Alan Baxter writes dark fantasy, sci-fi and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. He’s a contributing editor and co-founder at Thirteen O’Clock and co-hosts Thrillercast, a thriller and genre fiction podcast. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website – www.alanbaxteronline.com – and feel free to tell him what you think. About anything. Find him on Twitter at @AlanBaxter –https://twitter.com/#!/AlanBaxter.
1. Congratulations on your 2012 Ditmar nomination for Best New Talent! Were you surprised to be nominated as a ‘new’ talent, given your fairly substantial body of work to-date? Do you think there is a particular factor that has brought this honour to you now?
Thanks! I was quite surprised, and it does seem to be a strange thing to get nominated for, though I am very pleased about it. I’m certainly still a newbie compared to many in the scene, but I’ve been working my arse off at this caper for what seems like a long time and I’ve had a modicum of success. When I checked the criteria of the awards, it’s the name itself that’s a bit misleading. The rules state:
“The Best New Talent award recognises excellence of achievement in any field of the genre by an individual who has not been nominated for a recognised award three or more years before the year the award is held.”
So Best New Talent is really an award that might be better named Best Thus Far Unrewarded Talent. And I’m fine with that!
Any particular factor that’s bringing it to me now? I don’t know. I just continue to work my butt off, trying to become a better writer all the time, and I try to engage with the community as much as possible. Perhaps it’s just my time to be noticed. Regardless, I’m very grateful to whoever nominated me, and equally grateful to anyone who votes for me!
2. Your novels, RealmShift and MageSign, were originally self-published, but later picked up by Gryphonwood Press. Was it important for you to move from self-publishing to an established publisher? Have you noticed a difference in audience engagement since moving to Gryphonwood, and what would you choose to do with future novels?
Regardless of actual quality, there’s still a (somewhat deserved) stigma attached to self-publishing. Having books produced by a reputable publisher adds a level of credibility to the work. That publisher has said, “I’m going to put my name to this work and my money behind it”, so the public have a better degree of certainty that it’s worth their time and money. I saw that potential when Gryphonwood made the offer. Gryphonwood also re-edited the novels and have since commissioned new cover art, and both books are far better for it. Of course, there are no guarantees – a lot of publishers are producing crap, and there’s the whole taste aspect too. Just because a publisher thinks something is great, readers may not.
However, besides all that, being with a respected publisher means my work can reach more people than I could hope to manage on my own. As a writer, I want to be read. A publisher does a better job of producing a book and distributing it than I could do on my own. And I can concentrate on writing and general engagement with readers, and worry less about numbers and production issues.
For future novels I’ll now always pursue good traditional publishing deals first. Most really successful self-publishers have an established trad name, which I’m still too new and unrecognised to have. The few other successful self-publishers out there are lottery winners. I’d rather stick to the trad route for now and concentrate on writing good books that good publishers will get behind. But never say never – it’s a fast-changing world out there and I wouldn’t rule anything out.
3. You are well renowned for your social media savvy. Do you think there’s more pressure these days for emerging writers and artists to have a “name” before their career can really take off? Do you think editors and publishers are paying more attention to how writers present themselves online?
It’s funny that I have this renown. I never really considered it before other people started pointing it out to me. I think it’s just something I enjoy, and appear to have a knack for. But really, all I’m doing is being myself and having fun.
Your question is really quite big and complicated, but I’ll try to give my opinion briefly. I think it’s essential for writers to have some presence when they have work out there. Writers should first concentrate on producing quality work – editors and publishers will recognise that in the slush pile regardless of whether the person has any established social media identity or not. Once you start to get work published, I think it benefits the author and publisher to be engaged in social media to some degree.
There is the school of thought that a publisher will more likely buy something from someone with an established network of readers than someone without. I’d like to think that would only come into effect if the publisher was struggling to decide between two equally good works. So there is a certain advantage in developing a strong social media presence early from that point of view, but the quality of the work has to be there first and foremost.
As for editors and publishers paying more attention to writers online – definitely. And, for that matter, writers pay more attention to publishers and editors too. I’ve seen some pretty atrocious behaviour from both camps over the years. The only way to deal with it is to be yourself and not act like a dick. If you try to present yourself as something you’re not, if you act like a dick, regardless of how good your work might be, people won’t want to work with you. And again, that goes both ways. Just like real life, really. Act online like you would face to face and you’re onto a pretty good start. Unless you actually are a dick, of course. There’s no help for you then.
My philosophy when it comes to social media is four simple points:
Don’t be a dick;
Promote the good stuff;
Ignore the crap and the negative.
Over and above that, just be sure to have fun and only engage with it as much as you want to, not as much as you think you should.
Everything else takes care of itself.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Most recently I read Debris by Jo Anderton and absolutely loved it – a brilliant read. I’ve also loved Angela Slatter’sSourdough & Other Stories, Lisa L Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony, Trent Jamieson’s Death Works books, Paul Haines last collection, The Last Days Of Kali Yuga. Pretty much everything from Ticonderoga Publications is blowing me away at the moment. Coeur De Lion’s anthology Anywhere But Earth is one of the best sci-fi anthos I’ve ever read (and not just because I’m in it!). Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle is a sterling achievement. I could go on and on – spec fic in Australia is going from strength to strength, it’s an honour to be a part of it.
If I could also mention some forthcoming stuff I’m really looking forward to – Felicity Dowker’s debut collection, Bread & Circuses, is being launched in June. I beta-read and critiqued the new work in that collection and it’s awesome, and her previous work speaks for itself. I’m also really looking forward to Martin Livings’ collection, Living With The Dead, because I love his work. And Lee Battersby’s novel, The Corpse Rat King, is coming soon from Angry Robot and I’m excited about that one too. So much good stuff! I’m sure I’ve left loads out…
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?
I don’t really think there are any huge changes since Aussiecon 4 in particular. The scene just continues to grow and gain more respect. I think Aussie spec fic is getting noticed a lot more outside Australia than it has before, which is a great thing. The small press scene is growing ever more vibrant, with more publishers appearing and producing some real quality stuff, while the established presses are still working hard. It’s a great scene of which to be a part. I don’t know if it’s just my perception or not, but cons seem to be stronger than ever too. I just hope we continue to see this scene, of which we can all be proud, grow into something ever stronger. Today Australia, tomorrow THE WORLD! MWAHAHAHAHAHA!
(Sorry, I’ve always wanted to end an interview with an evil laugh!)