Friday, April 30, 2010

Epublishing and Publishing Companies

Went to a very interesting talk by the estimable Ruth Linka of Touchwood Editions and Brindle and Glass about the effects of ebooks on the publishing industry. This was a couple of weeks ago, but it took me some time to both process the information in her very informational talk and examine my own feelings about it.

It's a complicated subject, the role of ebooks in the world of publishing. I read a lot of ebooks, and a lot of books released free online under Creative Commons licensing. Ruth mentioned something about the new "Cult of Free" that I wish I'd written down, about how my generation very much believes in free things, and how that's not exactly harmonious with the publishing industry. More on that later.

Ruth also said very definitively that ebooks are not a trend. They are here to stay. The difficulty lies in that there are easily two dozen separate and unique file formats that someone at a publishing house has to convert them to.

There is a movement, of course, towards some sense of uniformity. And PDF, of course, never goes out of style, though it's less than ideal for several platforms. And a different ISBN is needed for each individual e-release. All of which takes man-hours, which contribute to the price of a book. This leaves aside the fact that the cost of editing remains the same, and one of the biggest components of book price. There is a general feeling that ebooks should be cheaper than paper because there are no associated printing, storage, or delivery costs, but those are much smaller factors for small printers. For large distributions, like that of bestsellers (Harry Potter, Twilight, or anything else people dress up and wait for hours in the rain for the release of), editing and other man-hour costs become a much smaller part of the cost, which allows them to keep the cost of ebooks low. Given the low cost set as the standard for ebooks, it is harder for small publishers to keep up with low prices.

On the other hand, ebooks are ideal for self-publishers. The cost of a print run can be hugely intimidating for an individual, but ebooks have, wonderfully, no printing costs. With no initial capital outlay (other than an editor, of course, and a graphic designer), epublishing allows many more authors to get their work out there. There is still, of course, the attendant hard work and devoted marketing required of any self-publication, but it makes it more accessible. But part of that accessibility is that the market for ebooks is flooded, and not everyone is willing to pay for an ebook by an unknown author, especially a novel, when there are novels available for free under Creative Commons and public domain. Novels by noted authors, too, including Cory Doctorow.

Part of that is my own devotion to the Cult of Free (backed up, you'll note, by there being no price tag on any of the stories I have up). But it will be interesting to see how the Cult of Free and other market forces affect the future of the ebook and the publishing industry.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Speculative Fiction

A couple of weeks ago, the Victoria Writer's Society was able to invite Kim Bannerman to speak to us about Speculative Fiction and about her own fiction, a very Speculative Fiction series of novels about a family of werewolves. Because of her anthropological background, a lot of it was about the evolution of Spec Fic, both as a term and as a field. When the term was first coined, and when it was used widely by Heinlein, the term was interchangeable with Science Fiction, and specifically excluded fantasy. But genre evolution and label defiance being what they are, Speculative Fiction now refers to everything that happens in a reality different from our own. That covers horror, fantasy, sci-fi, superheroes, steampunk, cyberpunk, post-apocalyptic dystopias, and magical realism. Pretty broad spectrum, there. But in some ways it's necessary, with authors like Richard Kadrey writing things like Metrophage one year, with Los Angeles futuristic and technology-laden, and then for his next book Butcher Bird, which takes you into Hell. With this variety, books that fit into science fiction and fantasy and dystopian post-apocalypse fiction, he's hard to describe as anything other than a Speculative Fiction author.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Collaborative Writing

Subtitle for this would be "Legitimizing the geeky things I did in high school."

Collaborative writing spans many things, from the group of elders at a local church who work on their memoirs together to the group of romance authors who beta read each others' work to the online role-plays popular among many high school and college age people.

It's a great tool; collaboration with others encourages you to write more, both in terms of wanting to keep up with other people's output and encouragement in that other people are reading your work. And the immediate feedback helps you improve as a writer.

One of my current projects is collaborative; I'm writing a story with a friend of mine. He loves the world-building side, and I really like storytelling, so we work well together. I do a lot of the writing, posing him questions as we go along to be sure it's a coherent world. He goes over what I've written, tweaking some things that stand out and adding more to the story, especially focusing on fleshing out the character that is primarily his. And, most helpfully and most fun, we get to discuss it. The story becomes that much more concrete with someone to discuss it with.

That is one of the perks of a critique group, another form of collaborative writing. You may not, and probably don't, write in each other's stories the way I and my friend do, but the feedback helps you shape the edits, and having a group to discuss it with helps make the story more real; it isn't just something you are doing, it is real, and other people are reading it. I find that for me, knowing that I have an audience helps me remember to fully articulate my points in my writing.

A role-play is an even more involved collaboration; rather than it being one person's story being examined, or a project with an agreed-upon outline, most are free-form, with the plot developing as it progresses. In general, every writer writes from the point of view of their one or more characters, and have little or no understanding of the other characters except as they are presented in the role-play by the other writers involved. And the number of contributing writers can vary from two to over thirty, such as in some of the more long-running ones on the popular site LiveJournal.

The image of writer as a solitary creature chained to typewriter, emerging only for coffee, doesn't necessarily hold true. There have always been support networks, artistic enclaves, to further a creative spirit. Now there are more, more readily accessible, and more tailored. The friend I am collaborating with lives 2000 miles away; the memoir group at the local church all meet in person, and all have similar interests. If you are interested in a support network or a more collaborative sort of collaborative writing, a quick google search will most likely find you something that fits your needs.