Friday, April 23, 2010

Awards; a moment of Clarity; a declaration

I've been meaning to post about all the SF & Fantasy related news I've come across.
Here goes.

Firstly, I attended NORWESCON (they currently have information up for 2011), the Northwest Science Fiction Convention where they announce the Philip K. Dick Award winner every year. 
Now, contrary to the other major SF awards in the U.S., the Philip K. Dick Award is chosen by a small committee; the LOCUS award is voted on by the Magazine's readers, the HUGO Award is voted on by attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention (wherever it is held every year), and the NEBULA Award is chosen by members of the Science Fiction Writers of America. That's the first way this award is unique.

The second unique aspect is that it is an award given to paperback originals (trade or mass market). It's set up this way because during Philip K. Dick's lifetime, he was never published in hardback here in the U.S. (in Europe and England, where they 'got' his talent before we did, he had a healthy publishing history). Paperback originals have also traditionally been ignored by some of the more prestigious awards.
So because it is a small committee, voting on often overlooked books, the shortlist is a wonder to behold every year. The awards always surprises; it makes novels go up against short story collections and anthologies, and super-small presses are equally considered along with larger ones. 

I was extremely happy in 2004 when a little known book, Life by Gwyneth Jones, published by a tiny local press Aqueduct Press, won the Award that year. The book deserved it, so did the publisher for taking a chance on an interesting topic.

The winner this year was BITTER ANGELS by C. L. Anderson... Nothing against the judges, or the winner, but I was pulling for Daryl Gregory's THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET (mainly because I loved his first novel, PANDEMONIUM so much).

The other major award announcements were the finalists for the Hugo Award:
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor)
The City & The City, China MiƩville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Wake, Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

and the Locus Magazine Award:

Science Fiction Novel
The Empress of Mars, Kage Baker (Subterranean; Tor)
Steal Across the Sky, Nancy Kress (Tor)
Boneshaker, Cherie Priest (Tor)
Galileo's Dream, Kim Stanley Robinson (HarperVoyager; Ballantine Spectra)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)

Fantasy Novel
The City & The City, China MiƩville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett (Harper; Doubleday UK)
Drood, Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Palimpsest, Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Finch, Jeff VanderMeer (Underland)

There's some overlap in both awards, but it's exciting since all the authors are extremely talented and if a person were to use these lists as a reading guide, they would have a great time.

Also at Norwescon, I attended a panel titled "Impact of Digital media", which was set up to discuss many of the issues dogging publishers today; Amazon, e-book pricing, etc. During the panel a gentleman named Ben made a statement that blew my mind wide open, to look directly at something that had been simmering in my mind for a while: he was referring to e-books and 'multi-media' books (on the horizon, getting closer thanks to the ipad and some of the things it can do with books). What he said was:

"We need to think of these as different things."

And then it came to me: We do need to think of these things as different; a book, an e-book, a multi-media book, an audio book. It's obvious with audio, but is it really? It's someone reading aloud a book word-for-word, in other words, rather than visually delivering the text, it is being delivered aurally. So in essence, the audio book is like a regular book. It's more tricky with e-books and multi-media books (mmbooks, for convenience). Arguments are raging across the net and in magazines about e-books not being aesthetically designed like books, the idea of mmbooks terrifies fans of the traditional book, but what if, what if

We started to view all of these permutations as evolutionary branch-off points, like Neanderthals and Homo sapiens?

But you say, 'things' can't evolve. Yes they can. Not on their own, but in concert with humanity. I read a book a long time ago called "The Alphabet Versus the Goddess" which had some startling and exciting theories about literature and human evolution ( I won't go into them here), but the lesson I took away from it was: Whatever humans make, in turn, remakes us. Be it a car, a fabric, a book, a cellphone. 
If we start to look at the book problem from this angle, we can begin to separate the divergent 'species' and allow them to evolve in separate directions. Film narrative is a distinct, but no less connected, off-shoot of narratives forged in literature; decades later it evolved enough to create its own narrative devices, which in turn wove their way into the novels of the 20th century.
Let's talk about e-books. But let's truly look at them divorced from the idea of the book

All these mediums are evolutionary branching off points from a original, an Ur-medium; the art of pure story-telling, around fires; each step--cave painting, hieroglyph, abstract alphabet, clay, papyrus, paper, scroll, etc--represents a shift in how stories are told. The book was not borne, Athena-like from Gutenberg's forge; its history is large and its future is ever-changing. 
Rather than call this era the end of the book, I declare it the Golden Age, where, challenged by various other forms of story-telling, the book finally comes into its own, solidifies what it means to us, to our future, to our evolution as a species.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Introducing HASH; Concept Proofs

I first met Charles Cox through my co-worker Alicia, they'd just begun dating and she was very happy with him; when I met Charles, I understood why--an extremely gregarious, intelligent fellow and, as I was to find out, a man of many talents. Last year, as we set up the Press and The Espresso Book Machine, Charles and Alicia came by to see the new member of the Lake Forest Park community and to see how I was holding up. We fell into casual conversation about what the EBM means in terms of re-arranging the traditional publishing model, and Charles mentioned a book he'd written for NANOWRIMO and wondered idly if he should print a few copies. I didn't leap straight at him in excitement, but I began the conversation that, this past March, culminated in this:
HASH was written in November, but it had been years in gestation; Charles had been familiar with the characters for a while, and it showed-- as I read the book, I felt that the characters were, 'lived in', real.  Designing HASH was a joy because Charles let me play with fonts (4 of them!) and certain 'flourishes' in layout; it was also a joy because HASH is very kinetic, harkening back to the days of William Gibson and before, when ideas didn't have to be door-stopper novels or be book x of a series. It's a smart, lean book; funny and thoughtful. And I felt it deserves to be published.
Charles didn't want to self-publish (that can sometimes be a full-time job of its own), but he was curious about an idea I had-- self-produced manuscripts, which I later renamed CONCEPT PROOFS.
My thinking is this: In this landscape of publishers trimming down editors, swallowing up other publishers and imprints, and more and more agents looking for that 'next big thing' and being less patient to grow an authors' careers (I'm not saying all agents are like this, but there is a trend.), it's harder and harder to get a foot in the door. 
Even once you've made it as far as an agent, and, into a publisher for consideration, your book could die on the phrase "I don't know how to market this." On the one hand, the reason is bunk, on the other, publishing is a business, so they have to think in those terms. An agent or an editor must look at a manuscript and/or query letter and visualize possibilities; the kind of book that might come out of this double-spaced gathering of text.
The Concept Proof is an option for authors who want to take the chance to visualize how their book might look from a publisher; they can determine whether it draws heavily on genre book design or other, 'mainstream' design aspects (a cross-over book like Niffenegger's "The Time-Traveler's Wife", for example). So this is why we made HASH; I took Charles' novel, decided how I wanted it to look on the inside, while the multi-talented Charles (I said so earlier, remember?) designed his own cover, and the photos show what came out of it. Our hope is that we've done some of the conceptualizing for the prospective agent or publisher, and they'll be more open to considering it.

All that said, we know that we can't be sending the physical copy to everyone under the sun; most agents and/or publishers only take digital submissions. But it's a cozy little world out there in Publishingland, and who knows who you might run into at a party or convention?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Autumns of our Days; TAB, TAB, TAB, link, link, link

Why is it that as the days go by I feel guilty if I don't post at least once a week? I mean, it's not like you're all perched on the edge of your seat, waiting for my next ramblings, like some lovelorn soul waiting for that 'call', are you?
Anyhow, once again the Press has been in full production mode, and a good chunk of my casual time during office hours has been to train the indefatigable Autumn, who is now my most able and very welcome assistant. She runs the machine while I work on design, talk to clients,etc. She also helps coordinate the Press, clean up after my messy self, and is a great sounding board for design ideas. It was interesting to train Autumn, as I've been running the Press solo since we set up on November last year. When the technician was here, I was the only one fully trained and it was necessary-- there's so much to watch for, so many variable, that if two people were to train neither one would've absorbed the totality of what it takes to run the machine-- the technician would've had to cater to more than one learning style, speed-- meaning that they would have to backtrack often. When we created the Press, we envisioned a time when it would be running seven days a week, but to do that we'd have to train people. And I didn't know exactly how the structure of training would look like. Fortunately, Autumn is a quick study, and didn't laugh at me when I'd say things like "I want you to watch every book closely. Every book. Watch every part of the machine as it moves. Ask yourself why that part does what it does. Again and again. So that eventually, you'll be able to turn your back on the machine and you'll hear when something goes awry." Like some deranged Jedi, me.
So now Autumn runs the Press on at least one weekend day, and sometimes, later in the evening. And so we can meet our client's print runs in a timely fashion. And besides, it's nice to have another human around sometimes. It gets a bit lonely in this glass menagerie...

As I go about my day here at the Press, I come across articles either sent to me or through blogs I follow, or, the Hyperspace of the internet otherwise known as Twitter. I open a new tab for each of these, digest the information, and if it might stimulate a topic for a blog post I leave it up.
I'm currently looking at over 20 tabs in 2 windows. And that's after some culling and one brief mishap with firefox (I'm now using Chrome to spur my forays into the digi-aether). Don't worry, I'm not going to dump them all on you (that is what Twitter is for). I'll have lots more to say about recent developments with the Press, the books we've published, and other book-related events and concerns. For now, I'll run through a few that are important to share.

I remember when news that "Hapworth 16, 1924" by J. D. Salinger, was to be published in book form. It was 1997, and I was still at The Elliott Bay Book Company; we had an ancient and cluttered computer inventory system, and all our special orders were carefully and copiously handwritten. I remember being shown the fistful of orders waiting for the book (which was originally printed in The New Yorker)--sadly, the book never came out, but those orders stayed active for years, symbol of blind hope. Now, the true story of the books (non) publication has been written by the man who tried to publish it. I'm sure he dutifully and respectfully waited until Salinger's death to write about it. It's fascinating, and heartbreaking, especially from the point of view of someone like me who loves to design books, and loves seeing them get printed, and loves scooping some unique project. You should read it.

The Unicorn has landed. Ok, not a real unicorn, but the iPad. Sure, you're sick of hearing about it by now, but I move at a snail's pace with the bloggery so you have to be patient with me. First, this excellent article by Stephen Fry, on interviewing Steve Jobs, and Fry's first moment with an iPad. What is unique about this article over the glut out there is he mentions the sorely-missed Douglas Adams, who was, more that a great novelist, an advocate of Apple from its inception, and fiercely curious about the potential of multi-media and technology in terms of storytelling possibilities (I fondly recall the Hitchhiker's text-based game)... And the very weekend of the iPad's release, this bit of 'performance art' --teens destroy an iPad in front of a Best Buy. On one level, it's a brilliant piece of social statement--about consumerism, about technology overwhelming our lives and becoming fetishized--but I was bothered by some of what one teen said: it's not that he wanted to 'do it first', but when asked whether he hated Apple, he responding by citing all the Apple machines his family owned already including 2 other iPads.... Cory Doctorow, author of the amazing "Little Brother", an outspoken proponent of open source philosophy, flexible copyright laws, has written about his distaste for the iPad & its 'closed system' and dumbing down of computer literacy in the masses. I'm not sure I entirely agree with his statements, but he's an agile thinker and always stimulates healthy debate.

E-madness! So Amazon continues to sulk, albeit more surreptitiously. Moby Lives blog writes about Amazon's latest move- blaming the price of an e-book in the publisher right on the webpage. I know Amazon's probably doing the "wha? me? huh?" shrug about the intentions of such a maneuver, but it's clear to me (and Moby Lives) that Amazon's attempting to cause a customer uprising. Take to the digital streets, rebels! Sing with me now: 'let Amazon run the publishing industry--er. Cheaper books now!'. yes Amazon. I'm watching you. ::does the fingers to eyes gesture:: ...This interesting post from Publishing Perspectives asks the question of bundling--e-book and physical book. You buy the physical book, you get a free (or at least highly reduced in price) download. All these arguments about e-book pricing would fade quickly if a bundling system was created. Say 'Book X' is 15.99, or 18.99 in a bundled edition. It works in the music industry where some albums are sold only as vinyl and come with a web-link and download code so you can get the digital versions of the songs. It's an idea worth resurrecting. Publishing industry, are you listening?... Over at the New York Times page, Randy Cohen, writing as The Ethicist has received flak over some advice about downloading a pirated version of a book they've already bought in physical form. Essentially, he didn't see an issue with downloading a copy of a book you've already paid for. The blogosphere is on fire about this, primarily because of the sensitive nature of the e-book industry right now, but John Scalzi has a beautifully apt post about the controversy from the author's perspective, and he's supporting Cohen's advice (so am I, see the 'bundled' link above), while carefully outlining the real issues at hand. I think the e-book debacle that's been growing is leading to the big elephant in the room: International Rights, and the growing awareness amongst authors about the minutiae in their contracts. Not everybody's happy with the control publishers have.

Retro in a Futuro way. So we run a Press, right? With this mechanical-thingy we've named 'Ginger' that makes insta-books. Physical books. eeeewwww! Ur bookz iz in my hans dirty! We should be hopping on this e-book bandwagon, yeah? And to top it off, we make broadsides to compliment the publication of certain books. Physical. Tangible. Using an actual letter press (independently run by Seattle Artist Amy Redmond). Argh! What are you, Luddites? I hear you scream. No. We just dig the spirit of creation that leads to writing books, to making them, to the art that goes on the covers, the tactile nature of the printed book. Over at the Third Place Books blog (New! Stop by and say hello!) there's a post about the most recent broadside for William Vollman's latest book "Kissing the Mask". I love the broadsides; running my hand lightly over the indentation of the text, the hand-made paper, the aesthetic elegance of the designs. While the purpose of broadsides is to get customers to buy the book from us, we hope that people also appreciate the quality and resonance of such an item in the daily life of a book lover. If you're ever at the store, check out our previous broadsides hanging on the walls of the Rare and Collectible area, and in some cases some of these pieces are still available for purchase (if you ask nicely).

My next post will be dedicated to the more SF&F side of things; the annual Seattle SF convention Norwescon, the Hugo Awards, and a special Third Place Press Project...