Sunday, May 29, 2016

Introducing Skolion – another way of looking at the publishing game

Once upon a time (possibly around about 2006 or 2007) I read this article by author Ian Irvine, and I thought to myself, "How difficult can this really be? I'm going to do better." I had my literary heroes, like Neil Gaiman, JRR Tolkien, Poppy Z Brite and Storm Constantine, among others, to look up to. I was in the process of writing my first novel, Khepera Rising, which back then I thought was just the dog's bollocks, and I'd soon be able to quit my shitty job as a newspaper sub-editor and live the high life as a successful (and wealthy) published author.

Yes, I can hear you laughing.

In fact, I'm laughing at my own naïve self.

My journey as a published author has been a long slog of trying to crawl out of the slush pile, and having moderate success in selling to an assortment of small presses and eventually self-publishing a few myself too. (Not to mention the countless rejections.) I consider myself lucky if I sell three or four copies of my novels each month. It's no reflection on my writing – it's just that I'm not writing the next FSoG or The Hunger Games. My career as editor has been far more financially viable than author...

And it's taken me a few years to make peace with the fact that I'll only ever have a small, niche readership, and those are the people for whom I'll continue to write stories.

Not too long ago, an author who, many years ago, was my introduction to SFF and remains a beacon in the literary world, Ursula K Le Guin, made a speech at an awards ceremony (and you can read the whole thing here), but this is the gist of what she says that resonates with how I feel about the stories that *must* still be told.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. 

Truth be told, the overheads for producing books are hellish, and the competition in the market is fierce. The big publishers are going to be in it for the money. They will publish those books they know will sell to as many people as possible (celeb bios, cook books, self-help, politics, religion...) Sadly, this means that there are many of us whose voices will not be heard, who won't be given the same opportunities as those who're writing to satisfy trends.

That's not to knock the trends – they do fulfil a function (and keep publishers afloat). As much as some of us would like to frown at the Twilight franchise, I've lost count of the readers who gush on about how Meyer's books have introduced them to reading, and that they've become voracious readers since they first visited that tiny town called Forks... And some of those Twilight fans have gone on to read my books, so who am I to complain?

But Le Guin has also gone on to investigate another publishing model – one that has become increasingly attractive to me, that of the publishing co-operative.

Anyone with a computer and the right software can publish a book now, which means that more books are being published each day than ever before. Readers are spoiled for choice, yet the problem comes in that not all books that are author published are quite ready or of a sufficient quality to pass muster. Small presses have, for the past decade, tried to find that happy medium between self- and traditional publishing, but anyone who's been keeping an eye on developments recently will see how many of these small presses have either imploded spectacularly or simply wasted away. And woe betide those who try to get their books into brick-and-mortar stores – I promise you, the returns alone are the death knell for most. Putting out many titles in the hope that some are a success also doesn't work. The shotgun approach sucks. Exceptional voices get lost in a torrent of merely adequate writing. There aren't enough sales to keep these companies afloat – as they too still have overheads (paying editors, designers...).

You try writing edgy urban fantasy featuring a bisexual black magician then see your book compete with the three raunchy paranormal romance titles released by your publisher the same week... No prizes for guessing which novels will receive the most marketing push from your publisher's social media...

Hence the inception of Skolion. We're a core group of SFF authors and folks with media savvy who have a great love of SFF. We understand that the traditional and small press models are untenable, and that although self-publishing is an option, it's so much easier for us to work together, pooling our skills and experience. Between us, we boast editors, designers, media gurus, marketing experts and a general understanding love for our genres. Our aim is to create the kinds of books we want to read. Our aim is to make good books. We might not be the next Twilight, but we want you to know that when you pick up one of our books, it will be something special, something different – a work of art made with love and passion that is most certainly not a commodity. Most importantly, we aim to empower our authors and put them in charge of their diverse stories that are told authentically.

At present, the co-op is by invite only, and we are keeping it low key so that our growth is sustainable. But if you're interested in what we offer, and want to keep up to speed with our doings, you're more than welcome to follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook group.

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