Monthly Archives: April 2012

Snapshots: Iain Rowan interviewed

What are you working on now?
Right now, a new short story for the Penny Dreadnought series that I’m involved in. PD’s a collaborative project which is proving to be a lot of fun, working with my fellow Abominable Gentlemen, three great writers (James EveringtonAlan Ryker and Aaron Polson), and putting out a collection with a weird fiction story from each of us every month or so. This short story is something that’s been knocking around in my head for a little while, prompted by a description of nineteenth-century polar exploration: the air was so cold that when people spoke the condensation in their breath froze and fell around them in tinkling shards of ice. In my story, someone believes that he can learn the language written in this landscape of frozen words, but finds out that it is maybe something that is better unread.

There also won’t be a week that goes past this year without me adding a short story to my project  52 Songs, 52 Stories. Simple idea really, I pick a song each week, and then write a short story that it inspires in some way.

Also chewing around novel ideas.

Nowhere to Go by Iain RowanWhat have you recently finished?
Proofing the print version of  Nowhere To Go, my crime collection [editor’s note: just as this interview was completed, Nowhere To Go was shortlisted for Spinetingler magazine’s Best Short Story Collection award]. Another piece of weird fiction, ‘The Singing’, which will be appearing in  Supernatural Tales in 2013. This morning I’ve written this week’s story for 52 Songs, this one inspired by the song Grey Ship by EMA.

What’s recently or soon out?
This last week has seen the biggest release to date, for me:  One of Us is my debut crime novel, and I’m thrilled to see it published.

In short story action, apart from the regular slot at 52 Songs, my story ‘The Edge of the Map’ has just been published in Supernatural Tales.

Crime fiction is nothing if it’s not authentic. What kind of research did you have to do in order to write One of Us?
I have a terrible confession to make – I’m not one for lots of research. That’s OK though, because by and large I don’t write the kinds of books that needs lots of research. I hope One of Us feels authentic, but if it does that’s because most of my research is people, and what they do and think and say.

You write in a variety of genres, but crime and suspense is where you’ve probably had most success. Do you have plans for more crime fiction in the near future?
One of Us by Iain RowanFor sure. I write what I enjoy reading, and I write what I enjoy writing. So there will be more crime fiction, and more weird fiction, and if something else takes my fancy then more of that too. I suppose that’s one of the advantages of not being tied in to a contract which says: more of the same please.

Describe your typical writing day.
I wish I could. The trouble is, there is no typical writing day, because it’s a question of fitting it in as and when I can, in whatever free time I get.

What would you draw attention to from your back-list?

You might want to check out Nowhere To Go, my collection of short crime fiction. It includes the short story that I couldn’t let go. Eventually it grew into a novel: One of Us.

Which other authors or books do you think deserve a plug?
My colleagues in the Abominable Gentlemen as mentioned above are all excellent writers, and well worth checking out.

And to plug a book:  Off the Record is an anthology from a great collection of writers (disclaimer: and me), with all profits going to child literacy charities in the UK and US.

If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Talking about writing thinking about writing writing about writing is not writing.

So… the easy one: what’s the future of publishing? How will writers be making a living and publishing in five or ten years?
What will readers be reading?I think there will be a mixed economy. Still publishing houses, though they may be rather different in form, doing different kinds of things. Still writers doing things for themselves. The best of those getting picked up by the publishing houses – sometimes. I read something recently written by Hugh Howey, a self-published writer who has been selling a huge number of copies of his sf stories. He was approached by a traditional publishing company, who offered him a deal that would have seen him have to pull all his books (currently selling about eleventy billion a day) from Amazon, see nothing published by them until January 2013, give up more rights, and get less money. Probably to their surprise, he turned them down. Publishers will have to think creatively about what they offer, and what the relationship and partnership between them and the writer looks like. I’m pretty sure that in many cases, it won’t look just as it does now.

More…

Born in 1967, Iain Rowan began writing in 2002. Since then, he has had over thirty short stories published in a variety of genres. Some of those are collected in  Nowhere To Go (short crime fiction) and  Ice Age (stories of the strange and the chilling).

One of Us One of Us, based on a crime short story of Iain’s, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award, and has just been published in print and ebook  by infinity plus.

In 2012, Iain embarked on a project called  52 Songs, 52 Stories, in which he committed to write a short story every week of the year, each inspired by a song. He is also part of the Abominable Gentlemen, the publishing collective behind the monthly Penny Dreadnought.

For more information on Iain and his writing, please visit www.iainrowan.com

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Seven things I hate about e-publishing

E-publishing is a rapidly growing and changing field* and we’re all learning and adapting. Or, at least, we should be. Here, in no particular order, are a few of my least favourite things.

1. Sloppy conversion and lack of checking. This one really bugs me. As owner of an electronic publishing imprint and a book reviewer – and, hell, as an ordinary reader – I see a lot of ebooks, and it still staggers me how poorly they can be produced. With electronic publishing being such a democratic endeavour, this is hardly a surprise: just because someone has mastered the technology for self-publishing their writing it doesn’t mean they’ve also mastered the basics of formatting, proof-reading, etc. But what really bugs me is how frequently I buy an ebook from a major commercial publisher only to find that it’s full of conversion errors. These include characters that have been converted into gibberish, paragraphs split in the wrong places, screwed up alignment and indents, and more. This kind of thing happens all the time when you convert from, say, a Word file to an ebook format. And if you give the slightest little toss you check for them and fix them. I’ve lost count of how many books from major publishers I’ve seen that still contain far too many of these errors and clearly haven’t even been checked after conversion. Which brings me to…

2. Pricing. Too many big publishers still charge far too much for ebooks, sometimes even more than the paperback edition. This irks even more when the amount of work – and checking – put into ebook production has clearly been kept to an absolute minimum. But while some publishers still try to charge too much, audience expectations that they should be able to buy a complete novel for 99 cents, or even get it for free, are particularly damaging to the livelihoods of writers, and therefore to the future availability of their work. Is it really better to get a free novel that, to be frank, probably isn’t very good, rather than spend $5 on a novel by someone far better? To some people, the answer would be “yes”, which is depressing, to say the least.

3. Poor covers. So many ebooks just look… well, pretty crap, don’t they? Do you really think it’s okay to spend a year writing a novel only to put it out with a cover that looks like it’s been made by a 12 year-old with a copy of Paint and ten minutes to spare? Actually, and I’m in danger of arguing my way out of this one, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing, after all. If someone thinks that crappy cover is a good advertisement for what’s inside, chances are they’re right. Maybe this is one of the filtering mechanisms that are slowly emerging: a good cover only means the self-published author has found a decent cover designer; a bad cover says far more.

4. Poor quality control. So much of it comes back to this. Self-published authors can’t be good at everything, and the successful ones know when to call in help, be it for cover design, production, editing, proofing, or whatever. But have I mentioned how much it bugs me when the big commercial guys get it so badly wrong, too? They’re cheating their authors, and their readers. When a publisher clearly doesn’t give a toss, it’s so much harder to give the book itself the chance it deserves.

5. Alternative revenue models, aka screwing the authors. I’m all for exploring alternatives – anyone familiar with my work at infinity plus over the last fifteen years could hardly question that. But one sub-current in the e-publishing/self-publishing/indie world that I really don’t like is the tendency for authors to start exploiting other authors. At its best, writing and publishing is a huge collaborative endeavour; I owe so many people in the business huge debts, and I’ve been told more than a few times that others feel the same about me. But this whole business of authors, for example, building up successful blogs and then asking other authors to pay for their work to be reviewed there, or even to get an “other books we’re vaguely aware of” mention there… well, I don’t feel that it helps me as a reader in the slightest, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Worse, most readers aren’t aware that this is going on, and so take mentions and reviews on these blogs as recommendations, or objective listings. Is this any worse than the common practice of bricks and mortar bookshops charging publishers for display space? Perhaps not, but it’s so far removed from the mutually-supportive culture of writing and publishing that I’m accustomed to that, well, it’s another of those things that bug me.

6. I’ve got a book and I’m going to publish it. One of the great things about modern publishing is that authors can get their work out to small niche audiences, through the concept of long tail publishing: while the big commercial publishers concentrate on the books that they hope will sell in the tens of thousands and more, there are still a lot of people out there with more specialist tastes, the long tail that will never shift huge numbers. At infinity plus most of our books fall into this category: short story collections rarely sell enough to interest the big trade publishers, for instance, but steady sales of smaller quantities both satisfy that niche audience’s demand and provide a nice little income for the authors. Another category of book that fits the long tail model, is the early trunk novel. Lots of successful authors have very good novels that, for all kinds of reasons, never found a trade publisher, and e-publishing gives us opportunities to finally make these available. This is a Good Thing. However, most authors don’t sell their first novel; or their second. The key thing is how we determine whether the value in an unsold novel lies in the interest it has for that author’s fans and the fact that it won’t damage the author’s career or if the book’s value only resides in it having been a learning exercise and it rightly belongs back in that trunk in the attic. It’s a tough one to call, and we’re back to quality control again.

7. Ignoring the big guys. I’ve criticised the big commercial publishers here a little, haven’t I? And deservedly so. However, one of the big mistakes authors make now is in the rush to self-publishing. I feel the pull myself. When I’ve finished a new novel it can take a year or – usually – more before a big commercial publisher can bring it out. At infinity plus I’ve received a book’s final content and had it available for sale within a couple of weeks or so, on occasion. It’s hugely attractive to authors to be able to make their work available so quickly. But I’d argue that such impatience can be a dangerous thing. While I think commercial publishers have an awful lot to learn from this new environment, I’m a big advocate of working with them while they do so. For a start, you get to work with designers, editors, copy-editors, proof-readers, marketing teams, sales teams and far more – professionals; experts in their area, all of them. You get bricks and mortar distribution. You get far more coverage and publicity. You get the kudos of having a big publisher, that sense of validation that you’re working to the kind of standard that means a major international company is willing to invest significant money in your work. As a writer, if you break into commercial publishing, you get to learn and improve so much faster than if you’re out there doing it on your own. Yes, writing careers can be forged through indie publishing, but far more successful writing careers are still being launched through the traditional trade route, and whatever publishing models emerge in the near future I reckon that writers would be short-sighted to ignore it.

So… do these things bug you too? Have I overlooked anything? And yes, I’m just waiting for that first response to point out a typo; it would only be fitting when I’ve gone on at such length about quality control, now, wouldn’t it?


*And blog posts like this do a lot of stating the bleedin’ obvious.


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