Friday, March 29, 2013

One more thing (about grit)...

An addendum to my previous post.  Here are a few words from Elizabeth Bear:
The least reflective of the grimdark seems to me to be a little too busy wallowing in splatter and gratuitousness--violence, betrayal, rapine, raping, pillaging, cannibalism, torture...pick three...or if those things were an end to themselves.... That nihilistic view of the world is essentially a juvenile, sociopathic, self-justifying fetish, and most of us eventually grow out of it.... But what some critics ignore is that the best of the current wave of gritty fantasy does not buy into this fallacy.... Instead, it embraces a balance closer to reality:  that the world is arbitrary and unfair, and that sometimes even well-meaning people do awful things: desperate, vicious things.  But also, that complete jerks, sociopathic monsters, can and do accomplish good--sometimes purposefully, sometimes not.  People are not good or bad, but people.  The best gritty fantasy reflects this, considers it, attempts not to spin a morality play but describe a complicated and ambiguous arc of people doing what they feel they have do to.

Grit is This Year's Black

This blog post has been a long time coming because I got distracted by all that publishing industry stuff, but here we go.

One of my favorite current fantasy authors, Joe Abercrombie, recently published a great post regarding "The Value of Grit."

He's a smart guy, and covers the subject pretty well, but I figured I would throw in my two cents.

I grew up reading the Redwall series, The Dark is Rising sequence, The Lord of the Rings, and The Lost Years of Merlin.  Each of those series is pretty traditional fantasy (LoTR, of course, being the quintessential traditional fantasy), and each embodies the traditional fantasy elements of heroism, medievalism, magic, good vs. evil, and of course, good's inevitable triumph.

Then, when I was a sophomore in high school, I came across George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones, and my world changed.

Mr. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series has become for "gritty fantasy" what The Lord of the Rings was for traditional epic fantasy.  He introduced vague magic, nihilism, and characters with questionable motives who were often--gasp!--neither good nor evil.  He popularized a massive movement within the genre--one that seems to have stuck.

While Mr. Martin is, er, still pushing this movement forward (given the fact that he's still working on his ASoIaF series...), many other voices have emerged and taken hold of the "true grit" of fantasy:  namely Steven Erikson, Tom Lloyd, R. Scott Bakker, Scott Lynch, and of course, Joe Abercrombie (among others).

Which brings me back to Mr. Abercrombie's blog post.  In it, Abercrombie defends the "gritty" fantasy movement (which has endured various levels of attack since its popularization).  I'll just list his main points, and tell you my brief thoughts on each.

  1. Gritty fantasy has a tight focus on character.  Certainly one of the things that I love about the gritty side of the fantasy genre.  From Martin to Abercrombie, the characters are more real, visceral, believable, and sometimes they just make me squirm.  I love it.  While epic fantasy certainly can have strong characters, they're often overshadowed by the magic, setting, or the sheer scope of the conflict at hand.  In gritty fantasy, the people are almost always front and center.  I've always been drawn to stories that focus on character as opposed to plot, setting, or idea, and therein lies one of the draws for me.
  2. Moral ambiguity.  While I certainly acknowledge value in presenting fantasy worlds where things are always as clear cut as "good vs. evil," I don't think that's reason to completely ignore all of the shades in between.  Gritty fantasy explores those shades of gray.  The truth is, sometimes good people do awful things.  Sometimes bad people pull through with something good, against all odds.  That's the way of things, and I, personally, love to see it in fiction, and write it in my own stories.
  3. Honesty.  Abercrombie says it best:  "People crap.  People swear.  People get ill.  People die in a way that serves no narrative. . . . People are horrible to each other.  Really horrible."  Now, a lot of the gritty fantasy focuses strictly on the crappy sides of life and people.  Abercrombie labels that as a reaction to years and years of focusing on the heroic and bright sides of people in traditional epic fantasy.  I agree with him; such a reaction seems both obvious and inevitable.  So, while a lot of the gritty fantasy may not be completely honest in the sense that it tells life exactly like it is (but then, what does, artistic or otherwise?), but it does offer a new, or at least different, take on honesty and verisimilitude within the fantasy genre.
  4. Sometimes life really is that [crap].  Edited for content by yours truly, of course, but either way there it is.  Sometimes life is that awful.  Sometimes people are that horrible.  Sometimes things happen for no reason whatsoever.  That's life, and that's also something that has been missing from epic fantasy*.  In my opinion, at least in my own (largely LDS) culture, we tend to wear the rosy glasses a little too often.  I like to take mine off every once in a while.
  5. Modernity.  A lot of epic fantasy writers use a very high-language style of writing and prose.  Most gritty fantasy takes the modern twists and nuances of contemporary prose and mashes it with the fantasy world, creating a bit more of a splash-of-cold-water feeling (as opposed to epic fantasy's slow immersion into a luxurious bath, if that metaphor makes any sense at all).
  6. Shock value.  Gritty fantasy surprises me.  Usually for the worse, in the sense that the surprises are often horrifying and disturbing and exactly what I never wanted to happen, but there's something to be said for that kind of shock.  It may be gimmicky--and it some cases it is too gimmicky--but there it is.  If nothing else, it gets the reader's attention, and honestly that is something that traditional fantasy has had a difficult time doing for me lately.
  7. Range.  Perhaps one of the reasons why I think darker fiction is so fascinating.  We have a saying in the LDS church that there should be "opposition in all things," and I think gritty fiction exemplifies that ideal, albeit in nontraditional ways.  Abercrombie says that "the extremes of darkness only allow the glimpses of light to twinkle all the more brightly, if that's the effect you're after."  So, in theory, by showing the gritty dark side of stuff, you can showcase the pretty bright side that much more clearly.
While I don't think I'm writing stuff that is quite as dark as Joe Abercrombie (and even he admits, and I agree, that his stuff could still be much darker), I'm definitely at least as interested in the dark as I am in the light.  If I'm honest with myself, I'm far more interested in the darker stuff.  And it's really for the reason states above:  by showing the dark, I start to see the light more clearly.  I'm not advocating that ideology as a lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination.  Let's be clear on that.  But, while my life has been pretty great in a lot of ways, it has also been pretty hellish in a lot of others.  And my own fiction feels most honest when I include that kind of stuff.

A lot of my writing has been, is, and will be cynical.  A lot of dark, gritty stuff happens.  But, for me, the reasons for that relate far more to #s 1, 3, 4, and 7 on that list than #6.  I don't do it for shock; I do it because it feels right.  And I'll keep doing it as long as it does.

*  The really good epic fantasy, of course, always has moments of this.  Frodo succumbing to the Ring, for example, totally sucks but allows for a really beautiful ending.  But, generally, those moments are very few and far between.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Halfway Point/Character Voice

For those of you paying attention to my progress bars on the side, you'll notice that my revisions for The Rising Book 1 (tentatively titled Before the Dark) have passed 50%!  I'm pretty happy about that, if I do say so myself.  I think this puts me on track to finishing those revisions by the end of April, at which point I'll send it out to a group of alpha readers.

I've been going through at least 4k words of revision a day lately, which has not been as difficult as I thought it might be.  Some days are easier than others, of course--a lot of it depends on what part I'm revising, and how much actual rewriting needs to take place.  But I'm definitely happy with my productivity level lately.

One of the largest problems I'm noticing with this draft, though, is voice.  Character voice, specifically (not my own voice, or style, or whatever you choose to call it).  The two main viewpoint characters just seem bland to me right now, and I'm not sure what direction I want to take them, yet.  I've always been a fan of fiction with strong character voices--Joe Abercrombie being the master at it as far as fantasy writing is concerned.  I'd like to apply that to this novel, but it's something I haven't quite figured out how to approach, yet.

It's easier for me to develop a voice when writing it the first time through, and more difficult to come up with a voice in revision.  Unfortunately, I wrote the first draft of this particular novel about three years ago, before I had started the MFA program, and that definitely shows.  (For the record, I think I grew a lot as a writer during those two years working on an MFA.)

That said, I don't think this novel is unsalvageable; it will just take some more work.  I think I'm just starting to hit the "I'm a horrible writer and everything I write sucks" stage of revision, which isn't fun.  Hopefully that is just a stage, in this case, and not the complete truth as far as this novel is concerned.  Only time will tell, I suppose.

In other news, I'm still hoping to get a story submitted to Writers of the Future for this quarter...but the deadline is the end of the month, and I only have about 1k of the story I was planning on submitting finished, which I estimate as being roughly 10% of the final story.  We will see if I can get anything respectable finished in that time; revision is kind of my master right now, and the novel deadline is more important to me than getting a story in for this quarter.  That said, if I don't get a story in, that'll be three months of the WotF contest in which I'm not even competing, which seems like a ridiculous amount of time.  Only time will tell on that one, too.

Either way, only thing to do is keep writing.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What The Vampire Diaries Is Doing Wrong [so far]

I have many guilty pleasures.  In fact, I don't even feel that guilty about most of them.  Glee, Taylor Swift, Project Runway, any Final Fantasy game, Dungeons and Dragons...the list goes on.  I'm a nerd, there's no getting around that, but I'm proud of it.

One of my most recent acquisitions in the guilty pleasure scene is the TV show The Vampire Diaries.  I began the show because I heard it had a thing or two in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my favorite television show of all time), and I knew that it made fun of Twilight in like the first or second episode (how can I pass up something that makes fun of Twilight?).  What follows are some of my first impressions of the series--mainly what I think the show is doing wrong so far, but to keep up the appearance of fairness, I'll also include a few things I think are going well at the end.  Keep in mind:  (1) THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD, so don't get all bloodlusty in my general direction when you see them, and (2) I'm only on the first season, I think there are two episodes left before I completely finish season one, so what I comment on here may or may not get better or worse as the series progresses.

So, two major things I'd like to point out.

First:  How the series treats sex.  Particularly adolescent sex.  I don't like it.  And here comes the inevitable, if unfair, comparison with Buffy.  BtVS did this phenomenally.  The episodes "Surprise" and "Innocence" (Season 2, episodes 13 and 14) not only handled teenage sex in a realistic way (quite the feat for a vampire tv show), but set the tone for the rest of the series as a television show willing to handle tough, intense issues both head-on and through metaphor.  When Buffy and Angel make love, the first consequence we see is Angel going kind of psycho-crazy-man and giving Buffy the cruel shoulder--pretty typical of teenage boys, actually.  The second, and perhaps more important, is that Buffy is obviously changed by the experience (which was her "first time," incidentally).  There's a great scene that shows her sneaking into her house the morning after, and running into her mom.  The awkwardness and tension there is brilliantly done and seems so real, it's wonderful.  That was Buffy's first representation of adolescent sex.

Vampire Diaries, on the other hand, doesn't do that well with the subject.  In the episode "Turning Point" (Season 1, episode 10), Stefan and Elena do the dirty for the first time...

...and its no big deal.

Stefan and Elena supposedly love each other (something I had a hard time believing that early in the season), which I guess is something--at least it isn't casual adolescent sex, even if that might be more, er, "historically accurage"--but what gets me is that there are no consequences to this act.  They just carry on with their lives.  As you were, and all that.  That's what bothers me.

I'll be honest, I don't think it's the brightest idea for teens to be having sex; that's just not where my morals stand.  I'm not naive about it; it happens, and I acknowledge that, and I understand that some teens even choose to have sex in relatively safe, controlled circumstances.  But whether it's your significant other of twenty-two months, or the drunk person you hooked up with at the party last night whose name happens to slip your memory, there are going to be consequences.  To not address those consequences, in my opinion, is dishonest as far as storytelling goes, and misleading teen expectations--perpetuating the idea that people can have sex without consequences.

I just wanted to see those consequences in VD (which is how I'm hereafter referring to Vampire Diaries, even though I'm uncomfortably aware of its ironic double-entendre).  I wanted to see Elena change after such an intimate encounter.  It may have been for the better, it may have been for the worse, but as things played out, Elena and Stefan carry on with their relationship as if that were perfectly normal.  The opportunity was definitely there, but the show really just dropped the ball.

Whew.  Okay.  Here's the second one:  There's a scene in episode 17 of the first season ("Let the Right One In"--named after a phenomenal, and I mean phenomenal, book and movie by the same name) that bothers me.  In the scene, Elena is trying to get an incapacitated Stefan to safety while being chased by an angry, angry vampire.  Elena manages to trank the angry vamp--good for her!--but then, and here's what bothered me, instead of grabbing a nearby tree branch and just staking the vamp and getting it over with, she cries over Stefan, shaking him, begging him to get up to protect her.  And, when he doesn't, she still doesn't get the stake; she gives Stefan some of her blood so that he can man up and take care of the vamp himself.  Worst.  Scene.  Ever.

Now let me clarify something.  If this whole self-sacrificing thing had been in Elena's character, I would have been okay with it.  I still wouldn't have appreciated it very much, but I would have been able to tolerate it, at least.  But Elena is not that kind of girl.  She is tough.  We already saw her fend off a vampire with a pencil and a mop handle, for crying out loud ("Unpleasantville"), and just a few episodes later she demonstrates incredible bravery by standing up to an on-edge, blood-addicted Stefan ("Blood Brothers").  Elena is exactly the type of person who would have staked the angry angry vampire and called it a day.  But, for what I can only assume is the sake of plot, the writers seemed to have compromised her character in that scene.  That bothered me.  There are relatively helpless people who would have made the decision that Elena made in that situation.  That's fine.  There are self-sacrificing people who would have done the same thing.  But Elena is not either one of those people.

She should have staked the bloody vamp.  (Trying to think of a "Han shot first" pun, but nothing's coming to mind.)

Anyway.  Those are my two big issues with the show so far.  That said, as promised, there are some good things going on.  Bad-ass vampires, for one, that don't sparkle in the sunlight.  That's always a plus.  A strong female lead (although she could be stronger--nay, I think she is stronger, but could be written more strongly, if that makes any sense).  While I grudge against Damon for uprooting Jame's Marsters/Spike's seat at the top of SFX's Top 50 Vampires list, Ian Somerhalder does a pretty good job of playing the bad boy vamp with a hurty past and wit to spare.  The writing for the show, in general, isn't that bad.  Also, did I mention these vampires don't sparkle?

So, yeah, VD (Ick.  Just...ick.) has some good things going.  It also has the potential to crash and burn.  I've got a couple more seasons to get caught up, so we'll see what future episodes have in store.  In the meantime...aren't guilty pleasures great?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A round-up of my recent posts on the publishing industry

Title pretty much says it all.  They're all here, for your convenient pleasure:

In which I talk about small presses and contracts and the controversy between Hydra and SFWA.

In which I talk more about small presses and contracts.

In which I link to [more] John Scalzi and propose the idea of presenting a counter-perspective.

In which I link to Hydra's changed contract terms, due in large part to what SFWA and John Scalzi put into motion.

In which I present aforementioned counter-perspectives.

In which I share a letter from a new, small, traditional press (Jolly Fish Press).

So there you have it.  That won't be the last you hear from me regarding the shifting world of publishing, I'm sure.  But for now, it's enough.

Straight from the mouth...

...of the Jolly Fish, in this case.  I posed some questions and some insecurities about Jolly Fish Press's tiered royalty system in my recent "Alternative Perspective" post.  They were kind enough to email me a very helpful response that I'll just include in its entirety here:
Dear Mr. Husberg: 
The tiered royalty platform is a common royalty practice among traditional publishers. Basically, this platform is divided into a few tiers of book sales, and in JFP's case, it is 1-5,000, 5,001-10,000, and 10,001 and above. Should the author's book sales fall within the first tier, he will be paid 8% based of the book's list price. The royalty percentage increases when book sales reach the second and third tiers accordingly. This form of royalty only applies to printed books. JFP pays a 35% royalty for all ebook sales.

The 50-50 royalty model is a digital only royalty platform on which both the publisher and author are required to put in equal share of production, distribution, and marketing efforts. Hence, the equal distribution of profits as well. Please note that Hydra is a digital only publishing platform created by Random House to reach out to more authors. While the royalty may be lucrative, sales and marketing efforts still need to come from the author. 

It is important to know that in most traditional publishing contracts, the author is given the time to write and market his book at the same time. It is no good writing a good piece, when the author fails to show up at events or does little to build his readership. These are some of the efforts the author has to do. One of the biggest problems many publishers face is the author refusing to do any marketing because he has "done his job of writing." In our industry, it does not matter if the author writes the greatest American novel, if he doesn't put in his effort in building his readership, no one will read his book, regardless of the amount of advertisements the publisher puts in. So, it is important to know that the business of book publishing is a business, unless the author writes for his own gratification, and not for the money.

Traditional publishers invest a whole lot of money in the production of one single book. The average production cost for one single title is about $250,000. Now, that's an investment. Traditional publishers work hard behind the scenes to bring the raw manuscript to a commercial and professional level worthy of shelf space in a bookstore. This includes the long and tedious editorial process (for example, Paolini's Eragon spent one year in the editorial process before even going to layout), book design, book marketing, book and author publicity, distribution of ARCs for reviewers, scheduling events for the author, etc. These efforts require the skills and dedication of teams of professionals and pundits. This is also one reason why the quality of traditionally published works will always surpass that of self-published in many levels (for example, see Hocking's Trylle series before and after St. Martin's picked it up). The truth is, a traditional publisher does more than most authors realize.  

A lower royalty cost does not in any way push the costs to the author. The profit margin of an average book is so low that the publisher goes home with only a dollar (or less) for every book sold. In the end, the author is the one who always goes home with the bigger sliver of the pie.   

We hope our response answers your questions. 

Jolly Fish Press
They did a pretty good job of answering my questions, and in a timely, courteous manner as well.

For me, the takeaway from this whole thing is that the publishing world is changing.  The proverbial cheese has been moved, and people are scrambling to find it again.  There's a lot of stuff going on from all angles (traditional publishing, small presses, self-publishing, etc.), and it is both a terrifying and an exciting time to be an author seeking publication.  Right now, there really isn't a straightforward "right" way to go about getting published*.  It's a cop-out and cliche, but this is really a "whatever works for you" moment.  What are your strengths as a writer?  What are your strengths as a person, for that matter?  Depending on what your answers are to those questions will determine largely what kind of publishing route is best.  At least, that's how things are looking for me, right now.

But one thing is certain:  it pays to keep tabs on the business.

*  That doesn't mean there aren't wrong ways, though.

Some Minor Updates

I've updated my "Current Projects" and "Backburner" pages, so if you're interested in what I'm working on, check them out!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

An Alternative Perspective (or Two) on the Profit-Sharing Model

Hey folks, about those alternative perspectives I mentioned...

So I took the liberty of emailing a few small presses that use the profit-sharing and royalty-only models that have been all the rage recently, to see what they have to say on the subject.  Jolly Fish Press was very courteous and quick in their response, so here's what they have to say about things.

On why small presses use profit-sharing:
The profit-sharing model works for most small presses because it does not incur debt.  as such, the author is more motivated to promote the sale of his book.  From the business side of things, it creates a partnership of two parties--the publisher who places the initial investment in the publication and distribution of the book, and the author who writes the book and is responsible for its sales and marketing.  The selling of his book now becomes the author's business as well.
The no-debt idea absolutely makes sense, from a business perspective.  As I've mentioned before, it's all about ROI.  Motivating the author to be more involved in marketing can be a good thing as well--in my opinion, there's no reason an author shouldn't be doing all he or she can to connect with readers.  (There's also an argument--one that I happen to generally agree with--to be had regarding what an author should or shouldn't have to spend his/her time doing, but I'll save that for another day.)

That said, one of my big worries is the investment of the publisher in the writer.  Because, let's be honest, ROI isn't irrelevant for the writer, either.  And by writing an entire novel, the writer has already invested a lot.  That's where an advance is really nice; it shows the writer that the publisher has some investment in the work the writer has already done.

In the email I received, JFP went on to describe the nature of advances. Mainly:  authors don't earn royalties until advances are paid out, and authors that don't sell more than their advance often don't get contracted with the same publisher again (and, by association, often get "blacklisted" and have a very difficult time getting contracted anywhere after such a debacle).  (That's all paraphrasing and summary of what was stated in the email.)

These concepts are pretty accurate, and have long constituted some of the inherent risks involved in publishing.  Here's the rub:  what risks is the author more inclined to take:  having to split his/her time between writing and marketing and dealing with a publisher who has marginal investment in his'her work, or not paying out their advance and potentially being "blacklisted" from major publishing houses?  I think the ultimate decision should really depend on the author's personality, goals, and strengths.

One more interesting thing JFP mentioned:
JFP does not pay advances for the same reason explained above [referring to the inherent risks they mentioned, and that I previously summarized, in the advance model].  Our current royalty scheme is structured on a tiered platform; the royalty increases as book sales increase.  While each book deal comes with its own unique terms and conditions, our genreal royalty payout is based on the cost price of the book, starting from 8%.  As a traditional publisher, JFP absorbs the publication costs of the book.
Hmmm.  Now, that is interesting, particularly the fact that they start out at 8% royalty (as opposed to the 50% many other small presses toute).  I'm not sure if this is strictly for print books, or for all books in general.  From what I understand, JFP presents itself as, essentially, a "traditional publisher without the advance" (my quotations, not theirs).  So they're offering a traditional royalty rate where the royalties go straight to the author from book one, but there is no advance involved.  The tiered royalty scheme sounds interesting, but again sounds like a lack of investment on the publisher's part.  Anyway, I've emailed them to ask for clarification on this system, and I'll of course post my findings here.

For me, personally, I'm still leaning towards the traditional publishing route, advances and all.  That said, I'm still open to whatever comes my way, from small presses or otherwise.

For what it's worth, the people at JFP seem like a smart and courteous bunch.  Far more importantly, they don't seem like they're trying to screw the author over.  The fact that they at least "absorb the publication costs" is certainly a step above what Hydra was reportedly doing by pushing those costs onto the author.  So, good for JFP.  I commend them to you, if you're looking for a royalty-only publisher.

Also, it appears John Scalzi beat me to the punch yet again, and posted this alternative perspective by Evan Gregory, from the Ethan Ellenberg agency, on the royalty-only model.  Check that out for an additional additional perspective.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hydra Imprint Changes Contract Terms

Well would you look at that.

Thanks to John Scalzi and the good people at SFWA, Writer Beware, and everyone else who helped bring this about.

That said, as mentioned in my previous post, I'll be looking at the other side of this business model (the profit-sharing version) to see what so many publishers seem to think is so grand about it.  More info on that in the next few days.

Monday, March 11, 2013

On an unrelated note...

John Scalzi put up two more posts defining more of his thoughts on advances and ebook publishing, as well as  a round-up of his posts regarding these topics and the whole Hydra/SFWA controversy.

That said, I realize I've kind of been covering one side of this story.  So, my goal in the next few days is to look at some other sides of the conversation and see what small publishers, ebook first publishers, etc. have to say about this.  I'll post my findings here, of course.

Revision Update

Just a brief update on how my revisions have been going for BTD.  In short:  like, really really good.  :-)

You may have noticed the progress bar slowly creeping forward.  I've set a goal to go through a minimun of 3k words every day, and so far I've been hitting that consistently.  On a good day, I'll get up through upwards of 5k, which is pretty impressive (for me) if I do say so myself.

I feel like I've gotten into a pretty solid groove.  I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to outline my novel according to Dan Wells' 7 Point Story Structure.  Well, I did that, and I think that was particularly helpful in motivating me to get through this revision.  Just being able to see the plot progression and main checkpoints for each character a bit clearer has been invaluable.  It's definitely something I plan on doing for future works (at least the longer ones).

So, yeah.  Going along well.  My deadline for myself to finish BTD 2.0 is May 1st.  Come hell or high water, that's what I'm going to do.  But, if things keep progressing the way they have, I should hit that deadline no problem.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Small Presses and Contracts (cont'd)

I posted earlier an interesting controversy between Hydra, an imprint of Random House, and SFWA (and, in particular, it's president John Scalzi).  I have a few more things to say about that.

Many of the small presses (TM PublishingJollyfish Press, and Stonehouse Ink) that I encountered at LTUE a few weeks ago expressed some of the same contractual terms that SFWA so vehemently rejects in the Hydra imprint, namely that they didn't offer advances to their authors.  I'd be interested to see what their other standard contractual terms are, and whether or not they align very closely with the other objectionable Hydra terms.  Honestly, at LTUE, each of those small presses seemed pretty respectable.  They were, slowly but surely, making me into a believer in the no-advance, small-press world.  But, having witnessed this whole controversy, and thinking back on the fact that the most specific reasons I can remember them offering for not offering an advance were (1) "the publishing industry is changing" and (2) "we're a small press, we're just starting out, and we'll sink or swim with our authors," (those aren't really direct quotes, but general summaries of what I remember a few of their editors saying) I'm doubting once again.

As far as (1) is concerned, well, that's true.  The publishing industry is changing, and it's changing a lot.  Traditional publishers are on the defensive, scrambling to secure their place in the future publishing world.  Self-publishers and small presses seem to be emerging on top, or at least on more equal ground than that which they had occupied only two or three years ago.  The business model is changing, and I can see why small presses might attempt to not offer an advance.  In an era where audiences are shrinking and writers are a dime a dozen (among many other reasons), an advance may not be very practical, especially for a small press that's just starting out.  That said, Hydra is still the imprint of one of THE top publishing houses, so why they wouldn't offer an advance (other than to make more money for themselves and screw authors) is beyond me.  I think what Hydra is doing is despicable; I think what many of these other small presses are doing is merely self-serving (which, honestly, I can't blame them for that, but it doesn't make me feel better about signing a contract with them).

Regarding (2), well, each of these presses is relatively new to the publishing industry.  It wouldn't surprise me if they didn't have much funding available to them to give out for advances.  TM Publishing and Jollyfish, as far as I know, haven't even released anything yet.  That said, if they're picking up writers now, without offering an advance, there aren't many reasons why they would start doling them out in the future, even if they do start making a fair share of cash.  My issues with large presses not offering advances aside, I still have a hard time swallowing the decision with small presses. The small presses I talked to at LTUE were all about ROI (return on investment)--they didn't give out advances because they wanted to make the minimal investment with maximum returns.  From a business perspective, that makes absolute sense.  I'd like to do the same thing.  And not giving an advance, of course, is very minimal investment, so minimal that I worry whether the publishing house will care at all whether the author succeeds or not.  To me it seems less of a "sink-or-swim together" mentality and more along the lines of "you can put our name on your book, but if you sink, we won't dive in after you."  That sounds like a pretty dismal deal, if you ask me.

So, as for me, I'm going to continue pursuing publication through the traditional route first.  I'm looking for agents, publishing houses that have been around for at least a few years (Tor and Pyr are my personal preferences [i.e., in a dream world I'd be picked up by one of those two houses]) and that publish on multiple formats (both print and ebook), and of course, contracts that offer an advance (among many other things, hopefully).  I think that's the route for me.

That said, indy-publishing and small presses are really gaining traction, and I don't want to rule them out entirely.  I admire what a number of them are doing on a business level; I just don't want to see the author get screwed in the process (not only because I am one, but because I think that sort of business kills the artistry of the thing, which, in the end, is what I'm most interested in).  I would certainly prefer the traditional route, but I'm open to all options.  Who knows where the publishing industry will go in the next few years, anyway?

Also, if you're interested, John Scalzi talks more about why he thinks advances are so important over at his blog, Whatever.  Check it out.

Small Presses and Contracts

There's been an interesting exchange going on between SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) and Random House's relatively new ebook imprint, Hydra.  John Scalzi (blogger, SF writer extraordinair, and current SFWA president), in particular, has been up in arms about some contracts he's seen from Hydra in the past few days.  It's an interesting conversation.

Basically, the Hydra imprint is offering some pretty bad contract terms.  Mr. Scalzi compares them to the raptors in Jurassic Park, testing the fences of the writing industry and looking for weak areas they can take down.  Not only do they not offer an advance, but they also charge the author for costs that have traditionally been borne by the publisher.  Their infractions against the writing community go further than that, but those seem to be the two big ones (Mr. Scalzi lists those infractions in their totality [at least according to him] here).

In response to these dismal contractual terms, SFWA denied the Hydra imprint as a qualifying market for SFWA membership (which is, for all intents and purposes, the SF/F equivalent of the WGA, and holds quite a bit of sway over the community and market).

Random House responded to SFWA with this generally civil but nevertheless pretentious letter essentially saying "Wait!  You never even gave us a chance!"  To which SWFA responded, essentially:  "Why would we waste time giving an exploitative, predatory imprint a chance?"

My hat is off to SFWA, and in particular, Mr. Scalzi.  They're doing their job, and they're doing it well.  They're siding strongly with writers and protecting writer's rights (Writer's rights?  There's a tongue twister in there somewhere.  Writer's writing rights are rightfully written wittily rather than ritfully, and...).  As a writer who is still seeking publication, it feels good to know that I have, essentially, some high-ups on my side, looking out for me.

I have more to say about this, but I'll have to get to it later.  For now, the writing calls.