Category Archives: publishing

My first rejection

Every writer always wonders what will happen when they send a short story off to a submissions mailbox. Experienced writers have obviously been through the process many times and many will happily tell you about how long it took to get a favourite story published, if you ask. But this was my first story submission.

To their credit, the turnaround was just two weeks. I don’t know if that was typical or because of the “fast-track” process they offer subscribers. Still, it was good to have. Many places have reputations of months.

It was only a week ago that I was telling a friend about this. And truth be told, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted it to be accepted or to be rejected. That might sound strange, but rejection from where I sent it comes with brief notes as to why it was rejected. And it was those notes I was interested in.

I was happy to read that the submission reviewers found a lot of good to say about it. I was not surprised they praised the rich world-building. I was gratified they found the characterisation strong and that the two were woven together well with a well-paced and engaging narrative.

What appears to have let it down, though, was the actual story. This blog is called “Just Add Story” for a very good reason. I’m beginning to understand this speculative fiction magazine much more with this rejection notice. Several times I’ve read stories they’ve published and wondered quite why it was accepted. Now I think I know why. My story is, at core, a very traditional one. The hero takes the side of a persecuted minority, jeopardising his own place in society. Risking his life, in fact. There’s nothing wrong with this as a story, of course. In some ways, my writing was an exercise in building a world a story could stand up in, rather than a new take on an existing story.

The catch is that it is some of the more traditional stories I am drawn to tell. A friend who critiqued a previous draft liked the romantic sub-plot – which I had added without quite realizing it was romantic; it was really added because my characters are human. And humans fall in love and get hearts broken. The mag I submitted to, however, kind of prefers new ways of interpreting existing stories. Mine is not.

One of my favourite collections of short stories is one by Anne McCaffrey called Get Off The Unicorn. It is a collection of a number of her earliest successful short stories, most of them written and published before she was an accomplished novelist. They are speculative fiction in the truest sense: they took then current memes and speculated. One of them, for example, is about surrogacy. When it was published, it was asking questions not just years but decades ahead of its time.

But I haven’t done that. My short story has a hero vaguely like myself taking choices and chances I wonder if I could take. That might not really fit what this mag wants to publish, which is fine. I am still learning story-craft, after all, and playing ‘what if’ with someone I can identify with is kind of an obvious place to write from. The questions it was asking of its readers were more human, more eternal. But it has made me aware that this magazine might not be my target market.

I’m not upset at the rejection. I’m not two thirds of the way through a bottle of cheap wine. I’m not halfway through a box of tissues. They haven’t rejected me: they’ve only said that specific story doesn’t make the grade. “Sorry, but we hope you try again.”

I’m cool with that.



Filed under Anne McCaffrey, publishing, storytelling, writing

There is so much more to Fantasy than Harry Potter

Book One of The Belgariad: a gateway to wonderful new worlds that don’t have Hogwarts or Muggles.

There is no doubt that J. K. Rowling‘s book series is definitely a wonderful phenomenon: the number of children (and adults!) who now know the value of reading a book has increased, for instance. And the whole “fantasy” genre now has substantially more visibility in the mind of the average person-in-the-street. And that’s without remembering that Twilight is fantasy. And so is Pirates Of The Carribean. And so is Star Wars.

Stories that invoke or are set in fantastical worlds have been with us for centuries. And the rise of the novel in more recent ones has been inextricably linked to Fantasy as a genre.

So I am somewhat annoyed to see that high-school students when faced with a fantasy element in their daily lives (such as me wearing a cloak on the train) fall back on Harry Potter to call it out.

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Filed under Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, publishing, Raymond E. Feist

The Price of Books

There is a bit of a kerfuffle at the moment around the way e-books are priced on retail websites. And this is more than readers complaining about prices that don’t make sense; it is about the US Department of Justice about to accuse several big publishers of pricing collusion.

Amazon and Apple and their business practices are at the centre of this. Both companies have the reputation and the ability to create a vision and then implement it. Both companies have the reputation, the ability and the desire to create closed “ecosystems”. Both companies sincerely want to be The Last Word and The Only Place for their technological niche. In Amazon’s case it is books, both on paper and electronic. For Apple, it is personal computing. Including electronic reading.


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Filed under ebooks, publishing, reading

Publishers don’t like ebooks.

I’m right on the edge of shifting to ebooks. Well, that’s misleading. I should say adding ebooks to my reading. I have no intention of abandoning my hundreds, if not thousands, of paper books in my posession. But ebooks are becoming respectable. There are authors now making a living selling almost entirely ebooks. New authors mostly, a fact which will become important later. There are reports Amazon is selling more ebooks to Kindles than sending real books in the post. Even up against Amazon’s Kindle, I see Sony having trouble keeping it’s flagship ereader in stock and, due to the open formats, many small players have surfaced. No doubt about it, readers are embracing ebooks.

But I think publishers are seriously struggling to grasp this change in the marketplace.

How much do you normally pay for a paperback in your local bookstore? This will vary across the world, but I’ve watched the prices rise considerably over the decades here in Australia. A typical mass-market fantasy paperback now retails north of AU$20, sometimes as high as AU$35.

So, go for an ebook version instead, you say? Ebooks are supposed to be cheaper, you say? According to whom, pray?

I recently purchased “Rides a Dread Legion” by Raymond E Feist. He’s a good example for this because Feist is an established fantasy author who has been around for several decades. This particular title is barely two years old and there are two sequels already on the shelves. I paid AU$20.99 for a small paperback version in a chain bookstore. Although I usually like Feist’s writing, I think he’s been off his game in some recent works and I may find this to be another. I haven’t bought a book like that for months because I don’t like that risk at that price. But I have the earlier ones in that series. So.

I don’t have an ereader quite yet, so buying it as an ebook would mostly be just an intellectual exercise. But I was curious as to what it would cost as an ebook. So I went looking.

Angus & Robertson have it on their website for AU$30.95. Yes, that was the ebook version, complete with odious DRM. The very same website has four paperback versions, three of which were less than that (the fourth is bizarrely $71.95 – I joked on Twitter that it must be handwritten on parchment). The cheapest was $15.95. That’s right: half the ebook version.

Why? Ebooks do not have printing costs, nor delivery costs.

There are clues. The same book on Barnes & Noble is US$3.99 — but B&N proclaim an 85% discount right in the listing. Yes, the official publisher’s list price is US$27.99. That’s suspiciously close to actual Australian pricing.

A series of very interesting posts by Dean Wesley Smith about self-publishing (Think Like a Publisher and Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing) gives us a lot of other clues. It turns out that there are lot of funny numbers in setting book prices at the retailer. Publishers rarely expect to sell their books to the distributor or retailer at the list price. Instead, they give huge discounts for almost any reason, including returning unsolds. This means retailers can sell “below list price” which is about all the consumer really sees but doesn’t realize they never know why. I’m simplifying hugely, though it gives you a way to see why B&N can “discount” at 85% and still make money. Go read Dean’s writings: he is a successful self-published author and he used to run a publishing house so he definitely knows what he’s talking about.

Another clue is the fracas that blew up with Apple and ebook publishers and then with Amazon and pretty much the same publishers. It is difficult to follow the numbers the whys and wherefores, but there was an awful lot of percentages being thrown around and about who was getting what and for why. The details aren’t important for this discussion: what is becoming clear that publishing houses have been for a very very long time pocketing the majority of the price of a book. Even with all those byzantine discounts. People in that sort of position will charge as much as they think they can get away with (do I really need to list examples?). Clearly, they want to keep doing that for a title published as an ebook.

Truth be told, the actual printing and delivery is quite a small percentage. CreateSpace can print you one book (depending on the length) for $6.50 – and that’s a Print-On-Demand price. Imagine how cheap a 25,000 run could be at a more conventinal printhouse — I say imagine because these kinds of quotes are really quite difficult to get. This shows that ebooks probably should be priced only slightly less than paper.

What has been seen is publishers setting ebook prices between the hardback and the trade paperback version. That not only removes mass-market paperbacks from the picture, but also all the discounting that goes on. Clearly they are fighting to protect their income. And are using ebooks to do it. And I haven’t even mentioned author percentages yet. Or tilted contracts.

I titled this piece “Publishers don’t like ebooks” but now I’m suspect it’s more like “Publishers don’t like paperbacks”.

As readers, we have to do two three things:

  1. Don’t purchase ebooks at exorbitant prices. And I chose “exorbitant” deliberately. 
  2. Complain directly to publishers — not to bookstores! — that ebook prices are too high. Sooner or later one publisher will buck the system and make a motza on volume instead of markup.
  3. Buy from new authors who are bypassing this system. The ebook prices are cheaper and the authors make more. 

When I finally do get an ereader, my book choice is going to be driven by the above three points. I’m still going to be buying paper so long as authors I want to read are still publishing in the old system.


Filed under ebooks, publishing