Self-confidence. Self-permission. Moxie!
These are the things I admire most in others. So I decided to contact someone who comes across as having all of these good good things, and ask her Why? How? Where can I find mine?
Basically it’s the best conversation ever.
Basically it’s the best conversation ever. It’s a many-tentacled think-inducing link-fest. You’re going to want a lot of tabs to explore this post. Carla is all share and care. Her empowering philosophies, her resources, her methods at your fingertips. Go ahead, read on!
Carla Billinghurst is the author of a book of short stories,
“Halibut, Herring and You”
The stories are twisty and surprising, showcasing Carla’s quirky imagination as well as her literary skill.
Carla is an important author to me because realisation finally came while reading her blog that self-publishing is not the lesser path. I was all iffy and butty about it but I believe now that it is in fact a legitimate path for hard-working writers who believe in themselves and their work. After all, if you aren’t ready to bet on yourself, why should anyone else?
Also, she’s impressive. For breakfast Carla eats zombie-lore. She skips lunch in favour of snacking on reality and convention. For dinner she enjoys something hot-blooded with bread, and for dessert?
I would really love to be able to write simple romances. Preferably in historical settings. I grew up reading an eclectic range of authors and genres, but whenever I needed downtime, I read Georgette Heyer. She is actually someone I’d label as a “perfect” author. When I enter her worlds, I can do so whole-heartedly, she won’t drop me and I will emerge with no regrets.
I end up stomping around the house muttering.
Heyer also writes about people who are basically ok; she wasn’t tainted by what’s been described as “late capitalist wound culture” – the idea that we are all terribly broken and spend our days suffering, so that fiction has to be about the revelation of our wounds, generally with no chance of a cure. I love Heyer for that. When I read fiction where the protagonists just end up stuck where they always were, no matter how well written, I end up stomping around the house muttering.
and in the end … they refuse to fall in love
So, I’d love to write romances like Heyer. But I can’t do it. I start off really well with a feisty heroine in a tricky situation…aaand then the hero turns out to be a vampire, or an alien, or the heroine is from the future, or much more inclined to save herself, not let him do it…and in the end, even if I manage them through all those points, they refuse to fall in love. They just won’t. I suspect that deep down you need to believe in romance for it to work and while I’ve led a romantic life, I’m horribly pragmatic.
I think what really scares me off from the idea of self-publishing is that there’s no formal approval. No authorised Somebody sending you a contract saying ‘Congratulations! You and your work are good enough!’
It’s an internalization of a controlling, consumerist economics that insists there must be gatekeepers to prevent subversive ideas escaping into the wild…
I understand that feeling. I had it for years and it’s bullshit. It really is. It’s an internalization of a controlling, consumerist economics that insists there must be gatekeepers to prevent subversive ideas escaping into the wild and to make sure everything is normalized, to reflect the status quo and commodified so that it turns a predictable profit.
I’m not even talking about extreme political ideas here, I’m talking about “subversive” in the sense that:
- It doesn’t fit with the zeitgeist (see note above about Wound Culture and comments below about My Little Pony, my favourite zeitgeist smasher!).
- The writer doesn’t have a degree in that subject (or some other form of social commendation) and therefore isn’t permitted to comment on it.
- The person using the skill hasn’t gone through the process of proving that they have it first (I mean, how nuts is that? Prove you’re a writer and then we’ll let you write!)
It was glorious! The gatekeepers would never have allowed that.
I deeply disagree with these. It’s a very Roman way of approaching things. I once put this kid onstage in a pantomime to sing a song because she really wanted to. She couldn’t hold a note if it had a handle, and she knew it and she knew I knew it. She just wanted to sing on stage. So I gave her a microphone and got her to lead the audience in a song. She loved it and had the time of her life. After the audience recovered from the initial shock, they loved her too. So much so that I had to add extra verses in for subsequent shows. It was glorious! The gatekeepers would never have allowed that.
I love the world of self-publishing. I have found some very exciting and very high quality authors from browsing through Kindle.
With anything I publish I accept that:
- Everyone has the right to critique my work and say “this doesn’t work for me because…”
- No-one has the right to sit in judgement on my work because “it’s not marketable” or “it’s not mainstream” or “it’s not literary”
I love the world of self-publishing. I have found some very exciting and very high quality authors from browsing through Kindle. Supposedly reputable publishing houses put out just as much shite as the self-publishing community, if not more. And it’s worse when they do it because it’s as though they are saying, “Don’t worry about doing a good job – the public are so stupid, we can sell them anything”.
To be an artist means you step out into a void every day.
To be an artist means you step out into a void every day. You have to be able to keep saying “I don’t know”. I don’t know what this is going to be. I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know if anyone else is going to like this. In any other job, you’d be sacked because we’re supposed to learn and gain skills and expertise and be able to give our employers a sense of confidence. As a creator, we spend life not knowing and making fantastic stuff in that void. Gatekeepers and yes-men crush that in us because we let them tell us what is good and what is not.
We produced the theatre we wanted to produce. We toured in the UK, France, the USSR and Cameroon, West Africa.
In my late teens I set up a theatre company with some friends and a mad director who had trained with Grotowski. We produced the theatre we wanted to produce. We toured in the UK, France, the USSR and Cameroon, West Africa. We did beautiful, exciting and interesting work. None of us went to drama school and we were our own severest critics.
they are my employee because I’m the one with the creative talent
As an author, I maintain the standards I developed then. I want to own the means of production. I might hire a publisher to do some work for me, but they are my employee because I’m the one with the creative talent. Their talent is in sales, marketing, distribution. I can do what they cannot do – I can write original stories. It has to be that way. Otherwise the publisher dominates and becomes my patron and then my controller. If I let that happen, I’ll drop my standards and rely on them to do more and more of the work. Eventually I will just have an idea and they can hire ghost writers to churn the book out.
People love to watch artists work.
The notion that everything we produce must be polished and perfect is false as well. People love to watch artists work. Jonathan Coulton ran a project called Thing-A-Week; he challenged himself to make and publish something every week. He cheerfully admits a lot of it was crap but he also made three albums and now makes his living from his music. [Ed: you can go directly to thing-a-week here but the funnest is to google ‘jonathon coulton thing a week‘.]
We live in one of those rare moments in history
We live in one of those rare moments in history when lots of artists and writers, not just the few who’ve been born in the right families and the right country, can survive without patrons, without being forced to make what powerful people want to see or read, without being afraid that they’ll be shot. [Ed: there still are, of course, places where this moment has not reached. I hope it will. I double triple hope it will because how truly great is this moment?] In this age, I can hold down a job and have a global writing business on the side. And I don’t need anyone’s permission. Just a few technical and marketing skills and a big network.
The Business of Self-Publishing
Something writers need to become authors is belief in their work. And what greater way to tell the world you believe in yourself and your work than to put yourself, and it, through the mill of self-publishing! And after reading your ‘Watch me Self Publish’ blogs, I’m feeling there’s some good business sense to it. But how did you approach the fact that the market is brimming with self-published works of varying quality?
Yersss, I’m still approaching that. Sneaking up on it while it’s not looking. What I’m learning is that you start small: I’ve published a lot of my work on my blog (which has a few followers); I’ve sold books to family and friends; I’ve put copies of the book in my local bookshop; I promote, gently and casually, on Facebook. The next step is to ask all those people to recommend the book to two friends.
My heroes in this regard are Amanda Palmer and Mike Masnick, two people who have thought and talked about how the internet is changing business models.
i’ve gotten to know myself. as a creator, as a songwriter, and as a recording artist, i thrive on instant gratification and a direct mainline to my audience without having to go through labels, distributors, the machine, the mass media. i love making things and instantly sharing. and i know my fanbase: you’re smart, kind, supportive, future-embracing people.
it isn’t making world news, because it is what it is: a quiet, underground network of artists connecting directly with their fans, bypassing the entire commercial system. this is AWESOME. – Amanda Palmer
1. For consumers, today is an age of absolute abundance in entertainment.
2. For content creators, it is an age of amazing new opportunity.
3. For the traditional middlemen, the internet represents both a challenge and an opportunity.
The key to success in a crowded market is to have LOTS of products and put them everywhere. Judging from what other authors are saying and doing, the people who make a living from their writing have 8-10 books on sale. Minimum. So I’m a little way away from that. I’m on the verge of putting Halibut onto iBooks and the next book will go straight onto all three platforms: Kindle, Createspace (Amazon’s print on demand service for paperbacks) and iBooks (which has four times the readership of Kindle).
I have plans…
You need to get reviews done before you launch, so that you can ask your reviewers to post their reviews on Day One – that way your book isn’t sitting out there sadly waiting for someone to recommend it, there are already a few good reviews. You can pay people to review. You can target Amazon’s list of elite reviewers. Ask your friends to review your book on Goodreads. Enter Awards (I am very bad at doing this!). Word of mouth is still the best way to market. I’m not using Social Media particularly well yet – a year ago I’d only just opened a Facebook account so I’m on a steep learning curve. I should be podcasting. I have plans for a series of children’s bedtime stories on Youtube and Soundcloud, starting with The Emergency Cat. I just need a few hours of recording time…
In business, the USP is your Unique Selling Proposition: the why and wherefore people would bother buying what you have to sell. I struggle with this one, because though each writer theoretically has a unique ‘voice’, bringing labels to that voice and identifying in what ways unique is ever so difficult. Did you struggle with this at all? Can I ask what your USP is and how you arrived at it?
And I write to give people hope. Mostly.
My USP is that I produce humourous/ absurd science fiction and fantasy that is also intelligent and well-written. And I write to give people hope. Mostly.
I did a great course that I recommend to anyone struggling with being a creative artist. It’s called the Artist’s Transformation School and is run by Auspicious Arts in Melbourne. They put you through a process of understanding how an Arts business is different to an ordinary business, defining your business goals, asking for lots of external feedback and visualizing where you are in 2, 5 and 10 years’ time. Finding that business-based perspective for my work really helped me to see what it is I really enjoy about it and, hopefully, what other people do too.
There’s a great Neil Gaiman quote somewhere about how the only thing you have that is unique is your voice; and you have to copy lots of other people before you find yours.
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman
Ready, Steady, Click HERE to Publish
How do you know when your work is ready for publication? Is there a chemical change you detect in your brain, a new taste on your tongue?
The Ready List. Once I put something in there I’m BANNED from editing it
I have a folder on my computer called “The Ready List”. Once I put something in there I’m BANNED from editing it except for the final copy edit for publication. It’s the equivalent of posting a manuscript to a publisher, I guess.
I have a long editing process, iteration after iteration, editing for different things.
There are some Rules.
Rule 1 is that if it’s in The Ready List, I genuinely don’t know how to make it any better – the spelling and grammar are right, I’ve read it aloud and the rhythm is right, the voices are consistent and the ending is satisfying.
Rule 2 is…yeah, actually that’s it. I have a long editing process, iteration after iteration, editing for different things. I’ll go through once for spelling and grammar only. Once for voices. Once for places where I need to add in more detailed descriptions. Once to take out the over-long detailed descriptions. If there’s a central idea or argument, I’ll do an edit to check that I haven’t changed opinion mid-story. I edit for ideology because I’ve caught myself, before now, writing a normality that is simply not my own. I don’t want to write stories that are auto-biographical, however I want to capture what is real, not what The Spectacle tells us is real.
The basically tautological character of the spectacle flows from the simple fact that its means are simultaneously its ends. It is the sun which never sets over the empire of modern passivity. It covers the entire surface of the world and bathes endlessly in its own glory. – Guy Debord, from ‘Society of The Spectacle’, 1967
3 More Tips for Self-Publishing
What are the first 3 tips that come to mind for someone embarking on the self-publishing route?
Sometimes I have sticky notes or lego-men on my PC to remind me who I’m being at the moment.
- Be hard on yourself. You may only ever publish one book, so you might as well make it the best book possible. Be serious about spelling and grammar. Use all the online resources you can to test that your book is properly set up for the platform you’re using. Pay someone to design the cover for you. I did a design using Kindle’s cover creator and it looked like a high-school text about penguins. Not good. So then I paid someone. If you don’t know anyone, use Fiverr – for $25-100 you can have a great design in a few days.
- Have 4 personalities: Insanely Creative Writer, Evil Nazi Editor, Picky Publisher and Shameless Marketeer. Just use them as needed. Sometimes I have sticky notes or lego-men on my PC to remind me who I’m being at the moment. I have considered setting up email addresses for all of them so that the Picky Publisher can email the Insanely Creative Writer to request a change and they can have the argument with each other while I watch…
- Go easy on yourself. Set lots of goals and when you don’t achieve them pour a scotch and go paddling and fantasise about how great all your books will be. When you do achieve your goals, pour a scotch and go paddling and congratulate yourself. Congratulate yourself long and hard. When I published Halibut I bought myself 6 mugs with the book cover on one side and a quote from one of the reviewers on the other. If I hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t feel so real AND every time I have a cuppa, I can use one of those mugs and remember the incredible thing I’ve done. It is incredible! I also gave some away – to the cover designer and the reviewer.
Copyright – Just One of the Nitty Gritties
As you were setting the Copyright licence of your book to ‘share-alike’, did you imagine/fantasise about/sit horror-struck in contemplation of the kinds of use that other creative people might put your material to? What ideas came to mind?
Basically, people take the world the author has created and play in it.
I have a son who is a self-confessed Brony [ed: http://whatisabrony.com/]. As a result, My Little Pony has become one of my goto places for healing my head and I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading MLP fan fiction. MLP itself is basically fan fiction: the series was only created because the adverts were so popular. MLP and therefore the fan fiction is all about what life is like in a universe where the most important thing is friendship. Basically, people take the world the author has created and play in it. There are also some very cute re-writes of Harry Potter out there.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – I love creating worlds for people to play in, either theatrically or in written form, so if people want to go there and play, good luck to them! Nothing anyone does can really change the original (weeell, possibly Pride and Prejudice and Zombies…) and once I’ve put something out there, it’s gone. I let go. I forget.
That’s another great thing about self-publishing: no more unfinished work hanging around to distract me from the new stuff. Of course, I have lots of old work but it’s as though there is a finite amount of story that can be in my brain. As soon as Halibut was up online, new stories were crowding in to be written.
Carla As Ice-Cream
Chocolate, strawberry or vanilla?
“why isn’t there Cointreau drizzled on this?”
Vanilla. Sort of. I do things in life like say, “Madonna is crap” and then listen to Material Girl, fall in love and hold Glastonbury’s first ever Madonna disco. I’d like to thank the three people who came. So vanilla and then it’s all, “why isn’t there Cointreau drizzled on this?”
Halibut, Herring and You / Ideas Spring from the Darnedest Things
Do you have a favourite story in “Halibut, Herring and You”?
Mine is the ‘Counting’ and ‘Counting Back’ pair. I think they work beautifully as a love story of two people who had the potential to make something of themselves as a couple but missed the boat due to some miscommunications and an unparalleled level of goal mismatch. The counting itself brings an element of anticipation which was a constant pull for me. Incidentally, I read ‘Counting Back’ first, and then ‘Counting’ and I thought it worked very well in that order. My next favourite is ‘Fire’, which seemed so serious a contemplation of the personality and destructive power of fire: until the family came to life, snot and all, and the twisty bits set in. And then it was all joyful celebration of strange.
Yes, the “Counting” pair are lovely. I also like what I did with structure in “Lilies”. One of my favourites is “The Youngest Serf”. I love playing with fairy tales and with gender. I like it because the joke is that Colin’s gender becomes socially constructed: because he is naked and freezing, he puts on a dress; the king decides he is a girl and if the king decides something, then it must be true. I think gender should be that easy.
it should be possible to wear a penguin suit and hold down a job
And I love Milton. Again, it’s a story about roles: it should be possible to wear a penguin suit and hold down a job. Why not? We seem to be so frightened of happy eccentricity; needing to make the eccentric into someone dark and wounded instead of just celebrating how different they are.
I am in awe of your braaaains! Such fabulous completely original ideas: In the title story, ‘Halibut, Herring and You’: Milton and his penguin porn. And ‘Shopping’! That’s EXACTLY it!
I recently discovered a nervous disorder I had that was coming out when I shopped which had me stopping at nearly everything that caught my eye, and trying to decide whether I needed it and what I would do with it before either placing it in my trolley or moving on. My bills came to silly figures and I couldn’t get through my short ‘List of Life’s Necessities’ because every item on it represented 10 others I had to decide about. I would get halfway through my list and have to almost run from the shop to stop myself. In the end I was taken off shopping duty for some time.
The contrast in your story between the supermarket and the local organic market is superb and serves as a warning to everyone: Shop Local! Love it.
I found with the offbeat rhymes in ‘Rachel’ it was best when read out loud. And that way the people around you on the train can join in instead of looking at you strangely when you burst out laughing. Though I am left wondering: if she hadn’t known the cheese was there would she still react in the same way? I think double blind testing is needed …
Hah, laughing on the train!
All of the stories come from life and often just a single line or image.
the phrase … appeared in my head and hung around for over a year waiting for me to catch up with it
Milton started in front of the seafood counter in Penrith Plaza. I was drooling and wondering if people ever got so excited about the fish counter that they were asked to leave. And the phrase “Milton has been thrown out of the sushi bar again…” appeared in my head and hung around for over a year waiting for me to catch up with it. That story was considered for an issue of ASIMOV, which I’m proud of, and there’s a sequel coming, called “Neighbours”.
One of my favourite shopping therapies is to enter an altered state and then go shopping.
One of my favourite shopping therapies is to enter an altered state and then go shopping. Obviously, you have to have a co-shopper to do the driving and extract you if things go too badly awry. And you have to take cash only – no credit cards. The purchases that result from this are often life-changing. In good ways…mostly.
Another one that I’m trying at the moment: I recently read “Halfway Human” – in this story every year the planet’s inhabitants sit in judgement on themselves to ask, “What contribution have I made this year to humanity, culture or the environment?”. And if they have made none at all, they kill themselves. Possibly a little harsh. It’s a fun set of standards to apply to your shopping, though: “Hello tin of tuna. What did your production contribute to Humanity, Culture or the Environment?”
Douglas Adams! How many times have you read ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’?
I had a little battery-operated transistor radio under the bedclothes turned right down so my parents wouldn’t come and tell me to go to sleep and I was entranced!
Four. If you don’t count re-reading it to remember everything whenever he brought out another book. I first heard it as an audio show in the UK on John Peel’s late night show on Radio 1. This was before the days of Walkmans [ed: this], so I had a little battery-operated transistor radio [ed: this] under the bedclothes turned right down so my parents wouldn’t come and tell me to go to sleep and I was entranced! There had been nothing like it before. Still isn’t. Around the same time I discovered Viv Stanshall’s “Sir Henry at Rawlinson’s End” – another audio book that created its own genre.
I spend far too much of my time imagining being a tree or a rock or a penguin. I have learned not to do this while driving.
Have you contemplated a fight between Scott Pilgrim and Ramona Flowers’s zombie-ex?
Although, in my experience zombies don’t want much. Just some braaaains. Otherwise they seem content with life.
It’s very uplifting for a book about the apocalypse.
I do have to mention here a book by Dr Phil Smith: “The Footbook of Zombie Walking”. It recommends walking through the world as though a slow apocalypse is occurring and there might be a zombie around every corner. It changes things: life is suddenly full of possibilities. If there’s a zombie around the next corner, there might be a politician ready to really welcome refugees or reverse all the Pay As You Go decisions about university education. It’s very uplifting for a book about the apocalypse.
Also he mentions me. In the book. And in the bibliography.
and that’s just the beginning …
In your blogs you spoke of a regular publishing cycle, of a recognisable brand emerging from elements of the cover art of “Halibut, Herring and You”, and of trying to raise a child in a penguin suit … so can you divulge more about what is coming next?
and then something comes shambling out of my pen…
“Halibut, Herring and You Too” is building slowly with more of an alien encounter theme this time, not so many zombies. Well, I say that and then something comes shambling out of my pen…
I’m working on a longer Alien Shopping Mall novella called “Special Offer”. It’s not set in The Rock [ed: this] universe but it has aliens and shopping and asks difficult questions about paradise. And it has romance. I hope.
Waaaay off on the backburner is my Great Novel, “The Dragon’s Restaurant” which is an epic and extended riff on Sleeping Beauty, what it means to be a Bad Faery Godmother in suburban Australia and what happens when architecture falls in love and dragons decide to open restaurants.
I’m also working on another project with Cymbeline Buhler – we are running more workshops in 2016 and also offering daily writing provocations by email. Check our Facebook pages [ed: Carla, Cymbeline] for more on that. [Ed: The Dailies has begun! Start receiving your provocations by signing up HERE for a free trial week. Then join in the conversation on the closed Facebook group (you’ll be invited when you subscribe) to explore ideas and connect with the Big Stone Creations community! It’s quite exciting 🙂 ]
Thanks to Carla Billinghurst for answering my questions and letting us into her world!
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