Archive for the ‘publishing’ category

Interview on Pros and Cons

August 22, 2013

This week, I spent some time talking with Jonah Knight and Mikey Mason about small-press publishing, Mercury Retrograde Press, and my decision to shut it down. You can listen to the conversation on the Pros and Cons Podcast. Mikey and Jonah are always great fun to talk with, and as interviewers they do a terrific job of getting right to the heart of any matter.

If you’ve been wondering about the nuts and bolts of running a small press or even just what the hell I’ve been thinking for the past few years, you may find the conversation worth listening to. And if you’re at all interested in convention culture, you should be following them anyway. Did I mention they’re up for a Parsec Award?

Listen here.

Serving the fans, why it’s important, and how to survive it

October 5, 2010

Being a popular author is a lot of work. There’s all those hotels you have to stay in, and all those bookstore appearances, and all those drooling fans with books they want you to sign. Oh, sure, it sounds glamorous, but you have to smile at a lot of people when you’d rather be watching re-runs of CSI, and your hand gets tired from signing all those books. There’s got to be an easier way.

OK, yeah, I mock the problem. And I do have a faint notion of how stressful and tiring that scene can be; I know I tend to come home from cons and other public events worn out. But while I am learning (slowly) to marshal my resources at public events, I think we forget why we do those events at our peril. They’re not for us; they’re for fans. Yes, we have to take care of ourselves; but we have to do it in a way that doesn’t leave fans feeling unappreciated.

This morning on Facebook, I read this post from my friend Mitch, who graciously agreed to be quoted here:

Unless you’ve been under a rock for a while, you know The Hunger Games is hugely popular right now. I’m sure all the appearances Ms. Collins does are swamped, and the bookstores at which she appears have no reasonable choice but to impose some sort of order on the chaos that her presence creates–not only for their sakes and the health and safety of the author, but also for the fans who come to see her. And when the crowds get huge, inevitably some fans will be disappointed. But in this case both the bookstore and the author seem to have lost sight of the goal, which is to serve the fans. That is a separate issue from selling the book, as you may observe from Mitch’s reaction. While this episode represents a lost sale, it also represents something worse: a fan who feels used and disrespected. In short, a lost fan. And that’s the loss of far more than one sale.

I recognize that this failure is an outgrowth of real problems for the professionals involved. So here’s my question: how should this situation have been handled? How could the interests of the author and the bookstore have been protected without leaving fans feeling used? Please help me troubleshoot this one.

Slow Publishing

July 15, 2010

Recently I  read the Slow Media Manifesto. This is a fantastic document, yet another outgrowth of the rapidly 🙂 expanding Slow Movement. I would like to find a cathedral and nail it to the door. But I  observe that it offers no blueprint for how to create slow media, only describes the results. Other Slow organizations, e.g. the Slow Cities group and the Slow Movement itself, offer no prescriptions either; these things seem to be left to the user to define. So it seems fitting to cobble together a Slow Publishing Manifesto.

Here’s what I’ve got so far:

1. Slow Publishing is Art. Slow publishing acknowledges that publishing is inherently paradoxical: a creative business. Its participant creators must be granted the same flexibility as any other artist in order to sustainably produce works worth caring about.

2. Slow Publishing is sustainable. It operates in ways that allows both artists and people on the business side to function without constantly eating into their reserves or sacrificing health, family, and time away from work.

3. Slow Publishing respects artists and moves to their rhythms, acknowledging that every artist’s creative process is different and subject to change without notice.  Rather than adding to the considerable self-imposed stress any artist experiences with artificial and/or inflexible deadlines, Slow Publishing establishes goal dates–and adjusts them as necessary to ensure artists and publication staff have the time to do their best work.

4. Slow Publishing respects the art it creates: working as a coach and collaborator for the artists with whom it engages; aiding those artists in doing their best work; and making time for them to re-engage with the work at hand when necessary rather than pushing works that do not yet realize the artist’s true vision to market.

5. Slow Publishing favors quality over quantity. Rather two excellent books per year than two dozen mediocre volumes; rather choosing a sustainable number of appropriate outlets than chasing every conceivable point of sale.

6. Slow Publishing does not sacrifice art and creativity to business. It understands that there are so many resources available for the work, and allocates those resources in ways that support the values that matter.

What do you think? Did I miss something, or write something in a way that just sounds crazy? Looking forward to your thoughts.

Is the Espresso Book Machine the next Underground Railroad?

July 21, 2009

Slate Magazine has a pretty nifty rundown of the sudden disappearance of 1984 and Animal Farm (oh, the irony is really too much) from Kindles worldwide–and the implications of the truly wild level of control over readers’ libraries the Kindle gives Amazon. I’ve felt for some time that publishing books that fall outside mainstream sensibilities is a public service in support of free expression; until this morning it never occurred to me that the act of creating physical printed copies might be as important a part of the equation as giving the author a voice in the first place.

Somewhere, Orwell is just nodding…and lighting up another joint.

The Jagged Edge of Forever

June 16, 2009

Isn’t that a great title? That is the name of the newest of Rev. John Cunyus’s highly-respected translations from the original St. Jerome Biblical texts. I have the first-ever copy here on my desk, and it’s blowing me away. Look at this awesome cover:



Full disclosure: John and I went to college together. As so often happened with our generation, we lost touch until the miracle of Facebook reunited us. We are better friends today. I wish all clergy were like him.

Bragging: John dedicated this volume to me. Little ‘ol me. I am quite overwhelmed.

The coolest thing about this series, IMO, is the scholarliness John brings to the work. For those of you who aren’t Bible geeks (and I’m not, but I can learn) the St. Jerome texts are considered the authoritative translations from the original Aramaic Torah/Old Testament (choose the label you like) into Latin. Evidently St. Jerome studied with the rabbis in order to develop sufficient mastery of Aramaic to do the texts justice.

(Aramaic is a hard language. Rachael speaks Hebrew but is more often than not baffled by Aramaic.)

John, a Latin scholar, is doing what may turn out to be the authoritative translations of St. Jerome’s work.

There is, as you may have deduced already, a whole series of these translations, with more on the way. If you are interested in reading texts in English that have been translated as faithfully and with as little bias as the translators could manage, you should check them out.

Artistic freedom in a limited-outlets world

March 18, 2009

SF Signal has a very interesting topic up on MIND MELD today:

Q: Once upon a time, sf/f was full of taboos: no swearing, no sex, etc. We’re thankfully past those days, but are there any taboos still remaining or new ones that have sprung up? Have you ever had trouble with publishing something, or caught yourself self-censoring?
Peter Watts

As is the practice on Mind Meld, a few pro writers are asked to weigh in and the floor is opened for comments. The site may shortly go up in flames; stay tuned. What I find most fascinating is the passionate allegiance people exhibit to one side of the question or the other: the writers (and remember these are pros, not the Bitter Unpubbed) who take the question itself to task, so frustrating is the suggestion that art is not completely hamstrung by publishers’ taboos or fear of others’–versus the writers who are offended by the suggestion that we should tolerate (gasp) pottymouth, much less inappropriate behaviors or philosophies, when those things are simply not necessary to great storytelling.

Look through the words to the experiences they reveal, and you may see a deeper conflict: the one between artists and entertainers, between those who want to wrestle with Big Questions and the true meaning of humanity–and those who want to be a part of the comfortable, accepted “artistic elite”. I see this conflict play out over and over: at cons, on discussion boards, etc. Big Publishing is heartless and fascist, say those whose art is too risky for publishers who put money ahead of art; Big Publishing is the only thing protecting the Qualified from the Fanficcers, say those who are either comfortable within the accepted norms or both able and willing to channel their creativity into works that don’t challenge their audiences overmuch.

The image above is from The Long Tail. Setting aside the political-party overtones, which I think Completely Miss The Point in any context, the image fits the situation. Self-censorship by an industry is still censorship; it is one of the most insidious symptoms of fascism. But I’m getting a bit off topic, as usual. Let’s see if we can drag this back on course.

Big Publishing is Big Business. It is in the business of making money. People who work for Big Publishing are not necessarily fascists, but in order to keep their jobs they must adhere to the business model that says making money is more important than art–that choosing works which will not sell enough copies to support the Lifestyle to Which Publishing Has Grown Accustomed is a bad plan; that choosing works which may inflame the wrath of that vocal minority which fancies itself the arbiter of decency (whatever that is) and Good Taste is equally bad if not worse. Big Publishing is not in the business of taking risks; it provides a safe haven for well-behaved entertainment folk, and tries to guide the public in the direction of appreciating art that matches its ideals. It is the wrong place for artists.

Fortunately, there is a place for artists. It’s called Independent Publishing. Contrary to whatever confusions organizations like Author House may have imposed on you lately, Independent Publishing is not the same thing as Subsidy Publishing or even Self-Publishing. Independent Publishing is run by people who are passionate about art, who will take on the task of bringing to the public works that will push the mainstream audience out of its comfort zone and delight those who were already hanging around outside. Independent publishers do many of the same things Big Publishers do or once did: choose works carefully, work with authors to make the works the best they can be, give individual attention to artists’ visions and careers, produce, distribute, and promote books in ways that match the works themselves.

Independent publishing is not for everyone. It’s a trapeze act rather than a safe career. But it may be the last remaining haven for true artistic freedom.

All writers report to Twitter. Now.

March 10, 2009

Hey, remember how you’d gotten that nagging feeling that twitter was somehow going to turn out to be worthwhile? Yeah, here it is:


Seriously. Go to twitter and read. Learn. Laugh. Cry. Maybe some of each.

Why it’s hard to make the grade in publishing

March 2, 2009

Writing for publication is not like writing for your creative writing class. There are no grades on your assignments; truthfully there are rarely assignments at all, and you’ll be lucky if you ever actually lay eyes on the prof or receive a rubric of any sort. And the whole thing is pass/fail. At first glance, it’s the easiest class ever.

Here’s the problem: the only passing grade is an “A”.

Feelin’ the Love

February 20, 2009

This week the lit blog Baby Got Books is, as BGB host Tim Frederick puts it, “throwing objectivity to the wind and having a love fest” in honor of Zachary Steele‘s Anointed, which we’re launching this weekend at Wordsmiths in Decatur. He graciously invited me to write today’s post, so I wrote a little love letter to small press publishing.

Scroll right down after you finish reading my post for Russ Marshalek‘s hilarious interview with Zach, which is the post following mine. Tim says it best: those two should have their own reality show.

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…