One of the real pleasures of the Indie publishing world is coming across new writers and publishers you might never have found without the burgeoning online community. I love hearing from new authors and finding out what they are doing, and really appreciate the amazing inventiveness and generosity so many show.
I just found a great post by one of my visitors, Joynell Schultz. Joynell writes speculative fiction, something I’ve never tried. In her most recent post she describes all of the techniques and strategies she tried to get her first Kindle book “out there”, what worked and what didn’t. Read her post here and take a look at her book. You can buy it on Amazon at the current price of $2.99 (she started at 99c) and you can download six chapters free – she will tell you where in her post.
I do want to make a bit of a demurral here. While publishing free chapters may be a good way to get readers interested in your work I am not so sure about the wisdom of selling books on Amazon for 99c, or worse, making them “free”. If you think that is what your work is worth, why would I want to read it? If you write purely to find readers, put your work on your website or one of the sharing sites such as Wattpad but don’t put it up on Kindle. Amazon is a commercial site where people who want to sell their work meet other people who want to buy it. I can see an argument for 99c short stories or novelettes – maybe – but novel length work which has been invested with love and care, edited properly, with a good cover and hopefully a good story MUST be worth more than one dollar or worse, zero. I guess the next step is to pay people to download your book!
At the other extreme, traditional publishers are getting way with murder, pricing their e-book versions at absurdly high prices to artificially prop up the print book market. Don’t think you are doing the authors a favour by buying their e-books – the contract will ensure that the publisher still gets most of it just as if it was a print book, even though it costs them nothing to make available in digital form, so it’s all more profit for them.
There are millions of readers in the world. A lot of them want to read for free, so good, let them, give it to them however you like but don’t call it a published book. Others want to buy books for their collection. I have bought hundreds and hundreds of ebooks for my Kindle collection over the years and I don’t plan to stop. But I’m not going to clutter it up with cheap stuff. Sometimes I’ve tried something for a couple of dollars and usually I can’t be bothered reading it past the first chapter or so. If it’s annoying enough I might delete it altogether. Until recently I didn’t write reviews of books I thought were bad, but I think the time has come when those of us who buy Kindle books call them out when they are terrible. Amazon reviews seem to determine which books succeed by getting noticed in the first place. Amazon itself has tightened up on the review process. Now they could tighten up even more by banning full-length books priced below $2.99.
If you’ve written a good book, price it properly to reflect that. Good on you, Joynell, for raising your price. You’ve got good reviews and your second book should have eager readers waiting.
I suppose it is ethically dangerous, or at least raises certain issues, to introduce characters in a TV series who are so obviously based on “real people”. The super-famous Swedish writer who appeared on Younger, clearly based on Karl Ove Knausgaard, didn’t look like him and didn’t behave like him, or at least the version of him one can deduce from reading his books and watching his Youtube videos here or here. He is an altogether smoother, yet somehow more smarmy character. Did Kelsey just go for him because he was so famous?
Introducing his wife to the narrative was an interesting move, as a way of getting rid of him from the plot. They made her out to be old-looking, skinny and hysterical. The real Mrs Knausgaard, Linda, is something else altogether.
She has written her own book, Welcome to America (but it is only in Swedish, no translation so far) and the only interview with her I could find was also in Swedish, without subtitles, here. Wow! I really want to read this book. I love books written by authors’ (and artists’) wives. One of the weirdest is the book written by French ultrabad-boy Michel Houllebecq’s mother – another post on that shortly.
In “Younger” the Swedish writer’s fling with Kelsey, one of the main girl-publisher characters in the series, is brought to a decisive end by the major tanty Mrs. False-Knausgaard put on in a restaurant, even though she got it wrong and thought it was our heroine Liza who was doing the dirty deed- and exit stage left for both of them. Poor Kelsey was left with that hideously boring and repulsive Thad. It was a bit amusing when she decided to buy him a super-expensive (and ugly) watch as a kind of “I’m sorry” present, and even more amusing when she decided not to give it to him but he gave her a super-expensive bracelet which she oohed and aahed over until she grasped what it mean … that he’d been having a bit on the side too, although in his case it was with a lap-dancer. Much tackier than a tasteful Swedish author.
Still, it was a shame to see these character go. At least he seemingly wrote real and engaging literature, something the readers could really get into. And it would have been such a great sub-plot if the girls had discovered his wife wrote books too, and decided to publish hers instead of his. Dream on … that is a step way too far for a popular US TV series.
The books the girls have been trying to deal with since have been less and less worthwhile. One, the plot of which covered intergenerational trauma, turned out to be completely plagiarised by a lady writer desperate to be published, no matter how, and after that the books have got worse and worse, the highpoint of tacky being the “list” of 69 things women supposedly think about when performing a certain deeply subordinate sexual act on men. Yuck! Why would Kelsey have championed that book?
For any frustrated and confused writer who can’t understand why they can’t find a traditional publisher for their work, this series is a godsend. How could anybody want to be published by people like these? If this is the publishing industry, no wonder actual writers can’t get published.
While on the subject of Maralinga and the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing, I decided to put up a short extract from my novelette “Last Patrol”, which will be published in the story collection, Radiant Sands. You’ll find the extract by clicking on the “Fiction” tab on the front page of this website.
I hope the book will be ready for publication in 4-6 weeks. It will be published as an e-book on Amazon Kindle, available both through the Australian and US site.
Australian readers will be able to buy a print copy direct from this website using Paypal, or by ordering on-line. Print copies may be available on the shelves from good bookshops.
Once the release date is known, there will be some pre-release copies available free from this site. If you’d like one, contact the publisher at PO Box 3, Katoomba NSW 2780. Although there is of course no obligation, a pre-release review on the Amazon site would be super-welcome.
Read more about Radiant Sands, Last Patrol and the extract, here.
Writing my previous post about pernicious publishing practices in the Amazon age, I found myself reflecting on that Australian literary and political figure Bob Ellis. Near the end of his life (he died at his Palm Beach home in April 2016) he gave a radio broadcast about the things that really mattered.
His early life in small-town Lismore had, on reflection, been one of them, and he regretted the way he had lost contact with the tight-knit community-based world where families all knew each other back for generations, where collective events were celebrated and sins were forgiven. Of course we know it isn’t like that any more – the horrors of small-town and rural life are the stuff of legend – family murders, suicides, drug addiction, child abuse and the rest of it – any virtues seemingly eclipsed in the heady rush of late modernity. It surprised me that he expressed such nostalgia for a way of life he despised in his glory days.
I was a little disappointed in Bob’s book, not because the individual essays and articles weren’t interesting but because I had expected an autobiography or memoir, a reflection on earlier commitments and decisions. What seems self-evident at one time may turn out to seem very peculiar three decades later. Bob’s radio broadcast suggested he was in a state of reconsideration, and this book sometimes let you glimpse that, but more would have been welcome. As in life, Bob couldn’t stop himself namedropping. The reader is left in no doubt about how chummy he was with the great and good as well as the infamous not-so good. Bob Ellis was an Australian icon, but his legacy may disappear quickly. He was a genuinely strange person.
I knew Bob back in his Sydney Uni days, when he hung around with those two great poets Les Murray and Geoffrey Lehmann. Bob was generally long-haired and shabby. Les was fat and looked like a farmer, which in fact he was. Geoff was immaculately be-suited and always elegant and polite. They were an ill-assorted trio. Les went on to become a right-wing identity and Poet Laureate, while Geoff remained a lawyer as well as a poet. Bob became ever more leftish, cultivated important connections and wrote many plays and screenplays as well as several books.
Young Bob Ellis (ABC)
I met him many times at pubs and parties, but he mostly ignored anybody who wasn’t important or political and was rarely cordial or even polite to those he deemed below him. I hadn’t seen him for over a decade, during which time I had spent two years as an anthropologist living among Aboriginal people in the desert. Then, to my amazement, there he was at Maralinga, at the Royal Commission into British Nuclear Testing, 1984. I had been asked to act as the Royal Commission’s anthropological advisor, reporting directly to the Commissioner. “Diamond Jim” McLelland was an august and controversial legal figure with his dapper suits and air of absolute superiority. Renowned as a supporter of Gough Whitlam and accused of extreme Leftism by various Australian rightists, he went on to front the Land and Environment Court.
In the remote flyblown deserts of Northwest South Australia Diamond Jim fitted in with grace and good temper, sitting under flimsy shades among the Aboriginal witnesses, squatting around campfires, and walking unconcernedly through the plutonium fields. I went wherever he went and listened to all the evidence. I pointed out where translations to and from English seemed inadequate or wrong. Bob Ellis was there to write a book. He and Diamond Jim seemed to be best mates, and had been permitted to attend the desert hearings, a rare privilege. I don’t think any other writers or journalists were allowed to be there. Shambling, shuffling and disordered, Bob behaved with dismissive contempt to almost everyone. He did try to converse with the Aboriginal witnesses but they had no idea who he was and thought he was just another lunatic white man. He paid no attention to other white people, including me, so I never got to discuss his perceptions of what was happening, although I would have liked to.
I have finished a long story – novelette length – about Maralinga for my new collection of stories, Radiant Sands, which will be out soon. In Bob’s collected works was a long piece about Maralinga, which I had not been aware of previously. This essay seems to be all that remains of his intended book.
Bob seemed to have attended closely to the Aboriginal evidence and was able to convey the extraordinary quality of the desert hearings, although the details were sparse. It was a good piece, and I enjoyed it.
My fictionalised novelette, Last Patrol, is very different. The people Bob Ellis saw and heard during the Royal Commission were members of the the same groups of people whose story I tell in Last Patrol. I wanted to restore the realities that lay behind the formality and structured context of a legal hearing. I imagined events and invented composite characters. But I believed then, and still believe, that it was a true story. I had no reason to question the account of many people that their relatives had been living in the far bush and that some had perished in the bomb blasts.
I attempted to persuade the Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission to follow up this line of questioning. It is not possible to ask the Royal Commissioner directly to pursue such an issue himself, it has to go through arcane and indirect processes involving the introduction of evidence which can be challenged by others with the right to appear at the hearing. There were plenty of these. Many Aboriginal witness statements agreed that there were people coming in from the far north-west at the time of the first tests, and that they had never been seen again. But there was no way of getting direct evidence since nobody had survived. To present this as evidence would require that the witnesses know exactly who they were, be able to name them, to state why and how they knew there were walking into the atomic test sits area at that time, and the basis on which they knew it. If they couldn’t do so, their words were just speculation and hearsay, or so I was told. The question opened up too great a can of worms, even for this enquiry
Aboriginal people had told each other stories which had passed along the chain of communication to the north and west and right around the desert. The criteria of “truth” in a legal case depends on a certain kind of evidence: this, but not that; here but not there. That’s not the way Aboriginal people think, nor is it the way their world is constructed. Even the “black cloud” evidence was not fully convincing to the judge and the legal team. The “missing relatives” story was even less so. The Australian legal process when applied to non-English speaking Aboriginal people is so totally misplaced and unable to penetrate into the “truth” of any situation. I was so completely disaffected and infuriated by the way the Royal Commission proceeded, and the minimal impact of its findings. It did result in clean-ups, and the local Aboriginal land-holders did get rights to their land eventually, but the deeper truth of what happened seemed to me to have been consistently glossed over and trivialised.
Memories and stories have their own rationale; memoirs and autobiographies move to a different rhythm and produce a different kind of truth. Writing about an historical event using fictionalised reconstruction is a kind of knowledge-creation but it still makes me feel uneasy. Purely factual history makes the reader comfortable although there are so many different ways to construct it. Of the several factual books on Maralinga the recent prize-winner Atomic Thunder, by Elizabeth Tynan, is undoubtedly the best to date.
I don’t know what kind of book Bob Ellis would have written, or what he would have made of my story if he had lived to read it. I wrote Last Patrol well before Tynan’s book appeared. To what extent should one book influence another, where one is “fact” and the other is “fiction”? What value can we place on fictionalised narratives which rely on imagined events and composite characters? It’s an issue which needs far greater consideration than I can give it here, or probably ever.
All the injustice that the Aboriginal people of the desert experienced seemed wrapped up in the chain of events that motivated my story: their peremptory removal from their traditional lands, the contempt displayed towards anyone who protested, the absolute dismissal of their rights to life and liberty. It was ghastly but not surprising back in the days when the atomic testing program was established, but to find much the same attitudes expressed, even if covertly, in 1984 was truly shocking, and I couldn’t put it out of my mind. Was it wrong to use fiction to write about it? Wouldn’t a thorough analytic recounting using the detailed transcripts and thousands of pages of documents have been better?
Like Bob, I once thought I would write a book. I tentatively called it Maralinga: Memoirs of a RoyalCommission. I still have cartons and cartons of material in storage. But it became clear as the decades passed that I was never going to do it. Is a fictional story any kind of substitute? All I can do is hope that readers are led to consider the possibility that Aboriginal people in Central Australia are the only human beings on the planet ever to have been nuked, other than the victims of of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am not sure I did the right thing in writing that story, but I felt it needed to be told and that seemed the only way to do it. I will leave it up to the reader to decide, when it finally appears.
I don’t know if I’ve missed something people have already commented on in other blogs or forums – should I have known this already? – anyway, I have just grasped another big problem for Australian authors publishing on Amazon. If your Australian readers are in Amazon.com.au, buy your e-book and leave a review, that is where it will appear. Australian reviews will not appear on the US site. So unless you find a way to get readers to leave reviews specifically on the US site, your book will languish unattended in the world’s biggest English-language market. Why don’t the Australian reviews appear on the US site? Why has Amazon apparently co-operated in recreating the kind of geo-restrictions which global digital communications was supposed to end?
I am generally not given to conspiracy theories, but it does look to me like some kind of deal was done when Amazon first made a push to enter the Australian market. I recollect there was vast opposition from the regulation publishers and literary players – oh dear no, we don’t want that horrible Amazon behemoth here, we must preserve our national cultural authenticity – now it turns out that the only books available through Amazon here in Australia are Kindle versions. Since Australian readers have been brainwashed to believe that print books purchased through bookshops are far more worthy than e-books anyway, this ensures that traditional print publishers retain a dominant position in the market.
I worked this out just recently when I was reminded to get hold of the late Bob Ellis’s collected/curated writings, posthumously published in late 2016. It is a collection of previously published articles and personal memoirs, many going back to the 1970s, assembled by his wife Anne Brooksbank as a kind of memorial volume.
Googling, there were plenty of paperback copies available from different booksellers in Australia. The price was uniformly above $30.00. Booksellers’ sites listed only the print version. Kinokuniya in Sydney listed the on-line price at $34.99. At first I thought this referred to an e-book version but no, that was the price if you ordered the print book online as against through the bookstores “card members” price.
As far as I could see, there was NO e-book version available through any of the Australian booksellers. As I have a firm policy of never ever buying a print version if there is an e-version available, I thought I would try Amazon. I have always kept the Amazon.com US site as my main site. So there it was: Bob Ellis In His Own Words at $11.87. That is pretty high for a Kindle book, but way better than $34 or $35. And yes, there is a Kindle version on the Australian site, at $16.14. It is also available on Kindle Unlimited in Australia, for subscribers. But the US paperback is priced at US$34.99, which would make it over $40 for an Australian purchaser who would then also have to pay the very expensive postage.
So somehow Amazon is able to trade in Australia without significantly disturbing the traditional publishing ecology. Publishers and booksellers maintain the impression that there are no e-book versions. Amazon offers a Kindle version in Australia, but no print version, and in the US the print version is priced too high for any Australian purchaser to bother with it. A kind of cartel agreement, or just a happy accident to keep the Australian publishers happy? Whatever, the total effect is to disenfranchise Australian authors trying to write and publish outside the limits of the good-old-boys-and-girls publishing environment in Australia. So if you want to be a success at independent publishing, you really need to get up there on the US site and attract the US readers. Your e-book will turn up on the Australian Amazon site but only if the reader knows to look for it there. How this assists our national cultural authenticity I don’t know, especially when Australian publishers are unwilling to publish anything from new writers and are reducing their lists all the time.
by firstly deciding not to make any self-published Create Space books available in Australia
After finally getting that Australian author’s titles printed on Create Space would not be available in the Amazon Australian store, I decided to ask why not. Here’s the answer:
“We do not currently distribute to Amazon.au. We welcome future opportunities for new international marketplaces helping you reach more customers worldwide.
“We offer an option to enroll eligible titles in the Expanded Distribution Channel at no cost. Enrolling can allow your book to appear on Amazon Australia or on any of the other sites not directly supported through us at the moment. The availability of your books on these sites is at the discretion of retailers who purchase your books through the Expanded Distribution Channel. We cannot guarantee your book(s) will appear on Amazon Australia.
Once you have successfully enrolled your title in Expanded Distribution, it may take up to six to eight weeks for your title to begin populating in the distribution channels you have selected.”
Right, so even if I do enrol in Expanded Distribution that doesn’t guarantee that my book will be on the Australian Amazon site, and it may take two months to turn up on any of the distribution channels which may decide to list the book. WHAT???
I have read lots of threads on forums and blogs trying to explain what all this means and I already knew that there was a very important reason why you SHOULDN’T enrol your Create Space printed book with Amazon’s Expanded Distribution. No booksellers or libraries will buy it. I found some old notes I’d made to myself months ago explaining why you should print through Ingram Spark if you want to reach these wider channels. I already knew this was a recommended strategy but it still didn’t mean your book would be available at any booksellers in Australia. Ingram Spark doesn’t guarantee your print books will be on bookshelves. It does mean a reader who has already heard of your book can order it from a bookshop. But just in case a bookseller DOES want to stock it you have to set the price for all copies with around a 50% discount.
I someone has already heard of your book, why can’t they buy it from your author website? They can, but you have to have a Paypal button and then post it to them. That’s a nuisance especially if the books start selling well. You should be so lucky!
The real problem is that most dedicated and enthuiastic Australian readers only find out about books from places like Arts TV shows (yes, Jennifer Byrne et al) or from national newspapers and magazines who only ever talk about trad pub books so they are not going to hear about your book or find your website in the first place. Unless you are writing about golf, or fishing, and advertise your book in specialist magazines. I hear that can work really well.
But if you are writing literary fiction or at least decent genre fiction you are out on a flimsy limb. Australian traditional publishers don’t want authors who haven’t gone through the secret accreditation process which dominates the business. Australian agents won’t represent them. They can write books and publish them on Amazon but Amazon won’t sell the print copies in Australia. Australian booksellers stick with the traditional imprints, mostly from the Big Five international houses. Many dedicated Australian readers can’t or don’t do e-books and/or hate Amazon because they’ve been told that Amazon is the enemy.
In the US, the large chain bookstores are in trouble: Borders closed, and Barnes and Noble is struggling. Lonely authors wait for someone – anyone – to come and buy their books.
Small independent publishing seems the way to go, but how to get the books into the bookshops where Australian readers still want to shop for books? Dedicated readers seem to love their bookshops here. But booksellers needs books which are in some way curated for quality: you can be sure they don’t want badly written junk with naked alpha billionaires on the cover. Whichever way you look, it’s a minefield.
It’s hard to navigate the dangerous shoals of self-publishing. It took me the better part of a year just to get an already written story ready for the publishing process – editing, formatting, negotiations over cover (and illustrations), first round of corrections, loading and reloading files, finding and correcting mistakes, reloading files yet again —2016 was coming to an end and I really wanted to get this book out. I had already decided publishing through Amazon was the obvious way to go.
It was my children’s book The Priceless Princess which was the test case. Things got complicated when I had to go into hospital for major knee surgery in early November so I was rushing to get the book ready for Christmas. My dear friends at Ciao Magazine in Sydney gave me some free publicity. The Kindle version went up through KDP, it was easy and gratifying once I worked it out. There was my book online, with its great cover! I had a Facebook author page! The book had its own website! I had it up here on my main writing site! What could go wrong?
Time went by and suddenly there was a notification of a payment. It definitely wasn’t anything I expected, and not in a good way. I mean, yes, it was a payment, and that was welcome. But there were no sales! Because the book was enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, US readers could read it and I was paid by the page. Well, it’s a pretty small book, and not many readers read it – and since it’s a children’s book, children themselves could not read it, unless their parents had given them Kindles, or let them read on their own. That’s why I published a print copy on Create Space, so they could order copies for their kids. They didn’t, so I thought they probably didn’t like it that much. Too exotic and scary?
But where were the Australian sales? None at all? It’s a very Australian story. Anyone who looked at the website on Amazon should realise this if only because of the bilbies and green snakes on the front cover. Australians aren’t so into Kindles, and they don’t buy them for their kids. They ought to go for the print version. I thought I’d priced it pretty well for the Australian market. This stuff is all about marketing, the elephant on the keyboard in the new writing world. Hidden traps, a thousand perils, it can make you pretty narky.
I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t. It took weeks to get myself back in gear enough to work out what was happening. Today I discovered for the first time that AMAZON DOES NOT MAKE ANY CREATE SPACE BOOKS AVAILABLE TO AUSTRALIAN CUSTOMERS using the Amazon.com.au site. Since they have been very actively persuading Australian customers to switch to the Australian site, this means that Australian authors who have published on Create Space will not even have the availability of their books noted on the Australian website! And presumably potential readers are not going to know this, and so will assume there is no print version. Apparently the same has been the case in Canada, another place where I thought customers might like the book.
In the process of checking this out, I then discovered that the Kindle version, which I had originally put at US$2.99 had somehow magically transformed in the Australian Kindle store into something over $6.00. Nobody is going to pay that for a short children’s e-book. I have no idea what made them set that price, but I see that they are in fact at liberty to set any price they like.
So no wonder there haven’t been any sales. Well, there was one, but it was returned. I don’t know what to make of that. Meanwhile I got a batch of copies sent over from Create Space, at considerable expense, and I gave lots away for Christmas presents. Great feedback from the readers who especially enjoy that great cover and the way the illustrations worked with the text. I am not so happy with the internal layout, it is printed too close to the binding, but it’s fine for this first print version. If you happen to read this and want a copy of the book to give your kids, click on the tab above “Children’s Stories” and you will see how to get a real-life print copy of this version for the great price of $A5.50 posted anywhere in Australia. There will be Paypal option soon too.
So this is all about learning. Am working now towards getting my first book of short stories ready in the next month or two, and I won’t make the same mistakes this time. I do wish there was a comprehensive site or book specifically for Australian authors wanting to go the self-publishing route. The domination of Amazon in the US and international e-book field has made it pretty much inevitable that writers will go with them more-or-less automatically, but there are a lot of traps there and the complications are vast. And of course the demand for children’s books is infinitesimal anyway, at least beside those staggering Indie romance figures. Even less than literary fiction!
INSPIRE YOUR OWN LIFE: BE WHOEVER YOU WANT TO BE! DROP FIFTEEN YEARS AND WORK IN PUBLISHING!
Thanks to my new exposure to streaming television (thanks, Stan) I have just started watching a program about women in the publishing world, “Younger”. The premise is a bit like Suits for Girls: a forty year old woman who used to be in publishing (trad-pub old-style) has been out of the workforce raising her daughter and now wants back in. Ha-Ha. Forget it. Too old! No credits for child-raising or good sense. So she has to pretend she is in her twenties and become a Millenial. Luckily she has great skin and a fabulous figure, with only a few dodgy emergent crows-feet which she can put down to her entirely fake years volunteering among the desperate and impoverished in India.
She spins a new identity: long streaked hair, pull-on beanies, short skirts, high boots… you follow. She gets a fake ID and claims she finished an English degree at Dartford or somewhere then spent four years volunteering and writing a novel. This is a wholly acceptable cv. Yes!!! She gets a job for a horrible mean lady publisher, also in her forties – a kind of Meryl Streep /Anna Wintour but showing it. Liza (our heroine) has to keep up the pretence that she’s young but it’s so HAAARD! Especially when the workmates see the decorations on her lady garden in the gym ( the grey bush which she quickly trades for a landing-strip) and she’s being pursued by a super hot tattoo artist guy who says he “likes things that are old”. He’s referring to vinyl records but we know it’s really old ladies like Liza.
Well, the point of the story here is that one of her associates wants to sign up the newest hottest literary writer: they make him a relatively smooth well-dressed Swede but there’s no mistaking he’s meant to be Knausgaard.
It’s a shame they didn’t make him even more like Knausgaard, would have been lots more room for hilarious comedy.
Haven’t got past Episode Three yet so I don’t know what’s going to happen. Who knows, maybe Elena Ferrante will be next cab off the New York rank for our “Younger” heroine. But it’s a wry and knowing reflection on the idiocies of the contemporary publishing world. Great script so far.
I was a very early adopter of Amazon e-books. I opened an account straight away and I still have a collection of ancient Kindles with their grey screens and clunky keyboards. Once I realised the possibilities of self-publishing through Amazon I thought that might be for me. I knew a lot about conventional publishing especially in the academic field. But I had also looked into commercial publishing and knew some well-known published writers. Drusilla Modjeska is a kind of relation (my second husband’s first wife) and we had talked about the literary scene since the 1970’s. Still talking in the naughties, I tried to persuade her that Indie publishing was the way of the future but she, like most Australian literary figures, considered it completely unacceptable and infra-dig. I couldn’t persuade her of its virtues no matter what I said. Of course she already had a publisher and a secure literary reputation, so I can see why it wouldn’t have appealed.
By the time I was getting ready to publish my fiction and memoirs, it was another scene altogether. Traditional publishing had become almost impossible. The old literary circles were dying off and the Big Five international publishers had swallowed up one after another of the smaller presses. Agents at least in Australia just wouldn’t look at debut authors unless they seemed like literary prize material or were writing self-improvement texts or cookbooks and even then they had to have a profile on TV.
Self-publishing, or publishing through small presses, had indeed picked up the baton and become not merely successful but a huge industry with an entire infrastructure of its own.The demands on the independent writer now included the ability to manage all the things the old trad publishers had done, and as standards increased so did the expenses. And as the number of services for self-published authors bloomed, so did the number of titles, all neatly divided into nifty genres and subgenres which often bore little relevance to the actual book the author had written. There seemed increasing pressure to write to distinctive niches: alpha billionaire S and M, historical vampire fiction, sweet Amish romance, a whole submarket in stories about Mormon polygamy. Marketing became the watchword, but how to achieve it without paying for a marketer, with no guarantee of ever getting your investment back. The old days when the writer handed over a bundle of typed pages and received a cash advance began to look halcyon.
The Amazon publishing ecology is fantastic and offers every support to the writer, except the crucial one, namely, how to persuade readers to buy your book. The rise of Amazon’s own imprints is having another kind of impact, more on that later.
The glories of self-publishing are looking increasingly tarnished right now. In late 2016 the graphs of sales and income for Amazon self-publishers began to drift downwards for the first time in five years. Millions of e-books are washing around on Amazon and a few other platforms. Some estimates suggest that there are 5,000 new books published on Amazon each day. It’s almost impossible for readers to find good quality writing, the kind of book which is not repetitive trash genre fiction. Not to mention the ghastly low standard editing and typos in so much of it.
There is a huge market of people who love to read and appreciate the e-book format and like the low prices knowing most of it is going to the author but they want to read real stories with a certain kind of “truth”. The enormous success of Sydney writer Liane Moriarty is an example. Liane is a really good Australian writer who tells well-crafted stories about real lives which readers can recognize. I found it at first unbelievable that her stories, set in Australia, were being snapped up by legions of American fans. She is almost completely unknown in Australian literary circles and certainly will never turn up on a literary prize listing. Her readers are not necessarily part of the cultural elite, but they are still serious readers, who get lost fast in the wilds of Amazon and will be generally turned off by the oceans of junk and rubbish now swirling about in the maelstrom. It was good luck as well as a good product which brought Liane to her readers at a time when Amazon/Kindle hadn’t reached the stage of terminal bloat and ultimate Doom.
We urgently need some method of curation which doesn’t go through the conventional route and can open a space for e-book publishing for serious readers and writers who want to engage with the new world of online publishing. That’s the number one challenge now, it seems to me.