Friday, July 31, 2009

July 31, 2009 Links and Plugs

Here I was, thinking I had a unique blog based in the Philippines but apparently, another Filipino blogger, Tarie, does book reviews and interviews with YA and children's lit authors over at Into the Wardrobe.

Last book plug for the month:

The Lees of Laughter's End by Steven Erikson

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/7/26

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. Glenn Beck's Common Sense by Glenn Beck
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  3. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  4. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  5. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  6. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  7. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  8. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  9. The Shack by William P. Young
  10. Smoke Screen: A Novel by Sandra Brown

Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 30, 2009 Links and Plugs

Help out a friend of Cherie Priest with these auctions.

And for all the teachers out there, here's a short fiction piece by Jason Erik Lundberg: "What They Don't Tell You".

Night Shade love.

The King's Daughters by Nathalie Mallet

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

July 29, 2009 Links and Plugs

Busy busy busy.

Oh, and just reminding that the Manila International Book Fair is in September so save up!


Essay: The Difficulty of Pricing eBooks Part I

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

One of the debates when it comes to eBooks is pricing: how much should an eBook cost? The big publishers fail at being transparent when it comes to the pricing of their books, and to a certain point, I don't blame them. Not that I'm an industry-insider or anything (and I suspect I'll get some things wrong so feel free to chime in at the comments section)--I'm not a book publisher--but here are some points I want to tackle and I'll divided them into three sections:

I. Book Production

Why is pricing eBooks difficult? When it comes to book production, the biggest reason is that publishers don't have data or an estimate how many books will sell. Why does this matter? Here are the following reasons:

1) Advances. A writer's advances is based on how many books the publisher expects to sell (which also determines how many books they should print). Admittedly, this is the easiest "problem" to solve since writers receive royalties (the advance is deducted from the initial royalties). It's easier on the publisher to price an eBook if they didn't have to pay authors an advance and merely a percentage of the sales (i.e. royalties). Convincing them of this, however, is a different problem altogether.

2) Editors and everyone else. Now here's where the real problem begins. Whether a book's an eBook or print, it needs an editor. Unlike authors, this is usually a fixed rate (i.e. they don't get royalties). This fixed rate is based on the expected sales of the book. If you don't have data on the expected sales of the book, how much will you be paying the editor? (Just because it's an eBook doesn't mean their rates go down.) There must be a minimum number of copies sold in order to justify, say, a $2,000 salary ($2,000 is an arbitrary number). If there's only a hundred copies of the book sold, that won't even cover the costs of the editor's salary. For big releases, this fixed cost is a good thing since the publisher doesn't have to pay the editor more if the books sell better than expected. Unfortunately, eBooks aren't necessarily big releases. Now apply this problem to everyone else such as the artists, the marketing department, and the rest of your staff. They work on a fixed income and you as a publisher determine this amount based on your potential sales for the year. This is the real stickler for the eBook industry.

3) Printing. The beauty of offset printing is that the more you print, the less each individual book costs: printing 10,000 copies is cheaper than printing 500 copies. That's not really the case with eBooks. Additionally, the publisher is committed to selling the number of books they print. If not, there's always the pulping option to save on taxes and inventory space. Unfortunately, you can't pulp unsold eBooks (but on the positive side, you don't have much expenses when it comes to reprinting).

In the book production process, in terms of eBook prices, it all boils down to whether a publisher will be able to sell a minimum amount of books vs the publisher's fixed costs. Whether it's a print book or an eBook, the publisher still needs to pay the staff. Yes, an eBook is cheaper to produce in the sense that you're not spending money on printing costs, but that's only one variable in a long list of people you need to pay. Which brings me to my second point.

II. Distribution

I'm using the word distribution here quite loosely. In some people's minds, they buy a book thinking a bulk of their money just went to the publisher but that's seldom the case. The traditional distribution model (a.k.a. three-tier distribution)--of business and not just books--tends to use this formula (actual percentages will vary but this is a rough estimate):

Producer (in our case, the publisher) - 40%
Distributor (i.e. Ingram) - 30%
Retailer (your local bookstore) - 30%

So when you buy a $30 hardcover, around $12 goes to the publisher. The rest go to the middlemen. In the American book industry, the distributor might also be the retailer, which if I'm not mistaken is the case with Amazon and the big bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble. Unless the publisher is selling their own eBooks, I see no reason why the eBook industry will vary from this model (which could be reduced to two tiers). When you buy an eBook not from the publisher, half of the sales doesn't go to them. That's not to say using eBooks as a delivery method is not without benefits to publishers. With print books, publishers need to ship books to the distributor, and even pay for the shipping of unsold stocks*. But that doesn't change the fact that when you buy a $10 book from Amazon, only $4 goes back to the publisher.

For me, this is an important matter to discuss and one that's often overlooked. Most consumers state that eBooks should be cheaper because there's no printing or shipping costs but while that's true, it's only a negligible percentage overall. Let's say printing and shipping account for 25% of the publisher's expenses in the production of a book. That roughly translates to $3.00 of savings with a $30.00 hardcover book because 1/4 (the 25%) of 40% (how much the publisher receives) is just 10% of the cover price. So are eBook readers content to purchase a "hardcover" eBook for $27.00? Most likely they'll complain it's still too expensive.

The next line of argument is that publishers shouldn't base the price on the hardcover price. Before I move on to the alternatives, what consumers must understand that hardcovers are cashcows for the publishing industry. Since they are relatively expensive, it also means there's a bigger profit margin for everyone involved, be it the publisher or the retailer: 30% of a $30 hardcover book is more than 30% of an $8 mass-market paperback. And as a publisher, whether it's for a hardcover or mass-market paperback, I'm still paying marketing/editors/artists the same rate.

Moving on to the second line of argument, an eBook consumer might say that publishers should base their prices on mass-market paperbacks. Now for the reasons stated above, it's in the best interest of the publisher that they sell hardcovers (when there is a choice between hardcovers or paperbacks). There are typically (there are more but I'm oversimplifying) three types of book consumers:

1) Those who buy hardcovers (hence the occasional mass-market paperback reprinted as a hardcover [i.e. Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series, Margaret Wis & Tracy Hickman's Dragonlance trilogies]).

2) Those who buy whatever comes first (hence the standard model of releasing hardcovers and then a paperback after a year or so).

3) Those who buy whichever's cheaper (hence one of the reasons for the existence of paperbacks in the first place).

If publishers do price eBooks based on paperbacks instead of hardcovers, it's a lower profit margin for everyone. It's also possible that it'll cannibalize sales of the hardcover release (those who fall under #2 or #3). There's actually a new variable thrown into the mix:

4) Those who can stand reading from a computer screen (hence the current generation's bias for print books).

Because of #4, eBook sales should theoretically be less than the maximum quantity of either #2 or #3 (because not everyone in #2 or #3 will meet the criteria of #4) so on one hand, this is a potential reason as to why eBooks won't cannibalize hardcover sales but on the other hand, also decreases the number of potential buyers for eBooks (at least at this point in time).

All things considered, an $8.00 mass market paperback should cost around $7.20 as an eBook. Is that a price eBook buyers are willing to pay?

III. How Publishers Earn Money

The problem with looking at I. and II. in isolation is that we're looking at individual books. The business model of publishers factors their entire print-run for the fiscal year rather than individual titles. For example, the marketing department's salary is not based on the marketing of any one book, but all of the publisher's books. This makes the breakdown of how much should go to the marketing department per eBook sold (and this reasoning easily applies to the other employees) difficult to estimate.

Another factor is that individual books don't necessarily need to earn out in order for a publisher to make a profit. This is an exaggeration but a publisher could release ten books a year and nine of them are flops yet the company is still viable. (Why publishers do this is best left to your interpretation, from the altruistic love of publishing--there are honestly other businesses which have a higher profit margins or less risk--to self-serving reasons such as not really knowing which of your lineup will be this year's cash cow.) The marketing department could still "earn its pay" if that one book sells really, really well.

And the reality is that most eBook pricing is based on the existence of print books. Depending on the format of the eBook for example, you don't really need a book designer if the eBook is just going to be released as a .txt file (you will need one though if it's a .pdf). A print-eBook hybrid publisher will have a different business model from that of a solely eBook publisher and from a pricing standpoint, the former will usually lose out to the latter (unless the former is giving away their eBooks for free or at a loss).

Price Breakdown

At the end of the day, it is difficult to nail down a universal breakdown of the price of a book--at least if you're a major publisher. Printing costs can be calculated, as well as author royalties (up to a certain point, especially if their royalties are progressive [i.e. the more it sells, the higher their royalties become]). How much percentage goes to the employees is more difficult to estimate, especially the more titles you have. Distribution is another problem as rates will vary from distributor to distributor (some publishers, for example, actually lose money by having their titles available on Amazon Prime).

Does that mean selling eBooks aren't viable? Of course not. Some publishers are making a profit selling eBooks, or at least know how to leverage them to their own advantage. In part II, I'm hoping to discuss how to use these facts to your advantage.

*To save on expenses, instead of shipping the entire book to be pulped, it used to be the case that a retailer/distributor could just mail back the book covers and destroy the product themselves. This is why there's a disclaimer in some books that if you find it without a cover, it's an illegal book. The same practice applies to magazines.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 28, 2009 Links and Plugs

Local bookstore Fully Booked at Bonifacio High Street will be having a sale on August 5 - 9 (August 3 - 4 for discount card holders).

Om nom nom nom nom:

Interview: Kaaron Warren

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Kaaron Warren is an Australian writer currently living in Fiji. She has sold about 70 short stories, two short story collections and three novels. Her latest book is Slights.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what got you interested in speculative fiction, whether reading or writing in the field?

Thanks for inviting me along, Charles.

My Dad had a large science fiction collection, including Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Harry Harrison and quite a few collections of Nebula-winning stories. I loved them from an early age. I always preferred these stories to others (although I loved crime as well, starting with Enid Blyton and moving on to Agatha Christie) because of the unpredictability of the story, in part. I don’t like a story which follows an ordinary path. I like one full of surprises and new information.

I read horror comics from an early age and have always been attracted to the unseemliness of horror.

The stories I clip from the newspaper and from magazines are about the darker side of life or about the possibilities of the future. Some of my recent clippings are: “Dead, buried and still at work”, about the resomation process in disposing of dead bodies, “Din prompts louder songs” about city birds singing louder than country birds (I’m fascinated by the behaviour of animals in response to human behaviour), and a selection of obituaries and interviews with people who may inspire characters in the future. Millvina Dean was the last survivor of the Titanic. Jack Ross was Australia’s last World War 1 soldier. Often it’s one line which inspires me and sparks a story.

What were the challenges breaking into the industry?

Knowing where to send stories is a big challenge. It’s easier now with the internet, of course, but you still need to target your story to the right editor at the right time.

The first sale was the toughest in many ways. I waited a while for it! You think it’s never going to happen, and then it does, then off you go. Each sale helps the next, I think. You feel more confident, for one thing, and you are building a reputation. I remember my fourth or fifth sale; the editor said to me that he recognized my name and greatly looked forward to reading the story. What a wonderful moment that was! I don’t believe I’ve ever sold a story solely because of my reputation, though. I think every sale was hard-won and that the editor would not buy a story they didn’t love, just because they have heard of me.

Since you have a novel out, do you see yourself more of a short story writer, a novelist, or both? What in your opinion are the strengths of each?

I’m definitely both. I’m working on my fourth novel right now, as well as three short stories with ideas for dozens more. Some ideas belong in a novel, others in a short story. Some ideas work really well as a short, sharp shock without being stretched. If it’s a surpise ending I’m after, I’d rather use that in a short story. I feel ripped off if I read a whole novel to find a surprise ending. I know I said I like surprising novels, and I do. But I like the surprises spread out! I don’t want to read a whole novel with a small twist at the end which requires lots of concealment by the author.

How did Angry Robot Books become your publisher?

This is a story I love to tell and if I ever get invited onto Oprah, she’ll love it too!

When Angry Robot opened up shop, they asked some of the authors they’d worked with in the past to recommend writers to approach. Matthew Farrer, whose Warhammer novels are well-known and loved, had worked with Marc Gascoigne at Black Library. Matthew is a Canberran writer like I am (although I’m living in Fiji right now) and we had met a number of times and we respect and admire each other’s writing. He mentioned my name to Marc, who looked me up online and saw that I had a bit of a track record. When I emailed him to say I had three novels written and ready to go, he asked me to send them.

Fortunately, he loved all three and bought them on the spot. I had to go and get my husband to read Marc’s email because I truly thought I must have misread it. Wonderful, incredible moment.

So it was a combination of having an established publishing record, having made contact with another writer, and having three books ready to go. Two had been close to publication, but all sorts of things got in the way, such as a publisher closing down or an editor leaving.

In Slights, a good chunk of the novel is focused on family. Was this a conscious theme you wanted to tackle, or did it come out naturally?

This was a combination of deliberation and natural appearance. As I built the character, family really became important. I wanted to explore the idea that a family can appear to be solid and supportive but have undercurrents outsiders can’t see.

I’m also fascinated by the idea that everyone’s life is normal to them. How we acclimatize to almost any existence, make it ordinary. I admire that in the human spirit.

What were the challenges in writing a character like Stevie, who's not exactly the most sympathetic of protagonists?

I have to admit that most of my characters are fairly unlikable! I’m not sure why. I think it’s one of the reasons I’m considered a horror writer, because I force empathy for sometimes unpleasant people. Not many novels work with unlikable people. It’s one of the things you’re supposed to avoid.

I recently read The Kite Runner. It begins with the protagonist behaving shamefully and for a while I thought I was reading something new. But he turns out to be a good guy after all. Is it sad that I was disappointed? I kinda wanted him to remain irredeemable!

It’s a challenge to create any character, isn’t it? To keep them interesting and realistic.

Aside from Slights, you have other books that will be published by Angry Robot Books. Were they trunk novels, or were they written specifically with Angry Robot Books in mind?

All three were written over last fifteen years, but I wouldn’t consider them trunk novels.

Mistification was always going to be the case of finding the right publisher. I needed Angry Robot and their WTF requirement. This novel made the ‘top 22’ in the Australian-Vogel awards, a respected literary award, so I always knew it had something.

Slights would have been published a couple of years ago but the imprint of the publisher concerned shut down.

Walking the Tree was written here in Fiji and I finished it once Angry Robot Books opened their doors.

Let's talk about horror or dark fiction. What are you looking for in such a story? How about in your writing process, is there a technique or approach (i.e. plot, characterization) that you particularly favor?

When reading, I’m looking for strong (and I don’t mean strong physically or morally. I mean strongly built) characters who I’m interested in following through to the end. I want a true setting, not one contrived for its ‘scary’ setting. I’m wary of haunted house novels for that reason. I don’t think the setting is enough; there needs to be much more.

In my own writing, I definitely want both those things; strong character and setting. I always want that ‘something different’, the cause or motivation which gives me a reason to write. A character who’s a furniture maker, perhaps, or a local legend which gives me goosebumps. Or many of the articles I read in The Guardian newspaper which make me feel ill.

One of the most important things is not to hold back. I don’t mean to be ultra-violent or extreme for the sake of it, but if the story calls for a description which will make the reader feel a little nauseous, then you have to go there.

As someone who's lived in both Australia and Fiji, where is "home" for you?

At the moment, I say both. Home is where my family is. I make a home even if I stay for only one night. We’ve come to know and love Fiji and will always barrack for them at the Olympics, along with Australia.

However, the sense of homecoming we all feel when landing at Sydney Airport, and even more so when entering our home city of Canberra, is overwhelming. This is really important to me and to my husband and kids. That sense of place. Not everyone wants it, and a lot of people will actively avoid it. I can understand that, also, understand the freedom that provides.

How has travel affected you as a writer? How about the recent movement to explore other cultures and people of culture in genre fiction?

Living here has opened me up to new ideas, new contrasts and new understanding of the way people live. It’s broadened my mind, so that I’m now more open to other ways of life. I thought I was before, but now I’m more so.

My research informs me that your first published story goes back to 1993. How has Kaaron the writer today changed compared to back then?

That’s really a hard question to answer! I don’t think I’m much more confident than I was, though I do say I’m a writer when people ask what I do. As a person I’ve changed a lot, becoming a mother and all that entails. That has affected my writing to a certain extent, but not vastly. I do think in the same way as I did then. I still have the same sparks of ideas in the same way. I think I always wrote in a professional way, taking it very seriously.

What advice would you give your earlier self?

The only thing I’d really do differently is to be involved with the writing community much earlier. It’s only in the last 6 years I’ve had writing friends and gone to conventions. I wish I’d started much earlier and opened myself up to opportunities that way, met with my peers and been inspired by them.

When it comes to the Australian speculative fiction scene, how would you describe it?

I think it’s very strong and full of talent. We have at least three conventions every year in Canberra, Perth and Melbourne. We have a very strong blogging and online community. I find it supportive and exciting.

This is a link to the latest Australian Speculative Fiction Carnival, which links to blogs, interviews and news in Australian publishing.

These are some of the Australian writers with upcoming novels and short story collections, and others who we’ll be hearing a lot more of:

Deb Biancotti (collection upcoming), Terry Dowling (collection upcoming), Gillian Polack (two novels upcoming), Tansy Rayner Roberts (three novels upcoming), Kirstyn Mcdermott (two novels upcoming), Shane Jiraiya Cummings (flash fiction collection), Paul Haines (two collections upcoming), Margo Lanagan (“Tender Morsels” was a Prinz Honor book), Richard Harland (“Worldshaker” novel released worldwide), Rowena Cory Daniells (novel upcoming), Justine Larbalestier (novel upcoming), Karen Miller (novels upcoming), Trent Jamieson (three novels upcoming), Peter Ball (stand-alone novella published), Rob Hood (novel upcoming). Then there’s Lucy Sussex, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Simon Brown, Cat Sparks, Angela Slatter, Steph Campisi, Ben Peek, Kim Westwood, Martin Livings, Stephen Dedman… And there are many more writing and publishing professionally.

I read that your fiction has been adapted into other mediums (short film, plays). What's it like to have your writing "converted" to such formats? How involved were you in the process?

I wrote the first two screenplays for the movie which BearCage productions have nearly finished. That was a really interesting process, very different to that of writing a story. To have to think externally was tricky! You can’t have people thinking unless the whole thing is voice over and I wanted to avoid that. Instead, I wrote it so that we could see a lot of what was thought. I think the final version will have a small amount of voice-over. The story the movie is based on is “A Positive”.

There were two plays made of my stories, “The Glass Woman” and “The Sameness of Birthdays”. These were really readings with actions and my god, it was amazing to see. Anita Whelan, of Shadowmuse, pulled it all together and I loved sitting in the audience, hearing my own words.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read, write, live, observe, question, analyze.

Anything else you want to plug?

You can read all about me at

You can snaffle my recipe for the fabulous alcoholic drink Tail of the Monkey at Gillian Polack’s Food History website:

Monday, July 27, 2009

July 27, 2009 Links and Plugs

Apparently, there was a breakout of news over the weekend.

Gaming fiction!
Gamer Fantastic edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes

Book/Magazine Review: Mark of the Demon by Diana Rowland

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Upon reading the first few pages of Mark of the Demon, it's evident that this book falls under the paranormal romance and urban fantasy sub-genre. Diana Rowland includes tropes such as love triangles, seduction by some supernatural entity, mystery and magic. While that may all sound formulaic, Rowland does create a compelling novel and infuses it with her own unique elements. For example, there's a heavy focus on forensic science in the book. Perhaps not quite the novelization of a C.S.I. episode, but there's enough details that give it an air of authenticity at the same time dispelling stereotypes of such a field.

What's impressive with Mark of the Demon is how Rowland dives immediately into the action but still giving readers enough information. The opening chapter, for example, starts with a summoning ritual gone wrong and it's in this sudden conflict that we get to know our heroine and the kind of world she lives in. The novel is also quite compressed which becomes important when the main character talks to her contacts: instead of boring us with repetitive scenes, Rowland simply focuses on one vivid encounter, showcasing her talent in characterization and dialogue, and it's enough to convince readers that the author has a firm handle on the setting without distracting us with preciosity.

There's also an inherent wit in Mark of the Demon that makes reading such a book refreshing. Another quality that caught my eye is that this is a geek book in the sense that a couple of Rowland's characters are geeks and this comes out in the writing. While the reading experience was compelling, perhaps one complaint is how the mystery of the book is handled. While it's not quite the Scooby Doo method of resolving a crime, the identity of the murderer comes a bit of a surprise.

Having said that, this is really a fun and exciting novel. It's obviously not aiming to be a literary masterpiece but more than meets the criteria of a guilty pleasure.

Book/Magazine Review: Nemonymous: Cern Zoo

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

Cern Zoo is the ninth Nemonymous anthology which features anonymous authors working on a common theme--in this case Cern Zoo. One of the joys of reading such stories is how writers creatively utilize the given concept in their narratives. This anthology has a whopping two dozen stories, which brings me to the love-it-or-hate-it aspect of the book: it a couple of flash fiction pieces. Now I'm not a big fan of flash fiction, as there's not enough meat in the stories to really satiate me. Cern Zoo includes all sorts of flash fiction. Some are admittedly gimmicky and unsatisfying, but there are well-crafted ones which feel complete despite the length.

There's a diverse set of stories featured in the Cern Zoo, ranging from humor to science fiction to fantasy. What I want to focus on are the horror pieces, not just because they're one of the lengthier stories, but because they're done effectively. "Artist Eterne" for example is a steady and well-crafted story with a gothic atmosphere and features one of the more original concepts stemming from the words Cern Zoo. It's rich in character and the author captures the mood he's trying to emulate, giving us a chill by the time we read the last paragraph.

Another noteworthy piece is "The Lion's Den". If it's just length that you're looking for, this story more than fits the bill but the author makes it compelling all throughout. Much like "Artist Eterne", there's a gothic feel to this story although it's clearly building up to an ever-escalating horror. While this is one of the more straight-forward zoos in the anthology, what I appreciate is the sheer technical skill of the story: the way the author hooks you with a foreshadowing, the ever-pervading mystery that doesn't truly get resolved, and the consistent tone.

While the other stories in the book aren't as spectacular as I want them to be (I found last year's anthology to be a stronger set), they are admittedly compelling and those that aren't are short enough. In a certain way, the sheer number of stories, formats, and genres does emulate a form of literary zoo that's apropos for the title. Cern Zoo is quite a unique anthology and worth an initial read at the very least.

Friday, July 24, 2009

July 24, 2009 Links and Plugs

Time for some SFWA plugging. Check out my interview with James Alan Gardner and Monica Valentinelli on Get Personal with your Marketing Efforts.

And from Chizine, available for pre-order:

Chasing the Dragon by Nicholas Kaufmann

Top 10 Best-Sellers as of 2009/7/19

From USA Today's best-seller list (you can find out their basis here):
  1. Glenn Beck's Common Sense by Glenn Beck
  2. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  3. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
  4. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
  5. My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult
  6. Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  7. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
  8. TailSpin by Catherine Coulter
  9. The Shack by William P. Young
  10. Black Hills by Nora Roberts

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23, 2009 Links and Plugs

I get to participate in SF Signal's latest Mind Meld: What are some of your favorite short stories in sf/f/h and what makes them so memorable?

And here's a techie device that's drool-worthy even for writers: a 256 GB Flash Drive!

For your zen photo of the day, here's the Eclipse in Hong Kong taken by Crystal Koo:


Who wouldn't love a title like this?

All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

July 22, 2009 Links and Plugs


And this is just awesome: Amanda Boyle's film adaptation of one of my favorite Joe Hill stories: "Pop Art".

It's Haikasoru pimping time:

Feature: Five Quick Points on Print vs eBooks

Every Wednesday, I have an essay or feature article on any topic that catches my fancy!

Just me chiming in on the eBook discussion. Are they valid? Hopefully.

1) It's really not print vs. eBooks. There's no reason that the two should be antagonistic, but rather platforms that a publisher could pursue. True, one can be detrimental to the other if taken in isolation, in the same way that the release of mass-market books might cannibalize sales of hardcovers, but that doesn't mean publishers forgo publishing the former altogether. Rather, it's part of their strategy (and yes, some publishers do not release mass-market paperbacks because it's impractical for their business model) and there will be cases when it's appropriate and when it's not.

* Interesting commentary: In The Agony Column Podcast where Rick Kleffel interviews Jeremy Lassen (Night Shade Books), the latter suggests eBooks might take on the role of mass-market paperbacks in disseminating the titles to more mainstream markets, the way that mass-markets were available in supermarkets and department stores in the past.

2) Print will be here forever/eBooks are the wave of the future. Both statements are possibly true. I mean the Betamax was the superior device yet it lost to VHS (for a variety of reasons and variables). If you want print to last forever or for eBooks to overtake the market, you need to step-up and and strive to innovate in their respective fields. For example, eBooks currently aren't the future because of several problems (I'll touch upon a few below) and "features" like DRM can actually prevent it from being the evolution of publishing. Similarly, publishers intending to stick with print should take steps to distinguish their print titles that's not replicable when it comes to eBooks (i.e. it's a limited edition hardcover rather than a mass-market paperback).

3) Every author/publisher's platform is different. Another way of saying this is that what works for one person might not work for you. For example, the impact of distributing an eBook for free if you're a no-name author is very different than if you're J.K. Rowling. The latter could indeed cannibalize sales, while the former might increase the public's awareness of your presence. It's the same way that some authors are more successful in other forms of media (not necessarily print) such as eBooks or podcasting (which in turn can be leveraged when it comes to print). Before one "picks a side" (print vs eBooks), they need to be aware of their own unique circumstances.

* Interesting commentary: In The Sofanauts podcast, Jeff Vandermeer mentions Cory Doctorow as an example. Doctorow has BoingBoing that allows him to leverage his projects. Not every author has BoingBoing, nor is "getting featured" in BoingBoing a strategy (I'd call it more of a tactic).

4) eBooks have a PR problem. Currently, most people value print (some people wouldn't even consider reading on a screen a viable option). I attribute this as the previous generation's bias for print. A lot of the current hurdles of eBooks such as pricing, piracy, and publisher's fear of cannibalizing print sales stems from this fact. For example, sans DRM, one of the benefits of eBooks is that it can be copied (from computer to computer), print select pages at will (and make as many copies as you want), or the fact that it's more convenient to store than a regular book (i.e. no bookshelves necessary). A lot overlook these benefits, or don't even consider them benefits at all.

* Interesting commentary: Recent fiascos such as Amazon Erases Orwell Books From Kindle hasn't helped the public image of eBooks (it's intangible and impermanent!).

5) eBooks are more similar to the print-on-demand model than the offset printing model. Here's an observation I've made--and I could be very well wrong about it--but to me eBook publishing has more in common with the print-on-demand business model than the economies of scale mainstream publishers use. For example, the setup costs of selling one eBook is the same as selling a million (and in fact, the latter might end up costing you more due to bandwidth expenses). With offset printing, costs per book printed decreases the more you print. This also explains why individual authors like Michael Stackpole have a better handle on selling their eBooks compared to big publishers. The latter needs to pay their staff (editors, artists, management, marketing, etc.) and this is usually based on the book's (or the publishing company's) print-run for the year. Individual publishers (like authors) on the other hand don't need a huge staff nor do they need to pay their staff (if any--most eBooks for example, unless they're PDFs, don't need a fancy layout as much as they need a functional layout hence the lack of a need for a graphic designer when it comes to layout) upfront (and a bulk of the profits goes directly to them).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

July 21, 2009 Links and Plugs

Someone should make a Sean Bean banner with the words "Winter is Coming".

And not quite speculative fiction related but do drop by Blogathon for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center!

And for you hobby gamers:
Family Games: The 100 Best edited by James Lowder

Interview: Robert Freeman Wexler

Every Tuesday, I'll have an interview posted.

Robert Freeman Wexler’s latest novel is The Painting And The City, out from PS Publishing in July 2009. He has also published a novella, In Springdale Town, (PS Publishing 2003 and reprinted in Best Short Novels 2004, SFBC, and in Modern Greats of Science Fiction, iBooks), a novel, Circus Of The Grand Design (Prime Books 2004), and a chapbook of short fiction, Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed (Spilt Milk Press/Electric Velocipede 2008). His stories have appeared in various magazines and anthologies, including Polyphony, The Third Alternative, Electric Velocipede, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. He lives in Yellow Springs, Ohio with his wife, the writer Rebecca Kuder, and daughter Merida Kuder-Wexler.

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. In the introduction to The Painting and the City, Jeffrey Ford mentions your proposal for "Crapcon." Could you share with us how you came up with the concept, and what's dissatisfying for you when it comes to the "regular" conventions?

And thanks for asking me...

I like conventions. There are people I wouldn't know if I didn't go to conventions, friends I only see once or twice a year. Convention panels put me to sleep, so I don't bother with them, but otherwise conventions are fine.

This actually wasn't about conventions when I first brought it up, but Jeff popularized it to include everyone. There are various invitation-only writer's camps out there, with picturesque names: Sycamore Hill, Rio Hondo, Iguana Glenn, etc. I have no idea who runs these or how those in charge decide who to invite (I've obviously never been invited to one). Jeff had been to one and I asked him about it. He had some things to say (he always has some things to say), and one of us suggested getting a bunch of writers together and staying in a cheesy motel somewhere like New Jersey, drinking beer, talking about whatever, but not trying to do serious things like critique each other's fiction. Jeff expanded it to make it more like a convention, so anyone could go (and he came up with the name even though he says I did, or maybe Lucius Shepard came up with it. The source doesn't matter.). None of us were serious about it, but it would be fun to do someday.

I'm all for tearing down genre classifications but such labels are usually for the benefit of the reader. In your own words, how would you describe your style of writing? Or is Robert Freeman Wexler his own sub-category?

Every interesting writer is their own sub-category, and every interesting writer has been influenced by a lot of other writers. I don't know how to describe my style of writing. I read things I like and try to write something that I would like to read. I like surrealist art and try to incorporate a surrealist feel into most of what I do. Is that a style-box I can fit into?

Maybe genre classifications and labels are useful, but they also can turn off potential readers. And a label is an insufficient way of describing a book. I write fantasy but the word fantasy means different things to different people.
When I look at the science fiction/fantasy section of a bookstore, I don't see books that look like the books I want to read or write. But I don't see many on the other shelves either. I would like to see a better way to cross-market books. Something like Amazon recommendations, if you like x, you might like b.

I want to reach people who read fantastic fiction published outside the genre as well as people who read fantastic fiction published inside AND outside the genre, because I believe those would be my core readers. My fiction isn't going to appeal that much to people who ONLY read books with spaceships or wizards on the covers, but there are people who like spaceships and wizards, and also like what I do.

Are you ever tempted to lay out your own books or do you happily accept that the burden lies with someone else?

I do lay out my own books. The only one I didn't do was the collection. I probably could have done it, but John Klima never offered and I never asked him. I thought about it but decided that letting John do the layout would be a good exercise in letting go of control. Plus, I knew he would do a great job.

After PS accepted my novella, In Springdale Town, I said I would like to do the design and layout. Designing and laying out my own books was very strange at first. When I saw my writing from the viewpoint of designer, it made me question its worth. I thought I was wasting everyone's time, putting a book out into the world. This was especially true of Springdale, because it was my first book, and because it has the side-notes. They were difficult to lay out, and while working on it I considered deleting them all, thinking that they were pretentious and stupid.
But I had no choice. I'd already been paid! The book was listed in the catalog.

seeing my writing from a different viewpoint also helped me see things that weren't working, and I could change them myself. Most writers don't have that opportunity. Maybe most wouldn't want it.

I read an article years ago about how James Joyce had an interest in typography and the appearance of his work. Good text design is supposed to be invisible. Good text design improves the reading experience. An interest in design and typography can be another element in the writer's toolkit. It doesn't mean writers should also be designers, but why not learn more about it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of poorly-designed books out there and a lot of authors don't seem to care. I'm an odd case, of course, but I have trouble reading poorly-designed books. Things most people wouldn't notice really bug me. I also have trouble reading poorly-written or poorly-edited books. Being forced to read a poorly-written poorly-edited poorly-designed book would probably kill me.

How did PS Publishing end up publishing The Painting And The City?

PS published In Springdale Town. After it came out Pete Crowther, the publisher, asked me if I wanted to send him something else.

How did John Klima end up publishing your chapbook?

John published a story of mine ("Travels along and Unfurling Circular Path") in Electric Velocipede. When I decided to look for someone to publish a chapbook of my short stories, he was the one I thought to contact.

Did you have the novel and the short story collection in inventory (ready to go) or did you have to pitch an idea first then write it?

For the collection, all but one of the stories were previously published, so I had those. The plan was to combine those with one or two new stories. "The Sidewalk Factory" ended up so long that there wasn't room for a second new story.

I was already working on The Painting and the City. But had no idea when I would finish it! Luckily there wasn't a deadline.

I don't think I would be able to pitch an idea and then write it. My way of working is too slow and too unplanned. Or, I could pitch something but I wouldn't be able to guarantee that what I pitched would match what I turned in.

Also, I had no way of knowing that PS would want The Painting and the City once I finished it. There wasn't anything formal--just an offer to look at my next thing.

There's a theme of anti-commercialization in your texts, whether it's chapters like "Homage to the Fallen Deities of Commerce" to your chapbook's title, Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed: Stories. Could you elaborate more on that? How about the paradox of selling and promoting yourself as an author and the value of your text as art rather than as a plain commodity?

I'm not comfortable with selling myself but you have to sell yourself because no one else is going to do it for you. Anti-commercialism for me is more anti-big business. Economies of scale may be more efficient in some ways but smaller business (and smaller publishers) are more responsive to individuals.

But I would like to be published by a conglomerate because I would like more people to have the opportunity to find my books in bookstores. While bookstores still exist.

Everything is a trade-off.

What is it about New York that you decided to set The Painting and the City in that setting?

It's a city where everything can and does happen. Any major city is like that. I grew up in Houston, Texas, which is a sprawling place connected by cars. There's no life on the street the way there is in New York, or in other cities of the world that aren't married to the car.

I don't remember thinking about where to set it. There wasn't any other place where the story would have worked. What's funny about that (funny to me anyway) is that when I first started writing, I lived in Austin, Texas, and I resented books set in New York. Bright Lights, Big City came out around then. I didn't care about New York. I didn't care about realistic fiction set in the real city of New York. I also didn't care about Texas as a setting. Texas is known for Westerns, not the kind of fiction I wanted to write. Although now that I've succumbed and written a New York novel, maybe it's time for a Western.

When you initially wrote Philip Schuyler's journals, did you already have The Painting and the City in mind or did the possibility of a novel happen after?

I wrote the journals in the course of writing the novel. At some point early in the writing I decided to include Schuyler's journal. When I got to the point where I wanted the journal to fall, I started writing it.

Today's a different era for the writer. One can't hope to be J.D. Salinger for example and you yourself started blogging recently. What's your reaction to all these changes? Do you think writers becoming more public is good or bad? How do you think it affects a reader's interpretation of an author's text?

Part of me wishes I could be more anonymous, not reclusive like Salinger, but less visible outside my writing, like Thomas Pynchon maybe. But at the same time, I like going to conventions and seeing friends, making new friends, etc.

And, as little-known as my writing is, I don't have to worry about too many people knowing who I am. Attention-life is pretty short. In Springdale Town came out in 2003 and Circus of the Grand Design in 2004. Then no books until
Psychological Methods To Sell Should Be Destroyed in 2008. The profusion of writer-blogs and reviewer-blogs happened during that span. I had some stories published during those years, but not having a new book, and not blogging, made me invisible. Most of the people who reviewed the chapbook had never heard of me or read anything by me.

One thing I see is that a lot of writers who blog, writers who have published a lot less than I have, are a lot better-known than I am. They're known because of their network of blogging friends more than for their fiction, but it must translate into more fiction sales, more attention for what they publish. There's nothing wrong with that. Being a writer-blogger is a different genre. It's not what I do. I work at a different pace, at a pre-blog, even pre-computer pace. There might be a topic of interest to me that comes up in someone's blog, but by the time I've thought it through and thought about what I might write about it, the blog world has moved on to something else. I can't keep up with that.

What's your philosophy when it comes to the craft of writing? Do you let the text simmer and work itself on its own gradually or do you espouse a more workman ethic which involves writing every day even if it might be crap?

Both. I don't always have time to write every day, especially now (with a young child). So I have to let things work out in my head. Either way, a lot of the first writing that comes out is crap and has to be turned into something better. I don't usually know where something is going until I'm deep into it, so sometimes there's a lot of material that has to go away because it doesn't fit in with what the story becomes.

Do you have a pet peeve question, such as "is this fiction autobiographical?" or "where do you get your ideas?"


How did you develop your particular writing style? How long did it take you and what were the difficulties in finding your "voice?"

I'm not really sure how to answer this. I never set out to develop a style. A writer's style emerges from reading and writing and thinking. I'm still developing my style and will always be developing it. I put words in front of words and words behind words and then cut their toes off so they stumble.

Is there a particular format that you favor more, the short story vs. the novel? What are your strengths in each?

I don't know if I have any strengths in either form. I like both. Short stories are good because you can (in theory) write something that won't take several years to finish, and then send it out and maybe get it published. Working on a long piece can make you feel forgotten if there aren't short pieces coming out in the interim. My pace (or lack of) is more suitable for long-form. It takes a while to get things out, and a short story doesn't allow that kind of time.

How do you strike the balance between writing with your own unique sensibilities and making your fiction accessible to a certain audience? Who's your ideal reader?

I have no desire to make my fiction accessible to a certain audience, not specifically. I don't think about that at all. I suppose I would be my own ideal reader. I'm extremely particular about what I read, and would like to be read by people who are also particular. If someone doesn't notice the differences between good and bad writing, doesn't notice cliches in writing, then they won't notice how hard I work to avoid cliches and write something creative and artistic. Not that I think I succeed, but I try. So my ideal reader would be someone picky who doesn't want to read a formula.

In your opinion, who are some of the under-appreciated authors?

Cees Nooteboom, Zulfikar Ghose, Richard Bowes, Marly Youmans, Michael Bishop. Of course there are more, but that's who I'm thinking of today.

What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Read a lot, write a lot, get feedback, revise a lot. Workshops can be good. It's good to meet other writers and develop a network of people you can share your work with.

Or, follow Terry Bisson's advice from his Bibliophile interview...

Anything else you want to plug?

Other books from PS: Paul Witcover's new collection, Everland and other stories; Marly Youmans' Val/Orson, Sebastíen Doubinsky's Babylonian Trilogy.