Rose Fox sez,
Daniel José Older and I are thrilled to be co-editing LONG HIDDEN, an anthology of speculative fiction from the margins of history. It's a crowdfunded project; we've already made our initial goal, and now we'd love your help reaching our ambitious stretch goals.
Each story will take place between 1400 and the early 1900s and put a speculative twist on real past events, with marginalized people as the heroes. The anthology will be published by Crossed Genres, which has an excellent history of coming through on crowdfunded projects. We also have a tremendous lineup of talented, well-known authors (Beverly Jenkins, Victor LaValle, Nnedi Okorafor, Ken Liu, Amal El-Mohtar, and many others) eager to submit stories, and will be opening submissions as soon as our Kickstarter is funded.
Over 400 generous people have already boosted us past our initial goal of $12,000. Now we're hoping to push onward to $20,000, which will let us buy ~50,000 more words of fiction--at SFWA pro rates of 5¢/word--and reveal even more voices of silenced dreamers. Further goals include interior illustrations and an audiobook edition.
We're grateful for each and every pledge, from the $1 "Kickstarter high-five" on up, and we have lots of terrific rewards lined up. If you don't want to pledge, we hope you'll consider buying the book when it's out next year and spreading the word in the meantime. In particular, tell your author friends to send us stories! Open submissions are the original crowdsourcing and we can't wait to see what we get. We'd love to give some unknown authors their first pro sales, side by side with some of the genre's brightest stars.
Thanks for helping an awesome project come into being.
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History
Allison R. Dobson, Digital Publishing Director of Random House, has written an open letter to the Science Fiction Writers of America responding to the warning it published about Hydra, a new imprint with a no-advance, author-pays-expenses contract that SFWA (and I) characterize as being totally unacceptable. Dobson's letter doesn't do much to change my view on that:
When we acquire a title in the Hydra program, it is an all-encompassing collaboration. Our authors provide the storytelling, and we at Hydra support their creativity with best-in-class services throughout the publishing process: from dedicated editorial, cover design, copy editing and production, to publicity, digital marketing and social media tools, trade sales, academic and library sales, piracy protection, negotiating and selling of subsidiary rights, as well as access to Random House coop and merchandising programs. Together, we deliver the best science fiction, fantasy and horror books to the widest possible readership, thus giving authors maximum earning potential.
There are other options for doing the same: Lulu, BookBaby and CreateSpace will all let you pay freelancers to do any and all of that stuff (and given that so much of publishing is now outsourced, they're likely to be some of the same people doing the job at a Big Five publisher), but none of them demand all your rights and subsidiary rights for the length of copyright, and none of them reserve the right to charge arbitrary sums to your account before they pay you any royalties.
As Munger points out, costs-plus-percentage-of-costs contracts are a moral hazard (that's why it's a felony for the US military to issue them), and they have no place in publishing.
Random House Responds to SFWA Slamming Its Hydra Imprint
Yesterday, I blogged about the awful contracts on offer from Random House's new Hydra imprint, which runs like a scam vanity-press, paying no advances, seizing all rights and charging normal publisher's operating costs to the author. John Scalzi's gotten ahold of the (presumably identical) contract for Alibi, the mystery/crime-book version of Hydra, and it really is awful.
The fact that Alibi is shifting those costs to the author is hugely significant, for reasons noted in the previous entry (i.e., Alibi is shifting an extraordinary portion of the risk of publishing onto the author’s back). But it’s also worrying to the author for two other reasons:
One, it puts the author in the hole to the Alibi for an amount which the author has almost no control over — it’s Alibi choosing how much to spend on the services and expenses which constitute the Net Billings. All the author is empowered to do (at least as I read the contract) is pay for them. It should be noted that Random House probably owns warehouses and printing presses (or has long-terms arrangements which represent sunk costs), so in effect the publisher will be charging the author for services it provides, i.e., it’s taking money from the author and putting it into its own pocket — payment for services publishers are supposed to provide as their part of the publishing equation. The contractual language does note that some expenses are to be “mutually-agreed” upon, but this just brings up another problem:
Two, it transfers the cost of these services onto the most ignorant partner in the contract — which is to say, the author. Yes, authors, I know. You are smart. But — can you tell me what “plant costs” mean? What about “conversion fees?” Can you give me a sum that you know with certainty to be in the ballpark, in terms of what those costs and fees should be? Do you know how much it costs to print and bind a book? Are you sure? Is Alibi printing them individually or in one large print run? How will that affect unit cost? What’s a reasonable sum for warehousing? You better know because the contract won’t tell you — or at least the one I have in front of me sure as hell doesn’t.
And here’s another thing to consider: When it’s the publisher fronting the costs for printing, warehousing, plant fees or whatever, it will, out of its own self-interest, they will try to lower the cost as much as possible, because not doing so will cut into its profits. But authors, when you are fronting the fees, the printing, warehousing, plant fees and everything else becomes a potential profit center for the publisher.
A Contract From Alibi
David Wondermark" Malki ! sez, "We've taken the Machine of Death concept [ed: a wildly successful independent anthology of stories about a world where a machine can accurately forecast your date of death] and adapted it into a pretty wacky party game. You play assassins who know their target's death prediction in advance, and have to come up with creative ways of making it come true. It's a storytelling game that's kind of like Rube Goldberg meets a Roadrunner cartoon meets MURDER.
We've already blown past our Kickstarter goal and are now fundraising to add more and more cool stretch goal cards by webcomics artists! We also have some handmade laser-cut deluxe game boxes that'll only be available during the Kickstarter. We've been thrilled by the response to the game so far and are really excited to see it become a reality!"
Machine of Death: The Game of Creative Assassination
Writer beware. According to an email from the Science Fiction Writers of America, Random House has launched an imprint called "Hydra" with all the hallmarks of a sleazy, scammy vanity-press: no advance on royalties, perpetual, all-rights assignments of copyrights, and all production expenses charged to the writer before any royalties are paid.
SFWA has determined that works published by Random House’s electronic imprint Hydra can not be use as credentials for SFWA membership, and that Hydra is not an approved market. Hydra fails to pay authors an advance against royalties, as SFWA requires, and has contract terms that are onerous and unconscionable.
Hydra contracts also require authors to pay – through deductions from royalties due the authors – for the normal costs of doing business that should be borne by the publisher.
Hydra contracts are also for the life-of-copyright and include both primary and subsidiary rights. Such provisions are unacceptable.
At this time, Random House's other imprints continue to be qualified markets.
This kind of rip-off is semi-standard with record deals, but it's unheard of in legit publishing, where the author typically receives an advance on royalties that is not
refundable if it doesn't earn out; where authors traditionally assign a few, time-limited rights (English print/audio/ebook for a given territory, say); and where the production costs are wholly borne by the press in exchange for keeping the lion's share of any book revenue.
Hydra's deal is much, much worse than the one you'll get from a real DIY option like BookBaby or CreateSpace or Lulu, where you only pay for services you want, keep 100% of your profits, and assign no rights at all to the "publisher." It's got all the downsides of a DIY press, and all the downsides of a traditional press, and the upsides of neither.
My latest Publishers Weekly column, "I Can't Let You Do That, Dave," is a look at the dangers of redesigning our computers to boss us around instead of doing what they're told and trying to help us:
Contrary to what’s been written in some quarters, Aaron Swartz didn’t attempt to download those journal articles because “information wants to be free.” No one cares what information wants. He was almost certainly attempting to download those articles because they were publicly funded scholarship that was not available to the public. They were scientific and scholarly truths about the world, information that the public paid for and needs in order to make informed choices about their lives and their governance. Fighting for information’s freedom isn’t the point. It’s people’s freedom that matters.
All of which makes the publishing community’s embrace of DRM and its advocacy for badly written, overly broad legislation to support DRM, fraught with peril. Since Frankenstein, writers and thinkers have recoiled in visceral horror at the idea of technology overpowering its creators. But when we actively build businesses that require censorship, surveillance, and control to thrive, we make a Frankenstein’s monster out of the devices that fill our pockets and homes, and the network that binds them all together.
I Can't Let You Do That, Dave
All round e-publishing genius Pablo Defendini sez,
Fireside Magazine is a multigenre fiction magazine. Our goal is twofold: to publish great storytelling and offer fair pay for writers and artists. We published three issues last year, each funded by its own Kickstarter. That wasn’t really a sustainable way to make a magazine, and we want to create more certainty for our readers and for the magazine.
So we came up with a new plan for Year Two: a monthly subscription website and ebook (epub and mobi). Each issue in Year Two will have two pieces of flash fiction (1,000 words or less), one short story, and one of 12 episodes of a serial fiction experiment by Chuck Wendig. Each issue will also have artwork by Galen Dara. The website is being rethought and is being designed responsively, which means it will adjust to display an optimum reading experience on screens of any size. We are aiming to provide a clean, simple way to read our stories without any clutter or distractions, just the words and the artwork. But in order to do all this work up front and pay the creators their fair share, we need to raise the money ahead of time, so it's back to Kickstarter!
Fireside magazine: Year Two
An academic librarian at McMaster University wrote that "The Edwin Mellen Press was a poor publisher with a weak list of low-quality books, scarcely edited, cheaply produced, but at exorbitant prices," a point of view supported by survey data. The Edwin Mellen Press responded with a libel suit, naming both McMaster and the librarian, and seeking $3,000,000 in damages. McMaster has been publicly silent on the matter, but it deserves wider attention.
I've had my share of negative reviews, including some that I thought were materially unfair. Though I earn my living as a writer and a publisher, I can't imagine using the law to silence my critics. But Mellen has a history of suing and threatening people who criticize its products.
No one likes bad reviews; but Mellen’s approach is not to disprove the assessment, pledge to improve its quality, or reconsider its business-model. It is to slam McMaster University and its librarian with a three million dollar lawsuit in the Ontario Superior Court, alleging libel and claiming massive aggravated and exemplary damages. The matter is pending.
The lawsuit is threadbare. With respect to the parts of Mellen’s list with which I am familiar, the librarian’s statements noted above are all true and the quality judgments are correct. (And this survey suggests that would be a common assessment.) Moreover, on the facts in this situation, it is obviously fair comment, and public policy considerations strongly suggest that university librarians enjoy a qualified privilege with respect to their assessments of the quality of the books they consider buying for their universities. It would be a disaster for universities, students, researchers and the taxpayer if aggrieved publishers were permitted to silence discussions of the quality of their publications by threats of lawsuit.
Shocking attack on academic freedom at McMaster by Edwin Mellen Press?
Steve sez, "In 1926 Hugo (Award) Gernsback established the science fiction genre with the introduction of Amazing Stories magazine. Sadly, the magazine ended its run in 2005.
Now it has returned once again, this time in the guise of a social networking platform for fandom, featuring multiple daily blog posts from nearly 60 different authors, editors, artists and fans.
Amazing Stories' publisher, the Experimenter Publishing Company, hopes that fans of the genre will join the site and by doing so will help bring back a once revered short fiction market.
Membership is free and all contents now and in the future will remain free."
I was once published in one of the print incarnations of Amazing -- felt great to join the storied world of those pages.
Illustrator David Pelham produced some of Penguin UK's most iconic 1970s book-covers. Kadrey's got a small gallery of the best of 'em, works of art every one.
Some of David Pelham’s brilliant 70s SF covers for Penguin Books.
I've written an essay on how copyright enforcement laws let entertainment companies get away with paying less to artists for the O'Reilly Tools of Change blog. The ToC folks asked to to contribute something related to the keynote I'll be doing at their annual conference in NYC next month, as part of my tour for Homeland, the sequel to Little Brother.
In other words, by asking governments to ascribe liability to these “intermediaries” (services that sit between creators and audiences), the entertainment industry is demanding that the Internet be scaled back to something that’ll fit in cable TV’s bathtub. Something where only people with a lot of capital and clout can speak and be heard. Something where big entertainment companies can use their money and power as a wall to stop anyone from challenging their pride of place.
When a big star goes into a record-company negotiations, she isn’t limited to saying, “Sorry, that deal’s not good enough, I’ll see what I can get across the street at your competitor.” Now she can say, “That’s not good enough, I can do better on my own, like Trent Reznor did.” Or, “That’s not good enough, I can hook up with a new kind of music business,” like Madonna did. But only if the intermediary liability is small enough to allow all these different kinds of companies to clamor for artists’ attention and products.
When a successful beginner like Amanda Hocking or EL James comes before a big publisher who wants to take her from indie to pro, the worst deal they can offer her has to be better than the best deal she could get for herself, or from one of the new startups.
Put it another way: There’s never been a time when tight controls over distribution were good for artists: fewer labels always means worse deals for musicians; fewer studios always means worse deals for filmmakers, actors, and other film professionals; fewer publishers always means worse deals for authors.
Liability vs. leverage
A Dec 22 article in the Economist looks at the thriving world of webcomics and suggests that they have broken the awful cycle of mediocre newspaper comics -- a cycle that Bill Watterson decried when he gave up on Calvin and Hobbes. It's a great piece:
Many of these comics are expanding outwards into little media empires of their own. “XKCD”, probably the most innovative, now features a separate blog called “What If?”, on which Mr Munroe answers questions sent in by readers. One recent post asked “if every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?” (The answer is no, unless you can borrow 6 billion one-megawatt lasers from the Pentagon.) “SMBC” and “Ctrl Alt Del” have both experimented with sketch shows and animated comics. “Penny Arcade” has become a sprawling video-games industry phenomenon, hosting games conventions and fund-raising campaigns.
One thing they have in common is how they make their money. The typical audience for one of the leading web comics is between 1m and 10m unique browser visits per month, comparable to a medium-sized newspaper website (the website of the Daily Mail, the best-read newspaper on the web, gets 100m per month). But unlike on newspaper websites, where advertising is the main source of revenue, the audience on web comics are not just readers—they are also customers. Most artists sell T-shirts, books, mouse mats, posters and other paraphernalia. The most successful at monetising content is said to be Mr Inman: his site, “The Oatmeal” made $500,000 in 2011 from its audience of around 7m unique visitors per month.
Amplified by social media—Mr Inman has some 700,000 Facebook followers—this audience can be powerful. One extremely long and exceptionally geeky comic last summer on “The Oatmeal”, extolling the virtues of the inventor Nikola Tesla and attacking his better-known rival, Thomas Edison, somehow snowballed into a campaign to save one of Tesla’s labs on the outskirts of New York. By leveraging his immense traffic to attract donations and to sell T-shirts and other gear, Mr Inman raised $1m in nine days—enough, with matching funding from New York State, to buy the building.
Triumph of the nerds
Emmanuel Goldstein from 2600: The Hacker Quarterly magazine writes, "2600 has gone and remastered the second year of its publication from way back in 1985. The original issues have been rearranged into ebook format, and can be read on Kindles, Nooks, computers, phones, etc. Each word of the original publications was proofed so that nothing in the text was changed, even when there were typos. The technological innovations of the day were memorable - 1200 baud had become the norm and hackers were still thrilled whenever they found an 800 number that accepted touch tones. Even though none of the phone numbers or computer network addresses still work, the enthusiasm with which they were revealed and published is still quite contagious and inspirational. It was all so thrilling back then and it was that emotion that would lead to great innovations from this very community. And in the middle of all of this, 2600 had their computer BBS raided by the authorities, propelling the hacker world into the headlines yet again."
A followup to yesterday's post about how Amazon had nuked the Kindle edition of A Long Time Ago, Gib Van Ert's memoir about growing up with Star Wars, citing nebulous and incoherent trademark issues.
The Kindle edition is back. Amazon PR person Brittany Turner wrote, "Wanted to let you know that this book is now available in the Kindle Store." Ms Turner didn't offer any further explanation.
Presumably, it was a dumb mistake to begin with, but one that couldn't be corrected until there was enough publicity to get senior people to look in on the issue.
Ryan "Dinosaur Comics" North writes in with the improbable tale of his amazingly successful Kickstarter for a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style adaptation of Hamlet, which has made him a fortune and prompted him to release the whole thing under a Creative Commons license:
There's a little under two days left on the project for my chooseable-path version of Hamlet called To Be Or Not To Be. (Like a choose-your-own-adventure book, but that is trademarked, so I will say that in this book Adventures Are Being Chosen By You and leave it at that) You can play as Ophelia, Hamlet, or Hamlet's Dad, but if you choose him you die on the first page and play as a ghost. And instead of a play-within-a-play there's a book-within-a-book where you read ANOTHER choose-your-own-path book. I'm really excited for it.
All the endings will be illustrated by some really talented artists like Noelle Stevenson (Gingerhaze), Kate Beaton (Hark A Vagrant), and Meredith Gran (Octopus Pie) and the book will be released with a CC BY-NC 3.0 license. I was asking for $20k and we reached that in 3 and a half hours, and now in the last day of the project it's above $400k, making it the most-funded publishing project on Kickstarter ever which is nuts!
The coolest thing about it is the contrast with traditional publishing: nobody would want to print this book in full colour and with all these illustrations, but because Kickstarter lets you contact the audience directly, we've been able to do that and to move the book from black and white to colour, add more illustrations, as well as have a mini prequel adventure too.
To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure