Category Archives: Kristime Kathryn Rusch

We’re not Divorced Yet, but We’re Definitely Separating

It began like many relationships do.  At first there was the allure, the excitement, the promise of adventure and romance and suspense, of new experiences and unique horizons opening up.  As time went on, the relationship deepened and became one of the central focuses of my life.  There were many good years together.

But as often happens, one party began to take the other for granted, with give and take becoming less give and more take.  I was expected to take what was offered, with little or no input.  And what was offered weren’t the things that drew me to the relationship in the first place.  The relationship became stale, predictable, dull.  Furthermore, my wants and needs meant less and less to the other party, with decisions about the things central to the relationship being made with the apparent expectation I should be thankful the other party was there at all.  Everything became the same, and I began to be unfulfilled.

I began to seek fulfillment elsewhere, with new partners.  And I found it.  All the adventure and excitement that first attracted me so many years ago were there, all the-

What’s that?  My marriage?  It’s just fine, thank you.  Why do you ask?

Anyway, we were talking about books and publishing, not my marriage.  Over this last year I’ve turned begun to read more and more indie published books, in a variety of formats.  I’ve reached the point where I’m really not interested in reading many books published by the big New York houses.  It’s all the same stuff, and frankly, most of it doesn’t appeal to me.  I mean how many sex-with-dead-things novels can you read without puking?  In my case, not many.

And yes, I’m speaking in the most general of terms here.  There are exceptions to the above statement; for example I will continue to read Jack McDevitt in hardcover as long as someone publishes him in that format.  And I’ll continue to read other a few other authors and books published by the big houses (especially if Barnes and Noble sends me a coupon), but for the most part, I’m going to stick with small to mid-sized presses and independently published authors or authors who are publishing their own backlists.  And I’m going to read as many as possible in ebook format.

Ebooks I most definitely will not be buying from major publishing houses unless they’re on sale.  Because in addition to publishing the same old same old, the major publishers are gouging on ebook prices.  Don’t think so?  Then read this post by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, in which she shows that publishers aren’t hurting from ebooks sales as much as they would have us believe.  In fact they’re making a profit, and they’re doing it on the backs of their authors, as Kris ably demonstrates.  More on that in a minute.  My point is that ebook prices are overinflated, and they’re only going to go up, which isn’t sitting well with some people

I had a chat about ebook prices with Lou Anders at Fencon a few months ago.  It was a brief conversation, taking place in the hall at the end of the convention with both of us having to go do other things.  Now I like and respect Lou a lot, but he and I aren’t on the same page with ebook pricing.  However, to be fair, the conversation was rushed, and I would like to discuss it further with him.  Also, he talked about doing ebooks right.  Something many of the major houses aren’t doing.

Case in point:  A few weeks ago, I was browsing in B&N and came across The Spy Who Came for Christmas by David Morrell.  There was an ebook version reasonably priced ($3.99 IIRC) which I bought and downloaded, thinking it would be a nice seasonal read that wouldn’t be too sappy,  something not related to either of my blogs that I would simply read for my own pleasure.  I’ve not read a great deal of Morrell’s work, but I’ve liked everything I’ve read.  The book was 240 pages, according to my Nook.  As I got further into the book more formatting errors crept in, words without spaces between them, new paragraphs starting in midsentence, that sort of thing.  As I got into the 130s page range, the story seemed to be winding down.  I expected a plot twist, something to keep the tale going.  Nope, it ended at page 140.  I thought maybe there was a second story included.  Wrong again.  The last 100 pages of the ebook were the last 100 pages of the story, simply reprinted to fill space and make the book appear to be longer than it was.

Yes, you read that correctly.  The publisher included the last 100 pages of story twice, and since the story was only 140 pages, including an afterward by the author, that almost doubled the length of the ebook.   Either the publisher tried to make the book look longer than it was, or the person responsible converting the book to ebook format didn’t have a clue what they were doing (or both).  Regardless of the reason, that’s just completely unacceptable.  As I’ve pointed out previously, none of the indie published ebooks I’ve read this year were anywhere near that sloppy.

Traditional big publishers are scared (and they should be), which is why they’re handing authors increasingly draconian contracts.  They’re also behind in the game; they should have had ebooks ready to go a long time before now.  There’s no excuse for pushing shoddy, poorly formatted product and charging the same amount as a paper copy.  Lou Anders talked about Pyr including some interactive formatting that would do things like resize maps when the font size was changed, something I haven’t seen yet in other ebooks.  That would be worth paying more for, although not as much as a paper copy.  But then Pyr, while priced higher than I would prefer, doesn’t charge as much for their ebooks as they do their print versions.

Understand, I’m not asking for ebooks to be free or only a dollar or two.  Much of the cost of the book is in the editing, proofing, copy editing, etc., which is the excuse the major publishers use to justify their ebooks prices.

Yeah.  I get that and don’t have a problem with it.

I also get that you’ve got to pay rent on your Manhattan offices.  And keep happy your corporate overlords who expect growth every quarter.

Not my problem.  There are more quality books published than I could possibly read in two lifetimes, never mind however many years I have left in this one.  There’s no reason I should pay those prices for that quality when there is a growing selection of ebooks with more variety (see Emily Casey’s Venn diagram) that are just as good and better formatted being published by small presses and indie authors. 

So, not that you’re likely to care, but I’m putting you on notice Tor, Ace, DAW, Del Rey, Harper Collins, Spectra, and all other publishers who think I should pay premium prices for shoddy ebooks, or who charge just as much for a paper copy.  I’m not buying from you anymore.  In print or electronic formats.  At least not unless there’s a coupon or a second hand shop involved.

I can hear the outrage from some of you, saying that by doing this I’m hurting authors.  Oh, really?  Let’s look at that statement a little more closely, shall we, because by that logic I hurt authors every time I walk into a bookstore.  What I’m doing is deciding where I’m going to spend my money based on perceived value of the product.  When I go to a bookstore to buy a book, I consider several things, such as author, genre, subgenre, and price.  And I buy what I consider to be the best value.  I leave all the other volumes on the shelves.  Am I hurting some authors because I decide their books aren’t a good value for me and don’t buy them?  No more than anyone else does who chooses one book over another.

And by saying I’m not buying anything from certain publishers (other than a few exceptions for favorite authors and bloody few of those), I’m not hurting those publishers’ authors for the reasons explained in the previous paragraph.  Instead I’m helping other authors who are publishing their own stuff, who get more money from the sale (even at a lower price) than they would with a large publisher.  As I understand the math, if I spend the same amount of money I have been, only I buy more books at lower prices, more authors will make more money per sale than they would through a traditional publisher.  In my economy that’s a good thing.

I’m still going to buy from traditional publishers, just not most of the big boys.  I’ll have a list of publishers I’ll be buying a lot from in 2012 in an upcoming post.

In the meantime, I’ve got indie/small press published books by the following authors to read (in no particular order; links are to author pages rather than books):  Ty Johnston, Charles Gramlich, David J. West, Barry Nugent, Stephen D. Sullivan, Ken St. Andre, Chris Northern, Katherine Eliska Kiimbriel, Todd Shryock, James Hutchings, Moses Siregar III and Charles R. Saunders.  Just to name a few.  If you’re name is in this list, and I choose to review one of your books, I’ll send you an email.  Please be patient; that’s a lot to read, and those are only the indie/small press items in the TBR stack.

For those you who are gluttons for punishment interested, here are links to all the reviews of indie/small press books I’ve done in the last year in reverse chronological order:  The Paths of Righteousness by James Reasoner, Strange Worlds edited by Jeff Doten, Stones by Gerald So, Dark Heroes edited by Jessy Marie Roberts, Age of Giants Awakenings by Rob Reasor, Tisarian’s Treasure by J. M. Martin, Dreams in the Fire edited by Mark Finn and Chris Gruber, Gods of Justice edited by Kevin Hosey and K. Stoddard Hayes, The Ladies of Trade Town edited by Lee Martindale.

I also published a review of The Roads to Baldairn Motte by Craig Comer, Ahimsa Kerp, and Garrett Calcaterra at Rogue Blades Entertainment.

Why You Soon Won’t be Able to Find a Good Book in a Store

I was reading one of Kris Rusch’s columns over at The Business Rusch the other day, the topic being shelf space disappearing in book stores.  At that reminded me of an unpleasant experience I had the other day in Wal-Mart, one that is now repeated every time I walk into the store (which isn’t nearly as often as it was a few weeks ago).  If you haven’t read Kris’s column, please go read it now.  I’ll wait.

There, that didn’t take too long, did it?  Ms. Rusch brings up some very disturbing points, and while some of them are negative, others are mixed.  For what it’s worth, here’s my take on things, including why I’m not going to be shopping at Wal-Mart as much in the future.
 For starters, I understand the point Kris makes about Barnes and Noble trying to drive customers online.  It helps their bottom line for two reasons.  First, in the short term, it provides an incentive for Nook purchases.  Eventually that market will saturate, either because everyone will have one and the technology will mature to the point that repeatedly releasing an updated version will no longer be cost effective, or more likely that a new technology will come along and make the Nook obsolete.  The second reason, and the one that bothers me, is that it will allow B&N to either close more stores to get out of expensive leases or devote more shelf space to non-book items such as toys, games, stationary, and greeting cards.  Along with more floor space to sell the Nook.

Borders, even before it declared bankruptcy, was undergoing this at a disturbing rate.  When I started graduate school at UT Dallas back in the early 90s, the Borders at the intersection of  Royal and Preston was one of the two go-to bookstores in the Dallas area, the other being the Taylor’s near Prestonwood Mall, although living at what was then the northern edge of the suburban sprawl, i.e, in the other direction, I tended to frequent the Bookstop in Plano near Collin Creek Mall rather than drive an extra hour.  All three had excellent selections of science fiction and fantasy, mystery, and scientific and technical books, and all were willing to order titles not in stock (although Taylor’s charged to do so). 

Then Taylor’s closed, Barnes and Noble bought the Bookstop chain and closed the one in Plano to open a B&N on the opposite side of the mall, and suddenly Borders was the only good place to get almost anything in print. 

That didn’t last long.  I’ve only been in that Borders a few times in the last five years, and usually it was to find a magazine I couldn’t get at the big B&N on Northwest Highway.  I don’t know if that particular store is still open.  I’ve bought very few books there in the last half decade or so.  Each time I went in, it seemed the fantastic literature had been moved to a different area and had less shelf space.  Along with all the other books.  And there more titles turned face out, which is one of the points Ms. Rusch made in her essay.  Books facing out take up more space, meaning the shelves hold fewer books.  The last time I was there, it wasn’t worth the gas to drive over.

So how does Wal-Mart figure into this?  It’s simple.  They’re committing the same type of stupidity as the major chains, but they don’t have the excuse of an ereader to fall back on.  I live a little over two blocks from K-Mart, four or five blocks from Target, and about a mile and a half from the nearest Wal-Mart (there are four in town).  I’ve been going to this Wal-Mart for one reason.  They have had a section of their book department devoted to science fiction, meaning that the section was labeled as such.  Now the selection was at least 50% fantasy, but I’m not complaining.  I read considerable amounts of both. I’ve seen Wal-Marts that devote some shelf space to a few sf/f titles before, but this is the only one with entire section devoted to the stuff.  A number of them have sections for westerns, which I’m not knocking, except I don’t think westerns sell as well as sf & f.  Maybe Wallyworld is different, because the westerns section in my local Wal-Mart is still intact.  And none of the employees, excuse me, associates, I talked to could tell me who made the decision to remove the fantasy and science fiction. 

What did they put in its place?  They moved the romance section over and put “Books” where the romance previously was.  They’re still putting the display together (they’re anything but quick here), but it appears to be mostly children’s books and cook books.   All face out.  I guess they think fewer titles with more visibility will sell more books.

So now I have one less venue I can walk into, pick up any one of several books, and browse through them.  As far as I’m concerned, electronic browsing isn’t worth the time it takes.  I like to flip through the book.  I’ve bought plenty of books at that Wal-Mart, some of which I’ve reviewed at Adventures Fantastic. And I like a good selection, which, given its size, this one had.  But it’s no longer worth the time and gas to drive over and put up with the crowd for the books they have now.

My local B&N has a decent selection, meaning I can find something that interests me.  But I can’t find everything, including much of the stuff I want.  Kris Rusch wrote about not being able to find her latest science fiction novel, City of Ruins, in a B&N but being told it was in the warehouse and she could order it.  The local one here didn’t stock it either.  Nor did they stock Howard Andrew Jones’ The Desert of Souls or Scott Oden’s The Lion of Cairo.  They had a novel by Paul Finch which I wanted to review, only they sold it before I could buy it and didn’t order a replacement copy.  It was a zombie novel; the replacement would have sold.  I’m going to have to order all of these books.  And that’s a hassle.  I ordered the Oden, but haven’t gotten around to reading it yet.  The other three will probably get ordered sometime before the end of the summer.  I want to review and discuss all four of them, but I’ll probably review other things I have at hand first.  It’s easier and faster that way.

I could go on.  There’s a locally based chain with a number of stores in Texas called Hastings I could write an entire post about, but this is negative enough as it is.  The more I write, the grumpier and more depressed I’m getting.  If you’re like me and like to spending time in book stores just browsing to see what treasures you can find, I don’t hold out a lot of hope of being able to do that much longer.

This essay has been cross-posted at Futures Past and Present.

The Changing World of Publishing

Kris Rusch has been doing a series over at The Business Rusch about how publishing is changing.  Over the last few weeks, she’s written about agents.  Here’s the latest that just went up.  There are links in it to the earlier installments.

Why am I writing about this here?  Two reasons. 

First, I know some of the people who read this blog are aspiring writers.  The best thing you can be is informed.  The publishing world is changing rapidly right now, and old business models are no longer viable.  Some business people (agents, publishers, and some writers, in this case) aren’t dealing well with the change.  Whether you agree with everything Kris says or not, she’s got a lot of thought provoking things to say.  If you want to be published, and I hope you become published because we need more of the type of fiction Adventures Fantastic deals with, then you owe it yourself to know your business inside and out.

Second, the way we read  and buy books is going to change as publishing changes.  Knowing what’s happening in the industry, at least to a general extent, is probably a good thing for the general reader because he/she will understand why certain desired titles aren’t available, why some ebooks have inflated prices, and why some authors’ backlists are available and others’ aren’t.

So check out what Rusch has to say.  She’s a long time pro who has been author, editor, and publisher in this field.  She’s got the credentials and she knows what she’s talking about.

End of sermon.