Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Marketing Australian Science Fiction

I mentioned at the start of my last posting that I feel the essential difference in values between the U.S. and Australia is that Australians tend to embody values in gesture, silence, and subtle contextual cues, whilst Americans tend to express values in actions, words, and appearence.

I cannot talk about the source of this difference authoritatively, but I would like to contemplate it in the context of the writer's platform concept.

In the United States one builds a platform in a very visible way, through individual effort and the support of a hidden team of helpers. In Australia, on the other hand, a platform is often related to success overseas (I'm thinking of world class actors and actresses), notoriety in relation to a contentious issue (such as our talk show hosts on TV and radio), or simply by being authoritatively aligned with an institution: Dr Karl and Robert Manne come to mind in nonfiction.

Many of the fiction writers we consider to be top Aussie writers are in the context of the world publishing market midlisters, who produce one breakout or bestseller work occasionally that flourishes abroad. I simply DO NOT SEE the large scale break outs that the United States. It would be an error to suppose that they do not occur, but the means are different than in the United States.

A friend told me that a guy in Sydney organised a weekend of writer's events for his sub-genre of fiction. The outcome, he said, was a series of bestselling books in that sub-genre for several years, which ceased when the writer's event stopped. So the role of such events is not to be underestimated in such a small marketplace. They literally create readerships.

This week a writer's festival is going on in Adelaide. I am not particularly interested in it since it features only one bestselling writer, detective fiction writer Minette Walters... although one could argue that Vikram Seth is a bestselling writer, I have somewhat arbitrarily presumed he is a midlister. The festival is a great way to create new readers for the writer's that speak there. Also, the cross-fertilisation of ideas and the fact of simply being in such a busy atmosphere is a way of reminding myself that no writer is an island.

But I get bored and tired almost immediately, and I find it dry and uninteresting, and then I starting thinking I would be better off going home and writing five pages of my novel rather than not-listening to these genteel stories of subediting woes and of getting letters from readers informing the writer of an error in the facts in her book. I get bored of myself, sitting there feeling pretentiously dull to be listening to writer's talk about their work. I get bored with my friends and either leave or roam about or speak intellectual shit.

Some of the main science fiction writers and agents in Australia have started groups of their own, for whatever purpose. At present I believe the UK and US both publish excellent SF that sells well in both countries, but Australia? Hardly.

The numbers of Australian science fiction writers known outside of Australia are vanishingly few. Greg Egan in Perth. Jack Dann in Melbourne (although he migrated his less than a decade ago from the States); Damien Broderick may be known internationally for the nonfiction book about Technological Singularity "The Spike"; in Adelaide Sean Williams and Sean McMullen are well-known abroad.

Egan's books remind me a lot of Englishman Adam Robert's: both bold in concept, their concise titles and single-tone cover design reflects the direct style and complex ideas within.

I suppose it is unfair to compare the works of the Seans to Alastair Reynold, but I feel it is accurate: the portrayal of nihilism and moral relativism does not entertain, inform, nor educate me, no matter how brilliant the writing is in all of the writer's work. Unfair but, for me, true. Genuinely vital works, by comparison, are seen in John C. Wright's Golden Age Trilogy, and while they have the same kind of style in many ways, the moral vigor of Wright's work is pretty breathtaking.

In trawling the net on this topic I have discovered another very successful Australian science fiction writer, Russell Blackford. I haven't yet read his books. His platform is clearly his academic excellence and background of many published articles.

Egan's "platform" - really the concept doesn't apply to him - is evidenced in a fine intereview at .

In the interview Egan's says that his agent, Peter Robinson, and editor at Legend, Deborah Bayle, both approached him because of his published stories in Interzone. He says "I used to submit diligently to all the major magazines, but Interzone and Asimov's kept accepting things, and everyone else kept turning them down, so it seemed like a waste of postage to keep it up. I could eat for a year on a sale to Omni, though, so I still try them now and then. And Ellen Datlow writes the nicest rejections in the business."

Egan also gives an excellent bit of advice: "I read Locus, SF Chronicle, Australian Science Fiction Writers' News, Thyme, and the SFWA's Bulletin and Forum. There's valuable stuff buried in all of them."

The second last question of the interview is about marketing: "Isn't it in the best interests of the author," Eidolon's interviewer asks, "to try to promote the work to the public, through interviews, signings, even appearances?

Not to mention life-sized cardboard cut-outs of Madonna. I don't know. Like I've said, I'd do it badly, and I also think the value of it is overrated. I've bought books by my own favourite authors for years without knowing the first thing about them, other than what they've written. It's all down to reviews, past works, and word of mouth. I believe there's a large component of the SF readership who don't even know - let alone care - about all the bullshit that goes on. Of the people I know who read science fiction, the majority have no connection whatsoever to fandom, and they're quite oblivious to whether or not Writer X has had his photo in Locus every month, and juggled armadillos while filk-singing at the latest Worldcon."

Interesting platform there! I appreciate Egan's focus on quality writing, his humility about his skills, his hard work, and the fact that his novel "Diaspora" is really something extraordinary in my opinion.

The paradox of the few other examples I've reviewed of platform building in Australian science fiction is that those few folk who deliberately build an event, magazine, or convention of some kind are not able to write really excellent science fiction. So it seems that the best way to sell science fiction is to write excellent work, plain and simple. I'll go with Egan's view.


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