Archive for the ‘publishing’ category

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”.

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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…

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.

This might be a manifesto

October 1, 2008

Yeah, I might have to nail this one to the cathedral door when it’s done.

Today is the official release date of Shorn by Larissa N. Niec: the first book published by my brainchild, Mercury Retrograde Press. I’m immeasurably proud of the work we’ve done on this one–and it *has* been a “we”, because in addition to the writer, any book must also have an editor, a proofreader, a typesetter/book designer, a cover designer, one or more artists, and people whose task it is to get the word out so people can fall in love with the creation and make its story part of their personal myth set. Shorn has had–still has–a whole team behind it. Because we’re a new press, and we can’t afford to hire full-time employees yet, I’ve done the majority of the work on this project, and for the most part I find the work fulfilling; but in the race to do this book justice, I have mostly set aside my own writing life. This is a thing I’ve viewed as a temporary necessity; in my mind, once we crossed the finish line on Shorn, things would calm down and I could get back to the study with a clear conscience.

I now understand that was unrealistic. There is still work to be done for Shorn, and the work will continue for a couple months yet: getting the word out, setting up relationships with new sales channels (a task for which I’m hugely grateful, btw), propagating the ebook versions and beginning to figure out the logistics of audio book production. Meanwhile Anointed, the next book on Mercury Retrograde’s menu, is already waiting for me to start doing my share of what it needs; by the time that’s done, I’ll be behind on the next one. (And, oh, you’re going to LOVE the next one, but there are still nagging legal entanglements that must be resolved, so for now I must leave you to fantasize. Two words to start with: Urban Fantasy.)

The bottom line: I am never going to be *caught up* on Mercury Retrograde business, at least not until Mercury Retrograde can afford staff. That’s normal for a start-up business, and I’ve done the whole start-up thing before, so while I’m not uncomfortable with the headlong dash and all the other stuff that goes along with it, now that we’re in a Mercury Retrograde period, my muse is crying for time in the study…and suddenly I remember that I founded Mercury Retrograde because the house I wanted to publish my own fiction didn’t exist yet. It exists now, and I love it; but if I publish six, nine, or twelve books per year that win the hearts of critics and fans alike, earn out and go on to make money for their authors, and yet I am not writing fiction, I will not have done what I set out to do.

It is never going to be a convenient time for me to go back to writing; so long as I am writing, things will move more slowly in the office than they otherwise might. But it occurs to me that, while I refuse to hold other Mercury Retrograde authors to hard deadlines when meeting those deadlines would require them to compromise their art, I’m giving my own work no such respect. That has to stop.

So, while Mercury Retrograde Press authors and fans may wish I could move a little faster in the office, I trust they will understand that I must go back to carving out regular time in the study. No book will go unedited, un-typeset, or unpromoted; it’s just that schedules will be a bit more fluid than they’ve been. In the long run, I suspect, all of Mercury Retrograde’s books will benefit.

In the mean time, I have to go back to the study.

On Writing–Or Not

September 8, 2008

I am not writing right now. I cannot express how much this pains me; the writers among you will understand. It’s not that I’m *blocked* or that I don’t know what to write–it’s that I can’t find the time. I’m in a crunch period that began about two weeks ago and is likely to run two more, and I don’t even have time to make dinner consistently or return phone calls not related to work (and I’m really sorry about that, btw. You know who you are.)

It’s work, of course. The beautiful business of publishing. I am still the person responsible for most everything Mercury Retrograde does, and I don’t want to complain about that: this is my brainchild, and I love the work. Well, except the filing and bookkeeping. In case you haven’t heard, we have a book scheduled for official release on October 1st, and we are busily finalizing final things, scheduling Larissa’s book tour, and doing truckloads of publicity. All very important and enjoyable stuff, and in many cases the first time I’ve done the things in question–which means there have been false starts and mid-course corrections, and just generally that things have taken longer than they will for the next book and the one after that. I understand all this, and it’s not so hard to be philosophical about it, because I love the work.

But just the same there is a certain defrocked wizard on the verge of getting sucked into things it will take him years to fully understand, waiting for me in the study…and I know exactly what the next hundred pages should be. It’s hard to be patient.

Must dig in and make the final push, down here in the office. Soon there will be things to read and see: a book, details of an author tour, a new Mercury Retrograde website, Mercury Retrograde’s close-to-finalized catalog for next year. Right now it’s insanity on the inside and pretty boring from outside. I’ll be back in the study soon.

Decatur Book Festival: Dragon*Con Annex

September 2, 2008

From high atop the eyrie of the Flatiron Building, the Great Eye of Tor Books cast Its glance across the landscape–and Its attention chanced to fall upon the Decatur Book Festival. It had been looking for Dragon*Con, but what the hell. Criteria were considered: expected attendance of 75,000. Check. Book buyers and author panels. Check. Major metropolitan area. Check. Worthy of attention. Minions should be dispatched.

Later, some of the aforementioned minions came by and redirected Its attention to the actual Dragon*Con, only a short (according to the timetables) ride away on public transport, and breathed a collective sigh of relief when It blinked understanding and fixed Its gaze on the larger prize. Still, in some place on which it is perilous to speculate, a plan was forming. Why not take over two festivals at once? Mwahaha.

There is something about Tor which we SFF geeks cannot resist. Perhaps it is some sort of geekish pheromone. We don’t even know what has lured us into these places in which It can enrapture our attention and make us buy books we didn’t realize we needed. This is, I believe, similar to but not the same as the glamour by which It forces the corporate buyers at B&N and Borders to bow to Its whims. All I really know is that when I looked at the program for the Decatur Book Festival, having (for reasons I didn’t understand until too late) decided to direct my attention there rather than Dragon*Con this year, there were several panels full of SFF authors. I confess it: my programming kicked in. I decided these panels were of interest.

Oh, yes, they were entertaining. I enjoyed listening to Kevin Anderson, Tobias Buckell, Cherie Priest and John Scalzi on Saturday morning. I was immediately intrigued by the similarity between this panel and a hundred other such panels I had attended at SFF cons. Perhaps author panels are the same everywhere, yes? Perhaps. When I realized all four authors are under contract with Tor, and that a couple of Tor editors were in attendance as well, I merely thought, Well, good for them. Decatur Book Festival is big enough to merit the attention of a New York house, after all.

It wasn’t until I wandered into Brandon Sanderson‘s panel (I hesitate to call it that; the poor guy obviously ran all the way from Dragon*Con, and then was expected to handle a session invented by a teen literary group all alone) and recalled that he, too, is a Tor author that I began to understand. Props, btw, to Mr. Sanderson, who did a lovely job with the topic they threw at him, engaged the audience in lively discussion of SF and Fantasy and the relative merits thereof. Only at one moment did he begin to get all Literary (thus perking up my little ears in hopes of Yet More Interesting Discourse) and started talking about the Hero’s Journey as documented by Joseph Campbell. But he caught himself immediately and brought the discussion back to the arena his fans desired.

That was my favorite moment of the entire festival, because I am a SFF geek and it reminded me of the difference between the things we talk about at literary cons (of which I am an unabashed fan) and the things we talk about at more fannish events.

But I am not sure I experienced the true Decatur Book Festival, because aside from those panels that turned out to be a part of Tor’s plot to annex the Decatur Book Festival to Dragon*Con, I saw little besides the schmoozing, the power lunching, and the fans circulating among booths, drenched in their own sweat–all of which was pretty much like the rest of Dragon*Con. I had planned to attend both days, but (due, I suspect, to the Ungodly Heat, the Atlanta smog, or some unholy combination thereof) I spent the day working up to a migraine and most of the next day trying to recover.

I’m disappointed that I missed out on the True Decatur Book Festival. Next year I will make a point of attending some panels that have nothing to do with SFF and perhaps even hold some sort of power lunch with someone who doesn’t really understand the difference between SF and F or what all the fuss about the distinction is. But I must say that there is one way in which Dragon*Con has it all over the Decatur Book Festival, and it has nothing to do with the proximity of a proper tiki bar in which to broker publishing deals.

Air conditioning.