The Grand Conversation on ebooks: Gary Kemble

Gary Kemble has published more than 20 short stories both in Australia and overseas. He has won the One Book Many Brisbanes competition twice – for time travel story ‘Untethered’ (read here) and high-octane romp ‘Bug Hunt’ (download PDF here). He is currently working on a supernatural thriller, Skin Deep, with the help of an Australia Council grant. You can follow his progress at his blog or on Twitter.

I’ve known Gary for several years and he’s one of the good guys (dare I say it, an unsung hero). He’s a great speculative fiction writer, a long-time zombie aficionado, and a fantastic journo (if you’ve ever read an issue of Black: Australian Dark Culture Magazine or the ABC’s defunct Articulate blog, you’d have seen his knowledge and passion in action).  He’s been a great supporter of writing and new writers through his day job as an ABC journalist.

Most pertinently for this discussion, he’s the ABC’s social media and arts guru. He spends his life on the cutting edge of technology, and yet surprisingly, he’s old school when it come to books. Here’s Gary’s view:

“Can I have my ebook and in-print too?”

This is a really interesting time for the publishing industry, and it will be really interesting to see how Shane’s ebook experiment goes.

For mine, I don’t read ebooks. Even though I love technology and my work revolves around computers and social media, I’m not an early adopter. At the moment, an iPad or a Kindle would be nice (or even an iPhone), but I still have some concerns about the whole ebook thing.

Firstly, if I buy a book, I want to own the book. When I’m reading, I tend to churn through books. When I’m done with them, I can give them to friends, I can sell them to the Book Bank, or I can donate them to charity (e.g. Lifeline bin). I can’t do that with ebooks, and I think that’s wrong.

How many people are turned onto a particular author because someone lends or gives them a book, or they pick it up for cheap at a second-hand shop? I know that was the case with me. I bought a second-hand copy of The Shining, and since then, I’ve bought pretty much every Stephen King book that came out. (I initially borrowed It, but now for some reason I’ve got two copies!)

And if you want to buy someone a book, you buy them a book. You don’t have to worry about what format it is, whether it’s got DRM on it, whether the publisher is going to retract the book, as happened recently with George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four.

Secondly, I’m rough with the books I buy. I usually buy paperbacks and they travel with me throughout the house, or if I go away on business, they’re jammed into the courier bag. I fold down corners of pages because I want to go back to something. And if it’s not me beating them up, it’s the kids. Pushing them off the lounge, throwing them off the table, etc. I don’t want to have to baby a device that’s cost me a couple of hundred dollars (minimum).

Thirdly, I guess I’m an old dinosaur that likes the tactile quality of books. I love the way it feels in my hand. I’m not crazy about the smell, like a lot of people seem to be (in fact, as an author, that old book smell makes me feel kinda down – don’t ask me why). I like being able to look at the books on my shelf. They spark memories. The Shining – when I see this on the shelf, I always think about high school. I remember being genuinely scared by a book for the first time.

Having said all that, I can see tremendous value in ebooks. For example, not having to lug books around with me when I travel. Being able to put markers in a book, or search for text when you want to find ‘that bit’.

At WorldCon, Cory Doctorow talked about the possibilities that online publishing offered, such as customised short story anthologies. I would love the ability to search by author and/or subject and build my own anthology (e.g. Cthulhu stories or stories by my favourite Australian horror authors). Or just to have a constant stream of new stuff to read, without having to subscribe to a bunch of magazines that I’m not really interested in.

I’ve found through my work with the ABC that people are less attached to brands these days, and more inclined to consume content recommended by their social media friends. And I can see parallels with fiction here: I don’t necessarily care where my zombie/Cthulhu/apocalypse stories come from, I just want to know that they’re good and that I can read them now, now, NOW!

As an author, I can see immense benefits of publishing in electronic format. If you’re going with a small press, isn’t it of huge value to not suffer from the tyranny of distance of publishing in Australia? There’s also more opportunities for self-publishing, although I doubt that ebooks are going to necessarily mean more Scott Siglers/Matthew Reillys. But if you want to get your content out there, and you’re willing to bring in editors to get your work up to scratch and a designer to make it look pretty, why not go for it?

I certainly think there are challenges with this approach in terms of getting your work out there and getting some kudos. Social networking is fine, but unless your content goes viral you can’t expect to survive off the generosity of your limited online social circle. I have plenty of Facebook/Twitter friends, but I know for a fact that if I were to self-publish online, only a small percentage would buy my book.

Word of mouth is important, but I also think that at the moment people are more likely to buy a book if it’s come via a reputable publisher (whether that’s one of the big publishers or small press).

This has been a bit of a ramble, but in short, I think ebooks are obviously going to play an increasingly important role in the lives of authors, but I don’t think the world is going to change overnight.

I think the paperback is with us for some time to come!

(Note: You may want to check out what various publishers had to say about ebooks at Aussiecon 4, the 2010 WorldCon)

Gary’s latest short story, ‘Feast or Famine’ is available in the mega-anthology Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears.

The Grand Conversation on ebooks will run here at until February 28. If you’d like to contribute a guest blog post, email me at



  1. Social networking is fine, but unless your content goes viralyou can’t expect to survive off the generosity of your limited online social circle

    And unless its up there it can’t go viral.

    I have plenty of Facebook/Twitter friends, but I know for a fact that if I were to self-publish online, only a small percentage would buy my book.

    While it’s certainly a possibility that you may get next to nowhere what’s the downside. I feel that this statements a bit defeatist. I hadn’t heard of your writing till mentioned here, if you had a book or novella for sale as an ebook I would have bought it 5 minutes ago.

    I implore you, there’s a ton of dreck up on Amazon. If your an half decent writer please gives the chance to read your work and pay for it.

    • Gary Kemble says:

      Hi Sean,

      Yes, I didn’t mean to imply that there’s no point to promoting your work via social media. I just think that there are people who have unrealistic expectations.

      The ‘downside’ is the disappointment that these authors experience when they don’t ‘make it’. And the downside for readers is even more ‘dreck’ on Amazon.

      I do have some content online, and it’s FREE!

      (Check out my writer’s CV for details:

      And yeah, I have no problems with trying to sell my stuff via ebooks. But at the moment I’m concentrating on the writing, which is what I actually enjoy, rather than learning a whole new skillset.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by garykemble, Tom Dullemond. Tom Dullemond said: RT @garykemble: My current thoughts on #ebooks cc @Cacotopos @RobertHoge @kate_eltham […]

  3. Thanks for clarifying Gary. Maybe I’ll be able to pay you for some work in a couple of years time.

  4. […] fellow Brisbanite Gary Kemble, Steve is one of the good guys. He’s a tireless supporter of Aussie horror, and he shares his […]

  5. Tom Dullemond says:

    Good article Gary. I’m working on making the ‘get a good editor and designer’ easier. 😉

  6. Vicki says:

    Interesting post, Gary.

    “I have plenty of Facebook/Twitter friends, but I know for a fact that if I were to self-publish online, only a small percentage would buy my book.”

    I can see where you’re coming from, but try thinking outside the social media square. I don’t have a Facebook/Twitter account or indeed any sort of platform, but the first novel I published on Amazon Kindle sold in excess of 25,000 copies in the first two months alone.

  7. Gary Kemble says:

    Hi Vicki,

    Thanks for the comment.

    I probably didn’t express myself clearly. I guess what I was getting at is that authors shouldn’t expect it to just ‘happen’, once they’ve self-published.

    It would be interesting to hear what sort of effort you put into the promotion of the first novel you published on Kindle.


  8. Vicki says:

    Hi Gary,

    Many thanks for taking the time to reply.

    I agree that authors shouldn’t expect it to just ‘happen’, once they’ve self-published. I actually did very little in the way of promotion, but I have no doubt that ‘luck’ – perseverance meeting opportunity – was a major factor in my success. I briefly touched on it in my Grand Conversation post: