Interview: Matthew Lamb

Matthew Lamb Interview Image

Matthew Lamb is the editor of literary serial the Review Of Australian Fiction. We talk to him about editing, publishing, and the state of the short story.

Can you tell us a bit about the Review Of Australian Fiction? What is it, and what makes it unique?

The RAF is one of the first fully digital journals of fiction to come out of Australia. We publish two stories every two weeks. The first story in each issue is by an established Australian writer, and the second story in each issue is by an emerging Australian author. One of our unique features is that we pay our authors on a royalty basis, with 50% of the cover charge being distributed between the two authors in each issue.

Each issue features one established author and one emerging one, with the latter chosen by the former. How do you decide which established authors you publish? And how do they usually find the emerging author with whom they are paired?

Yes, we invite the established author to contribute, and we ask them to choose an emerging writer they’d like to be paired with. Often this is somebody they are actively mentoring, other times it is somebody that the main author has encountered while reading, somebody they may have their eye on…

We like this aspect of the journal, because it allows us to tap into the mentoring network that operates in close-knit literary communities, which is one of the strengths of the Australian literary scene. I also like it because it allows us to see the established author as a reader, and we get a glimpse at the type of emerging writing they like to read.

An interesting, unintended consequence of this model has been the way some emerging writers have reverse-engineered the model, by going out and finding an established author to endorse their work, and to contribute alongside them, and then they have approached us for an invitation.

What kind of stories do you publish? Has any style or type of story emerged as particularly suited to the Review Of Australian Fiction?

We purposely called the journal a review of “Australian Fiction”, rather than “Australian Literature”, because we wanted to be inclusive of all forms of fiction writing going on in Australia. Our only criterion is that it must be good fiction. This has forced us to also read stories and genres we may not have read before, and it has been very rewarding. We have had literary fiction, as well as young adult, chick-lit, crime, fantasy, and so on.

There is, however, one type of story that has become particularly suited to the RAF, and that is the long story. One of the limitations of print mags is the word length. This imposes an artificial and external limit on a story. In Australia, more so than other countries, such as Britain or the United States, the word lengths of stories are often quite short: 1500-3000 words. By being digital, we have not had such restrictions, and our authors have really enjoyed being able to focus on the story they are trying to tell, without having to consider such restrictions. In this way, we have published stories between 4000-17000 words. Many hover between ten and 15000 words.

What was behind the decision to use Booki.sh to distribute the magazine? Did you consider using a more mainstream platform like Amazon or Barnes & Noble?

There are three main reasons we chose Booki.sh to work with. First, we knew nothing about digital publishing, and they provided what we needed. The people behind Booki.sh also designed and help maintain our website as well as providing good, personal support for our project. Second, it is an Australian start-up, and as we wanted to promote Australian fiction, it made sense that we should use an Australian platform to launch it. Third, Booki.sh also provide their platform for many of Australia’s leading independent bookstores to move into the sale of ebooks. We thought it really important that we didn’t try to compete with, but rather attempted to consolidate, the Australian literary scene, and this meant finding ways of working closely with the cool indie bookstores that we ourselves have grown up with, and have frequented, and still frequent to buy books. Booki.sh had the same idea, so we knew they were the crew for us.

Also, and let’s not shit ourselves, Amazon is evil.

Similarly, what prompted you to release each issue without DRM? What are your thoughts on DRM and its impact on publishing?

We are exclusive to Booki.sh. And within that, we are one of the few publishers that work with Booki.sh to provide our ebooks DRM-Free. This actually goes against the basic philosophy of Booki.sh–which is that the future of digital publishing is cloud-based, which we actually agree with–but many people with dedicated ereaders still get confused with this notion. So we wanted a way to make the RAF available to everyone, without having to make it available through, say, Amazon, or other sites and formats. By making it DRM-Free, anyone can buy it through Booki.sh, download it, and convert it to whatever format they require.

Regarding DRM in general. It is effectively useless, and most people in publishing will admit this in private, but institutionally, publishers are terrified of losing control of their products, so they will cling to the facade. Publishers do not understand or trust readers. Fiction, however, and reading in general, has always been an uncontrolled field. This is the value of it. We trust our readers. And we trust that they value the work we do, the work our authors do.

In the modern landscape, with digital publishing, piracy is an issue, yes. But those who value good fiction also appreciate that it is worth paying for. Particularly as the RAF pays its authors a 50% royalty, readers know that half of what they pay goes to the authors whose imagination they are given privileged access to.

How popular do you think short stories are at the moment? What do you think the growth of digital publishing might mean for the short story?

It’s been said that digital publishing is conducive to short fiction, and this is why they are popular on the internet. I think that this is true, but only because digital publishing can, in some respects (such as word length) overcome some restrictions of print publishing. I reject, however, the notion that short fiction is popular in our digital age because we are all too time-poor to read novels, and that short stories are quick and easy and accessible. Short fiction is none of these things. It is a concentrated form of writing, and it requires a concentrated form of reading to really appreciate it.

Where can readers find out more about the Review Of Australian Fiction?

The best place to go is to the source: reviewofaustralianfiction.com. But also, I recently did a long, ranty interview with the Australian Writers Marketplace, about the RAF, which may be of interest to those who want to know more about what we are trying to do: blog.awmonline.com.au.

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Matthew Lamb is the editor of the Review Of Australian Fiction.