Monthly Archives: August 2011

On indie press: Paul Collins

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Paul Collins, who not only knows small press publishing as an author, but as a publisher too. Paul now operates the successful Ford Street publishing house, giving us all something to aspire to!

Paul Collins, with Isobelle Carmody and two students during a writing workshop at Kirwan State High (Townsville)

A publisher’s rite-of-passage

As most fantasy readers know, there’s a 12-point structure to writing fantasy, and that this genre simply emulates our rite-of-passage throughout life. That is, childhood, through to adolescence through to adulthood.

I started out as a very naïve publisher, and over the years would like to think I’ve matured and learnt a thing or two, much like the intrepid heroes in fantasy books.

Having left school at 15 and not read a book till I was about seventeen (none of my family read books), I aware that if I wanted to get into publishing, the best way would be to become a publisher. After all, who was going to employ someone with my background? Nothing much has changed since those days, really. It’s easy to be a publisher. You just need money. I didn’t have much, but had, and still have, a healthy work ethic. I was working three jobs for some years, and most of my life, two. Right now I’m running a speakers’ agency called Creative Net; a publishing company, Ford Street, and I’m still writing full time (www.fordstreetpublishing.com.au).

 I was only too well aware that I knew nothing about science fiction when I first started publishing Void Magazine. I vaguely knew Isaac Asimov’s name. So in 1974 I advertised for people to help create Australia’s only (at that time) SF magazine. A fellow waiter at the Breakfast Creek (Brisbane) suggested an SF magazine because there wasn’t one published locally. If he had suggested a mystery or crime mag, I might have gone down that road, too. Regardless, luminaries at the time such as Frank Bryning, A Bertram Chandler, Wynne Whiteford, Jack Wodhams and David Lake, rallied around me to create my magazine.

When I lost national distribution, I started publishing anthologies (the World series) because I could get them distributed. My publishing ambitions finally crashed when two distributors went bankrupt, the second taking all my stock, plus every copy of Chandler’s last book, The Wild Ones. At that point I figured it was all too hard. I instead concentrated on my bookshops (Barkly St, St Kilda and in Brisbane). Meanwhile, my writing picked up and in 1995 HarperCollins published my first fantasy novel, The Wizard’s Torment. Since then I’ve had about 140 books and a similar number of short stories published.

In 2007 I approached Macmillan who were distributing The Quentaris Chronicles, a series Michael Pryor and I co-edited, to distribute books that I intended to publish under Ford Street Publishing. Amazingly, they accepted.

Distribution really is the key to publishing. Anyone can publish books, but getting them out in the shops is an entirely different ball game. I know with e-books people are saying everything is distributed on a level playing field, but they’re not, really. You still need your books visible to the buyer. And how will that happen when your book is just listed as a title on a list of thousands?

There are various ways to promote your book/s, of course. One is by trailer. My latest book, Mole Hunt, has two trailers, one fun and the other serious

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4tTn_WXCiw

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S-eKDYqpEs

I’ve also written about fifteen blogs and been interviewed on numerous online sites. Reviews promote books, as does merchandise such as stickers, bookmarks and posters. Well-established databases also help, especially with bulk mailouts; facebook, twitter and social media outlets such as websites, etc, also help. But I’m beginning to think that word-of-mouth will beat all of these strategies. But again, the book has to be visible, and I’m finding it hard to imagine how e-books will circumnavigate this particular problem. At least with brick and mortar shops, the books are there for people to see. A select “few” when considering how many books are published, but that notwithstanding, potential purchasers can see and feel the books.

Indie press has both advantages and disadvantages when compared with the major presses. Advantages include quick turn-around, individual attention (everyone at Ford Street is A-list – there’s no B-list, for example), a willingness to experiment with titles that major publishers won’t touch. Disadvantages include scant distribution, lack of “brand name”, therefore less chance to make it into the stores, smaller budgets so less chance of major writers sending them manuscripts, and lack of staff for marketing, publicity, editors, etc. My latest relationship with an indie press was with Celapene Press. I’d submitted The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler to a dozen major publishers and it had been rejected. I sent it to Celapene Press and it was accepted within four days. It was published several months later and sold to a book club and was also short-listed for the Psychologists’ Award. Obviously I didn’t make as much money as I would have with a major publisher, but the relationship with this indie press was satisfying in that I received personal attention as noted above. And perhaps needless to say, had it not been for Celapene, the book might never have been published.

There are of course many problems facing the publishing industry right now, not least among them the decline of independent bookshops (Australia is considered healthy with 21% independent bookshops – England has about 7% while the US stands at about 3%); the e-book revolution; readers purchasing books online from overseas; publishers condensing their lists; exorbitant postal costs, etc.

I believe that to survive, independent booksellers need to personalise their businesses, that is, be involved with their customers, know their books, establish book clubs, take risks and purchase books from small presses to differentiate themselves from the chain stores that stock the best-sellers (smaller shops can’t compete here, simply because the chain stores such as Target and K-mart can sell the books cheaper than the independent booksellers can buy them at!); all of which will make them stand out against their competition.

In a nutshell, indie publishers are around because we’re passionate about what we do; we’re definitely not in it for the money.

Paul Collins was born in England, raised in New Zealand and immigrated to Australia in 1972. He lives in a historic bluestone home built in 1851 with his partner, fellow author, Meredith Costain, and a menagerie of pets including a kelpie called Jack and Molly, a red heeler.

His many books for young people include The Slightly Skewed Life of Toby Chrysler and series such as The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars, The Quentaris Chronicles (co-edited with Michael Pryor) and The World of Grrym (in collaboration with Danny Willis). His latest book is Mole Hunt, book one in The Maximus Black Files. The trailers are available here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3S-eKDYqpEs and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4tTn_WXCiw 

Paul is also the author of over 140 short stories, has been the recipient of the A Bertram Chandler, Aurealis, William Atheling and Peter McNamara awards and has been shortlisted for many others including the Speech Pathology, Mary Grant Bruce, Ditmar and Chronos awards.

He is currently the publisher at Ford Street Publishing (www.fordstreetpublishing.com). Visit him at www.paulcollins.com.au)

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It’s nice to not be a single parent

In an eight week period, my husband will have been home for a total of eight days. This is not really a lot. We’ve been a part-time family for about eight years now, since he started working in mining, and have had lots of rosters to work around: one month on, one month off; eight days on, six off; two weeks on, one off; and now two weeks on, two off. It’s never bothered me before (although one month on, one off is just crazy). To a point, I RELY on it, because I do get a lot more work done when husband is away than when he’s home! But being a two parent household is very different to being a single parent household, particularly with three kids. I really don’t know how single parents do it and stay sane – being able to have time to go to the shop ON YOUR OWN. Not having to do school drop off and pick up EVERY DAY, being able to go to bed EARLY and let someone else get up to the baby – these are all luxuries! So it’s very nice to have husband home, if only for a few days. It’s also made it even clearer why we need to move to Tassie, and plans are crystalising for that. Onwards!

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On indie press: Trent Jamieson

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. First cab off the rank is the wonderful Trent Jamieson, whose first novel only came out last year but has already been joined by three others out in the world!

The indie-press has been a part of my entire writing life from the fanzines that I first started writing poetry for like Ron Clarke’s The Mentor – cranked out by hand, the magazine, and the poetry – through to the newer presses like Twelfth Planet Press, Ticonderoga, Fablecroft and Coeur de Lion.

Oh, and Aurealis Magazine and Eidolon were my first loves as a writer and a reader. They were the magazines that I aimed for, the authors within them giants to me. You see, I never felt there was a place for me in mainstream publishing, I always felt that it was the indies, and the SF indies at that, which would take my weird little tales. Most of the time when no other literary magazine was biting they did.

Without the encouragement of editors in the those presses I think I would have given up – it took me roughly twenty years of trying before I sold my first novel, and it’s hard to keep that going without the occasional publication credit. It was the indies that gave me a place to get my stories on the page.

Sure there are many types of writing career and publication paths. But that was my way. And I want to stress that I don’t think the indie press is somehow lesser than mainstream publishing houses, or just stepping-stones on the way to a career. How could I? It’s where I feel at home, every sale has been a delight, every story in print is still exciting to me.

I’ve also worked as an indie press editor for Redsine. I published some of the earliest works of fabulous writers like Kim Westwood and Cat Sparks. I know the slog that goes behind every indie press, and just how much love goes into each and every story and issue. The indies rise and fall with that labour. And no indies means you’d see far less short stories and novellas being published in this country (two of the most vital and important forms of fiction) and you probably wouldn’t see writers having the confidence to submit to markets overseas, and you certainly wouldn’t have writers that other younger (and older) writers can look at and say, hey if they can do it so can I.

It’s like indie bookstores really. Before a book (without a “celebrity” author) ever really gets to the bestseller list, it’s had the support of a damn lot of indie booksellers, pushing it, talking about it, sharing their enjoyment of it. Big fish start small, and that goes for writers, and publishers too. And as a reader, I know my reading life would be all the poorer without our wonderful indie publishers – how else would I have developed my fan boy crushes on Sean Williams or Paul Haines or Ben Peek or Marianne de Pierres or Lucy Sussex or Tansy Rayner Roberts? And that’s just a few of the many wonderful voices I’ve encountered reading indie presses.

As a writer, there’s so many indie press publishers and people that have been important to me that I’m bound to forget some of them (so if I miss you please send me a stern email) but I don’t know where I would have been without Ben Payne, Alisa Krasnostein or Keith Stevenson. They’ve been some of my biggest supporters, and publishers. And if I sound like I’m name-dropping, I’m not really; just thanking them and every other indie publisher for putting their time and energy into something that enriches writer and reader alike. They’ve all made me very happy.

SF writer and Silent Motion Picture Actor, Trent Jamieson should be 108 years old, but is only 38 on account of TEMPORAL RADIATION. He lives in Brisbane with his wife, Diana. His first books were a series of novels called Death Works. The first, Death Most Definite, was released in August 2010, the second, Managing Death, in December 2010. The third, The Business of Death, is due for release in September 2011. They’re about Death – you know, the Grim Reaper.

He is currently working on a duology for Angry Robot Books the first of which is called Roil (due to be released in September 2011), the second of which is called Night’s Engines (due for release in 2012). If you like the steam, and the punk, you might like `em.

When not writing, he works at The Avid Reader Bookshop in West End- the best indie bookshop in the world (he’s not biased or anything). Find out more about Trent and his work at http://www.trentjamieson.com/

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In the news!

The West Australian newspaper published a lovely article on kids and reading on page 3 of Friday’s paper! This is exciting not just because I’m in it, but also because it’s on PAGE THREE, and it’s about READING! This is really good stuff for recognising the importance of literacy and reading, and I was really pleased to be part of that. The electronic version is available, although this doesn’t have list of ten Australian books (just ten!) I reckon all kids should read before they finish primary school. There’s at least a 100 more I could have named!

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Completely opposite days off!

Such a different day off today to Tuesday. Although we did end up going to a friends for a couple of hours after school, it was very much a do-nothing day. Today we were on the go from 6am, but now we’re home, it’s peaceful! Bubs and I went to a CBCA-sponsored play at our local library (where we normally go for story time on Thursday mornings), which was, hmm, interesting. The kids loved it, the adults kind of looked a bit sideways at it! My favourite bit was when Goldilocks (bloke in drag) said to his friends (school kids picked out of the audience), “Oh, no one is answering our knock. Shall we open the door and go in?” And I’m like, “‘Um, no?!”, much to the amusement of the lady behind me. Ah Goldilocks, trespassing, wilful damage and theft, you’ve got it all. It was a bit odd. But Bubs was enthralled, which quite surprised me, particularly as it was quite long.

We left there and had about half an hour to kill so dropped in to the shops, managing to pick up everything we needed (and he snuck in a 20 minute sleep which has kept him going all day!), then headed to our next engagement, a birthday party. A few other mums from school I’m friends with were there, and it was a very relaxed, pleasant couple of hours. Was lucky we didn’t have wine, is all I can say! We totally didn’t need it!

Picked the kids up and they all had a bit of a play, but came home cos Bubs was buggered (he’s napping now,  which is nice). Busy day!

Yesterday I was a bit tired (stayed up too late doing CBCA reading – good books!) but the day fairly flew by. Got interviewed by a journo from the West Australian for a piece on Bookweek which was interesting too – might be in tomorrow’s paper. Managed to get a word in about a few publishers I know (she asked, honest!) but I don’t really know what focus she’s going to take.

That’s about it – listened to a little of the latest Galactic Suburbia and found yet more podcasts to put in the queue, more TV I want to watch and more darn books to read! Maybe I should stop listening! :)

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