Happy Release Day to me… Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is out! #Korea #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

Happy Release Day to me… Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is out! #Korea #amreading #ASMSG #LGBT

Happy Release Day to me: Opus XV is now available in stores around the world

Happy Release Day! Sing along with me, will you? 🙂 It’s a strange sensation, not just because I think it’s a bit of a dirty word, this whole “release day” thingy. It’s just strange that we make such a big fuzz about something as simple as a new book in a bookstore. Yeah, I know, it’s all about marketing, PR, drumming up excitement, selling and what not. On the other hand, release day also means that I, the author, have to let go, physically release my characters and their adventures into the freedom they deserve.

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Cover

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover

Every release day is different

No to release days are alike. I’ve been up two hours, so it’s still early, but I can already feel that it’s going to be different, for more than one reason. First, I’m not as nervous as I used to be. And it’s not just the fact that, by now, I’m used to releasing books. It is, after all, my fifteenth book, my twelfth novel. There’s a different reason. I feel I’m done somehow. Difficult to put my finger on it, but I don’t see another novel in the near future, not from me anyway.

I’m smarter than saying “never”, I won’t, but for now, I think I’m done. I want to do something else. What? We’ll see. A day job, some hard-earned money would be nice. It’s been a while.

Martin’s story is an important one

Let’s not dwell too long on me, I’m irrelevant. Let’s focus on the book. While it’s “happy release day to me”, it’s really all about the story, the characters, and I think Martin’s story deserves telling, it deserves reading. It highlights a generation of gay men that we don’t read much about. They are the ones who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today, they were at the forefront of the LGBT organizations in the sixties and onward, the ones threatened to their lives. Martin may not have been on the barricades, for many reasons. Instead, Martin’s story is the one of why the struggle for equality and inclusion is so important.

Korea

No, writing about Korea wasn’t part of some grand scheme of mine, despite how “in” Korea seems to be right now. It’s one of the longest wards in human history, still ongoing, with a very long cease-fire. And even though we’ve seen some tiny steps (as we have in the past) toward a detente on the peninsula recently (all happening after I had traveled to Korea for research in January), events in recent days show just how fragile progress is, and how easy it is for North Korea to retreat and clam up again. Given the American regime’s split tongue messages, I can’t really blame them. Who would want to end up like Ghaddafi? Deserved or not, Kim isn’t that stupid. Stay tuned to see this unfold in the coming weeks and months. Or not.

The reason why Korea became a topic was simple: given Martin’s age and the fact that he was conscripted into the armed forces, Korea was the logical choice. It was the big conflict the US was involved in at the time. I just hadn’t really done my homework and needed to do a lot more homework than I could’ve bargained for… All good though, it’s a much better story for it.

Feel-good story

My books span across many genres, including erotica and science-fiction. Then I write YA and contemporary, family sagas and dark stories about child abuse. What are the things that bind all those books together? Two things: they are all about gay fiction (which incidentally is not the same thing as M/M romance, I feel the need to point this out, since some people seem to believe that) and they all leave you with feeling good at the end. Here in Sweden, we have a genre called “feelgood” which is odd, an English term in Swedish, but it is what it is. I’ve made it my own because it helps me to accurately describe what my stories are about. Like an elevator pitch.

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a good example of that. I invite you to get to know Martin, Ji-Hoon, Kevin, and Eugene. You can learn more on the book’s own page here, with a trailer, buy links and a short narration of the first chapter.

Happy Release Day to me! Happy reading to you…

 

#NobelPrize in Literature and the recent crisis in the Swedish Academy #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

#NobelPrize in Literature and the recent crisis in the Swedish Academy #amwriting #amreading #ASMSG

The Nobel Prize is the world’s biggest and most important prize. Or must I say ‘was’?

Most people know the Nobel Prize. If you’re a scientist, it’s something to aspire to. Who wouldn’t want to be mentioned along with the likes of Marie Curie or Albert Einstein? Thought so. There are five plus one prizes: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology & Medicine, Peace, and Literature. The sixth prize, the Economics Prize, isn’t originally mentioned in Nobel’s will but was instituted by the Swedish Federal Reserve in 1968 to honor the memory of Alfred Nobel.

You never satisfy everyone…

There is always criticism against the prizes, and who they are awarded to. From a generic criticism that the prizes come far too late in a researcher’s life (which is not what Nobel had in mind), to specific criticism of particular winners. In recent years, it was particularly the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee which has been criticized for their choices. Many voices mentioned the political dimension of the prize and how the Norwegian committee has been tainted by local infighting among Norwegian politicians. Here in the Nordics, we read a lot about that, but from what I gather, most people abroad don’t seem to be bothered.

The Literature Prize, however… It is debated far outside the immediate circles and the winners are questioned pretty much every year. Why not him? Why not this country/language/culture? Why no woman? Why not Bob Dylan? Well actually, that one was answered in 2015 and raised even more questions… Now picture this on top of the ongoing discussions about the winners themselves:

Sex, wine & a “jolly good fellow”

This isn’t the first time the Swedish Academy is in the news. In 1989, when the Academy refused to criticize Iran for the fatwah against Salman Rushdie, three members “quit”, which until this week was not legally possible. Their chairs remained empty. One has since died, but Kerstin Ekman‘s chair #15 is still unoccupied, after all these decades. This week, the King changes the rules (which is also subject of some debate in Sweden) and now allows members to leave the Academy or – if they haven’t been there for two years or more – to be tossed out.

The current crisis isn’t necessarily homemade, although it’s been made worse by the members of the Academy. In the wake of the #MeToo debate, eighteen (!) women retold Sweden’s largest newspaper their stories of how they’d been sexually abused and even raped by the husband of one of the Academy members. The wife is a very well respected poet. Her husband, however, has had a reputation in artist’s circles for decades as being a pig, a real chauvinist (or “Savoir Vivre” as one of his friends and Academy members puts it). So it wasn’t a long shot for the journalist to seek out these women. There are countless more than the eighteen who finally told their stories and broke the news. Just this week, it was reported that even our own Crown Princess had been assaulted. He put his hands on Her Royal Highness’s ass, all the while the King was apparently seeing it happen. They escorted him out, but nothing happened beyond that, which is in a way women’s story of #MeToo until last year…

The secretary of the Academy, Sara Danius, began an investigation and asked a law firm to look into the allegations. There were also rumors that he’d shared the names of previous winners with outsiders (apparently all spouses always know the winner beforehand, which isn’t really a surprise.) There were also allegations of economical winning and bias, which are currently being investigated by the authorities.

The Academy falls apart

Within the Academy, how to deal with all this created a huge rift and as the scandal blew up, three male members left. Since then, the secretary and an additional member have left the ranks, leaving it a sad bunch of ten people rather than the usual eighteen. And among them are only two women. The average age is high, some of the members are in their eighties. The oldest will be ninety-four in a month’s time. Some of them suffer from dementia or are extremely senile.

The infighting is extremely public these days, and the members have been very public, despite their credo of “what happens in the Academy stays in the Academy!” Which is detrimental to their many tasks. They’re a rich organization, with tons of real estate and they hand out many prizes every year. The Swedish Academy is also responsible for charting the Swedish Language, and the Swedish Vocabulary, charting hundreds of thousands of Swedish words and how they were/are used in our language. As a linguist, and having worked near this project as a student, I can’t express how important that work is (it’s no coincidence that Casper, one of my protagonists, is a professor in data linguistics at the University of Gothenburg, where much of the practical work was done.)

What about the Nobel Prize?

Apparently, there are only five names left for consideration for this year’s prize which is announced early in October. However, the Academy announced this morning that they will not hand out a prize this year, after consultation with the Nobel Foundation, who is overall responsible for the prize and the prize money (roughly one million USD.) Instead, they will hand out two prizes next year.

Here’s my question as an author: who would’ve wanted a prize this year? Any female winner would be accused of being the token #MeToo winner, rather than a worthy literary genius. A man would be seen as “typical” for such a backward organization where rapists are considered “having a good reputation” and whatever literary qualities a winner would bring to the table, they’d be questioned, as most writers have left the Academy. Those who are left are linguists, priests, and philosophers. And they’re only TEN. And they’re old. Not to mention the fact that what some of them have said in public in recent weeks would have any decent author run the other way, rather than accepting a prize from them.

Would you want the Nobel Prize this year?

I think this is the question at the core of it all, and while it’s a sad day for literature, this was a good decision. Personally, I’d have scratched the prize for this year altogether, rather than handing it out next year, because the 2018 Prize will always be tainted. Among scholars of literature, the Nobel Prize isn’t “equal”, some are regarded as ‘secondary years’, even in Sweden. The fact that one of the very first prizes was awarded to Selma Lagerlöf was impressive, although it did little to help the prize abroad. But she was an amazing writer and a woman. The fact that she was later voted into the Academy also decreased the value of her prize. The worst ones? Probably the awards in 1974 when the Academy rewarded two of its own, again! But there are definitely others, just read the linked Wikipedia article. You can’t really compete in art, so… Even the modern approach to award the Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan backfired in 2016, as Dylan didn’t give a flying fuck about the award and didn’t come to Stockholm to meet the King. He finally accepted the Prize money by giving the mandatory lecture at the last minute. But it was an embarrassing moment for the Academy.

So would you want one? From a splinter Academy who thinks that rapists have a “good reputation”, a “sense for Savoir Vivre” and “lots to teach our young”?

Is there hope for the future?

This is really the big question. Will things quiet down? Abroad most likely. Here in Sweden? We’ll see. Eight members must either be re-engaged or replaced. This will need to happen before the end of the year. There’s a lot of protocol around this and new members are only admitted once a year, in early December in what is a bit of a ceremony. So finding eight new members, or to get the six who recently jumped ship to re-engage? Given all the bad things that have been said, I doubt that. Plus there’s always the chance that mother nature swoops in and weeds out some of the older members… 94, 91… This isn’t the Supreme Court of the United States, where the justices are mostly figureheads with hundreds of staffers doing the real work. The Academy is a small organization, and the members pull a lot of the weight. Just saying…

I think the Academy has done what they had to, under the Damoclean sword of losing the privilege to award the Nobel Prize altogether. The real work starts now, and given the ten remaining members, I for one remain skeptical. I just don’t see any progress in most of the ten “remainers”. But who knows? This article was just about the Nobel Prize, not the Academy itself. I could write a lot more, but I won’t bore you with that. Not today.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

 

Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

Korean peninsula: when reality “interferes” with your writing #amwriting #ASMSG #Korea #amreading

How do you deal with reality, when it trumps your fiction? When it threatens to make it obsolete?

Three weeks left to the release of my next book. Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm is a story where Korea plays a major role, not just the Koreans depicted in the plot. When I first began to write about Martin, an octogenarian in America, you realize quickly that people in his age were very likely to have been conscripted, or “drafted” as we normally say. Given his age, the Korean War was also a given, not that all drafted young Americans would’ve ended up there, but Martin did, and the story took its course. Mind you, at the time I began to write the book, Korea was in the news almost daily. And not in a good way.

Trump v Kim

One was called “dotard”, the other was insulted with regards to the size of their “buttons”, and for a while, it seemed as if the fragile seize-fire at the 38th parallel was seriously threatened. North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles even had some of my friends in California afraid for their personal safety. I remembered the eighties and our fear for Russian missiles raining over Europe. War, a world war even, seemed suddenly possible. Having visited Korea in the past, I was afraid for my friends in Seoul, who live less than fifty miles from the border and who can be reached by conventional artillery fire from the north, let alone nuclear weapons. I later learned what Kim’s grandfather did to Seoul during the first days of the Korean War, and it scared me.

My trip to Korea

When I began to write the story about Martin, it was not meant to be a novel. I quickly realized that there was more to the story and let it take its course. I also realized that my knowledge about Korea wasn’t good enough, that I needed to know more. When I set foot in Seoul in Mid-January, things were quickly changing on the ground. All of a sudden, North Korea seemed to be interested in detente with its southern neighbor, and as I watched the Olympic torch being carried through the streets of Seoul, we learned of North Korean delegations coming to PyongChang to attend the impending games, and eventually, even Kim’s sister showed up, and Mike Pence was glad his wife never left his side…

Kim Jong-Un surprises the world

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

A historic meeting? Only time will tell. IMAGE CREDITS: KOREA SUMMIT PRESS POOL/GETTY IMAGES.

As I was watching the images on my TV screen last week, of the quickly arranged summit between the two leaders of Korea, of Kim crossing the border (last time a leader from the north “visited” the south was Kim’s grandfather, when he rolled into Seoul after more or less having flattened the city in four days) at Panmunjom, I had tears in my eyes. Yeah, I’m a softie. I watched on as the two men shook hands, all smiles, how Kim – unscripted apparently – invited President Moon to take a step back across the border into the north, have pictures taken before they anew crossed the border to the south for their meetings.

At the end of the day, the two leaders had agreed on a range of topics, including negotiations to finally put an official rubber stamp to the war, which officially was never ended at the ceasefire in 1953.

How this affects my novel…

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Cover

Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm – Cover

I finished writing my book in February, which says a bit about just how fast things are developing on the Korean peninsula. Because when I wrote the book, the Olympic Games had ended, and the symbolic visit of Kim’s sister had been a success. But the thirty-head cheerleader group had drawn more chuckles and head-shakes due to their weird behavior, than being perceived as a serious step toward detente. The story ends in early April, just a few weeks ago, and I don’t mention any of this in the book. And just last week, we worked through the edits and sent the book into proofreading.

Now I’m wondering if I need to rewrite it. Not a lot, but do I need to mention the detente? It may not need more than a sentence or two, but on the other hand, we’ve seen this political tango in Korea before, two steps forward, two steps back. But Kim Jong-Un is a different person. Raised and schooled in Switzerland (his Korean accent raising eyebrows in Seoul), he is the first dictator in the family, only the third leader of North Korea, to be “protected” by a functioning nuclear deterrent. He’s young, he’s healthy, and he knows about the west in terms of how much better our lives are compared to what his citizens have to live with. Who knows, he might even miss walking the streets of Berne…

It’s the uncertainty of it all that is the biggest dilemma…

Not knowing what the future holds is making this so difficult. Not that we ever know what the future holds, but here in Europe, we can at least assume that the next years will be similar to the ones we have behind us. Development, not revolution. In Korea though, right now? I honestly don’t know. I’m always a skeptic, but even I have to be honest and admit that Kim’s moves have me surprised. Is he serious or what is he up to? Motivation in the south is different. The official stance of all politicians in the south is unification, just as it was in West Germany before 1990. That the population in the South, particularly the young, see things differently, is a different thing. They see just how big a sacrifice from the South would be needed to bring the North up to par. I’ve written about this before.

So what do I do? What if I write the detente into the novel only to have reality suffer another setback? As a writer, I want my books not just to mirror my time, I’d like for my stories to be “timeless”, not primarily for commercial reasons, but because timeless stories are more relevant. It’s why we still read Shakespeare. His stories, the conflicts he describes are truly timeless.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know what to do. I’m still thinking, talking to my publisher. If you have any recommendations, thoughts, please let me know. We have about a week or ten days to come up with a solution to this conundrum.

Finally

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority and why it is such a dangerous concept #amwriting #ASMSG #amreading

Cultural superiority: good intentions often pave the way to hell

First of all, what do I mean with “cultural superiority”. It’s this idea that “my” culture is somehow better than someone else’s. It’s similar to the term ethnocentricity but differs from it in that you actually DO know about other cultures and still think your own is superior. Let me exemplify the difference: ethnocentricity is e.g. studying psychology at a western university and not seeing the name of a single researcher from China or Asia, not reading a single book about the history of psychology on different continents. Cultural superiority is when you think that the way your culture handles certain aspects of life, e.g. the number of vacation days, is better than that of another country. Both may have common roots in preconceptions, racism even.

As a writer, I often come across cultural superiority in the books that I read, and in my own writing, I have to be careful not to judge other cultures based on my own views, but to be balanced in my views. That isn’t always easy. Allow me to exemplify with a couple of examples with regards to my coming novel Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm which plays out in the United States and South Korea.

Eating cats and dogs

Last night I read an article that the United States Congress wants to officially make it illegal to eat cats and dogs. So far so good. I’m sure felines and canines across the U.S. will all sigh in relief. Congress is finally taking action on something. However, the legislation has a catch, not just because it’s not really needed. It’s not about making sure that poor Americans who’ve been denied food stamps won’t turn to their pets instead. No. It is a signal to South Korea and other countries, where the consumption of cats and dogs is still a thing. This becomes a thing for a few months before and after every major event in Korea, before the world moves on again. And with Korea currently being in every news cycle, it’s not likely to go away any time soon. But seriously, if you think about it, why is eating a dog different from eating a chicken? Or a calf? A lamb? Or a piglet?

Imagine the uproar in America if Muslim countries and Israel suddenly decided to chastise the U.S. for its consumption of bacon and ham? Or if India, where the cow is considered sacred, began to pressure the U.S. to outlaw hamburgers? Surely, 1.4 billion Indians outweigh the views of 400 million Americans?

Equality and marriage laws…

As a gay man, I’m all for equality, and I will voice my views wherever I can, including this globally (except Russia when Putin’s angry with me) available blog. And yes, I’d love for every human being to be able to get married in every country on Earth, not just nineteen or twenty. Wouldn’t it also be great if countries who do not allow single-sex marriages to accept such unions entered in other countries (as the EU demands of its member states), the way we accept unions from other countries which may greatly differ from what we allow here? But no such luck.

Most Western countries will accept marriages between children if the was legally married in their home country, and we’ll also not consider wives two to four “single” if they were legally wed in a Muslim country, as difficult as it may be to stomach for us. There have been calls to stop such unions, but I’m afraid it would only make it more difficult for us to work with those countries to accept our views of the world. Cultural superiority goes both ways.

Criminalizing behavior elsewhere

Last week, Swedish lawmakers decided not to pursue a proposed legislation that would’ve made buying sex illegal even abroad, at least for Swedes and residents here. Norway is currently the only country with such a law on the books. In Sweden, it’s been illegal to buy sex for many years, while it’s perfectly okay to sell it (in an effort not to stigmatize sex workers.) The reason for the abandonment was simple: fear of retribution.

Imagine if countries suddenly felt they could prosecute their citizens and residents for actions in other countries. It would be a serious breach of a state’s sovereignty. Please note that we are only talking about democracies here. Non-democratic regimes have no respect for the rule of law anyway… The country that has most such “elsewhere” laws on the book is the United States, with their taxation laws at the forefront. As a Swiss living in Sweden, I don’t pay Swiss taxes here. Americans in Sweden, however, get to pay twice, forcing many to give up their citizenship because they can’t afford it.

But it goes beyond financial means. What if Ireland (where e.g. abortion is still illegal) were to punish women for getting one in the U.K., or in Sweden? Or what if an LGBT person from Russia were to be thrown in jail for going to a gay club in New York while on vacation? Borderline case, since Russia isn’t a democracy, but still. You get my point.

The risks of cultural superiority

The biggest risk is of course that it can backfire, as the example with the meat shows. But more than that, it also shows a lack of in-depth knowledge, of why some cultures do things differently. Why is child labor still a “thing” in South Asia? Hardly because parents think it’s a “good” idea… Severe poverty along with different definitions of child- and adulthood are more likely the real reasons behind this phenomenon. And when you look at the bigger picture you’ll also be able to do something about it in a way that doesn’t make it worse or aggravates people. Child labor is a great example of how our western views make things worse for millions and millions of people. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think children should work either. They should go to school. But we’re doing it all wrong today, simply cutting off suppliers who use child labor.

In my coming novel, I ran the risk of being guilty of cultural superiority as well, and it was an effort to make sure to depict both American and Korean society on equal footing, despite my personal convictions. This also affected the story itself, the plot, and how the book ultimately ends. Not that I can go into any details here (spoiler alert!)

What are your experiences? A problem? How can we address it? Let’s hear it…

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

 

Growing comfortable with your creative vacuum #ASMSG #amwriting #amreading

Growing comfortable with your creative vacuum #ASMSG #amwriting #amreading

Celebrate your creative vacuum, make the most of it

I’ll be the first to admit: I panic when I can’t write. I tend to descend into the depression that is the emotion of feeling that not only am I not writing period, not producing that next great novel that will bring me fame, glory and – above all – finally some money to provide for my family… No, instead I do household chores, from doing dishes, folding clothes, get the garden ready for summer, [add any household chores] etc. Recently, though, I’ve grown tired of falling into this pit after every submitted manuscript, I’m naming the monster. My creative vacuum is no Voldemort. I have named it, I’m calling it out and I’m fighting it.

Name your demon…

Creative vacuum. That’s my demon. It visits me every time I finish a manuscript. I feel empty, literally. I have this screaming voice inside me informing me that I’ll never write another story. Ever. Only nobody can hear it through the emptiness of space. Good thing about vacuums… With that voice comes the obligatory depression. No, not medical in nature. But I do feel down. My life slows down and everything I do (and do not), feels amplified because I have this thing called “time”. Time to think, contemplate, ponder. Why am I not sitting down and writing? Why am I folding towels rather than writing? Why am I doing my mother-in-law’s taxes instead of writing? Why am I worrying about my dad’s lungs and a potential cancer when I could be writing? Should be writing? Why?

Why indeed?

It’s debilitating. It’s useless, yet it’s life. I’m not “just” an author. I’m also – and maybe even more so – a father, a husband, a member of society. And as such come obligations. I’m not sitting alone in my ivory tower writing stories. Alas, life has its demands and I need to meet my obligations. However, I also have those when I’m not stuck in my creative vacuum, so why does it bother me so much now? And what can I do to fight it?

I think the most important thing for me is to relax. Accept it. Embrace it even. I will never be able to defeat it. My creative vacuum is like a purging fire across a steppe. When we were in Australia, we learned that the Aboriginals purposely light fires to burn the land, because like a Fenix, what is reborn is fresh, vibrant and full of life. I had to accept that my creative vacuum is the wait for rebirth.

I slept miserably last night…

 

creative vacuum

Some people have more time than others… Now that I’m returning to the zone, can I have a day, please?

Toward the end of my creative vacuum, I sleep badly. Once I wake up, I can not go back to sleep. My son woke me up at 1:25 last night, asking for water. After that, I didn’t sleep. I was thinking, and oddly, my thoughts circled a lot about stories, that idea I have of writing twenty-four short stories, about a character representing each of the letters of the alphabet. I’ve had ideas about a sci-fi story involving a mercury sea, fantasy stories, a story about a bisexual character etc.

 

And all of a sudden, despite being exhausted, I have this strange energy pulsing through me. And my fingers ache to write. And once I’m back in the zone, I could go for days, weeks without eating, drinking, personal hygiene. Luckily, I know better…

More than just accepting

My creative vacuum, I’ve learned, is more than just mourning the end of a story, letting go of beloved characters. It’s also a chance for me to learn, to read and do something else, something that is not related to my author life. Peek outside my writing bubble, and the small community surrounding me. There’s such a thing as “ordinary life” out there. I need to learn more about it, to better reflect it in my books. And who knows, earn a buck, or two? Wouldn’t that be nice?

What else is new?

Short, but sweet: first feedback from my publisher on my new book.

This week is going to be busy. And as the realization has dawned on me that my creative vacuum has evaporated, it will be even busier. Unlike some, I only have seven days at my disposal. I have a newsletter due this week, and that needs to be written. If you haven’t subscribed, feel free to do so top right here on the website. Thank you.

My coming novel is in the editing phase and it seems my editor likes it. In a short statement last week, they’ve told me that I have nothing to worry about. That was nice to hear, and it shows how well we work together. I didn’t even have to tell them how anxious I was. They know me well enough by now…

Finally

Do you ever feel that way? Is this creative vacuum something all artists go through at times? I look forward to your comments.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi

“Self”, “indie” or “trad” publishing: what are you? Does it matter? #ASMSG #amwriting #author

“Self”, “indie” or “trad” publishing: what are you? Does it matter? #ASMSG #amwriting #author

Publishing labels still matter still, but why? Are they useful?

When outsiders (readers, marketers etc.) look at my writing, they usually refer to me as an “indie author”, and I’ve not really questioned that assertion, not until I read an article the other day from an author who more or less put the equal sign between self-published and indie. That had me wondering. Am I really an independent (or indie) author? I am, after all, published by a publishing company, four to be exact since I first began writing in 2000. I started to look for definitions of what the different terms stand for, and how different people used them, and tbh, it’s a mess out there.

What say the experts?

Here are a few of the articles I’ve read. They have all been published in the past couple of years:

  • Katherine E. Hamilton, a fellow author, makes a difference between indie and self as a form of proclamation of independence. In her eyes, self-publishers are published through what I would call “vanity publishers” or “hybrid publishers”. What she considers “indie” is what I’d call “self-publishing”, i.e. you do it all yourself using online tools available. Read her post here.
  • 1106Design introduce new terms into the mix: “small press”, which I find useful. On the other hand, they seem to throw indie authors and self-published ones into the same bowl. They are more interested in distinguishing author from a publisher in terms of money making. Not much clarification there… Read their post here.
  • This interview, found on The Balance, was interesting, as it basically equated (as several others did) self-publishing to indie publishing, and she really makes the case for going “trad”. This article highlights some of the reasons why readers to this very day attribute a higher value to books published by a publishing house v those from self/indie publishers, highlighting the passage through the eye of the needle (acceptance from a publisher) and the quality assurance process from traditional publishers. Read it here.

My take…

There are a great many other articles (google them) which are variations to the theme. It seems that most people shun the word “self-published” for the hipper term “indie” (re Hamilton.) For an established author, I certainly see the allure to sell your works on Amazon and reap up to 70% royalties compared to the 15-20% they might get from a traditional publisher. If you’re not established with a large customer base, beware of the traps!

For me though, the issue is a lot more complex and involves quality aspects as well. I wish we could just focus on the mere aspects of the actual publishing (or go-to-market) aspects, or focus on creative control, but sadly, the public’s perception is important. Even if you disregard the readers, there are a great many companies that differentiate between indie and traditional publishing in their approach, e.g. distributors newspapers and library services. When I was recently reviewed by Kirkus reviews, it was in their indie section, even though I’m published through what I’d call a “small press”. That distinction, and people’s (mostly) false preconception of all things indie being of “lesser quality” can’t be disregarded.

Today’s publishing world can be viewed from different aspects:

Publishing aspects

You could create this really complex flow diagram of how this all works. My point is that simply because we live in a world where it’s cheaper to print your books using POD (print on demand) solutions, e.g. because you have no warehouse cost, doesn’t mean that such a press automatically is “indie” or non-trad. Even traditional houses use modern go-to-market technology. I find the entire technical aspect not helpful in distinguishing traditional from independent publishing. The more important aspects revolve around “control” and “quality” much more interesting and valuable.

The more independent you are as an author, the greater control you have over the creative aspects of your work. To some of us, this is very important. I often talk to authors who are frustrated when their publishers expect them to rewrite this or that, not because of bad writing (we all hope that our editors catch that, trust me), but because a publisher believes that a character or a scene (even an entire premise) must be made more sellable.

Control and money go hand in hand…

Money. Any author economy depends on the influx of money.

Don’t be angry at a publisher for expecting you to write a book that sells! If you write romance, your publisher will expect you to include aspects they know sell well, from explicit sex scenes to mind-boggling misunderstandings what will have readers cringe and characters that are en vogue (one day it’s alphas, the next it is touchy-feely nerds.)

If you feel that your story is too important, as a work of art, then maybe you should think twice if such a publisher is the right fit for you. They don’t expect you to be “salesy” because they may not love your manuscript as it is, but because they know how readers will react. And if a book doesn’t sell, you won’t get a second contract, because no business is in the business of losing money…

If control is important to you, you will want to go toward indie, no doubt. But luckily, these days, there are many different options available. That doesn’t mean you have to go self-publishing or create your own indie publishing company. You can find an indie press that values your work as is and has the readers that appreciate it. Or, if you just want to see your story shine in a book, go hybrid or vanity.

Perception still matters…

Sadly, to this day, readers value books from traditional houses higher than those of indie publishers. While this is changing, the preconception that self-published books are of lesser quality is still affecting the entire indie side. And here’s the brutal truth: the worst books on the market are published by self-published authors. That’s just a fact. This isn’t necessarily just due to bad stories per se, but book covers from hell, lack of editing, proofing, paginating etc.. Services like CreateSpace et al offer a great service to people who want to get their word out, but their minimal machine proofing is no better than the tools included in Word or Pages, and we all know they don’t catch even half of it.

I’ve sometimes ended up in discussions about “right to be published” as if it were a human right, and while I accept that some people feel that way, I do not. Some say “poverty shouldn’t stop people from being published” No, it shouldn’t. But if a story isn’t good enough for a publisher, what makes you think people will want to read it? Will it be better without even being edited or proofed? You think?

Being published is no human right, it’s not an entitlement. Some writers will choose self-publishing because they can’t be bothered to actually research their genre market and find a good fit in a publisher (small, hybrid or whatever) to help them get their work out. The market usually takes care of such books. I’ve had people complain that their books are returned on Amazon, finding that deeply unfair. Well, if you write crap, that’s what you get in return…

Having said that, I also firmly believe, and I’ve said it before, that the very very best books are published independently these days. These are artistically beautiful books, with great stories, editing, and proofing that just weren’t good fits for publishers. The Big 5 and their publishing is so extremely focused on what sells that they tend to ride on waves, much like commercial “top hit” radio stations, where they all pretty much play the same. You’ll see book after book in the same genre after a big hit, and the quality of the story is secondary. Which isn’t saying that these are bad stories, just that they do not have the same artistic value as some of the more niche ones. You rarely see Nobel Prize winners being best-sellers, to put it differently.

This all amounts to what exactly?

If you’re thinking about going indie, consider this: do you have an audience? Do you know how to reach them? Do you understand the market in depth? If you don’t, I’d seriously recommend you go through a traditional publisher. Not necessarily the Big 5, but find a niche publisher, a small press, someone who understands the genre you write in. They will have that market knowledge. But even if you do have all of the above, as an indie published author, you’ll still sell fewer books, simply because of the perception I’ve described above, the “stigma” Hamilton speaks of.

I’m lucky in a way. I’ve found a small press that allows me to retain most of my creative control, and my royalties are larger than those normally paid by traditional publishers. On the other hand, given that the term “small press” has mostly disappeared from public use and “trad” is often equated to the “Big 5”, my publisher is usually considered “indie”, and they are, at least from the perspective of the owners (who are also authors.) So no matter how you twist and turn this beast, it ain’t easy.

Does this help or make matters worse?

If you are new to all this, it can be complicated, confusing. I’ve created this table, and I’m in no way claiming it to be complete, but I hope it may help you understand the publishing industry a bit better:

Publishing comparison

A larger full-size version of the chart can be found here. What is your take?

One more thing: (financial) stability

In this changing industry, I’ve seen a number of small presses go belly-up in recent years. Some of them had achieved a significant size and reputation in their genres. That is a risk you take when you sign up with a small house. Small house, small muscles. Authors have lost a lot of money from bankruptcies and not a few have been forced into indie-publishing with their entire catalogs (imagine the pain and work…)

For those who have significant followings, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. For others, a disaster and many published titles have forever vanished from bookshelves, physical and electronic because no new publisher could be found and the author couldn’t or didn’t want to self-publish.

Times are changing, fast and I see no slowing down…

But it’s not just financial stability that bigger houses bring to the table. It’s also traditions, rules and processes in place for things like ethics etc. Just recently, a small house in the LGBT industry got into a hot mess over their alleged racism. While this could happen to anyone, the likelihood of things being caught early are greater the more eyes a book sees, and the better processes a house has in place. Size matters in this regard. And even when things blow up, chances are that a big house has better and more professional resources to handle the fallout.

The author of this post was first published in 2000, for a non-fiction book about e-learning. But he’s also gained experience self- or indie-publishing and still has one non-fiction book about his and his husband’s journey to fatherhood out that way. He also indie publishes his audio books. His fiction is published by Beaten Track Publishing, a British small press. Photo: Alina Oswald, New York

The publishing industry is changing. More and more people write and publish books, while fewer and fewer actually sell any. Let’s not even talk about being able to make a decent or even passable living from your writing (of books.) Most authors I know have day jobs or supplement their income writing for magazines etc.

Finally…

I’m curious to hear from you:

  • Do labels bother you?
  • Does the lingering perception of self-publishing/indie affect your decision-making process with regards to what avenue to take?
  • How important is creative control to you?
  • A house’s reputation?
  • Sales?

Let’s hear it. Feel free to comment and contribute.

As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy. Your experiences and comments are most welcome.

Hans M Hirschi