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File 770 revives memories of Laser Books and Thomas Monteleone’s novel – Seeds of Change.  Mike brings it up because of the J. J. Adams’ anthology of the same title, and an interview in PW of Adams.  (Go here for the link.)

File 770 reminds us that Laser’s plan was to ‘flood the market with cheap SF, just like they had with romance novels’.  (my paraphrasing of Mike’s more elegant prose) In pursuit of that blasphemous goal, Laser shipped boatloads of cartons of their first book – S.O.C. – to conventions all across the country.

File 770 then – and here is where it gets really intriguing – relates a tale of the book being read out loud, with each page ripped out after it had been read.  Mike says that Alan Chudnow claims this activity occurred at the Equicon con, while Glyer remembers it has having taken place at the NASFiC that same year.

Hmmmm.  Very, very interesting, cause I didn’t get to Equicon or the NASFiC that year – but I remember this same thing happening as well. 

Could it be that SOMEONE ELSE had been coordinating mass book rippings at conventions all across the country?  There are only two possible explanations: either S.O.C. and the Laser Books concept were so god-awfully heinous that they engendered instantaneous and universal contempt amongst each and every last fan in the nation – or someone was running an op designed to kill Laser.

Of course there are simpler explanations (copy-catism), but those aren’t nearly as much fun as supposing a conspiracy, so we can safely ignore them.

Me?  I’ve got three copies of Seeds of Change from Laser Books.  I’m thinking that if we can build this thing up into a truly monumental conspiracy mystery, I might just be able to get a decent penny for a couple of them on Ebay.  Maybe even as much as 25 cents each.  Plus shipping.

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that the one sure way to up your traffic with a blog is to stick XXX in the title.

As I suspected, the fascination with SFnal BDSM imagery has not faded with time. 

I guess I’ll have to do some kind of weekly feature: Feast your eyes on this week’s PROBED BY ALIENS retro cover…

Lots of livejournal coverage of that one.  Makes me wonder a bit about who I’m hanging out with.

***

File 770 posted my outrage over twisted history.  Mike makes a distinction between ‘sci fi fanzine’ and ‘fandom’s fanzines’.  Considering my small rant about sci fi below, I guess Mike’s right. 

***

Skiffytube has dropped back down in the SF purity ratings game this week.  Not even a full third of the programming is remotely science fiction.  This was accomplihsed by removing all SF content from the channel for an entire day this week.

It’s probably a test.

***

In line with skiffy tube the channel, we now have the skiffy language police. Alistair Reynolds says “So here’s a suggestion. We get over the sci-fi thing. We can still keep talking about SF and science fiction, but we should give up the knee-jerk sense of insult whenever the sci-fi label is applied to what we do.”

Wrong.  This attitude is so dreadfully Neville Chamberlain.  Earlier in the piece Alistair said “To the average person in the street, sci-fi is what we do. It’s what copy-editors will always insist on putting into newspaper articles, even if the original author used the terms SF or science fiction. And guess what, I’m a sci-fi writer. I write sci-fi books. They get shelved in the sci-fi section.”

To them it’s what we do. And to the current administration, what they do at Guantanamo Bay isn’t torture. It’s ‘intensive interrogation’.

SF - SCIENCE FICTION – is about words and language as much as it is about anything else. Any political hack will tell you that once you start letting the other side create the definitions, you’ve lost.

It may be a lost cause – it certainly seems that way – but I’d much prefer to go down fighting than to tuck tail and run.

Maintaining the distinction may actually work in the long run.  Every day I get news feeds from google. One covers the keyword Sci Fi, the other the keyword Science Fiction. The Sci Fi feed produces links to stories that are almost universally crap: ECW discussions, bad anime, clueless ramblings about what star someone hopes to get an autograph from, paranormal television show reviews, self-published novels seeking a reader.   The Science Fiction feed produces links to reviews of real SF literature, commentary about conventions, fanzine reviews, new technologies, serious discussion and some frivolity. (The SF feed gets stories from the San Francisco Chronicle…)

It is clear from two plus years of google newreader feeds that Sci Fi is the great unwashed public’s name of choice for vaguely spacey CRAP. So let them keep it and use it. Let it spread. Because as popular terms spread, they water down and generalize, and I wouldn’t be at all upset if Sci Fi becomes a generalized word for CRAP.

THOSE people who use the word Sci Fi use it to describe all kinds of things that we know aren’t really Science Fiction.  As far as we’re concerned, the word is already synonymous with crap. Give it a few years and everyone will know that it’s synonymous with crap. It won’t be too much longer before THEY will have done the work for us, and there will be a true distinction between Sci Fi (crap) and Science Fiction (that literature thing).

Skiffy Tube is already educating a generation to believe that Sci Fi is profressional wrestling and ghost hunting. Which are decidedly NOT science fiction.  So let’s encourage them to use the word Sci Fi as a stand-in for excrement. Soon, very soon, when we say Science Fiction, they’ll know we’re not talking about Sci Fi.  I live for the day when someone stubs their toe or hits their thumb instead of the nail and shouts out in pain and agony – “OH SCI FI!”

(Apologies to Bill the Sci Fi guy who uses the phrase to suck in unsuspecting wrestling fans and then exposes them to Science Fiction.)

***  

Here’s a guy who gets EVERYTHING wrong.  From Ansible:  “From a local-paper story celebrating Garry Jon Simpson’s feat of publishing his sf novel through the ‘author-funded’ Athena Press: ‘I enjoy writing science fiction as you don’t have to do a lot of research for it.’ (Winsford Guardian, 21 August) [SHS]“

Now read it again with my edits: “From a local-paper story celebrating Garry Jon Simpson’s feat of publishing his sci fi novel through the ‘author-funded’ Athena Press: ‘I enjoy writing sci fi as you don’t have to do a lot of research for it.”

See?  Now it actually makes sense and you don’t feel so embarrassed for Garry Jon anymore, do you?

***

Nader coments on the ‘death of science fiction’ here.  I have unformulated objections to his contentions and intend to ramble on about them, probably later on today.

I will say one thing.  I sure hope it’s sci fi that’s dead and not science fiction.

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Lot’s of stuff going on.

First and foremost – my parents have arrived for a visit. Yes, it’s true, I have parents. And, in fact, they actually want to visit with me.  Hey – this blog is about science fiction. Don’t say that didn’t warn you that occassionally I’d post some strange and wonderous things here.

What this actually means is that, for approximately the next ten days, I will not be able to spend all my time at the computer.  What it really, really means is that I may end up losing some of my new-found traffic (thanks to two posts that have been widely picked up – the piece Scalzi’s Whatever linked to about giving fiction away for free and my bit of humor concerning how to convert a mundane heathen into an SF reader).

On the other hand, the visit may provide some interesting material for future posts.  My folks are retired so they’ve got lots of time for day trips to this and that.  Later this morning I’m meeting them to schedule out the trip.  We might end up visiting Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory (don’t tell anyone but they don’t actually make ice cream – they make frozen desserts.  ICE CREAM comes in three, perhaps four flavors – vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and maybe tutti-frutti.  All this crunchy-funky-monkey-balls and Phish Pharm Phlava crap is an affront to the dignity of mankind (what dignity?). It may be fun, it may even taste good, but IT IS NOT ICE CREAM!).  Since everyone loves ice cream, I might be able to recapture some of that traffic if I post some pics of the tour.

***

I’ve been revisiting the commentary on the ‘free fiction’ post and wanted to clear up a couple of things.

First: I made an assumption that any published author is paying at least a little attention to their stock in trade and includes finances in their considerations when placing their work.  There are all kinds of good and valid reasons why an author would offer something to readers for free – whether they receive compensation or not.  In most cases, they are receiving enough compensation, of some kind, to make it worth their while to do so.

An example from my own experience will serve to illustrate this point.  I was writing feature articles and regular monthly columns for several publications, and receiving way beyond ‘standard industry compensation’ for the work.  (My pay scale was 2 to 3 times what other writers were getting.)  I was approached by the editor of another publication with a request to write (there was a time when my name on the TOC or cover was a draw) and I asked what the pay was.  It was minimal comp – $25 an article, $50 with pictures.  This was about a quarter of what the other publications regularly paid, so obviously well below what I was receiving.

I thanked him for the offer and declined the opportunity (why undercut myself?).  About two years later I had occassion to remember something that the editor had said to me:  “We don’t censor” -  by which he meant that, unlike the other rags, he didn’t worry about pissing his advertisers off when it came to running copy.

I was at the time embroiled in a huge political fight and none of the magazines I wrote for would vet my articles on the subject.  I called up the previously mentioned editor and asked if was still interested in pieces from me.  I explained the situation and he agreed to run them.

Not only did I quickly jump to the editor’s ‘higher pay scale’, I eventually ended up as a regional editor and later sports editor for the publication and the ghost writer for many editorials.  Most importantly, I had an outlet for subjects that no one else was willing to publish.

I’d have given those pieces away for free, because in that particular circumstance the compensation I received (airing my viewpoint) was the compensation that I needed.  I’d also previously established the fact that I expected ‘decent’ compensation.

*** 

Now on this same subject: the issue of free authorship actually encompasses two different issues.  One is mostly a marketing issue:  the new writer who breaks into non-scale paying markets is willing to accept this as a (required) part of their growth. They get something in addition to exposure and experience, even if it isn’t professional level wages.  Or, as in my case, I’m trying to develop my craft in an entirely new market.  While that progresses (during which time I am receiving NO compensation for lots of hard work) I’m making myself available publicly and hopefully building a potential market.  This is called ‘investment’ and ‘growing the brand’.  If I start selling fiction, I’ll begin to realize a return on that investment.

The other issue is one of intellectual property. Ownership.  Copyright. Copywrong. Creative Commons, digital piracy & etc.

I think it’s important to remember when discussing writers and compensation – especially when the word ‘free’ is involved, to keep these two aspects separate.

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*Above you will see the first incarnation of my ‘Nightline-esque’ reminder that we are STILL being held hostage by the eldritch horrors commonly referred to as Network Programmers.  Of the cable television variety.  Next to that, you’ll notice the countdown to TDTESSTWTOMD. For those coming late or not paying attention, that is the acronym for The Day The Earth Stood Still To Watch The Original Movie Day – which is December 10th, 2008.  I want everyone and anyone who might walk into the theater to see the remake to have already seen the original so that we can all form an unbiased opinion of the two as they relate to each other.  Clicking the link will take you to the page for that activity – where you can watch the original (over and over and over and over again – like I do).*

I had occassion yesterday to update some of the pages on the Rimworlds website, the personal page that started out as a home for my Rim Worlds/A. Bertram Chandler concordance project and has since grown to include The Classic Science Fiction Channel, Pulp magazine checklist and anything else I can cram in there.

I’ve obviously been paying attention to the ‘graying of fandom’/’old sf vs new sf’/similarly themed discussions floating around and as I was adding a couple of new items to the ‘Buy A. Bertram Chandler’ section I was struck by a couple of thoughts.

First, Chandler resides in the ‘old SF category; he unfortunately passed away in 1984, his 100th birthday is fast approaching (2012) and his works are becoming scarcer, although by no means are they completely absent.

Why he has faded remains a mystery to me, one that is probably equal parts fanboy blindness and publishing peculiarity; neither he nor any critic ever claimed literary pretensions for his works, but on the other hand he was a staple at DAW books and regularly appeared in the top magazines of the day.

His stories are what that they are: quaint adventures of an archetypical science fiction hero (John Grimes) – the man who always managed to get himself into deep yogurt, and always managed to come up smelling of roses and clutching the Shaara Crown jewels.

With HUGE tomes and ENDLESS series being all the rage these days in SF publishing, it’s a wonder that someone doesn’t do a little creative editing, retitle some of his works and bring out the Grimes series again.  The hype would be fun:

An Epic Space Opera Series!

Three Decades in the Making!

THREE MASSIVE DOORSTOP VOLUMES!

Featuring Science Fiction’s ORIGINAL Horatio Hornblower of Space!

When you consider that:

Chandler wrote some 20 novels (albeit 60′s/70′s/80′s 140 pagers) and 32 shorts dealing with John Grimes, 9 other novels and 30 other shorts dealing with alternate characters, other history or parallel universe versions of the Rim Worlds – you’ve got quite a canon!

In many respects, it seems like Chandler was writing for our time, rather than his own (not surprising if you consider how much he played around with time travel, alternate realities and world-as-myth). He’d fit right in: an on-going series that could count on a steady readership, long pieces for the book trade, short pieces for the e-zines and self-promotion, stories that play around in other parts of the universe…

I’ll note that SFBC did a series of omnibi editions which are mostly still available in the used book trade and that Baen Books offers all of the Grimes stories (with two exceptions that I can see – the recently published Grimes and the Gaijin Daimyo – Dreaming Again – Jack Dann and Doggy in the Window, a short that appeared in Amazing Stories) in three e-book packages, compiled in a manner that reflects the three phases of Grimes’ career – officer in the Federation Survey Service, wandering, self-employed ship captain and citizen of the Rim Worlds Confederacy.  All of the current sources for Chandler’s material can be found here

Baen Books might want to think about offering a donwload pack of the rest of the Rim Worlds stories – there’s the Derek Calver tales (2 novels), the Empress Irene stories (3 novels – and they tie in to a Grimes novel), several other novels including The Deep Reaches of Space, Bring Back Yesterday, Frontier of the Dark – the novel based on a short story that Harlan Ellison called one of the best things he’s ever read – and a whole mess of shorts, including a Retro Hugo nominee – Giant Killer and one of the most anthologized short stories ever written – The Cage.

Me, I’d hype the space opera and continuing series aspects, hire some rabid fanboy (like me) to write a page or two of connecting material, combine three or four of the existing novels into one big tome, give them all new cover art, stick a new penname on the cover, maybe Whitley Dunstan (Chandler used both) and stick them out on the shelves.  Devoid of any connection to ‘old science fiction’, I bet they’d sell just dandy, thank you.

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There’s a Rocky Horror remake in the works.

The almost immediate response from fans BOTH old AND young has been this petition drive to kill the whole thing. Via Will Wheaton

I’d put up a pic of myself in Rocky drag (from the late 70s) to demonstrate my true blueness – if I could find the damn thing, but it remains elusive, so the story itself must suffice.

Long story short, I lost my virginity at Rutgers University while visiting friends (RHPS virginity, that is). The following year we all decided to do a theme Halloween Party and Rocky it was.

I spent a few moments of embarassment asking hosiery department clerks if they had any fishnet stockings that would fit me – until I began to enjoy the whole thing.

Getting my legs shaved was probably the worst of it all; the shower stall looked like that scene from Psycho.  My girlfriend had insisted that I couldn’t wear stockings without first shaving my legs.  In retrospect I think she was just getting off on the whole feminizing thing.

Perhaps the most amazing discovery was that I had no problem with the heels. (Guys, don’t let those women snow you – high heels are not uncomfortable and you CAN run in them.)

Make up, hair teasing, corset, cape and all the rest probably took three hours under the skillful hand of the girlfriend, after which it was time for attending the school party (before heading off to the private one which was to be capped by a midnight viewing of Rocky in Hackensack NJ).  My girlfriend went as an AWESOME Magenta. If we had bothered to stick around the open party we probably would have won best costume.  As it was, that honor went to a giant condom.

On the way over to the private party we stopped off at my folks place where the aforementioned picture was taken.

Here’s the upshot.  My father was the head of a research department for a very large international firm. He stuck an 8 x 10 of that pic on his desk so that it faced his side.  Whenever an underling would come in to whine and complain about something he’d listen patiently and then turn the picture around so that if faced them, saying “You think you’ve got problems?  THIS is my son…”

My Rocky viewing days ended decades ago when the theaters stopped letting us throw toast, hot dogs, cards, carry newspapers, shoot water pistols and, above all, light our candles and Zippos.  But that doesn’t mean (here’s the gen-gap tie in) that I don’t want legions of kidlets to be able to enjoy (nearly) the same experience.

Go sign the petition.

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YAY! Hugo Winners!

(Oh yeah, and congrats to the nominees too…)

So many others are posting this news that I’ll move on now to

FORD STREET PUBLISHING

Is becoming a powerhouse of Australian YA literature.  (They print other stuff too…) Paul Collins – he of other seminal Australian SF editorial accomplishments, has helmed this small press to a nomination on the short list for the Victorian Premier’s Award for the novel Pool by Justin D’Ath.

YA in the US has become something of a cause celebre these days.  Cory Doctorow just published one (like you didn’t know that what with all the constant PR and all) and several folks have been pointing to the better sales, better dollars, bigger growth aspects of that segment of the marketplace, suggesting that authors of traditional fare might want to give it a go.

They are also suggesting that it may be the gateway for salving the ‘graying-of-fandom’ by bringing in new, younger enthusiasts.

But what many may not know is that the Australians (and the New Zealanders for that matter) have been WAY AHEAD of this curve. 

And Ford Street Publishing is one of the leaders.

Considering that they are playing into a much smaller market AND doing so successfully should clue some folks in to the fact that they know what they’re doing.  If you’re looking for a model for small press success, there you go.

And if you don’t care about any of that crap and just want to read some fantasy – especially if you are looking for something a bit off the beaten path – here you go!.

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Up until about half a year ago or so, I’d managed to avoid Firefly.  Sure I’d heard lots of fans saying great things about it and I was certainly aware of all of the attention Joss Whedon was attracting (brilliant, down-trodden savior of all that is meaningful on TV), but I had this little problem believing any of it.  I’d been enticed into watching a couple of episode of Buffy and wrote it and Whedon off as trash.  Funny, sometimes high-concept (over the top) trash, but still trash.  Sorry Buffy fans.

I’m probably wrong about Buffy, but the second strike against it is that I’m not into vampires or fantasy, so even if I’d stuck around enough episodes of that show to catch Joss’s deftness with character, I still wouldn’t have put the show on the must watch list.  (I have no ‘must watch’ list for television.  I went seven years without an idiot box and consequently have gotten out of the habit.)

So, when I saw that Firefly was ‘by the same guy who did Buffy’, I figured some day I’d catch an episode or two, but I wasn’t going to waste any time making that happen.  Given the source and the title of the show, I figured it just had to be some SciFi send-up of a teenaged girl kicking alien monster butt – an SF re-tread of Buffy.  And to tell the truth that concept (except for the possibility of pleated school girl skirts in space) kind of left me yawning.

Then the show became available online and I decided to give it a shot.

I was intrigued from the get go.  This guy Whedon sure has created some interesting characters.  To say the man has balls is like thinking human when the reality is elephant.  Who else would start off a show with the defeat and near-death of two of his primary characters?  Who else would begin the pilot episode with a highly complex, expensive and very emotionally charged battle scene and then dump the whole frenetic, explosively paced thing for the mundanity of a freighter going about its business?

That’s like opening a hero movie with the climactic end scenes.  And then retro-flashing to the back story. Brilliant.

I watched all of the episodes on line and was thoroughly pleased. The characters were great, especially Mal and Jayne.  There wasn’t a one among the crew – Zoe, Kaylee, Wash, Inara, Book, River or Simon who didn’t have something to offer. 

Mal is nearly perfect in his conflicts – betrayed and vowing to never let it happen again, yet still reliant on a crew of misfits and inspiring deep loyalty.  He wants to be mean and get even, but he’s too nice/good a guy to really put his heart into it.  The portrayal though doesn’t overwhelm the story - it’s written into the way the character goes about doing his thing.  And the same is true for everyone else.

Of course I do have a few quibbles:  what kind of solar system has multiple planets and hundreds of moons that can all be terraformed?  No one is supposed to have FTL here, so how the heck did they get to this place from ‘Earth-that-was’?  What’s the economy like that such a small ship could make a living? (That this type of ship was designed and built presupposes economic viability without resorting to illegal activities.)  But those minorities fade into the background in the face of the characters and the storylines.

Having enjoyed the show, I decided that I needed to see the movie Serenity and absolutely put it on my ‘must watch’ list.

While waiting to acquire a copy of the movie I happened upon a chance to pick up the novelization at a library sale.  I then decided to conduct a little experiment, seeing as how I’m such a huge advocate of ‘the book is better than the movie’ type thinking.  True, this wasn’t a perfect experiment – the movie came first in this case and it really ought to go the other way around – but it still might be fun.  So I read the book all the way through to the final scenes (I put it down when Serenity and crew return to Mr. Universe’s world) and then I watched the film.

A pause now for commercial interruption -

I’ve finished the Ebay pulp magazine searches on the web page and they’re all active and up.  I’m pretty pleased with the results – I’ve even found a few pulps to add to my own watch list.  I think it’s a useful tool.  The first twenty pages or so don’t have a ‘back to the menu’ button (just use the back button) and I’m fixing that, but everything else is functional for now.

If you’re at all interested, I also added a few more images to the magazine checklist page – a couple of issues of Amazing Stories, a few more of the Ultimate reprint digests.

I still have a few Chandler Ebay searches to add (France and such) but they won’t take long and might even get finished today or tomorrow.

Now back to the show.

To begin, the novelization must have been written from a working script as there are a few scenes in the book not presented on the screen – most notably one involving Cuban cigars.  That’s actually a bonus rather than a problem, because we get a small glimpse into the movie-making process here. The scene involved Jayne and Book and may have been dropped as being a bit out of character for Jayne.  Or just for time or pacing.  We also miss out on seeing a battle scene with Book, which is a bit disappointing.

My main problem with the book was the author’s choice of presenting the crew’s manner of speaking – their vernacular and slang.  In an attempt to convey emotional content, the broken words, broken sentence structure and slang is carried beyond the dialogue.  Rather than putting you in the mood, it detracts and reads like something written by an inner-city illiterate.

The emotional content – particularly when compared directly to the movie – comes across as flat; back story and motivations are presented in the novel, they’re just not as immediate as watching the actor’s expressions or hearing their tones.

Reading the book and watching the movie were actually two entirely different experiences.  The fact that the storyline tracked so well between them is unusual – even for a novelization. (Compare Alien by Alan Dean Foster to the movie, for example.)  I found it very revealing (of Whedon’s abilities) that my full knowledge of the plot in advance of watching did not detract from my enjoyment of the film at all. 

What had left me cold while reading the book was suddenly alive in the faces of the actors.

That’s not to be saying that the book was bad.  As I said, the presentation of the characters and particularly their dialogue was a bit stilted – but that is something that I was probably overly sensitive to from having watched the television show.  I know how Mal sounds and looks and what I was reading was a slightly off, slightly pale reflection of Mal.  Recognizable, just not completely alive.  If you picked up this book sans knowledge of the show, your conclusion would most likely be ‘not bad – not great, but not terrible either, maybe I’ll catch the movie some day’.

There were also quite a few visual in-jokes scattered through the film that were not picked up on in the novel.  A crashed shuttle shows its registry numbers as C57D – the same name as the cruiser from Forbidden Planet.  At one point the ‘landing party’ are shown wearing red, yellow and blue colored t-shirts, resembling nothing so much as a party just beamed down from the Enterprise.  Quite a few of the scenes are derivative of other movies, presented in homage. I’m sure there are others that I’ll pick up on when I watch the film again.

I’m glad I had this chance to experience both forms of the story side-by-side. It was very revealing of the advantages and limitations of the different media.  I’d give the book 2 walking sticks and the movie 4 walking sticks.  In this particular case, the move outshines the literary form, which is probably as it should be, considering that the intended media was visual.

Having done this direct comparison, I can say that it confirmed my belief that one of the next big things coming down the pike will be (or should be) an original story that is conceived of and delivered as a multi-media blitz.

From the ground up, a movie is written in conjunction with a television series, the original novel is written in lockstep and the follow-on book series is plotted out while the graphic novel is drawn, the animated version is being storyboarded, the interactive game is being designed and melded with the social-networking site even as the audio book and podcast version of the radio play are being recorded and the top ten pop songs are being mixed in the studio.

A mantra of marketing is to never let anything get between the message and the consumer.  The fact that some people prefer one media over another is a huge impediment, a major objection to a sale.  Having to ‘wait’ for one preferred version or another to reach the consumer is another major objection.  By the time the product they are looking for hits the market, they’ve already moved on to other things.

But if someone can figure out a way to effectively deliver a property in all those media simultaneously, in a manner that allows them to be merged seamlessly with each other while still being workable as stand-alones - well then, they’ll be teaching Lucas a thing or two about modern day merchandising, won’t they?

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