While I was offline… and OMG look at all the Conflux book launches!

  • Sean the Bookonaut has been blogging up a storm. Viz, an examination of Grimdark — a category of genre coding I hadn’t even heard of.
  • Angela Slatter is having a book, Narrow Daylight, published by my digital publisher Xoum — yay for being stablemates (and stable mates, though are we, as individuals, stable? argh!)
  • Lisa L Hannett has had a new essay published at This Is Horror, calling for a consideration of less used/abused things that go bump in the night, which in turn leads to an essay from James Bradley about the ever-evolving vampire metaphor.
  • Random House is taken to task for onerous conditions in its digital imprint Hydra, and makes amends, as reported by Locus.
  • A Brissie launch on April 9 for Charlotte Nash’s debut novel Ryders Ridge.
  • Dymocks ends its publishing effort, D Publishing, perhaps on the nose from the get-go due to a roundly criticised contract base.
  • Margo Lanagan makes the long list of the Stella Prize with Sea Hearts.
  • And I’ve sifted the program for Conflux next month to find the book launches — hold onto your hats!

    I’m not sure if it counts as a launch, but Angry Robot (whose supremo Marc Gascoigne is a guest of honour at the con) is having ‘an hour’ from 1.30pm on the Sunday. Angry Robot is chockers with Aussie writers (Kaaron Warren, Jo Anderton, Trent Jamieson, Lee Battersby …) so it’ll be bookish, whatever it is.

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  • Dymocks still fumbling the D Publishing ball, and other writerly news

    It has been a case of third time unlucky for Dymocks, which has presented three versions of its author contract for those wanting to publishing under its imprint — and been criticised each time for imposing unpalatable terms on the author. Crikey’s Lit-icism blog provides a nice overview of the continuing reservations about the service. Perhaps check for version four and, as with any contract, check the fine print, decide if the service is worth the price, be aware of what it might mean down the track…

    Also on the nose, but in a rather more fetching manner, is Kim Wilkins, polishing off another manuscript in her ‘fetid nightie‘.

    And now for the fresh air:

    Last week, I had the pleasure — I guess that should be the joy, really — of umming and ahing my way through a wonderful episode of Scifi and Squeam with Joy94.9 host Sonja and fellow guest Rob Radcliffe. We gushed over Gothic movies and paid special mention to the late Ken Russsell, in particular his Gothic and Lair of the White Worm.

    Also: Jay Kristoff reports there was a kerfuffle over at Goodreads, once again delivering the message about being ever so careful when replying to or commenting on unfavourable reviews; Louise Cusack shares the sharp covers of the new e-versions of her fantasy trilogy; and Sean the Bookonaut speaks up for the Stellas in an argument I’m still catching up with…

    Writerly round-up: D Publishing still doesn’t quite get it, and the quest for quality and equality

    [Update, 18 December: Steve Rossiter reports (in the comments section here) a third version of the D Pub contract is promised [Dec 24: Rossiter still finds holes in the new Dymocks’ contract, calling it a wasted opportunity]. Meanwhile, Writers Beware has posted this succinct summary of some of the concerns sparked by the original contract, which presumably will be addressed in the amended agreement for those wanting to use Dymocks’ distribution.]

    [Dec 24: Crikey has interviewed Rossiter, and also provided a handy synopsis of the D Pub issue including links to the various criticisms levelled at the original contract.]

    Dymocks’ D Publishing has been doing the PR rounds trying to hose down the criticism of their contracts — the ones you have to dig through their help menu to find — for those who want to use the service to not only print their work, but have it distributed. Those two arms of service do seem to have blurred in commentary, perhaps because D Publishing isn’t staking out that division strongly enough. It’s something they’re trying to address with PR, rather than website design or clarity. Still, early days…

    Steve Rossiter, who issued a warning about the terms and conditions when first announced, and wasn’t wholly convinced by the second pass, has since had a chat with D Pub and seems somewhat mollified.

    And over at Bookseller + Publisher, Dymocks has played serve and volley with contracts expert Alex Adsett, and has done a fairly good job of avoiding the actual issues she raises about Dymocks’ rights policy while playing the line that Dymocks is there to serve the author. In which case, they’d put their terms and conditions up front and centre for those considering publishing with them (as opposed to merely printing), and remove the ambiguity that Adsett has identified. But, you know, as I said, early days…

    As always, it’s a case of ‘let the buyer beware’: shop around for the service that offers the quality, product and cost-effectiveness that best suits your needs, and mind the small print. One thing you can’t argue about: being publisher, distributor and sales outlet is a great example of vertical integration.

  • Meanwhile, Zena Shapter has been searching for what makes a good anthology or collection. I’m judging the Aurealis Awards in that very category this year, my second year in a row (which means I really should be doing some reading right now!), so I was included in her survey of editors and judges to see what they looked for from within three criteria — quality writing was pretty much the unanimous pic. The message here: love that talented editor and don’t let them go!
  • Kevin Powe — I’m catching up a bit here — recently blogged about sexism in the tech industry (he was also catching up, on Ada Lovelace Day) and, in the wake of the announcement of the Australian Women Writers 2012 Challenge, it’s worth a read. Also, neat to see him namecheck one of the editors who’s published my non-newspaper work.
  • Dymocks joins the POD bandwagon

    I saw this headline on a blog post tonight: Dymocks announces game-changing publishing operation set to benefit most writers.

    Wow, I thought, can this mean that Dymocks has finally dropped its opposition to parallel import restrictions? Can I rejoin the ranks of Dymocks’ Booklovers?

    No, and no. (Yes, those two things are related.)

    The gushing headline in fact refers to the recent announcement that Dymocks is launching a printing service for print and e-books, called D Publishing. It’s due to start operation in October, which is probably when we’ll get a look at their cost scale.

    Reading between the lines, it sounds like most every other print-on-demand printer in the market. You pay them money, they print your book (in paper and/or pixels). The more you pay, the more they do for you. I can only assume it’s being hailed as ‘game-changing’ because Dymocks already has its chain of stores dangling the carrot of possibly stocking books printed using their imprint. More on that later.

    I’m not quite sure how another POD provider in the market is going to ‘benefit most writers’. It will certainly benefit the oodles of frustrated writers who are pursuing self-publishing, by giving them another choice of printer — note that, for example, Lightning Source has now opened an Australian office, offering easy access to UK and US markets. So maybe there’ll be some cost competition for the likes of Sid Harta and Zeus to consider.

    Dymocks is also talking about opening up its Booklovers community as a kind of communal feedback service on works in progress: that’s a cool element for sparking ongoing discussion about the WIP. I’d advocate thick skin, as with any critique group, and a solid sense of self-belief before flinging the baby into what could be either a piranha pool or a flock of sheep, or simply a big puddle of meh.

    Printing is probably the easiest part of publishing these days, whether on an order-by-order basis or a whole swag of copies for you to hock from your car boot.And we’re seeing a stack of niche small presses opening up, operating of a variety of models: advances, royalty share, sheer old-style vanity.

    Dymocks is, like many existing printing firms, layering its services with editing and design services — presumably there’ll be a sliding scale there, too, and if it results in less hideous computer-generated, unreadable and plain ugly self-produced book covers, hooray. A text relatively free of typos and literals would be pleasant, too (this includes you, lazy and tight-fisted major publishers).

    And for the self-publishing author, there’s the big hurdle — distribution — which is where Dymocks, with 17 per cent of the market, does carry a big carrot.

    Dymocks is talking about, undoubtedly for a price, offering the option of using their imprint and accessing their sales channels. This is particularly good news for those who want paper copies, especially with Aussie distributors doing it tough.

    There’s been something of a massive exhalation of relief thanks to e-publishing meaning no requirement to trudge satchels of books from book store to book store with a pleading expression and the incomprehension engendered by that bookselling chestnut, right of return. But e-publishing is only one segment, and it’s a growth industry: the interwebs are filled with e-chaff. Having product readily available is one thing; having people know that it’s available is another entirely. Convincing them to buy it, well, that’s the key, isn’t it.

    Book buyers haven’t quite discarded their love of bricks and mortar shops just yet. And e-books still don’t have the cache of the printed product, especially when they’re marked at .99c.

    Other advantages of going with an Australian-based company, rather than, say, lulu.com or Smashwords, are paperwork and postage. My understanding is that you can avoid a whole lot of, for example, American tax documentation by going local, and anything that makes it easier to set up the business and then run it must be a good thing. And having the books printed in Australia means domestic customers save cash and time on postage. Access to overseas outlets means saving for customers in those markets, too (cf the Lightning Source comment).

    It’s an interesting move from Dymocks, now enjoying a Borders-less market, and a wise move to shore up that vertical integration thing they talk about in economics classes. The company has seen an opening that it’s well placed to exploit. The stats definitely show there are plenty of punters out there willing to throw their money at the great lottery of self-publishing.

    It will be interesting to see how Dymocks structure their operation: will there be separate imprints reflecting the level of money spent, for instance — Dymocks Deluxe: guaranteed copy edited/proofread/structually sound?

    The thing that struck me, back in the great PIR battle of 2009, was that Dymocks and their economic rationalist allies didn’t really care about books at all. They cared about product and price. Where that product came from didn’t matter a jot, as long as it could be obtained cheaply. There was a profound disrespect for Australian content and ignorance of the role of self-generated literature in a given society.

    So the cynic in me takes claims of some kind of altruism towards Australian authors on Dymocks’ behalf with a grain of salt.

    I hasten to add, however, that on an individual store basis, that does not necessarily hold true. I know of stores in Melbourne and Brisbane where the local managers have been extremely supportive of writers within their community.

    The beauty of being the printer, regardless of the extra services offered, is that you take no risk. It is very much a service “driven by the author”, as Dymocks CEO Don Grover says. That means the author ponies up the money; the printer doesn’t have to filter a slush pile, pay for editing and design, whatever marketing they can find the spare change for. There’s no advance to pay, such as they are these days.

    So, well played, Dymocks, and welcome to the new publishing landscape, where even the word “publisher” is up for grabs in these so-very interesting days.