ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)
[personal profile] ecosophia
Dinosaurs and MammalsYeah, it's an overused metaphor, but it's still a good one. The publishing industry is in the middle of an immense change just now, and the similarities to the last years of the Cretaceous era are hard to miss. I had a reminder of that -- more precisely, two very neatly juxtaposed reminders -- this afternoon. 

Reminder #1 came from Tor Books, a sub-subset of the vast Macmillan publishing combine and one of the very few big-name science fiction and fantasy presses that will bother to look at a writer's work if said writer doesn't have an agent. (I don't; I've worked with agents twice, and in both cases it was a complete waste of my time.) Just over a year ago, I submitted my novel The Shoggoth Concerto to them. I never heard back. After a while, I went digging through their website and found the place where they cheerfully admit that they lose manuscripts all the time, and that you should mail the thing in again if you don't hear back after so many months. So I did up the cover letter and outline and sample chapters and self-addressed stamped envelope, and sent it in again.

That was last fall. Today, as I'd more than half expected, the self-addressed stamped envelope came back with the rejection slip headed "Dear Author." Someone took the trouble to scrawl Re: Shoggoth Concerto across the top, which I thought was a pleasant courtesy; it's certainly closer to a personal response than you can expect to get from the average huge corporate press. 

Again, I'd more than half expected that. The Shoggoth Concerto is an odd novel, a good 90 degrees off the lines of standard modern fantasy fiction; it's set in the fictive universe of The Weird of Hali but isn't part of that series' story arc; it's a story about love, death, classical music, and shoggoths, without even a nod of acknowledgment to whatever the latest fashions in the fantasy mainstream might happen to be. I'm quite prepared to believe that, as the rejection slip indicated, it didn't meet Tor's needs at that time; I'm quite prepared to believe that they didn't think it was any good  What's more, I've received scores of nearly identical rejection slips in the past -- I got my first one in 1979. If you're an author, you get those, and if you're a big corporate publisher, you send them out by the bushel basket every single day. 

Mythic 9Reminder #2, though, came from Founders House Publishing, the firm that's bringing out The Weird of Hali series. Founders House isn't a huge corporate press; it's a small firm, a little family-run business taking advantage of print-on-demand technology to carve out a niche market under the feet of the huge corporate presses. Yes, that's when I thought of the metaphor of dinosaurs and mammals. 

The message from Founders House's publisher and general jack of all trades, Shaun Kilgore, was twofold. The first was a friendly note to let me know that the latest issue of MYTHIC Magazine, his fantasy and science fiction quarterly, has just been released; that note was partly because I've been a fan and supporter of MYTHIC since Shaun first mentioned he wanted to publish an equivalent of the pulp magazines where fantasy and science fiction first stretched their wings and rocket nozzles respectively, and partly because one of my Owen and Jenny Lovecraftian-mystery stories, "The Mummy of R'lyeh," appears in it. (It looks like a really good issue, btw -- you can get e-book copies here, and print copies will be forthcoming shortly.)

The second half of the message was a note about some of the steps Shaun's making to grow MYTHIC into the kind of community of readers and authors that Weird Tales was back in the day. He's offering deals for subscribers, of course, but he's also got a Patreon page set up here, with various tiers of support -- one of which gets you personal feedback on short stories, by the way.

The contrast between the two reminders was, shall we say, striking. What's more, it reminded me of a detail of history, which is that science fiction and fantasy had their golden ages when they were mostly being published by little firms who could afford the time to deal directly with their authors as people. The first golden age of science fiction and fantasy was the era of the pulps, when the big pulp chains filled roughly the same role that the big print-on-demand presses fill now, and little editorial offices with half a dozen people in them put together the monthly issues of the magazines that reshaped the modern imagination. The second golden age of science fiction and fantasy followed the paperback revolution of the late 1950s, when scores of small presses flooded the market with cheap first editions of the books that now count as the hoary classics of both fields. In both cases, countless writers flocked to the new venues because the established firms of the day weren't interested. (Ironically, Macmillan, the parent company of Tor, was one of those established firms in both those previous eras. I guess third time isn't the charm...)

C.L. Moore and Clark Ashton Smith (among others) made a beeline for the pulps, and Roger Zelazny and Ursula Le Guin (among others) made a comparable beeline for the paperback presses, instead of trying to write for the big established publishers of their day. It's ironic that those few of the old paperback firms that survive are now wholly owned subsidiaries of big established publishers, but it's a kind of irony with which history is well supplied. Still, this last turn of events has finished the process of helping me make a decision I've been pondering for some time now. Since that first submission to Doubleday back in 1979, I'd always had the idea that eventually I'd get my fiction placed with one of the big presses. As a writer, though, it simply isn't worth my time to try that at this point. The contracts offered by the big presses are increasingly predatory, the level of support for backlist titles embarrassingly low, and based on what I'm hearing from other writers, the level of personal attention to the needs of authors you can expect from the big boys, even if they publish your work, is right around the level of personal attention you can expect for your manuscripts. ("Dear author..."). 

So I'll be placing The Shoggoth Concerto with a smaller press. You can find me scampering off underfoot with the mammals, as the dinosaurs lumber off to their place in the fossil record. 

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 03:09 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Wonderful news! Looking forward to many future installments, while imagining a cozy sleep-in with a pile (?) of snuggly shoggoths, far below the Arctic deep freeze current above-ground.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 04:33 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Sounds like once a non-shoggoth got used to it and learned to avoid accidentally smothering briefly (I'm sure the shoggoths wouldn't let that happen, as you'd been invited) anything else just wouldn't do :)

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 03:23 am (UTC)
jpc_w: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jpc_w
Do they have an option for subscribing to their e-book editions?

S&H to Canada from the US is ludicrous these days.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 04:06 am (UTC)
kimberlysteele: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kimberlysteele
I don't think the big publishers or their subsidiaries are anything you'd want to be associated with. The Margaret Atwoods and Julian Barnes of the world are wholly overlooked for the next E.L. James (50 Shades of The Worst Book Ever Published). It has gotten so bad, it's common practice for publishers to screw authors out of their profits:

https://www.authorsguild.org/industry-advocacy/court-approves-4-1m-settlement-harlequin-authors/

MacMillan's so evil, they're possibly evilly evil with evil sauce and a side of grated evil. Consider the rejection a bullet dodged.

http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/12/translating-john-sargent.html

Also evil, Hachette:

https://www.thepassivevoice.com/more-konrants/

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 03:31 pm (UTC)
kimberlysteele: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kimberlysteele
Yes, my concern would be signing away your rights to do as you like with your intellectual property. Money is one thing... did you know publishers frequently force authors to use terrible book covers? If you sign with a large publisher or its subsidiary, you lose the choice of cover art as well. Seems like a little thing until you're forced to use an amateurish, slapped-together cover that potential readers laugh at or (worse) overlook. As you can well guess, all of the energy and effort is of the big publishers goes to prop up the flagging sales of their big name authors at the expense of "smaller" ones. In other words, the predatory, musical chairs behavior of Macmillan, Harlequin, and Hachette is now the rule more than the exception.

My opinion, of course, is that authors are better off self-publishing or going through small houses where you know exactly what is going on with your book and don't sign away any rights. There exists a thriving cottage industry of indie guerrilla ebook and print book formatters. For those authors reading this who are financially constrained to DIY only, this guide is invaluable:

http://guidohenkel.com/2010/12/take-pride-in-your-ebook-formatting/

publishers

Date: 2019-03-06 09:12 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] ritaer
Publishers hanging on to rights to books they no longer support is a big complaint among mystery writers as well. I know a number of writers who have bought back the rights to their back list and started self publishing. Back list is particularly important for mystery writers because so many write series and mystery fans tend to have a "I like this where's the rest" reaction to favorites.

Rita

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 05:28 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Is Weird of Hali: Chorazin available in fine hardcover yet?

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 03:31 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] jpc2
I hope they do put the fine editions out. I have them in the budget here.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-07 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] avalterra
I'm waiting for the hardcovers as well. In fact I am keeping an eye out for all JMG books in hardcover.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 06:19 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I have a mostly finished manuscript that I think is pretty good, and while it sill needs a little editing before I can try to publish it, I've been wondering where to send it. This has helped convince me I'll be better off with a smaller firm.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-08 04:23 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
My marketing and business skills are atrocious, so I'm pretty sure I would benefit from a publisher.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 10:21 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] grandswamperman
Sorry things didn't work out with Tor - honestly not surprised that big-name corporate publishers are sliding ever further down the tubes - but still looking forward to The Shoggoth Concerto when it comes out.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-08 04:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm excited then, considering how good everything else you write is.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 11:29 am (UTC)
drhooves: (Default)
From: [personal profile] drhooves
I'm amazed at how many parasites there are in publishing - people and companies with no value add, looking to make a fast buck. There's always been the predatory vanity publishing market for the non-starving authors, but the big publishing companies are in big trouble if they're pulling these kinds of tricks. They are trying to protect their moat and business model, while the castle sinks beneath them.

What little I'll get written, I'll be looking to self-publish in e-book form, maintain the rights, and let the chips fall. The days of writing "the great" work, making the big dollars to live like Robin Masters from Magnum PI are long gone - too many fingers in the pie, and too much pricing pressure from other sources.

There's tons of garbage out there to wade through, but with a library card and/or Kindle Unlimited (or similar), there's not shortage of material to find on the cheap....

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 12:38 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] isabelcooper
Bleh, sympathy. And agreed: my experience with standard publishing houses from both sides of the desk is that they're largely very reluctant to tackle anything where there's not a really established market (or that, in the case of Twilight/50 Shades, doesn't conform to very established stereotypes). It's not enough for the editor reading the MS to like it: it has to go before a publishing board, with P&L spreadsheets based on "previous books in this area," and if there aren't any, well, you're SOL.

(The one that brings out most of my books is mid-sized, and quite nice as they go, but even there--well, you've heard my struggles in re: trying to get anything elf/fey published.*)

Even the romance authors I know who are placed with the really large presses generally have a sideline in self-published/small press stuff as well, for just that reason. And as you say, the contracts are not great, and neither is backlist attention. As a *reader*, there are a bunch of books I'd love to pick up, but they're sequels in series that seem to have vanished into the West.

I think (and granted this is me thinking at 7:30 AM, so I can't promise they're quality thoughts) that companies get more cautious the larger they are and the more dependents they have (it is way too early for me to go into the additional rant about shareholders and Wall Street) and that's fine in some industries, but in those dedicated to creative work, it often isn't good for the authors, the readers, or the company in the end. Not that I wasn't still glad to cash an editorial paycheck from O'Reilly Media, mind, but I'm a mercenary wench and I'll take it when and where I can get it.

* I actually got signed on with them because an editor at a different, much more "pulpy" press picked up my first novel, and then aforesaid press folded and she joined the other place.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 01:03 pm (UTC)
filthywaffle: Freepik Creative Commons (Default)
From: [personal profile] filthywaffle
Speaking as a former editor for a large publisher, you are better off steering clear of the larger houses. They move more units on average -- they usually have better penetration into all the distribution channels, and book buyers tend to take more chances with books coming out of the main players. But all this, as you note, is changing. Plus it's negated by all the unfavorable contract terms, which indeed are getting worse, and (hush hush) are much worse in practice than even appear in the contract.

Most publishers also face growth expectations from shareholders that are only sustained by cutting costs, so there go the marketing budgets and author royalties. Panicking, many publishers (oops, they call themselves "content solutions providers" now) have hired senior management from technology companies, who are trimming back book output so that money can go into share buybacks, dividends, or the black hole of technology investment.

Honestly, you'd probably make more from self-publishing if you wanted to mess with all of it. You've already got the marketing covered with your blogs and other activity -- a publisher couldn't have a fraction of that impact, especially the big ones. Although I gather you've been publishing long enough that you know the value of a good editor, and probably enjoy interacting with an interested human being, in which case working with an active, smaller publisher who also takes care of the admin, typesetting, and proofreading (and hopefully editorial input) seems like your best bet. Plus it's great that, as an established author, you're supporting businesses that will hopefully produce another renaissance in pulp publishing!

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-09 12:16 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
A business offering “solutions” will always be horrid. Never contract with such a company.

Llewellyn & Midnight Ink / Urban Fiction

Date: 2019-03-06 02:41 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I've noticed down here in the catalog dept. that Llewellyn has gotten in on the fiction game with their Midnight Ink imprint. From what I gather they are mostly doing detective and mystery fiction & thrillers. The books I've seen from them seem to be print-on-demand, but with some better cover art and typography then some p-o-d books I see.

Print on demand catapulted the rise of the "Urban Fiction" genre over the last decade and a half. It seems to have leveled off in a way, but there are a number of small presses publishing gritty street crime novels and romantic erotica from urban black authors that a mainstream publisher would never touch, titles like "Crack head", "Cut throat mafia", "Baby momma", "Thugs and the women who love them". The books are wildly popular and it seems their backlists do well. They have authors writing for a dedicated audience and it seems the authors, publishers, and fans are all getting a reward. Win/win.

Sometimes its better to see what will grow up in the cracks! What the big industry is too timid to publish will sprout somewhere else and flourish -kind of like medicinal "weeds".

Re: Llewellyn & Midnight Ink / Urban Fiction

Date: 2019-03-08 08:26 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
If I may ask, what issues came up? I have a work in project I think they might be interested in, so I'm curious why you decided against working with them more.

Re: Llewellyn & Midnight Ink / Urban Fiction

Date: 2019-03-08 01:03 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I ordered a sample of one of those out of curiosity and Amazon promptly decided I’m black. (I am not now nor have I ever been black.). Of course to the UMC under-25 eddicated white girls who staff publishing houses these days, no one would ever be curious about someone else’s experience.

I feel sorry for those kids.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-06 03:56 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks for the post. It always gives me a little bump of optimism to see authors I like/respect saying things like this.

I don't speak for every as-yet-unpublished author of course, but I think some of us have a sense that we SHOULD be aspiring to publish with the big dogs. As if attempting to publish in general wasn't already grueling enough!

Feels like the worm is turning on that, though, and we're realizing how many ways there are to skin this modern publishing cat. (Mixed metaphors are just one of the many services I offer in my comments.)

-Dudley Dawson

P.S. Got all three of the Weird of Hali books in hard copy this week!! I rarely bust out multiple exclamation points...but there it is! I foresee an intense date with my reading chair this weekend.

Neaj-Neiviv

Date: 2019-03-06 09:03 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
It seems that your metaphor echoes a general sentiment in Ecnarf, where collapsology is all over the news now. Because some academics published a book about that two years ago. We have an old culture of strong centralized state power, so the notion that people might want to start working on creating bits of civilization around themselves without relying on a bigger authority is somewhat new.

The situation you describe with the publishing industry is a parable for the social predicament of a culture that is now eager to automate everything including its own social destruction.

Overall most folks now got the message that economic growth is over, not only for themselves but also for the whole of society. If the dinosaur/mammals metaphor were put out of context, everyone would still readily identify with it.

Something's in the air but noone can tell all the smells apart. I wish we had the scents of dogs ! I wonder if dinosaurs had a good sense of smell, or if they were just self-conscious and good at rational abstractions.

Re: Neaj-Neiviv

Date: 2019-03-08 06:35 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
From all the evidence (her olfactory bulb was actually larger than her brain!), T. Rex at least had an excellent sense of smell! As JMG has pointed out, the dinosaurs were far more successful than we have been to date, and they had to be blasted by the equivalent of two BILLION Hiroshima bombs to be convinced to retire from the stage. Still, it goes to show that you never know when your story's going to end...

RPC

Dinos & mammals indeed

Date: 2019-03-07 04:40 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Dear John Michael Greer,

AMEN, I say as an author myself with some decades of publishing experience.

The big publishers really are like dinos-- T-Rex, diplodocus et al. They can be astonishingly powerful, they can crunch and stomp and roar as no mammal can do! On the other hand, mammals are-- for the dinos, that was-- the future.

My experience with large commercial publishers is that when they decide (which they might not, depending on their sales committee's decisions) to focus on your "product" as it comes down a given season's conveyor belt, it can be a dreamlike beyond-wow moment. After that, there's another sales committee meeting, another season's conveyor belt with other products on it, so yours, fabulous as they may have lauded it, all of a sudden is about as interesting to them as a homeless person in the bus station. (Yep, even if your book generates or could generate income from their backlist.) And you, the author-- who?

Meanwhile, your editor may have been promoted to a different division, hired elsewhere, or, most likely, been let go.

In short, the big publishers operate at industrial scale, as they must with such overhead (I note senior editors' office furnishings and trips to Frankfurt and other book fairs) and they tend to march forward in a very bureaucratic fashion-- at once impersonal, inscrutible, rigid.

Moreover, I suspect that the nature of commercial publishing, which requires regularly rejecting hundreds of books, many of them excellent but many, many, many more of them terrible, does something black to the souls of some editors, and especially the younger ones.

For me the best experiences have been working with an editor who owns the publishing operation and who behaves with consistent competennce, professionalism, and courtesy. I have been blessed in this regard. I have also self-published and may do so again. It's an ongoing adventure.

Good wishes to you,

MILLICENTLY LURKING

Personal experience with Founders House

Date: 2019-03-07 08:44 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
After my copy of Chorazin took several days to arrive, I wrote to ask whether the order had gone through. Soon got a nice email from Shaun Kilgore saying it was supposed to have been delivered that day, let him know if it didn't show up. (Had it the next day; slow postal service probably to blame.) Can't imagine getting similar attention from Jeff Bezos. :-)
-Dewey

Re: Personal experience with Founders House

Date: 2019-03-08 08:22 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Even the authors there probably won't get that level of attention, which seems like a very good reason to publish with smaller companies!

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-08 01:21 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
JMG, a while back, you mentioned that Wilbur Whateley ought to get to air his side. Stanley C. Sargent agrees. His story, “ The Black Brat of Dunwich,” appears in A Mountain Walked, Neil Gaiman, ed.

All the stories are good, but “John Four,” by Caitlin Kiernan, stuck with me. It’s all atmosphere, very little plot, like C. L. Moore’s Jirel stories, and like “Black God’s Kiss,” you won’t forget it.

For those who are not familiar with her, Jirel would have been the first modern Grrrl Power character if there’d been more plot to the Jirel stories. However, they’re not written for plot. Jirel isn’t so much a character as she is a tour guide. In each Jirel story, she enters an alternate universe and we follow along with her and behold the (generally creepy) wonders of same. If you like other dimensions and such, Jirel’s your gal.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-08 01:12 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I highly recommend A Mountain Walked. All the stories are good.

Jirel’s on my Top One List of fictional tour guides, a unique genre to be sure! The Northwest Smith stories also have that dreamlike, magic-lands quality, except for “Shambleau.” And if anyone hasn’t read that one, get thee to the library now.

(no subject)

Date: 2019-03-08 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
All this has put me on a “weird fiction” binge. Sometimes nothing but tentacles will do. Waiting for your contribution to the field to show up at library. 🙂

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ecosophia: JMG in lecture mode (Default)John Michael Greer

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