Normally I publish only poetry on this blog. In my spare time though (when I am not online, enjoying life, or being drowned under the weight of work), I am attempting to become a published author. With the amount of trouble I am having in becoming published, I always felt it would be nice to find a blog, a post, or anything really, that could help outline what the publishing industry in Australia is like today. Since I am unable to find one, I thought I would simply articulate my opinions garnered from personal experience.
One thing that I constantly find amazing is the information which is provided, and the realisation I have had which reveals how one hand apparently has no idea what the other is doing. I know, cliche expression, but nothing could be more true. University lecturers and tutors I often find are quick to articulate how these past couple of years and the few that are yet to come are the best times to enter the publishing and writing industry, whereas publishers and literary agents reveal quite the opposite.
Back in 2005 when I completed my first short story collection, I began to look for publishers. At the time of the anthology’s orchestration, publishers were apparently happy to accept such a literary style, and when I had finished the text, suddenly many of the publishers who were willing to accept short stories had dried up, and this has only consistently become worse. At the beginning of 2013 I was alerted by a literary agent how apparently the short fiction industry in Australia was completely dead. Most publishers are unwilling to accept such work, and according to professors involved in the writing field at Melbourne University, the interest in short stories has seen a rapid decline over the years in exchange for young adult fiction.
Predominantly, I have been told how the best way to become published is to write either young adult fiction (which I cannot because I consistently get the voice wrong) or fantasy (which has never truly acquired my attention from a writing point of view). What’s more, if a writer creates a series, this is expected to be even more attractive, for the potential success of one book (which has been proven over the past few years with fantasy series’ being all the rage) will inevitably mean that any sequels will rake in just as much popularity.
Moving on, the novel that I have been trying to publish is a science fiction piece, which I have since edited and am in the process of cutting into three separate texts. In 2010, Ewan Mitchell, a known Australian writer in the publishing scene expressed to me when I told him about my project how science fiction was a great genre to write about because it was not constrained and could be internationally understood. A book about the Australian outback for instance may not acquire international acclaim, but Mitchell stressed that science fiction was at the opposite end of the spectrum.
At the start of 2013 I was told by literary agents how fantasy was a dominant genre and science fiction had generally begun to decline, and in December last year I received the same news, only amplified, being told how science fiction was ‘depressed’. As far as I can tell, only five literary agents are willing to accept science fiction oriented work (Australian Literary Management, Cameron’s Management, Curtis Brown, Golvan Arts (although they stress they are very busy) and Jenny Darling and Associates), with two of the other agencies that once accepted such a genre having gone out of business. It’s almost ironic, and clearly was meant to be – I’m depressed and the genre I write about feels the same way.
If that’s not enough, publishers and literary agents have done nothing over the past two years to make me feel any better about becoming successful as a writer. Almost every agent and publisher I contact with regards to whether they are accepting the kind of pieces I write, stress how this is the worst time to become an aspiring writer. So bad in fact that in December of last year, a literary agent (I do believe it was Australian Literary Management) told me to consider another career. Good thing I’m been kept busy by four part time jobs else I would be in trouble.
Sadly though, every time my aspirations are shot down, my opinion on the chances that I have to enter such an industry begin to slowly fade, and after so much trouble I begin to wonder whether I should even bother continuing. True, I have wanted to be an author since I was 5, but I don’t think it is ever too late to run, in the words of an old limerick, over the hills and far away. After so much effort though, do I really wish for my dreams to come crashing down around me without putting up a fight?
True, I could consider the self-publishing scene, but that additionally has its issues. Zeinab Alayan, self published author of Puppet Parade, once said last year that becoming self published was a good thing to put on her resume so publishers could perhaps take this fact under advisement next time she went looking for a potential publisher. However, Australian Literary Management have a clause in their submission guidelines, stating how they will not accept the work of people who have been previously self published. Ouch!
Furthermore, rarely do publishers or literary agents appear willing to help aspiring authors. Many literary agents stress how they are no longer accepting pieces from anyone, and those that are, say the chance of them representing new authors is slim because they are focusing on assisting the authors they are at present signed with. Most publishers furthermore, from Pan to Hodder Headline are unwilling to accept unsolicited work – in layman’s terms, unless work is submitted to them from a literary agent, they do not want to read it. This is made harder by the point that I stressed earlier how literary agents accepting work are rarer than Sasquatch.
Now, Text Publishing is one of the only Australian publishers who accept unsolicited work, and Allen and Unwin have what they call the Friday Pitch. For the past few years, every Friday a writer is able to send a synopsis, the first chapter of their novel, and a cover sheet which the publisher supplies, and Allen and Unwin will assess the work over the course of a fortnight. Other publishers are unwilling to take chances on new writers, and what really makes me growl in utter frustration is how the rules handed down by publishers do not apply to writers who are already successfully published.
As previously mentioned, since 2004 the short story industry has been descending into inevitable extinction, and yet during this period, Paul Jennings, Andrew Daddo and Andy Griffiths, authors who consistently write short stories, have had their anthologies published, even when their publishing houses (Penguin, Hodder and Pan) have stated in their submission guidelines for over the past few years how they do not accept short stories.
Moving on, poetry is just as defunct as many other literary arts according to publishers, although on occasion I wonder if this is at all accurate. Not one of the major poetry houses are accepting such pieces any longer, with Wendy Flemming, former president of the Melbourne Poets Union stating to me in 2012 how poetry is an art form from the 70s, and is no longer in vogue as it was then. Professor John Brophy of Melbourne University additionally stated in late 2013 that when he was a young poet he was not exactly very well compensated economically, which makes me wonder for how long such an art form has been losing popularity.
In fact, in mid 2013 one of Australia’s leading poetry publishing houses, Brandl and Schlesinger, explained how they were no longer accepting submissions because of a sizable backlog. Due to this, aspiring poets can only hope to have their work published in anthologies (almost every university have their own, which is also on occasion open to the general public), or in smaller publishing houses like the Suburban Review and Five Islands Press. However, Five Islands only ever accepts work in November, and only picks a couple of the vast quantity of submissions they receive. Having attended one of their meetings, I have seen the number of submissions they are sent, and all I can say is this; I am glad I don’t work for them. Hence the reason why I wonder if poetry truly is as defunct as some publishers may lead one to believe.
On that note, does anyone else in Australia have an opinion on the publishing and writing industry? Internationally, do readers elsewhere have an opinion on the writing and publishing sectors in their countries? Do readers agree that today is perhaps the worst time to consider becoming a professional author, or am I speaking utter nonsense? I would very much like to hear (or in this case read) your thoughts!
Thank you for reading.
Synopsis: A synthetic super soldier, accompanied by a team of space marines, goes on a suicide mission to assassinate a renegade militarised leader.
‘I lost my entire team. It was then, under the fluorescent moons and the tranquil stars that it happened; I truly became a ghost. Absent of life, love and soul. Then, as I felt something inside me wither and die, I felt nothing at all – but pain.’
August 10th, 2291, 15:47p.m
Space Station Acquilous, orbiting planet Morta
‘We have an assignment that requires your immediate attention’ barked Commander Frankes as his deployment team stood to attention before him, each dressed in dark blue military uniforms.
His face was heavily lined from age, his eyes looking weary yet still full of life, with a massive scar placed across his left eye that made its way to the side of his mouth.
‘You will descend to the planet under the cover of an asteroid bombardment and eliminate renegade parliamentarian Joseph Welsh. We have tracked him to an isolated part of the planet, but numerous enemy troops have been detected in the area. Safe to say this is a covert exercise. If you are spotted, you are subsequently on your own. You do however, have a late arrival to your squad’ continued Frankes as Captain Rawlings grunted ‘perfect.’
‘And this new addition we might add is a synthetic’ said Frankes, the team breaking into an argumentative uproar.
‘But sir, the synthetic program was disbanded’ said Church in a Spanish accent. ‘They were believed to be dangerous.’
‘They were bred to be dangerous’ explained Frankes as the synthetic dressed in full body armour which shone under the pale light of the fluorescent moons outside the station walked out beside him. A metallic helmet with a glistening visor prevented all from seeing the new addition’s face.
‘A fully operational biologically augmented super soldier in the flesh!’ cried Ross as though all of his dreams had just come true at the sight of the individual before him.
‘Don’t get too attached’ grunted Rawlings out from the corner of his mouth, his eyes narrowing as he spoke. ‘He’ll only be with us on this one operation before he gets shipped out to the other side of the universe, right?’ he asked, giving his commanding officer a dirty look as Frankes nodded at him. ‘Good riddance I say’ continued Rawlings with an angry grunt. ‘Synthetics are trouble and that is the one thing that we do not need on this operation.’
‘You speak as though from experience’ said Church. ‘Speak your mind with us boss.’
‘I worked with a synthetic on one of my first operations back when I was with a former squad’ grunted the Captain with a facial expression that clearly signified he did not want to be re-living such a memory. ‘We were tasked to take out a nuclear reactor that was being used by pirates to fuel the battle cruiser they were using to threaten the local planetary settlements. However, during the mission we were spotted and forced to lay down cover fire. The synthetic managed to successfully enter the reactor whilst we created a diversion and planted the explosive charge. Although this could be seen as a decisive victory for us, it certainly was not for me. I lost my entire team that day and that synthetic did not show an ounce of emotion when it happened. He did not flinch, he did not break; he did not say anything. He just moved on with his life.’ Rawlings took a deep breath before proceeding onwards. ‘True, they are good to have in a battle, but they are completely unreliable when it comes to complex human feelings. They simply just don’t have ‘em. They are cold and unemotional. Basically, they are walking, talking ghosts.’
‘Introduction’s all around’ smiled Frankes, interrupting the Captain before he had the opportunity to continue. ‘This is Captain Rawlings’ he said, nodding at a man with graying hair whose eyes were immersed in the colour black. His nose was oddly positioned upon his face, looking as though it had been broken numerous times in the past and had been quickly repaired on the battlefield by a corpsman rather than an actual trauma surgeon.
‘Church’ he noted, indicating a short female with dark flowing hair, a scar over her right eye. Even with this imperfection she still looked beautiful, her lips having a delicate shine to them. She appeared like all women were meant to; gorgeous and gentle, but underneath all of that you could tell there was a distinct danger lurking beneath her skin in the thing you could have once called a soul. It was her eyes that gave her away. They looked as though she had seen an awful lot in her time as a soldier; seeing things that nobody should ever have to; the kind of things that can alter ones perception of reality forever.
‘Tommbes’ he said, nodding at a giant black man with a shaven scalp. His skin was a light brown in colour and he had an overly large forehead. His eyes seemed rather small in comparison to the rest of his face, but unlike the other team members he looked more like a gentle giant rather than a heavily trained killing machine.
‘And Ross’ he said, pointing at a shorter male with white eyes. His hair too was the exact same colour, with a great, toothy smile plastered across his face. He looked more like a comedian than an actual soldier.
‘The code name given to your new synthetic team member is Ghost’ concluded Frankes.
‘Sounds appropriate’ muttered Rawlings under his breath as Frankes gave him a look that suggested he was through with the commentary on the subject of the synthetic super soldier.
‘I would have expected more from you Rawlings’ said Frankes in a stern tone of voice. ‘A person like you does not become squad commander lightly. So how about you quit all of your whining and mutterings and speak your mind out loud for all to hear.’
Rawlings looked at his team who each shrugged and moved their bodies in odd positions as though the each of them were at a loss for words. ‘Great’ grunted Rawlings, finding himself in the one position he did not wish to be – alone, in a room filled with his fellow comrades. ‘No offence sir, but I don’t need a babysitter’ grunted Rawlings.
‘You don’t have one’ shot back Frankes. ‘The synthetic will assassinate the target; you just need to keep ‘im alive.’
The team looked about to explode into a confrontational argument once more before Frankes barked ‘that’s an order! Now move out!’
With that, the team made their way down the hall to where numerous pods were positioned across the walls, each soldier entering their assigned pod before being jettisoned from the station. They flew through the cold darkness of space, a great asteroid field orbiting around the turquoise and jade coloured planet.
Whilst passing through the sea of asteroids, Rawlings’s pod was suddenly without warning clipped by a small meteorite fragment. Smoke began to protrude from the engines as his oxygen supply became grossly limited, his vessel going off course by a few degrees before plowing into a large piece of rock. The pod exploded on impact, his body flying out into the cold blackness of space.
Church cried out in anger as she saw what happened, the remaining pods being pulled in by the planet’s gravitational field towards the surface below.
August 10th, 2291, 16:29p.m
Surface of planet Morta
Church’s pod fell open as she crumpled to the moist ground beneath her, rising to her feet with a groan as she held her aching head. She looked at the luscious rainforest canopy surrounding her, taking out her Personal Data Assistant and scanning for the nearest team members. Picking up her sub-machinegun from the ground she slowly began to hurry in the appropriate direction.
Around her were plants; all of which were the likes that she had never seen, many comprised of colours that she had never believed plants could ever be made from.
Travelling for a few minutes, Church managed to discover Ross beside a glistening swamp. ‘Have you seen Tommbes?’ questioned Church. ‘His signal is coming from somewhere around here.’
‘Somebody get me out of here!’ cried out a muffled voice, Church turning to face the swampy lake before her. Tommbes’ pod was located in its centre, the suction slowly pulling the pod under as both Church and Ross looked at one another.
‘I’m not going in there’ said Church, folding her arms.
‘Who pulls me out if I get stuck?’ retorted Ross, just as a crunching sound was heard behind them, both soldiers pointing their firearms in the direction of the noise.
The synthetic appointed to their team suddenly came crashing through the undergrowth, sniper rifle in hand as the soldier took one look at Tommbes’ pod, before strolling straight into the swamp. Grabbing hold of the pod’s door, the synthetic ripped it from its hinges, throwing it across the swamp before picking up Tommbes by the scruff of the neck and throwing him onto dry land.
‘Did we all make it?’ cried out Tommbes as he crumpled to the ground.
‘No’ said Church mournfully. ‘We lost Rawlings.’
‘The mission is our only priority’ said the synthetic in a deep throaty voice, walking out from the swamp and swinging the rifle over the broad shoulders of its person, beginning to walk deeper into the wilderness after accessing the necessary co-ordinates from its PDA.
The remaining team members watched the synthetic, before Church began to gradually nod, now being bumped up the chain to the level of commanding officer of the team after the death of their beloved Captain, the each of them beginning to follow the synthetic super soldier.
After what felt like an hour, the team came to a standstill overlooking a cliff edge, the perfect vantage point to assassinate the target as the synthetic set up the sniper rifle and crouched down low, looking through the scope.
‘I hope he knows what he’s doing’ grunted Church.
‘Hey, he saved my life’ said Tommbes. ‘The least you could do is cut the guy some slack.’
‘I only meant it in relation to the mission’ shot back Church. ‘It would suck to have him spotted and killed this far into enemy territory.’
‘Were it so easy’ grunted the synthetic, listening in to every word they said whilst zooming in with the scope on the target’s location.
A large militarian outpost was positioned a few kilometres away, a menagerie of grey metallic buildings situated across the encampment with numerous soldiers patrolling the exterior of the installation. In the centre of the base was the parliamentarian they had been sent to neutralise; addressing the military formation standing before him as they cheered in appreciation for what he was saying. He had a dark moustache covering his upper lip and wore a blue militarian hat atop of his head, screaming at the top of his lungs whilst thrusting his hands in the air like a militarian dictator.
Squeezing the trigger, the synthetic fired a single round, the bullet after a few short seconds slamming into the head of the target. Striking him with more force than a magnum pointblank, the parliamentarian’s head was pulverised beyond recognition, blood showering the soldiers before him as an alarm was raised. Ghost quickly swung the rifle over its shoulder, the four soldiers beginning to pull out.
It wasn’t ten minutes later as they were escaping that Tommbes was suddenly clipped in the leg by a bullet, falling to the dense undergrowth as he groaned in pain, blood seeping from the wound. The others went to ground, attempting to find the enemy. With one shot, Ghost neutralised the enemy combatant. Moving towards Tommbes, Ghost was suddenly shot in the head, spinning around and ripping off the damaged helmet, throwing it to the ground before drawing a pistol, the team shocked by what they saw.
Standing before them was a blonde haired woman, her facial features surprisingly smooth, her eyes an ocean blue in colour which were instantly filled with fury as she fired on her attacker who crumpled to the ground. Ross made his way out into the open to help Tommbes, a bullet connecting with his head as blood profusely spilled out everywhere, his body falling over backwards.
‘We need immediate cover fire!’ cried out Ghost, her voice being silky and feminine, no longer the animalistic growl which had being heard through the helmet. Ghost helped Tommbes to his feet as the remaining three soldiers opened fire on the enemy combatants who were surrounding them. Bullets flew through the forest as trees became pulverised, the cries of animals running for cover echoing through the brush.
Ghost was hit in the chest by a round, the bullet ricocheting off from her armored suit as another bullet hit Tommbes in the neck, blood spurting out from his jugular as he collapsed onto the ground with a sickening cry of pain.
Ghost continued to fire rounds from her rifle, removing the empty clip and shoving in a new one, watching the enemy fall like flies before her as bullets were continuously released from the breach of her weapon. As the enemy converged on their position and continued to be depleted, Church thought for a second that they might be able to hold out long enough for a transport vessel to evacuate them to safety. But this hope of hers however was instantaneously destroyed as a mortar slammed into the ground beside her, blasting the landscape into oblivion as her world turned to black.
August 10th, 2291, 22:04p.m
Surface of planet Morta
Church lay in the embrace of Ghost’s arms, blood flowing gently out from her torso as she tried to raise her head. ‘Don’t move’ said Ghost firmly. ‘I’ve called in air support. They will come and pick us up in the next few minutes. Just hold on.’
Church looked up at Ghost, her features scarred with a few cuts and bruises, but ultimately she seemed to be in perfect working order. Church again attempted to raise her head, getting a glimpse of her body, one of her legs having being completely blown off in the blast. Pieces of flesh and the remnants of veins were all that remained of a once proud limb, the blood being stemmed by a health pack that Ghost had apparently used whilst she had been unconscious. Church lay back onto the ground and groaned in agony, looking up at the dark sky above. ‘Ghost, look at the stars’ said Church. ‘I never realised, but they all look so beautiful.’
‘Don’t talk’ replied Ghost.
‘Your codename, Ghost, what does it mean?’ asked Church.
‘It was a name, assigned to me at the moment of my initiation into the synthetic program’ replied Ghost. ‘All synthetics are given an identifiable name upon being recommended for combat duty.’ She said such lines as though reading them off a script.
‘I’m sorry we couldn’t protect you’ said Church. ‘We should have done better. But ultimately, what did you think of us, our performances on the field?’
‘You fought and died with valour, the way marines should’ answered Ghost. ‘You’re a soldier.’
‘And you’re a ghost, aren’t you?’ noted Church as Ghost looked at her in surprise. ‘That’s why you were given the name because of how cold and unemotional you are in the making of every decision.’
‘Don’t talk’ replied Ghost. ‘Conserve your strength.’
‘I won’t need it’ said Church, Ghost looking down at her in shock. ‘You know as well as I that I won’t make it. But you will and you will need all the strength you have for what I am going to ask of you. I want you to put aside all of your training and your overwhelming strength and promise me, that you will try to do the bravest and most daring thing of all; that you will try to do what we no longer can – that you will live, for us, the way any human should.’ With her last breath Church fell backwards into Ghost’s arms, her eyes rolling back into her head as she lay motionless in the presence of the synthetic.
As Ghost looked down on her, she felt a tear well up in her eye and fall down her cheek as she laid Church’s body to rest on the ground. She tore a cluster of flowers out from the ground and placed them onto Church’s chest, moving her deceased fingers into a cupped position atop of them. She looked remarkably at peace.
Over the radio Ghost heard a voice say ‘we will reach the extraction point in t-minus two minutes’ as Ghost rose to her feet, a feeling she had never felt before welling up inside her. Perhaps it was a long lost figment of humanity that had once been with her before her instigation into the synthetic program. Perhaps it was an incredibly strong emotional backlash from the words that Church had just said to her, words which had hit home; had hit hard. It was uncertain where such a feeling was coming from. All Ghost knew was that the feeling was there; and it was tearing a hole right through her.
Taking a small red container out from a pouch on her back, she gripped it tightly in both hands, remembering what Frankes had said to her;
‘If you or your team are captured, use this. It’s a miniature nuke, which will completely eradicate you, your team, and anyone else in the vicinity for a few thousand miles. We can’t allow any of you to fall into enemy hands. But you must promise me that none of your team members find out about this. If they knew they were going on a suicide mission, none of them would have signed up for it.’
Ghost swallowed as she spoke into the radio. ‘I lost my entire team’ she began, taking a few steps forward.
‘Ghost, what the hell are you doing?’ cried a voice over the radio after she had finished speaking, hearing the sound of enemy reinforcements converging on her position. Taking off the gauntlet on her right hand, she pressed her palm onto the screen of the device which instantly registered her fingerprints and instigated the weapon. ‘I’m going home’ she said, just as an explosion rocked the entire planet, the world of Morta descending into silence.