Tag Archives: publishing

“Sweetie, if you don’t let me come, I’ll adopt a Hynerian baby!”

In the last few weeks, I’ve run into several people who knew me during my old writing days, and they don’t really believe that I’ve quit. In many ways, I don’t blame them, because they can’t kick the writing habit, so they can’t believe that I’ve gone cold turkey. Well, I get the usual “you’re doing a blog, so you’re still writing” garbage, but that’s like saying I’m still a drug abuser for popping a couple of aspirin. For the sake of argument, let’s presume that the discussion of what constitutes a writer involves those who write for publication and/or payment, in a venue which they do not have direct control. I know this will offend the self-publishing obsessives, but I haven’t offended anybody in the last few hours, so it’s their turn.

It’s not that I don’t miss writing in general. I miss the communication. What I don’t miss are the mindgames that go with traditional publishing of all sorts. I don’t miss having an editor/publisher sit on a manuscript for months or years. I don’t miss being rewritten without warning (especially when I volunteer to take on rewrites) and having to take the hit when the editor screws up. I don’t miss having articles gutted because an article submitted by the editor’s girlfriend ran five pages over, and she threatened to go postal if the editor so much as changed a single word. I don’t miss book and magazine distribution nightmares. I don’t miss having to wait six months for payment on articles, or of editors magically deciding “we can’t afford to pay until we’re profitable,” and then going out of their way to make sure their publication remains unprofitable. I don’t miss editors who still owe me money for dead publications from fifteen years ago who move to a new one and assume that I’ll play the same game. Most of all, I don’t miss having to commiserate with friends about how utterly terrible and horrible it is that one venue or another went under, when what you really want to howl is “I’ll see it in Hell, sucker!”

Amazingly, these people still wonder why I’d give up the glamor and lucre of writing for science fiction magazines for raising carnivorous plants. Heck, some even get offended that I won’t come back.

In the past few days, though, I’ve reconsidered my stance. I can actually thank my local grocery store for this, because one quick peek through its Periodicals section demonstrated that there’s no reason why I couldn’t hop back, just long enough to pay for a new greenhouse and about 50 acres to put it on. All I need is the right gimmick.

Red Harvest front

By way of example, when passing through the periodicals racks, I usually focus on the magazines. Going through the books these days, though, is like wandering through the Marianas Trench. I’ve been far enough away from publishing that all of the denizens are odd to surface-born eyes, and some have all of the lurid fascination and danger of vampire squid and gulper eels. That’s actually unfair to vampire squid and gulper eels, because they can survive in the wild without assistance. The current trend in vampire/angel/werewolf/shapeshifter/witch romance novels is the literary equivalent of those “fruit cocktail trees” sold in garden centers: graft on enough scions, and someone will buy it just because it looks too strange to survive.

With the collapse of Borders last fall, it’s obvious that both the publishing industry and the publishing distribution industry are both in trouble. Both lost a huge market, and now they’re throwing whatever they can against the wall to see if it sticks. Hence, it’s hard not to ask if some poor overworked editor isn’t channeling the spirit of Max Bialystock and offering contracts for the science fiction equivalent of “Springtime For Hitler”. Hence, this viperfish of a title in the rack this morning:

Red Harvest back

Yes, you’re not just looking at a Star Wars novel. You’re looking at a Star Wars ZOMBIE novel. One of a series. To quote one of literature’s greatest fictional orchid enthusiasts, “PFUI!”

Next, there’s the “Featured” area of the periodicals section, better known as the “Pay For Play” area. Most days, this is filled with the latest issue of D magazine, highlighting its latest “Top 283 Left-Handed Vending Machine Operators Willing To Pay Us For a Full-Page Ad” cover story, but today? Today is a very different day. Today, the Featured area is full of the latest publishing sensation: three volumes of Twilight slashfic, with the serial numbers barely filed off before publication.

Featured entry in the Periodicals section

Fifty Shades Darker

I have to admit that this is absolutely brilliant in an odd way. Why kill yourself on creating original situations and characters when you can just high-grade the background of an established universe? Better yet, why kill yourself further on creating something truly unique, when (as Norman Spinrad noted fifteen years ago) a chimpanzee could type out a manuscript for a Star Wars novel and it would still make the New York Times Bestsellers list?

Fifty Shades Freed

Twenty years ago, my younger self would have been offended by this. Enraged. Screaming at the top of his lungs at this sort of gibberish taking over bookshelf space. In those intervening two decades, though, I’ve noticed that for all of the outrage, the final determination as to the success of these servings of literary Hamburger Helper is the famed invisible hand of the market. Yes, some of these sell and sell well, but the writers tend to disappear. The worst fate of all: the books go out of print, and they stay out of print. Or, to put it another way, these will probably be about as well-read and well-appreciated as the unauthorized rewrite of Gone With The Wind in the Nineties. And so it goes.

This is why I’ve decided not to complain and kvetch about this state of affairs, and I’m planning to use it to finance an expansion of the plant business, if not the opportunity to buy a new house. If I can’t get a three-book, six-figure contract for my crossover Absolutely Fabulous/Farscape slashfic, featuring the erotic exploits of Edina Monsoon and Pilot, then I’m just not trying hard enough. All editor queries welcome…

I’m living in my own private Tanelorn

Radio silence over the last week, mostly due to having a surfeit of vacation time at the Day Job that needed to be burned off or lost. This meant that, like the protagonist in too many really downbeat novels, I had to face my deepest darkness. Instead of, say, traveling up the Mekong to stop Colonel Kurtz or prevent Tyler Durden from setting off the last bit of Project Mayhem, I went waaaaaaaay deeper. I cleaned out my office.

The basic aspect of sweeping clean the Augean Workspace was relatively painless compared to the sifting. I didn’t realize how many boxes I had that were full of correspondence from the late Eighties and early Nineties, check stubs from companies dead a full 15 years, and holiday cards from people who meant a lot to me half my life ago. That’s not counting newspaper cuttings on subjects that must have had some significance in 1992, but that were completely clue-free today. The local paper recycler loves me, and not just because I’d been dragging around boxes full of obsolete catalogs because “I’ll get around to sorting it one day.” That went double for my once-voluminous magazine collection: when the Czarina and I got married in 2002, I had a full 25 legal boxes full of archived magazines, not counting my separate archive of magazines for which I’ve written. Now, I’m down to two, and one of those is solely a collection of Bonsai Today back issues that are nearly impossible to replace.

Along that line, going through all of that correspondence from my writing days, I’ve made a resolution for 2012. I spent a good four years trying to warn writer and publisher friends about the inevitable implosion of Borders Books, and took nothing but grief for doing so. After about the eighth missive whining about how I was a really negative vibe merchant who was bringing down the entire world for suggesting that Borders employees should get out while they had the chance, I stopped responding “What: like your trousers?” Likewise, going through that two-decade-old mail made me realize that publishing itself, particularly science fiction publishing, hasn’t changed at all since then, other than the names of the big players. You have some new names, and a lot of older names that are now greyer and fatter than they were back then, and a few who became trivia questions about fifteen minutes after their funerals. Because of that, I’m just going to smile and nod concerning publishing in 2012, mostly so I can laugh and point at some of the bigger casualties after the fact. Me, vindictive? Naah. I promise that when I celebrate the demises of several smaller publishers based on their current output, I’ll keep the music down and only pull out the cheap champagne.

On brighter subjects, yesterday marked nine years of marital bliss between myself and the Czarina, and we were promptly informed by a good friend that this was our pottery anniversary. Considering that our day was spent poking through antique stores poring over old pots, planters, and Wardian cases, it fits. Discovering that our next anniversary is “tin” brought forth actual screams from the Czarina, by the way, as I’ve already mentioned that I’m planning to have a party to celebrate the occasion. Costumes for the waitstaff, perhaps?

Anyway, back to the linen mines. Four boxes of old papers remain, and I may actually be finished with cleaning, dusting, sorting, and pitching by next Monday. By Tuesday morning, it’ll be time to get back to gardening preparation, as 2012 is probably going to be as intense in that aspect as 2011. I hope not, but I’m trying to be realistic. In the meantime, get ready for another Joey Box contest: I just sent off Joey and Cheryl’s box for the year (nearly 20 kilos’ worth), and I have a lot of other items that just wait for new homes.

Horticulture and publishing, Part 1

The bright side: this was the first birthday in five years where I wasn’t dealing with a photo shoot, a television interview, a newspaper interview, or a medical emergency. (Well, manufactured medical emergency.) The dark side: the aerogel that we laughingly call Dallas air is getting so thick that four months of allergy shots are probably the only reason I’m still alive. The air isn’t too thick to breathe. It’s too thin to plow.

Anyway, one of the benefits of spending a three-day weekend in allergy-induced hallucinations is gaining insane insights into the universe, and having lots of horticulture -related reading material by the bedside definitely helped. This was compounded by being functional enough by Sunday to get up and around, and I decided to test this by visiting one of the local Borders bookstores being liquidated. I’m still concentrating observations and impressions based on what the implosion of Borders entails for the publishing industry, especially the horticulture and gardening components, and they should be coherent enough to share by this week.

One absolute, though, based on multiple visits to multiple putrefying Borders stores over the last six months. When someone finally chronicles the exact whys and wherefores of why Borders went under, I suspect we’ll get a lot of answers to various surreal questions. “Why did so many employees assume that working for Borders was ‘working in the publishing business’?”, for instance, seeing as how you didn’t hear Steak & Ale frycooks insisting they had to stick with a dying company because they wanted to keep “working in the ranching business”. The biggest one I have, though, is what Borders ordering rep was responsible for the company’s incredible selection of marijuana growing guides. Each store’s selection was already famous, and the current liquidation just accents how many copies of The Cannabible must have been stockpiled in the back of each store for years. Was this selection the result of a lost bet, or was someone in the ordering staff in Ann Arbor really, really projecting on their career plans after they left Borders?