As a writer, are you a Mole or a Rabbit in publishing’s shifting landscape? Every time I read a publishing blog there seems to be another change and more uncertainty. People on Twitter ask each other: What does the future hold for writers? – The answer is anybody’s guess. It’s chaotic out there: old pastures dug up, familiar woodlands felled, a decreasing number of big trees casting massive shadows.
In this environment, Moles work quietly and alone in their underground tunnels, turning their backs on the distant rumblings of a disturbed world, hoping for the best. Rabbits, on the other hand, gather on the surface, make new burrows alongside their neighbours and explore other gardens for tasty plants. If we keep our wits about us, we see encouraging features: fences have been removed; gates opened, and fields freshly planted.
This is a time for Rabbits, for staying above ground, adapting to new ideas and searching for opportunities. So it was in Rabbit mode that I set out to graze in two unfamiliar territories which I share with you here: a different avenue to publishing, and a more stimulating writing life. But I’ll tell you first how it happened.
With the experience of being a columnist and feature writer in the UK, my first non-fiction book was published in 1988. I had done the usual thing for that time: picked an agent from the Writers and Artist’s Year Book, sent a sample chapter, received a publishing contract and an advance, wrote and submitted the book and that was that – all within a year. (Little did I realise being published would never be the same again).
Almost immediately, I went overseas and for the next fifteen years worked on aid and development projects and carried out research in the Asia Pacific (I am an anthropologist). After a brief return to the UK, where I completed a couple of writing commissions, I disappeared again – emigrating to New Zealand where I planted trees and wrote short stories.
I became a Mole.
I had some success with story writing competitions, but I resisted my neighbour’s urging to ‘come out’ and make more use of the internet. My excuse was the slow tedium of dial-up connections. Fortunately my neighbour won, by the simple expedient of arriving one day and, ignoring my protests, installing broadband. In quick succession, I had a website and a Twitter account – I was turning into a Rabbit. It was then that I realised the turbulence in publishing: old signposts were gone and agents had become a rare, secluded species, but boundaries were moving.
Knowing little of the e-world and unwilling to take time out of writing to learn more, I lacked the courage to self-publish. But browsing on the internet I discovered Collca, an independent, non-fiction digital publisher expanding their lists, seeking authors, and interested in starting a new travel series. I made a successful submission, and they have since published two of my travelogues and a popular science title about the evolution of storytelling. My Rabbiting taught me that the impenetrable forests of traditional publishing, and the wide-open but exposed field of self-publishing, are not the only options. The number and strength of independent publishers is growing and most do not require the intervention of an agent.
And this led to finding my second new territory. While writing e-books I wrote regular posts for my website, hopped about a good deal on other people’s blogs, made Twitter connections, and found a handful of other women scribblers in the small community where I live. The value of sharing the angst and exhilaration of other writers locally and from all over the world was a revelation.
Support and companionship on the lonely path of writing has been such an inspiration I wanted to share it, not only with other writers but with readers, too, because that special reaction between writer and reader when their ‘voices’ meet through a story is at the heart of writing. Although we talk about writers and readers as if they were in separate camps, it is becoming harder to tell the difference. So I wrote for them both with Inside Stories for Readers and Writers, also published by Collca who chose it as their first paperback edition; flexibility which is easier for small independent publishers. As much as I appreciate the benefits of digital books, I enjoy print, too, and look forward to seeing it on bookstore shelves as well as on Kindle screens.
Inside Stories is a companion sharing dark chocolate, chatting about inspiration, characters, themes, voice – all the writerly stuff we love to talk about, including maintaining momentum. Articles dig deeper into specific topics, and I analyse fifteen of my short stories as illustrations. The challenge for me was revealing the comments of professional critiques, but having learned so much from feedback on my work over the years, it can do only good to share them.
My hope for Inside Stories is that it will inspire Moles and delight Rabbits.
Trish Nicholson is a writer, anthropologist and photographer, author of travelogues on the Philippines and Bhutan, and of the cautionary tale: From Apes to Apps: How Humans Evolved as Storytellers and Why it Matters. She is passionate about short stories. Some of her stories have won prizes in international competitions and are included in her latest book, Inside Stories for Writers and Readers. She lives in the ‘winterless’ far north of New Zealand and has a tree house in her garden which she shares with herons.
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