Our Strong E-Book Publishing in 1999
The Sorry State of Print Publishing in 1999
Double Issue. This month's issue, covering November and December 1999, brings you two excellent short stories about the importance of familyan important lesson of this seasonthat we know you're going to love. The next item should explain why we were so busy we put off our monthly issue in November.
Contest time. It's that time of year again! We'd like you, our readers, to consider helping us out by voting favorably for our publications. Here are the stops:
Clocktower Fiction. The secret project I've hinted at in past months is now no longer secret: Clocktower Fiction, where we have been giving away free top-quality fiction since 1996, is now a publishing house of electronic books. We are launching with five titles, and we plan to publish dozens more in the coming years.
Titles to look for at Barnes & Noble or Powells on line:
Speaking of 2000, that's A.D., as in The Millennium. Oh big deal, that's only in the Christian tradition... and Jesus was born around 6 B.C., so most likely the real millennium came and went without a whisper in 1994. Nevertheless, we want to offer each and every one of our readers the most joyous holiday season and a prosperous New Year.
World Horror Convention 2000. Denver, Colorado has been chosen to host the 10th Annual World Horror Convention. Guests of Honor will include Peter Straub, Steve Rasnic Tem, Melanie Tem (author of "The Psychic Magic Show" - see Deep Outside SFFH archive), J. Michael Straczynski, and Harlan Ellison. Editor Guest of Honor will be Ellen Datlow. Toastmaster will be Dan Simmons. The convention will be May 11-14, 2000. For information about advertising space, booth space, etc., contact Don Kinney at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please note that deadlines begin in January so act early! Snail mail address is P. O. Box 32167, Aurora, CO 80041.
Comic-Con International. We've received the annual program guide to this great event, to be held in San Diego, California July 20-23, 2000. They bill it as "An Explosion of Pop Culture." As an attendee the past two years, I can assure you they are right - it's great stuff for kids and adults alike (though it's worth noting some erotic material is present in some booths). Guests will include Peter Bagge, Larry Gonick, and Mary Fleener. Special guests will include artists from Slave Labor Graphics, Fantagraphics, Oni Press, Top Shelf, Highwater Books, and many more! For more information, call (619) 544-9555 or visit www.ape-con.org or www.comic-con.org, or email email@example.com, or fax (619) 685-6985.
Received: "The Bad Season," a novel on disk from Dennis Latham (author of "Jumpers"- see Deep Outside SFFH archive). The publisher is Books on Screen, (616) 692-3386. The CD book is full color, with soundtrack, animation, and illustriations, for $29.95. ISBN: 1-929077-18-1.
The Silly Librarian I. I walked into one of our branch libraries a few days ago, thinking it had a rich collection of specialized SF volumes. Well, that was maybe 15 years ago, and things have changed. When I asked the librarian where the SF collection was, she waved a disparaging arm toward a far window. "Oh, it's over there behind the plants." She went on to comment, unbidden, and looking embarrassed, "I buy that stuff because people check it out a lot." The look became a condescending smurk. "But some people don't think much of that stuff." Before I realized she was speaking autobiographically, I grew hot under the collar and said: "Those people are foolish." Needless to say, my visit there was a short one, and I won't be returning any time soon.
The Silly Librarian II. Okay, lovers of speculative fiction, I thought we were done with this, but... you've read my past rants about skiffy and sigh-fie and so forth. When I was growing up, SF was treated unkindly by the broad populace. People considered it 'dumb' or 'weird' or whatever. Every SF anthology began with an apologia about how bad it felt to hide one's copy of Weird Stories in a newspaper so people on the bus wouldn't nudge each other. We were treated like the village idiots - by the village idiots themselves. After Star Wars, I thought that SF had gained acceptance. Well, mostly, probably... except that now, most people think of "sigh fie" as Star Wars's silly Binks character, and they still talk about this literature with condescension. The real literary treasures (Brave New World, 1984, etc.) don't seem to connect with the popular imagination. Why? Perhaps because we are traditionally a conservative, tight-laced society that frowns on originality and invention, and mistrusts the arts? Sure... and perhaps because the traditional educator in that society maintains a certain Victorian prudishness about ideas? And perhaps because the publishing world has made a career of taking the best of speculative fiction and marketing it to that conservative society as something other than SF/F/H. One of these days I'll continue my rant from earlier this year about why the white whale in Moby Dick and the wooden horse in The Iliad are science fiction elements (while the gods and goddesses are fantasy elements).
Publishers. Speaking of publishers, I intend to explore, in later editorials, the meaning of the vast changes sweeping through the publishing world. Essentially, I see the commercial NY publishing world as a narrow pipeline - not nearly wide enough for all the talent that's been trying to get into print for generations. In a sense, it's a terribly wasteful industry - for every author they nurture, they neglect or destroy at least 100. Those are lives we are talking about, and years of authors' strivings. Well, taking a balanced view, perhaps if we count the number of NFL professionals lobbing the pigskin, and consider the number of bright, eager young players who didn't make it into the big league, we might console ourselves somewhat...though, in all fairness, that might-have-been footballer can still have fun playing in the local park on Sundays, whereas it's hard to see what unpublished novelists could do that's comparable - perhaps play catch with one another's novels. No, the NY print industry is a slash and burn toxic factory, headed over the falls. Consider: through mergers and consolidations, there are now only 8 commercial publishers left. I have in my hand the 1999 edition of Writer's Market - in a recent conversation, Editor Kirsten C. Holm told me with a laugh that she has a hard time keeping track of all the acquisitions and mergers - and without going into grinding detail, I can tell you that there are the following conglomerates:
Anybody see a pattern here? Easy! Five out of these eight conglomerates are foreign-owned. Is that good? Bad? One can make a case either way, but the case I'd like to make is that people tend to sell companies that have become weakened by risk-taking and making the wrong decisions. Selling usually gives a short-term benefit to those who sell their ownership or stock. Acquiring is the winning side, where one obtains money-making companies or perhaps companies with sizeable goodwill or backlist properties. Control goes to the buyer, not the seller. My view is that, while I appreciate the global market place, it's a sign of bad decisions and unhealthy risk taking that the majority of our publishing houses are now owned by people across the oceans. What was once a narrow pipeline has become increasingly narrow as editors are afraid to take risks and houses shy away from new authors, preferring instead to build mega-careers for a handful of authors. What's the buzz? It's that the midlist - that fertile planting ground of new talent in the old days - continues to shrink away. Now the massive bookstore chains are calling the shots, telling editors they won't buy the work of any author who experiences a slump. And of course, increasingly, publishers tend to nurture the hopeful million-seller (think Dennis Rodman, wedding dress, red hair) over the hard work of the genre writer. U.S. publishing has done a great job of shooting itself in the foot. Segue:
Can the Web deliver a kinder, gentler publishing industry?In all probability, yes. I have stated before that I believe in 5 years all surviving publishers will be e-book publishers, delivering on highly ergonomic book appliances. The print book is going the way of the dodo - it's expensive, toxically destructive, and cumbersome. Don't get me wrong, I grew up with it, and I love it, but I see the handwriting on the wall. No more printing in black goo on tree corpses whose sheets are then held together with glue made from dead horses. The good that I see in this industry is a chance to start all over... to use the Web as a midlist... where authors can meet readers directly, and readers will exercise choice in a democratic manner, voting with their wallets. It's a great opportunity for everyone. Authors should be able to own the means of production, as we are doing at Clocktower Fiction. Authors should be able to say no to the absurd, onerous, and greedy contracts that have been the all or nothing staple of the print environment. Holding our nose, let's flush the print book, and along with it the fear and kowtowing of authors before editorial tyrants. I look forward to a bright new world in which readers and writers are the managers of their destiny - not the faceless accountants of New York.