IAN IRVINE, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment, has also written 30 novels. These include the bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of eco-thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, and 12 novels for younger readers. Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Justice, Book 3 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He is currently writing the long-awaited sequel to The View from the Mirror. Find out more at www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.
1. You’ve been self-publishing some of your back catalogue. What have been the challenges and rewards of that?
It’s relatively easy to publish an e-book, but it takes a fair bit of work to make it look good on the full range of reading devices – various kinds of computers, Kindles, iPads, other tablets, other e-readers, and smart phones. To self-publish successfully requires a considerable investment in time to learn how the system works, including book formatting, graphics, cover design, tax issues, uploading issues, marketing and promotion. I’d put it at a couple of hundred hours, all up.
For instance, I took the final Microsoft Word files for my backlist, stripped the formatting out in a text editor then reformatted each book from scratch. This took several hours for each book (and I did 15 books). You don’t have to do this, but it’s strongly recommended, otherwise hidden formatting codes in your book may cause it to look terrible on some e-readers.
Some of the rewards:
• I’ve made available a number of my children’s books that were hard to find in some markets, or out of print.
• I’ve enjoyed the process and learned a lot.
• I’ve had the opportunity to correct and update some of my books.
• I can give away e-books whenever I want for promotional purposes or in competitions.
• I can price my books in any way I want, and change the price at need to encourage sales.
• Even though I’ve done virtually no promotion of my e-books so far, I’m earning five times as much from them as when they were published by my previous publisher.
2. What have been the challenges in going back to write a sequel (indeed, a new trilogy) to The View From the Mirror quartet, some 15 years later?
The View from the Mirror quartet, which I began in 1987 and was first published in 1998-1999, is my biggest selling series and begins my 11-volume Three Worlds epic fantasy sequence. The quartet is a greatly loved work – at conventions people constantly come up to me with battered old copies they’ve read many times, and tell me how they grew up reading the sequence.
I wrote the quartet in an elevated, high fantasy style, but with each succeeding series my style has changed, especially when writing kids’ books, or thrillers. These days I write in a much simpler style, so should I go back to my old style, or not? I’m not sure I can write in that style any more, or want to.
The greatest challenge, though, is that very few sequels are as good as the original. I’m putting everything into this one, trying to make it as good as The View from the Mirror, if not better. But even if it is better, it may not seem so to people who were profoundly influenced by the original when they were young.
3. You get to travel to some interesting places as part of your marine science work – most recently the seemingly unlikely marine destination of Mongolia. How has that travel informed your work?
My scientific work is mainly in the marine environment (I’m an expert on contaminated sediments) but I’ve also done a lot of work on contaminated industrial sites, and on river sediments. The Mongolia job has to do with river sediments.
Over the past 30-odd years I’ve worked in more than a dozen countries, and it’s fantastic for recharging the batteries, and for the exposure to new landscapes, cultures, histories, political systems, and ordinary and extraordinary people. I rarely use any of this directly in a book, but it all goes into the melting pot and helps when I’m creating new characters, settings and conflicts.
At the moment I’m reading a book on Mongolian shamanism, which is still important there. It may well influence a character I create sometime in the future.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I haven’t read much spec fic lately, to be honest – I find it difficult to read it when I’m writing it. However I picked up a copy of Scott Baker’s The Rule of Knowledge at Supanova in Sydney recently, and boy, if you like furious-paced, bloodthirsty, all-action time-travelling thrillers, this book is for you. It’s like Matthew Reilly on steroids.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
A couple of years back I decided to simplify my life – I’d been writing one huge epic fantasy novel plus one or more kids’ books or other novels every year for a decade, and I was fed up with being totally overcommitted. I’m now focusing on fantasy and I’m just writing one book a year, plus one or two related novellas or shorter stories.
In five years time, I hope I’ll still be writing epic fantasy and publishing it with Orbit Books, my publisher since 1999. I expect I’ll be self-publishing those books whose rights have reverted, and possibly one or two anthologies of novellas or short stories, since big publishers aren’t much interested in them. But the industry is changing very rapidly and I don’t think anyone can predict what publishing will be like in the future.
However one thing is certain – since e-books never go out of print, the number of titles available for sale will keep increasing at a rapid rate, and hence the competition for sales and attention. And the law of supply and demand says that the price of books can only decrease. Challenging times.
Reading? Hopefully, some of the thousand or so books I’ve bought in the past few years that I haven’t managed to read yet.
THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: