Daniel I. Russell is the author of Entertaining Demons, Samhane, Retard, Come Into Darkness, Critique, The Collector Book 1: Mana Leak, Mother's Boys and the huge collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem. Daniel is a HWA active member and represented by the Tobias Literary Agency, NYC. Daniel has also been the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers' Association, special guest editor of Midnight Echo, associate and technical editor for Necrotic Tissue, and Shadow Awards judge.
Where it's at: some small press titles
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Monday, July 04, 2011The future is digital as my 1980's Casio.
I had a particularly interesting meeting at work this week, and not just because of the refreshments, you know, those marshmallow and coconut biscuits with jam down the middle? Yeah… Need to get some of those. Wait, where was I? Oh yeah, the meeting and the subject of the meeting.
Insert: for writers and reading expecting some writerly ponderings, I’m getting there. Easy, tiger.
For those of you that don’t know, when I’m not spending hours at the computer writing books that make enough money to barely cover the annual toilet paper allowance, I teach high school science and maths. Our meeting this week was by the man himself, our fearless principal, and his topic was called ‘where to from here?’. I thought, like other members of the staff, this would be a discussion about students moving classes, timetable changes and teacher organisation. How wrong we were, because once the distraction of those lovely marshmallowy, coconutty, jammy biscuits was out the way, we realised this was to be a talk on technology, and how it’s changed our lives and profession and literally, where we are going from here, at least at our school.
Did you just sigh? Another blog post about this technological revolution that we’re going through, of which you already know about? Yes, you do. I did. But hopefully you can take a minute and just embrace fully what’s going on around us.
We were shown sites and blogs that are own students set up and maintained: showing the world their singing talents, etc, or simply having a voice and getting it out there. We watched a talk about a classical composer/conductor who created a virtual choir of hundreds of people around the world sending in their Youtube clips of the same song. Remarkable, and beautiful, stuff. People who had never sung a note in front of others were now part of this bigger thing and letting their talents shine through.
I can teach my class while sitting on a beach on the other side of the world if I wanted to (yes, I want to) or prepare my tests in multimedia formats to assist those with low reading abilities. This week (and during a test) I used Youtube and audio clips of Les Claypole of Primus and guitar god Jacqueline to teach physics. We really can stop talking about these things and do them. Yes, this is where we’re heading. No more homework being left at home as they can be emailed straight into the school the moment they’re finished. (My dog didn’t eat my homework, sir, but it did use up all the bandwidth while online gaming.)
Get to the writing bit, Mr. Writer, I hear you cry.
This got me thinking about the way technology has influenced the business of writing and more importantly, the selling of writing. I’ve been a writer for about seven years now, and not a lot has changed in nearly a decade. Okay, maybe it has. Depends on your perspective. But personally, I write the same way as before, I find markets the same way, I submit to those markets the same way. The actual graft bit remains quite similar, although I’m writing this on a tiny Acer notebook thingy rather than a massive desktop computer with a monitor that takes up half the room. But then, I’ve never experienced what writing was like before things like online market listings, writing forums and email submissions.
However, there has been great changes in the publishing industry with the digital book revolution, which (again, personal opinion) has gone hand in hand with the, how can I put it, glorification of the fashion of books.
Fashion of books, I hear you say? I expect some arguments over this next bit, but I feel that a section of the general populace have trouble (just say it, Dan) thinking for themselves and finding their own identity with reading, and probably other things too. I’m not a fan of bandwagons…nor am I a devout bandwagon avoider. If I like something, I like it on its own merit, not for how it will make other people’s opinions of me change. For example, if a publisher manages to get their new book, He Tore Away My Bodice With His Teeth, the Scoundrel!, in every shop, reviewed in every paper and has Bodice: The Movie hitting the screens this summer…I wouldn’t buy it because it’s not my thing. I’m not one of these ‘what’s all the fuss about? I must go see!’ types…but many are. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean it’s for me.
Now I know that bookstores need to make profit, and amen to that. Imagine a world without bookstores! (No, wait, close your mouth. I know what you’re going to say: in a few years, and all that. Sssssh! Let me probably live in ignorance a while longer). I think it was Joe Lansdale that said your general, randomly picked person might buy a couple of books a year. I believe this person, let’s call him Mr. Reader, isn’t suddenly going to say: “hey! I need a book to read! I’m going to go online, visit some small press stores and check out some authors off the beaten track.” He’ll probably be in a store and say: “Hmm. Millions of copies of Bodice here and everyone’s reading it. Might give it a go.” Another sale goes to the major presses, and another small press author loses his wings.
This isn’t new and I hope this doesn’t come across as a ‘it’s not fair! The bigger boys are stealing my royalties!’ rant, because it isn’t intended to be. I just wanted to show that as bookstores are filling up with more copies of less books, be it vampire fiction, cook books or celebrity biographies, the lesser known books have to go elsewhere, and I think this is a major contributing reason to why we’ve had a surge in digital books at the moment.
Seasoned writer, you’ve probably heard this bit a million times before, but there’s a personal revelation coming up! Trust me!
It’s never been easier to be published then it is today. This leads me back to my original topic of technology. Today you can write something in Word, upload it to Kindle or Smashwords, bung a cover on it and 24 hours later, you might (!) be making money. When you sit back and compare this to as little as a few years ago?
My digital escapades have been frustrating. When Samhane and a thriller novella I wrote called Shutterbug were originally released, they were in ebook format only. And back then, this wasn’t even on Kindle or Nook, etc, but only as a downloadable pdf. Now, call me a miserable bastard, but I find that paying $5, which was the going rate at the time, I tad steep for an ebook, especially just a pdf to read from a screen. I was constantly asked, don’t you have it in print? This was about 2008.
Now jump to 2010. Yup, just two years later. I pulled the rights to the books and Samhane was released in print by Stygian. Good! I thought. Now all those people who wanted in print will buy a copy!
“It’s in print?” they said, generally. “So it’s not in ebook for my Kindle?”
Aaargh! My timing has always sucked.
So, here’s the revelation.
I have always been against self publishing. I have sampled self published stuff from writers who have pimped themselves as editors, or critically acclaimed, or award winning, and the quality is generally pretty poor. I’ve always had the opinion that self publishing is for the impatient and those who can’t sell their work traditionally.
Okay, I’ve not made a complete 180 degree turn, but recent months have changed my opinion.
I released Samhane in ebook on Kindle and Smashwords so that the readers who wanted it that way had access to it. I was once again reminded how easy it can be to get your work out there digitally. I then released a few free reprints – see? Technically not 100% self published…at this stage. It was a transition…– and these were received well.
I then took another step down this route. Those awkward wordcount stories you wrote, or those just too odd genre-wise to fit in, they can see the light of day. They can be read. They aren’t destined to rot on a memory stick somewhere.
So you might make one sale and get a 35c royalty. It’s 35c towards the time you put in, and someone has read your work.
What truly turned me around was The Collector. I’d written this novel years ago, and always come so close to selling it, but neither agents or publishers had quite bitten. It’s longish, and is a continuing story…bit of a risk I guess. However, I had confidence that this was a good, entertaining novel…but after years, this will obviously wane. As mentioned above, I got to the point where I just wanted it read, wanted it out there in front of readers. I released it in parts on Smashwords, and readers seemed to really enjoy it, as shown in the kind comments and ratings they left. If you read The Collector, I thank you with all my heart.
The Collector is now with Dark Continents Publications and due to be released as a complete novel. I like to think it’s one of those success stories were a self published book gains an audience, proves it has merit and attracts a publisher. My perhaps blinkered view has changed. Yes, there’s still a lot of self published crap out there, but if you take the time to cast an eye at the Kindle charts, the shit tends to sink and not get a look in. Names like Shaun Jeffrey and Dave Jeffrey (no relation) and Ian Woodhead appear all the time, and their stuff is far from the impatient and hard to sell rubbish. I see them as trendsetters at this moment in time, getting their names out there and making those all important sales. Gentlemen? Hat dipped.
Anyway, if I’ve piqued your interest, my books available on Kindle are below. Also included is the smashing anthology, The Zombie Feed. Incredible zombie fiction on Kindle and in print.
Right. There’s my piece on technology. Yes, I know, and I know you know, but take a minute to smell the roses…or the Apples. I’m off to play the Xbox and have it scan my face and sign me in. Never got that feature on my 48K Spectrum.