Radio Archives

I got into pulp in my teens by way of Sword and Sorcery and the great Weird Tales authors; Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft. This was back in the early 70’s when there was very definitely a pulp renaissance under way. I am not entirely sure why that was. I suspect that there was probably a generation of people working in publishing who were as nostalgic for the comfort reading of their youths as I now am for the comfort reading of mine.

It probably didn’t do any harm that there were vast stocks of pulp writing just waiting to be reprinted. The 20s and 30s were in many ways the golden age of popular fiction magazines, an age before television had superseded print as the medium for popular entertainment. Close at hand, lay Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, all of the strange story cycles of Clark Ashton Smith’s Hyperborea, Zothique and Averoigne, the complete Cthulhu mythos. And that’s just to mention the work of the three titans of thirties weird. 

Shortly after I had this formative encounter, a second wave of pulp revival hit the shores of Scotland, possibly a little later than it hit the rest of the world. It consisted of reprints of Doc Savage and the Shadow, the two demigods of pulp adventure. I was big into Marvel comics back then and these were proto-super-heroes of the first order. In many ways Clark Savage Junior was the prototype of all those bright philanthropic ubermensch such as Superman, and the Shadow seemed  the forerunner of aggressive outsider vigilantes such as Batman.

The second wave of pulps ran its course much faster where I lived and there were never too many samples available but I grabbed those I could find and consumed them the way I consumed everything back then, as quickly as possible. I’ve picked up one or two when I’ve seen them but it’s not been often enough. They became something of a secondary interest for me, and I tapped into them often enough back when I used to run role-playing games such as Justice Inc  and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes. 

Anyway, I was reading James Reasoner’s blog recently and I came across a review of a release by Radio Archives of the old Operator 5 series. This sent me scurrying across to the Radio Archives site and there I found an absolute treasure trove of pulp. Ebook versions of many of the great pulp series such as the Spider, facsimiles of 30s magazines, print omnibuses of the Shadow books even audiobook and CDs of the old radio shows. This was just an awesome archive of the sort of pulp I had never got a chance to get my hands on back in my youth. Take a look at those cover reprints!

I skipped over to Amazon and discovered to my delight that the ebooks were available there so I picked up the omnibus edition of the first four issues of The Spider, Master of Men. This was excellent value, containing ( as far as I can tell) the complete contents of the original magazines as well as an introduction by Will Murray. No doubt a review of this purchase will follow at some point. 

This is one of the joys of the age of ebooks for me. I can suddenly get my hands on all of this stuff, easily and instantly and at a very reasonable price. If you’ve any interest in this sort of thing, you should take a look. There’s everything from detectives stories to range-land romances. 

 

Indie Publishing a Print Book

So, how much does it cost to independently produce the print version of a book these days?

Well, Stealer of Flesh (currently available from Amazon, the Book Depository and any bookstore where you care to place an order ISBN: 978-1483969541) cost me somewhere under $125. To those of you who, like me, grew up in the world of Quark Xpress, offset printing and warehouse distribution, that number is probably jaw-dropping. Welcome to the new world of Print On Demand (POD) publishing.

Let’s take a look out how the figures break down. I used CreateSpace, Amazon’s print on demand subsidiary for the actual production. Signing up for an account was just as easy as signing up for a KDP account. It was a case of inputing some personal details and how I wanted to be paid and I was good to go.

The hardest part of book production for me has always been the cover. Each one is an individual exercise in layout based on the thickness of the spine which, in turn, is based on the number of pages and the type of paper. This turned out to be handled very easily by CreateSpace. I inputed my trim size (the actual measurement of the book, in this case a 5.5 inch by 8.25 inch trade paperback), the number of pages and the colour of paper I wanted (a choice between white and cream) and CreateSpace gave me a template with the exact size of the cover I required.

I cheated on the next step. I sent the details on this template to Clarissa Yeo at Bookcoversale.com who does my ebook covers and she set up the cover for me. Clarissa does a very nice package deal where the cost of the print cover adds only $25 to the cost of the ebook cover. Her full print cover deal is $85, her ebook cover only costs $60. I am going to subtract the cost of the ebook cover from that of the print book cover since the ebook had already been released at this stage. Anyway, as far as I was concerned, that was the hardest part of the production out of the way.

Next up I bought a multi-book license for the Crimson page layout template from Joel Friedlander at bookdesigntemplates.com. This cost $97. Joel is a professional in this field and his templates, which use open source fonts, look great.

I could have laid the book out myself but using the template made things very easy. It also stopped me from making very basic rookie mistakes like having page numbers on blank pages. Now I know you’re thinking you said producing the book cost less than $125, Bill, and there’s almost one hundred bucks right there. You’re right too but I have already got 3 books in the Kormak series and I can use the template for all three of them so I am going to divide the cost by three, rounding it up to $33 because I am lazy. The fact is that I will be able to use the template for future print books in the series giving it a nice consistent overall look, that will drop the price even more.

It took me a couple of hours to cut and paste the manuscript into the template but the process was simple and doubtless will become more so as I become more familiar with it.

Once that was done, I saved the Word file as a PDF and uploaded it and the cover to CreateSpace. I waited a few minutes, did a basic check of the online proofs just to make sure everything was OK and then ordered a print proof. At the end of the initial creation process I decided to pay $25 for extended distribution which means the book can be ordered by ISBN from any bookstore.

I confess I cannot remember how much I paid for the proof copy but I am pretty sure it was under $20 since I chose the slowest shipping option. There were some errors (made by me) in the layout but otherwise the book looked really excellent. I corrected the errors in Word, uploaded a new PDF, got another proof sent and this time everything looked fine. I approved the book and a couple of days later it was available on Amazon and ready to be shipped.

Total cost to me: $123 or so, including a couple of proofs shipped internationally.

What about other costs such as editing, artwork etc, I hear you ask. Well, I had already paid for those for the ebook so I am writing them off. I think this is fair since most indie publishers will probably be releasing ebook versions of their work and quite likely before the print version.

In the end, producing is a print book is more work than an ebook, that is for sure but it is worth it. At the end of the day there is something really nice about having an actual book sitting on your shelves.

Howard Andrew Jones on Sword And Sorcery

 I first encountered Howard Andrew Jones over seven years ago when he was editing the old Flashing Swords website. Howard bought my first Kormak story, The Guardian of the Dawn, which naturally disposed me to think he was a man of considerable good taste. Over the years we’ve engaged in a good deal of correspondence on the subject of Sword and Sorcery, a type of fiction close to both our hearts. We shared many of the same influences, from Robert E Howard to Fritz Leiber to Michael Moorcock. It turned out Howard was, in particular, an expert on one of the giants of pulp fiction, Harold Lamb. He has also edited the definitive modern collection of Lamb’s fiction for Bison Books.

Howard went on to pen one of the best S&S novels of the last decade, Desert of Souls, a book I was very proud to be asked to blurb. This was an Arabian Nights historical fantasy tale of two swashbuckling adventurers set in 8th Century Baghdad and beyond. Howard has now written a sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, which I am very keen to get my hands on.  I asked Howard to guest post and he was kind enough to agree so here he is talking about his influences and what shaped him as a writer. Take it away, Howard…

While I’d been introduced to fantasy fiction when my mom read me The Hobbit, it was Dungeons & Dragons that sent me exploring for more of it. Appendix N lay at the very back of The Dungeon Master’s Guide, and there were treasures within. The problem was that the library didn’t HAVE most of those treasures. I’ve sometimes wondered how my writing and reading life would have differed if the library had actually held any Robert E. Howard books, not to mention a whole bunch of other things Appendix N said were must reads. The library DID have the Amber series, but the first few books were checked out for months.

Fortunately there were used bookstores in town. And even more fortunately I found a great copy of Swords Against Death by some guy that Appendix N recommended highly, Fritz Leiber. The first story wasn’t much of a thing, kind of an intro. But from there… wow. I knew I’d found something really good. It remains one of the finest sword-and-sorcery collections I’ve ever read, and my favorite of all the Lankhmar books. Sure, there are other great Lankhmar stories, but I don’t think any other Lankhmar book is as consistently excellent.

The same bookstore had the Corum books by Michael Moorcock – both trilogies – and some more Lankhmar, and friends had the Elric novels and, thankfully, the Amber books. After devouring those I knew that I was a fantasy fan, but I didn’t realize it was sword-and-sorcery that particularly ticked my clock until years later.

In my late twenties I decided that if I was really serious about writing fantasy it would be wise to understand the roots of the genre. At that point in time I was living in Topeka Kansas, which had three excellent used book stores, and was only twenty minutes from a very fine used book store in Lawrence Kansas. Between those four stores and some internet searches I was able to track down a whole slew of older, out of print books and explore the grandfathers and grandmothers of fantasy. The famed Ballantine Adult Fantasy series was a huge help. Helmed by Lin Carter and Betty Ballantine in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series showcased a whole bunch of lost classics and influential fantasy writers.

It was interesting reading, even when I discovered I wasn’t that fond of the writer. For instance, William Morris was really important… but his characters were pretty wooden. Lord Dunsany, though, was a revelation, and E.R. Eddison was a marvel. I enjoyed various other greats and near greats, but none of them thrilled me nearly as much as Robert E. Howard and Leigh Brackett.

After two or three years of exploration I’d discovered that while I liked fantasy in general, it was sword-and-sorcery (and sword-and-planet, particularly Leigh Bracket!) that I liked the most. And so I’ve been a proponent of the sub-genre ever since. Surely, there is bad s and s, but there is also good, and in recent years there has been a steadily rising supply of it after a dearth of many years. Some of the best fiction has been from Warhammer authors like Nathan Long, Clint Werner, and some guy named William King, and I’m always puzzled that sword-and-sorcery fans in the wider world haven’t heard of Gotrek and Felix, Brunner, or Ulrika and the Blackhearts (sounds like a line-up of hard rock bands, doesn’t it?)

Back in the early ‘90s the lone sword-and-sorcery author seemed to be the late, great, David Gemmell, but the door has widened. Writers like Joe Abercrombie, Matthew Stover, and Scott Lynch pushed it open and more and more sword-and-sorcery writers have come through after them, me along with them.

What do I like about sword-and-sorcery? There are protagonists who must live by their wit and weapons skills in deadly lands, beset by schemers and intriguers. There is treasure to be found, and ancient secrets. There are loyal comrades, implacable foes, powerful but foolish kings, secret societies, fabulous kingdoms, and dark wizards and forbidden secrets. There is world building, surely, but there is forward momentum and a distinct lack of navel gazing. In the hands of the best sword-and-sorcery practitioners, story comes first – and it may be that it’s this craftsmanship that appeals to me most strongly of all. I like a good slice-of-life tale or literary experiment sometimes, but what I prefer is a tale where interesting people go off to interesting places and do interesting things.

Thanks to Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb I was exposed to masterful historical adventure fiction, and because of a whole bunch of additional influences I fell in love with 8th century Arabia and the 1001 Nights. My own work is a marriage of that love for Arabian fantasy tales and all the things I like in sword-and-sorcery. I wouldn’t be writing this kind of stuff if I wasn’t a fan, and it’s my sincerest wish that readers will find the same kind of thrill in my stuff that I have found in my own favorite writers.

 When not spending time with his family Howard can usually be found hunched over a laptop or notebook, mumbling about doom-haunted towers and flashing swords. His debut historical fantasy novel, The Desert of Souls (St.Martin’s/Thomas Dunne Books 2011) made Kirkus’ New and Notable list for 2011, and was on both Locus’s Recommended Reading List and the Barnes and Noble Best Fantasy Releases list of 2011. Its standalone sequel, The Bones of the Old Ones, released this week, has received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. He is hard at work on a third historical fantasy novel as well as a sequel to his Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows.

E-Books: The Content Wars Begin

When I signed into my KDP account today there was a new banner right beside the logo announcing KDP Select and showing a link to the details of the new program. (For those of you who do not know the acronym, it stands for Kindle Direct Publishing and it’s the arm of Amazon that lets me distribute those ebooks you see in the right hand column of this blog.) The basic information is interesting.

In return for going exclusive with Amazon for 90 days you get access to some bonus features. You can make your book free for 5 days out of 90. (This is a bigger deal than it seems since free can be an important promotional tool and it is very difficult to get your book to go free on Amazon without jumping through a lot of hoops. This is particularly true if, like me, you don’t live in the US.)

Perhaps most interestingly Amazon has established a fund of half a million dollars from which it will pay out a lending fee to those whose books are borrowed in December. This library is open to its Prime customers. Amazon is apparently going to be doing this every month from now on. This is a bit like the Public Lending Right system that the UK has except that it is being used by a private company.

I suspect some people are going to make a fair bit of cash from this to begin with, mostly the people who are already doing well from ebooks, and maybe a few others if not very many people sign up. However long term I am not so sure this is a great benefit for writers although it is for Amazon. It effectively establishes a fixed amount for them each month to provide a well of free content for their Prime subscribers.

It’s worth taking a moment to think through some of the implications of this. This is a prototype subscription model. It takes a fixed amount of money and it divides it among a number of suppliers whose content is then going to be made available to Amazon’s fee paying Prime Members. Remind you of anything? Of course, Netflix, HBO, your cable supplier all use a similar model. It has one huge advantage for Amazon though—Amazon gets to set how much money it’s prepared to spend each month. It is not being negotiated with the providers save by an opt-in or opt-out measure.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this need necessarily turn out to be a bad thing or that it’s the final model. I think this is a scale model, being run with indies as guinea pigs, to see how this whole system will work out. If it works fine. Amazon will then have a working prototype for something bigger that it can show to the big boys in New York or London. And by big boys I don’t just mean publishing houses, I also mean megastar authors. This is a whole new revolutionary system as far as the book business is concerned, a whole new business model. Nothing like it has been seen in the business of publishing before, other than the limited state sponsored initiatives by the British, Irish and German governments and these were not meant as business systems at all.

What are the benefits for Amazon: lots of exclusive content. Short term: a small perk for its Prime customers.  Competitors locked out. At first in the relatively unimportant indie market (sorry fellow indies but its true) and possibly in the much more important big publishing markets if  Amazon can make the system fly. It’s not about locking out Big Publishing either. I am sure Amazon would be delighted to cut a deal with New York. It’s about the competition with Apple and Google and Microsoft and whatever new disruptive competitor might leap into the market. It’s about being a monopoly on distribution or part of a limited monopoly (an oligopoly if that’s the word.)

As an indie writer, what are the consequences for me? I will try it. The truth is that Amazon represents something like 97% of my sales anyway. I can’t do it with the old books because they are quite tough to pull out of general distribution. I was thinking that freebie promotions would be a good way of boosting sales on a series and you would only need to go exclusive with the opening book in the series. It did not too long to spot the flaw in my logic there. (It’s not much use making all the other books in a series non-exclusive if readers can only get the first book from Amazon!) I strongly suspect that going exclusive with Amazon might lead to a little extra cash for a writer like me, and a lot of extra cash for the big name indie success stories. In either case, I am not sure that it will make difference to the big picture for us.

I think what’s important here with Select is that it gives us a clue as to what Amazon is thinking, and the way in which it is looking to the future. Select could be the start of the long discussed rental model for ebooks. Because of the way it’s set up, it looks like it’s just one small skirmish in a greater struggle, but I think it’s a harbinger of things to come.  I think that, as far as publishing is concerned, the content wars have well and truly begun.

Addendum: David Gaughran has put up an excellent article on the pros and cons of the Select program here.