At last, an untitled editorial

For the past two and a half years Jeremy Byrne and I have shared the chores of preparing the editorials for each issue of Eidolon. Sometimes we arrive at a mutually agreed upon topic, sometimes we just turn up with the completed editorial and hope everyone will go for it. This time is a little different.

The more attentive amongst you may have noticed that the length of stories published here has increased over the first eight issues. Frustrated at various times over the lack of good stories within our length requirements (starting at a maximum of five thousand and growing to a maximum of ten thousand words) we simply stretched those requirements to fit. This, we thought, solved all of our problems.

And it appeared to. Suddenly we were getting a lot of story submissions of around 8 - 9,000 words, which were often submitted simultaneously. As the piles of manuscripts grew and grew (I currently have about a novel's worth to read before the weekend) we realised two things. Firstly, that no one else in this country was publishing stories of this length and that it was a GOOD THING that we were providing a home for them, and secondly that at this rate we'd never catch up with our reading, get a life and live happily ever after.

Well, Jeremy and I thought, an editorial topic: The joys of writing shorter fiction and of not submitting another enormous manuscript to Eidolon until you've heard from us about the nine we have in the back room. And this was nearly that editorial.

However . . .

It is my humble function to collect Eidolon's mail on a daily basis, search it hungrily for new stories and desperately for new cheques, and then to ensure that appropriate action is initiated for each item. This includes receiving Eidolon's pitifully small collection of review copies of new books. Few are actually reviewed (which may account for the small number sent to us) because we feel they are inappropriate, they are adequately covered elsewhere or because we have an ongoing vendetta with that bastard-of-an-author-who-refused-to-send-us-a-story-and-be-damned-if-we'll-publicise-what-he-gave-to-someone-else-just-because-they-pay-money.

During the last two weeks we received three new novels by new authors - the first by Paul Voermans published by Gollansz, the second by Huw Evans published by STW publishing and the last co-authored by an Australian living in Bangkok and self-published. Looking at the production quality of the last two books lead me to think about a question put to me by a writer friend a year or so ago - if I really want my book out should I publish it myself? I said then, and believe even more strongly now, that the answer is no. Never self-publish.

There are very good reasons for not self-publishing. Firstly, arrogance aside, if you send your work to every major and most minor publishers and they all refuse to publish it, maybe, just maybe, it ain't all that good. Remember that there are a lot of small or specialty publishers out there and generally if the work is any good at all someone will publish it.

Secondly, well it's your money and you've got to get it back. Publishing a book involves a lot more than simply spending $10,000 to knock out a couple of thousand paperbacks or $20,000 for the same number of hardcovers. Once the book has been printed it's got to be promoted and distributed. Without a lot of money and a lot of luck it is difficult to get your book into the shops where it can sell, and even if you sign up with a distributor who will put books in shops for you, you then have to get the money from him - and that is often a harder task than you would imagine. To give some idea of what's involved with this process consider a recent comment by Dean Wesley Smith, Publisher at Pulphouse Publishing. Smith said that even in the United States (where it is considerably easier to sell an independently produced book) it takes over two years for a book to begin to make its money back. I would guess that for a self-published work in Australia it would be more like three to four years; three to four years when you could have been using your money to live on, write another book and continue to try to sell your original work elsewhere.

Finally, and most tellingly to my mind, it's tacky. There is something ineffably suspicious about a book which has been published by its author. As a reader you have to ask yourself why no-one else in the world wanted to publish the book. Is it worse than Terry Brooks, John Jakes or Piers Anthony? Less interesting than Barbara Cartland? It's justplain unlikely that if the book is good, but not well-suited to genre publication, a publisher will not be found for it.

I have been purchasing specialty press books for nearly a decade and in that time I can think of only three instances of professional authors self-publishing. During the 1980s that one-man genre Stephen King published The Eyes of the Dragon and several pamphlets with his own Philtrum Press. At the same time British author Keith Roberts was one of a number of investors who formed Kerosina Press, a publisher who eventually put out several of Roberts' books. It should be pointed out though, that other editors determined what works to publish, and that Grainne went on to win the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel. And, finally, in the '90s Pulphouse Publishing presented "A Gallery of His Dreams", a novella by editor Kristine Kathryn Rusch. This work had already been sold to Isaac Asimov's for magazine publication. In none of these instances did a previously unpublished writer publish his own work, and I know of no instances of anyone successfully doing so.

I can't speak of the eventual success of any of the three novels we received, but I know one thing. Paul Voermans has been paid, while the other authors are going to be waiting a long time till pay day. Think about it.

Jonathan Strahan

Originally appeared pp. 4-5, Eidolon 9, July 1992.
Copyright © 1992 Eidolon Publications.