I’m very happy with the quality of both.

I’m hoping to run some giveaways on Goodreads soon, but in the meantime, I’ll be thoroughly reviewing the proofs to make sure that there are no serious bloopers in there.

Interior of paperback (and my fingers!)

If you think you might like a copy (and I’m more than happy to sign and dedicate them if you’d like), please drop me a line at kasia_oz(at)hotmail(dot)com. Could be a great Christmas present for that sci-fi fan you know! 😉

Paperback from Createspace