The Publishing Times, They Are A’Changin’

To distort a line from a Bob Dylan song, times are indeed a’changin’ in the publishing industry.  In the long march from storytellers to clay tablets to papyrus scrolls to bound books to electronic books, each technology has brought a revolution and we’re now in the middle of one.


After Gutenberg’s printing press and right up until the Internet, the book publishing industry had optimized into a fairly lean and stable operation, full of specialized tasks.  Each task was fairly well understood.

The writer wrote, and sought an agent.  The agent sought a publishing house and handled all the contractual details for the writer.  At the publishing house, of which there were only a few big ones, the editor polished the prose.  Upon agreement about the text, the publisher took care of cover design, printing, distribution, and marketing to booksellers.  The bookseller catered to the reading public, offering books for sale from their stores.

Despite all the middlemen, that process had been pretty well honed such that readers could still obtain books inexpensively.

With the advent of the Internet, much has changed, and it’s got all of the middlemen wondering what their future role will be, if any.

For the writer, there are software word processors and Internet research options, but not much else has changed.  A writer still must create the prose.

At the other end, the reader has more options, including e-readers and audiobooks, but for the most part reading is unchanged.

But agents, editors, cover designers, marketers, distributors, and booksellers are all left wondering what’s going to happen to them.  These days, writers can connect directly with readers, bypassing all the former steps.  An author can work with a single website such as Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, and others, to get e-books directly to the reading public.

These websites offer many services, but the writer must do most of the tasks formerly accomplished by middlemen.  This includes reviewing the contract, editing, cover design, and marketing.

So where is all this going?  At what sort of equilibrium state will all this turmoil settle out?

It may be too early to tell, but I think there will be places for all the publishing middlemen in the future, assuming they adapt to an Internet-based world.  Some writers still need agents, editors, cover designers, and distributors.  Some readers still want bound books.  Much like the continued (but low) demand for horseshoes and oil lamps, there will be niche markets for all these functions.

As for me, I have yet to take the full plunge into self-publishing.  So far, with my short stories, I’ve been dealing with an independent ebook publisher, and with publishers of anthologies.

If Bob Dylan’s right, and the times they are a’changin’, where do you think the book publishing industry is headed?  What change would you like to see?  Leave me a comment and perhaps we can change things together, just you and—

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 29, 2013Permalink

Dear Ray Bradbury

I just had to write to thank you, thank you, for the great times, the pleasures of reading your work.  There’s no sense letting a little thing like your death in 2012 prevent me from expressing my gratitude, is there?

220px-Ray_Bradbury_(1975)_-cropped-Sorry, I haven’t read all your books and stories.  I’ve read less of your canon than I have of Jules Verne’s, Isaac Asimov’s, or Robert Heinlein’s.  But, oh, the few of your books I digested left lifelong mental imprints:  Something Wicked This Way Comes, Fahrenheit 451, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man, Now and Forever, and The Martian Chronicles.  In high school, I read your short story, “The Flying Machine,” and my recollections of it inspired my story, “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai,” written decades later.

At one point, you declared you wrote fantasy, not science fiction.  In my view you blended the two.  You made science sound like fantasy.

Moreover, your flowing style of writing contrasted with that of the hard-science fiction writers.  Their stories conveyed a love of machines, of science.  Yours proclaimed a love of word imagery, of the magic of English, of poetic prose.

The authors of hard science fiction told me tales of technical detail.  You sang me stories of marvel and wonder.

I guess I’m trying to say that I write more like those other guys, but wish I could write like you.

On occasion, you related a particular memory from when you were about twelve.  At a carnival, one of the performers known as Mr. Electrico touched an electrical sword to your nose which made your hair stand out.  You claimed he told you, “Live forever!”

In a very real sense, Mr. Bradbury, you will.  Thanks again.

                                                            Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 22, 2013Permalink

The 7 Types of Genre Writers

Some time ago I stated there were two types of great writers—pioneers and giants.  What about all the writers who aren’t great?  Today I’ll expand on my pioneer/giant idea and discuss seven types of writers, as they apply to genre fiction.  I’m not going to list any authors here, but I’ll bet certain names will come to mind as you peruse each type below.

pioneer1.  Pioneers.  These are writers who start a new genre of fiction by themselves.  They discover it.  They often have difficulty finding a publisher initially, since the publisher doesn’t know what to make of a book that doesn’t fit established categories.  Such authors may never be known for the quality of their writing, but will always be remembered as the first to discover a genre.

Copier2.  Copiers. Authors in this category pretty much follow in the footsteps of the Pioneers.  They recognize a new, ripe genre and suspect it might appeal to readers; they don’t stray from ground already trod by earlier writers.  Their books need not be outstanding, just available right away, and designed to appeal to readers hungry for that genre.

formula3.  Formulists.  This type overlaps Copiers a bit, and consists of writers who use a standard plot and only a few basic character types, and stick with them in novel after novel.  Sometimes Formulists develop these models on their own, and sometimes they pick up formulaic plots and archetypal characters from others.  Often such authors can develop a loyal following that remains with them.

surveyor4.  Surveyors.  While the Copiers and Formulists ply their craft along well-traveled paths, the Surveyors are interested in exploring the far reaches of the genre.  They look to the boundaries, experimenting with stories that barely fit within the genre’s borders.

giant5.  Giants.  These are authors of great skill who begin writing in an established genre and make it even more popular.  It is these authors whom we look back on and identify them with the genre itself.

mixer6.  Combiners.  After a genre is well-established and explored, and perhaps starting to get a bit stale, Combiners come along to mix the genre with other genres.  Such books can take the form of mashups and be intended as humorous.  It’s possible for Combiners to end up creating new subgenres.

nostalgist7.  Nostalgists.  Some genres eventually run their course and die out, or at least trail off to a minimum.  Westerns seem to be headed this way.  Nostalgists can come along with books that harken back to the dying genre, attempting to revive it, perhaps with new twists.

I don’t mean to imply there’s anything wrong with any of these types of writers.  All are legitimate.  There’s room in the various genres for each of them, and they can all make money.

Which type of writer, you’re asking, am I?  At first I dabbled in various genres, responding to my muse’s whisperings.  Lately it seems I’ve written mainly in the Alternate History subgenre, and my stories focus on people’s interactions with technology.  I’d have to say I’m more of a Copier than any of the other types.  Maybe most authors are of that type.

My turn:  which type of writer are you, or which do you aspire to become?  In my listing, did I miss any types?  Leave a comment for—

                                                Poseidon’s Scribe

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December 15, 2013Permalink

The Life Story of a Short Story

AlexandersOdyssey9Hello.  I’m a short story.  Since Poseidon’s Scribe never got around to blogging about the whole short story process, he invited me to guest blog today.  My title is “Alexander’s Odyssey,” and I was written by Steven R. Southard.  My life story is typical of other tales, and might be obvious to many of you, but the steps weren’t clear to Steve when he started.

Idea1.  Idea.  I started as an idea.  You did too, I suppose, but with stories you only need one human with an idea, if you know what I mean.  Getting a story idea isn’t as difficult as most believe.  Ideas are all around you.

Outline2.  Outline.  This can take many forms, not just the standard I-A-1-a-(1) type.  It can be a mind-map, for example.  An outline can keep you focused as you write, but don’t be afraid to deviate from it if the story takes off in a different direction.  Steve used an outline for me, but if you don’t want to, just skip this step.

Research3.  Research.  You might have to conduct research for your story like Steve did for me.  Use the most authoritative sources you can.  Steve didn’t include all the researched data when writing me, just a tiny fraction.  You might enjoy research, but don’t get stuck at this stage.  At some point, enough is enough.

First draft4.  First Draft.  Steve wrote my first draft fast, without caring about quality.  He didn’t even stop to correct typos.  He got it all down, the emotions, the drama, and the character interactions.

Edits5.  Edit.  Steve did several drafts of me where he corrected typos; deleted extraneous stuff; added in foreshadowing, metaphors, similes, and symbolism, etc.  Don’t get stuck at this stage either; some stories never even get submitted.

Submit6.  Submit.  Steve located a suitable market, and had to modify me a bit to conform to the submission guidelines.  After much hesitation, he submitted me.   These days, you writers have the option of self-publishing us stories, so you could skip this step.

Reject7.  Rejection.  Actually, I didn’t get rejected the first time, but I know the feeling.  I don’t understand why writers take rejection so personally; the editor is rejecting me, not you.  Just shake it off and submit your story to some other market.  Keep us moving!

Accept8.  Accept.  I was pretty happy when an anthology editor accepted me, but Steve was positively giddy.  I’d never seen him so thrilled and, frankly, the details are embarrassing, so I’ll just move on.

Rewrite9.  Rewrite.  The editor suggested Steve change me a bit.  He agreed the changes would do me good, and made them.  I’ve seen Steve agonize over suggested changes to other stories, though.  I’ve even seen him push back against the editor.  In the end, they always reach agreement and Steve signs the contracts.  I guess he could always refuse and walk away if he wanted.

Launch10.  Launch.  These days, publishers don’t just publish us, they launch us.  It does make me feel like a rocket going off, sort of.  Again, Steve seems really happy when a story launches, and again it’s awkward to watch.

Market11.  Market.  If I’d been picked up by one of the top publishing houses, they’d spread the word about me.  Steve didn’t send me there, so he had to do it.  Boy, does he hate that part, though I’ve heard some authors like marketing.  Use social media, newsletters, writing conferences—anything to advertise.

Read12.  Read.  My favorite step.  When a reader buys me and reads me cover to cover, that’s what I live for.

Reprint13.  Reprint.  When the rights to me reverted back to Steve, he submitted me for publication as a reprint.  After three rejects, another market accepted me, but asked for significant changes.  My reprint version states where and when I was published the first time.

Spin-off14.  Spin-off.  Oh, I hope, I hope I can get spun-off into a novel, a play, or even a movie.  Hey, a story can dream, can’t it?

That’s my story.  Forget about Steve, or Poseidon’s Scribe.  Address your comments to—

                                            Alexander’s Odyssey

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December 8, 2013Permalink

Dear Arthur C. Clarke

Though you’ve been dead these past eight years, you live on in your stories.  That’s true for me and for millions of others.

ClarkeThroughout my life I’ve read many of your works, including more of your short stories than I can remember, and the following novels:  Childhood’s End, The Deep Range, 2001:  A Space Odyssey, 2010:  Odyssey Two, 2061:  Odyssey Three, Rendezvous with Rama, Rama Revealed, The Songs of Distant Earth, and The Hammer of God.

I recall purchasing your book 2001:  A Space Odyssey (or maybe my dad bought it) just two weeks before the movie was due in the theaters of my childhood town for the first time.  I was about ten years old, and determined to finish the book before seeing the movie.  Finish it I did, and I enjoyed the book much more than the film.

At that time, the year 2001 seemed a long way off, and fantastic things would happen by then.  To a boy growing up starry-eyed in the Sixties, the future appeared extraordinary.  Your books helped me see it that way. More than most authors, you conveyed the pure wonder of a scientific future.

That’s what comes through for me in your tales, the positive vision of science as a way to solve man’s problems, and to explore.  You even believed science could solve political problems.  In The Songs of Distant Earth, you depict human societies living under a utopian “Jefferson Mark 3 Constitution,” suggesting a political evolution toward better government.  In Rama Revealed, you show an alien race with enormous military power but a staunch unwillingness to enter into conflict.  The reason becomes clear when one of the aliens says their politicians can declare war, but anyone voting for war is put to death.  Strong disincentive, indeed!

Another thing I learned from reading your work is that aliens might not be bent on invading.  When many other authors wrote of aliens attacking Earth, you wrote about creatures who either helped mankind (Childhood’s End), led mankind on series of strange advancing paths (the Odyssey books), or completely ignored us (the Rama series).

It’s possible that your novel The Deep Range influenced me, in some subtle way, to serve in the submarine force.  That story took the Old West struggles between cattle ranchers and crop farmers and set it under the sea, where whale herding competed with plankton farming.  Science fiction stories with an oceanic setting are rare gems, for me.

A reviewer of my stories would be hard-pressed to find your influence on my writing.  However, your fiction has been described as technical and the style as somewhat dry at times.  As a trained engineer, I strive to include sufficient technical detail so that people can understand how my gadgets work.  My fellow critique group members say the details sometimes get in the way of the story-telling.

Like you, I’m enamored of the science.  I love it, and can’t help including a sense of awe and wonder in my tales.  There will be those who grasp that, and those who skip those paragraphs and feel unfulfilled by the rest of the story.

That said, thank you so much, Sir Arthur, for passing the wonder to me.  In 2010:  Odyssey Two, Heywood Floyd asks, “What’s going to happen?”  Dave Bowman answers, “Something wonderful.”  That says it all, or so it seems to—

                                                         Poseidon’s Scribe



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December 1, 2013Permalink