Category Archives: Dean Wesley Smith

Pulphouse Is Back!

So, way back in the 90s there was this interesting thing called Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.  It was soon followed by Pulphouse Fiction Magazine.  At the time I was a starving graduate student who wanted to be a writer.  That last part is still true.

The hardback was a little out of my budget at the time, although I’ve got an almost complete set now, with a couple of duplicates.

I did manage to find the cash for a subscription to Pulphouse Fiction Magazine, all the way to the end.  (I think I have a complete run.)  I read each issue eagerly, not just for the fiction but the columns on writing.  I’d met the editorial team of Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch at a science fiction convention in Dallas early in Pulphouse’s run.  I paid attention to what they said about writing.

Pulphouse folded in 1996.  Time marched on, and the publishing landscape changed.  Rusch and Smith dipped their toes back into publishing  with Fiction River, a publication regular readers of this blog know I‘m a fan of.  (I’m also way behind on in my reading, but we won’t go there.)

Fiction River has been a success, as has Smith’s Monthly.  Now Pulphouse is being revived, with Dean Wesley Smith as the editor and Kristine Kathryn Rusch serving as Executive Editor.  They’ve launched a Kickstarter.  I’ve pledged and subscribed.  (My only complaint is there isn’t an option for a combined electronic and print subscription.  I went with print.)  Pulphouse isn’t going to be limited to a particular genre. That is something I like.

So if you like short fiction and want to see more of it, especially a variety, consider pledging.

 

Further Thoughts on Traditional Publishers Getting into the Self-Publishing Business

In my brief post earlier today, I mentioned that Simon and Schuster has started a self-publishing division run by Author Solutions, an entity with a reputation for screwing authors.

I wanted to inflict upon you share a few further thoughts with you on the matter.  Why would a major publisher want to start a self-publishing division?  The obvious answer is money, of course.  Which makes all the noise about traditional publishers ensuring quality, curating culture, and defending literature all the more obvious as the load of horse pucky it is.

David Gaughran did an excellent job on summarizing why this venture is a bad thing for writers.  I’ll not repeat what he said here.  For one thing, this isn’t an echo chamber, and for another, I doubt I could say it as well as he did.

Instead, I want to speculate on how this might come back to bite Simon and Schuster in the ass, and what serious writers can do to make that happen.

In the comments to my post, Paul McNamee speculated that this move may have been calculated “to sabotage the self-publishing industry from the inside out.”  If I’m following Paul’s logic (and Paul, please correct me if I’m not), then what this company is doing is…well, I’m not sure.  Because I can’t see any way that this won’t boomerang on Simon and Schuster.  It might hurt self-publishing by taking some writers out of the game by creating such a hell that they give up writing.  I’ll explain why that isn’t necessarily a bad thing shortly, when I discuss why not all writers are created equal.  It might also give the general reading public the idea that all self-published books are crap.  I think that’s what Paul meant.  Even so, I can’t see Simon and Schuster coming out ahead in this deal.

Here’s why:  Big publisher buys/creates/conjures-up-through-diabolism a division that will help authors self-publish.  Fees for “publishing”, never mind editing, are exorbitant.  Anyone who signs up for this program is either desperate, stupid, incompetent, or some combination of the above.  If that comment offends you, too bad.  People who pay vast sums of money for someone to do what they could learn to do themselves (publish, not edit) or pay a percentage for the life of the copyright instead of a flat fee for a service(editing, cover art, etc.) have to be at least one of those things.

There’s absolutely no reason anyone who wants to have a writing career would agree to those terms.  Period.

What I think could happen is that Simon and Schuster, or rather Author Solutions, will begin to attract manuscripts that are horrendous.  Horrendous in terms of quality, horrendous in terms of story, horrendous in terms of character.  Horrendous, completely and totally.  I don’t know what imprint these books will be published under or how closely they will be associated with Simon and Schuster in the mind of the average reader.  From what I understand, most readers don’t know or care about the publishers of the books they read.  I’m so far outside the distribution on this, it isn’t even funny.  Ever since I was old enough to go to a bookstore and select my own reading material, I’ve been hyperconscious of who the publishers were.  That was how I  selected my next book.  I looked for things by publishers who had published the things I liked. 

What I predict is that the prophesied tsunami of crap won’t come from self-publishing in general but from this new venture of Author Solutions and Simon and Schuster.  What I hope is that it will be so bad, and so many readers will get burned by what they buy, that they’ll start to look at who the publisher is more closely.  And that Simon and Schuster will be prominently associated with this in the public eye.  Resulting, of course, in falling revenue.  A company that does this deserves all the bad that happens to it.

See, not all writers are created equal.. And I’m not talking talent here.  I’m talking about professionalism.  A true professional understands the field in which he/she works.  Understands what is ethical and what isn’t.  Understands that in almost every endeavor, success only comes after toil and hard work.  That most writers have to learn their craft, and while some learn quicker than others, one novel, memoir, or nonfiction book does not a writer make.  Dean Wesley Smith, in more than one post on his blog, distinguishes between writers and authors: writers keep writing no matter how many books they’ve published while authors write one or two books and never get over it, basking in the glory of a small number of publications, never building a career.  I think he has a good point.

I predict Simon and Schuster will attract a lot of author wanna-bees, people who don’t understand the first rule about writing for a living.  Money flows to the writer.  Period.  No exceptions. 

In a way, Simon and Schuster will be doing the rest of us a big favor.  They’ll be clearing the field of all the people who just want to be published.  These folks will get discouraged and quit.  Dean thinks this is already happening and that the trend will accelerate.  Those serious about their writing will do the best they can on their current project, put it up for sale, and move on to the next project.  These will be the people who will have careers.  These are the people who will write great literature.  These are the people who will define culture.  Not the major publishing houses. 

To paraphrase an old saying:  The best revenge is in writing well.  That’s how serious writers will help this horrendous lapse in judgment come back and bite Simon and Schuster on the ass.  By writing good books, books that people will want to read.  And doing it consistently enough and often enough that the difference in product becomes so obvious a blind man could see it.  If that happens, and I admit it’s a stretch, then Simon and Schuster could very well get a reputation for producing a tsunami of crap.

I don’t know if that will ever happen.  A lot will depend on how closely Simon and Schuster are associated in the minds of the public with what’s going to be coming out of this deal.  There’s been a lot of talk in recent months that publishers need to develop distinctive brands in the minds of the reading public.  That can be, and hopefully will be, a two-edged sword.  We’ll just have to wait and see. 

Oh, and I’m looking forward to Konrath’s reaction to the news.

I wrote last December that I wasn’t going to be buying many books from major publishers but would be focusing on indie works.  That decision was reinforced today.

A Visit to the World House

The World House
Guy Adams
Angry Robot Books
 416pp A-format paperback
£7.99 UK   $tbc Aus
416pp mass-market paperback
$7.99 US    $8.99 CAN
 ISBN 978 0 85766 037 4
ebook  £4.49 / $5.99
 ePub ISBN 978 0 85766 038 1

This one has been out for a while but it’s still worth a read.  As Dean Wesley Smith likes to point out, books aren’t produce; they won’t spoil.  When the book arrived in the mail, I was on my way back to work after meeting my wife for lunch and had stopped by the post office.  I decided to read it on my lunch breaks.  That didn’t happen for two reasons.  One, I keep having to run errands during lunch, and two, I was just too drawn into the story to be able to read only a short number of pages every few days.

The idea of a house where each room contains a world or a passage to a world isn’t new.  James Stoddard used it in The High House and The False House, just to give one example.  And while Stoddard’s books had some creepy moments, The World House does them one better.

This house is not one you want to live in.  In fact, it’s basically a prison.  I’m not giving away anything by saying that; the cover copy mentions a prisoner waiting for a door to be unlocked.  

I’ll mention some, but not all, of the things you find in the house.  There’s a Snakes and Ladders game painted on the floor of the nursery; when you step on it, it becomes three dimensional and the snakes are alive.  There’s a chapel with blood-thirsty cherubs.  The bathroom has an ocean in it.  (No, nothing has backed up.)  Various rooms have taxidermy, which can come to life.  The library has a book about each person’s life, unless of course the book worms eat your volume.  And let’s not forget the cannibals…

For a novel of this length, Adams includes a large number of characters, roughly a dozen or so, depending on how you want to delineate between major and minor characters.  Not all of them make it to the end.  Still, he does a good job of making them individuals, and some are deliciously evil.  They come from the late 1800s to the early 2000s, and all of them entered the house the same way.  They fell through a box.

There’s a small Chinese box.  If you find yourself in a life threatening situation, say about to get the crap beaten out of you by a loan shark, or being chased by your fiance who has taken you somewhere isolated so he can rape you, and you happen to be in contact with the box…well, you just fall in.  Once you do, you’ll find yourself somewhere in the house.  

The characters try survive and figure out how to get home.  The box is known in the real world, and a few have managed to make it back.  And of course, there are people who are searching for the box for reasons of their own.

I’m not going to try to summarize the plot lines involving the characters any more than I have, which I realize isn’t much.  I’ll just say that who the heroes and villains are may surprise you.  And that’s one of the satisfying things about this novel.  Adams doesn’t do the obvious with the characters, and there are hidden relationships between some of the characters which aren’t revealed until the final pages.  

This one was a lot of fun.  Adams has a wonderfully dark and twisted imagination, especially when it comes to populating the rooms of the house.  Half the fun was seeing what he would throw at the reader next.  Even though the story isn’t over, I thought for the most part he did a fine job tying up all loose ends for the first half.  The second part of the tale, Restoration, is sitting on my desk at work.  I’ll be starting it soon. 

RIP, Martin H. Greenberg

Dean Wesley Smith is reporting that Martin H. Greenberg passed away this morning after a long illness.  If you’ve ever picked up an anthology is the last twenty or thirty years, there’s a good chance his name was on the cover, usually following the name of a well known author or editor.  (Isaac Asimov comes to mind as the most prominent, but he was far from the only one.)  If the anthology was published by DAW books, then his name was almost certainly on the cover.  Greenberg was the publisher of Tekno Books, one of the leading book packagers in the world.  (A packager puts the project together, then sells it to publisher.)  While his work was often behind the scenes, he was a major player in fantasy and science fiction publishing, as well as a number of other genres.  I never met Mr. Greenberg, but I’ve always heard only good things about him.  His passing is a major loss to the science fiction and fantasy fields.  Think of him the next time you read one of the anthologies he put together.  Dean Wesley Smith worked with Greenberg and has written a moving eulogy.

E-books, Self Publishing, and the Blog That Kicked a Hornet’s Nest, Plus a Few Questions

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
Chris Anderson
Hyperion, 228 p., $15.95

You’re probably wondering what a book on economics has to do with sword and sorcery, heroic fiction, and historical adventure?  Well, I’m going to tell you.  Everything.

Over at Dean Wesley Smith’s site, he’s been doing a number of blog posts on different topics.  One of them is a series on the New World of Publishing.  They’re fascinating, thought provoking, controversial, and well worth your time if you have any interest at all in writing.  I’m still reading through them, and more are being continually added, but one of the first deals with self-publishing

It was once a stigma to self publish your book, to the point that many considered it to be the kiss of death.  Conventional wisdom at numerous convention panels aimed at writer wanna-be’s said don’t do it.  Ever.  Or else A Real Publisher Will Never Take You Seriously.  Well, perhaps it wasn’t quite that extreme, but it was close at times. 

Now Mr. Smith, along with a number of other writers, are beginning to sing a different song.  One of the things I like about the comments to these posts is that a number of smart people don’t hesitate to speak up.  In one of them, Laura Resnick, daughter of science fiction author Mike Resnick, and a bestselling author in her own right, mentioned this book along with a followup one that I’m going to read next. 

This book is a major reason I was late in getting the previous post up. I couldn’t put it down.  Finally, I had to so I could finish The Heretic Kings.  I still haven’t written the essay on “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune”, the next in the series on Kull. 

The whole premise of the book is that in the 20th century, production and distribution of popular media (books, magazines, movies, music) was in the hands of a few people and/or corporations.  This lead to a front loaded filtering process whereby content was filtered preconsumer.  The result became a hit oriented business model in which the companies gamble on a small number of products every month, knowing that many or most wouldn’t recoup their costs and hoping that one or two would make enough to cover the losers.  This led to a fairly uniform culture catering to the lowest common denominator.  Niche interests and markets tended to be marginalized due to cost effectiveness concerns.

Since the advent of the internet, desktop publishing, and related technologies, such as iTunes, ereaders, file sharing software, etc., the market is moving away from hits and more toward niches.  Anderson’s argument isn’t that hits are going away (they aren’t), but that they are and will become less important than in the past.  More and more business will be done in what is known as the tail of the distribution, where niche markets for the first time can thrive, and those who cater to the niches can actually make a living without having to go through a corporate gatekeeper.  Instead, the gatekeeper will be the consumer, who through the use of technology (e.g, search engines, reader reviews, blogs) can find items (music, movies, books, etc.) that fit individual tastes.

Where this applies to publishing is that authors now have the power (if they recognize it and choose to use it) to publish their own books.  Indeed, many midlist authors are doing this with their out of print backlists.  But it’s not just authors who have been published by New York.  I followed links through several sites and blogs a little over a week ago, and I ended up on a site run by a young woman (20-something) who, after being rejected by the major publishers, simply decided to self publish electronically.  In something on the order of a year, she was able to quit her day job.  She also had foreign publishers knocking on her door asking about foreign rights.  Now she was writing teenage vampire angst type stuff, so I don’t know how well her experience would translate to sword and sorcery or historical fiction.

Much of the book content sold through some sort of electronic medium is not available in stores, even if a print copy from a major publisher exists.  My unscientific observation is that this is especially true for sword and sorcery, historical adventure, and any fantasy that isn’t a Tolkien clone, sensitive vampires, or steampunk.  I had to special order Scott Oden’s Lion of Cairo because my local Barnes and Noble didn’t carry it.  (Look for a review here sometime in the next couple of months.)  Borders’ announcement on Sunday that it was delaying payment for a second month just strengthens the arguments that brick-and-mortar stores may be in more danger than publishers.

The dicussions I’ve read have been lively, thought provoking, and often heated.  What Dean Wesley Smith and some others are essentially arguing is that now is the best time to be a writer.  While New York and traditional publishing won’t ever go away, the action is shifting to the author who treats writing as a business rather than art. because they are the ones who will have the best of both worlds.

A challenge Smith has set for himself is to write two stories a week and publish them electronically.  The most recent will be available for free on his web site and will remain up until the new story is finished.  These stories are published in all the main electronic formats and available for sale on his site as well as e-book outlets such as Amazon.  With two weeks off for vacation, Mr. Smith will have written 100 new stories this year if he completes the challenge.  Furthermore, they will be for sale bringing him income.

Now, for those of you still with me, here’s how this applies to the type of fiction readers of this blog want to read.  I see the possibility of an untapped source of sword and sorcery fiction and historical fiction..  This all sounds good in principle.  Writers of good adventure fiction could actually have careers without having to deal with sales numbers killing their books because their books will only be removed from the market when they, the writers, choose to remove them.  Reader reviews would guide potential readers to new authors.  Those who want to write this type of fiction could, and those who want to read it would have something to read, and what get published (and therefore read) would not be influenced by the marketing departments of New York conglomerate publishers.

Of course I could be completely off base with what I’ve been thinking.  Wouldn’t be the first time.  So I want to run a brief informal survey.  Please feel free to respond in the comments.

Would you be willing to buy a story, collection, or novel electronically if it was self published by an author with name recognition?

Would you buy a self published story, collection, or novel if the author were unfamiliar to you but had good reader reviews?

How much would you be willing to pay?  Assume a short story would sell for 99 cents, which is pretty much the floor imposed by the existing royalty structures of Amazon, B&N, etc., and go from there.

Would you be willing to buy a collection of essays or nonfiction?

I’d really like to hear from some of you, especially those who have been following this blog since the beginning or close to it.  What do you think?  Are we on the cusp of a potential explosion of good adventure fiction, or am I dreaming?