Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What's your opinion on cultural appropriation of Australian indigenous culture?

This is an editorial opinion piece written without malice, inviting responses to broaden the view of the writer.

There has been talk in Australia in recent years about the cultural appropriation of indigenous spirituality and stories by white folks. This is seen by some as an unacceptable practice. In the book publishing industry, of which I am involved as a self-publishing service provider and an author, it is well-known that schools and libraries are more likely to utilise Aboriginal-themed fiction if it is written by an Aborigine.

After all, there's plenty of other cultural themes for white folks to draw upon, and there's multitudes more white writers than those of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. The thinking is that the voices of the white writers are so loud and so plentiful they dilute and distract from the voices that may be more true to the culture they're writing about. So non-indigenous people should keep their noses out of indigenous people's culture, not try to make money out of it and not sully the precious and perhaps dying art of dreamtime storytelling with their often-misconceived ideas.

I've read the indigenous side of the debate (here for example: http://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2016/01/07/they-love-our-culture-they-dont-love-us-blogger-who-forced-walkabout-dance-party) but I also have authors at Australian eBook Publisher whose books are affected by this issue. For example, Angie Caterson is a white Australian who grew up in outback Queensland and her culture is what you might describe as a hybrid of white/black and outback-indigenous and so she has written a series of books reflecting that.

You can have a look at Angie Caterson's "Spirits of Australia" series at http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/publishing/spirits-of-australia-series/ and decide for yourself if what she has done is cultural appropriation.

Caterson knows indigenous Australians, but she did not specifically co-create her books with one of them. Is Caterson's right to express the culture SHE grew up in less important just because she is white?

She is not out to gain from aboriginal culture—actually she has outlayed more money than most to self-publish her books in full colour, so that they are fun and easy-to-read for kids aged 6-9. She does not have the endorsement of an Aboriginal person to have permitted and verified the use of certain aspects of Aboriginal culture that appear in her chapter books.


Caterson simply had some stories inside her that she was keen to share with children. There are some references to the dreamtime and the Aboriginal creation stories etc. but it appears this is frowned upon by many as cultural appropriation.

Can only trans-gender people write about trans culture?
Can only Christians write about Christian culture?
Can only Muslims write about Muslim culture?
Can only Americans write about American culture?
Can only victims of domestic violence write about DV?
Can only Australian Defence Force personnel write about the culture in the ADF?

Sure, Caterson may be white, but why should there be prejudice or gag order against whites, or people of any other group, just because of the colour of their skin, their racial heritage, sexuality, life experience, religion or any other cultural phenomenon? Perhaps because whites are part of the majority, and are stereotypically and statistically more privileged? But I would argue that each individual person is not a stereotype or a statistic, so we need to have freedom in this country—all of us—for creative expression.

That is part of the reason why the racial vilification laws in Australia do not apply to artistic works.

I support measures to help narrow the gap between elites and any non-elite group, including indigenous Australians, but that is not the issue here in my opinion. That is not a matter relevant to cultural appropriation.


Even a white-skinned person cannot help in what racial group they are born. I have heard the opinion that because whites are not part of the minority of Australian Aborigines, they should not reference or use Aboriginal culture in their own creative work, including written fiction. This seems unfair to me. All Australian children are taught about Aboriginal culture. So are we going to put a stop on all creativity relating to it except for indigenous Australians? How does that help anybody or help to narrow the gap?

Just because a white person writes about Aboriginal culture doesn't mean an indigenous person can't. To any aspiring Aboriginal writers out there, please do write about your fascinating and important culture. There are many beautiful indigenous Australian picture books already published, such as:
  • Warnayarra: The Rainbow Snake by Lajamanu School and Pamela Lofts
  • My Home Broome by Tamzyne and Bronwyn Houston
  • Two Mates by Melanie Prewett 
  • Dingo’s Tree  by Gladys Milroy and Jill Milroy
  • Shake a Leg Boori Monty Pryor and Jan Ormerod 
  • Bilby and the Bushfire by Joanne Crawford
  • Sam’s Bush Journey by Sally Morgan and Ezekiel Kwaymullina
  • Marngrook by Titta Secombe
  • Stolen Girl by Trina Saffioti
  • Fair Skin Black Fella by Renee Fogorty


It's great to see indigenous Australians writing indigenous themed books, but is the resentment and hatred that seems focused towards "invading whites" also writing indigenous themed books OK? Should Australians in general, whatever their culture or creed, really be OK with this, just because most whites are considered "more elite" or at least not an underprivileged minority?

What did a white person born 30 years ago have to do with the colonisation of Australia hundreds of years ago? It is not my intention to belittle the near-extinction of a people, or the fact that Australian Aborigines were overcome and abused by the invading whites, but that's history. That's what humans did all over the world throughout human history. That's what colonisation, war, expansion of the empire and claiming a (mostly uninhabited) country meant. It may not be right, but that's where we are today.

I grew up in a suburb with many people of mixed nations, including first nation people. I was a youth leader and saw kids from all different backgrounds, including whites, come from underprivileged circumstances. To me, the colour of one's skin should not dictate what creative or cultural themes one should be allowed to use in art. Art should be free from all that.

I guess what I'm wondering is why should today's descendants of the aggressive European nations be punished for acts of people from hundreds of years ago?

Why can't everyone just live and let live?

Let storytellers tell stories that inspire them and others.

 I admit my own ignorance of Aboriginal culture and their point of view. I haven't made my mind up about this, but I am not convinced by the cultural appropriation accusations I have read so far.

There's very little in "white culture", whatever that is, that hasn't been misrepresented, skewed, poked fun at or that does not evolve over time. So why protect any other people group from the modern frivolity of art? Isn't it part of multicultural Australia to let stories be told in the way any particular creative person wants to tell them?

So, in other words, I'm happy to have the conversation and the debate about cultural appropriation, but I would prefer if creators are not hindered—because of this debate—from including aspects of Aboriginal culture in their works.

The involvement of a professional editor is highly recommended, and if you can find one of indigenous descent to edit, or even to endorse, your Aboriginal-themed book, even better!

The writer of this blog post and the author of Spirits of Australia do not support racial vilification of any kind, and invite any concerned with the law to read the information on humanrights.gov.au.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Book Review: Star Light, Star Bright—Exploring Our Solar System

A cute way to convey information about our solar system to children under 6, Star Light, Star Bright—Exploring Our Solar System was written by Anna Prokos and illustrated by Dave Clegg. This book balances gorgeous illustrations with storyline text and factual text beautifully for children aged 3 and up. The space facts and table of contents give this book extra appeal for older children and educators who wish to explore more about space. The fact-delivery of this book takes priority over the story, and there is a lacklustre climax and resolution at the end, but most children under 6 will be happy to have this book read to them.

This review was based on the electronic ARC supplied by the publisher.


Star Rating: 3 out of 5
Age: 3-6
Reading Level: Read to me
Genre: Picture book, faction

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Marketing a Fantasy Novel How To

Over the past year and a half I have developed expertise in cutting-to-the-chase shoe-string book marketing online, and my services are for sale here.

This is part of the reason I went ahead and released my epic fantasy novel Talon, after working on it for more than 17 years. I finally felt it was a good time to release it and that I now know how I can have a crack at self-publishing and marketing it successfully. This is not about making money, though it would be nice to cover my costs, it is about finding a readership that enjoys my work.

For Talon, I have so far implemented all of the following:

Marketing Action Plan

http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/marketing-stage-1-analyse-option-a-ebook-only-3-books.php
Affect on Sales (ROI): This plan helped me get my head around my target market and informed everything I have done so far and everything I'm planning to do. I update it when I get time, as it is a living document. I have not implemented everything in it yet, due to time and money constraints, but what I have implemented I am pleased with.


Kindle Select

http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/kindle-select-management.php
Kindle Count Down Deals, Web Advertising Strategy and Promotion Schedule
Affect on Sales (ROI): The single most effective thing I have done, to help get the Amazon sales rank up, the reviews up, and people reading my book in the USA. Learning how to do this is part of marketing stage 1. There are clear spikes during my activities in this strategy.


Sales Sheet 

http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/creation-of-sales-sheet.php
Affect on Sales (ROI): This is useful to send to reviewers, magazines, booksellers, librarians, teacher-librarians, marketing people, advertisers etc. Also to take to book stores (but I don't have time for that, nor do I think it would be a good use of my time, or theirs). It is imperative for a printed book, and also useful for an ebook-only publication.


Advanced Book Review Management 

http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/the-terrific-triple-review-package.php (package 1)
Affect on Sales (ROI): This is critical for a genre novel IMO - as it gets the book in front of professional reviewers who are actively seeking books to read and review. You not only get useful feedback, but also quotes you can use in marketing. Even better, some of them will load the review they write to Amazon if you ask them to (after the book is released). Can be done before or after launch.


Booklink URL redirect 

http://www.booklink.com.au
Affect on Sales (ROI): I used this to generate a short URL for my book that would be easy for me to remember (booklink.com.au/talon goes to the Australian Amazon page for the ebook). A booklink landing page is very good value for an author who does not want to maintain their own website.


Deluxe Website 

http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/websites-authors.php
Affect on Sales (ROI): My author website is there, ready for when/if my author platform does become significant, i.e. if any readers or book industry folk decide to check me out. I don't have illusions of grandeur. I have put my best effort forward to ensure it is a good, mobile-friendly, fast-loading website with all the information to entice a reader to enjoy my books. I am at the beginning of my career as an author, and I'm very preoccupied running Australian eBook Publisher, so my author website is here simply as a start. I do not expect ROI for it yet, as it's a step of faith or an investment for the future.


Video Book Trailer 

http://www.australianebookpublisher.com.au/video-promotional-book-trailer.php
 You can check it out here: www.astorchronicles.com
Affect on Sales (ROI): I have used it on my website, social media and Youtube, but it's early days to see any impact from the video itself. My video marketing effectiveness would be greatly improved by posting up more interview-style or writing and publishing info. videos. Something I will consider doing in the future.


Web Advertisements 

http://www.booklink.com.au
Affect on Sales (ROI): I have posted ads on social media in the form of posts, but due to limited budget have not taken a lot of visual ad spaces online for Talon yet.

Advertisements (print) 

Affect on Sales (ROI): I have advertised in Good Reading magazine (Australia) and Locus (US).

Social Media  

Affect on Sales (ROI): My social media efforts so far have been minimal and have not generated a lot of sales. There would have been a few, but I haven't really had time to pinpoint my target market on social networks and forums, then "join the conversation" (as opposed to barging in to a conversation and self-promoting). I want to bring value to groups online, before trying to simply sell my book, but I simply do not have time.

In addition to running Australian eBook Publisher full time I have two young children to look after when they're not at school and daycare. My kids are so important to me. This stuff with my writing is not meant to take over my whole life. So even though it's a bit frustrating that I know what to do but don't have the opportunity to do it, I know what I'd rather be doing! Being with my kids. :)  These are the choices every writer has to make of course, whatever their situation.


Email Newsletters 

Affect on Sales (ROI): I've been building an email list for about ten years, and it's still pretty small. So I simply let them know when each of my books is out and leave them in peace.


Pull-up Banner 

Affect on Sales (ROI): I have my pull-up banner at the Sydney Book Expo in 2015, and will use it again this year at SupaNova. Otherwise, though, I have not had time to anything in person to promote Talon. The strategy has more been about internet marketing on a shoe-string budget (time and money wise!).

Summary

It is difficult to pin-point sales to any particular things I have done (apart from my Kindle and Web Promotion Strategy). I think selling books is a two steps forward, one step back kind of process, some things work—some don't. You just gotta try, try and try again.
Talon has only been out since April, yet I am already earning quarterly royalties that MAY have a trajectory that will lead to a profitable book. None my customers have ever taken up as many of the marketing services I have used for Talon. The more an author does, the better their sales, unless they have a dud. And you never can tell.
I have not covered my production and marketing costs for Talon yet, but I am sure I will eventually.

Update: 11/09/2017 Talon is a steady seller and lots of readers enjoy it on the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Tanza Book 2 of The Astor Chronicles


"Tanza", Book 2 of my bridge fantasy series "The Astor Chronicles" is complete! The layout and ebook conversion is underway. The cover art has been done for about a decade, and I'm so glad to finally release it to the world.

If you enjoyed Book 1 "Talon" you're going to love Book 2, in which Talon and Sarlice enter the mystical realm of Tanza and become part of an epic war with the Zeikas. 

I rewrote the blurb for "Talon" yesterday when I wrote the blurb for "Tanza".


Talon 

With a newly awakened icetiger for his companion, Talon is finally learning the magic of the Kriite people, including telepathy and shape-changing. After his home town Jaria is attacked by Zeikas he embarks on a mission to seek help.

Before Talon even understands the power within him, there are demon summoners after him. He is horrified to learn that the Zeika leader plans to use Talon’s body and mind to further his ambition for power. Bal Harar is on a god-given mission to enslave or kill all Kriites.

Talon represents both the greatest threat and the greatest opportunity to the Zeikas—his actions and faith will make all the difference between the two.


Talon is Amanda Greenslade's debut novel and is the first in a series of epic fantasy adventure novels for a new adult audience.


Tanza

Sarlice and I came to Tanza to escape from the Zeikas, and we were not prepared for a country on the brink of war. Where should our loyalties lie—to our home towns, to Tanza or to each other?

The Zeikas have their fire magic, dragons and demons, but they lack the Kriite ability to communicate across vast distances using the waves. I know one thing—the skyearls will not give up Tanza without a fight.

Soon I will have a skyearl of my own, and the miracle of flight along with it. I was slow to come into my powers in Jaria, but I was wrong to think Krii had no purpose for my life. They have a new name for me here in Tanza: Astor Talon.


Tanza is the second in “The Astor Chronicles”, a series of epic fantasy adventure novels for a new adult audience.

Available in Print and as an Ebook September 2, 2016