2011 Publishers Round Table

Welcome to 2011, a new year in publishing for fantasy and science fiction!

The big questions for 2011 are: How did 2010 go? and What should we look for in 2011? The 2011 Publishers Round Table explores these questions are more as the editors/publishers of Del Rey Spectra, Small Beer Press, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction come together to share their thoughts on fiction, authors, and the publishing industry.

DRS: Del Rey SpectraBetsy Mitchell, vice president/editor-in-chief
F&SF: Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction Gordon Van Gelder, editor/publisher
SBP: Small Beer PressGavin Grant, publisher


UNDERWORDS: Looking back at 2010, what were some of your biggest publishing challenges and accomplishments for the year?

F&SF: Given the current state of the market and the economy, the biggest challenge facing F&SF is staying afloat, so I consider staying in business to be our biggest accomplishment.

On a smaller scale than that, there were the usual challenges: maintaining the magazine’s quality level, keeping on schedule, building the readership, and developing additional revenue streams. (Isn’t that last one great corporatespeak for “making more money”?)

I think we did well on the first one, okay on the second one, okay on the third one, and not as well as I’d hoped on that last one. We tried launching an audio edition of F&SF but sales were disappointing.

SBP: They’re really two sides of the same coin: getting some of our biggest books ever out there, spreading the word, dealing with the chains and their inevitable returns, trying to keep many plates spinning!

DRS: One major challenge was overcoming the awful economy of 2009. Two cases in point showed us that 2010 was a very different (and much healthier) animal. We published two first novels in hardcover in spring 2009: Peter V. Brett’s THE WARDED MAN and Robert V. S. Redick’s THE RED WOLF CONSPIRACY. Both were exceptionally well written fantasy adventures, and we selected hardcover as the format for their first publication to show the world how strongly we felt about both of these titles and the futures of both Brett and Redick. That decision was made in mid-2008, before the extent of the downturn became clear. By the time the spring of 2009 rolled around, both books debuted in what was probably the worst publishing season ever. Who could afford hardcovers by relatively unknown names? Sales were modest. And when booksellers looked the following year at those sales, we faced the challenge of convincing them that the sales figures were due to the recession, not to any lack in Peter or Robert’s talent or commercial prospects. Luckily, our largest customers agreed with us and placed decent orders for the mass market editions—and both of those books are selling briskly, as well as the sequel hardcovers which came out in Spring 2010 (Brett’s THE DESERT SPEAR and Redick’s THE RULING SEA).

Our most-lauded title for 2010 was China Miéville’s THE CITY & THE CITY, which won the Hugo, the World Fantasy Award, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel. China is one of the shining lights of the Del Rey list and he has been getting better and better (not to mention faster!) in the last few years.

UNDERWORDS: In 2010, which trends or events have been the most surprising?

F&SF: Hmm, I’m not sure I’d say that much surprises me anymore. I guess I’m surprised that the boom in Young Adult publishing shows few signs of abating.

DRS: It’s fascinating to compare author to author what percentage of readers buy the eBook vs. print versions of new titles. In the earlier days of eReaders, you could tell by the number of SF/fantasy, business nonfiction, and men’s titles that eBooks were selling to early tech adopters. Now female readers have swarmed into the digital world and all kinds of books are selling in e-format, including huge quantities of romance and reading-group titles. Not exactly a surprise that this would happen, but very interesting to watch.

On a related topic, I’ve been watching the rise of self-publishing. I’m guessing many who have decided to go that route were frustrated by getting nowhere with the major houses, while we and others were forced to cut down on our buying during the recession; others are using the ease of publishing via CreateSpace, Author Solutions and other self-publishing vendors. In fact I advised a couple of people to take that exact route when I reluctantly turned down their manuscripts in 2009 and 2010. They’d submitted, via agent, very well written stories that didn’t fall easily into a publishing category. I’d enjoyed reading them very much and thought others would as well, but I wasn’t able to offer on them. I haven’t seen any of these hit the marketplace yet as self-published titles, but they may yet. I have seen self-published a couple of titles which I turned down because they were not at the standard Del Rey Spectra wants to see before we’ll acquire. These books, also submitted by agents, obviously were turned down by the New York publishers and their authors decided to go it alone.

A story made the rounds recently online about a self-published author who earned $17,000 in one quarter from his eBook sales. Thinking we might have missed a gem, I went to his site and read some of the work. It was not publishable by New York standards: very little story momentum, interchangeable secondary characters, wandering POV as well as tenses that changed four times per page…. We would never have bought it, as too much time would have been required for the edit. Yet the guy had made all that money. Doing the math—the books cost $5.99 per copy and the author received 70% of the total—showed that he must have sold 4,079 copies total among the dozen or so that he had available on his site. No publisher would take on an author who sold in those numbers, but obviously it was cost-effective for him as an individual. Now multiply this guy by 10,000 other frustrated, would-be authors. Where does this leave readers? In a place where they’ll need to come up with new ways of assessing available titles, I guess.

SBP: I suppose, even though I expected it to be fast, just how fast the uptake of ereaders was. When friends began to tell me about their non-techie relations happily using their iPads, Nooks, and Kindles, I could see that what people cared about was reading, not the format and that for some people the advantages of ereaders meant that most of their books would be bought online. The news that ebooks made up 1 in 3 or 4 copies of bestsellers in the first few weeks was an eye-opener.

On the bookselling side the way Borders continued to shrink was kind of horrifying. They sold a fair number of our books and I really don’t want them to disappear. Ebooks are rising fast but they’re not going to replace 500 superstores this month. The news in the last few days is that they’ve delayed payments to publishers—including our distributor. They’d better pay up!

UNDERWORDS: Which new authors should we be watching in 2011?

SBP: We have a fantastic hard science fiction debut novel coming late in 2011: THE LIMINAL PEOPLE by Ayize Jama-Everett. Ayize published it himself and then sent us a copy and we’re really looking forward to bringing it to a wider audience.

F&SF: In F&SF, I think readers should definitely keep an eye on Alexandra Duncan and Michael Alexander, both of whom made their debuts in the last 18 months. Elizabeth Bourne is also a writer to keep an eye on.

DRS: Del Rey Spectra will be proud to publish several first-timers this year. First is Ben Aaronovitch, who will launch with back-to-back titles in February and March: MIDNIGHT RIOT and MOON OVER SOHO, both urban paranormal police procedurals set in London and being simultaneously published in the U.K. by Gollancz. (MIDNIGHT RIOT will be known as RIVERS OF LONDON over there.) Ben, who wrote TV scripts for “Dr. Who” and “Blake’s 7” has finally gotten around to original work and the results were worth the wait! His main character, London probationary cop Peter Grant, learns to cope with the realization that he can work magic as he becomes the apprentice to the last wizard in England, the suave Detective Inspector Nightingale. Ben’s writing is snappy, full of action, and running over with humorous one-liners even as Peter faces truly serious danger.

Then in April-May-June we’ll publish Kevin Hearne’s first novel HOUNDED, plus the sequels HEXED, and HAMMERED, starring druid  Atticus O’Sullivan, who’s picked up a lot of enemies over the last 2,000 years. The cast of characters is amazing, including an Icelandic vampire holding a grudge against Thor to a coven of Polish witches who ran from the German Blitzkrieg. And in September we’ll debut, in hardcover, DEARLY, DEPARTED by Lia Habel, a book we’re very excited about. It’s a cyber-Victorian/steampunk romance that takes place in the shadow of a new ice age. Nora Dearly, a mouthy teenage girl and apparent orphan, leaves school for Christmas – only to be dragged into the night by the living dead.

UNDERWORDS: What are some of your most anticipated publications or events for 2011?

DRS: See the last question. We’re also looking forward on January 25 to the publication of Cherie Priest’s BLOODSHOT, an urban paranormal starring vampire Raylene Pendle, a/k/a Cheshire Red.

Also, in July we’ll be publishing BLOOD WORK, a graphic novel set in Kim Harrison’s Hollows series and written by Kim herself. And we’re hoping that 2011 will be the year of GRRM….

F&SF: For me personally, it’s the publication of WELCOME TO THE GREENHOUSE, my first all-original anthology.

SBP: This is always a tough question. I’m looking forward to all of our books for different reason. THE LIMINAL PEOPLE because it’s a great debut novel, THE MONKEY’S WEDDING AND OTHER STORIES by Joan Aiken because it has some uncollected and unpublished stories. Vincent McCaffrey’s second Boston bookhound mystery, A SLEPYNG HOUND TO WAKE, which is even stronger than the first HOUND.

Then there are two titles in our Big Mouth House line, Lydia Millet’s first book for kids, THE FIRES BENEATH THE SEA, and Delia Sherman’s FREEDOM MAZE—a book she has been working on for ten years.

UNDERWORDS: How do you think the growth of ebook sales and other media will affect publishing decisions for the coming year, if at all?

SBP: The other media sales aren’t affecting our decisions yet but the ebook market may affect them. We’ve made sure to buy ebook rights for the last few years (and the few times we didn’t get them we went back and asked again until we did). If ebook rights weren’t part of the deal now I don’t know if I’d buy the book.

F&SF: In general, I think the proliferation of electronic publishing continues to make it easier for people to make themselves heard.

The populist in me thinks that’s a good thing, but from a publishing perspective, I see this proliferation as something that creates more noise. Some of the noise is good, some of it isn’t, but the important fact is that there’s *more* of it.

What this increase in noise does—or so it appears to me—is that it makes it easier than ever to publish a book and reach 500 people with it. However, it looks to me like it’s harder than it used to be to reach 5,000 people with that same book. And the result (or one of the results, anyway) is that we get a situation where the gap between the top sellers and the average writer is larger than ever. Or so it appears to me.

But I don’t see anticipate this state of affairs will affect publishing decisions much in the year 2011. Publishers are going to continue trying to find the Next Big Thing. They’re less likely to try to grow a writer into a Big Thing.

UNDERWORDS: How do you think emerging social media networks may alter reader/writer/publisher engagement in the future?

F&SF: A friend of mine who has been working in publishing since 1966 told me that “It’s no longer a matter of publishing a book nowadays—it’s all about ‘the reader experience.'” Which means more effort will go into things that happen off the pages of the book (like message boards, online events, and Website tchotchkes). I worry about this trend because I like to read stories but I don’t typically want to interact with the author. I worry also because I see some authors spending more time on these interactions than on the writing itself. But mostly I think it’s good when artists and their audiences can connect.

SBP: It will be interesting to see if the public/private interactions change anything about publishing. I don’t want to just be pushing our books online all the  time and I enjoy talking to readers but there is only a finite amount of time in the day so any time spent on something is time not spent on another thing. If you apply that to Twitter and so on, you can see why there are Twitter specialists at huge firms and then more random representatives at smaller firms.

DRS: It’s already affecting us. Via our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and our corporate blog Suvudu.com, we can reach far more people on any given day than we can by doing live events—which are also a priority for Del Rey Spectra and which we engage in several times a year (via the San Diego, New York and Chicago Comic-Cons, DragonCon, World Fantasy, etc.). And our engagement via the social networks sets up a continuing conversation with fans. For example, we’ll give away 10 copies of a book on one day, but the discussion of the book will carry on for the next week or so. We can talk about every title we publish. And readers get to know us editors much more personally this way; we’re not just a company name on a website but the voices who talk to them every day. It makes feedback much more immediate for both parties.

UNDERWORDS: Where can readers go to learn more about your authors and your upcoming publications?

SBP: The best places would be our website, www.smallbeerpress.com and maybe Facebook. We also have a ton of excerpts, reading guides,  and so on on http://www.scribd.com/Small Beer Press.

F&SF: The Greenhouse anthology is online here: http://www.orbooks.com/our-books/greenhouse/

And for F&SF, there’s always information to be had at www.fandsf.com We’ve also got a Facebook page at that’s updated regularly.

DRS: Suvudu.com is the Random House SF/fantasy/gaming/graphic novel/pop culture blog. Links to our Twitter and Facebook accounts appear there, as well as blog feeds from a number of our authors, free 50-page samples from many of our novels and much more.

Please also direct readers to our selection of 50-page excerpts from numerous titles.


About Erin Underwood

BIO: Erin Underwood is the senior event content producer for MIT Technology Review’s emerging technology events. On the side, she reads, writes, and edits SF.
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4 Responses to 2011 Publishers Round Table

  1. Pingback: Words About Words: The Beginning of the End of the Stigma. |

  2. Nancy Holder says:

    Erin, wonderful as always. What a great article! Thanks to the editors who took time out to answer your questions so thoroughly.

  3. Pingback: Links Of The Week, Vol. 2, Issue 3 : BTS

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