Tooth and Blade: Chapter 1

Salvete!

Guess what? The first Tooth and Blade novella is now live world-wide on Kindle! To celebrate, I thought I would share the first chapter… More than that, I wanted to share an amazing illustration inspired by the story. It was created by my friend and former colleague, Dr Yvette Hunt. Enjoy!

Chapter 1: Teeth

“They aren’t like our kind, Dóta. They are beasts.”

My mother’s warning echoed through my head, but it would not stop me. I tiptoed through our cave, my path lit by glowing mushrooms which clung to the walls. Módor’s wrath would be great if she caught me near her treasure hoard. She was afraid of what I would find there, the truth of what I was. I pressed my lips together and shook off my fear. No matter the risk, I had to know.

Points of rock jutted from the floor like razors as I edged along the passage. Icy droplets fell from the ceiling and ran down the back of my neck. I shuddered as they crawled down my spine and pulled my sheepskin tighter.

I’m not sure how old I was when I figured out I wasn’t like Módor. Perhaps it was the day I stumbled and cut my palm on a rock. My blood had run hot and dripped to the ground. Módor had stroked my face to comfort me and for the first time I realized her touch gave me shivers. Then she traced her long nail over the wound and licked it. For an instant her eyes glowed like coals. “There now,” she had said. “Nothing to fear, my girl.” And Módor had smiled with pointed teeth.

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I pressed my way through the jagged gap in the wall which led to Módor’s treasure chamber. Módor had chosen a special chamber for her spoils, lit by a spear-shaft of sunlight from a hole in the ceiling far overhead. The light stabbed at my eyes and I squeezed them shut for a moment. When they had grown used to the light, I blinked and looked about. The piled gold shone bright and the gems winked like stars. I ignored the silver cauldrons, coins and fire-stones, for glittering trinkets could tell me nothing. In the corner of the chamber I spied what I was after. A pile of tarnished chain mail and bones, all that was left of the man foolish enough to challenge my mother. Time had picked the skeleton clean long ago; only a few slivers of decayed flesh remained. The dead warrior still clutched a great sword. A rusted helm protected his skull.

Hands trembling, I picked up the skull and held it up to the light. Flakes of rust fell away from the helmet to show boar-shapes etched into the metal. The head. It was the head I needed to see, not some rusted bit of iron. I pulled the helmet off and threw it aside. A thrill of fear passed through me as it clanked to the ground. My brother’s ears were delicate. Even the smallest noise would make Grethor bawl for Módor.

Moments passed, but nothing happened. Telling myself it was safe, I peered closer at the skull. The empty sockets stared back at me. I traced my thumb over the teeth and ran my tongue over my own. The warrior’s teeth were rounded.

Like mine.

My fears became truth. A beast, that’s what I was. A child of men.

I set the skull down upon the floor, bent to study the body. To judge by the length of the man’s leg-bones, he was taller than most, though he was a dwarf compared to Módor and Grethor. Would I grow to that height? At sixteen, I sensed my growing was done but couldn’t be sure. Another reason to learn more about my kind. The warrior’s mail was crusted with brown and rotted tatters of linen still clung to the skeleton. Clothing, I knew. Grethor had told me once how the creatures of the world above wore a kind of second hide as I wore my sheepskin.

The sunlight caught on something shiny beside the corpse. Without thinking I reached for it and held it up to the light. It was a small disc of polished amber hanging from a rotted leather cord, some kind of amulet. No mere trinket, this. Men must have crafted it in another age, so the gods would protect them. Some of the grime fell away as I rubbed the amulet between my fingers and light shot through veins of yellow in the amber. It was as though the amulet held the sun, waiting to escape. A pretty thing. Perhaps I should put it back? Some instinct told me no; it belonged to me. I slipped it inside my sheepskin. The amulet lay warm against my chest. The feeling was delicious in the coldness of the cave. It had lain hidden under the corpse so long, nobody would miss it. I hoped.

“Well. Hello, Dóta.”

I whirled to find Grethor’s yellow-green eyes staring down at me. His mottled skin flushed dark and his bitter smell filled the cavern. Under his arm Grethor carried his old leather sack. He hissed. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing.” The guilt pressed down upon my shoulders, but I forced myself to stand tall. Had he seen me take the amulet?

“Nothing, eh?” Big Brother’s forked tongue flicked from the corner of his mouth. “Thought you’d peek at Módor’s hoard, I guess. Ought to be more careful. You know how fiercely Módor guards her gold.” He pointed at the scars on his cheek and smirked.

My eyes flicked to the skeleton. “Humans like it too.” The words spilled from my mouth without thought.

His pointed ears pricked up. “And what do you know of humans?”

I tried not to cringe, held my shoulders square. My brother could be cruel as Loki and rough as Thor when the mood took him, but I would not quake. “Nothing,” I said.

Smugness filled his face. “Tell Módor, I should. Not right to go poking through her things. One shout from me and she’ll peel the hide from your bones.” Grethor rasped with laughter. “She could sew me a new bag from it.” He thrust the sack at me.

I caught it. “No. Don’t tell her.”

“And what’ll you give me if I keep my tongue still?”

My hands curled into fists. “What do I have to give, Grethor?” The only thing I owned was my sheepskin—and now the amulet. And my brother wasn’t getting them.

He scratched his chin with one of his claws. “A song, sweet sister.”

I released a slow breath. “A song.”

“Just like when we were little.”

“You were never little.”

He shrugged. “Young, then. The bad dreams plague me now as they did then.”

I blinked. “Still?”

Grethor flinched. “Dreams of fire and flashing swords and the man who grips like iron. He comes to rip and tear. One of his kind.” He glanced at the warrior’s skeleton and shuddered. “Every night he comes, since you stopped singing me to sleep. Remember how we’d cuddle?”

I did remember. The earliest thing I could recall was Grethor curled up next to me in the night. It had been nice, when we were children. But as he grew and his muscles thickened, Grethor would squeeze me like a toy until my bones would crack. I would wake to find bruises and that was not so nice. “I can’t, Grethor. Not anymore. You need to learn to sleep on your own.”

Grethor lowered his head. “Such a pretty voice you have. Soft. And I don’t want you to get into trouble with Módor…”

Breath caught in my chest. It was hard to say no to Grethor. “All right. If you want.”

Grethor’s face split into a grin and his teeth were like needles. “Good. Walk with me, Dóta. My belly’s gurgling. I’m going above to get me some meat.” He pulled the sack from my hands. As we left the chamber, I glanced at the corpse one last time. The dead man’s smile was not so fearsome now.

In silence we wound through the passageways. Grethor twisted left and right to squeeze through the narrow gaps in the rock. He was massive as a frost giant, but could press himself through fine cracks. We made our way down to the chamber where he could enter the underground river. Big Brother leapt over the rocks while I stumbled. His eyes were made for the gloom.

The sound of rushing water filled my ears and the rock floor grew slick under my feet. Beneath the river’s surface I could just see the entrance to the underwater tunnel which would take Grethor to the world above.

He laid his clawed hands on my shoulders and they were clammy. “Be good to old Módor and I might bring you back a nice new hide to warm you. And more than that. I’ll bring you back more tales of the world above. Of the sky, trees, animals.” He leaned close, murmured in my ear. “Of humans, even.”

My heartbeat grew faster. “When will you be back?”

He shrugged. “When I’m back.” Grethor drew me to him and sniffed my hair. It was something he’d done ever since he was a child, though I’d never felt the urge to mimic him. Was it because we were not the same kind? Grethor slid into the river, treaded water for a moment. He opened his eyes wide and green fire kindled in them. The light on the water cast shimmers upon the roof of the hollow and then he dived and took the light with him.

***

Foundling, the first Tooth and Blade novella, is now available world-wide on Kindle!

$0.99 USD or free on Kindle Unlimited.

Step into a world of haunted meres, iron and magic.

 

Tooth and Blade: The Origin of the Story

Salvete, readers!

Right now I’m thrilled that my first Tooth and Blade novella, Foundling, is going live on Amazon this week. Keep your eyes peeled as I will soon share Chapter 1!

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Here is the blurb:

They call me Peace-weaver. Warmaker. Beast.

My name is Dóta, and I am alone among my clan. The blood runs hot through my veins, though my mother’s touch gives me shivers. The gods of Asgard whisper to me in the night. I am a child of men, a monster unto monsters.

Sixteen years I have dwelled in the shadows beneath the earth. To discover my heritage, I must take up my bone knife and step into the light above. Secrets await me there—beauty, terror, the truth of who I am. Soon I must make an impossible choice, or the nine worlds will be devoured in fire and war.

A monster sheds no tears.

I was first inspired to write Tooth and Blade when I encountered Beowulf as a teen, stepping into the world of heroes and demons, mead halls and monsters. Sharp-eyed readers will recognize many similarities between Tooth and Blade and the epic. I’d consider the villain Grethor a blood relative of Grendel, though my story stands apart as an original creation. I’ve always loved stories told from the viewpoint of an outsider and that appealed to me much more than the idea of a straightforward adaptation.

Though my education is much more in Greco-Roman history than that of medieval Scandinavia, I have done my best to capture the spirit of the age, language and culture, diving deep into the primary sources. In my choice of language, I tried to stick with words of Old English, Germanic or Old Norse roots as much as possible, though I have often used words from Romance languages for the sake of clarity. You may notice that Dóta spins the tale using kennings, one of the favorite tools of a skald.

Though I strive to be authentic in my depiction of the Norse world, I have sought to give Tooth and Blade the timeless quality of myth rather than confine it to any specific region or century. It is enough to know the adventure takes place in a world of haunted meres, iron and magic.

Looking forward to sharing more about Tooth and Blade soon!

Julian

Tooth and Blade: The Adventure Begins!

Salvete, everybody!

As I’ve mentioned previously, this year I will release three short novellas in a fantasy series based on Norse mythology. I’m thrilled about this series, which is very different from anything I’ve written before. Three short, sharp novellas released in quick succession as a serial. It’s an idea I’ve toyed with for a long time, and it feels amazing to follow through with it.

Part One, Foundling, is now available to pre-order on Kindle for a mere $0.99 USD! It will be available April 17, 2019.

Here’s the cover and blurb!

ragnarok is coming

They call me Peace-weaver. Warmaker. Beast.

My name is Dóta, and I am alone among my clan. The blood runs hot through my veins, though my mother’s touch gives me shivers. The gods of Asgard whisper to me in the night. I am a child of men, a monster unto monsters.

Sixteen years I have dwelled in the shadows beneath the earth. To discover my heritage, I must take up my bone knife and step into the light above. Secrets await me there—beauty, terror, the truth of who I am. Soon I must make an impossible choice, or the nine worlds will be devoured in fire and war.

A monster sheds no tears.

Norse mythology meets historical fantasy in the first novella of the TOOTH AND BLADE series. Step into a realm of haunted meres, iron and magic.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey. 

Until next time,

Valete

How Love Came into the World: A Fable

Salvete, readers!

I wish you happiness upon the feast day of St. Valentinus of Hallmark!

I thought this would be a good day to share my retelling of the birth of Aphrodite. I wrote this for the Ashes of Olympus trilogy, but I suspect it won’t fit into the story. However, I’m proud of this little fable and am thrilled to share it with you now…

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The world was young then, still being shaped. In those days there were only words and forces. Earth was an empty place, barren and dark—until Mother Earth and Father Sky met.

She looked upon his face, smiled, and took his hand. Music filled their ears, and it came from another place. Earth and Sky became the harmony as they danced together. Light came into the world for the first time, shining from their hearts. Her delight echoed across the cosmos.

Earth and Sky did not know they were being watched with jealous eyes. Sky’s brother Time wanted Earth for his own. Time did not know the sound of laughter. He shunned the light, craving a return to the darkness.

Sky and Earth lay together. And as Sky rested, a thought entered Earth’s mind. Together she and Sky would make life and growth and beauty. The Earth would be full as it had never been before. But what manner of life would they bring? Earth wandered off, seeking solitude to ponder. And Time saw his chance.

He took up a jagged stone and plunged it into Sky’s chest. With prying fingers Time plucked out the heart of Sky, and blood filled the heavens. Time thought to give the heart to Earth and prove his dominance. But when he offered her the beating heart, her eyes filled with horror and she fled.

Across the rocky plains Time pursued Earth, the heart of Sky still writhing in his hands. At last Time gave up the chase, and in anger and shame he cast Sky’s heart into Sea. Into the depths it sank, beneath cruel waves. Sea took pity on Earth as she knelt weeping at the shore. With icy fingers Sea grasped the heart of Sky, and the white foam raged around it. Sea moulded the foam until it took the shape of a maiden.

The maiden stepped forth from the waves, before her mother’s very eyes. And where she stepped life sprang, bright wildflowers curling around her shapely feet. Earth reached forth. With trembling fingers she touched the girl’s face, and Earth named her daughter.

So Love came into the world.

I hope you enjoyed that! I’ve also written a short story in which a young girl must stand before the gods on her betrothal day. The short story is free for all newsletter subscribers.

2019: The Adventure Unfolds

Salvete, readers!

A belated happy new year!

It has been a little while since my last update, hasn’t it? I’ve been hard at work to reach a deadline. I had to provide a complete draft of The Ivory Gate, the sequel to The Way Home, by the end of January. Good news, I made it! It’s still a bit rough at this point, but helps assure my publisher that the book can be scheduled for 2019. So I’m glad to say I’ve already met my first goal for 2019!

But guess what? That’s not all I’m publishing this year.

Starting from April, I am going to publish my first serial, Tooth and Blade. It’s three short, punchy novellas which together form an epic. I’m really excited about this story. It is historical fantasy based on Norse mythology. Here’s the elevator pitch:

A young woman raised by trolls must find her place in human society. Caught between worlds, Dóta must bridge the gap between man and beast.

The first short instalment, Foundling, will be available for pre-order soon on Kindle.

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After that it’ll be time to get ready for the release of The Ivory Gate in August!  I had been working toward a publication date of October 2019, but due to some shifts in the schedule the book has been moved up. There is much to be done—edits, illustrations, cover design, the whole shebang.

Squeezed between these projects I will contribute to an interactive fiction project, Magic in the Mail, edited by the fantastic Felicity Banks. Remember me telling you last year about Murder in the Mail? This is a similar concept in that it’s a mystery told through letters and art which you receive in the post, only it’s a fantasy and aimed at kids. I get to write in character as a dragon. How cool is that? I’m also thrilled that Murder in the Mail will be published as an illustrated book—it’ll be slightly surreal to see my handwriting in a published book!

That’s the first half of the year pretty much taken care of. After that, I’m going to shift my focus to some academic research, the translation of the early sources related to St Nicholas. This will hopefully be submitted to an academic publisher by the end of the year. 

Throughout 2019 I will continue searching for the right agent for my Middle Grade fantasy. It would be wonderful to see it in print.

I’ve also been invited to be a panelist at a couple of cons, which I’ll update you on soon.

That’s… a lot. However, The Ivory Gate is largely done, and I’ve got the first Tooth and Blade finalised, and I’ve made a very good start on St Nicholas. So it’s achievable, so long as I can keep my focus.

It’s good to have a lot of irons in the fire! That’s what having a creative career is all about. There’s no such thing as a ‘big break.’ It’s about doing a lot of little things until they lead to big things.

Until next time,

Valete

PS. I’m offering a free short story exclusively to followers of my newsletter. Sign up here for your copy! Fear not, I won’t give away your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time.

2018: A word of gratitude

Salvete, readers!

I just thought I would write a quick note to say thank-you to everybody who has supported me through 2018—thanks to you, this has honestly been one of the best years of my life. This was the year in which I published my debut novel, The Way Home. It managed to reach #1 on several charts.

As a special thank-you, the e-book of The Way Home is available for a mere 99 cents at online retailers worldwide until 24 December 2018.

The novel would not have succeeded without you—when the book was released, I had no idea whether it would find any readers, but people really took the story into their hearts. I am in no danger of becoming the next J.K. Rowling, but at least once a week I get a message from somebody letting me know how much they enjoyed the book. That means the world to me. The Australian publishing industry is small but thriving, and I’m glad to be a small but thriving part of it.

Words cannot express how much I appreciate everybody who has taken the time to review The Way Home. Authors basically live or die on their reviews, and writing an honest review is the best thing you can do to support an author.

I’m particularly grateful to the hosts of my favourite writing podcast The Bestseller Experiment, who were instrumental in helping the novel succeed. Over the past six months or so hardly a week went by in which I didn’t hear my name mentioned on the show. At the invitation of friend and fellow author Mark Stay I ended up recording several episodes about craft for the show, and just recently I was a featured guest on the show. I chatted with Mark about The Way Home, epic story-telling, ancient myths, YA literature, Animorphs, small presses, the Australian publishing industry, koalas with boundary issues, and the horror that is Thomas the Tank Engine… You can check it out here.

I’m really, really looking forward to 2019, which will see the release of my series of Tooth and Blade novellas and hopefully the second Ashes of Olympus book.

Until next time,

Valete

A dollar’s worth of epic!

Salvete, readers!

Just in time for Christmas, the e-book for my debut novel based on Greek mythology, The Way Home, is less than a dollar! If you’d like to experience a swashbuckling adventure from a world of gods and magic, the e-book can be yours for the princely sum of 99 cents! On Kindle, iBooks, Kobo, and all the major online retailers at a reduced price until December 24, 2018.

You'realwayswith me

Why has the price been set so low? The idea is to connect with more readers. It’ll help me with something I mentioned in a previous post:

I want to reach a community of readers who find something to enjoy with my work. There is great satisfaction in cheering somebody up who is having a bad day, and I think novels are the perfect form of escapism. And if readers get something more out of it, I’m glad.

I sincerely doubt the rewards will be financial, and that’s okay. Reducing the price for a week will help get my work into the hands of more readers—if the low price means I can give more people a story to enjoy over the holidays, then it’s worth it to me.

I have another cool thing to announce this week, but in the meantime, I hope you’ll join me for the journey. The Way Home is available now for all devices. Grab for a bargain while you can!

Until next time,

Valete

PS. I’m offering a free short story exclusively to followers of my newsletter. Sign up here for your copy! Fear not, I won’t give away your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time.

My evening with Independence Day: Resurgence

4:16 pm

I have the house to myself tonight. My wife is going to her work Christmas party. Okay, more specifically, I have some time to myself after I have fed my boys, supervised their nightly ablutions and put them to bed. Then I can watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see: Independence Day: Resurgence!

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Honestly, I meant to see it at theatres when it came out a couple of years back, as I have a lot of fond memories of the first movie. But, eh, I never quite got around to it. Babysitters not being forthcoming, my wife and I knew we’d only get one shot at seeing a movie together at the cinema that year. Resurgence was the fifth choice in 2016 after Finding Dory, Rogue One, The Jungle Book and Warcraft. I had seen the trailer for Resurgence on YouTube and didn’t really care that much, but maybe it might recapture some of the feels from the first movie. And I was kind of curious what had happened after the alien invasion. Kind of.

Yet somehow, Finding Dory won out as the date movie of choice that year, and I eventually snuck out to see Rogue One on my own. I managed to pick up a second-hand blu-ray of Warcraft really cheap last year and watched it when I was home sick from work, and it was the definition of okay. I did enjoy The Jungle Book, but don’t recall when I saw it. Anyway. I wasn’t exactly going to burst into flames if I didn’t see Resurgence, as the story was pretty much done in the first film. But on a whim this afternoon I picked up Resurgence along with the first film at supermarket for 10 bucks. This seems like a fair price and not a terrible way to spend an evening.

Should be okay. I have vague memories that this is an alternate history where the alien tech has been retrofitted to 90s tech and spun off from there. That actually could be cool. And, hey, they managed to bring back the original director.

How bad could it be?

8:56pm

Okay, the boys are asleep and I’ve finally managed to put my phone down. Time to movie!

9:05pm

Sort of weird that the world is now united. Something tells me that’s not how it would go down if there was some kind of global disaster or alien invasion. Also, there are third world countries that now have access to vastly superior alien tech. How would that affect the balance of power? What would capitalist societies do with the technology? Actually the world looks pretty much as it does today, only with more flying stuff and ray guns. Didn’t the aliens have biomechanical armour? Didn’t they control their technology telepathically? Didn’t their ships have shields? Why haven’t humans exploited that technology? No sense of wonder. So many missed opportunities.

9:06pm

The moon has earth-like gravity. Huh.

Oh, stop it Julian. You’re over-thinking it. The first was a big, dumb action blockbuster and so is this. You’re not normally this nit-picky these days. Just sit back and enjoy it! The effects are pretty at least.

9:16pm

Wait. Will Smith isn’t in this one, is he? That’s, um, oh. Okay. There’re a few characters from the original, but mostly new characters. Hang on. They’re meant to be the kids from the first movie. My bad. They are still pretty much new characters though. And no Will Smith. Apparently, his character died on a test flight. Hmm.

9:18pm

The new characters… Who ARE these people? I don’t just mean in terms of their bios—who are they as characters? I don’t really have any sense of what they are like? There’s the hotshot pilot, his wise-cracking sidekick, the first daughter (is that the term? Probably not), the son of the hotshot pilot from the first film… But they’re all kind of cardboard cut outs I’ve met a million times before. It isn’t necessarily a problem that it’s formulaic—but formulaic and lacking personality is criminal. The first film is formulaic and cliché, but the actors brought a lot of energy and charm to the parts. The characters shared a chemistry. You knew who they were in the very first scenes—the characters don’t need to do super heroic deeds to be memorable. It can be something as simple as a shared joke or a way of walking. Everyone here looks tired. Like they don’t really want to be in the movie. Everybody is world-weary, even the young players. That isn’t a good sign.

9:34pm

Oh good, the aliens are here! Time for the movie to start.

9:36 pm

My wife is home! Gosh, that wrapped up early. I happily hit pause and we chat about the Christmas party.

9:45pm

Back to movie. The aliens’ new gravity weapon is actually pretty cool. Weaponised gravity is a genuinely terrifying concept. But couldn’t they just wipe out the entire planet in one shot? Actually one of the characters makes the point that this gigantic ship could just smash through the planet. But, erm, it doesn’t for inexplicable reasons.

10:12pm

I’m sleepy. That’s kind of interesting—the other night I watched Die Hard and despite being physically exhausted the film was so engaging that I didn’t feel like sleeping at all.

Resurgence is not great. I didn’t really think it would be– I went in with low expectations. It’s not terrible either. It’s just not a whole lot of fun.

There are aliens smashing stuff and humans scrambling to survive and I just am not feeling it because there’s no one character to care about. There’s Jeff Goldblum, I guess. We are halfway through the movie and nobody has really done anything.

I could stay up, I suppose. Is this movie worth being tired tomorrow? Is it worth sacrificing a bit of sleep to see how this turns out?

10:15pm

I put the remote down and stagger to bed. I’ll finish watching it tomorrow.

Probably.

It’s okay, I think as I pull back the covers. I got the first movie on DVD at least. And it comes with the second film as a bonus feature I’ll probably never watch again.

PS. I’m offering a free short story exclusively to followers of my newsletter. Sign up here for your copy! Fear not, I won’t give away your email address and you can unsubscribe at any time.

Coming 2019: Tooth and Blade

Salvete, readers!

I am thrilled to announce that in addition to the second Ashes of Olympus, next year I will release three novellas in a series based on Norse mythology. The title of the series is TOOTH AND BLADE.

For now, here are the cover and the blurb!

ragnarok is coming.png

 

They call me Peace-weaver. Warmaker. Beast.

My name is Dóta, and I am alone among my clan. The blood runs hot through my veins, though my mother’s touch gives me shivers. The gods of Asgard whisper to me in the night. I am a child of men, a monster unto monsters.

Sixteen years I have dwelled in the shadows beneath the earth. To discover my heritage, I must take up my bone knife and step into the light above. Secrets await me there—beauty, terror, the truth of who I am. Soon I must make an impossible choice, or the nine worlds will be devoured in fire and war.

A monster sheds no tears.

Norse mythology meets historical fantasy in the first novella of the TOOTH AND BLADE series. Step into a realm of haunted meres, iron and magic.

I hope you’ll join me for the journey. Part One of the series will land on Kindle in April 2019. I will eventually have a wider release for the box set of the series later in the year.
Edit: Foundling is now available to pre-order via Kindle!
Until next time,
Valete

10 questions to ask before publishing with a small press

Salvete, readers!

My first novel, The Way Home, was published this year by Odyssey Books, a small press in my native Australia. I have personally found the experience positive. However, this isn’t always the case when dealing with small presses. For example, my friend and fellow author Robyn Sarty shared on her blog the difficulties she encountered while working with a small press. Good experiences with small presses seem to be the exception. There are many reasons to be wary. For today’s post, I’ll run through some of the questions I ask myself before submitting to a small press. I went through all these questions before I signed on with Odyssey.

This post is unusually long for me. Here’s the short version: make sure you know what kind of career you want right from the very beginning, do your homework, and scrutinise the contract very carefully. With that in mind, here are the big questions:

  1. Am I better off self-publishing?

Disadvantages of small press publishing

  • With a small press, chances are you will end up doing most of the marketing yourself. It’s a lot of work, and you will receive less royalties per sale than you would by self-publishing. All things considered, is it worth sacrificing the royalties?
  • If the publisher is decent, you may have to surrender some creative control over things like content, formatting, layout, pricing, and the cover. You may or may not be okay with this.
  • Ask yourself: what are the advantages of being with a small presses? What does this small press offer that you can’t do yourself?

 

Potential advantages of small press publishing

  • Perhaps the publisher has a good reputation in the industry, or they might have great distribution, or they might have excellent people on their staff with whom you would like to work.
  • The ideal publisher will give expert guidance on aspects like cover design, editing, layout. I personally gain energy from working with others and wanted to benefit from my editor’s expertise.
  • There is a plethora of self-published content out there and it’s easy to get lost in the over-saturated market. Perhaps you’ll stand out from the crowd a little more with a publisher behind you, though nothing is guaranteed!
  • Potentially, you may have marketing opportunities you wouldn’t have as a self-published author. For instance, The Way Home was included in the Christmas catalogue for The Small Press Network and advertised in Books + Publishing, the magazine for the Aussie publishing industry. I don’t think these would have happened if the book were self-published.
  • Perhaps, for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable self-publishing—and that’s absolutely fine! It’s enormously time consuming and can be very costly to have sole responsibility for every aspect of your book. Lord knows I wasn’t ready to step into the indie world when I started seeking to publish The Way Home. It’s a somewhat different story now, and I would like to have a foot in both the indie and trad camps. But that is another story for another time…
  • As I mentioned in a previous post, it comes down to your long-term career goals and what your aspirations are for this particular book.

 

  1. Am I better off with a larger publisher?

Disadvantages of small press publishing

  • I’ll keep it short. If you want big advances, to see your books in chain stores, sell the film rights, have a full marketing team behind you, become a household name with your debut novel, then small press publishing probably isn’t for you.
  • Again, it comes down to your goals as an author. Be clear about this from the outset.

 

Potential advantages of small press publishing

  • These days even major publishers tend to grant smaller advances than they used to, and the marketing support has shrunk to the point where you’ll still be doing quite a bit of it yourself. However, if you get an advance you are under considerably more pressure to sell copies, as the publisher wants to recoup its investment. If your first book doesn’t earn out (often for reasons that are completely beyond your control), then you’ll be fighting an uphill battle to publish a second.
  • This pressure doesn’t really exist with a small press if you don’t have an advance, as is usually the case. Without an advance, the book doesn’t need to sell nearly as many copies to be profitable—in the small press world, around 5000 copies is generally considered a bestseller.
  • Again, it comes back to your goals—for your career and your book. These will shape your decisions about whether or not to submit to a small press. For an unknown author with long-term career goals, just starting out and looking to make a reputation in the industry, a well-regarded small press can be a great place to start.
  • Small press publishing fulfils the goals I currently strive for. It won’t work for everyone, but at this point of my career it does work for me.

 

  1. What kind of website does the publisher have?
  • Okay, let’s say that you’ve decided to start looking into small presses. You want to eliminate the bad options and make sure your book ends up in the right hands. Before submission, the first thing you’ll check out is their website.
  • If it’s a clean, professional, modern-looking website, that’s a good start.
  • You’d be surprised how many small presses’ websites look like they were built by twelve-year-old kids learning to use HTML.
  • If the website looks bad, the publisher is bad. That simple. If the website is good, well, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. See below.

 

  1. Am I actually dealing with a legitimate publisher?
  • I can’t stress this one enough. There are a lot of predators out there. Many vanity presses pass themselves off as small presses, trying to prey on the newbie writers who don’t know better. Or perhaps the authors are desperate to see their name in print—even if it means paying ridiculous fees!
  • Though I know there are experimental models of hybrid publishing, as a general principle I think it’s best for the money to flow from the publisher to the author, not the other way around.
  • There are a lot of great resources out there like Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s project, Writer Beware, which keeps track of literary scams.
  • The longevity of the publisher is a good indication of how much you should trust them. Most small presses fold within two years, for lots of reasons. If it seems like a fly-by-night operation or lame get-rich-quick scheme, it probably is.
  • Any publisher which will just print your book with no edits whatsoever isn’t worth your time.
  • Put simply, predators are not your friends. They want to eat you. Be smart like a rabbit and run.

 

  1. What sort of digital footprint does the owner of the publisher have?
  • With a small press, the business owner is most likely also the commissioning editor and solely responsible for the range of books they produce. It might feel a bit intrusive, but I do think it is worthwhile Googling the business owner and seeing what you can find.
  • If your submission is successful, then you’ll be working very closely with this person for a long time. There is a good chance you’ll be under considerable time pressure through the production process as small presses tend to have tighter schedules. It’s stressful. You want to have the confidence at the outset that you’re dealing with a decent person who knows their business, somebody you can work with under adverse circumstances.
  • See question 4 above. If you can’t find anything about the owner, that is a real worry. It suggests that either the individual doesn’t want to be found, or that they have no experience in the industry.
  • If the authors in the publisher’s current stable sing their praises online, that is a very good sign. Decent publishers tend to attract loyalty from their authors.

 

  1. Does the publisher have a good reputation in the industry?
  • How do you know they are well-regarded? Go to conferences and ask people who know. Check out who follows who on social media.
  • If the publisher’s books get shortlisted for publishing awards, it’s a very good sign. One of the reasons I was confident going to Odyssey was because Kathryn Gossow’s Cassandra was nominated for an Aurealis Award, the biggest award for science fiction and fantasy in Australia. My hunch that I was onto a good thing with Odyssey was confirmed when Elizabeth Jane Corbett’s The Tides Between was shortlisted by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

 

  1. Do I actually like the books they publish?
  • Some small presses publish a diverse array of materials. Others specialise in a particular genre. Either way, if you don’t like the books they publish, chances are you won’t like working with this publisher.
  • See if you can find a consistent theme or tone running through the books. If it resonates with you, go for it. If you like their books, there is a chance the editor will like your stuff. If you don’t like the books, move on.
  • Do the books’ covers appeal to you? Does the publisher invest actual money into cover design? If their covers look cheap, tacky, unprofessional or unappealing, then run.

 

  1. Can I find their books in bookshops/libraries?
  • I’m not just talking about distribution to online stores like Amazon etc. That isn’t a big deal these days. You can distribute to online stores for a very small fee through an automatic service like Draft2Digital. I’m talking about distribution of hard copies to libraries and bricks-and-mortar stores.
  • Chances are you won’t see the books in the major chain stores. That isn’t necessarily a problem. However, do check out the franchises like Dymocks in Australia or Waterstones in the UK. Also check independent bookstores, who are much more likely to stock small press books out of a desire to support the writing community.
  • If you Google “Publisher name” + “distributor” you should be able to find out which company distributes their books. If they don’t work with a distributor, that may be a cause for concern. Part of the reason I was attracted to Odyssey was because their books are distributed via Novella Distribution, which has a great relationship with schools in Australia and NZ. If you write for kids or teens, school libraries are your bread and butter. The distributor isn’t just there to take orders, store and deliver the stock. They also champion the book to potential retail outlets and libraries.
  • The public library is also particularly important litmus test in Australia, which has a thriving public library system. Authors receive a (very small) compensation every time their book is borrowed.
  • It can also help to check out websites like worldcat.org, which give a fairly good overview of which libraries hold a particular book. It isn’t comprehensive or kept up to date, but it will give you some idea.

 

  1. How fair is the contract?
  • Let’s say you’re successful in your submission and you are offered a contract. It can be tempting to sign anything the publisher waves in front of you, but make sure you go in with both eyes open. Read it carefully. If it’s not acceptable to you, renegotiate or walk away. Other opportunities will come along. You have power in this situation. You have something the publisher wants—it is easy to forget that.
  • It is of enormous value to have an expert read it and give their professional opinion. Professional bodies like the Australian Society of Authors and the Queensland Writer’s Centre will provide this service for a fee. It’s worth it.
  • I’m a bit wary of anything written in excessive legalese. The English should be clear even to a lay reader.
  • What rights are you granting? Any publisher that expects you to surrender your copyright is predatory.
  • The terms of the contract should only last for a finite period whose date of expiry is explicit.
  • Also, it should spell out that if the publisher folds—which happens all too often—then all rights revert to you as the author.
  • You are in essence granting the publisher a licence to print and distribute your work, and when the contract is finished you should have the opportunity to renegotiate before renewing it. If the rights lapse, they should automatically revert to you, and this should be made clear.
  • You should keep the adaptation rights. They are more valuable than you think.
  • The contract should also make it clear who has the final say on the book’s content—i.e. the publisher shouldn’t be allowed to make major revisions without your expressed permission.
  • The contract should also spell out exactly what you and the publisher are expected to do in order to ensure the book’s success.
  • If the contract restricts your right to submit future work elsewhere, renegotiate. If the publisher won’t renegotiate, run. There is at least one player in the world of Australian publishing who compels authors to surrender part of their royalties if they submit future work elsewhere. I won’t name names, but for heaven’s sake, don’t sign anything like this!
  • Finally—the contract should spell out what will happen if things don’t work out between you and your publisher. Sometimes they don’t. Look after yourself.

 

  1. How much are my royalties?
  • If you are going to a small press for the money, you may be in it for the wrong reasons. But you *do* deserve to get paid fairly for your work, no matter what.
  • The contract should clearly spell out how much you get paid, how royalties are calculated, and when you can expect payment.
  • If you are not receiving any kind of advance, then it is reasonable to expect more generous royalties. A major publisher will offer 25% of net receipts on e-book sales on top of the advance. Ideally you should get a bit more than this.

 

  1. Bonus question: Are you willing to work your butt off to make the book a success?
  • No matter which avenue for publication you choose–indie, trad, small press—you’re going to need to work hard to make sure the book sells. If you know nothing whatsoever about marketing, then now is a very good time to learn the basics.
  • Again, you are also going to have to work fast and be available to respond to editor’s notes very quickly, as small press schedules are usually tight. If you can do that, you are doing well.

I think that’ll do it for today.

Until next time,

Valete

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