My Year In Review: 2014

2014 has been a mixed bag for me, but on balance, good. In some areas of activity, very good. Let’s get into the reporting.

Writing
Until August 2014 I sold, on average, a story a month for about three years. I was proud of that statistic, and more importantly, the more recent the sale, the higher the market payment. The average has fallen below one month per sale, because I have been less aggressive in submitting and writing stories; instead, I have been focussing on quality. And it worked. 2014 has seen 8 sales, where there has been a tangible increase in semi-pro and professional publications. Also of note, is the higher percentage of sales per submissions – I have logged in 2014 a 1 in 10 success rate, which is significantly higher than previous years. I should add that I have also sold a collection of science fiction stories to Cohesion Press which includes, potentially, 9 original short pieces (one a novelette). If that was added to my short story sale statistics, I would be doing very well indeed (I am counting this as a single work).

Highlights of the year:

– 8 sales, a mix of speculative fiction genres
– 1 of these sales was the revised, Australian edition of my all-ages fantasy novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms. I am very pleased with the end product, thanks to Cohesion Press
– Another sale is a collection of science fiction short fiction to be published in 2015 by Cohesion Press. Potentially up to 19 stories, including a novelette, and more than half of the content will be original. A mix of literary scifi, and character/plot driven.
– Another sale is the horror short story, ‘The Crab Woman’, a professional sale to the Our World of Horror anthology by Eldritch Press
– A professional sale in 2013 was published in December 2014, ‘Of The Color Turmeric, Climbing On Fingertips’, in Night Terrors III anthology, by Blood Bound Books
– Another 2013 sale, ‘The Deluge’ was published in Black Beacon’s Subtropical Suspense anthology. While not pro, I’m proud of this, as it is in many ways quite original, and dovetails rather well into the Brisbane speculative fiction scene.

Publishing
2014 was a very big year for the two publishing imprints I co-own, IFWG Publishing and IFWG Publishing Australia.

– I was appointed Managing Director, on top of Editor In Chief
– The two imprints were clearly differentiated, their specific areas of jurisdiction solidified, including the transfer of several title from the US/International imprint to the UK/Australia/NZ imprint (it was a very big job)
– Rationalisation of covers for older titles, improved royalty reporting and payments to existing authors, and many other ‘back office’ improvements
– Both imprints signed on new titles for 2015, both from existing authors and new talent, with a notable signing of Robert Hood for his complete collection of Ghost Stories – a significant achievement and one I am proud to be involved with
– The appointment of Stephen McCracken as dedicated Marketing Director, a critical step up as a publisher
– The setting up of strong alliances with other small speculative fiction publishers, as well as third party services
– Ramp up of SQ Mag, our international speculative fiction zine, to a token paying market, a higher humber of solicited original work by established authors, and commissioning of artwork. Sophie Yorkston has done a sterling job on this project, and without her, this would be a failure.

2015 is looking very good, mainly because the groundwork has occurred in 2014.

Personal
I don't comment much on my personal life, as it is, well, personal. What I can say is that I moved from one day job to another, and it was a highly disruptive process. It took a lot of work to move into the new job, and it did put a strain on my family’s lives. In April 2014 I lost my mother. It was a relatively sudden decline and it had a powerful effect on me, and my state of mind, for many months, and will no doubt have echoing effects for the remainder of my life. All’s good now, but that is more of a statement for 2015.

News: Publishing Deal with Cohesion Press

I am excited to announce that my juvenile (to adult) novel, Guardian of the Sky Realms, will be published by Cohesion Press, a relatively new Australian independent publisher. I know the outfit and they are perfect for the job – professional, transparent processes, quality production. Given this positive turn of events, the release day (and the official release) is a bit up in the air.

Stay tuned for more news in the coming weeks.
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For The Love Markets and Author Respect

Over recent weeks I have noticed some discourse on the topic of For The Love (FTL) markets in social media sites – particularly whether these markets are exploitative or not. As usual, there's never a simple analysis on topics such as this. I can't resist expressing my views, and learnings.

There are two key parties in this discussion: authors and publishers, both groups representing the 'low' end of publishing in the market topology. I don't mean 'low' in a derogatory sense, I am talking about relative experience, income capability and earned respect generally in the industry. We all have to start somewhere, and that 'somewhere' is usually fairly low on the ladder to success.

Most authors have published their early work in FTL markets. It may have begun with the High School Newspaper, or (in the pre-Internet days), the Roneo'd fanzine or newsletter distributed among friends and local communities. In modern terms, the blog, the wiki, or equivalent. Authors need to cut their teeth. In the light of the marketing imperative, it is also important to develop a decent-sized bibliography, the CV equivalent of writing. It is important to note that commentators shouldn't apply the broadbrush ethic of 'work equates to being paid' because it does not apply at the early stages of a writer's career. In fact, the point when an author chooses to depart from the FTL market is a milestone point in the career, not the starting point.

Another consideration when it comes to early careers for authors is that not all the material they produce are worthy of remuneration. It is not uncommon for authors to spend a lot of energy submitting stories to high-paying markets, and as they get exhausted, the submissions get redirected to semi-pro, and finally slide down the scale to FTL. This isn't in any way wrong – it is reflective of the quality of the product, and the author gets the story out into a market, any market, which is better than nothing. It is reflective of the author's personal development.

However, authors can't just treat this dynamic as a simple, straightforward process. It isn't. They must be wary of inequity, whether it be deliberate or intentional. Contracts and terms need to be scrutinized; the market has to be assessed to make sure there isn't any unscrupulous behavior. The author also needs to understand the legal ramifications of the act of publishing itself – the best example being that regardless of the market, First Publishing Rights has been exercised when a piece of fiction is published, and it can never be recycled. Setting aside criminal behavior, the most important element to look for when entering on contract with an FTL market, is what happens to revenue from the publication. It makes all the difference. Let's look at some examples, with my personal commentary:

  • The market is online and free to the public, and makes no income. In this case, it is straightforward, safe to publish if the author wants to. In general terms, there can't be any significant non-criminal traps here.
  • The market is online and free to the public, but makes some money (donations, merchandizing). If the income is meager, the publisher is unlikely to even cover their own costs of production. Again, it is generally safe to publish.
  • The market is a print magazine and/or paid online zine, and they use their income to cover production costs – profit is meager, if it exists at all. In this situation the author has to be careful. I believe in this case it is alright to be FTL but it should not be too difficult for the publisher to offer a free copy of the magazine (or if paid online, some sort of subscription arrangement). The terms of the contract should allow the author to be able to resell their story in a reasonable timeframe – 6 months to a year following first publication.
  • The market is a print anthology and/or ebook anthology. This one needs to be scrutinized carefully. Very carefully. I don't necessarily have a problem with zero payment for stories, but a royalty arrangement IS important. Yes, very small publishers need to recoup their investment (which often is a major encumbrance for them) but this should never be an excuse to exclude them from offering royalties or other profit-sharing arrangements, post overheads. Authors should be wary of zero payments and zero royalties. If the anthology goes viral, would you, as a contributing author, be happy with nix? Also, this needs to be in contract, not verbal – it doesn't matter how much you like or befriended the said publisher.
  • The market is for large pieces of work, novels, novellas – print and/or ebook. This one is the easiest situation of all – publishers must offer a sensible, fair royalty deal. At the very least. Yes, small publishers may have limited capability to market, and may not make print runs (instead using POD). Authors signing contracts with these publishers are generally looking for their first work to be exposed to the reader public, more focused on quality and integrity of their work – building their CV, than remuneration, but they must get their fair share of the profits if the book sells well, or even if it sells badly.

So there we have it. Authors contributing to FTL markets is a natural part of a writing career, but it only goes so far. When you are ready, let them go except for charity/favor arrangements. Also, when involved with FTL markets, do it right – ensure that the market treats you with respect, which, as outlined above, does not cost an honest publisher much at all.

Market News: “Legacy” & “Dom and Gio’s Barber Shop”

Double play this morning. My heroic fantasy short story, "Legacy" was accepted by Aurora Wolf Magazine, and my Cthulhu Mythos story (second I have written and published) was accepted by Lovecraft eZine.

Both are satisfying sales.

"Legacy" was one that had some trouble finding a home, and yet I always believed in it – it is unique on a number of levels. I believe this story will be published on 1st October 2012.

"Dom and Gio's Barber Shop" is one of my more recent creations, I am a noticeably better writer than a few years ago, and it was a pleasure to have my story accepted by a very discerning market, who specializes in, and are authorities of, Lovecraftian stories. Publication date is still to be determined.

All in all, a good day.

Self-Publishing Flooding – Publishing Industry’s Greatest Challenge

I recently posted an article at Angie's Diaries on a concept called The Grand Illusion. This entails the theory that self publishers, as a collective, reinforce each others' delusion that they have what it takes to produce quality work, when in fact only a small percentage are able to. While not a surprise, there was a discussion following this article that included folk who immediately interpreted my comments as being derogatory on ALL self publishers, or those specific individuals, despite disclaimers and careful multiple instances of wording to totally avoid absolute statements – just on that phenomenon, I rest my case regarding The Grand Illusion.

While contributing to post-article discussions, I stumbled on a fascinating article by David Vinjamuri (contributor to Forbes Magazine) that attempted to provide an even-handed approach to the state of the publishing industry – and didn't do a too bad job of it, although by its very nature, left out some important elements, like the small and middle sized publishing houses. He pointed out some pertinent points about the weaknesses of the large publishing houses' reaction to self-publishing and other technological and business innovations, as well as the effects of self-publishing 'flooding'. The latter analysis, with predictions, rang true with me, and consequently I would like to spend the rest of this blog post on the topic.

A major problem facing publishing in general at this time is the flooding of self-published books – and more pertinently, where the majority of 'quality' ranges from utter shit to underwhelming. Most good self-publishers will agree, but few would admit it because they don't want to be tainted with the stigma, and on top of this, many are caught in The Grand Illusion. This flooding hurts everyone. Readers become frustrated by having to wade through, and in most cases purchase, volumes of substandard work. While the flooding has an effect on the bottom line of large traditional publishers, smaller publishers are more affected, as their material often are in direct competition with self-published work. Finally, the good to excellent self-publishers get washed into oblivion in many cases, due to the sheer weight of self-published titles.

Vinjamuri made a few insightful comments on flooding. The one that resonated with me the most is comparing the written word publishing industry with music. It is an apt simile: in the music industry, for years, people have been able to record their own music, play it in the streets and uTube etc, and sell, without the benefit of the support of a music company. Musicians who are good, rise to the ocassion, and eventually get noticed. They move from the base strata into the higher echelons. Musical contests, such as American Idol and a vast array of others, all allow the best to move into professionalism. More pertinently, consumers have a mechanism to separate the obviously bad from the good, to feel like they have a fighting chance to purchase music that they will like. On a similar level, Vinjamuri used the example of Rotten Tomatoes, a site that compiles prominent critic reviews of films, that provides filmgoers with confidence with regard to what to see. Vinjamuri's major thesis is that written word publishing hasn't got mechanisms in place to stratify titles by quality like the music and film industries – to enable readers to make informed decisions. There is no Rotten Tomatoes for them.

Amazon, among others, opened the flood gates to make money from self-publishers, knowing that flooding would occur; knowing that readers would get inundated. Essentially, they have chosen to become mega-Vanity Publishers and make mega-bucks doing so. As I stated above, good writers from all sectors of the industry, including self-publishing, are seriously disadvantaged by this.

So where to from here? As I stated in my Angie's Diary article, I believe readers will eventually reshape the industry. They will want mechanisms in place to make informed decisions, and before you know it, stratification will occur. The publishers will have to adjust again, but they are well placed to slide in because, after all, they have the lion's share of personnel, technologies and connections to have their work placed in the higher echelons. And so they should. What I dearly hope is that the good writers who are currently self-publishing will be more easily recognized and be allowed, again appropriately, to rise up the ladder.
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The Psychology Of Self-Publishing – A Sad Letter to Self Publishers

There is no easy way to put this. I say this because I believe I am in a good position to make this observation – most of you self publishers should consider giving up. Point Blank. And the reason why is because you don't have the talent and/or intestinal fortitude to attain the desired level of being a professional writer. As an exception, I leave out those self-publishers who don't care – they just want a dozen or so copies to be sold and are self-satisfied with that, and those precious few who actually have the skills and talent.

I am not being cruel. I am being objective and I am being ultimately kind. I also say this knowing full well that for those precious few of you who in fact have what it takes, will often be undiscovered or have to go to hell and back to finally get recognition. That's life, and it's full of unjust shit.

Recognition. This is the concept, above all, that has the highest importance in this discussion.

The people who recognize self publishers the most are other self-publishers. I don't know the figures, but I believe there's over two-hundred thousand of you buggers. Many of you are bitter, vocal, even articulate – and can't write for nuts. Not that you would admit it, nor, for that matter, even KNOW it.

You see, you have a collective – an amorphous, Internet-based super-group made up of thousands of blogs, FB networks, Twitter networks and the like. And collectively, you ASSUME that your members are fair to great writers, and that the publishers, and multinational publishing and distributing companies are all the enemy, and certainly the fault of why each individual among the hundreds of thousands of you, have failed to get the agent, the publishing contract, the Times Best Seller. What makes it worse is that you grasp for any piece of evidence that (correlated or not, contextually correct or not) substantiates your claims/beliefs. Konrath is one such source, and grows his readership and dollars by taking on an unofficial thought-leader role in this mess. I like Konrath, I like what he writes, but I have a poor opinion of how his views just reinforce (intentionally or not) the ignorant self-publishing masses (most of you). This psychological effect has also spawned a totally new industry of companies, consultants and bloggists who make money encouraging you. SHEESH, that is where the rottenness of the industry really exists.

Some of you get a few sales, often by serendipity, and with the help of Amazon's zero-cost schemes – good for Amazon, could possibly get a toe-up for you, but for the majority it just adds to the deep illusion that you have what it takes to be professional writers. Then, as part of this psychology, if you get a bad review by an unbiased reviewer, then it's because the reviewer is a predator (presumably from the same gene pool as the evil publishers, editors, agents). The truth is much more simple – there are good, professional reviewers, editors, agents and publishers out there, who don't just want to make a living, but also want to gain recognition from those who count (readers generally, the genre-industry groups, etc) and want their authors to be recognized. Agents and publishers WANT good authors, because it makes them money, and many of them get a kick out of it. Yes, there are also predators out there, but don't stop people from swimming in the ocean because a shark might swim by.

Recognition. That's the key. A very small number of self-published writers have made it big, and ALMOST ALL of this select group ended up joining traditional publishing groups. That's because they got RECOGNITION by people who really know what they are talking about and have done it collectively, professionally, for millions of years.

Most importantly, you need to get an unbiased view of your work – this is mainly found along the traditional path. Most of you, instead, just by-pass this critical learning/experience curve and find yourselves in a big bubble where all you get is the praise, the 5-star reviews, the interviews etc, from the rest of you.

Sorry, I just had to spell it out. If you are a self-publisher, that's okay. But don't succumb to the psychology of the collective. Keep writing, join good critic groups, write short fiction and SELL them to recognized periodicals, ezines, anthologies etc. Keep looking for good people in the industry who will recognize your talent and skills, if you have it, and help you climb the ladder and gain the recognition you deserve – if you deserve it.

Get real.
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Patience in the Career of a Writer

Patience is a tough concept in this day and age. I'm 51 years old and I observed the 'I want it now' cultural underflow hitting my world in the Eighties, I think. I'm even a victim of it – there are times when I stupidly buy the dvd I really wanted on release, knowing I might not watch it for six months – and hey, the dvd is going to invariably be cheaper in six months. I really wanted to finish a particular home improvement project and even though I don't have to complete it today, I take the extra expense and time of going to the relevant shops to buy that component. etc etc.

I can't afford to take that mentality with writing. I can't, not at every level. I will give in to that extra push to write whats bubbling in me, at heavy cost to health and sleeplessness – but that's more the creative urge than any other serious root cause. What I'm talking about is the need to climb the vocational ladder of authorship. I'm talking about getting recognized by one's peers. Being a member of the SFWA. Making a semi-pro living, leading to pro living from the craft. Aside from ridding oneself of impatience so that one doesn't go round the twist, the critical reason to learn patience is to avoid the mental and physical pitfalls of being in a state of impatience.

Self-publishing is a good example. While I acknowledge and have respect for some self-publishers making a go of it, and those very few who actually succeed (by any reasonable definition), I can't help but feel that many of the self-published authors are simply impatient. They want the success that they have so eagerly and unhealthily (in relative terms) wanted. And they settle for less to gain that rung on the ladder. Perhaps for some this is the right way to go, as this is their peak or they are satisfied with the rung, but for others, I am sure it isn't.

Short fiction is a more measurable environment to analyze the topic. There are elite publications/epublications, there are medium level, and there are lots of low. How long does it take to make one's first 'pro sale'? I read a number of prominent/established short fiction writers' blogs and almost all of them talk about the usual apprenticeship taking ten years. Yes. TEN YEARS. This is presumably from the point in time when a conscious, mature decision was made to actively achieve a pro sale. That requires patience. I believe Jay and others will tell you that this isn't a situation of wasting one's time – it is a situation of learning, growing, and achieving narrative that at each step-point in one's growth was not imagined in previous iterations. I'm not saying it will take, say, you, ten years to get there. What I'm saying, however, is that if it takes ten, or fifteen, or whatever, years, then you will grow from the experience, and you must, aside from the eagerness and love of the craft, have patience.

A subtlety of this topic, which in fact contributed to the motivation to write it, was a link by Jay Lake to a most interesting blog by Jim van Pelt, on the relationship between 'hard work' and 'achievement'. He says that there are important synergies, but they are not proportional. He makes the wise observation that it is the experience of the process that ultimately will be the reward.

I have witnessed many incidents where friends and acquaintances in their early writing careers, make some poor decisions. In hindsight, I believe that many of them were caused by impatience – not the classic human frailty kind, but resultant from a lot of frustration with rejection, and exacerbated by the very thing that makes them writers – their creative urge. I have even lost friends because of their impatience.

All I can say is be patient (and smart).
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2012 New Year’s Resolutions

Well, back to the resolutions. They are essentially the same as last year's and I can do a mini assessment of 2011's goals.

10 goals:

  1. Be a great dad and husband. I can't judge this – others have to, but I feel I can do better. This is especially important with a 6 year old daughter with autism.
  2. Lose weight. I have never been heavier, and so my goal for the year is to lose 20kgs. That's a tough one. I failed in 2011 – I must succeed in 2012. I have never been unhealthier.
  3. Read more. As a writer I need to read – one of the cornerstones of being good at the craft (target: 24 books). Succeeded in 2011, and intend to succeed again.
  4. Outline Bitter Creek by December 2011 (or perhaps do much more). This went nowhere. Must do in 2012.
  5. Revise The Scepter and the Orb by September 2011 (first Evyntyde novel). Half done in 2011. I want this done by March 2012.
  6. Write 3 additional short stories and finalize/publish my Evyntyde anthology, Tales from the Chronicles of Evyntyde – by June 2011. This is done, but I'm holding back on publishing at this stage. I will revise this at half year mark.
  7. Complete first draft of my second Evyntyde novel, Crystal Peak. Not a word done in 2011. I want to do this by end 2012.
  8. Write at least 12 short stories in 2011. I wrote 17 stories (in fact, one was rewritten into a novella, so you could say I did 18). My goal for 2012 is 12 pieces of short fiction again.
  9. Qualify for membership of the SFWA. Not a single qualified story. However, my stories are just getting better each year. Let's try again for 2012!

2011 Addendum – write and complete YA Dystopian novela, The Comfort of Beanbags. This was done.

So, as a summary for 2011, it truly was a mixed bag. From a writing perspective, my short fiction has performed well (I published 11 pieces), but I haven't hit those high marks quite yet. From my larger work point of view, I have just been too busy to progress, and I have to do something about it. On a personal level – again mixed. I'm a good dad and husband I think, but my weight/health is a major concern.

Detour: my market performance for 2011:

25 submissions, including nominated awards, were carried over from 2010 to 2011.

Counting the carry-overs,

165 submissions were collated.
122 were rejected,
11 were accepted
32 were unfinalized.

8 of the 11 acceptances were for anthologies.

In total percentage terms:

10% of finalized horror submissions were successful
8.7% of finalized scifi subs were successful
6.38% of finalized fantasy subs were successful
8.27% of all finalized subs were successful.

Discounting carried over subs:

140 submissions were collated.
98 were rejected,
11 were accepted
31 were unfinalized.

8 of the 11 acceptances were anthologies.

In total percentage terms:

12.12% of finalized horror submissions were successful
10.53% of finalized scifi subs were successful
7.89% of finalized fantasy subs were successful
10.09% of all finalized subs were successful.

Now to tracking my Resolutions (the ones that can be):

2. Lose 20 kgs. I will report regularly here.
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3. Read 24 books. Slow.

4. Outline Bitter Creek novel. I want to do this by July 2012.

5. Revise The Scepter and the Orb by March 2012. A bit slow here.

6. Make a decision about Tales From The Chronicles of Evyntyde anthology by July 2012.

7. Complete first draft of Crystal Peak (sequel to The Scepter and the Orb) by December 2012.

8. Write 12 short fiction pieces in 2012. Ahead of schedule – written 3 by end of February.

9. Publish/Have Accepted 15 short fiction pieces in 2012. OK – 2 acceptances in January. None published yet.

10. Qualify for SFWA. Here is my status (amber means currently going for it, red means not even going for it, and green is a success – 3 stories must be published by recognized mags/publishers):

These are my New Year's resolutions – good luck with yours!
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