Tag Archives: publishers

Pathways to publication redux

Not all that long ago I was an unpublished author. Now that I’m not, I get lots of questions about how to make that miraculous transition and earn the right to slash the prefix.

Here’s my first attempt at answering.

Having been asked again recently, I wondered if my late 2008 post had aged well. I reread it and there’s not much I’d change. But I would caution that publishing prospects are gloomier than they were two years ago.

How so?

Well, I know of several very talented writers, published, multi-published and unpublished, who have had rejections in recent times. I suspect that publishers are becoming ever more risk averse and, as a result, it’s also a tougher task to gain representation from a literary agent. Some of the major bookstore chains are in strife and less likely to buy as many books or as wide a range of titles. I’m talking globally, not just in Australia.

Then there’s the e-book phenomenon. My sense is that no one in the publishing industry really knows how profits will be affected by this trend or what the future of books looks like. Will printed books become collectors’ items, only published in small numbers where there’s proven demand for a title? Will there be an ocean of e-books, many of them self-published, where it becomes harder to find the pearls?

Articles like this one in the Wall Street Journal give little cause for optimism and suggest author incomes will be halved.

On the other hand, e-books could mean it’s easier to find, afford and read an author’s work.

So yes, the pathway to publication has veered somewhat in two years. That doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Strong, unique stories will find their way to publication. Success stories do happen (as any parent trying to find the latest Wimpy Kid book in time for Christmas would know).

If you’re none the wiser at this point, I’d recommend aspiring authors read Give Up Your Publishing Dream by noveldoctor. Why? Because you should be writing for yourself. First, foremost and forever.

Getting fresh

Journalists are trained to get the story first or at least gather new facts that are exclusive to their reports. As an author, you should be striving for a different sort of exclusivity – original ideas, characters, voices, structure and plot. After all, why would any publisher want to invest in a story that has basically been done before – unless you have a truly unique spin on the material?

While writing Game as Ned I had a day when I questioned whether I had any original ideas in my head. I picked up the Saturday Age and stumbled across a double page spread on Mark Haddon’s Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Not only did this oft-awarded book focus on a teenage narrator with an autism spectrum disorder but it was already so successful it had been added to the Victorian VCE reading list. Most Aussie authors would kill to have one of their titles make that list.

Given that I was writing a book narrated by a teen with an autism spectrum disorder, I feared nobody would be interested in a story so similar in subject matter to Haddon’s. Game over.

That night my wife and I scored a babysitter and had a night out. For want of other choices, we saw the Jack Nicholson movie Something’s Gotta Give. The plot, coincidentally, echoed that of a short story I’d just had short-listed in a writing competition. That realisation hit me like a bus. I became genuinely worried that I was just a big sponge for other people’s ideas. It was a dark day on the author odyssey.

On the up side, it inspired a major rewrite of the Game as Ned manuscript, a new co-narrator and, I believe, a stronger story.

My next book Five Parts Dead deals with death, dying, guilt and grief. It’s set at a lighthouse in South Australia. Not so long ago I stumbled across reviews of two new YA novels – one focusing on exactly the themes I’m tackling*, the other set at a remote West Australian lighthouse. Ouch.

Perhaps I’m older and wiser now. I’m certainly more philosophical. It’s impossible to prevent overlap between stories.

Death and grief are universal themes. People have been writing about them since… forever.

Lighthouses are evocative and iconic**. Umpteen books have been written about them.

What I have to work on is delivering a fresh way of looking at age-old subjects. Screenwriting guru Robert McKee once wrote a dedication for me in his book, Story. It read: “To Tim, Write the truth.” I see my task as an author as finding a new truth that’s worthy of a) publication and b) reading.

That’s my focus while I’m working towards an end of year deadline for my Five Parts Dead edits.

*I’m currently reading this book, Lia Hills’ The Beginner’s Guide to Living. I thoroughly recommend it – probably to readers 16 and up. Sure, Lia covers very similar issues to those I’m trying to tackle. Thankfully, she does so in very different ways – even if we reference some of the same materials.

**My Word of the Week is the noun for lighthouse lovers – “pharologists”. Would you believe there’s a Facebook group for lighthouse buffs entitled “Pharologists are light-headed”? Of course there is.

Angry authors

Australia’s book industry is up in arms*. Cranky in the extreme. We’ve been done over and we’re not happy.

Why? Because the so-called Productivity Commission has made a ruling on the future of the industry that appears to be ideologically, rather than logically, driven.

What is the decision? I’m no expert but, as I understand things, it recommends the abolition of “Parallel Importation Restrictions” for books published in Australia. In other words a book printed here could be simultaneously printed el-cheapo style overseas and shipped Down Under to compete with the local editions.

Local publishers denied exclusive territorial copyright to titles, even for a limited time, will have a fight on their hands from Day One if they are to get any return from their investments.

So small Australian publishers will do it particularly tough. And that means small Australian authors will too.

Fewer publishers with the spare dosh to take risks on emerging authors means fewer local stories finding their way into print.

It might even mean local branches of large overseas publishers get slashed as most of the action will be overseas at head office. If so, authors’ opportunities to published will evaporate further.

It’s not just bad news for authors and illustrators. The domino effect means less work for designers, editors, printers, marketing folk, agents and many others.

Then there are the booksellers. Independent bookstores are a lifeline for local authors/illustrators – and they’re already endangered. If all bookstores become bulk discount outlets it will be a dark day indeed for local writers and READERS. Even if the books are cheaper, and I’m not persuaded this will be the case, you’ll need to mine the dross to find quality, small print-run titles.

Check out who is cheering the decision – mainly a specific chain store. Then go to one of their stores and try to find a book by an Australian author on their shelves if the title isn’t: a) a brand new release or b) a best seller. Good luck.

Here are some other random observations on the debate:

– While famous authors can be very eloquent, they appear incapable of 20-second grabs on TV.

– There almost seems to be an assumption that authors are well off. Believe me, very few Australian authors make a living writing full time. Many authors aim to sell Australia – New Zealand rights to their work separately from overseas rights as this is one of the few ways an author can slightly enhance their pay packet. Game as Ned, for instance, sold in Aust-NZ first, and then in Poland. These subsequent overseas sales provide vital funds that enable authors to keep writing. It would seem these secondary sales might be less likely now.

– Allan Fels obviously isn’t a struggling author. His victory smirk almost provoked me into kicking in my TV screen last night. Grrrrr.

Anyway, here’s a more learned explanation of what’s at stake, courtesy of Australians for Australian Books:

Territorial copyright for books, and the associated 30/90 day rules for book importation, have enabled the Australian book industry, long the poor cousin to the UK and US book industries, to grow strong and vibrant.

The 30-day rule means that an Australian publisher who buys the rights to publish an overseas book in Australia gains Australian copyright for the book if it is published here within 30 days of overseas publication.

The 90-day rule means that the same publisher effectively loses that protection if unable to supply the book to an Australian buyer within 90 days.

Together, these rules, introduced in 1991, provide Australian publishers with the security to invest in new books, underpinning their development of Australian talent, while ensuring new books come on the Australian market quickly and booksellers can buy the titles they need.

And there I was thinking the Productivity Commission is supposed to enhance productivity, not stifle it.

If you’re a reader, writer, illustrator or anyone who believes in protecting Australian talent, tune in to www.ausbooks.com.au for the next steps in this crucial stoush. To read the Commission’s report, click here.

* Back when I was a cadet reporter, this was one of my favourite tabloid terms for being irate. It feels like I should grab a gardening tool and storm a barricade somewhere.

Creative visions

When an artist paints a picture they take their vision and transfer it to canvas for others to view, interpret and like/dislike. Unless the work has been specifically commissioned by a patron, I think it highly unlikely it would be partly or wholly repainted to accommodate another’s vision for the work.

Writing a book is a little different. The commercial realities of publishing render writing a more collaborative process. The people investing in the manuscript are entitled to request or suggest adjustments and edits to enhance the product. The author’s willingness to cut or rewrite is probably determined by whether the outcome fits with their original creative vision.

I was lucky that the proposed edits for Game as Ned were relatively minor. Book 2 is slightly more experimental and likely to provoke a broader range of reactions. Several of my test readers say they like it even more than my first book. It’s still early days for publishing industry reactions.

I’ll have a better idea of where Book 2 is headed, and what further work is required, early in 2009.