Archive for January 2009

The shifting landscape of publishing

January 23, 2009

There’s a lot of talk out on the interwebs this week about the future of publishing: most notably this article in Time. But the thing that’s really blowing my mind is this Publisher’s Manifesto by Sara Lloyd. To my publisher brain, this is the equivalent of reading Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces with my writer-brain: it makes my head fire with ideas I never had before, at a rate that would probably make your average brain-scanner blow up. Each time I go back to it I have a different set of thoughts.

If the Time article predicts a book landscape as alien to us as the shores of the Amazon, the Publisher’s Manifesto makes me reconsider my methods and role: how am I to serve my writers and readers in this shifting landscape? How will the ways I market books change?

The short answer, I currently suspect, is that each work will demand its own methodology. I am already talking with other publishers with whom I swap ideas and support (yes, another shocking idea, that) about the strategies for books they’re publishing. In some cases I can see books becoming the centers of online communities; in others my mind is running towards serialization and online roleplay. Still other stories, I think, must be enjoyed as we have always enjoyed novels. Each of these subgroups will demand a different type of strategy, and each work within these subgroups will become the center of something unique.

This, I think, will become one of my most important jobs as a publisher: helping works find their ways in the wide electronic world. And here’s the key: that’s not the same thing as “publishing digital editions”. I can already see that this will require a remodeling of author-publisher relationships, in ways that I think will be exciting for some, frightening for others.

I don’t have answers yet. But I’m sure having a lot of exciting ideas. Stay tuned…

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It’s a new world out there–pay attention

January 20, 2009

Even those of us who love the printed book must bow to the many wins of the electronic version.

Take a look:

Quandries and One Hell of an Exciting Time
courtesy Shelf Awareness

What are we to make of this?

January 19, 2009

It’s quite likely that there’s something wrong with me, some Creutzfeld-Jakob of the publishing brain. I turned down a publishable novel this weekend.

Really, there was nothing showstoppingly wrong with it. I yanked it out of the slushpile with lightning speed because the writing was top-notch. It was SF rather than F, which excited me because Mercury Retrograde is so heavily weighted in favor of fantasy. PoV slips were minor, and I felt certain I’d be able to coach the writer through where he was going wrong. And it started in media res, which almost never happens. I had every expectation of falling in love.

So why did I turn it down? Not because of any fault, but because of what it turned out to be: a sort of James-Bond-in-space with a female protag. Sounds like a great concept, right? This is the kind of thing that dominates the upper end of SFF novel sales, and a publisher with a better moneymaking brain would have jumped all over it. I’m sure it will sell quite soon–or within a timeframe that passes for “soon” in the publishing industry. In fact I’m certain the only reason it wound up on my desk is that the path to publication with a big house has grown so very, very long.

But for better or worse–or, more to the point, for richer or poorer–it was the things this very competent novelist didn’t dig into that made my decision for me: character and ideas. For me, it is not enough that a character is well-defined and heroic: I want to see him or her *develop*, deal with conflicts that are deep and defining and change as a result of confronting them. I don’t want the story to turn on an Achilles heel: I want to dig into why Achilles’ sexual orientation changed the course of the Trojan War. And great worldbuilding and gee-whiz-ness don’t do it for me unless they are there in service of ideas the author is exploring. I understand that most readers don’t share my needs: most read to be entertained, to zip through a story that gives them a good ride and maybe some good moments to roll around in their minds later. And that the smart money is in giving people entertaining diversions, not stories that will challenge them, ask them to become emotionally involved or even changed by what they read.

As a reader, though, it’s things in the latter category I want to read. As a writer, that’s what I want to write. As a publisher, I want to create a space where writers can do that sort of work without having to consider themselves failures if their work doesn’t get below the magic Thousand Mark on Amazon. But all I really knew when I decided to decline the offer of that very competent novel was that I didn’t love it. I had to wander around for several hours afteward, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.

It’s possible that I recognized with my artist-brain, long before my conscious mind caught up, that to start down the path of choosing novels for monetary rather than artistic reasons is to risk artistic ruin. But it’s also possible that I just have Mad Cow.

Everybody’s Doing It

January 1, 2009

What do we do on New Year’s Day besides wander around in a slightly hung-over state channeling Bono? Why, we make resolutions, of course. As a writer, I am required by law to set writing resolutions: you know, to write every day; to write MORE every day if I actually succeeded in the first goal last year (which, as you know, Gentle Reader, I didn’t). As a publisher, I should set resolutions having to do with doing more, bigger and better; that’s not going to happen, either. I will do more, bigger and better; I am too driven to do otherwise. And that’s one of the primary problems I face as a writer.

My goals for this year have to do with balance: balancing the two sides of my professional life rather than allowing all the things on my publishing to-do list to push me out of the study; keeping enough sanity in my weeks to allow things like yoga, eating right, taking walks and spending time with my special people; thinking about my fiction like a writer while I’m developing the work, and only then putting on my publisher’s hat; not letting any one project derail everything else; accepting that my resources are far outstripped by my vision, and that writing and publishing comprise a marathon, not a sprint.

In a year in which we will all continue to redefine prosperity, it seems senseless to set goals regarding productivity. This year I will concentrate on quality: not just in my work, but in everything I do. This will be the year I rip out a flawed chapter or subplot and rebuild it rather than worrying about self-imposed deadlines, the year I choose not to flay myself over mistakes or perceived imperfections but simply extract the lessons learned and move on. This year will be a road trip in the direction of goals: we’ll arrive, but the exact time of arrival is impossible to predict to the minute, and detours may arise without warning. I will strive to enjoy and learn from them all.

But I’m not making any resolutions.