The Ditmar Awards are open for nominations and if you’re an Aussie fan you’re eligible to nominate. So please do nominate all the good stuff you enjoyed in 2022. If you think anything of mine is worthy of a nomination, thank you! All the details you need, including an online form for nominations, can be found here: https://conflux.org.au/blog/
Here’s my eligible stuff:
SALLOW BEND – Eligible in Novel
THE FALL: Tales From The Gulp 2 – Eligible in Collected Work
All five stories in The Fall are original too, so they each qualify in Novelette/Novella:
“Gulpepper Curios” (19,340 words)
“Cathedral Stack” (13,160 words)
“That Damn Woman” (18,230 words)
“Excursion Troop” (16,500 words)
“The Fall” (19,850 words)
DAMNATION GAMES – Eligible in Collected Work, edited by me.
“Counting Tunnels To Berry” – The Hideous Book of Hidden Horrors anthology, ed. Doug Murano (Bad Hand Books)
“The Fiends of Turner’s Creek” – SNAFU: Dead or Alive, ed. A J Spedding (Cohesion Press)
“The Question” – Damnation Games, ed. Alan Baxter (Clan Destine Press)
“The Novak Roadhouse Massacre” – Found, ed. Andrew Cull and Gabino Iglesias
It’s no lie to say that the SNAFU anthologies from Cohesion Press have been a significant presence in my career. When Cohesion heads Geoff Brown and Dawn Roach first came up with the idea – an anthology of military horror where the remit was simple: blistering military or paramilitary action and monsters – and produced the original volume, Geoff asked me to write the Foreword. I was happy to, as it was a great book.
It did really well, so Geoff decided to publish more and make it a series of anthologies and brought A J Spedding in as editor. The second volume was SNAFU: Wolves at the Door, focusing on were-beasts. I was keen, but busy, and didn’t get a chance to submit for it. Then came SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest, and Geoff approached me again, asked if I would write a story for it. Of course, I was super keen. And the story I wrote for that has been a hell of a career highlight. That story is “In Vaulted Halls Entombed”, which did indeed make it into that book, and it won me an Australian Shadows Award, was reprinted in German, and then adapted for Netflix in LOVE DEATH + ROBOTS, which is without a doubt a significant career milestone. That story has worked harder for me than pretty much anything else I’ve written to date.
And the other thing I discovered in the process of writing that story was that I fucking loved writing that story. This is why I’ve titled this article a “strange dichotomy”. Because I don’t actually write action-led, military horror. I write weird, creepy, supernatural horror. I write urban horror and small town horror. I write supernatural thrillers and crime horror. The Eli Carver books are perhaps the closest, packed with intense fight and action scenes, but nothing military. I don’t write military horror in any other capacity, except for the SNAFU books. And I freaking love it when I do. And it turns out I’m pretty good at it. After that first one for Survival of the Fittest, I’ve had stories published in SNAFU anthologies six more times. With the release of the latest one, Punk’d, I have stories in 7 out the 13 SNAFU books. So I’m in more than half of them. That’s amazing.
Here’s a full list of SNAFUs, with my contributions listed beside the volumes I’m in:
SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror – Foreword by me
SNAFU: Wolves at the Door
SNAFU: Survival of the Fittest – “In Vaulted Halls Entombed”
SNAFU: Future Warfare – “Under Calliope’s Skin”
SNAFU: Unnatural Selection
SNAFU: Black Ops – “Raven’s First Flight”
SNAFU: Last Stand – “The Throat”
SNAFU: Medevac – “The Demon Locke”
SNAFU: Holy War
SNAFU: Dead or Alive – “The Fiends of Turner’s Creek”
SNAFU: Punk’d – “Clean-up Crew”
I keep thinking that maybe I ought to write something a bit longer form with the military horror angle, but in truth, I think it works best in short story format. None of my SNAFU stories are longer than 10,000 words. And all the time Cohesion Press keep publishing these books, I’ll keep scratching that itch by writing for them. Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing all the other stuff I usually do. I’m no one-trick pony, I contain multitudes.
But I will always be extremely grateful to the SNAFU anthologies and the team behind them, because I’ve had so much back from writing those stories, beyond the joy of the writing itself.
I urge people to check them out, even if you don’t think you like the idea of military horror. Believe me, it’s a broad strokes description and the variety and depth of stories found in these books is remarkable. If you’re on the fence about it, consider this – to make some movie comparisons, Aliens is military horror, as is Starship Troopers, and Predator, and Dog Soldiers, The Lair, Jacob’s Ladder… there are so many more. And surely you’ve enjoyed at least some of those movies, right? So imagine short story versions of those. My Future Warfare story, “Under Calliope’s Skin”, is a shameless homage to Aliens and Predator. I guarantee you’ll find at least a few stories you love in every volume of SNAFU.
If you want a taste of my contributions and haven’t read them yet, you can find my Netflix story, “In Vaulted Halls Entombed” in my second collection, Served Cold, and I’ve collected it along with four other SNAFU stories plus one original, previously unpublished yarn, in a book called And Fire Poured Forth, which is the name of the original story in the set. So you can get a taste of my contributions by picking those up.
And keep an eye out for past and future SNAFU anthologies. They are heaps of fun, jam-packed with amazing stories by fantastic authors. Vive le SNAFU!
(My latest newsletter just went out – here it is)
This business, man, I tell you…
I know I’m in a position many would murder their granny for. I’ve worked my arse off at this gig but I recognise I’ve been lucky too. Anyone who denies the role of luck in publishing is ignorant or lying to you. Even then, it’s so hard to make a living doing this that turning anything down seems ridiculous. But I had to do just that recently. I got a query from a big Russian publisher asking after foreign rights for one of my books. Translation is a great passive income usually – the book’s already written and out there, you just get paid for it again. Brilliant! But I need to keep my ethics intact. I had to say to the publisher that while I recognise it’s utterly beyond their control, I can’t in good conscience do business with Russia while the war with Ukraine is still happening. We have to draw lines. We have to stand up for what we believe it, or we’re just paying it lip service. It’s easy to be ethical in word, but often much harder in deed.
This publisher and all its staff may well completely disagree with the war too, and there’s certainly nothing they can do about it. (Or they may agree with it and I’ve blown my chances of ever working with that publisher. Who knows?) I tried to be as polite as possible and said I really hope we can pick up the conversation again when the war is over, but who knows if that’ll ever happen? Anyway, I’m sore about it because I needed to do the right thing, but turning down money is brutal when I’ve got the bills stacking up.
Ho hum, ever onwards!
You may have noticed that I recently lost a couple of Aurealis Awards. I bet you’re glad you opened this rainbows and fucking unicorns newsletter, right? I think it’s important to make people aware that it’s not all successes in this gig. It’s mostly misses and disappointments with the occasional success. BUT! While I would have loved to win one or both of those awards, and I’m a bit gutted that I didn’t, I was still shortlisted. That’s no small achievement and I’m stoked to have been a finalist. I’ve actually only ever won once at the Aurealis Awards (for The Gulp) but I’ve been a finalist 13 times now. That’s fucking epic!
You know what else is epic? The book you see below! Twisted Retreat are a book box company who make these amazing limited edition hardcovers and they picked Sallow Bend for May. You see, there’s a serious win right there. The photos are stills grabbed from ohitsme doing a YouTube unboxing. There are still a few copies of the book available (no boxes left) and you can grab one right here. I don’t think there’s many, so be quick if you want one. I can’t wait to see it for real, I’m still waiting on my copy.
What else is new? Well, I’m directing the WritingNSW Speculative Fiction Festival which is happening on June 24th, so if you’re anywhere near Sydney that would be an awesome thing to get along to. You can get tickets here. And the next day, a whole bunch of amazing authors will be gathered at Galaxy Bookshop in the Sydney CBD for a big old group chat and signing. Seriously, look at these names! (And apparently I’m charming! *preens*)
I don’t have much else to talk about this time around, so let’s get to
What I’ve Been Enjoying
On the reading front, Cemetery Dance Publications asked me to blurb the forthcoming A Red Winter in the West by C S Humble. This is book two of The Survivors Trilogy. Book one is The Massacre at Yellow Hill. As I hadn’t read that one yet, I asked CD to send me both and I’ve recently read them. I mentioned last time that I’d read and enjoyed the first one. Book two is even better. They’re superb horror westerns mixing up cosmic horror and monster hunters and stuff. Humble is a great writer, so I recommend getting these. Book three, The Light of a Black Star, is out in November, I think.
When it comes to watching stuff, I mentioned before that I’ve been bingeing Breaking Bad. (I know, I’m like a decade behind, they’re all using flip phones and shit.) But holy hell, is this good television. I’m just the first couple of episodes in to season 5 now, so no spoilers, please. I’m still bloody loving it. The end of season 4 was wild.
We’re also watching Wednesday on Netflix. I’ve already watched it and really enjoyed it, but my 9yo was keen to see it as apparently everyone at school is talking about it. I wondered if 9 was maybe a bit too young, but all seems to be going well so far!
On the work front, last time I was talking about stepping back and taking a rest, which I did and felt much better for. I also mentioned that next on my agenda was a short story commission. Well, that’s written now and sent to the editor, so I really hope they enjoy that. And now I’m back to work on the small town horror novel I put aside last year. It’s about one third written at this point and I read over it yesterday and I really like it. I also have a much better idea now about where I’m going with it. It’ll fun to see where that leads. Once I get this newsletter sent off, I’ll grab a bite to eat then get right onto that. So I’d better stop fucking around.
Keep in touch with comments here or elsewhere on social media, I enjoy hearing from folks.
Hot respect, my good fiends.
There’s a well-known phenomenon in physical training and general health – we heal when we rest. If you’re sick or injured, you’ll recover much more quickly if you get lots of sleep. If you’re at the gym every day, you’ll see greater gains if you have one day every week of active rest. The same applies to the creative arts.
What’s active rest? Ah, there’s the rub. It means not just sitting around eating Cheetos and watching Netflix all day (although there is a case that’s a good way to promote mental health if it’s only a once-a-while activity) but it means moving around without pushing your limits.
Physical training is all about pushing your limits a little more each time. Every time you drive against your previous limitations, you encourage your body to improve. But it’s not a singular upward trajectory. If you look at the graphic above, you can see that you have a baseline and then you train to push beyond that. If you train a good amount – not too easy or too hard – you’ll have a downturn in performance that then leads to a recovery period that will result in a small gain. Imagine that same image repeated ad infinitum and you’ll see it’s an overall continuous upward trajectory of slow but maintained progress.
Write every day? Fuck that bullshit. I hate rules like that and they’re punitive to anyone but the most privileged. Most of us have lives and responsibilities and jobs (I’m a martial arts instructor and spent a decade as a personal trainer, which is why you’re getting this particular analogy). You don’t have to write every day. But you do have to be a writer every day – think like a writer, see the world like one. The writing is the equivalent of the physical training, the not writing but being a writer is the equivalent of the active rest.
To go back to the title of this, the active rest is the refreshing of the well. If you draw water from the same well all the time, eventually the water level gets too low. What water you do draw is muddy and gritty and tastes bad. You have to step back, let the rain fall, let well refill, so you can draw fresh, tasty water again. Any creative pursuit is like that. Writing requires fallow periods of refreshment, where you can recover from your exertions, where you can let the rain refill your well of creativity. Too long away from writing will see your gains diminish, of course, but a sustained process of writing and refreshing will hopefully see overall continued improvements, both in your craft and, with a bit of luck, your career.
Why am I blathering on about all this right now? Well, I just finished a novel, and sent it over to my agent. It’s the first time I’ve written anything of novel length that is entirely without supernatural elements. Plenty of human monsters – well, one in particular – but otherwise it’s the most “commercial thriller” kind of thing I’ve ever written. Which is interesting. I hope my agent thinks so too. I really like it, and hopefully it’s as good a book as I think it is. Of course, we’re always the worst judge of that stuff, so time will tell.
And now I’m having to remind myself to refresh the well. Part of me is self-berating: “Why aren’t you working? Don’t be a slacker! Write more!” But the more experienced part of me is the voice of reason. “Rest,” it says. “Read, watch movies, walk the dog. Refresh your well!” All the time I’m resting, I’m seeing the world with a writer’s eye and my story brain is filing all sorts of things away. That’s the well refreshing.
Next on my agenda is a short story commission I need to write and just yesterday I came across something that gave me the seed of inspiration I needed for that project. I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t been actively allowing myself to chill out. Then once that’s written I’ll be getting back to the small town horror novel I put aside last year. I’m excited to get back into that and finish it. But not just yet. This week, I’m refreshing.
What I’ve Been Enjoying
So what have I been refreshing the well with? All kinds of good stuff, actually. In TV land, I’ve finally started catching up and watching Breaking Bad. I’m almost at the end of S3 now and I can see why it’s so popular. I’m binging it like mad. It’s a brilliantly written drama and every now and then it has some absolutely masterful strokes of storytelling. I’m loving it. And yes, I’ve got Better Call Saul lined up to watch next, as people keep telling me that’s necessary.
With reading, I finished Daphne by Josh Malerman that I mentioned in the last newsletter. Malerman is always brilliant and this is maybe a new favourite by him. I also just read The Massacre at Yellow Hill by C.S. Humble. It’s the first in a horror western trilogy and book 2 is out in a couple of months. I’ve got an advance copy of book 2 from Cemetery Dance to read, so I thought I’d better read book 1 first. I really enjoyed it – it’s a cool mash-up of cosmic horror, monster hunter and western. Definitely worth checking out. I just started book 2, A Red Winter in the West, last night.
And otherwise I’ve been taking care of jobs around the house, going for long walks with Rufus dog and generally allowing time for self-care. I’m still teaching kung fu and qi gong in the day job, of course, and still doing other work stuff like the mentorships and all that. I can’t afford to literally not work, I’m nowhere near that successful. But my own creativity is laying fallow this week. I’ll soon get back to work on that commissioned short story.
Right, I think that’s all from me for now. Remember, if you’re around the new social platform, Bluesky, you can find me there now at @alanbaxter.bsky.social Otherwise I’m still loitering around all the usual places, for better or worse.
Hot respect, my good fiends. Be kind, be well, keep in touch.
Ugh, branding, am I right? It’s a term that makes my teeth itch. It makes my skin crawl. As my mate Dan Moth might say, it makes my back open and close. I really hate that we live in a world that requires things like branding, but it’s unavoidable. It’s necessary for products and, sadly, it’s becoming ever more necessary for creative people.
First and foremost, for me as an author, my brand needs to be my work and my personality. That’s true for all writers, and it remains true whether you want it to be or not. I would hope that my voice is well-established enough by now so the kind of thing I write speaks mostly for itself. As a person, when it comes to online and public appearances, I’m as genuine as I can be. What you get is the real me, no artifice, no gimmicks. You don’t get all of me – there’s stuff I keep private and will always protect – but what you do get of me is genuine. I’m irreverent, passionate, I refuse to stand by and witness injustice if I can ever do anything about it, and I will speak my mind and stand up for things over “protecting my career” every time. That’s just who I am.
Hopefully, my openness and honesty is evident and people can like me for who I am. Or not. I love this meme:
It makes me laugh every time. I’m laughing now. I’m happy with who I am, so fuck anyone who has a problem with that. I don’t need ’em. It’s a liberating realisation to reach. Be kind, be honest, and fuck the haters.
Anyway, I’m getting way off-topic here. The point is, as an author I need a brand, and 99% of that brand is me and my work. It’s largely all I need and hopefully it will continue to grow my readership. But when it comes to having a web presence, and when it comes to public appearances, having a recognisable vibe is also important.
So that brings me back to the logo you saw at the top of this post. I talked before about why I’m called the 13th Dragon and why that dragon head logo appears on my independently published stuff. The logo above is separate to that. It’s an identifier of me the author.
You’ll see the logo on my website, on the banner at the top of Substack, and so on. It’s comprises a few key elements that encapsulate my vibe and I thought I’d break down that design for you.
Firstly, it’s circular as that makes it a useful shape that fits pretty much anywhere. The scruffy circle represents an ink stamp. Within the circle is an octagon. That represents a few things. For me, 8 is a powerful number. There’s the bagua, or eight directions, principle of martial arts training – that’s an entire article in itself, but it includes physical and esoteric directions. There’s the idea of the eight directions of chaos. There are eight primary cardinal directions of travel on the compass, and all writing (and reading) is a journey.
Within the octagon is an eye, because I’m fascinated by what we see, both externally and internally. Perception of all kinds is a thing I find endlessly enthralling. The pupil of the eye is the lighthouse design you might first have seen as the section break image in my books The Gulp and The Fall. Those stories are set in the harbour town of Gulpepper, which has a lighthouse that’s fairly central to its identity. And the idea of a lighthouse, a beacon in the darkness, both a guide and a warning, is powerful iconography to me.
And lastly, the Latin – inventa in tenebris – means ‘found in the dark’ or ‘discovered in darkness’. That’s a reference to my writing and you can take it however it works for you. Do you discover things in the darkness? Are you found in the darkness? I feel that an exploration of the darkness both inside and outside ourselves reveals more about us than perhaps anything else. It’s easy to put on an act in the light – you’re more likely to reveal your true self in the dark.
So there you have it. Those are the things I used to build my logo. I hope you like it.
If you ever buy a signed book directly from me via my website or at a convention or signing, you’ll get a sticker with the logo on it, and it’s also on my book plates if you’re overseas and want to buy a signed book plate to stick in copies you’ve bought locally. I’m also waiting on a rubber stamp with a slightly simplified version of the logo, and then all signed books will have a stamp in them too. You can get the logo on a mug in my merch store. If you want the logo on a t-shirt, that’s available too, but exclusively to my patrons over at Patreon. But of course, you don’t need the logo really – it’s mainly there to identify me.
My books plates and stickers:
All right, enough about that. So what else is new? For the handful of masochists who are still reading, there’s a couple of things you might be interested to know. A brilliant academic by the name of Lucas Mattila recently wrote a whole paper on my gonzo novella, The Roo, called Violent Vibes: ‘Stimmung’ in Alan Baxter’s The Roo. Stimmung is a term often translated as “mood”, but it’s better explained in the article itself.
I have the honour of being the director of this year’s Speculative Fiction Festival at WritingNSW in Sydney, and they’ve just released the full list of guests and programming. I had a great time putting it together and if you’re anywhere near Sydney in June, or can get there, it’ll be well worth your time. All the details about that are here.
I’ve been serialising a new novella called The Leaves Forget on Patreon and you can still read it there (and at Substack if you’re a paid subscriber, but remember, my newsletter and almost everything else at Substack will always be free).
What I’ve Been Enjoying
I haven’t been watching much in the way of TV or movies lately, but I did just watch the first episode of a Japanese thriller series on Netflix called Alice in Borderland. That was a wild ride and I’ll definitely be watching more.
As for reading, I recently loved the new novel from Ashley Kalagian-Blunt called Dark Mode. And I’m currently reading Daphne by Josh Malerman. I’ve long been a big fan of Malerman’s work and this one is shaping up to be my favourite so far. You’ll also probably remember that I’m working my way through John Connolly’s Charlie Parker thrillers and I just read book 9, The Whisperers. That has instantly become my favourite of the series so far.
Right, I think that’s all from me for now, I’ve blathered on long enough. If you’re around the new social platform, Bluesky, you can find me there now at @alanbaxter.bsky.social The place has a wild, chaotic vibe like early Twitter at the moment, so I have high hopes for it. Especially as Twitter is crumbling ever more into a shitpile of bigots and fascists.
Boom shanka, my good fiends. Be kind, be well, keep in touch.
The end of June is going to be a blast. I’ve had the honour of being made director of the 2023 Speculative Fiction Festival at WritingNSW, in Callan Park, Sydney, being held on Saturday June 24th. And more than that, we’ve got a huge group signing the next day at Galaxy Books in Sydney. Read on for all the details.
The WritingNSW Speculative Fiction Festival has been going for a long time and it’s always a blast. I think I first went in about 2006? It’s been held bi-annually ever since (Covid years not included) so you can imagine how it felt now to be invited to direct the latest one. What a trip! WritingNSW gave me some guidelines and a budget, then we opened to expressions of interest, and I had to build a festival. That involved coming up with panels of discussion (from my own ideas and others peoples’ suggestions) that would cover the full spectrum of science-fiction, fantasy and horror from both a craft, business and reader perspective. It was a hell of a juggling act and I could easily have programmed three days with the amount of cool people who were up for it and making suggestions. But what I have ended up distilling into the one day should be freaking epic.
The general focus is more on writers than fans, as it’s an initiative of WritingNSW, which is the NSW Writers Centre, but there will be heaps of value to non-writers as well. I’ve also tried to make sure I cover not only novelists and short story writers, but screenwriters, game writers, comics, and more. And for the non-writing fans and avid readers, there’s another event the following day, more on that in a moment.
First of all, look at all the amazing people who have generously agreed to speak and be involved in the 2023 Festival. (Click the image to make it bigger.)
And then take a look at the awesome program of events for the day:
Sounds like an amazing day, right? Tickets are on sale now and you can learn all you need from here: https://writingnsw.org.au/whats-on/events/2023-speculative-fic-fest/ If you’re anywhere close to Sydney, or you can travel in, I highly recommend it. It’s well worth the effort, especially as it’s not just the one day. If you can only manage one day, the Festival on Saturday is the one to make. But there’s an event on Sunday too.
There will be more information about this over the next few weeks, but we’re making a weekend of it. At least a dozen of the festival guests will be sticking around in Sydney and on Sunday we’ll be at Galaxy Books, at Level 1, 131 York Street, Sydney, where we’ll be hanging out, talking, and signing books for a couple of hours. Watch this space for more information about that.
So that’s June 24th and 25th, 2023 in Sydney. Be there!
This is really something weirdly brilliant. Lucas Mattila has written an incredible article for the latest issue of the Australian Studies Journal from the German Association for Australian Studies, called Violent Vibes: ‘Stimmung’ in Alan Baxter’s The Roo. Stimmung is a term often translated as “mood”, but it’s better explained in the article itself, which looks at the deeper aspects of “slasher” horror in general as well as the specific focus on The Roo.
As you can see from the excerpt above (click for a larger version) it’s a very serious and very in-depth piece and it’s genuinely superb. The fact that it focuses on my crazy, gonzo, blood-soaked novella is mind-blowing. It’s also incredibly satisfying to see what I was trying to achieve with this book deconstructed at such an intellectual level. It makes me feel proper clever, I tell you.
This link will take you directly to the PDF: https://australienstudien.org/ZfA/Full/ZfA%20ASJ%2037%202023.pdf
Lucas’s article starts on page 61.
The main website is here:
Social media, by its very nature, is ephemeral. It passes by like leaves in a wind and most people see only a fraction of the content posted by people they actively follow. The chance of being exposed to new followers is even slimmer than your existing followers actually seeing something you post for them. Social media has always been this way to some degree, but the rate of degradation is increasing exponentially. Who knew putting our primary means of communication in the hands of capitalist babymen would be a bad idea?
Anyway, there’s nothing we can do about it. It will always be affected by the vagaries of capitalism and the petulance of mediocre men. But what we can do is account for that to the best of our abilities. The problem with degradation in any form is that things break up into ever smaller parts. This means that every time we try out a new form of social media, every time we grab our handle on the next big thing, we lose a massive proportion of folks following us elsewhere. Not everyone tries the new thing. Not everyone wants to move to something else. Most people, frankly, don’t give a fuck.
That’s fine too. Real life is more important than social media. The problem for folks like me is that social media is an aspect of real life. I’m a lowly midlist author. I don’t get huge print runs, I don’t sell books in massive numbers. Most of my books never see a bookstore shelf. For me, maintaining a career means constantly trying to gain readers. I would love to just sit back and write my weird books and have a big enough readership that I didn’t need to do anything else. That’s simply not the case. I do have a small but dedicated readership and I genuinely love each and every one of them. It’s amazing that I have as much of a career as I do, and I take nothing for granted. But the only way to continue this career is to continue growing my readership. And the only way to do that, for me, is through a powerful social media presence.
It would be awesome to go viral one day with a tweet from Stephen King, or a BookTok hit video by a reviewer with a million followers, or maybe King Charles III photographed reading The Gulp while he’s waiting for his next gold seat to be made from the tears and labours of regular people, but none of that is likely. It could happen, but I can’t rely on it. All I can rely on is constantly working my arse off to spread the word about my stuff. To raise awareness that I’m here doing this, that I’m actually pretty good at it, that the people who take a chance on reading my stuff tend to really enjoy it. Given the nature of the business and the facts of geography – Australia is lovely but it’s a metric fuckload of kilometres from literally anywhere else – the only way for me to constantly reach people is through social media. And I’ve worked hard as fuck to build up a presence there.
For me, like most writers, Twitter became an incredibly powerful tool. I really enjoy the kind of interaction Twitter creates and it was a brilliant place to connect with readers. Until the fuckknuckle Emerald Heir came along with all his money and his delusions of intelligence and sprayed his rancid shit all over the place. Yes, I am fucking bitter about it, actually. That useless, deluded arsehole took something heavily flawed but also incredibly powerful and turned it into a fucking bin fire. It’s still there now, and it’s still useful to a degree, but it’s like a fish washed up on a sandy shore, gasping for breath and sure to expire any time soon.
So what does that mean for the rest of us? What does that mean for lowly midlisters like me trying desperately to build a readership? Where do we go?
Given that wherever we do go costs us followers, centralising and using things we actually control becomes ever more important. Nothing is permanent. I’m writing this originally for my blog. I’ll send it out as a newsletter through Substack too (more on that in a minute), but my own website is the most permanent thing I have. It’s as safe as anything online can be. But it’s useless for reaching people as they have to actually come to it. When we use social media, we go to places where people are already hanging out and we reach them directly there.
The way I see it, the very nature of social media and online interaction is changing, and we need to change with it. Any platform can implode at any moment. I always grab my username on every new thing that comes along, just in case it does become the next big thing, but it’s pretty unlikely that anything will. I think we’ll see places becoming smaller instead of bigger, niche communities and gated gatherings. Things like Mastodon are already exploiting that very principle. So I think we need to address this changing situation primarily in three important ways:
- Most importantly, have your own website. A place you control that can’t be taken away from you short of an EMP taking down modern civilisation. That’s a place where people can always find out about you, about your work, and contact you if necessary. They have to come there, but you can always get them there with a simple link.
- The old email newsletter. Yep, it’s coming around again. It never really went anywhere, but it became a bit passe when microblogging and generalised social media exploded. Now it’s becoming important again, because it’s a way to communicate directly with people, right into their inbox, without billionaire insecurities fucking you with algorithms. But even newsletter platforms can collapse or be taken away.
- Like the Beatles said, get by with a little help from your friends. When my existing readers extoll the virtues of my work on their social media feeds, in their family and friend groups, at work, screaming in the faces of strangers at a bus stop, all that stuff is absolute fucking gold. Nothing builds a career better than enthusiastic word of mouth.
This threefold approach to staying here is the best way to have a secure presence. But, sadly, it potentially won’t actively encourage growth. We still need to be out there using whatever other means of reaching people we can find. But if I spend all day cross-posting everything to fifteen different platforms, I’ll never get the actual writing done. I have to be choosy about where I direct my attentions and hope for the best. So while I have a bunch of accounts all over the place, I will rarely visit most of them. I’ve refined my efforts to the following:
My website: This will always be, as it has always been, the hub of my online presence. All you need to know about me and my books can be found here, and anything important will be posted to the blog.
Substack: Yes, this platform turns out to have a pretty shady practices in terms of who it actively publishes and promotes. But aside from that, for people like me, it’s still a very slick and powerful newsletter platform. It lets me gather people who actively want to hear form me and reach right into their inbox whenever I have something important to share. It also has other added blogging and social aspects that I may use to some degree. Currently their Notes function is causing Musk to shit his emerald pants, so that’s interesting.
Patreon: This is another place where people want to be and I can reach them directly. You can find stuff there for nothing, but most things are accessible for a few bucks a month. This really helps me, as that small but regular injection of cash makes a huge difference to a struggling artist like me. And I get to provide extra content to people who really want it.
Twitter: Despite the Muskian stench fucking up the place, it’s still there and still the place where I get the most engagement. And I also don’t believe in giving up ground to fascists, so I’ll stay and fight to the bitter end.
Instagram: This is a place I’ve been for a while, and I like it. I dig the imagery and while the interaction and actual engagement I get there is very limited, it’s still somewhere fun that’s also different to all the above.
So there it is. For now. The social media landscape probably changed again while I was typing this, but I’ll post it to my blog anyway. And I’ll send it out as a Substack newsletter and share that link around. And then wait to see what happens. What I really want to do is write my weird books and sell enough of them that I can write more. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask. I’m not quitting any time soon.
This is my newsletter that went out on 12/4/23 – sign up for it here: https://alanbaxter.substack.com/
I’m working on a novel at the moment that is built around a central idea. Most of my stuff at novel length is a congregation of ideas, but there’s usually one central “big” idea that eventually finds a few other ideas to orbit it like story moons, and then the whole thing starts coming together.
This work in progress is no different. I’m really enjoying the writing of it and I think it’s going to be great. But in recent days I’ve realised that the central core idea just isn’t actually happening. Even the working title of this book is based on that idea. But it’s not going to happen. All the other ideas are working together, the story is growing and expanding, and it’ll come together (I hope) in cool and interesting ways. But that central big idea doesn’t have a place, after all.
For the last several writing sessions it’s been in the back of my mind, and I’ve been thinking about how to bring the story around to include it. It’s the big idea, right? It has to be there, doesn’t it?
Well, no. Actually it doesn’t. I learned long ago that a story will be what it wants to be. No matter how much I think I know what I’m doing, the story will tell itself and I need to get the fuck out of the way. The surest way to make a story rubbish is to try to force it to be something it doesn’t want to be. Like kids, we need to nurture their development, not try to make them into something we expect or want. Trauma and alienation results from that kind of coercion.
The same applies to books. This book will be shite if I insist on forcing the idea I want. A while back I posted on Patreon a notebook with my early ideas for BOUND. It had Arthurian themes and Merlin was involved. I loved that idea at the time. But the book had wildly different ideas and there’s nothing Arthurian anywhere near the published version.
It’s the same now. I need to step out of the way, not insist on that initial idea, and let the story be itself. It’ll be a way better book for it. So after I get this sent out, off I go, back into the word mines. I wonder where this book will take me today..?
Anyway, what else is new?
My serial novella called The Leaves Forget is still being serialised at Patreon. We’re about halfway through now, so if you’d like to read it, head over here. (There’s loads of other stuff at Patreon too, starting at just AU$2 a month, with exclusive fiction including the serial from AU$5 a month).
Otherwise, I’m working away at the novel mentioned above, which is taking up the vast majority of my focus. I’ve also got a couple of commissioned short stories I need to get to. One of those has a deadline fast approaching, so I ought to brain on that a bit more. *makes note to self*
Meanwhile, one other thing that’s been taking up my time in a good way is the Speculative Fiction Festival at the NSW Writers Centre in June. I was given the honour of directing the festival, so I’ve been working on inviting a slew of talent and planning panels and all that. You can find out all about it here and if you’re anywhere near Sydney I hope you’ll come along.
Prior to that, on May 5th, I’ll be in conversation with WritingNSW about the festival and everything else about the industry and my part in it. It’s an online Zoom event, so you can come along wherever you are. It’s free, but registration is essential. Here’s the blurb about it:
First Friday, our monthly conversation with an industry professional, is a chance for our community to learn more about the writing and publishing industry. This May, we invite you to our online event with Alan Baxter, director of the 2023 Speculative Fiction Festival.
Speculative fiction is a broad term encompassing science fiction, fantasy, horror, slipstream, steampunk, alternate history, new weird, supernatural, dystopian and a host of other subgenres besides—the literature of imagination without borders. Multi-award-winning author of horror and weird fiction, Alan Baxter, joins us to discuss his writing career, his writing practice, and what we can expect at this year’s Speculative Fiction Festival.
Join us on 5 May for First Friday with Alan Baxter. The event starts online at 12:30pm (Sydney time), via Zoom. Free and open to members and non-members, but RSVPs are essential.
Register now here: https://writingnsw.org.au/whats-on/events/first-friday-with-alan-baxter/
What I’ve Been Enjoying
I’m still catching up on Star Wars stuff, really enjoying season 3 of The Mandalorian. Honestly, it’s a bit piecemeal compared to S1 and 2, but I’m still loving it. More than that, though, I’ve started in on Star Trek: Picard and that is superb. Season 1 was amazing, season 2 was great but not as good. However, season 3 is an absolute banger. Still 2 episodes to go and I can’t wait for them.
In terms of reading, I just read the new (and first) novel from Nathan Ballingrud, called The Strange. Nathan is one of my favourite authors writing today, he’s absolutely brilliant, and you should read all his short stories and novellas. This first novel is a slight departure from his previous stuff but it is truly outstanding, I fucking loved it. I described it as “a remarkable book, drenched in nostalgia and at the same time wholly original”, and I stand by that. Now I’m currently halfway through a book that was a completely random buy for me (I think I saw someone on Twitter talking about it?) called Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher, who I’ve never come across before. So far it’s brilliant. More on that next time, I expect.
Nothing much else for now, my fiends. Time to get back to the novel without a central idea any more! Be well and be kind, especially to yourself.
Big love to all.
Real talk time. This comes up a lot, so I thought I’d post about it.
It’s no surprise to anyone that it’s hard as hell to make a living at this gig. Paradoxically, there’s also a well-repeated misconception that always goes something like, “Wow, you’ve got so many books out, you must be rolling in cash!”
I mean, I’m very lucky, I’ve had great opportunities. I do indeed have many books out and they’re all well-reviewed and all of that is truly amazing, but I would still make more money if I worked at McDonalds. Very few people make a good living as an author – almost all of us have second (and third and fourth) jobs. Personally, we need the income from my kung fu school to survive as me being an author and my wife a professional artist doesn’t pay all the bills yet, even though we’re both pretty well-respected in our fields.
And when it comes to making more money at the author thing, I do a number of things that aren’t actually writing. As this subject comes up a lot, I thought I’d be as open as possible about where my authorly income comes from. Certainly a significant part of it is from books (sales, advances, royalties and so on) but an equally significant portion comes from other sources that are at best author-adjacent. Here’s the general breakdown for me:
Mentoring – I work with a company mentoring autistic people who are trying to develop as writers. It’s rewarding work, pays by the hour, and exercises my writing experience. I also mentor each year with the AHWA, which is a small one-off fee, but every bit helps.
Panels and appearances – talking of one-off fees, becoming established enough to be asked onto panels and to be a guest at festivals and the like is always a bonus. Again, it utilises my experience and the fee is always helpful. Plus, it helps to expose me and my work to new audiences. Of course, there are a lot of events like that which don’t pay an appearance or speaker’s fee (which sucks) and that’s when we need to consider the non-monetary value of going along. Sometimes it even costs me money to be a guest at things (which really sucks) but if I sell plenty of books and get new readers out of it the long-term benefits are there and that makes it more than worth the costs. Of course, it would be awesome to always get paid for everything we’re asked to do, but this is the really real world.
Workshops – this is another fee-paying endeavour that utilises skill and experience. These take a lot of planning, but the more you do, the less you have to plan as the groundwork has already been done. And I plan to start running some of my workshops online soon too, rather than always travelling to writers centres and the like. You can learn more about the workshops I do here.
Patreon – never underestimate how beneficial this is for authors. I resisted for a long time, as it felt like hard work and maybe no one would sign up and and and… But then I relented and I’m slowly building something there. It’s still pretty small, only 30-something patrons and a couple of hundred bucks a month, but that’s a couple of hundred every month that I wouldn’t get otherwise, and that really makes a difference. Patrons get stuff for the their money too – general access to me, but also exclusive fiction, behind-the-scenes stuff, cover reveals before anyone else, and lots more. And they get to know they’re supporting an ongoing career. It’s a massive help, really, and I’m enormously grateful. If your favourite authors and other creators have a Patreon and you’re in a position to spare a few bucks a month for them, I guarantee you’re making a difference. I’d really like to keep growing mine, so if you fancy checking it out, click here.
Ko-fi – this is something that drops a few bucks in the coffers every now and then whenever people are feeling generous. It’s a simple tip system for me but some people use it as their version of Patreon. It, like Patreon, makes a huge difference and people’s generosity always blows my mind.
Of course, all these things take time and mental energy, but they’re also necessary. It would be amazing to simply write books every day and make enough from that to live. It would be incredible to not have to split my mental labour in all these various directions. But for me, like the majority of us, that’s just not viable. Mentoring, workshops, speaking, Patreon and Ko-fi, along with teaching kung fu and qigong, are how I supplement my income from books. And even then, I don’t make much, but I love what I do. Other creatives use other methods, but we all do something. This is why we constantly exhort people to talk about our work – nothing compares to word of mouth when it comes to building a sustainable career. But no one owes us anything. No one owes anyone a career. Readers reading is more than enough. It’s up to us to carve out a living however we can.
Of course, for all of you out there helping, we couldn’t be more grateful. Thank you, thank you, thank you! And there are a heap of non-monetary things readers can do which also help us enormously. You may not be into the Patreon or Ko-fi thing, or, like us, you just don’t have cash to spare. But if you do want to help, there are so many ways. Word of mouth really works.
- You can simply talk about our books, in person and online.
- Share anything we post – just helping us reach more potential readers is huge.
- Order our books at your local library – that’s a sale for us, but in Australia and the UK we also get paid a little bit for every borrow.
- Review our books at Amazon, Goodreads, on Twitter or anywhere else – and a review can be simply “I loved this book!” That’s a stellar review.
This is all simply the reality of life as an author. It’s always worth remembering that just because someone has their name on the cover of a lot of books, that’s no guarantee they have a lot of money. Regardless, we’re all doing all we can to survive at this thing and everyone strives in their own way. This is how I do it. One day I’ll make good money from royalties and movie deals. Oh, yes I will. One day. *waves hands manifestly* Meanwhile, I’ll just keep grinding. Good luck to everyone else out there also grinding. Never quit!