Ad Astra 2016, day 2: Publishing today—old models, new models, and hybrids


Disclaimer: I’m not perfect and neither are my notes. If you see something that needs correction or clarification, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I will fix things up, post hasty.

Note: I attended the David G. Hartwell memorial panel first, which was lovely and funny and touching, but not the kind of thing one takes notes about.

PublishingPanel

Panellists: Brett Savory, Sandra Kasturi, Ed Greedwood, Tom Doherty, Mark Leslie

SK: There’s been a lot of change in the industry and some “Chicken Little” doom saying. We’re finding our way.

EG: There are so many options now. Historically, traditional publishing or print self-publishing were the only options for the serious author.

TD: What it’s all about is story. How can we make the story the best it can be? How can we get these stories to the reader? J.W. Campbell was “the” editor for short fiction. Tor now has a novella program. In 1996 we had four hundred and some distributors in the US. Changing models for product wholesalers have meant the loss of book distribution networks. We were back to 1939 for a while. Every pharmacy, airport, and grocery store now has a fiction rack. There’s a lot of competition for the brick and mortar book store, chain or indie. New models for distribution and sales are emerging thanks to the internet.

ML: One of the things I like about digital publishing is that we don’t need three hundred pages bound in cloth.

TD: How do we get new readers? If you don’t or can’t put books where readers are, how do we put a book in their hands? Tor.com reviews movies and television as well as books as a means of attracting readers to the brand.

SK: ChiZine is a small publisher. We have a small publishing budget. HarperCollins used to handle our distribution, but they stopped. If anyone tells you they know the secret to marketing, they’re lying.

ML: You started ChiZine because you wanted to publish the books you wanted to read.

BS: Something like 50 Shades of Gray or The DaVinci Code, we’d like to think we’d stay away from, but if something like that came our way, we’d totally publish it. We need commercial successes so we can fund the outliers.

ML: How does Tor approach it?

TD: You have to have great creative people and you have to let them write what they love. The Gears wrote The People of the Wolf. Their books are archaeology and anthropology, but they’re also speculative fiction in our opinion. Forge focuses on near future science fiction and military thrillers. Science fiction has a pejorative reputation. The classic first contact story can also reveal sociological impact and insight.

SK: We’re fascinated by genre ghettoization, even intra-genre. In our experience, dark fiction isn’t just horror. Dark fiction writers get it out on the page. Writers who keep that darkness inside can get messed up.

ML: Is it all about the story?

EG: The Ed Greenwood Group is not going to compete with Tor, who’ve cornered science fiction and fantasy, or with ChiZine, which is more of a literary press. I wanted to do something I remember from my childhood. I used to fall in love with the setting, the story worlds I discovered through reading, and I created my own stories to go with them. So now I have the Hellmaw universe, which is dark urban fantasy. I have story universes for epic fantasy, space opera, hard science fiction. For each setting, we’re creating music, short fiction, art, novels, and follow up stories (like a coda). We will never let things go out of print. If an author wants to stop writing, or dies, there will always be other authors writing in the milieu. We’re an alternative, not competition.

ML: Is there more collaboration?

EG: The potential is there. Each world has its own lore guardian and art director. Fanfic is not verboten, but a TEGG book is a TEGG book. We’re developing a sandbox area for creators to play in.

ML: Where does a beginning writer fit in?

TD: Tor has been publishing new authors for a long time. Brandon Sanderson’s first book was Elantris. Moshe Feder is his agent. They met at a convention.

SK: ChiZine is open to new writers from August to January through the Writers’ Reserve program. I don’t ever want to be above the slush. There are a lot of talented people out there.

BS: Everything that we published has been edited by one of us. It’s an insane amount of work, but we’re still about 10% of the scale of Tor.

EG: David G. Hartwell chased me for seven years to get my last book. It took seven years to get into print.

TD: We buy more from agents because they screen for us.

SK: I pass on the experimental stuff to Brett.

ML: Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith do the Fiction River Anthologies. I joined their panel for one of them. Each editor comments on each story. It’s amazing to see the variety of reactions. One editor will say, ‘This is the best story.’ The next will say, ‘I couldn’t get past the first page.’ Self-publishing has exploded, but 80% of the industry is still print-based. Publish-on-demand can fill the gap, but there’s no distribution.

SK: It really makes a difference. 90% of our books have had missing information, or misinformation on their Amazon listings. Gemma Files’ Experimental Film was out last fall. Amazon finally has it in pre-order.

EG: Amazon wants to go 100% epublishing, but print is still a thing. They’re saying ‘no’ to 80% of their market. What about outside the US?

SK: One thing epublishing has done for us is that we can re-issue novels where the rights have reverted to the authors.

Q: Publishing has changed over the last fifty years. Attention spans are shortening. Is this why serialized fiction is coming into fashion?

TD: Series have always been important. In a series, the characters become friends. It’s an advantage, but not a necessity. There are stand alones. I have a quarrel with literary fiction. Up to five hundred yers ago, everything that lasted was fantasy. Dickens was reviled for being too popular.

Q: Podcasts and transmedia works, are they the responsibility of the publisher?

SK: We’d love to do all the things, but we can’t. We have to network.

TD: Tor has a contract with NASA because they feel that science fiction brought young people to science. They have a massive education project. We are trying to reach a broader audience.

And that was time.

Next week, I’ll be taking in more writerly goodness at the Canadian Writers’ Summit, so I will be taking a brief blogging vacation. We’ll catch y’all up over the weekend of the 25th/26th when I’ll be presenting my notes from the how to get an agent panel 🙂

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