Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Delayed Response

To the kerfuffle between Random House’s new imprint (of sorts) Hydra and The Science Fiction Writer’s of America. 

What is interesting is that I do think that Random House is getting a bit greedy on its terms, but that SFWA is so completely out of touch with the modern world. I find it funny and ironic that a association of SCIENCE FICTION writers so completely refuses to acknowledge self publishing.

Self-publishing, for better or worse, is the twenty-first century. SFWA seems stuck in the twentieth. Hydra, for better or worse, is trying to capitalize on self-publishing, but put it under an imprint and give it some professionalism. And, at this point, it is also a filter, not accepting absolutely every person with an open checkbook. Should SFWA examine both the motives and the consequences of this new model from Random House? Sure, but it should simultaneously examine its own antiquated prejudices against self-publishing.

I am not advocating that EVERY self-published science fiction and fantasy author automatically be acknowledged as a potential member, but under SFWA’s by-laws, you could sell a million copies of a novel and not qualify as a SF writer. In other words the editors at a single publisher know more as to what is good science fiction and fantasy than any number of readers.

The Hydra imprint is, no doubt, flawed. The nickname for the merged Random House and Penguin is “Random Penguin” which may be an indicator on their actions this year. They are trying a random variety of things. The proof, as the cliché goes, will be in the pudding.

What is even more surprising is that SFWA has not responded—beyond a blog post—to the fact that Hydra HAS modified its contract options to include a more “traditional” model:

Under the advance plus royalty model, authors are offered a more traditional publishing arrangement, with Random House’s standard eBook royalty of 25 percent of net receipts. These authors will be paid an agreed-upon advance against royalties, and Hydra, Alibi, Loveswept, or Flirt will cover production, shipping, and marketing for all formats at 100 percent of cost.

So what part of this refined model (in response to SFWA and authors) does not meet the guidelines and bylaws of SFWA? Are they just pissed at Random House after a few letters went back and forth?

SFWA’s blog post was a response, sort of, to the changes Hydra has made. Fundamentally it says, “ok, better, glad to see you are listening to us.” But, it is still not clear that Hydra is ever going to be considered legit in SFWA eyes, and it still begs the question as to when SFWA is going to embrace self-publishing. One concern might be that Hydra is eBook only. Yet, Angry Robot (a great little UK publisher) publishes eBook only also, so that can’t be it, can it?

The aegis that SFWA likes to project is one of protecting the author. I completely support that, but in the age of self-publishing and digital, are you protecting the author, or trying to force them into a 1950s model?

Stanislaw Lem famously disdained membership with SFWA, “describing it as: describing it as ill thought-out, poorly written, and interested more in making money than in ideas or new literary forms.” This was in 1973. It would seem that perhaps things have not changed much since then.

It’s as if SFWA is in a bad science fiction story, where nothing changes and time stands still. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

2013 Self-publishing Summit (A positive blog entry for once)

Let’s face it, I’m a realist, glass is as empty as it really is, sort of guy.

This tends to make some of my random blog entries sound rather pessimistic.

I was interested to read Dan Hollloway’s entry on his experience at the 2013 Self-publishing Summit. Of course one reason I liked it is that it seems the self-publishing “industry” (if it can be called that) is saying some of the same things that many of us have been saying for awhile.

Dan highlights:

1. The absolute priority of craft.

This is something that many have espoused a number of times. Focus on writing and writing well. The reminder was, even at the self-publishing summit, that this a long haul. A reminder that ebooks live forever, so make sure everything you put out there is the best it can be.

2. The importance of direct engagement and live performance.

This was a surprise to me. There was a positive attitude that readings were getting better. Not surprising was that the venue is outside of the bookstore. Also, mixed media (music and readings) were mentioned. Given that I don’t see any readings with any attendance at most bookstores, I found this surprising, but the point made that bookstores are missing out and other venues are letting readers in was interesting.

3. The importance of niche.

This has been said before. If you are a generalist, it becomes hard to take advantage of building an audience slowly over time.

4. A subdued approach to social media.

Ah yes, the subject of prior blog entries here. The same things were stressed. DON’T SELL via social media. Inform. Entertain. Don’t Sell.

And finally, a surprise: a general positivity about changes in the publishing industry.

This last bit was a surprise and I would love to see some data on this. Publishers are returning to a model (so it is said) where they actually give authors more than one book to succeed? That has been my argument for small publishers, but this seems to hint that larger ones are doing the same. If so GREAT. Still, I would love to see some evidence of this.

Alongside of this, and I agree, is that publishers take more risks than most authors know. You just never hear about all the failures.

My take away from this is that self-publishing is really starting to become a real and accepted aspect of the publishing industry as a whole and is starting to mature. This is positive news for most self-published authors as it means that more doors will continue to open up—if you are a good author who sticks with it and keeps improving.