Umm, excuse me ABC, don’t mean to be rude, but WE publish Australian sci-fi!

 

An article published recently by the ABC caught the attention of some of us at Odyssey. It’s about sci-fi’s representation by the Australian publishing industry, (you can find it here: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-09/australian-science-fiction-authors-let-down-by-local-publishers/8336308). Sarah L’Estrange writes that sadly Australian sci-fi authors often feel they’re “let down” by local publishes, and find they have to look overseas to get published. It outlines how difficult it can be as a sci-fi author and paints a pretty bleak picture for those trying to get published.

While the article is focused mainly on the big publishers and their refusal to represent authors, it’s tackling the issue of sci-fi publishing in Australia as a whole, and reading it from a small press perspective a little voice in my head kept asking, “what about us? What about all the small publishers?”

My question was briefly answered. L’Estrange writes that authors often “resort to self-publishing – or go to smaller publishers.” It seems a little harsh to suggest that small publishers are a “resort” rather than a choice, but it’s okay, we’ll just assume it wasn’t meant like that. I held back the tears (just).

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But secondly, the mention small press does get is only very brief, the article then moving straight into looking at the young adult market. The actual influence and role of small press in publishing Australian sci-fi is left unknown. It seems silly to simply skirt over all the “smaller publishers” who might well be the very answer to the genre’s publishing issues.

In response I wanted to write about the contribution that small press can and does bring, and from an interns perspective, the role I think Odyssey plays in publishing Australian sci-fi.

Like many small publishers, Odyssey specialises in specific types of literature. Small press fills the niches that larger publishers can ignore, sci-fi, as we’ve seen being one of them. Odyssey looks to publish works that are about adventures, far away places and new ideas. So one such genre that Oydssey tends to specialise in is, you got it, sci-fi. It’s our thang.

And as part of my work as an intern I look through the submissions. My mission, if I chose to accept it (I do), is to discover new, original and exciting stories; to find sci-fi that we can publish. So while large publishers may be hesitant to publish Australian sci-fi, small publishers like Odyssey actively seek it.

Moreover, not only does small press look to publish the genre, it takes a vested and educated interest in it. Because small press is so specialised, the genres it publishes are specialties of the staff, they cater to that genre.

For example, part of the work Odyssey and their author’s engage in is attending and organising stands at relevant events. There’s a surprising amount of events on all the time, throughout the country, that encourage like-minded people to come together and talk about sci-fi. Odyssey has a Facebook group where everyone involved can post about such events. At least a couple times a week a new event is posted and suggested, an event where authors and publishers alike can attend, an event where they can network, engage with fans and promote their work. This engagement with the sci-fi community allows for better publicity and impact. Put simply, it means better sales.

Small press that specialise in their genre bring to authors a knowledge of, and genuine engagement with, that genre. Moreover, small press bring a fierce passion that major publishing houses cannot so easily boast. They may have more twitter followers, but do they even go to Gamma.Con?

Another massive advantage that independent press can offer to sci-fi authors is the ability to be very closely involved with the publication of their work, every step of the way. Well small press offers that to authors of any genre, but arguably with something like sci-fi where the concept, the world, the characters are so unique and original  it is even more important that the creator of the novel can be involved as much as possible to make sure that the final product is how the author envisioned it; that the cover art, the formatting, the language conveys exactly what it was meant to.

Perhaps small press is often overlooked because it exists in a different space to larger publishing firms, having a more small scale approach. But what it brings to author’s wanting to publish their sci-fi novels is a specialty in that genre, a keen interest in their area, skills and understanding of the sci-fi industry, and an inclusive publishing experience. Perhaps when the article mentioned above referred to small press as a last “resort”, what it really meant was a rescue. Small publishers, like the super heroes they are, are rescuing underrepresented Australian sci-fi authors one novel at a time.

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The Bones of the World

It’s both fitting and amusing that Jen’s most recent post was about deadlines, as I am absolutely beyond the deadline in getting this done. Sometimes we’re all terrible at time management, even us chiding editor-types. But I’m here now, and I’m finally blogging about immersive worlds.

There’s nothing better than diving into a new book and finding yourself in a beautifully crafted world. The best stories are so immersive that your hands clench the pages, your head bows and you’re lucky if you remember to draw breath. You can sit like this for hours, consuming (not literally, or maybe literally – it’s your imagination) the flora and fauna of a new planet or wading deep through the storied life of the protagonist’s forebears. Losing one’s self in the hierarchies of different societies and the intricacies of new cultures that span centuries is a great way to use an afternoon, or the hours before your alarm at dawn.

At Book Expo Australia earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Fantasy Worlds panel to listen to Tracy Joyce, Patricia Leslie and R.B. Clague. While the conversation was wide-ranging, all three authors agreed that making things relateable was a fundamental part of good world-building in order for the work to be engaging. This is crucial, regardless of how many different technologies or magical elements a sci-fi or fantasy world may have, the reader still needs to be given a bridge from their everyday to the book. This relativity is then a foundation from which to draw the reader further in to the book.

Another aspect that the authors discussed was that the details in the world need to make sense, or else readers will turn right off. Now, a fantasy world may not necessarily align with our own rules of reason and logic, but where it does diverge, it needs to so in a way can be explained or at the very least excused under artistic license. For Tracy, in the creation of the world of Altaica, research was crucial. She would research cultures and technologies that might share some values or aspects of the cultures that exist in the fantasy world she was building. Most of this research doesn’t go directly into the book, but it allows the author to approach the good stuff that actually makes it into the final cut in an informed way. This gives fantasy fiction an element of truth, so that the reader can say “Yeah, that makes sense” and then want to know more.

In much the same way that authors should have that research as a basis, they also need to give the reader a structure. I’ve always found that my favourite fantasy authors have done this incredibly well, such as David and Leigh Eddings and Sara Douglass. I love the way in which they place their stories into these beautifully designed worlds. I’m a bit mad about this stuff and so I particularly enjoyed The Rivan Codex, which details this process for The Belgariad and The Mallorean series. I’d recommend it to anyone else who loves thinking or reading about how fantasy worlds are made.

One thing I particularly appreciate when I’m reading a new fantasy or sci-fi book is when the author lays out the bones of the world. Not in a boring way of course, where it’s just a list of where things are and why, but as part of the opening of the narrative. It gives me a place to perch and observe the structures that are driving or supporting the story.

Once these structures are eked out, I find that my imagination can be funnelled through them and directed to the important places and colours and people. This is a crucial part of making the world accessible to a reader, and it needs to be accessible or else they won’t ever really visualise it. Once I can imagine it, then I can start in on questioning it. Is it topsy turvy or earth-like and why? Has everything gone pear-shaped for some inexplicable and possibly metaphorical reason? These are things I want to know.

On a related but tangential finishing note, the other thing that I’ve always found to be particularly immersive is character development. Now this is a no-brainer, characters need to be interesting, in order to draw the reader in. Rounded characters that are full of depth, but not fully on display are the goal here. These characters must interest the reader, but the reader doesn’t necessarily have to like these characters. This is standard stuff, but please don’t forget, it as good characters will do more to make a book immersive than anything else. Again, harkening back to Eddings, the character of Silk (also know as Prince Kheldar of Drasnia, Radek of Boktor, Ambar of Kotu etc.) is a wonderful character that is interesting and fun, and importantly is very nearly real. He’s not even the protagonist and yet the reader is able to understand and relate to him, cunning and rat-like and loveable as he is. Frankly, Silk is the best (put that on the record!).

Oh and Happy All Hallow’s Eve!