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[GUEST POST] Author Adrian Cole on How Publishing Has Changed Since the 1960s

Adrian Cole was born in 1949 (Plymouth, UK) and his first published work was a trilogy of sword-and-planet novels, THE DREAM LORDS (Zebra, 1975-77) written in his early twenties. He has since gone on to have 27 books published, including the acclaimed OMARAN SAGA, a four volume fantasy and the STAR REQUIEM books, another fantasy quartet. Some of his early short stories were nominated for the British Fantasy Award and the Balrog Award and he has been published in the Year’s Best Fantasy (Daw)and also the Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror (St. Martin’s Press) More recently he has edited YOUNG THONGOR (Wildside Press) and has two new books released in September 2014, these being the science fiction THE SHADOW ACADEMY (EDGE Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing, Canada) and also the pulp hero collection of shorts, NICK NIGHTMARE INVESTIGATES (Alchemy Press, UK), featuring the hard-boiled occult private eye, Nick Nightmare. Victor Gollancz have recently released the OMARAN SAGA and the STAR REQUIEM as ebooks and they are also to be released as audio books from Audible, who have already released THE SHADOW ACADEMY.

A Perspective on Writing: Then and Now

by Adrian Cole

As a kid I was a voracious reader and I’d always had an ambition to be a writer: even then I started scribbling down (longhand) various books, none of which ever got completed – horror, crime, westerns, science fiction. When I first started writing seriously, in the 1960s, I had at least graduated to a manual typewriter and set about a magnum opus called THE BARBARIANS, inspired by Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs and, for variety, Dennis Wheatley’s occult books. My zest and enthusiasm paid off and the work was picked up by Zebra Books (New York) and the final revisions turned out as THE DREAM LORD trilogy. Convinced that a glittering career was ahead of me, I threw in my day job and rattled off novels and short stories at a good rate of knots. I did sell stuff, but none of my work reached best seller status and certainly didn’t earn me enough to make a living for me and my family.

I went back into full time employment (working in Education administration) and re-thought my approach to writing. Without the fear of starving, I was able to work in a more relaxed way, and during a productive decade, produced a number of books for Unwin Hyman (UK) which were also published in the States by Avon Books, and one hardback from Arbor House, A PLACE AMONG THE FALLEN, which was very well received.

My day job had developed into a much more demanding role, as education in Britain had taken a challenging new direction, with all schools becoming much more financially independent of the Local and Central Authority and I was directly involved in a pilot scheme to put administrators – later to have the grand title of Business Managers – into schools. I took up just such a role as the balance of power shifted and went on to spend the last 20 years of my working life in my local secondary college (high school) in the town of Bideford, where I have lived since 1976. During the last part of this tenancy, I helped the College build a £56 million “school of the future” – a wonderful state-of-the-art school that replaced (literally) the worn-out old buildings of the original.

The point of all that is that I had very little time to do any writing and apart from a few short stories, had no new novels published. However, with retirement looming, I set to work on a new novel, THE SHADOW ACADEMY and determined to raise the bar on my earlier phase of writing. Happily the book has just been published by Canadian publisher EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing and is also available as an ebook and audio book. It draws on my knowledge of rural Devon and paganism, together with my experience working in a large school for an Authority, so that the alternative world I have created should have a ring of truth to it.

It’s interesting to me to note how publishing has changed – quite dramatically – since those early days in the 60s and 70s. Then there were many publishers, not all of them global powerhouses, whose output of numerous titles in SF, fantasy and horror, were not all blockbusters, but which were, if you like, subsidised by the more successful titles. So there was a wide range of choice and far more opportunities for writers to get published. Also anthologies and collections of short stories were commonplace. All that has changed! What seems to have happened is that the bigger publishers have swallowed the smaller ones (those that haven’t gone under) and the small presses have come into being.

These small presses provide a market for new writers and writers who might not otherwise find an outlet, but it’s very clear that they are also now being used by many established writers. The small presses have become the life blood of the short story writer, not only preserving the form, but ensuring the survival of authors we might otherwise have lost. My own view is that readers would appreciate the short story form a lot more if they supported the small presses – there would be some fine surprises awaiting them!

People are often asked in life, what would you have done differently? In my case, it would have been much more sensible and practical of me to not have given up my day job and to have pursued a paying “career” back in the 70s so that I’d have got off on a sounder footing. But, hey, I write about alternative worlds and if you change something, there are a whole load of consequences waiting for you that you never thought of. I could have ended up being the Prime Minister.

My god, where’s the Bacardi…

1 Comment on [GUEST POST] Author Adrian Cole on How Publishing Has Changed Since the 1960s

  1. Funny how what goes around comes around, with a few big publishers swallowing up the small ones only for small ones to rise again. Though I wonder (and I genuinely do wonder – I have no idea how strong or numerous the small presses are) whether e-book self-publishing is now contributing more to that breadth and diversity than the small presses? Not that the two are entirely separate – many small presses seem to start with authors who want to get their own or friends’ work into print – but they’re certainly viewed differently.

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