Dark Times for Book Publishing

fb-logo-300pixel-revKristine Kathryn Rusch has some very dark warnings about what’s happening to book publishing right now, and I can’t disagree with her on any of it. If you’re at all involved in the industry (as a writer, a bookseller, or a reader), you ought to take a look at it: https://kriswrites.com/2020/04/22/business-musings-the-trainwreck/

As the publisher of Fantastic Books and Gray Rabbit Publications, I’m one of the smaller publishers who actually did respond to the crisis fairly quickly. I slowed down our publication schedule. I’ve mentioned it in a few places, but this is a public announcement: I’ve delayed publication of the anthology Horror for the Throne, edited by James D. Macdonald, Tom Easton, and Judith K. Dial. The stories have all been paid for, the book is laid out, the authors have seen galley proofs, and now it just sits. If the world hadn’t fallen apart, review copies would be out with all the reviewers, and we’d be making plans for a big launch at an upcoming convention. Instead, the book is sitting here, awaiting more normal times. The books that were in the pipeline immediately after it are also on hold.

grplogobannerflatBut on the positive side: all of those books will be published when I feel the economy coming back. The company has gone into hibernation mode: there is enough money in the bank to pay the recurring bills, no one is owed any money at the moment (our last royalty payments went out on schedule at the end of January, and our next round, scheduled for late July, should similarly pose no problems).

My biggest fear is the loss of all the science fiction conventions. Our sales at those conventions were a significant chunk of our income (and book sales), and suddenly they’re all gone. Just before we all went into quarantine, I laid out a lot of money to increase the size of our inventory, and to reserve tables at several new conventions. So now the company has a lot of cash tied up in boxes of books sitting in my house. But we’ve already missed three big conventions and one smaller one, and a bunch of planned conventions running through July have already been pulled off the calendar. In some things, I’m a pessimist, and this is one of them: I don’t expect to see another convention before March 2021 at the earliest. I hope to be proven wrong on that, but I’m basing it on the experts saying we’re twelve to eighteen months away from a Covid-19 vaccine. And to my mind, everything else we’re doing is just temporary measures while we wait for that vaccine.

I’ve also delayed plans for our next Kickstarter campaign. It was going to be for two or three fascinating anthologies. But I just don’t think enough of our readers are going to feel comfortable pledging money for a Kickstarter campaign right now. The editors I’m working with understand, and we’re all doing background planning to launch when we feel the time is right.

Our books continue to be available via the online booksellers, in both print and electronic formats (and when you get to the point in Rusch’s piece where she talks about the traditional publishers’ self-destructive ebook pricing, remember that our pricing is much more reasonable). I have seen a slow-down in those third-party retail sales; that’s only to be expected when all our economics are suddenly unsure. But my company remains healthy; we’re moving more slowly, conserving our resources, and we will be able to survive.

Thank you, as always, for your faith and support. Stay well, stay safe, and look forward with me to the time when we can comfortably gather again.

#books #publishing #bookselling #fantasticbooks

Massachusetts isn’t doing anything about it

I’ve been mulling over this one for a bit. I’ve decided there’s nothing wrong with publicizing these responses.

I’ve been living with my sister for the last month, helping with the kids, because she is an “essential” worker in a retail establishment. She frequently comes home with tales of just how clueless, feckless, or even rude her customers can be. On Tuesday, I sent the following email to Massachusetts State Representative David Robertson, State Senator Bruce Tarr, and Governor Charlie Baker:

My sister works in an “essential” business, managing a [name redacted] store in Wilmington (she’s there right now). Every day, she is confronted with idiot customers who walk in without face masks (“oh, I left it in the car”) or with masks hanging around their necks, not covering their mouths or noses. Many other states and cities are instituting mandatory “wear a mask” orders. Can you do anything to make wearing masks mandatory, to protect the clerks who have to work, like my sister? Thank you.

About three hours after I sent it, I received a phone call from a staffer in Tarr’s office. She was friendly and understanding, but said “it’s the responsibility of the Board of Health. You should contact them.” (Thus far, I’ve not heard from Robertson or Baker’s offices.)

So I sent the same email to the Wilmington Board of Health. From them, too, I received a rapid response. An email which read, in its entirety:

WILMINGTON is not making it mandatory. However [name redacted] can as a business put a sign up on the front door that you must have a mask on to come. And they have the right to refuse anyone

Sent from my iPhone
This message is for the designated recipient(s) only. If you have received this message in error, please notify the sender immediately and delete the original. Please be advised that email is subject to the provisions of Massachusetts Public Records Law. MA G.L. c. 66.

If I lived here, I’d remember those responses come election day. I don’t, but I still find them all inadequate.

#wilmingtonma #charliebaker #brucetarr #davidrobinson

How to share knowledge

An idea for a science fiction story that I don’t want to write because I can’t imagine any magazine would want to buy it, but it leads to a question for the audience.

If a time traveler came to me (assume I’ve already vetted him, so I know he’s legitimate. As an example, see my story “1-9-4-blue-3-7-2-6-gamma-tetrahedron”) and gave me a cure for Covid-19, how could I get it to the people who need to have it? Obviously, he’s not handing me seven billion doses of a medicine or vaccine, but the knowledge for how to make it (perhaps its chemical structure). I’m not a doctor, not even a working scientist. How could I get someone in a position to listen to me, believe me, and test this cure in order to get it into production?

If my time traveler handed me a personal spaceship, or a ray gun, something physical and obvious, all I would need to do would be to demonstrate it to a reporter, or even just post a video of it online somewhere and share it with all of you. But if that breakthrough through time was a bit of vitally important knowledge that had to be put into production, what could I do with it to actualize it?

Let one go

The president, the governors, the mayors can order businesses to shut down. And if they do, the store around the corner, the conventions I attend to sell books, even my own publishing company may cease doing business for a while. But none of them can order us to re-open. They can only provide a safe environment in which we will want to re-open for business. If the president wants to call himself the supreme galactic authority, who cares? I have a lot of problems with the president, both his actions and his inactions. But his latest mal-de-bouche should not be causing all these pile-on attacks. Every time he opens his mouth, he declares his irrelevancy. It’s okay to let one go.

Figure out your goal before deciding how to get there

This is why Donald Trump has a very good chance of being re-elected: Democrats are so wrapped up in political purity that they’re willing to see the president re-elected, rather than vote for a Democrat who isn’t as “pure” as their chosen candidate. And this is one reason I am not a member of their political party. I am enough of a pragmatist that I will do what I can for the good of the country, even if I have to hold my nose while I vote. I am also urging you to find that clothes pin and hold your nose if you have to. Because honestly, I don’t think Joe Biden is the best choice for president, even among the “declared” candidates in the recent scrimmage for the nomination. But I do think he is the best chance we have now to end Donald Trump’s presidency sooner rather than later, and that is a necessity.


Breaking my long political silence

Since my first book was published in 2008 (The Presidential Book of Lists), I’ve avoiding talking about my own politics. And in truth, I could find the good in and the bad in presidents from both major parties. So, rather than alienate half of my potential readership, I kept my mouth shut.

Earlier this week, however, I was watching Don Lemon’s program on CNN. He started a broadcast with five minutes of clips from the president’s daily coronavirus briefing/pep rally—a briefing I had watched live earlier in the day, talking back to the television as I frequently do. Don showed those clips, and then quoted the movie Network: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” And I realized I’m mad, too.

I’ve spent nearly four weeks in the house, not going out, not seeing anyone. And I’ve been angry, telling myself that this isolation hasn’t mattered—and that it won’t matter—until everybody spends several weeks in the house at the same time, to give the virus time to die out.

But as I was watching those clips of the president, and listening to Don asking why I wasn’t angry, I realized my anger at my non-quarantining fellow citizens was misplaced. It’s not their fault: they’ve been getting such mixed messages.

My assumed clear vision of reality in the near future is based on a long history working in and reading science fiction, where we foresee events just like this one. If our leaders had sufficient backbone to talk about these problems—which the president’s scientific advisors seem to recognize all too well—we might already be on the down-slope of this pandemic. But we’re not.

So I’ve come to a decision: I’ve decided that not every president can rise to the occasion, especially not the one we have right now. I think each and every one of his predecessors would have been able to, regardless of his inherent strengths or weaknesses. This one, however, has not. He is a clear and present danger to the long-term health and well-being of this country.

His constant need for adulation, his unending focus on the concept of enemies, and his ceaseless attacks on reporters, the press, and his predecessors, are now emphatic, improper, dangerous distractions from the important issues of the day. When the economy was doing well and we were not yet suffering from this virus, the distractions were fine, keeping him from doing any real harm. But now that we actually need a leader in the Oval Office, we do not have one.

His eagerness to “re-open the economy,” to get us back to business, has nothing to do with scientific or medical reality, and everything to do with his tunnel-vision that a soaring stock market will lead to his re-election. A true leader would not need to pat himself on the back at every turn. A true leader would not need to be thanked by the governors of the states for deploying supplies. A true leader would not attempt to practice medicine without a license while standing at the podium. A true leader would not be thinking about the economy, would not be thinking about re-election, would not even be considering political party labels at this point. A true leader would put all that aside, and focus solely on generating the medical treatment we need today, the testing ability we will tomorrow, and the prevention ability we need long term. A true leader would be standing behind that podium wearing a face mask, to encourage his fellow citizens to protect themselves and each other. A true leader would be telling the people: we are in the midst of a horrible event, something that will kill and injure many people, and the fall-out from it will damage the country, and change the way we live. But we will get through it. And then a true leader would make us believe it, and believe that he cares. Donald Trump is not a true leader.

I hate that it has come to this, that I will be forced to vote against a candidate in the upcoming election, rather than for a candidate. But I can not, in good conscience, do anything that will cause Donald Trump to be re-elected.

And even though he sounded rational at today’s Friday briefing (other than calling a virus “intelligent,” “smart,” and “genius”), simply the fact that I would say “sounded rational today” when talking about the president tells me he shouldn’t be the president. I want and expect my president to sound (and, more importantly, be) rational every single day.

So, back to the question everyone asks when looking at the cover of my book, The Presidential Book of Lists: From Most to Least, Elected to Rejected, Worst to Cursed: Fascinating Facts About Our Chief Executives: they focus on the word “worst” in the subtitle, and ask me who was the worst president. I’ve spent the last 12 years saying “each president has had good and bad traits,” not wanting to alienate anyone (because everyone asking the question wants me to say either the current president, or his immediate predecessor, and they’ve wanted that since the book came out). I still can’t say Donald Trump is the worst president in our history, but he’s definitely not the president we need right now.

#donaldtrump #president #coronavirus #covid19

A second live(ish) performance of my fiction

After receiving generally encouraging responses to my first video reading of a short story of mine, I’ve done a second. “Fermat’s Legacy” was my first professional science fiction sale when it appeared in the September 1992 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Also included is a brief commentary of my writing of the story, and how it intersected with the real world. Again, on YouTube. Enjoy!

Performing my fiction, live(ish)

Any number of my writer friends have been posting videos of themselves reading their fiction to a variety of on-line, on-going “conventions” (which are taking the place of the real-life, in-person conventions we’re all missing). I’ve decided to join the trend. My first effort is “Mars is the Wrong Color,” a short-short which originally appeared in the October 1, 2008 issue of Nature Magazine. I figured I’d announce it on my blog first, before telling all those other conventions. Please check it out, and let me know what you think.

Oh, right, you need to know where it is. It’s at this link (on YouTube).

Free E-books

fb-logo-300pixel-revThings are difficult for us all, and they’re going to get worse before they get better.

Fantastic Books’ sales are off, in large part because we’re missing out on conventions (which had been a major source of sales for us), and in part because the economy as a whole is dropping. But we expect to take a major hit in the coming weeks because Amazon (the major book retailer in the US at this point) recently announced that they will not be accepting shipments of “non-essential items” for at least three weeks. That means, among other things, books.

There isn’t much we can do directly about those things, and they’re going to hurt all the small publishers out there. But there is something we can do for the readers (who may also be having trouble getting those books they want and need):

Fantastic Books is offering free e-books for readers. Take a look through our catalog (www.FantasticBooks.biz), check out the Science Fiction, Fantasy, Other Books, and Gray Rabbit tabs. When you find the book you’ve been wanting to read (as long as we offer an e-book version), email us at sales [at] fantasticbooks [dot] biz. Tell us the title, and whether you read epub or mobi (Kindle). We’ll reply with a copy of the ebook.

We’re not asking for any payment. But we (and our authors) would be thrilled if you could post a review of the book: Good Reads, Library Thing, your friends list on Facebook… even Amazon (though I’m still grumbling about them). And when the economy picks back up, or you see us at a convention, think about buying another book.

Thanks, and happy reading!