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Story Bundles 2

5 Apr

In my last blog, I mentioned that Douglas Smith and I both appeared in an anthology edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink – which also connects me to the third author in the Aurora Story Bundle: Candas Jane Dorsey.

Candas was a founding member of The Books Collective, the Edmonton-based publishing company that then published the Tesseracts series of books featuring Canadian writers. Candas was and remains an important figure in the Alberta writing community and I frequently ran into her both at science fiction conventions but also at literary and theatre events. I lived in Calgary while she was in Edmonton so we didn’t see each other more than a couple of times a year but it was always a pleasure. In 1997, her first novel, Black Wine, was published and it was extraordinary, winning numerous awards, including Canada’s Prix Aurora Award. And deservedly so – it was a sensational debut, a powerful story, beautifully written.  I’m happy to share space with such a wonderful book.

Black Wine Review

I didn’t see Candas very often after I left Alberta but a few years ago we ran into her at a convention. She was running for municipal office in Edmonton and we both thought our role reversal was amusing. When she was founding a publishing company in the 1980s I was running for office; now, I was the publisher and she was the candidate which just goes to show you never know where life will take you.

Which brings me to Dave Duncan, author of West of January. Dave was born in Scotland but moved to Canada in the 50s to work as a geologist in the petroleum industry. He didn’t start writing until he was 51. Two years later, in 1986, he made his first sale just two weeks after his career in the oil business came to an abrupt end. Dave took the plunge into full-time writing and more than fifty books later he’s still at it – which means he has now been an author as long as he was a geologist. Dave lived for many years in Calgary and every year would have the local SF writing community over to his place for a barbeque. Dave and his wife, Janet, were great hosts and Dave encouraged literally dozens of young writers – including me. Last year, he was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

West of January Review

Every time I speak to Dave – too rarely these days – he always tells me that he is done writing. Then more books appear – including two this year.

You can check out Dave and Candas’ work (along with 8 other great books) at StoryBundle.com.

Story Bundles

3 Apr

Aurora 004Winning or even being nominated for an award is a great thrill. I’ve now been nominated for the Prix Aurora Award (Canada’s fan-voted speculative fiction prize) 11 times and I’ve won three – most recently for the anthology Blood and Water, which I edited in 2012.

But the very best thing about awards is the company you get to keep. Virtually every significant writer of SF in Canada has either been nominated for or won an Aurora Award. I’m lucky enough to be able to count many of them as friends as well as colleagues.

Which was why I was happy to have Blood and Water included in a bundle of Aurora winning and nominated books now on sale at StoryBundle.com. It’s a great list of writers and books covering the gamut from fantasy to science fiction and includes novels, short stories and my anthology of Canadian writers.

The whole thing was put together by Douglas Smith who has been nominated for the prized trophy even more than I have. Doug and I do way back – to before we even met. We both sold our first story to Tesseracts 6, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink. We didn’t meet until I moved to Ontario and started to attend Ad Astra, the Toronto SF convention. Since then we’ve maintained a mostly digital (though occasionally face-to-face) relationship. And I still recall the great dinner I had with Doug and his family when we were both nominated for Canada’s juried SF Award, the Sunburst Award. Neither of us won – but just like the story bundle, we were in great company. Doug’s book was a collection of short stories, Chimerascope, which was also nominated for the Aurora Award that year and is a key part of the bundle. Doug is a fabulous short story writer and his stories have been translated and published in over 25 countries.

Chimerascope Review

Robert J. Sawyer and I go back even farther; he likes to call me his writing student (which is true) but I was the one who hired him for his first teaching gig, out in Calgary. We’ve been great friends ever since (he was a guest at my wedding in 2003) and he’s one of my favorite writers. I have all of his books – most of them autographed – and I even appear as a minor character in his latest. Quantum Night. So, I’m obviously happy to be keeping him company in the Story Bundle. Starplex is a great hard SF story but it’s also a mystery which puts it right up my alley. It not only won the Aurora Award but was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula as well. Rob has been called the Dean of Canadian SF and rightly so; he has won 14 Auroras and been nominated another 30 times. I was fortunate enough to award him his lifetime achievement Aurora a few years ago – a nice trophy to go alongside his Hugo, Nebula and John Campbell Awards.

Starplex Review

In the coming days, I’ll highlight a couple of other old friends, as well as some newer ones – and two writers I only know through their work. In the meantime, why don’t you head over to StoryBundle.com and pick up your summer reading?

 

Short Stuff

14 Feb

When I was young and first reading science fiction and fantasy, short novels were the norm rather than the exception. Many of the books I read – indeed many of the famous books in the field – were relatively short, forty or fifty thousand words or under two hundred pages. In fact all the major science fiction awards still define a novel as work of fiction over 40 thousand words.

The reasons were varied but the low cost of mass market paperbacks versus other formats was a factor. As well, the readers of such books were more interested in plots and ideas and less in characters or literary style. This is not a knock against these books – a lot of them hold up today and are still read by a lot of people, which is more than you can say for some of their more literary contemporaries.

Sometimes, even shorter books would make it into print. Ace – which is still a major SF imprint – used to publish novellas as Ace Doubles. Read one story and then flip it over and red the other. Two ripping yarns and two exciting covers for the price of one. The format proved so popular that, when I was a teenager, I joined a book club that offered literary formats in the same style, though they were cheap hardcovers. I may have been the only 15 year old boy of my acquaintance who had read all of the Bronte sisters and most of Jane Austen. I sometimes think the format was the trick to suck me in – though it was the content that kept me reading.

Short novels were nothing new and not only in the genre fields. Two of the classics of the early twentieth Century – The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby – were not much longer than those novels by Heinlein or Norton. I’ve sometimes wondered if technology had something to do with it.

Hemingway described his writing process thusly. The first draft was written by hand (standing up) and the second draft corrections were made right on the page. Only then was a draft produced on a manual typewriter. Every subsequent draft had to be re-typed, usually by Hemingway himself. Revisions were made by hand, or sometimes, as he typed. By the time it was approved by the publisher he had typed the book five or six times. No wonder he kept his prose economical!

First novels were often (though not always) short in those days. Second and subsequent novels got longer, maybe because the authors could afford to hire typists. In those days, too, there was a significant cost differential for printing a small book as opposed to a larger one – while prices didn’t necessarily rise as dramatically.

Of course, there have always been long novels – War and Peace comes to mind – but what was termed popular fiction (Hemingway and many of his compatriots would not have been offended to have their work so labelled; they wanted to be widely read) tended to be shorter rather than longer.

In the genre field, short novels lasted well into the sixties and seventies. This may not be surprising, science fiction also retained a large market for short stories in mass market format – even as that most quintessential form of America writing was finding fewer and fewer outlets. Short story markets for non-genre short fiction still exist but generally don’t have as wide a readership as they once did and nothing to compare to that of genre.

But then came word processing. Suddenly the limitations on producing long novels were no longer a technical one but one of markets. And those markets were changing. More and more readers demanded more from their books than plots and ideas. Character and setting – world building – became a bigger part of the literature and books, especially in the fantasy world (which always did run longer than pure SF), began to lengthen. As printing costs fell, profitable books could be almost any length and the typical SF novel climbed from 60 or 70 thousand words to almost 100K. Novels of 150 thousand words or even a quarter of a million in fantasy became common place.

Some people complained that the new technology that allowed longer novels to be written with less physical effort had ruined the genre. It seems that someone or something is always destroying science fiction. But the market had spoken – as it always does in commercial fiction – and like it or not, longer novels became the way of the world. They were more popular and more profitable. Maybe that – rather than some quaint conspiracy theory – is the explanation of why some books are more popular than others.

So you might think that as a small publisher, I would be inundated with massive tomes and that I would eagerly publish them. Well, I do get a few but the longest I’ve published has been under 110K and most have been in the 75K range.

As usual, the reasons are various. First of all, I like short novels. The growing length of fantasy novels is one of the reasons – though not the main one – I mostly quit reading fantasy ten years ago. As well, the length I mentioned is an economic sweet point, the place where costs are not too high while the price I can charge maximizes revenue. A short book costs a bit less but the price is generally lower; you can charge a bit more for a big book (though not a lot) but the costs are also higher. Price is not a tremendously important factor in the sales of print books but it is a small one. It may be a factor in digital books – but probably not a determining one. Studies have been, well, inconclusive, no matter what proponents on both sides claim.

Still, short is one thing but SHORT is quite another. During my latest round of submissions, I received far more submissions under 60K words than I did over 100K which mark the limits of my preferred range. In fact, a lot of the books, quite well written ones at that, were under 45K words, some as little as 33 thousand. Many of the rest barely topped sixty thousand in length.

This too may have a technological cause or even a sociological one. Digital publishing – nearly all of the submitters of short books have tried their hand at self-published e-books – doesn’t care about length. While there is a cost in terms of editing and cover design, the cost of printing is irrelevant and distribution is relatively cheap (though as always marketing is the issue). People may well be as willing to buy a short novel (or novella) as long one in part because, for one thing, they aren’t confronted with the physical thinness of the volume.

And, then there is NaNoWriMo that encourages people to write 60K ‘novels’ in a month. Not everyone succeeds but many of those ‘failures’ still have a relatively complete 40 thousand word manuscript that they then polish and improve without significantly lengthening them. Having once won the 3-day novel writing competition, I would argue it is a lot easier to write a novella than a full-fledged novel. Expectations are lower so it is easier to meet them.

While the general rule is that most books benefit from having 10% cut from them – there is even a writing guide that focuses mostly on that process – these days short  books almost always feel incomplete to me. Characters are not fully developed; plots have gaps, worlds and even ideas are sketched rather than painted. The final versions of these slim volumes are almost always ten or even fifteen percent longer – and are better books for it.

But adding 15% to a 35K manuscript still barely qualifies it as a novel even in genre terms. Add any more and it will either becomes bloated or turns into something the writer never intended to do. So, sadly, even though some were very good, I have almost always had to reject them.

Hmm, maybe I can look into the economics of publishing Bundoran Back-to-Back Books. It would at least save me the trouble of having to come up with back cover copy. Would you buy two short novels printed back to back?

In the News

Our next book is Transient City by Al Onia which will feature our first attempt at back cover art. We hope you will find it appealing. Watch on Goodreads for a giveaway in a few days or go to NetGalley to get an uncorrected proof review copy in PDF format.

A new report from Amazon suggests that while a lot of people are making a little money from self-publishing, only 40 have really hit the big-time in the last five years.

Meanwhile incomes from full time writing continues to fall – not exactly news but still disturbing. At the same time rich authors are getting richer. The 1% doesn’t just exist on Wall Street.

 

The Birth of a Novel

10 Jan

I buy almost all of Bundoran Press’ novels through an open submission process, though obviously if you’ve published with me before you get to go to the front of the line. But even that is no guarantee of publication.

So how does a novel get from being three chapters in a metaphorical meter-high pile of other submissions (I only accept digital submissions but a sea of electrons isn’t as visually arresting) to being an actual book?

I thought you’d never ask.

Almost every submission I receive is competently written; even the stories and characters are okay. It’s not that they aren’t adequate; they just aren’t special. The truth is, good writing alone will not get you through the slush pile. You need to present something interesting, something ‘fresh.’ Hardly helpful, I know, but it really does come down to that. You have to catch the editor’s attention. The good news, I suppose, is that different editors are interested in different things – but none of us want the same old thing.

The secret is not to write the best copy ever of the last best seller. Trying to be another writer – unless you are being paid to ghost-write a celebrity bio – is not the road to success. Your novel has to reflect you. It may fall into a category of books – LA dystopian thrillers, for example – but it should try to re-define what that category means.

I call it the ‘look-away’ factor. Let me explain.

I’ve read a lot of books in my life. In the last few years I’ve read a lot of manuscripts that want to be books. I apply the same standard to both. If I find myself frequently putting a book down to wander off and check my e-mail, get a snack, wash my hair – there is a pretty good chance that book will go into the ‘did not finish’ pile. If I put it down mid-paragraph, that chance becomes a certainty. It happens more often than you might think.

Manuscripts face a tougher go. They have seldom been edited and are certainly not in as good a shape as the writer thinks it is. So, the chance of me ‘looking away’ from the screen is somewhat higher. Looking away – or walking away – in mid-paragraph is a still pretty bad sign. On the other hand, if I immediately look back and keep reading, there is a good chance I’ll want to see more.

Sometimes what brings me back is pacing. The craft of drawing the reader along in that ‘what will happen next’ kind of suspense goes a long way. I like stories; I like ripping yarns. But it can also be the depth of a character – a character I didn’t see on an episode of ‘Supernatural’ last night – that pulls me in. Or, the sheer beauty of the writing or the cleverness of the central premise.  If at the end of the 3 chapters, I want to know what happens, I then read the synopsis. But only then.

Because before I am an editor, I am a reader.

So, you’ve made the first cut – about 10-15% do. What next? Assuming the synopsis doesn’t go in a completely weird direction, failing to follow the first rule of the novel – which Nancy Kress describes as fulling the promise you made to the reader in the first few chapters – I’ll ask to see the whole manuscript.

Hold it, you say, what’s this about a promise? A novel is not a series of random events. A novel begins by presenting something to the reader – it may be “I am a mystery. Watch me solve it.” Or “This young girl has been placed in terrible peril. Watch her escape.” Or “The universe is falling apart. Watch me fix it (or pick up the pieces).” Or even “Here is a dysfunctional family. Watch them wallow in it.” You can’t then veer off and present something completely different. You can take a meandering path; you can even play tricks on the reader but at the end, you have to deliver the goods.

Of course, the first three chapters are always the most polished. The synopsis may promise more than the writer is capable of delivering. The writer may not even know what their book is about. I heard a novelist on the radio the other day who admitted she didn’t really understand her novel until a year after it was published. Fortunately her editor did.

Once I have a full manuscript in front of me, I try to read it quickly but carefully. I have several questions in mind. What is this book about? Am I interested in the lives of the characters? Do I care what happens to them? Is the plot consistent? Is the background realistic (for SF, that also means is the science ‘correct’ – that is, not patently wrong)?

While the front of my mind remains in reader mode, in the back of my mind, other questions are percolating – editor questions. Is the character arc(s) clear? Is the initial promise fulfilled and, if not, why not? Does everything that’s here belong in the book or are their pieces that are missing? Is the writing good enough to do the job? Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Has the writer shown me – in the best parts of the text – that they have the chops to do more?

Most important: Do I want to help this writer make this the best novel they can write? And, can I do it? I once had a pretty good book that I rejected because I knew it wasn’t quite right but I had no idea how to fix it.

Once I do ask for a full manuscript, the chances are about 25 to 50% that I will offer a contract for the book. Not all offers are accepted. The second book I tried to buy was turned down because the offer didn’t satisfy them. I don’t know if the book was ever published or not, but obviously it wasn’t published by me.

Then the fun begins.

Some books are in pretty good shape when I start working on them; others are fairly rough, if intriguing, drafts. Regardless, I now do a second read – more careful this time, taking notes as I go. I may take a week or two to get this read done. By the end I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I will say to the writer. I then I read it a third time to nail down my initial thoughts. Sometimes I read parts of it a fourth time before I send my notes to the writer.

The editorial process varies a lot. In one case I got the writer to cut 1/3 of the first half of the book, providing specific examples and even some red ink to guide them along. In another case, I suggested that the writer should re-write the entire novel making the secondary character into the main one (not as hard as you might think though that is just my opinion). In others, the problem was mainly thematic – the writer wasn’t focused on what their book was really about. I didn’t impose a theme on them but merely pointed out in their own text where the theme emerged. In some cases, all that was required was the deletion of a chapter or two and the addition of some bridging material so the characters’ actions made sense.

None of the books I published looked exactly like they did when they arrived on my desk but, unless I’m being lied to, all the writers were happy with the work I helped them do. Because in the end, it remains the author’s book; their story. My job is merely to help them remove the rough edges and polish the brilliant parts. To help them tell their story in the best possible way.

That’s what editors do. It’s just a lot easier to do when you’re not being paid by the author – when the advice feels a bit like criticizing your boss.

Finally, we’re done. Well, almost. There is still the proofreading to be done – first by me, then by the author, then by me again. We get one more shot at it when the page proofs arrive – when we desperately hope we don’t find too many more typos.

And, of course, there is the cover. I generally ask the author if they have a scene that particularly captures the essence of the book. I always have a few ideas too. These get passed on to our artist Dan J. O’Driscoll – who has already read the book – for him to turn our thoughts (and especially his) into striking images. My authors don’t have final approval for art but I always consult them.

There are plenty of other details to handle – the ISBN number, the Catalogue in Publication (CIP) information for the front of the book, acknowledgements, dedications, bios, blurbs, back cover copy and so on. Then off to the printer.

Once the books are printed, 2 to 4 months ahead of the release date, there is the PR to handle – getting reviews, blog interviews, book giveaways, launch parties, all part of the package here at Bundoran Press.

And 10-18 months after I first read it in the slush, those 3 chapters have become a book. And I get to deliver it into the hands of a smiling author. And they always smile.

 

 

Change, What Change?

29 Dec

It’s been a few months since I last posted here; I’ve been busy is one excuse. Another might be that, despite all the hoopla, the publishing industry doesn’t change that much. The same thing cannot be said for technology or various fads generated by technology.

Until a few years ago, it seemed likely that digital or e-books would soon overwhelm their print counterparts. Sales of electronic devices were on the rise and digital books right along with them. Bookstores were failing as print book sales fell and on-line retailers grabbed a bigger share of the market.

So you have to wonder why Amazon just opened a bricks-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle to sell print books – and not just from their own imprint. Using the massive amounts of data that consumers provided them for free, Amazon is marketing books based on their on-line reviews and star ratings. Nothing under 4 stars makes the shelves and every book is presented with highlights from reviewers’ comments. Some of the books even won awards, the retailer notes. And every book is displayed with its cover out, which has been shown to improve sales.

Meanwhile, e-book sales – especially for the big 5 publishers – have been falling. In part, this may be because of higher prices, though some studies have shown that price is the least important factor in the purchase of books (no matter what economists might want to believe). That has certainly been my experience; having experimented with different price points, I’ve found that most people are little influenced by dropping the price.

The prices of self-published e-books have also been rising though not as dramatically. The old adage rings true: you get what you pay for and many buyers have come to believe that $1.99 for a novel is in fact no bargain – if the book you get is largely unreadable. Though simple price escalation is no guarantee that the quality of the product will rise.

It is also possible that people have gotten a bit tired of the e-book experience – not everyone obviously (for those who are about to yell: But I love my e-book reader!) but enough that it has had an impact on sales. A few years ago, I did half my reading on my Kobo (never did like the Kindle, though my wife owns one) but now it’s about 10%. I spend plenty of time reading from screens for work – I really don’t want to do it for pleasure. Give me the full-meal deal of a physical book for my reading experience these days. This article on the joys of the print book explains the feeling as well as I can.

Meanwhile, the incomes of all writers – based on the most reliable data available – continue to fall to the point that some writers feel that traditional publishing is unsustainable while others desperately seek alternatives in self-publishing and reformed contracts.

Bundoran Press

We had a pretty successful year publishing at Bundoran Press (no I’m still not getting rich – but money isn’t everything) and have a number of exciting projects on the go for next year. In 2015, we published three novels: Children of Arkadia by M. Darusha Wehm; Contagion:Eyre by Alison Sinclair (second in the Plague Confederacy series) and Falcon’s Egg by Edward Willett (sequel to Right to Know). We also put together an anthology called Second Contacts, co-edited by Michael Rimar and Hayden Trenholm. It had stories about, well, second contact (50 years later) from around the world and we were pretty pleased with it. Sadly, Barry King, whose story opened the anthology, passed away just a few weeks after its release.  He is and will be greatly missed.

Our anthology, Strange Bedfellows, was nominated for an Aurora Award but finished second (by a couple of votes) to On Spec, a deserving winner. We were consoled when Dan O’Driscoll won the Best Artist Award, in part for the covers he did for our books.

TC-cover-titlesDan has recently completed his cover for Transient City, a new stand-alone novel by Al Onia, which will be our first book next year. We think it’s pretty nifty; we hope you do, too.

We just finished an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for a new anthology, called Lazarus Risen, which Mike and Hayden will also co-edit. After failing in our campaign for Second contacts, we made this a flexible funding campaign, meaning we would get all the money raised even if we didn’t reach our goal. Our instincts proved correct since we only reached about 77% — meaning we’ll be able to pay writers 4 cents a word instead of 5. Stories are already beginning to flow in. You can see the guidelines here.

Crowd sourcing has been a great way to raise extra funds for special projects but it seems – based on my experience and what others have told me – it is getting harder and harder to pull off. It may be one of those technological fads I mentioned above. Maybe the new Canadian government’s announcement of more funding for the arts will help take up the slack.

Today, I made an offer on another novel which was accepted. The contracts haven’t been signed but I’ll be making an announcement soon. I’m pretty excited to publish this debut novel, which will be released this fall. I fully expect to sign at least one more novel (and maybe more) from the latest round of submissions – but I have to finish reading them first. We’re still accepting submissions for another month if you happen to be putting the finishing touches on a novel. Though I do hope it’s one you spent some real time writing as this little screed against writing a novel in a month explains.

Links of Interest

The Return of Print

E-books suffer

The new Utopians

Collaboration

22 Feb

Collaboration is a tricky thing for writers and for editors yet it happens all the time.

I had plenty of experience as a playwright; in theatre, the collaborative process, especially for new plays, is quite important.

Frequently, a new play will be work-shopped with the involvement of actors, directors, even designers, all of whom had opinions — often strong ones — about the structure and text. It could be daunting for the playwright and it sometimes felt like everyone was ganging up on you. A good dramaturge — who may have opinions of their own —will usually act as a referee and a defender of the play’s interests (if not the playwright — it’s all about the work). After the workshop, the playwright will often write a new draft. Changes may be dramatic and may incorporate not only ideas but actual lines improvised by the writer. In some theatre companies, there is no single author and the final product is a collective creation.

Still, most plays, like most other creative endeavours, are primarily the work of a single author.

In poetry or prose fiction, the equivalent is the critique group where writers will comment on their colleagues’ work. The writer may come away with new perspectives and ideas but seldom with actual blocks of text. The basic rule is that it is your work and you are free to accept or reject any changes. The final decisions are all yours.

Similar rules are supposed to apply when the writer begins to work with the editor. Editors generally respect the integrity of the work and make suggestions to help it achieve the writer’s intent. Still, when an editor makes a suggestion, the writer needs to take it seriously and recognize that sometimes the editor knows better what works in a story than the author does. Contractually, the editor is not supposed to change anything without the permission of the writer. On the flip side, the editor generally has a final say when the work is ready for publication — if ever — and, so, when the writer will be paid.

While it is not uncommon for other people to have input into your work, actual formal collaboration where two or more parties share the creative process and generally have reciprocal vetoes over the others’ work is much more rare. Still, it can be done and, when it works, will often result in a stronger story than any of them could have done alone.

I’ve collaborated on two pieces with my wife over the last couple of years — one of which was published. The other was designed as a performance piece and we’ve presented it a couple of times in the last six months.

But since this is the publishing blog and not the writing one, I’ll leave that discussion for another day.

For the last year I’ve been working with my business partner, Mike Rimar, (whom I’ll encourage to blog about this separately) on an anthology called Second Contacts. It is Mike’s first crack at editing but other than a few suggestions from me to get us started, we’ve played a completely equal role in the process.

I drafted the guidelines but Mike made a number of substantive changes in them before we finally posted them. Before we even started receiving stories, we agree on a process for reviewing them as well as a system for the initial evaluation.

One of the rules we agreed on was that we each got to choice two stories, even if the other editor didn’t like them. This ensured that each of our individual visions would be reflected in the anthology. For the other stories, we had to come to a consensus, recognizing that some choices would be obvious and others would require some discussion. We also agreed that we would take, at most, two reprints — which in the end was how many we took.

As stories came in, we divided them up equally. We had agreed on some guidelines to evaluate the stories that took into account the writing, the strength of the story, the science components and the adherence to the guidelines. Every story was read by one editor and if it scored more than 65% on the guidelines (stories scoring less were rejected without a second read) was usually passed on to the other editor. The one exception to that was when stories clearly weren’t “second contact” stories — that is, they didn’t fit the stated guidelines. Then it didn’t matter how well written they were — they weren’t suitable for the anthology.

Once stories were passé don to the second editor, he had the choice to keep it for further review or, if they really didn’t like it, to reject it at that point. Since all the stories needed two yeses to get in, there was little point in keeping it if one editor didn’t want it. While it is possible we could have exercise ‘editor’s choice’ at this point, it didn’t happen at that phase.

It was clear from the start we were going to keep more stories for the final round than we would be able to actually buy. That’s not a bad situation to be in.

Once we got to the second round, we decided that the simplest way to proceed was to rank the stories in our order of preference. We then averaged the scores to come up with a consensus rank. There were stories that I ranked high and Mike ranked lower (and vice versa) and we both indicated our willingness to invoke our selection privilege — but in the end all of those stories were rated high enough on average to make the final cut.

The real argument — such as there was one — came with the last few choices. We had about 3-5 slots left based on our word count limits and about 8 stories that were roughly the same in rank. Some Mike liked more than me and some I liked — but we were agreed that all of them were worthy.

Discussions now ranged around whether these stories were too similar to one we had already chosen. We also wanted to have some variation in style and length. Stories that had a distinctive voice or a somewhat experimental style had a real advantage. In the end, we went back a forth a few times before coming up with our final choices.

The things we didn’t discuss we didn’t discuss was country of origin or seeking diversity. Both Mike and I were committed to finding the best story. While I can’t speak for Mike, I didn’t even really look at who the author was until the choices had been made.

In the end, we picked 18 stories by 19 authors (our collaboration picked one collaborative story). There were 11 Canadian writers, 4 Americans and one each from Mexico, United Kingdom, Israel and The Netherlands. There were 11 men and 8 women.

We are now in the final stage of work — the actual editing of the stories. Again we agreed on a process that allows us each have some input into the process while preserving a certain degree of individuality in the end product. In effect, we divided up the stories and each provided the other with general comments that they should consider in making their final editorial suggestions.

We will need to have some further discussions on copyedits — though it is clear that with the majority of stories coming from Canada and England, Canadian spelling with prevail.

Then, it’s a matter of writing the opening and closing essays — and we’ve already decided who will do which — and determining who does the work of putting the whole package together.

It has been an interesting process and I think we’ve both learned a bit about working together and about how to improve our own editorial processes.

The Amazing, Exciting and Sometimes Sad History of the Book

18 Oct

It has been a while since I’ve posted here at the Bundoran Press blog. It’s not that I have nothing to say — apparently I have lots to say and have been saying, 450 words at a time, over every day at 10 Minutes of Words. If what I have to say on subjects other than publishing interest you, you might want to check it out. Or you can read my occasional but somewhat longer political musings and occasional thoughts on writing my own work on Hayden’s Hubris.

The publishing world continues to be in upheaval, though these days the rate of change seem more like continental drift than actual earthquakes. The Amazon — Hachette fight continues to play out in the negotiating rooms and the press. I suspect it may eventually move to a higher level — the courts or at least the US Department of Justice. Writers continue to take sides though the wisest among them have come to realize that the only side they should be on is their own.

The book business is certainly in a transition and has long been subject to one shock or another. Most people these days think it has something to do with e-books and self-publishing. I was at a talk by long-time senior editor for TOR books, David Hartwell, who suggested it was the purchasing decision — to go from multiple distribution companies to a single source — made by a supermarket more than ten years that started the major upheaval. That one decision had a domino effect: a number of small distribution companies went out of business leading to other markets following suit, leading to more bankruptcies. Eventually there were only a few distributors left. They were bigger, but combined couldn’t move as many titles. And so publishing companies cut back. Fewer books meant fewer authors and fewer opportunities.

What else could you expect? They turned to self-publishing. E-books had been around for a while but suddenly there was supply side excess; Amazon happened to be perfectly placed to fill the void and the rest is history.

It’s not the standard narrative but it has a certain elegance in terms of how markets actually work.

In any case, this is nothing new it seems. There is a great essay in this week’s edition of The Economist that looks at the past and future of the book starting with Cicero and projecting into the next decade or so. The conclusions are interesting though not surprising to me: e-books will take more of the market share but not nearly all of it. Physical books will continue to make up at least 50% of all books (and likely more) though some genres (such as romance and maybe science fiction) will become largely digital. Total sales in dollars will fall with prices but profits of big publishers will grow. That trend has already been shown to be true.

Sadly, more books will be published but authors, on average, will make less money. The recent advice of Nobel jurist, Horace Engdahl, that writers should go back to waiting on tables and driving cabs to make their literature more real, may prove prophetic if not helpful. Russell Smith disagreed with the entire premise but his suggestion is more funding for the arts. Good luck with that.

Amazon will continue to dominate — similar to Mr. Mundie’s circulating library of the 19th century. He would buy up almost half of the print run of most publishers and any author who Mr. Mundie didn’t like was soon seeking other work.

Meanwhile artists everywhere are feeling the pinch. As a column by Elizabeth Renzetti in the Globe and Mail asked: if Iggy Pop can’t make a living from his music, who can make a living in the arts? The recent winner of the Booker Award, Richard Flanagan was ready to give up writing to become a miner. The $90,000 prize will keep him writing. For now at least.

But options continue to present themselves. There is, for example, Kindle Scout, a new Amazon venture that seems to be modelled a little on Wattpad. Thos guys at Amazon are endless innovators — or at least they know where to borrow ideas from. With Kindle Scout, a writer can post part of his novel on-line for readers to access for free. The readers (not, I’m sure, because the frantic pleading of their writer friends) vote for the excerpts they like best and each month, the lucky winners are asked by Kindle to submit the whole thing. If it passes the vetting process, they get a $1500 advance and a five year contract for e-book and audio rights. No mention of print and no certainty sales will ever lead to more cash. In essence they seem to be outsourcing their slush pile. I wish I could get away with that.

Over here at Bundoran, our slush mostly consists these days of submissions to Second Contacts, an anthology who guidelines can be found here. We’re officially closed to novel submissions and will be for a while yet. Despite that there are a few books being examined — books by our existing authors or people I’ve met at SF conventions. We all (Hayden, Mike and Liz) recently spent several great days at Can-Con here in Ottawa. I may blog about that on my personal space later this week.

As for next years’ books, Children of Arkadia by M. Darusha Wehm is now at layout and should be available for review in a few weeks. Alison Sinclair’s Contagion: Eyre is in the final stages of editing and should also be designed by mid-December. Both will be launched at Ad Astra in Toronto in April 2015. Edward Willett’s Falcon’s Egg, a sequel to Right to Know, has been received and will be launched at When Words Collide in Calgary in August. Stay tuned for further announcements.

Money, money, money — share the wealth. As you may know our Indiegogo campaign to pay professional rates for Second Contacts failed but you can still support Bundoran Press to pay writers and artists by participating in our Patreon campaign. The idea is that you make a small monthly donation — $2, $5, $10 — which we use to keep the business going and growing. In exchange we provide you a variety of perks including e-books, souvenirs, editing advice and acknowledgements. If you’ve shown an interest in Bundoran before, don’t be surprised if you get a personal e-mail, asking you to do so again.

Publishing News

Speaking of Patreon campaigns, if you don’t want to fund ours why not support On Spec, whose Canada Council funding was cut for 2015.

Chadwick Ginther has a list of other worthwhile projects on his blog.

Good news for fans of Madelaine Ashby and Ramez Naam. Angry Robot Books has found a new home and the third books in their trilogy should appear — hopefully sooner rather than later.