Thursday, October 27, 2011

A lesson in static

People are always talking about things as if things are different now than they were before. People are also usually saying something along the lines of "we ought to learn from history." But if I've learned one thing from history, it's that things don't change. It's like Ron Perlman narrating the Fallout introduction videos: "War never changes." And if Hegel is right that the quiet moments of history aren't historical at all - that they are ahistorical by volition of their quietude and peacefulness - then we may as well say, "History never changes."

That said, I do think there is a unified historical mover: technology. Feudal societies were built, more or less literally, on metal: weapons, tools and armour. Mercantilism and imperalism owed their rise to gunpowder and, hence, to ships-of-the-line. Ancient democracy slavery, and modern democracy the printing press; superpowerdom nuclear powerdom, and the Occupy movement, the Internet.

This is all to get to a certain, if rather circumlocutuos [sic] point: the Library of Fantasy and Science Fiction cancelled a buttload of anthologies yesterday, one of which was "Attack of the 50FT Book," to which I had contributed. I was unsurprised: my story was accepted in February and I'd heard little since then. I'd also noticed that, while the Library at one time had probably a dozen anthologies open for submissions, they'd utterly shut down new productions in the last few months.

They're also... well... "the Library of Fantasy and Science Fiction."

I appreciate what these guys are trying to do, but it's interesting to notice that there are a lot of semi-professional publishers now doing what any semi-professional writer can: bump their work via Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. My latest release was with Bards & Sages Quarterly, and - though it's a great review - it's quite literally an e-book with a .jpeg cover. I could've done it; so could you. I do do it, regularly, with my own ebooks.

And this is all to get to: mi hombre Alex Kane's reflections on the matter (and pardon my utter butchery of the Castilian). Alex chews out those writers who are so desperate for publication that they'll accept token payments or even help out with production costs to see the anthologies go to print. "Dammit, writers, stop giving away your work for free. Writers get paid[!]" he says (my exclamation).

I agree with Alex. But I'm also going to take it one step further and tie this shit all together. The advent of ebook technology is not a historical movement as such, but a technological advance that enlarges the sphere of publishing hucksters. Vanity publishers have been around a long time: writers paying to produce their own books, and then buying the remainders (i.e. the entire stock) from the publisher, still happens. When I worked at the Canada Council for the Arts, we were right across the street from Baico, a self-publisher who advised their writers (i.e., their patsies) to come up and ask us for grants. Then we had to explain to Baico's clients how they weren't eligible for grants, because they aren't real (viz., professional) writers.

In short, being paid for your work says something. But I think for most writers - those whose main desire is to write, and only derivatively to publish - it's really not about the money. It's about dignity. Being published shouldn't really matter: you should do what you like. And if you like self-publishing and self-promoting - or if you have a visceral need to be published but can't break into the major leagues - then that is exactly what you should be doing. But keep in mind that, even before ebooks, you had the choice to do so. Now, you only have a responsibility not to be taken in.

That said? A rather significant slice of of my forthcoming stories are from publishers who haven't paid me or given me a firm timetable for production. And, with the crash of the Library of Fantasy and Science Fiction, I'll certainly be more selective in where I submit my work. I'd like people to read my stories, whether it's for one buck or a hundred, and I'd also prefer to appear in an e-zine than make my own ebook; but I don't like waiting eight months to learn that the story won't be published unless I cough up for something that could be released for free in digital.



-bn

2 comments:

  1. I didn't realize you'd been affected by this too. (I haven't been online much in recent months.) Sorry to hear that.

    This sort of thing can happen at any press, including the big, professional ones. People are always starting markets up, and some last a long time while others go kaput pretty quickly. In fact, as the market continues its trend toward e-readership, I think it seems likely that even the pro-paying print magazines will have to either adapt or face similar problems of their own--eventually. No matter how discerning you are, this could always happen again.

    Over on the forums, the only people I saw advocating turning the Library into a vanity press were the writers--those who, most likely, are in this to the hobby level and not beyond. None of the editors, nor the Doc, made any response to those suggestions.

    So don't sell them TOO short. I agree that aspects of the Library aren't as professional as they could be (communication directly with writers, BEFORE big announcements are made on the forums (so from Doc to the editors and then the editors to the writers)) is a big issue for me, but Doc keeps my respect because he's made no move (so far) to turn them into a vanity press.

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  2. I'm actually not trying to be hard on them. I think what they're doing is by its nature difficult, and I'm not surprised by what's come about.

    And you bring up an interesting point about the professional e-zines. The problem there, is, what you have is essentially publishers willing to do loss-leaders. Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Fantasy... they're not making any money. Apex might be, and as they develop subscription services (CW just came out with one not long ago), they might make more. There's an interesting interview with Gordon Van Gelder (editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction) about electronic publishing at Tor.com:

    http://www.tor.com/blogs/2009/05/an-interview-with-gordon-van-gelder

    Well worth the read.

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