Following the Wrong Gods Home

I was reading over an old blog post on the subject of short stories versus novels, and the thing that struck me about whatever I was ranting about was how dated the thing was. Irrelevant, even. I am constantly reminded that so many “truths” that I had internalized to the core of my being about the writing and publishing of sf/f just aren’t true anymore. Some were never true at all.

It’s something I should be used to by now. Back when I was struggling to “break in” at even an entry level, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted, and where I was trying to get to. The field had fairly clear parameters. I knew what magazines “counted” and what my targets were. For writers, I knew who the major players were. But a funny thing happened on my way to entering the field—by the time I got there, it wasn’t the same field. Remember the phrase, “There were giants in the earth in those days”? Well, there were. My first sale was to the venerable Amazing Stories, the absolute oldest of the magazines and arguably the first real sf magazine, period. By the time I sold my second story, to Asimov’s SF, Amazing was no more. My third story sale was to a magazine that didn’t even exist when I was targeting the first two, SF Age, now also gone. For the first fourteen years that I was selling stories my “go to” market was Realms of Fantasy, and now? Poof. Gone.

And it wasn’t just magazines. I had my heroes, writers who were almost like gods and goddesses to me. And by the time I felt somewhat part of the field, again, it wasn’t there anymore. Many of the old gods had died off or retired. New people, like me, were filling the niches. Some would go on to be major players, people I’d never even heard of in the preceding years. I was where I wanted to be, but it wasn’t where I thought it was. Continue reading

Year End Report – 2011

We’re coming up on the end of the publishing year, which in some ways for me has been a little thin this time around. There are reasons for that, yes, but they don’t change the result. I’ve published four stories this year in the traditional way, and I use that term loosely since only two of those were print publications. Electronic media’s becoming the new “traditional,” and soon the idea of paper except for very special projects and limited editions will be seen as positively quaint. I was on track to publish five original stories, which is pretty typical for me, but we all know what happened to Realms of Fantasy. So it goes. I started to compile what would have been a very brief summary when it occurred to me that to consider only the traditional venues marginalizes what else I’ve accomplished this year, projects which I am rather proud of, frankly, both for breaking new ground in my attitudes and pushing my comfort zone into the 21st Century. So for the first time ever I’m going to give my yearly breakdown in two separate sections: Traditional, and eBook.

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Evolve or Die Revisionism

This has touched on something I’ve talked about before, but I’m always willing to revise an opinion when new information comes to light. Especially if the new information tends to back me up but suggest an important angle that I’ve overlooked. I’ve talked about ebook pricing, but now I think I need to revisit the role of traditional publishers in this brave new world of electronic media. Before I do, you really need to read this article by Kristine Kathyrn Rusch, so hop on over there. I’ll wait. Continue reading

Interesting Times

Yesterday I was listening to a podcast where the guest was a well-known critic/reviewer in the sf and fantasy field. I was especially struck by an exchange during the interview where the reviewer mentioned owning a Kindle and how much he was enjoying it. So the host asked him how owning the ebook reader had affected his reviewing habits. To which the reviewer replied that it hadn’t affected them at all, because he never reviewed books on the Kindle. There’s a reason for that, of course, and it—at least not yet—has nothing to do with being prejudiced against ebooks. The way reviewing has almost always worked where print books are concerned is that the publisher sends out ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) about six months before a book is due to be released. This is because of the lead times necessary to get the review into print at or before the release date of the book. This is considered especially important because reviews, in theory, boost an author’s sales, but not if the book isn’t immediately available to take advantage of the good press. And before you saying anything, yes, I know that a lot of ARCs these days are in pdf or another electronic format that can be read on ebook readers. That’s not the point. The point is that this lead time is considered necessary, because if a print book doesn’t sell well after its initial release, it’s a dud. Failure. New print releases have a very limited shelf life in this publishing model and if they aren’t moving enough copies they’ll be shoved aside to make room for the next (they hope) hot release.

You’re probably way ahead of me at this point. Yes, there is a problem, implied but not stated above. This is the way traditional publishers, reviewers, and booksellers think, but ebooks simply do not fit this model. As Dean Wesley Smith has pointed out, ebooks “are not produce.” Unlike produce and print books, they do not have a shelf life. Period. If I put out an ebook release tomorrow, no reviewer for any of the magazines will look at it, even if they knew about it and wanted to, because under the current mindset it is already published, and thus it is already too late to review it. To which the only reasonable response is—Why? The book will still be there in three months, six months, six years even. Quite often there would be time to get a review out during the year of publication if they were worried about timeliness, but so what? A print book edition will have maxed out its audience in a year or two from release. An ebook, if it’s any good, can keep finding new readers for generations, even if it sold poorly in the early days of its release. Or to put it another way, for an ebook the past is not destiny. 

The old way of thinking about a book release simply doesn’t apply any more, but that doesn’t mean there’s a chance of that paradigm shifting any time soon. Right now the ebook edition of a print book is published after the “real” publication, so they don’t count for reviewing. Once traditional publishers switch to the ebook paradigm for their main lines, then there will still be scheduling, and lead times, and arcs, even if the original rationale for the reviewing schedule no longer holds. Only ebooks from mainline publishers will be reviewed, or in contention for awards or critical discussion. I wonder how long this attitude will be able to hold out, as more and more authors who write well by any standard but don’t sell well enough to be commercial find a new life by publishing their own books. Or best sellers like J.K. Rowling realize that all they need to sell books is a working web site.

No, I am not overlooking the fact that 90% of Indie and self-published ebooks are crap, but neither am I overlooking Sturgeon’s Law—“90% of everything is crap.” The cream will rise, and in the ebook model, it has the luxury of time, which print books simply do not have. Your guess is as good as mine as to how this is going to play out, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now—interesting times.