The Problem of Genre

I just read this post and the comments (omg comments that are actual discussion and not trolling! Weird!) on Pamela Regis’ The Natural History of the Romance Novel. It’s a book I have yet to get, but have been recommended it for my thesis because of its importance in romance scholarship. Since I haven’t read it, I can’t comment much on the book in general, but the author of the blog, Noah Berlatsky, brings up something of great interest to me: the problem of genre and its definitions and tropes.

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Regis refers to romance as having eight essential elements, which according to some, at once restricts the definition of romance to a set formula and chokes the potential for originality in the genre. Berlatsky is particularly critical of people who enforce the genre boundaries. He uses the example of an editor who sticks by the Essential Elements list to make authors change their stories to “better fit” the romance genre, thus influencing directly the limitations of how the genre is presented. Great literature is built on change, so he asks – do we actually need definitions?

Genres (and categories) are redefined all the time – they are “fuzzy and socially determined and always negotiated” (Berlatsky). Regis admitted in 2009 that her original definition including specific gender terms was excluding gay and bisexual romances, so the gendered terms turned into the neutral “protagonists”. There is also a problem in WHO defines the genre – genre is used most usefully by the publishing industry/process itself (including self-publishers). But readers are also important in the process (after all, that’s the whole point of publishing – to get the product to the consumers). The whole system of defining genres depends on each type of person invested in the genre. Look at the creation of the New Adult category.

Definitions are sort of useful in some ways. YA (a category, not a genre) is defined (by some) as “fictive texts which have an implied teenage audience; that is, books which either feature protagonists of a secondary school age (twelve to eighteen years), or, it is reasonable to suppose, would be read by those in this age group”. This is a rather loose descriptor, but fits quite well as it doesn’t impose rules. YA can be any genre. While YA is considered largely to be written in first person present tense, there is no rule saying it can’t be otherwise. There are trends and tropes, but they vary as well. Could a loose descriptor rather than a strict definition be the way to go?

IMHO, Genres (and categories) shouldn’t be used to limit new creations – society itself depends on creativity and change to grow (and society is always in a state of flux). As much as I’m not a fan of Deleuze, he referred to art as being its own form of philosophy, capable of true freedom from the strict rules of reality and able to bend the laws of time and space. I rather like that!

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Various Examples & Random Thoughts

  • Does romance require a Happily Ever After (HEA)? Where is the line between a Romance or a book containing romantic elements? (I’m having this very problem in creating criteria for my thesis)
  • Does the reliance of some fantasy writers on Joseph Campbell’s Heroes Journey restrict creativity? (E.g. This is not only used in writing books, it’s also used in analysing movies (thanks Ross for reminding me!). I have also read somewhere that George Lucas relied on it heavily for Star Wars.)
  • Some criticise YA for being too bleak and state that children’s/YA literature should always have a happy, or at least an ambiguous, ending, to inspire hope in the young readers – should this be an excuse?
  • Sometimes with popular books, they can cross genres/categories. If particularly popular, this will require a change in marketing and cover design (e.g. Harry Potter as the most obvious, Allison Croggon’s Pellinor). Some books might not be found if categorised in the wrong genre (meta-data=super important!).

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*Note: Funnily enough on the same day, I saw a link to an article about someone who went through and analysed the genres/categories on Netflix.

** Urge to go on about narrow definitions of monsters that lead to exclusion, but I’ll leave that for another blog. Until then, there is this blog about why sparkly vampires don’t suck as much as you think

Taboos in Young Adult Literature

So recently, article writers have been misunderstanding the difference between Young Adult and New Adult and spreading the moral panic that since 50 Shades of Grey, there are now sexy erotic books being written for 12 year olds.

Riiiiiiiiight.

I do love Young Adult (YA) Literature (or YAL). Mostly the paranormal types (zom-com-roms) of course. I’m interested in the idea of censorship around children’s/YA books. I’m not a fan, personally. There always seems to be some panic, whether it’s because the work is too realistic or too fantastical. Should there be disclaimer labels on books, so parents know what their kids are reading? Should parents be trying to control what their kids are reading anyway?

This is just a collection of comments, I’m not a psychologist and I haven’t read every single YA book ever. Most books I have were written in nineties or 2000’s, and most are paranormal romances. So some of what I say – or all of it – can be disputed with a certain text (in reading about these taboos, I’ve found mentions of much older texts that do include these topics!). The point of this is not to say that these topics are never discussed in YA lit. It’s a springboard for ideas.

Religion – is hardly an issue in most books I can think of. There are particular Christian YA books, but these are not mainstream. Beliefs are mentioned, maybe a heaven or hell here, some Wicca-influences there. Sometimes the paranormal is combined with Christian mythology (think Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz). Is religion a turn off? Is it that beliefs vary so much, it would be hard to create a book that focuses on religion without isolating someone? Another alternative is to have a made-up religion specifically for the text.

Incurable Illness – While death is not so much a taboo, it happens a lot in paranormal YA (Car crashes are an instant orphan-fixer), what I think may be more taboo is lingering illnesses or disabilities.  There is, however, a sub-genre that deals with this in great detail. I haven’t read any before, but here’s an article on it. Cart uses the example of the AIDS epidemic in the 80’s and how it influenced novels, but society (the US) was reluctant to deal with it in ‘the real world’ by providing sexual education at school. 

Self-harm – of course this is controversial, there is belief among some circles that teens will copy the behaviour, or even “catch” depression. It’s a very dark topic, but one that is more and more in the media and in teens lives. Rates of suicide and depression in young adults are terrible.

Abuse/Violence – this one is tough and triggering, but a comment I tend to see a lot (and relate to myself) is that in reading it, the victim feels that they are not alone. This is also written by Chris Crutcher, young adult author and a therapist working with child-abuse victims “I believe stories can help. Stories can help teenagers look at their feelings, or come to emotional resolution, from a safe distance. If, as an author, I can make an emotional connection with my reader, I have already started him or her to heal… I am not alone is powerful medicine”(Quoted in Cart).

Sex – the obvious one! Are peers worse with pressuring kids about sex? Is TV a bad influence? With the sorts of books I’ve read, sex is not completely unknown, but the characters are careful. Again, with the ones I read, young love is eternal, it is destined (Oh so much destiny and fate in pararom!), so there’s not much question around whether it is right. There are questions around how explicit to make it as well, there are a lot of fade-to-blacks. Cart writes “Not to include sex in books for young adults is to agree to a de facto conspiracy of silence, to imply to young readers that sex is so awful that we cannot even write about it”

Homosexuality – is pretty much limited to the best dude friend who the main girl goes shopping with and talks to about everything – all the stereotypes! – and I can’t think of any book I’ve read where a homosexual character is the main hero/ine. Cart describes that homophobia is so bad in society, that not only do most homosexual characters die violently, but the books with the ones who don’t die are censored. Although this book is over 15 years old, this is still this deep division in society that is impossible to ignore. (UPDATE: My friend told me to look up Will Grayson, Will Grayson and David Levithan)

Diversity – Even as recently as 2009, race is still put to the sides. One of the best YA books I own, Liar by Justine Larbalestier, was the center for a storm of controversy where, despite the clearly defined black character with very short, nappy hair, the publisher decided to put a white girl with long hair on the cover (which was later changed). Apart from a few instances, most main characters in the books I’ve read have been white. Their close, but minor, friends are allowed to be different. A separate ‘marker’ of difference could be body shape – heroines are much more likely to be described as lanky, tall, thin, although they can have a friend who is fat or curvy -(and if described as curvy, that friend is more sexually experimental or outspoken).

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One of the things I hate most about criticism of YA is that it is “dumb” or “lesser” than adult fiction and less complex. Or even worse, accuse it of being formulaic (let’s ignore the constant cover designs of the back of a girl in a long dress in a forest – that’s the publishers deal). Or that it is cheap crap and, of course, it’s not “real literature”. Pretty much all of these criticisms have been applied to other genres or styles, romance, fantasy, science fiction, horror.  All the good stuff!

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Related Reading

  • ADDED: A recent article on banning and censoring YA
  • For the above article, these tweets were written:
    The Book Club @thebookclubabc: How adult is TOO adult for ‘Young Adult’ fiction??
     @capheinated: @thebookclubabc “Too adult” is usually just shorthand for “we really can’t be bothered discussing difficult things with young people”.

The Imprint Rant (TM)

So anyone who already follows me on Twitter will have heard this rant before, or my third year tutor read the essay I wrote, but I thought I’d post it here with the TL;DR version (still may be too long).

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An imprint is like an individual brand within a larger company, allowing the company to diversify its product range and target specific markets with niche branding.

In the 1950’s the Australian market was extremely limited, with most books being imported – particularly from British houses. As the industry grew here, branches of those international companies were established here, and started taking over the smaller Australian companies who were struggling to compete. From the 1970s, with the Whitlam governments arts initiatives and more financial support helped the publishers to ‘meet the needs of Australian’s’. Throughout the 80s and 90s, lists were vastly expanded with Australian authors and content.

The majority of imprints are international companies who have absorbed smaller companies and kept their names going. The smaller companies are rarely closed down completely with the larger company taking on the reproduction of the titles and authors. Another way for an imprint to be created is for a new imprint created for a new change in direction. Publishing houses may also ‘honour’ one of their publishers with their own imprint.

There is a lot of criticism of imprints and what they accomplish, as many will argue that readers only care for the author’s brand. Some say the use of imprints diminishes the overall company’s brand. Some argue that imprints make sense – to the publisher and the bookseller only.

So where’s my rant?

I find imprints to be useful, to an extent. The most talked about imprints are the ones that are defining and targeted. Voyager is HarperCollins global speculative fiction imprint, and for years operated a successful (in terms of interaction) Australian fan forum affectionately known as ‘The Purple Zone’. Momentum is a relatively new imprint from Macmillan which is the first (I believe – feel free to correct me) Australian digital imprint. While it has a range of books from autobiography to thriller to erotica zompocalypses, its name is well known and maintained.

Flesh by Kylie Scott, a Momentum Title. Yes, the erotica in the zompocalypse one!

We get lost in imprints when there’s no distinguishing marks. From my random discussions with people in the industry on Twitter, whether reviewers, booksellers, editors, we do seem to agree that distinct identity is important. As much as I love a lot of their books, what difference is there between Orbit and Gollancz? Both are under Hachette, both focus on speculative fiction – a range of fantasy, horror, urban paranormal, sci fi. There’s issues with publisher’s perspective versus readers, where publishers will identify a book with a certain genre and imprint, but readers consider it a different genre. Due to the difference, it may not be picked up by certain specialist bookstores where readers would expect to find it. Another example is how children’s books are being taken into traditionally ‘adult’ imprints.

The sub-branding of sub-brands within a brand often gets lost in confusion and if there is any message or meaning to an imprint anymore, it becomes too messy for any consumer to attempt to unravel. It is rare that an imprint can stand out and be noticed. The connection between publisher and reader is more often seen as through a reader’s loyalty to a particular author, not the imprint to which the publisher places them.

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Further Reading

The Future of Writing, Macquarie Uni

The Future of Publishing

This symposium was organised by Macquarie University with funding from the Cultural Fund granted by the Copyright Agency. I tweeted this event under #mqfuture, but here’s the nice, organised and formatted version.

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Introduction to the Future of Publishing, Professor John Potts, Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies, Macquarie University

  • Writing has transformed human consciousness – Walter Ong
  • Writing is based on other technologies, pens, quills, clay tablets
  • Is writing about to disappear into the cloud? … Unloved and ungoogled?
  • Mass printing was ‘the most radical transformation in the conditions of intellectual life in the history of Western civilization’ according to Elizabeth Eisenstein
  • Restrictive regimes would burn burns to control thoughts and beliefs
  • Jeff Bezos (Amazon) – The physical book and book stores are dead
  • Digital natives may have abandoned newspaper but not books – only 4% use ebooks
  • Physical books have more flexibility – annotating, holding, folding, bookmarking
  • The future is ebooks, self publishing and social media
  • Some say what we use affects our reading and abilities e.g. Google is making us stupid
  • ‘I link, therefore i am’
  • e.g. Wikipedia – wisdom of crowd and connectivity. This is becoming more important to writing
  • Online writing – connect with others for mass collaboration through internet. Less need for gatekeepers, but more need for curation.

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Richard Nash, Culture is the Algorithm
Writing has no future without reading-how then, does writing come to be read? Units of culture-essays, books, poems, songs, movies-come to their audience via algorithmically-based systems: Google’s search engines, Facebook’s social graph, Amazon’s People Who Bought Also Bought. But the integrity of writing will survive its encounter with Big Data for the history of publishing suggests it is possessed of a remarkable resilience, one born simultaneously of a resistance to and an embrace of capitalist modernity.
Richard Nash runs content and partnerships for the US start-up Small Demons. Previous to that he ran his own social publishing start-up Cursor, a semi-conventional independent publisher Soft Skull Press, and an experimental theatre company called Liquid Theater.

  • Talks on publishing tend to be ahistorical. Writing is not against technology, it has become invisible technology like the wheel or chair.
  • Publishing as commercial enterprise began in the early 1500s with Gutenberg. Nash refers to this as Publishing 1.0 and Writing 2.0
  • A writer was a transcriber before to take others words. Their work was to reproduce and not invent. The role of writer changed as the means of reproduction developed. Writer as reproducer was supplanted by machines
  • In the following centuries society saw the rise of genius, individual, people as separate from society
  • Writers began to create something new and became dependent on the machine for their texts to be read widely.
  • Gutenberg went out of business, but Aldus in Venice was successful – he also invented and popularised punctuation, italics, regularised syntax
  • 1985 – Pagemaker software. Nash notes this as Publishing 2.0
  • Digitalisation affected number of titles able to be produced
  • Print books from traditional publishers growing still, but slowed a lot
  • Society changes affected publishing too – less racism, sexism, etc. Previously writers were only white men
  • In publishing, the massive change was around production. For music, it was the consuming that changed – MP3, iPod
  • 20th c was focused on supply, 21st c will be focused on demand
  • With the Oprah book club, she was able to exist beyond the hour she was on tv. She was with you. Oprah helped generate demand in a huge way, as so many suggest, but was she also saved by publishing? She was using books to sustain social relations to stimulate demand
  • Culture not always easily predicted.
  • The power of the ‘like’ – not good at reflecting value. There are different levels of commitment between a like and reading
  • Talking about Small Demons – lists people, music, places mentioned in book, other books that mention the book, so much! The book also a source of cultural discovery
  • Supply chain sees writer and reader as opposite sides, but these are activities that are linked
  • Poetica – in beta. Community editing (by invite) that uses proofreading marks
  • Not just books – but authors are worth money too. Limited editions, classes run by author, events etc
  • Books are recipes for imagination

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Publishing in a Digital Age

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Joel Naoum, Who Wants to Read This Stuff?: The Business of Storytelling in a Digital World
New technology has enabled writers to tell stories in ever more elaborate and interesting ways – but does anyone actually want to read this stuff? How much is digital publishing technology actually changing the way we read, publish and write books?
Joel Naoum is a book publisher, editor, blogger and writer. He is running Pan Macmillan’s new digital-only imprint Momentum and recently completed a three-month stint in London for the Unwin Trust Fellowship researching digital publishing experimentation.

  • Usually, the question of audience not really considered
  • Pushing boundaries of what the book is – people are not necessarily looking for this, but it is the most exciting part of innovation
  • Book app for The Waste Land – costs $15 in store, made for $100,000ish and earned out in 8 weeks. You can listen to/watch different actors performing the poem, original notes, annotations, – as well as the actual poem.
  • Other examples of apps: Stephen Fry’s biography. The interactive part of this app is to be able to choose tags to only read, say, chapters on comedy. But the biography is a very linear thing. * Game of Thrones apps by George R R Martin – some sections will have an audio clipping of what you have just read, but what is the purpose of this? You’ve just read it. Another feature is to be able to follow the characters movements on a map, but this is inconsistent and not available with every chapter. And lastly, a feature where the list of characters will link to the chapters about those characters – but this is also inconsistent.
  • This is called interactive literature. The difference with this is it is much easier to get distracted, it interrupts flow. Rather than enhancing the experience of a story, some structure of apps has little effect, are confusing, and doesn’t suit form. Useless stuff is often crammed in just because it can be.
  • Focus more on who would use it and how it would be used
  • Joel is also for simultaneous worldwide publication and against DRM, as it is bad for readers.  DRM helped Amazon and publishing moving too slowly on this.

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Kathy Bail, How Digital Technology is Transforming a University Press
Digital technology is changing all aspects of UNSW Press: from the way books are designed and printed to the multiple formats in which they are published. Sales and marketing strategies are shifting too. What business models are emerging in this experimental and transitional era in publishing and media?
Kathy Bail is the chief executive of UNSW Press, a not-for-profit publishing and retail company owned by the University of New South Wales. It is celebrating 50 years in business in 2012. She has extensive experience in publishing and media management as a former editor of the Australian Financial Review Magazine, The Bulletin/Newsweek and Rolling Stone.

  • Efficient POD (Print On Demand) technology has activated a lot of backlist titles
  • Publishers are also needing strategies to engage customers
  • Perception of ebooks should be cheaper in part created by Amazon’s loss leading. Content, design, editing – all cost the same regardless of paper or digital. That ebooks are so much cheaper to create is a misconception
  • Most students prefer paper books – for the moment
  • Government  desire for cost efficiency means they often encourages digital works, but they don’t understand the nuances between different styles of books or different uses for ebooks (sometimes used purely as promotion for the pbook)
  • Fact checking and reviewing still as, or even more, important in academic works

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Elizabeth Weiss, Challenges and Opportunities in Digital Publishing
There are numerous challenges as well as opportunities in the wake of changes wrought to publishing by digital and online technologies. This presentation considers some of the most pressing challenges for publishers in a changed publishing environment.
Elizabeth Weiss is Academic and Digital Publishing Director at Allen & Unwin.

  • Discourse about publishing is very global, seamless – but it’s not
  • Australians read a lot compared to others, but where they buy/learn about books is changing
  • Sales strategy of Bookworld (reused from Angus and Robertson) focused on beating Amazon.
  • Amazon: Bezos was looking for minimal sales tax opportunities, non-perishable product. Long view – limited profit to build market share
  • Apple: using books to enhance desirability. Difficult to use to find books.
  • Google: part of organising the world’s information, and focused on competing with Apple. Using social media, which can pull you off the books into other parts of their company.
  • The big four: Amazon, Apple, Google and kobo
  • Digital has seen Australian publishers able to get books in more markets, but even though a book is available elsewhere, demand is still a problem
  • New in ebooks: can price to market in local currencies to fit local economics
  • File security is a big issue, though sending files to local POD publishers is quicker for customers
  • Estimated Amazon has 60% of the Australian market with no Australian office, local marketing. Google/Apple do limited work in Australia, some have marketers for Australian market but set up in the UK
  • Lots of pressure on indie bookstores, although they have 1/3rd market – that is quite healthy.
  • Ebooks not covering the hole of RedGroups former market share

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Panel Discussion

  • Joel: Literary apps are hugely expensive to create and rarely go well
  • Trade and conditions at the moment are difficult: high Australian dollar, still reeling from the collapse of RedGroup
  • Controversy over the devaluing of the book, example: Sony started a new ebook store and was discounting bestsellers to 20 pence, and Amazon price matched.
  • Genre sells best in ebooks – romance and thrillers, especially
  • There is no monitoring of in-app social media things. (E.g. Kobo, being able to read other people’s comments in text while reading)
  • Cultural experiment of including social media in ebooks has generated lots of excitement, but no evidence people want it except in certain contexts.
  • ReadCloud is working on including social media in ebooks for teaching: being able to share student’s comments on the same text with the whole class.
  • The market’s response will dictate app functions. If people complain about a feature (particularly if it cannot be turned off), app-makers will remove it or no longer include it.
  • Pressure for low prices also coming from author – without necessarily knowing implications beyond Amazon sales ranking
  • Random Penguin merger = gives them more power but also in-house challenges. Likely to lead to employees being laid off and less books being published
  • There is massive opportunity for author’s that is not all controlled by publishers. Self publishing is usually last resort. As well as lots of opportunity and some benefits for self publishing, it is less likely to found at the bottom of search results. Traditional publishing still has a role to play.
  • Even difference in book covers can affect marketing capabilities –(E.g. an author video where they hold up the US cover rather than the UK/Aust cover but advertising in that market) Unlikely to find US cover in stores here for some books
  • Momentum – Global releases are very good for sales and authors. They work with adjusting prices to find the right one and also work on building author profiles. People don’t want to spend $14 on ebook by a new author.
  • Traditional publishing is getting into good sales position with wide distribution as well, but small companies can come into the market easier.
  • Companies need to bring something more to the book
  • Marketing strategies on ebook sales: no one really has it worked out yet. It’s always changing. Agency pricing (where the publisher sets the selling price) is a strategy, but being disrupted by court cases in the US and UK. Some ebooks used as a promotion to assist sales of paper books

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The Writer in an Online Environment

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Peter Doyle, (Not) Giving Up the Day Job: Writing as Profession, as Pursuit, as Thing You Do
The dream of being a published and financially self-sustaining author has long exerted a powerful pull on would-be writers. But how realistic is it? This paper will look at the practicalities and constraints which have borne on that ambition in the Australian – ie relatively small market – context over the past half century.
Peter Doyle is the author of non-fiction books, City of Shadows and Crooks Like us, as well as the ‘Billy Glasheen’ crime fiction series. In 2010 he received a Ned Kelly Lifetime Achievement Award. He lectures in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies at Macquarie University.

  • Big contracts with huge advances for new authors do not happen now. Even with that big start, the author didn’t necessarily follow up with good books
  • Almost no one in Australia is making a living from writing unaided (without day job, spouse working). There never were many earlier on, anyway
  • Big change for Doyle: email. Being able to talk to his publisher in US without the tyranny of distance.
  • Doyle is published overseas by a small ‘kitchen counter’ publisher. He says it’d be impossible to get published in Australia, where the expectations are 1000s, but some books only sell double digits.

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Chris Allen, Old Dog, New Techs: Learning New Research Technologies and Social Media Engagement in the Digital Publishing Revolution
As a former paratrooper, I embraced the latest digital technologies in researching and writing my Intrepid adventure series, first to self-publish and now signed with Pan Macmillan’s digital imprint, Momentum Books. I examine new opportunities discovered through navigating the digital publishing revolution such as crowdsourcing reader feedback during the writing process, while also using it to address challenges such as performing detailed character and location research from my writing desk in Pymble.
Serving in three Commonwealth armies across two decades and four continents, one of the paratrooping elite, Chris Allen saw the world from under a billowing parachute, often by night, before transitioning into humanitarian aid work during the East Timor emergency.  He also served with three major law enforcement agencies in Australia, protecting Sydney’s most iconic landmark in the wake of 9-11 and was most recently Sheriff of New South Wales, one of the oldest law enforcement appointments in the land. Now writing full-time, his first action thriller, Defender, will be released by Momentum in eBook and print formats on 1 November with his second, Hunter, following hot on its heels on 1 December. www.intrepidallen.com

  • Not all writers need tertiary education in writing – Allen worked in army, police
  • Everyone has their own writing experience
  • Writing takes time – took him 10 years on the first book, with a lot of what he wrote being dumped. Part of taking a long time for him was learning the craft
  • Started with Amazon CreateSpace and sold over 2000 copies
  • Allen is very happy with Momentum. They got where he was coming from. With Joel, it’s now better edited and the writing is tightened
  • Took 3 months to write sequel – the editing process helped him learn a lot
  • For him, it was about writing what you know
  • Used social media to engage with people for various reasons – got feedback on writing and cover
  • The huge response on social media demonstrated that people liked it and it was commercially viable already – that helped with getting published by Momentum
  • Was an issue with the title – was Defender of the Faith (not for religious connotations, but that is how it is seen by wider pyblic) now is just Defender
  • For sequel, Allen put it out to social media to help him choose a name for a character. Some cannot be repeated … but it did help and he did use a contributor’s suggestion.
  • Now the writer can engage with the reader personally. Responding back is important – readers get so excited by and it helps to build loyalty. He even created some ringtones and hundreds have downloaded them
  • Research – so important! E.g. Tara Moss asked for experts for her book on social media. For sequel, he’s found Google Earth to be hugely useful for details. There are infinite possibilities for researching, engaging online.
  • From the start of a self published book through Amazon and working hard on social media, he has reached internationally.

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Matthew Asprey Gear and Theodore Ell, The Contrappasso Experiment
Recent advances in print-on-demand and ebook technology offer alternative publishing possibilities on the margins. The editors of Contrappasso, a new independent journal of international writing, discuss the sudden viability of experimental publishing projects.
Matthew Asprey Gear is a writer and lecturer in Writing & Aesthetics at Macquarie University. He was awarded a PhD in Media Studies in 2011.
Theodore Ell is a Sydney poet who took his doctorate in modern Florentine Poetry at the University of Sydney in 2010. He is currently undertaking a Masters degree in editing and publishing.

Matthew:

  • International magazine of writing
  • The way it’s created, there’s no risk. POD and ebook. No grant, no funding behind it.
  • New viability for marginal publishing products –  which is where experiments are happening
  • Essays, poems, fiction – but also long form interviews e.g. 65 page!!
  • POD makes a lot of things much more viable
  • No POD in Australia is as good quality and affordable as Amazon

Theodore:

  • Discuss, understand, advocate – important for choosing and publishing poems
  • Opportunities for exposure very limited, many journals closed. Not due to lack of material.
  • Even if poet makes it, there are labels. Poetry wars!
  • Poetry should be seen as poetry, not that it should say something, or be gossipy. Poetry is seen as there is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ poetry – there really isn’t
  • Instead of fighting for space, more space should be made
  • Some people call it a poetry renaissance, but it actually never went away.
  • Role of poetry editor: understand, appreciate, politely suggest, advocate. Yes/no too restrictive.

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Panel Discussion

  • Theodore: doesn’t want a headline act. All poetry published as equal in Contrappasso
  • On writing action sequences: Chris Allen replies that he is a very visual person, not just danger action, but any scene. Just writes how he sees it in his head. He tries to visualise action like in a film, what he would want to see on the big screen, and pushing the character forward. Audience member: was brought up yesterday that novel writers are getting more screenplay type writing skills
  • Audience member asking about how to encourage people other than poets to read poetry. Matthew and Theodore: Online, blogs, also wide range of writing forms and genres in the journal, they hope people will flick to poetry,

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The Future of the Book

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Sherman Young, Me myself I – Revaluing Self-publishing in the Electronic Age
In the book trade, self-publishing has traditionally been dismissed as little more than an exercise in vanity. But the possibilities of ebooks have thrown up examples that force us to rethink their role and reputation.
Sherman Young is an Associate Professor in the Department of Media Music Communications and Cultural Studies with a research interest in the impact of new media technologies. He is author of The Book is Dead, Long Live the Book (UNSW) and co-author of Media Convergence – networked digital media in everyday life (Palgrave).

  • Demonisation of self as vanity publishing, not ‘real’ publishing. In academia, self publishing is considered in even worse light
  • But publishing – successful publishing and self publishing has to be revalued
  • Ideas about self-publishing: only weak writers don’t get published. It’s a short cut.
  • Self publishers are cut out from literary culture: no awards or mainstream reviews.
  • Rise of self publishing opportunities: easy, affordable, accessible now with lulu, CreateSpace, also ebook devices.
  • The tools are so easily available now that weren’t around before
  • Video (ad for Amazon direct publishing): only two important ppl in books, writer and reader. Young: even cutting through the marketing crap, people can sell a lot of books by self publishing
  • Over last few years, about 3 fold rise in self published books (bowker)
  • 45% self pubs fiction, most are ebooks
  • One thing self publishers can do is try out price points and have control over it
  • Having a publisher is the lazy way! Self publishing, you do it all (Adam Croft)
  • Self publishing is democratisation of publishing
  • Why do people self pub? Rejection, speed to market, control, money, attract attention of publishers
  • Although usually smaller price, author can get same money on self published book priced at $3 to trad pub RRP at $13
  • There are stories the other way: traditionally published turning to self publishing – e.g. thriller writing, Barry Eisler
  • There is a link to music: e.g. Gotye was self published. There’s not the same negative portrayal of music self publishing as in the book industry.
  • New technology that replaces old is usually worse, but convenience and lower cost means a lot to consumer.
  • What do publishers do? Quality assurance? Reputation? The only thing publishers have over self pub is credentialling – and that’s changing too

~

Kate Eltham, When the Web is the World: Books in the Post-digital Age
The boundary between our physical lives and our digital lives is becoming transparent and permeable and will soon disappear altogether. In a networked reality, books and stories can no longer be bounded by containers, either print or digital. The future of publishing lies in creating and curating the relationships between nodes on the network: people, stories, data, metadata.
Kate Eltham is the Festival Director and CEO of Brisbane Writers Festival. From 2006-2012 she was CEO of Queensland Writers Centre, where she founded if:book Australia, a think-and-do tank exploring book futures.

  • Ebooks and apps are the present, not the future. We need to think further ahead and step into post digital
  • Boundary between physical and digital lives – the narrowing of this is post-digital. We are hyper connected, always have access with us.
  • Our concept of books and publishing is defined as a bound thing. The post-digital world has no edges – no boundaries around books, or even memory
  • At the moment, the internet is still in the device, but in 5-10yrs, it could be bio-implants and wearable computing that is of us.
  • Physical location has no constraint on us. Geo restrictions won’t mean anything
  • Publisher will have to change. Our concept of everything – authorship and even stock etc will have to change
  • Good publishing in the future needs to be container neutral and containerless

~

John Potts, Book Doomsday: The March of Progress and the Fate of the Book
The claims that the printed book will soon become obsolete, replaced by e-books and online publishing, proceed from a belief in technological progress. According to this doctrine, the old media form must inevitably be usurped by its more advanced, more convenient, more modern technological successor. This presentation considers the march of progress in the publishing context, evaluating the prospects for the e-book as well as the printed book.
John Potts is Professor of Media at Macquarie University. He has published six books including A History of Charisma (Palgrave) and, most recently, The Unacceptable (co-edited with John Scannell, Palgrave). He has published widely on media, technology, art history and intellectual history, and is a founding editor of Scan Online Journal of Media Arts Culture.

  • If newspaper hasn’t long to live for, neither do books
  • Digital music is a preview of how books will transform
  • Books will exist on the cloud.
  • Tipping point from p to ebooks already passed (for Amazon)
  • Old technology becomes the content for new technology
  • This generation and the next will embrace immateriality of text, by the logic of progress
  • But faith in industrial progress is expired
  • Progress is in reverse – we fear the future. Recycling is a way to fix previous generations errors and ebooks save trees, we are told!
  • The logic of progress is not really progress, where the old is completely overtaken by new, but radio still exists? Vinyl still exists, even as new releases. It defies progress.
  • More convenient seen as progress, but we haven’t abandoned books. If we take books from cloud, we all have the same library.
  • We become identical in the cloud. A book carries pieces of its owner. Books are a multi sensory experience. This evaporates in the cloud.
  • The binding of books has existed since 1st century, a progress from papyrus
  • The generation who has rejected newspaper has not rejected the book, unlike the logic of progress. The books future is not all used up

~

Panel Discussion

  • Kate Eltham: Copyright is a big old mess and not reliable to sustain a business model
  • Young on copyright: that which was once scarce is no longer scarce
  • Eltham on post-digital living: You can see examples of people fall into another reality now, World of Warcraft and MMOs  – we might be able to frame our reality
  • Young on post-digital living: We’ve survived before (the ‘devilry of the waltz’ and close dancing). We configure and adapt things appropriately, it could be the next stage of evolution.

Independent Publisher’s Conference

Recently the Independent Pubilsher’s Conference was in Melbourne with a range of speakers and industry professionals sharing their knowledge. This post is a collection of tweets from that conference.

(Format: The names of those who tweeted the comment are at the end of the comment. The first names are those who said it or tweeted it originally.)

 

Publishing Culture

  • Terri ann-White says she doesn’t see the quality publishing programs like on the east coast and are instead add-on classes. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • @terriannwhite: there are no serious tertiary publishing courses in Western Australia #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • Peter Donoughue wants the Copyright Agency Limited to fund statistical collection on the book industry. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • Zoe Rodriguez says the Australian Bureau of Statistics should reintroduce collection of statistics of the publishing industry. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • And Zoe from CAL responds: we are getting more and more requests for funding from the publishing and visual arts industries #indpubconf@BplusPNews
  • John Weldon: “text doesn’t stop at end of page” is quote from William Gibson in reply to qu on how tech has changed writing #indpubconf ‏@alexadsett
  • Kevin Brophy: there is a real problem in Aus that there is no long term vision for the arts. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • In digital world- gatekeepers dictating opinions from on high are no longer relevant. Culture now comes from below as well. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • ‘literary culture is being de-professionalized and handed over to enthusiasts and amateurs’: Davis #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • Publishing is in process of being deconstructed & handed over to amateurs. Apart from loss of income, this is not nec bad thing #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Davis: need to examine decline of literary Uni culture. Literary courses not producing readers, but writing courses are prolific #indpubconf @alexadsett

Publishing industry

  • Susan Hawthorn says retain relationship with overseas publishers even if they don’t publish your own book immediately. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • Peter Donoughue says with APAs large investment, TitlePage needs to have renegotiation to have the Small Press Network on board. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • @EmmettStinson: @SPUNC will collaborate w anyone & everyone who will help develop a better outcome for SPN members #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Alison Green from @PanteraPress says that Pantera has moved to an author-share model of publishing, instead of royalties #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • Nash: small publishers are entrepreneurs, they take more risks than booksellers #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • ‘independence’ in lit mags now extends to rejection of govt arts grants #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • @Tim_Coronel despite 20 years of debate- parallel importation is dead. No argument by publishers cld withhold now #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • battle to retain parallel importation laws seen by the public as ‘special pleading by an elite’: Davis #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • Global english language rights will become the rule which means less for authors acc. to @Tim_Coronel #indpubconf ‏@Hack_packer
  • Emily Stewart: Publishing is only as sustainable as the environment in which it operates. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Susan Hawthorne says publishers should expect a reasonable 4.5% return on investment, not unsustainable higher profits #indpubconf ‏@alexadsett
  • Aust publishing has ‘oversold and undercooked’ for years, too many bad books: Davis #indpubconf @Tim_Coronel
  • UK advances cut by up to 80%. $10k is the new $50k: Mark Davis #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Publishers have lost their monopoly over distribution, and this loss has done more to destabilize industry than ebooks & Amazon. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • MT @BplusPNews: .@PeterHaasz Book Industry Collaborative Council is looking into incorporating ebooks into the ELR/PLR schemes #indpubconf @BookThingo
  • .@PeterHaasz on metadata: quality over quantity. Spelling an author’s name wrong is unforgivable #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • Sophy says POD has been positive for @BlackIncBooks. She says it is great for publishers without international distribution #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • POD means there is no longer a need for those ‘elephants’ graveyard’ warehouses full of unsold printed books, says Nerida #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • Sophy and Nerida both say that not all formats are suitable for POD, you need to be realistic #indpubconf @BplusPNews

Ebooks

  • Ebooks make up 10% of Australian book sales. #indpubconf @ffgeorgie
  • In Aus ebooks make up about 10% of publisher revenues – in the US it’s more like 25%. Will it grow or stabilise? – @Tim_Coronel #indpubconf @EmergingWriters
  • Cattanach: ebks appeal to reluctant readers and energise print bk fans to keep buying print. Double win. #indiepubconf @BplusPNews
  • @GoodThinking99 digital and print not ‘either/or’ #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • ‘ebooks are the greatest thing that ever happened to children’s books’ Cattenach #indiepubconf @Tim_Coronel
  • CS: copyright is not something we can control through DRM, but by cultural shift. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • . @PeterHaasz: browser-based ereading allows instant sharing of free book chapters. Great for social media #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • . @zoedattner: reviews have a big impact on ebook sales. It’s important to make ebooks available at the same time as pbooks #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • .@malcolmneil says the peak time for ebook sales is after 8pm. Kobo also sees a spike at around 10am – morning tea time #indpubconf ‏@BplusPNews
  • .@zoedattner: ebook providers all request different formats for metadata. It is complex but it will get better #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • .@PeterHaasz fixed layout ebooks run into problems because of the wide variety of devices that readers use #indpubconf @BplusPNews‏

Bookselling

  • @thebooksdesk recommends publishers talk to booksellers about what works, those conversations are important #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • @thebooksdesk: think of the bookseller as the first consumer of your book. They’re reaction is very important #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • @Tim_Coronel When Red Group fell, 20% of the bookselling business fell with it. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Jon Page begins the session by saying a bookshop is not a library. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • Jon Page says don’t stock all books spine out, put some books face out, because covers do sell books. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz @BplusPNews
  • ‘readers are doing their own parallel importation’ @Tim_Coronel reckons it will disappear in next govt. #indpubconf @wheelercentre ‏@Hack_packer
  • Some different views on what equals bestseller status: Alison says around 10,000 copies, @terriannwhite says more like 5000 #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • @Tim_Coronel 2/3 of Aus physical bookshops are indie owned or run, but no stats on ebooks or overseas sales #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Assertion: Aus book culture is healthy & diverse. Lots of lit activity but no sign that # of readers is growing – @Tim_Coronel #indpubconf @EmergingWriters
  • @Tim_Coronel More bookshops likely to close. To survive, no longer just able to open doors, stock shelves & hope for customers #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • @Tim_Coronel POSITIVES- the surviving industry will be more Australian in content + more room for indies & passion over profit #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Avoid Kindles if you want to support your local bookshop, says Jon Page. Retailers can sell you ebooks to other devices, not Amazon’s Kindle @sleepingdingo
  • lack of retail shelf space, consumer reluctance and declining review coverage in papers all affecting sales of books #indpubconf @Tim_Coronel

Pricing

  • @wilkinsfarago if we priced our books in Aust the same as US, we’d lose $$ on every single one #indpubconf @Tim_Coronel
  • @kirstinbooks @text_publishing YA book prices usually bw $16.99 and $19.99 #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • >$20 = a crossover novel; YA needs to be under $20 #indpubconf @Tim_Coronel
  • @BookThingo @ccorbettauthor @peterdonoughue suggested at #indpubconf that OS bks should be no more than 20% over US/UK price … but that Aust-authored books could still be more expensive to reflect higher local costs/smaller market @Tim_Coronel
  • @Tim_Coronel Global near-parity book pricing will be essential, even if it seems commercially suicidal to do so #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • Price parity: exciting for readers. Finally we won’t have the world’s most $$ books. But what cost to local writers, pubs? #indpubconf @lisadempster
  • PnPBookseller: book prices have fallen by about 7% in Australia in the past 18 months #indpubconf
  • eBooks over &14.99 exist in the “desert of publisher expectation” #indpubconf @PnPBookseller
  • RT @alexadsett: Consensus is that Aus ebooks sell best around the $8 price point. #indpubconf @BookThingo
  • .@malcolmneil: don’t drastically discount your new releases; you’re just taking money out of your own pockets #indpubconf @BplusPNews

Publishing and Consumers – Marketing and Selling

  • @EmmettStinson publishers should find & communicate w their constituents but not try to sell books directly #indpubconf @Tim_Coronel
  • Excellent! RT @SPUNC Penguin getting more requests from teachers for bundling print & ebooks. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • book publishing needs a new social model, not just a new business model: Davis #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • Publishing doesn’t need new business model, but a new social model. It has always been about connectivity with readers #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • social media not a replacement for mainstream media coverage #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • @wilkinsfarago social media generates a lot of noise but not necessarily sales #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • Cattanach: a lot of social media is blocked in schools making it hard to reach teachers this way #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • @wilkinsfarago analogue marketing eg mailing out order forms to schools has generated most sales #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • If you want to sell children’s books, you have to produce teachers’ notes, say @wilkinsfarago and Tye #indpubconf @JuniorBplusP
  • Jon Page says customers want their books fast, booksellers must get customers reading as fast as possible. #indpubconf @AndyRoflz
  • participation in written culture, both online and in print, becomes ‘an everyday practice for everyday people’ @GoodThinking99 #indpubconf ‏@Tim_Coronel
  • @Tim_Coronel after A&U/Murdoch & Penguin/Random mergers, more are in the way. Perhaps, gloomily, even our big indie pubs. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • @Tim_Coronel book events are thriving. Book industry ppl are attending to connect directly with engaged. & passionate public #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • @Tim_Coronel believes Aussies read as much as ever, but their book buying habits have changed. #indpubconf @alexadsett
  • .@waouwwaouw says building an online identity can be a ‘slow-burner’; it can take time for some followers to buy your product #indpubconf @BplusPNews
  • RT @Liticisms The consensus for promoting your publication online is quality & frequent content, & promo through social media #indpubconf @EmergingWriters
  • .@Louise_Swinn: there are lots of online outlets for reviews, but it’s important that these publications are sustainable #indpubconf @BplusPNews

Around the Interwebz: Literary Horror and the Price of Books

Oh you just know how I’ll react to this. Another literary bash-up of a genre much deeper than the critiquers seem to read into it (if at all, I grump). Every genre and style has it’s fair share of flunks. But don’t knock off my genre. Not even a mention of Colson Whitehead? (Shout out to @pnpbookseller, off whom I won a copy :D. Support the indies and shop local!)

It seems to be widely acknowledged in horror academia (from the books I’ve read anyway) that horror is a reflection of society, wrapped in demons and monsters to make the everyday horror just a little bit more distant so we don’t lose our minds from the freakishness that is humans and human society. It’s more than just primal fear, more than ‘we just want to be scared’. Horror is philosophical and psychological, it goes deeper than people are prepared to face.

People – why you no read the genre you are commenting on?

Big surprise: books cost a lot in Australia. There are a variety of reasons for this, not all understood or accepted. If we bought books from overseas, it would be cheaper, but we would likely lose Australian writers (while parallel important in NZ hasn’t killed the industry entirely, there are reports that there are less NZ writers – particularly children’s books). So I thought I’d pick on one of the reasons and explain it.

Parallel importation restrictions were introduced in 1991 for books (Productivity Commission Report, pg 57). The main aspect of parallel importation restrictions is the 30/90 day rule which allows for Australian publishers to have 30 days in which to produce and publish a book that is published overseas, and that they must be able to resupply it within 90 days, or else booksellers can purchase books from overseas publishing houses (a 14/14 day voluntary rule has been introduced since). This is also known as territorial copyright. The parallel importation restrictions of DVD’s and music have already been removed in Australia.

This is different from ebooks!

Geo-restrictions for ebooks are not set by government, but by publishers (with the author’s contract!). They (and the author’s! People sometimes forget this, so I’ll repeat it) determine the regions in which an e-book is available. Not every book is available in every region. The US, UK, and Australia and New Zealand are three separate regions. The publisher who publishes any book in Australia and New Zealand could also have the right to turn it into an e-book, available only by Australian or New Zealand consumers. An online retailer, like Amazon (with their e-reader, the Kindle), must have permission to allow their UK customers only the ebooks that the UK publishers allow them to sell, and so on for other regions.

For the rest of the cost, there is 10% GST tax on books, we have a higher minimum wage than most places, we have high rents …