Paying It Forwards (guest post by Daniel I. Russell)

Now for something completely different… recently imported WA horror author Daniel I. Russell has just published his latest novel, Samhane, which is guaranteed to be a powerful reading experience. As part of Dan’s blog tour to promote and discuss Samhane, he agreed to write something cool for my site. Here it is:

I’m writing this on a Sunday afternoon, overlooking the beautiful rolling waves of Scarborough Beach in Perth. Yesterday, I headed into the CBD to not only do some shopping with the family (my summer holiday video games are ready and waiting), but also to do some writing research. Normally, one assumes this is research for a story or novel, but no. After a week of Samhane promotion and press releases, I had my marketing head on. As I had only been shopping in the surrounding suburbs of Perth, I figured that Perth CBD would be the perfect place to test some theories regarding the state of horror fiction and the small press on the high street. Bear in mind that as a lazy researcher, I have no figures or statistics to back up my findings. These are just ideas and observations on one day (and what a day – I got a bit sick from a McDonalds and my son bought a lightsaber …).

Anyway. Let us begin.

In the CBD, there is quite a shortage of independently run book stores. Perhaps they failed in the fight for store space with the sushi bars, boutiques, and Australian souvenir stores – your one stop shop for stubby holders, t-shirts with beer on them, hats with corks, mass-produced didgeridoos, stuffed koalas and ‘roos … is it any wonder the rest of the world has this opinion of Australia? I didn’t have time to actively seek them out. Try dragging your visiting mother around a city on a hot day to find an indie book store!

So I had to base my opinions on the places we did stumble across. The first was Angus and Robertson.

I’ve been a fan of Angus and Robertson for one thing: Leisure horror. For those of you who do not follow publishing trends, Leisure publishes such horror greats as Richard Laymon, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Graham Masterton, Douglas Clegg, et al. Strangely enough, these authors can normally be found in the bargain bin outside the door. A show of quality? Hardly. More, I feel, the general reflection of taste for the book-reading Australian populace. For a fan of these authors, and a collector of Leisure titles, these bargain bins are a much needed resource from Australia’s normally extortionate book prices.

I don’t intend to get into government legislation right now. Let’s just say that Stephen King’s new book is available in paperback in Australian bookstores for about $32. I bought it last week for $20 in hardback from the UK online …including postage.

Perth Angus and Robertson had a bargain bin … but alas, no Leisure. I ventured deeper.

Something that annoys me as a buyer of horror titles is that the genre is often mixed in with others. In some bookshops, I’ve had to wade through fantasy, science fiction, crime and thriller, and yes, sadly, paranormal (you can’t move for vampires and werewolves fighting in here. Quite uncivilised) to get a horror title. In Angus and Robertson, all the fiction appeared to be in an author A-Z. Horror was very thin on the ground, especially in regards to small press, so I promptly left.

On to Borders.

This is a very big store with escalators, coffee shops, and all the trimmings, just like Goliath Books in that episode of Black Books with Simon Pegg as an anal store manager.

Working in a bookshop is like a game, and you have to learn the rules, because this isn’t a game!

Thankfully, I didn’t have to venture too far, as not only did Borders have a horror section (yay!) but it was clearly signposted (double yay!) as HORROR, not dressed up as something else (Borders, you’ve just earned yourself a third yay!). Plus, it was reasonably close to the door (a legendary fourth yay!).

The horror section was actually quite busy, with a good few people on the nearby sofa … things flicking through novels. Okay, they were vampire novels, but Anne Rice holds more water than Twilight or any of the aforementioned vamps vs. wolfies saturation.

Now, for the main point of my research. As a small press horror novelist, did Borders have any small press on their shelves? Yes, they did. Plenty, in fact.

The price difference between the small press and major presses were quite competitive, which was nice to see. I also managed to get a copy of Graham Masterton’s Leisure title The 5th Witch (he sent me a signed promo cover of this book, so it was nice to have an actual copy in my hands). I also purchased another book, and this is the one that got me thinking.

Being a small press novelist is a very tough job. Not only do you have the normal mountain of a novel to write, locking yourself away for hours on end to write and edit the damn thing, but then you have to sell it to a publisher. Even then, your work is not over. Publishing is a business. Copies need to be sold and money needs to be made to justify your worth to a publisher. I personally see an advance as an investment in your talent, and this advance is expected to be paid back in sales. Even if you didn’t receive an advance, the outlay for the cover art, ISBN, layout work, etc. needs to be recouped to make a venture worthwhile financially. Now, bearing in mind the hundreds, if not thousands, of people in the same position as you with a book to sell … and the fact that you’re against the big boys to win readers – and their book spending money – you’re going to need all the help you can get.

Actually having the privilege of having shelf space in a large store still isn’t a guaranteed sale. With shelves of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and the rest, will the average book buyer choose you?

Choose me! Choose me! Stevie doesn’t need more money! My power bill just arrived … He won’t even know what a power bill is any more!

Anyway, the book that got me thinking was Carnies by Martin Livings. Martin is a fellow Australian author who lives near Perth. Only the other week did we work on a special project proposed for inclusion in an anthology. I would class him as a friend, and that may have influenced my decision to buy the book. However, being in writing circles, I still would have been aware of the book and its author. I am aware it’s small press. It also sounds like quite an intriguing little plot.

So I bought it, and had an idea, right there in the store.

What I’m suggesting is this. Next time you’re in a book store and see a book written by an author you know from the small press, buy it.

I’m not making you buy, of course. But if you’re after a book, try something from a small press instead of the big boys. Even if you only do this once a year.

Not only will the author be grateful (one cannot describe the sheer gratitude I have when a reader chooses to spend his or her hard-earned cash on one of my books), but if the shop sells its small press titles, it will order more. And more. And even more!

Together, we can deepen the literary gene pool in stores across the land!

This applies in particular to authors. If you work in the small press, keep your money there. Support each other. Pay it forward. We have enough to compete against, and we can help each other out. Small businesses can do it, why not us?

And it’s a perfect time to start: Christmas. Be different. Be daring. Buy small press books as gifts instead of Jamie’s Kitchen Masturbation or Clarkson: I Can Complain Forever. It’s a better talking point, shows you read widely, and is going to make a small press author (and their risk-taking small press publisher!) very, very happy.

– Daniel I. Russell

Samhane can be ordered from Stygian Publications. You can read more about Dan on his website or from his blog.

%d bloggers like this: