Clauses 13 - 16

My bike was stolen today. Almost certainly by some local kids. I hope they don't hang around this area with it, for their sakes. I loved that bike.

But in reading my insurance policy, I found these little clauses tucked away. Kids and sport. Pretty much somes up the humour of an Australian insurance company:

13. Golf Hole-in-One

What is Covered?

We will pay the sum of $200 if you hit a hole-in-one in an official club competition game of golf, on any Australian golf course, if you have home contents cover with us. This amount will only be paid once during the term of your policy. No excess is applied to a claim under this benefit.

14. Lawn Bowls Full House

What is Covered?

If you have home contents cover with us, we will pay the sum of $200 if you bowl a full-house in an official club competition game of lawn bowls, on any Australian bowling green. This amount will only be paid once during the term of your policy. No excess is applied to a claim under this benefit.

15. International Sporting Record

What is Covered?

If you have home contents cover with us, we will pay the sum of $200 if you or a member of your immediate family who still lives with you, break an officially recognised international sporting record. This amount will only be paid once during the term of your policy. No excess is applied to a claim under this benefit.

16. Multiple Births

What is Covered?

If you have home contents cover with us, we will pay the sum of $100 per baby, if you or a member of your immediate family who still lives with you, give birth to two or more babies from the same natural pregnancy which occurred during the term of your policy. This amount will only be paid once during the term of your policy. No excess is applied to a claim under this benefit.


Distribution fail

I read an article two weeks ago in the local paper entitled "Pirate Nation" concerning the thousands of downloads of the debut episode of the TV Series "Game of Thrones".

For anyone who has read GRR Martin's fantasy books, or are fans of this genre in books, movies or, unusually, TV, this looks good. Very good. High production values, decent actors, particularly the child stars, and headed by Sean Bean (with many credits in fantasy movies: Lord of the Rings, The Black Death, even Troy).

But the thrust of the article is that Aussies, seemingly more per capita than any other country, are illegally downloading this and other TV episodes. It seems we aren't content to wait weeks, months, a year? for entertainment content available in other countries*. Previously we had no choice, but give someone the option to find their own distribution channels, because the content owners are not providing them, and wow, the public actually dares to take the initiative.

Content owners (and this newspaper journalist) calls it piracy. Australia a pirate nation. (Conjures images of us hoisting a massive sail over Oz and ramming other countries.) I call it a business failure of distribution. It's the age of the Internet, ferfrackssake. Anyone who wants something can get it. Stop ignoring the reality, and be pro-active. Be responsive to this trend that isn't new anymore. Use some basic business sense and offer it through existing distribution channels (iPad, YouTube) or create your own. Ask for a reasonable fee ($1 per view) for your content. Then if your content is still being pirated, have a whinge. Until then, shut your stuck-in-the-past mouth.

And if you don't do that (which you aren't likely to anytime soon), then enjoy the amazing exposure and penetration your product achieves world-wide. Recognise that it is a validation of your brand and work out ways to exploit it.

*Apparently this TV series will be available in July 2011 (3 months after its debut elsewhere) but only available on Foxtel, Austar, Optus TV.


Caer Rocks

These are photos I took on a trip through Great Britain, 2006. They are beaches at the far north of Europe, the northern coast of Scotland. Looking out to sea, there is little except more icy sea until one gets to the Greenland, the North Pole etc.

In 2004, I wrote the following scene for my first YA novel, The Runes of Odin:

Calum ducked under a low-hanging branch as he scrambled up a small incline along the path to Caer Rocks, the name given to a little stretch of beach between two sharp crags jutting out from the cliffs. A caer was a strong place, and the two crags were certainly strong as the rest of the rocks between them had eroded away from the constant waves, leaving a gentle beach and easy access to the sea, one of the only accessible places along most of the coastline of the Firth.

Now the beach in my story was black-pebbled and the sea never as calm. But add the long, black lines of a predatory Viking long ship and this place felt like I had summoned it from my pages.

Stunningly beautiful, even more so for an icy welcome.


Self-published meltdown


A bookseller's view of self-publishing

Steph Moriarty (Clarion South attendee and long-time industry employee) gives her thoughts on self-publishing, particularly with regards to print publishing.


A boy I used to date once asked me, “What do you think of South African accents?”

To which my response was, “What kind of question is that?”

“It’s not a rascist thing. It’s just personal experience. Every South African person I’ve encountered at work has treated me like crap. Now whenever I hear the accent, I cringe. It’s like a Pavlovian response.”

As a bookseller, my Pavlovian response to self-publishing is somewhat analogous. I don’t hate self-published writers on principle, but in my experience, most of them have been awful to deal with.

The thing is – and this may sound obvious, but bear with me – when you self-publish, you’re taking on the role and duties and responsibilities that would traditionally belong to your publisher. The impression I get is that too many writers, not just the ones who self-publish, don’t understand and don’t take the time to try to understand, what exactly publishers do. Publishing companies are not hungry monsters who eat Word documents and spit out bound and finished books. They’re not just there to make sure all the words are in the right order and slap a pretty cover on the front. They also do complex and mundane things like sales research and find markets and organise publicity and marketing campaigns and, perhaps most difficult and mundane of all, fatten up (metaphorically speaking) the sales team with reasons your book is great but, more importantly, reasons people might by your book, and then send them off to clash with the retail buyers. These are the parts that self-published writers don’t tend to do as well, partly because they don’t know they have to do them, or don’t know how to do them, or are not qualified to do them, and partly because it’s hard to do a company’s work when you’re just one person. Which is not to say it can’t be done. But it is not easy to do well.

When publishers take on a book, they do so because they think it will sell. They may also think it’s a work of literary and creative genius, but the tipping point will always be if it has selling potential. When writers self-publish, the motivation should be the same: they should believe that they can sell it – and by “believe” I mean, have years’ worth of business and industry knowledge, preferably with the figures to back it up, to be able to make a rational, unbiased and qualified assertion that this venture is going to turn profit. Or, at least, you need to be able to talk convincingly about why people might want to buy the book. One writer I encountered in the bookselling trenches of not that long ago came to the shop unsolicited to hawk his expose on freemasons because, in his words, “Father’s Day is coming up”. Presumably his book contained new insights into contemporary freemason society, but not only were we not that kind of bookstore (we specialised in cooking, lifestyle and kids books), I remained doubtful as to whether I could imagine myself giving that book away to someone, let alone buying it myself. It also had an awful (though thankfully minimalist) amateur cover, which did not help. This is another aspect of self-publishing that people tend to think is easy to get right. Good book design is expensive, because good designers who know what they’re doing and who know their genres, and who have the time and good will to read books and come up with ideas, and absorb other people’s ideas, are in demand. Mainstream publishing does not always get covers right by any means, and they may very well not give your book the cover that you had in mind, but they will give you something that many people have looked at and worked on and thought hard about. It is, after all, not in any publisher’s interest to see your book not sell (unless you have been rude to them). Obviously. They want it to do well as much, if not more, than you do, because they are as invested – if not more – as you.

I’m going to try to keep the sales and marketing rant short because it’s pretty common knowledge that every writer these days should be doing at least some self-promotion if they want to see success. Marketing is hard, but fun. Sales is harder. Retail buyers are the gatekeepers of bookshop inventory, and they can be mean, lean and, more relevantly, on an annual budget that is both. Understand that no bookshop can stock every book or every kind of book. Understand that the buyers love books as much as you (hopefully) do, but that the first rule of poker is “leave emotion at the door”. Be prepared to leave a reading copy, at the very least, and don’t expect to get it back. Ever. This does not mean that the longer you leave it with them, the likelier it is you’ll get it back. The inverse is true. The longer you leave a thing in a bookshop – whether on the shop floor or in the back room – the less likely it will ever be found again.

Don’t try to guilt buyers or booksellers into taking your book. It’s this kind of behaviour that makes them hard-hearted. Don’t ring every few days to see how sales are doing and to offer to replenish stock. It’s annoying, and booksellers are busy, and they’ll think you’re desperate. If they need more copies, they’ll contact you. And DON’T rearrange shelves to put your book in a more prominent position. If you think it’s a reasonable request – ie. the bookseller has taken a significant number of copies – ask an assistant. Always be courteous. Whether you get the outcome you want or not, be professional and thank them for your time. This goes for all authors, not just self-published ones. And even if you do get your book on shelves, don’t expect them to miraculously fly off on your own.

Thought your job was done when you wrote the damn thing? You wish.


e-Books, starting somewhere

So what do you do now if you have a manuscript (or several) to sell? Traditional publishing (agents, publishers, slush piles, querying) or the untamed frontier of self e-publishing? The question seemed pretty clear not too long ago, particularly if you were serious about your writing, were persistent, were willing to make contacts and put your work out there. Traditional publishing, normal publishing was where all the cool kids were.

I'm not sure that's the case anymore.

Moving forward, it seems to be fairly clear that the answer will be different for every writer, but that almost certainly writers will utilise a combination of institutional publishing and their own efforts. Many already are.

What will I do? I don't know.

I’m a published writer but am yet to publish enough or works significant enough to make a living from writing. I say “yet” because I will get there. It is not a dream. It’s a goal I am working to achieving.

Essentially, I’m a beginning or emerging writer, or whatever other epithet you care to use to describe a non-professional, but serious writer.

And because of who I am and what I am, I am in the middle of the e-books and e-publishing quandary. I don’t have the new opportunity of releasing my back-list of published works dating to 1970 in e-book format to take advantage of these new methods of distribution. I don’t have the ready-made audience of an experienced and veteran writer. I don’t have the industry contacts or past relationships with publishers, agents and editors. I have grown up hearing of and dreaming of the traditional mode of publishing: slush-pile, agent, network, persistence. But I have not lived it to any great extent.

In other words, I am not particularly beholden to any model of publishing. My natural caution is sceptical of the promises being thrown out there by advocates of e-publishing and particularly self-publishing, but my interest is of course piqued by the tempting thought of being able to bypass a lot of the gate-keeping in traditional publishing. Skip the agent, skip the slush-pile, distribute your work directly to the reader.

The corollary to this of making thousands of dollars proclaimed by self-proclaimed self-publishing gurus seems like the promise of a pyramid marketing scheme. Or the promise of a dodgy real estate scheme.

I’d like to believe it, I’d like to think there is a possibility I could promote and market my novels to such a readership that would get me to that goal of part-time income for writing, but it does seem too good to be true.

Whether it is or not, the fact is e-books are here to stay and are likely to challenge paper books for supremacy if not completely obliterate their dominance. As such, my excuse to stay on the sideline for now, concentrate on writing and more writing, seems naive. I want to know, I want to try, I want to get out there and see what could happen. If nothing else, I’ll learn about it more than I would otherwise.


Review of The Heroes, Abercrombie

My review of Joe Abercrombie's new novel, The Heroes, is up at Aussie Spec Fiction in Focus.

Read it here


Extinct anthology

Amanda le Bas de Plumetot has her first Clarion South 2009 short story in the Extinct anthology:

Jase was her ghost in the machine, a shaded memory captured in synthesized pixels. Near enough to see, too distant to touch. Could they still connect? - LAST SEEN by Amanda le Bas de Plumetot





Stolen from Aidan Doyle)

Some more Clarion people get a mention in the Ditmar awards.

Best Novel
* Death Most Definite, Trent Jamieson (Hachette)
* Madigan Mine, Kirstyn McDermott (Pan Macmillan)
* Power and Majesty, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Voyager)
* Stormlord Rising, Glenda Larke (Voyager)
* Walking the Tree, Kaaron Warren (Angry Robot Books)

Best Short Story
* “All the Love in the World”, Cat Sparks (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet Press)
* “Bread and Circuses”, Felicity Dowker (Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga
* “One Saturday Night With Angel”, Peter M. Ball (Sprawl, Twelfth Planet
* “She Said”, Kirstyn McDermott (Scenes From the Second Storey, Morrigan
* “The House of the Nameless”, Jason Fischer (Writers of the Future
* “The February Dragon”, Angela Slatter and Lisa L. Hannett (Scary
Kisses, Ticonderoga Publications)

Best Collected Work
* Baggage, edited by Gillian Polack (Eneit Press)
* Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears, edited by Angela
Challis and Marty Young (Brimstone Press)
* Scenes from the Second Storey, edited by Amanda Pillar and Pete
Kempshall (Morrigan Books)
* Sprawl, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press)
* Worlds Next Door, edited by Tehani Wessely (FableCroft Publishing)

Best New Talent
* Thoraiya Dyer
* Lisa L. Hannett
* Patty Jansen
* Kathleen Jennings
* Pete Kempshall


Shaun Tan adds Lindgren to his Oscar

From the Canberra Times, 31 March 2011: After the hoo-ha of winning an Oscar a couple of weeks ago, Shaun Tan thought he was bound for a quieter life. That was until he got a phone call from Sweden on Tuesday night telling him he had won the world's richest award for children's and young-adult literature, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Prize, worth 5million kronor ($A767,000). ''I was washing the dishes when my phone went,'' he said.

Click to read more ...