Tag Archives: Bundoran Press

Personal Journeys in the Book Business

28 Aug

It’s been a while but I’ve been busy — publishing three novels and putting together a new anthology. Lazarus Risen is due back from the printers next week and, in the lull, I thought I’d bring you up to date.

Distribution

I recently ended my relationship with my distribution company. That may seem like a crazy thing to do but actually the decision was pretty easy. It all came down to money.

Selling books is hard; selling anything is hard but books are harder because it is the only product that stores can return for a full refund. This practice started in the 1930s when publishers were looking for a way to kick start book sales in the depression. The mass market paperback was relatively new and was designed to be printed cheap and distributed widely. To encourage book sellers – a notoriously conservative lot – to take the risk on unknown writers, the books could be returned for a credit against future sales.

This worked pretty well for publishers, who in those days mostly distributed their own books. They didn’t actually have to give money back – they simply took a loss in the future, which as any economist will tell you, is a discounted loss.

It doesn’t quite work that way anymore. As the world became more complex, sales processes became more specialized. Publishers outsourced their warehouses to distribution companies. Gradually those distribution companies developed their own salesforces (on top of the marketing departments of big publishers) and took over marketing for medium and small publishers.

And of course they took their cut of the sales – which would be okay if they also didn’t charge fees for every transaction they undertake. There is a fee when they send the book to the store and another larger fee for when it comes back. And if the books stop moving, they charge you a fee for storing them and a different fee to dispose of them or return them to the publisher.

Generally you are told you should budget 30% for returns, though the distributor assures you they will do everything possible to keep it below that. But what if they sell your books to the wrong stores – such as stores that don’t sell a lot of science fiction, or stores who won’t keep new or relatively unknown books on their shelves for more than a few weeks? Returns can quickly rise above 30% and, with all the associated fees, it is possible to actually lose money through distribution.

Which is what happened.

I could see that it was coming and I have thought of an alternative – two, in fact. One would be to find a new distributor. There are several out there but getting them to take you on is not as simple as asking. You need to have a certain size back catalog, you need to publish a minimum number of titles each year, you need a certain size print run.

Requirements vary, of course, but obviously, the bigger the distributor (access to more stores, larger sales force, and so on), the stiffer the entry requirements. And returns are still a problem. Still, I’m looking into the possibilities.

Not all distribution companies are created equally and some are as hard to work with for store-owners as they are for publishers. Complex accounting processes and inefficient shipping practices can lead stores to refuse to work with certain distribution companies.

I’ve talked to a few book sellers about the problem and they either suggested a smaller, but reliable, mostly Canadian firm (there are several) or to do self-distribution. If authors can self-publish, why can’t publishers self-distribute?

So, for at least the interim, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve created a catalog that includes all the backlist (and announces the titles of upcoming publications) and I’ve started sending it out.

My first experience was a good one. A few weeks ago at When Words Collide (which was a great success – we won an Aurora Award and had a successful triple book launch), I approached a couple of regular book sellers with the catalog. One took the catalog and the other took some books. So while supplies last, Calgary readers can buy Bundoran Books from the Sentry Box. I’m hoping to add a lot of names to that list in the coming weeks.

The secret – deep discounts for the book sellers (more than the traditional 40%) and no returns for the publisher. Even with shipping costs I expect to make more money than I did with my big American distributor. And I certainly won’t lose money. Obviously this approach is unlikely to work with the big chain bookstores and it definitely won’t work on Amazon – but it might actually result in more books sold which will be good for both me and for the authors I publish.

E-books

Like most traditional publishers, I publish e-books of all the books I also publish by print. I’ve even published one stand-alone novella. Some have sold okay – mostly when both I and the author independently promote them – but none have been spectacular. The only exception is my anthology, Blood and Water, which sold a lot of copies by being included in a book bundle with nine other Aurora-winning or nominated books.

I’ve done all the usual things to promote e-book (and print sales): Twitter, Facebook, (including ads), Goodreads, blogs, manipulating the Amazon algorithm, but the results have been so-so..

But then there was Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols, which in the last two weeks has sold more units than all the other titles (except for the aforementioned Blood and Water) sold in the last six months. How did this happen? Neither of us have a clue. It’s not like it has become a best seller in its category (Space Opera) – although apparently that doesn’t mean what you might think anyway – but it has ticked along very nicely. Neither Brent nor I are likely to get rich – but you never know. Maybe a year from now, we’ll be referring to Brent as the new Hugh Howey. And I’ll have sold my company to Random House.

Speaking of e-books, the debate continues to rage over which is doing better – e-books or print books. Some would have you believe that e-books are in decline and print books are on the rise and sales figures would suggest they are right. Total e-book sales have fallen since 2013, while print books have shown a modest but steady increase.

Others would point out that e-book weakness is largely because there wasn’t a breakout YA novel in 2014 or 2015 – which shows how a single author like J.K.Rowling can move the market more than 10,000 other lesser selling authors. And at the same time, the rise in print sales is almost entirely due to the recent fade of adult colouring books.

That’s right. Colouring books. Maybe I need to produce a book of colour-it-yourself space ships and alien landscapes.

My own view is that – publishing is a tough business and few people are going to make a decent living at it. Most people who make a living as a writer start out being supported by family, friends, spouses, and lousy part-time jobs. Or if they live in a country that values the arts – by public arts granting agencies. For Canadians, things recently got a little better – but it’s still a rough go. Here are the median individual incomes in Canada. If you are doing better than that as a writer – count yourself lucky.

Still, we persevere – both as writers and as publishers. After all what else can we do?

Yeah, I know, get a haircut and get a real job

 

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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 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.

Your Regularly Scheduled Program

7 Sep

It’s been over five weeks since I’ve posted anything new here at Bundoran Press’ blog — so I guess it’s time to return to a more regular schedule. I’m not sure if I can maintain a weekly post here while still doing my daily posts at 10 Minutes of Words and striving to blog monthly over on Hayden’s Hubris but we’ll start today and see where that takes us.

August was a busy month personally but I did manage to complete some publishing work while roaming across Canada and parts of Europe.

I’ve been working on the final edits to M. Darusha Wehm’s novel, Children of Arkadia. They should have been done today but I still have a few more chapters to go. The book is slated for release in the spring — probably launched at Ad Astra in early April — but I hope to have it pretty well ready to go by late October so I can spend a good five months pre-marketing it. There’s not a ton of cash in the advertising budget but sometimes effort over time can be just as effective. No spoilers yet but it’s in the vein of a dystopic utopia with space stations, artificial intelligences and love.

I’ve also completed the first editorial suggestions for our other spring release, the second volume of Alison Sinclair’s Plague Confederacy series. Contagion: Eyre looks to be even more exciting than the first book. It’s already in pretty good shape and, if I put my nose to the grindstone, I’m sure I can have it ready to go by the end of November, giving me four months to push for reviews and pre-release publicity. Everything in the publishing business is about building buzz.

I also managed to sit down with Edward Willett while we were both at When Words Collide (WWC) in Calgary and had a good conversation about where we need to go with the first draft of his new space opera, Falcon’s Egg — a follow-up to Right to Know, which SFRevu called ‘wildly entertaining.’ We have a longer lead time for this book, as it is slated for release in August of 2015. I’m hoping to get it near completion by the end of March.

Also at WWC, the launch of Al Onia’s Javenny was a great success. We sold so many books that I had to get Al to give back his author’s copies when we ran out. (Don’t worry; I mailed him some more on my return to Ottawa).

I had a presence as both author and publisher at LonCon III, where I sat on several panels and met many old and new friends in the field. On Sunday, we had a small book reception where we were able to introduce a couple of dozen people to our product line. We certainly had fun if nothing else comes of it.

In eight more days (September 15), submissions open for our new anthology, Second Contacts, which I will be editing with Michael Rimar. You can see the listing on Ralan.com and Duotrope and read the full guidelines on our web-site. We will be receiving stories until January 15th with a view to releasing the book in October of next year. In the meantime, I’m reading a few solicited submissions for novels for release in 2016. More to follow.

Publishing continues to be challenging for everyone. I had a number of conversations with publishers, editors and writers that brought that home this summer. Being visible, delivering the product to readers, finding the optimal price point to maximize incomes for creators and meet the needs of the bottom line are challenges that all publishers — large, small and self-publishers alike — face. Not everyone succeeds in overcoming them and I’ve heard rumours of some further consolidations in the field. However, I’ve also heard some interesting ideas for innovative solutions to our problems, too, so I remain optimistic. More on that later.

Still, it was no fun to come home to the news that Quebec-based Lebonfon Printing is closing their doors at the end of October. They’ve been a major force in Canadian printing for a number of years and were our printer for most of the books published in the last two years. Marquis, also in Quebec, is acquiring some of their assets. I’ve dealt with Marquis before so I’m not worried about any loss of quality. But with one fewer company in an already narrow field, I suspect prices may rise — not something that makes me happy.

On that note, I’d like to direct your attention to our new fund raising campaign on Patreon. For as little as a dollar a month (or, better yet, the cost of a latte a month), you can help make sure that Bundoran will continue to publish quality science fiction into the future. We’re passing out a few nifty benefits, too. So please take a look and consider contributing. And don’t worry: you’ll hear more about this in the coming months.

Publishing News and Notes

Resolve by Neil Godbout is a finalist for Best YA Novel in the Canadian SF Aurora Awards. Bundoran partner, Mike Rimar, was nominated in the short story category. Voting has now ended and the winners will be announced at VCon in Vancouver the first weekend of October.

Angry Robot books closes two of its imprints.

You think it took a long time for your novel to be published? Margaret Atwood has to wait 100 years.

 

Follow the Yellow Brick Road — The Bundoran Press Canadian tour

2 May

I’m occasionally asked: “When is Bundoran Press coming to my town so I can buy all your wonderful books?” Okay, so I was asked that once.  For that inquiring mind, here’s the inside dope.

In case you missed it, we were at Ad Astra in early April.  We had a table in the dealers’ room staffed by myself, the lovely Liz Westbrook-Trenholm and the equally lovely Matthew Johnson, Nicole Lavigne, Derek Kunsken and Nick Matthews.  I did some paneling as well and, most important we had a great launch party for Matthew Johnson‘s new e-book, The Salt and Iron Dialogues.  If you did miss me in Toronto, don’t worry, I’ll be back.

Next up is KeyCon in beautiful summer-like Winnipeg (at least I hope winter will be over by then.) KeyCon has a special place in my heart — I won my first Aurora Award there and they have some of the best Con parties anywhere.  It will be great to see many of my Winnipeg friends.  Again, dealers’ room and paneling, though I won’t be throwing a party (frankly, I couldn’t compete).  Apparently, Richard Hatch of Battlestar Gallactica (the original series) fame will be teaching an improvisation workshop Friday afternoon.  Now that could be fun.

In June, I’ll take off my publisher hat and put on my famous writer hat (stolen from an actual famous writer) to teach a writing workshop in Inuvik NWT.  Inuvik is so lovely that time of year that the sun refuses to set.

August takes me back out west — this time for When Words Collide, a great multi-genre Con in Calgary.  I’ll be selling books, of course, and appearing on various panels but I’ll also be holding a launch party for two new novels: Aurora winning novelist Edward Willett’s “Right to Know” and the third book of Neil Godbout’s Broken Guardian series, Resolve. Neil’s Dissolve is nominated in the Aurora’s this year for best YA novel.  We’ll party like it’s 2013!

A couple of weeks later, it’s back to Toronto for Fan Expo 2013 — four days of SELL, SELL. SELL and hopefully a few drinks with friends.

I’m still debating Toronto’s Word on the Street in September (It’s been a real back and forth discussion but I think I’m winning).

The first weekend of October, I’ll be Editor Guest of Honour at Can-Con in Ottawa, along side my good friend, Robert J. Sawyer, who will be Author GOH. Book selling, panels, a party for sure (and maybe a book launch).  Most importantly, the Aurora Awards will be handed out (did I mention I was nominated as editor of Blood and Water?) I’ve been asked to MC the awards and I can promise you it will be the most entertaining Awards show I’ve ever MCed!

That’s all I have planned for now — though I have a real hankering to go back to SFContario at the end of November.  Maybe if I bundle it with a visit to the grand-kids, I can persuade the lovely Liz to put it on her calendar. 

Oh, yeah, can anyone recommend a decent Con in Ohio between say November and January?  I’ll let you know why soon.