Category Archives: Things You Missed Last Week

This Week's Fish Wrap (№43): We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Toto

Oddly enough, this hasn’t been the expected result of being born in British Columbia of two parents who were both also born in the province, and two of whose parents in turn were born in Canada (one of the other two being born in Newfoundland, which at the time was a British Colony; the other in Northern Ireland), and as far as I can tell there’s more English and Irish than anything else about me, but what can I do when the facts of the matter are clearly delineated?

Atomic Fez Publishing, apparently, is a Welsh outfit, and is part of a cabal bent on promulgating the Welsh agenda of dominating the world with the literature of the country “where the land meets the sky”: Cymru. From Bro Morgannwg to Ynys Môn, from Sir Benfro to Wrecsam, around here it’s all about the “land of my fathers”, even if it doesn’t happen to have anything to do with any of my fore-​​fathers or mothers (see above).

Baner Cymru
Baner Cymru

Some of you might be wondering what I’m blethering about, and the rest no doubt are merely reading this far in order to discover if there’s a new sale price on something or a contest, or whatever.

I’ve occasionally joked about being secretly Welsh, or that I only have dealings with Welsh people. This was usually after someone had pointed out the number of Welsh authors Atomic Fez has published. Given that the books Wicked Delights and Twisthorn Bellow by John Llewellyn Probert and Rhys Hughes (and with names like that, what else could their Country of Origin be?) formed 50% of the initial catalogue, who could blame people for the confusion?

The thing is, it doesn’t stop there, you see. The covers of Twisthorn Bellow, Ponthe Oldenguine, and The Terror and the Tortoiseshell were all done by Steve Upham, who runs Screaming Dreams and was both born and raised in South Wales, where he continues to be quite Welsh. The cover for Dirk Danger Loves Life was done by Terry Cooper, who lives in Cardiff Bay (the area; he doesn’t actually live in the bay itself). This brings the number of book covers being designed in Wales to four out of the seven total titles.

Carrying on, any order placed by people in the United Kingdom (which is comprised of Wales and the bits on the other side of the Severn River [England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and various tiny islands around it]) or Europe receive their book(s) thanks to the continuing packaging and posting efforts of one Christopher Teague, who runs Pendragon Press from a teeny-​​tiny post office box located in Maesteg at the northernmost end of the Llynfi Valley, close to the border with Neath Port Talbot; and its name, plus the names of the other locations – plus their singular shortage of vowels – ought to tip you off about the country it’s in.

Now, with all of that, you’d think we were done. But no.

It turns out that the winner of the signed copy of Dirk Danger Loves Life happens to live in Newport (or Casnewydd), a city and unitary authority area in Wales, which stands on the banks of the River Usk, is located about 12 miles (19 km) east of Cardiff, and is the largest urban area within the historic county boundaries of Monmouthshire and the preserved county of Gwent. Plus, as if that’s not enough, they are a distant relative of the author of the book, Chris Rothe, and that side of the family has substantial roots in Wales. Thus, three of the books in the catalogue of sent titles are written by Welshmen.

Later this week I’ll be meeting and signing a publishing agreement with an author whose book will not likely be released until the spring of 2013. Their novel is based in and around the country of Wales. He lives in Wales, and a few months ago lived in a part of the country which was so very Welsh that one couldn’t get any further from other countries without the need of a dory. His girlfriend is not only Welsh, she speaks Cymraeg and is fluent, fer Pete’s sake!

Thus, I give-​​up. Yes, there’s Terribilis by Carol Weekes, the story set in and around the Ottawa region where she is born and bred; certainly there’s The Beautiful Red by James Cooper, who lives in Nottinghamshire; absolutely there’s The Terror and the Tortoiseshell by Wakefield’s finest John Travis; without a doubt Andrew Hook, author of Ponthe Oldenguine, lives and set his book in the area of Norwich… these are nothing but an artifice covering the truth of the matter: in actual fact Atomic Fez is run specifically for the betterment of those who know that while it’s true mae na orsaf petrol yn Yr Orseddond mae does dim byd yna i weld yno (there is a petrol station in Rossett, but there’s nothing to see there).

If you wish to experience the Welsh tongue [pauses for someone near back to chortle with filthy intent] there are a number of places on the web to gain some language skills. You would be wise to be careful about the matter, however, because one site providing a list of phrases in the native language disturbingly provides something akin to a run-​​down of dialogue during an encounter with a particularly unsatisfactory result:

Croeso I Gymru!!
Croeso I Gymru!!

I can’t speak Welsh [well].
Alla i ddim siarad Cymraeg [yn dda]. (Alh’a ee thim SHARad kym-​​RYE-​​g [uhn tha])

Do you speak English?
Ydych chi’n siarad Saesneg? (UD-​​ich ch’een SHARad SAYES-​​neg?)

Is there someone here who speaks English?
Oes rhywun yma sy’n siarad Saesneg? (Oyss RHEEW-​​in UMma seen SHARad SAYES-​​neg?)

Help!
Help! (Help)

Look out!
Hendiwch! (HEN-dyoo’ch!)

I’ve not changed a thing with that order, nor left anything out. HEAD HERE to confirm this (scroll down a teensy bit to locate its start).

I can only conclude in the obvious way: Cymru am byth!!!

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Things You Missed Last Week (№42): Competition is Competitive

For about a couple of weeks now, I have been predicting my own demise. Not too surprising, the usual estimate for each human being’s chance of death is 100%, after all. However, I’m speaking of ‘me’ as a publisher.

Scribner’s submissions readers deciding what to do with latest arrivals (Parker Brothers Ouija Board advert, Dec. 1969)
Scribner’s submissions readers deciding what to do with latest arrivals (Parker Brothers Ouija Board advert, Dec. 1969)

No, no; I’m not making some heavy-​​handed statement of portentous variety regarding lack of sales, quality of submissions, or the economy in general. I’m thinking in realistic terms about the likelihood and viability of publishers as ‘literary gate keepers’ or ‘curators of quality books’. I don’t foresee this as being something which either the reading public or the creative authors considering as tenable in the years to come.

Ever since someone said to Homer (no, not the yellow guy, the ancient Greek poet) “that’s great writing, but I don’t think we’ll be making copies of that story for people… try Demonites down the road, maybe he’s got room in his catalogue”, the Publisher has had control over what the public can read. Yes, there have been some notable exceptions to this power – DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, TE Lawrence’s (no relation) Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, and James Joyce’s Ulysses–but mostly due to either “unprintable words” or the fact that publishers thought no one would like to read a book about people living in Arabia. Publisher’s aren’t alone in making foolish oversights: the man at Capital Records, UK must still bemoan his note stating “people no longer are interested in Rock & Roll bands” after listening to the audition tapes for The Beatles, to the great gain of EMI.

As a side note, the nasty aspect of this attitude of “only we can declare what is ‘worthy’ of your reading time” manifests itself in murmurings such as the recent decrying of “readability” as something the Mann Booker Prize Jury considered as part of their deliberations. Apparently when deciding what is good fiction one isn’t supposed to ask questions like “is it fun to read?” and one should limit oneself to “is it good for you?” Poppycock, say I, and so does Graham Joyce, the currently Acting Chairman of the British Fantasy Society (but then, he would, wouldn’t he?) in his piece titled “Don’t Confuse ‘Readability’ with ‘Dumbing Down’ ”. As much as I’d like to take a piece out of the attitude that “fun” is akin to “low brow” or even “sinful”, the real problem here is that it’s thought to be ‘of reduced quality’. I’d be hard-​​pressed to locate a musician who can play much of the music of King Crimson, Queen, or Steely Dan, but it sure is fun! Complicated, complex, intricate, and brilliant, absolutely! But don’t confuse it’s “fun quality” with it being ‘easy’, or ‘popular’ with being ‘sub-​​par’!

Just after the start of the millennium, there was a big resurgence in the “why can’t we just print copies ourselves?” school of thinking, and three things resulted directly from this:

  1. small press formed in the vein of the Bloomsbury Generation style where everyone ran their own house and acted as launderers of literary works by their friends, or published works they truly believed in and nurtured them to perfection
  2. people truly self-​​published (sometimes using an editor but frequently not, more’s the pity)
  3. unscrupulous bastards started “author’s fulfilment houses’ which basically sucked every single cent out of the authors who innocently handed over all their worldly assets in order to see their name on the front cover of a book

I don’t see this as a bad thing (with the exception of the third, which is all bad plus a bag of chips). Some suggest that “it’s good for people to release crap that ought to have been edited, never mind proofed, as then the readers will understand just how valuable the publisher is!” This is the argument of the grumpy, self-​​important, and bitter. The reading of low-​​quality writing isn’t anything but harmful to everyone who writes, for this can only lead in the long term to people being ‘turned off’ to the joys of reading. I decry this situation and those who see it as good even in the short-​​term. Self-​​publishers should be encouraged to use editors and proof-​​readers for the simple reason it makes their work better in the same way it improved the works of  Dickens, Joyce, Christie, Atwood, and every other writer you can think of.

The principle that I see being served is that of “providing an increased choice of material”. There are only so many books I can publish, no matter my desire. There are only so many books Simon & Shuster or Random House can put out each week. The more books which are made available, the greater the selection available.

Around the same time as the above three points came to pass, there was a common view that a narrower and narrower variety of books were being released; especially in the UK bookshops. There were oodles of new books coming out, have no doubt! But they were all of a piece: homogeneous in style, length, story, and often even in their cover art. The notion that “fantastical fiction” (SF, Fantasy, Horror, or amalgam of all three plus some other things as well) might see the surface of a shelf in a store was anathema to the large-​​house publishers, as the Big Boys® were of the opinion that ‘people aren’t buying those sorts of books any more’ and then they’d chuckle in that superior way of someone who had all of the answers.

However, obviously the large houses’ eschewing of SF&F titles was correct in one simple way. People such as Orion, Spectra, and Del-​​Ray were keeping things going as well as they could, but if you don’t release lots of SF&F titles, then it’s quite difficult for anyone to buy lots of lots of SF&F titles. QED.

So, a large number of people who loved ‘those sorts of books’ decided to do something about it and started small presses in the UK and North America so as to release either their own work, the work of others whose writing was in many instances excellent, as well as long out-​​of-​​print titles which couldn’t be found in anything but the rarest editions. Things were furthered by word-​​of-​​mouth and the development of superior “digital printing techniques” which made the printing of books in quantities as small as 200 the same wholesale cost per unit as doing a run of eight hundred or a thousand using traditional lithographic /​ offset techniques. Hooray!

Fast forward to today, and the matter gets a great deal easier for the author or “hobby” publisher to release works, as well as those such as myself who make this a full-​​time concern.

The main benefit to the author or “hobby” publisher is Amazon for various reasons, but they all come down to being a single source of solutions to every imaginable problem: electronic books (Kindle Direct Publishing, née “Digital Text Platform”), as well as paperback and hardback books (Create Space) can be had easily as well as providing a place to sell them to the world (Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.fr, Amazon.de, Amazon.jp) and the author/​publisher can keep a piece of the retail action if they set-​​up their links correctly (Amazon Associates Programme).

The side-​​effect of this is that Amazon has essentially destroyed the necessity of the “bricks and mortars” store, especially the independent book shop. There is no conceivable way for even a ‘big box’ book retailer to have close to the selection of titles that Amazon has on its sites. Even Chapters.Indigo.ca has a far larger selection than the biggest location you can walk into. The average small– or one-​​location bookstore owner has to compete in the only way they can: by specialisation in a particular content type.

There are other ways, obviously, as WH Smith has started to do recently, as their deal with Kobo looks far more to the future than simply making space in their stores for the hardware and their site for the eBooks by connecting with the largest eBook catalogue in the world. Again, the approach here is the re-​​gain the customers both through their stores as well as individual homes or offices (or wherever they’re using their computers).

In addition to adding eBooks to the shop, the other way a ‘high street’ operation can compete with the vast selection of titles offered on line is to install the Espresso Book Machine, something which has been around for a number of years now, and seems to arrived at an iteration which offers both decent-​​enough quality and reasonably good value for reader, store-​​owner, publisher and author alike. Next week I’ll babble about that here.

Next week will also see the announcement of winners in the two “get your book signed to you by the author!” contests, so head over to order your copies of Dirk Danger Loves Life and Terribilis today! This week is also your final opportunity to get both printed editions and eBooks on sale, so head to the Book Catalogue to fill your basket. 

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Things You Missed Last Week (№41): The Ever-Changing Retail World [UPDATED]

Before we get into anything ‘newsy’, let’s have a look at what’s been consuming me nearly steady for a couple of weeks or more on the main site: “platform compatibility”.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the main site, but didn’t much feel like trying to hard-​​code the HTML and so on. There are ways to do just about anything on a site, but unless you want to have nested tables galore, complicated style-​​sheets with floating location specifics, and a shed-​​load of other things I can’t even spell, it wasn’t easy. Possible, yes; but not easy.

Then an old friend of mine said “you know, I think we should re-​​do my site again”. So, I poked around a bit trying to find some way to do what I knew had to be easier now that HTML standards have actually become more… well, standardised. Heavens be praised, things have gotten far easier and more compliant across various browsers. No longer do Firefox, Internet Explorer, and Safari make things look so different you wonder if you’re looking at the same site sometimes!

The new headache: multiple viewing devices with screens anywhere from a mobile handset all the way up to a Cinema Display. Something that looks great on your 28″ wide-​​screen monitor isn’t going to look great on a 3 1/​2″ phone. Plus, even if it does look decent, there’s a hell of a lot of scrolling to be done on that tiny screen to find the bit on the page you want.

So… after a steep learning curve shoving the knowledge of multi-​​media aware style sheets into my tiny brain, he’s got his site, and I’ve got the same sort of stuff going on here as well. Hooray!

All of that sounds quite geeky, but what it comes down to is that, no matter how you’re looking at the main part of the site (as opposed to this blog; I’ve still got to sort this part out), it’ll adjust to the screen you’re looking at it with, and the site will look pretty as well as be practical.

Here’s how things looked on the three major screen dimensions originally (using a post from a week ago as an example; click for embiggenization):

Full-Size View of Page
Full-​​Size View of Page
Tablet View of Page
Tablet View of Page
Smartphone View of Page
Smartphone View of Page

Basically, what you have is an increasingly smaller section of the top left corner.

Here’s how it looks on the three major dimensions now (again, click for embiggenization)!

NEW Full-Size View of Page
NEW Full-​​Size View of Page
NEW Tablet View of Page
NEW Tablet View of Page
NEW Smartphone View of Page
NEW Smartphone View of Page

Quite an improvement! Now the navigation buttons adjust where they are as the screen narrows in, plus the header graphic changes to take-​​up less space. When you get small enough for the smartphone, everything turns into a long, single column arrangement, no longer requiring things to work much wider than a single picture (because that’s all the width we’ve got really).

With 16% of traffic to the site identifying itself as a tablet (to say nothing of monitors using resolutions near tablet-​​dimensions), it’s important for any site to have these things in mind, but especially when you’re selling eBooks which some people want to read on their tablets, iPods, or smartphones.

In theory, it should be so easy to use now you shouldn’t notice any change has happened until it’s pointed out to you. However, I hope you find the site easier to use as a result.

   

Electronic Sales v. Retail Sales v. On-Line Retail Electronic Sales

Apparently, WH Smith and Kobo have teamed up to provide equipment for the people to read their eBooks on. Kobo supplies the back-​​end to the WH Smith site, plus possibly arranges for re-​​branding their wi-​​fi touch-​​screen readers (which will be the first in the UK) with the high-​​street shop’s logo. It’s the second time Kobo has scored a European deal, as they announced a deal in France just the week prior to the UK deal with WH Smith, and only a few days after the announcement of the Kindle France Store opening.

The move is a smart one for both the UK and French firms, apparently. According to Bloomsbury executive director Richard Charkin speaking to delegates at Frankfurt Book Fair as part of a Google panel about e-​​books, if retailers are to compete with Amazon, they have to create their own devices to sell to people, presumably to keep the customer inside their particular garden. It’s worked quite well for both Apple and Amazon, as both companies have found ways to not only sell equipment to people, but the content to go on that equipment as well. “One stop shopping”, if you will. Add to that houses such as Hyperion as well as Macmillan Bellow and others finally realizing they can make people happy by re-​​releasing their back catalogues and actually have people buy the stuff that’s been out of print and un-​​available for years (and it’s about bloody time, say I), the sooner the shops get wise to the ways of the Big Companies Who Are Beating Them At Their Own Game, the better.

It’s a bit of a losing proposition, though, as the UK has been seen as the worst nation to protect the chains. Some might see that as a damned good thing. Maybe there’s a point there, too. However, the independents flourish by being able to point at the major shops and say “we deliver something they can’t: speciality in selection”. Thus, if all the big stores up and disappear, then the independents will suddenly have to make a go of it without the large stores to do their constant barrage of advertising which serves to remind everyone that “books is good”. It seems a bit odd, suggesting that the little guys are served well by the big guys plastering their 3-​​for-​​2 sales everywhere, but there is a give-​​and-​​take relationship where both sides benefit from each other more than is apparent initially. Certainly it’s a more balanced relationship than the competition between high street shops and the Sainsbury’s of the world (and there’ll be a digital edge to that one soon), and one which John Lecarré now admits he was part of the push that opened to the door to.

Granted, if the big publishers and the large distribution corps keep slapping DRM all over everything, the more electronic reading devices there are out there, the faster and more frustrating the arrival at “but I can’t read my book now” will be. If you buy a book through Amazon, then try to read it on your iPad using Amazon’s app, you might find that book’s digital lock isn’t iOS 5 compliant. Or, possibly, the book you bought at Penguin’s site might not be something your Sony Reader wants to open for you. Why not? Well, it’s the Digital Rights Management that prevents you “trying to do something that’s not allowed”: basically, anything they hadn’t thought about two years ago. Even if your eBook file opens on your Samsung tablet today, who’s to say the next Android operating system up-​​grade won’t do something ever-​​so-​​slightly differently than it used to, the file’s pre-​​programmed settings have a look at things, don’t recognize the way things are done as “correct”, and then shut the door and refuse to open it again.

This is why Atomic Fez sells all its eBooks clean of DRM. You should be able to read that eBook file on whatever equipment you’ve got today, tomorrow, and in the next decade. People basically are honest. You’re not going to try to sell CDs of the books on a street corner next week. Publishers have more trouble getting people to buy any books these days, and really ought to stop worrying about people buying books “the right way”.

Price eBooks fairly, skip the DRM rubbish, drag out the books that have been out-​​of-​​print for a couple of decades and do the same, and everyone’s happy.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

UPDATE: Over on FutureBook (part of “The BookSeller”), there’s a post explaining how Kobo’s recent in-​​roads in Europe actually demonstrate how it’s better at market penetration than both Apple and Kindle. Mostly, it’s because of the minimum of DRM-​​control and lack of “you buy from us, yo0u read with us, you are owned by us” approach to things, thus completely contrary to the other two big players.

  

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Hooray for JLP! (or "Promo Proberto: Sound Use of Your Time")

This Saturday John Llewellyn Probert can be seen at The Dracula Society’s autumn meeting in London, who are hosting “An Evening with JLP (and puppets!)”, where he shall read, be interviewed, and then the Lord & Lady Probert shall perform their little stage show again (which explains how the puppets got involved).

For those of you not in London (aka: “the Centre of All Known Culture”) that particular evening, herewith is a videographic record – complete! with colour! and sound! – of the Brighton performance of Blood on Satan’s Claw (The Pantomime), presented for your entertainment by Theatro Proberto! Thanks to Martin Roberts for his mad skillz with video production (not the least of which is his ability to shoot live on-​​stage insanity with nary a clue what’s about to happen).

Those ‘in the know’ regarding Mr. Probert’s writing will recognise this is not the first time he has attended an event of the Dracula Society’s creation. No no! He won the “Children of the Night Award” in 2006 for his collection The Faculty of Terror, which is a dashed good read (even if it was published by some other house [judgemental sniff])

But wait! There’s more JLP fun! You can also revel in his genius by reading THIS INTERVIEW over on the web-​​site Read Horror. It’s a bit of a shock, one realises. “JLP reads… [gasp!] horror?!? It’s too much to take in at once!” Yet, he does. He obviously also writes horror, watches horror, and even performs horror. Rumours of him eating and sleeping with horror have been found to be just that: baseless rumours.

JLP reads Horror!
JLP reads Horror!

I admit to finding the title of the blog Read Horror a tad counter to its aim, frankly. There not being a conjugated verb there, one takes the initial word to be presented in the imperitive, thus we are ordered to rush from the screen and locate something by Poe, Wilkie Collins, or Bram Stoker. If we are to to infer that the site itself presents horror, then we are destined to run from our computers screaming in terror. Adding the pronoun “we” at the front of the title would go a long way to explaining the people responsible for the content are afficianadoes and enthusiasts of the genre.

But, I digress…

In the future, we can look forward to more about Mr. Probert, as the chap at Professor Gruntsplatter’s Spookatorium wants Mr. Probert to read a story and provide a few comments on it. Specifically the good Professor – whose real name is Scott E. Candey, apparently – wants to hear the author “The Iconostasis of Imperfections”, which you can read along with by ordering a copy of Wicked Delights.

Meanwhile, he continues to work on his first novel (which Atomic Fez will publish), and write horror-​​film reviews which you can read on THIS BLOG (see, I told you he watches horror!).

To keep up to date with all things JLP, head to his official site RIGHT HERE.

Things You Missed Last Week (№40): The British Fantasy Society

Well, well, well. The British Fantasy Society (of which Atomic Fez is a member) has got itself in the newspaper again, as well as the Daily Mail and Sunday Express *. Oddly, the last time they were given space in the press resulted in a huge push to publish more female authors of horror, fantasy, and of other forms of ‘speculative fiction’, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes of this in the end.

The Logo of the British Fantasy Society
The Logo of the British Fantasy Society

I wasn’t going to say anything about this, but it all seems to be coming to a resolution, and for me not to have some sort of acknowledgement of the existence of the matter as part of this supposed “wrap-​​up of the publishing news” dog-​​and-​​pony show of mine seems a tad remiss. So, now that we can see the end of the thing, let’s whip though the main points.

It all got started when the ‘Short List’ for the British Fantasy Awards was announced and there was a great deal of space taken up in the list by Telos Publishing’s output as well the partner of one of the directors of Telos: David Howe. So far so good, except that he’s not only the chair of the BFS, which oversees the awards, he’s also the Acting Awards Administrator and thus is directly involved in the awarding of awards to winners. The votes are all tallied using a web-​​based spreadsheet, and everyone’s votes are registered using their BFS membership number and/​or their e-​​mail, so there’s no chances of his having done anything untoward at this stage.

Indeed, the BFS’s President Ramsey Campbell stated yesterday the following:

[I]t is our firm belief that no corruption or wrongdoing took place during the administration of the British Fantasy Awards, and that in this respect all awards should still stand as presented. We confirm that the summation of the votes cast was performed electronically and once the results were checked they were confirmed and verified by another member of the committee.

So, we’re all fine there; in retrospect, you understand.

During the awards, as well as right after, there was entirely a different tone to the vox populi. Given that five of the dozen awards – every single award for which they were nominated – went to either the publishing house of the Awards Admin or the lady the Daily Mail terms his “live-​​in lover” (as though the only thing that she does is snog the man silly), grumping was probably bound to occur. It just seemed a tad ‘too perfect’ for some people’s liking.

This is where Stephen Jones’s article on his web-​​site come Tuesday starts making the wheels of things turn, the title alone sufficient to getting eyebrows raised: “Putting the ‘Con’ into FantasyCon”. I urge you to read it, as there are number of excellent points to consider made within it. Note, however that “diplomatic” is not a frequently used word to describe the noted Editor and long-​​time BFS mover and shaker who is Stephen Jones. I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Jones and his accomplishments. His tastes and business acumen are excellent, and – though his selections for stories to include in his anthologies are occasionally at odds with my own – he certainly knows what he’s doing. He’s not known for the most politic in ways of expressing his views, however, and this is something I can certainly nod my head at in complete understanding, as I possess the same trait.

Anyway, the point here is that even though Mr. Howe didn’t do anything at all wrong, everyone agrees that the appearance of something possibly have been fiddled with isn’t something one should permit to exist, as it then permits someone to rightly ask the questions posed by Mr. Jones. For deeper examination of that in this situation, head over to Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s LiveJournal ENTRY HERE, as he’s got a fairly good run-​​down of the ‘optics’ of the matter. Also good is Simon Morden’s entry RIGHT HERE examining both the time line of the decisions as well as a fairly good neutral examination of both sides of ‘the saga’.

As a result of the above: Mr.Howe has resigned as Chairman of the Society; Samantha Stone has returned her “Best Novel (2010)” Award; the next FantasyCon which was to be in Corby now might not be anywhere as the organizers have backed out, there’s no definite replacement for them, and it’s not east to find a venue for 500-​​or-​​so people for a week-​​end event in an Olympic year with a great deal of ease; and Graham Joyce has agreed to take on the position of ‘Acting Chair’ until such time as an Emergency General Meeting can be held in about six weeks’ time or so. Here’s Mr. Joyce’s statement, in which he says the following to put all of the above to rest (hopefully once and for all):

Meanwhile I will charge the committee with a priority agenda, which will include overhauling the Awards system; identifying and recommending new committee members; ensuring that proper records of meetings, decisions and accounts are transparent to all members of the society; and seeking  to enfranchise a wider “Fantasy” base for the Society.
     The proposed Corby FantasyCon will not now go head and we are looking for an alternative for 2012. The situation at this moment is fluid and we will attempt to keep members informed.

Something to keep in mind at this point is that the BFS is a dashed-​​fine organization and has had far more influence than it’s often given credit. The terms “horror” or “fantasy” fiction cause people to either picture a giant, blood-​​covered chainsaw; or a dragon flying above an impossibly-​​magenta mountain peak. Both images are incorrect for about ninety percent of the literary form. The UK is especially downwards in their glance when considering the genres, seeing either of them as ‘not actually literature, you know’, yet will happily praise Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Mervyn Peake for their Great Works of Literature. To form a society which aims to promote those sorts of works is quite brave, really. To continue to do this for so very many years is laudable, and hopefully the world of the ‘legitimate literature’ will re-​​welcome them to the fold.

If you need any more convincing of the worth of the BFS, have a look at THIS ARTICLE on the aforementioned site of Mr. Jones, and perhaps you’ll get a deeper understanding of the importance the Society has had in his career as well as the careers of others over the years. Another view on the same subject is THIS POST on the Theaker’s Quarterly and Paperbacks blog of Stephen Theaker which goes a long way to explain what effect the BFS can have on those who are less involved in the ‘pointy-​​end of the stick’ when it comes to creating or publishing ‘fantasy’, and simply like reading the stuff.

Atomic Fez is proud to be a member of the BFS and to play a part in supporting it both financially through that membership and adverts, as well as supporting its goal of promoting ‘weird’ and ‘fantastical’ fiction in all its forms.

LINKS FROM THIS ARTICLE

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

* Non-​​UK residents ought to know that the Sunday Express is read by people who think they run the country, the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who actually do run the country, and the Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country. Those who read London’s Sun don’t care who runs it as long as she’s got a good-​​sized pair of “fun bags”. [Full credit to the writers of Yes, MinisterRETURN ↑

VCon 36, Vendor Room (via HDR technology)

This Week's Fish Wrap (№39): That Went Well, Didn't It?

Gracious me, that was fun! VCon, I mean! What’s that? You weren’t there? You didn’t LIVE THE EXCITEMENT!?!

VCon 36, Vendor Room (via HDR technology)
VCon 36, Vendor Room (via HDR technology)

Okay, no sarcasm: this really was a fun event. The energy level was really good this year, after last year’s slightly tetchy mood of grumbly “why can’t I find the room my panel is in and why are all these people ahead of me in a line-​​up for something I’m not sure I’m even interested in?” Not that last year was a disaster; far from it! Just that there seemed to be a general air of muttering around many areas (or, possibly, around areas in which I manoeuvred).

Certainly this year I enjoyed  myself more than last year,  for whatever reason that was.

Particularly fun were the panels I got to participate in.

The one which I dreaded the most was “Are You Prepared to be Published?” with EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing brainchild Brian Hades. Given the panel was set for 11 PM – Midnight, was concurrent with the dance, and a Saturday night infamous for its room parties, we anticipated an audience of three, all of whom hadn’t seen the outside world in the eight years it has taken to complete their 16-​​volume saga about space-​​exploring cats with ray-​​guns, all sitting in the front row, staring unblinking at us with intense expressions of “answer my question or I will follow you home and eat your entire garden.” Thankfully, instead we had a room of 25 people who all asked reasonably intelligent questions and were interested in the discussion without being scary enough to make me want to run screaming for my life at any point.

A happy addition to the panel was Barbara Gordon (no, not that one; the one who’s a mostly unpublished author living in Victoria). Providing the author’s perspective about the process of submitting to a publisher was a welcome one, and also something which made the variety of content more interesting. Granted, both she and her boy are a bundle of laughs, so it was good to have the warmth of them attending the panel in the first place, but dragging her up on the platform to help out was a brilliant idea and I’m glad Brian had it.

 After stumbling home – completely sober, mind you – at 1:30 AM, I then next appeared almost entirely awake at a panel the next morning at 10:00 AM called “Listen to This! Listen to This!” for which I was entirely un-​​prepared. To begin with, I hadn’t any real idea about the format of the thi9ng, for Programming never replied to my eMail asking for clarification of how much material to bring, or the degree of specificity of SF & F content desired. The three books I considered selecting material from – including Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and an early scene in the “Gormenghast” trilogy – would have required a goodly chunk of time due to their sheer length of material, as well as a section of text either side to provide framing material for the passage. I explained the latter point to the few people there, including the white-​​haired gentleman sitting directly in front of me in the first row. He looks a tad familiar, I thought to myself, and wondering if he was in fact… and then he sat back up from putting his back-​​pack on the chair next to him, his name tag straightened out on his chest and declared that, yes indeed, I had just explained to Larry Niven that I was a complete loss when it came time to proper participation in the panel he had taken the time to attend. At one point I noticed him staring at my chest to see my name tag, then glancing into the souvenir programme’s section of biographies of those on panels, no doubt memorizing the name of the complete nit-​​wit sitting in front of him, swearing he will avoid all things connected with me henceforth.

Then again, apparently he’s got a bit of a hearing problem, so perhaps he wasn’t able to pick-​​up the conversation at that point so he decided to review the listing for the next panel.

 
British Fantasy Awards

Yes, sadly, the two categories that Atomic Fez was short-​​listed in went to other people: both the “Best Novella (2010)” and the “Best Small Press” awards. That said, getting that far with things in the first year one even qualifies for the awards is pretty dang good: long list in all of the categories but one that apply, and short-​​listing in two, is hardly something to sneeze at.

Thus, while no shiny “WINNER!” graphic gets to be placed on the site, there’s no shame being felt or soul-​​crushing disappointment hanging over the mighty laboratories of Atomic Fez Publishing.

After all, there’s always next year…

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

The Vendors Hall at VCon 36 (with subtle notation locating Atomic Fez table of excitement)

This Week's Fish Wrap (№38): This Week-End, the Cons are On!

Conventions, that is. FantasyCon 2011 is all about the fun, including – and especially – the Burlesque event which features Theatro Proberto performing both Corruption and Blood on Satan’s Claw (A Pantomime) in one glorious evening of ridiculous insanity! Learn more about that from the man behind this lunacy: John Llewellyn Probert. FantasyCon also has a bunch of extra Guests of Honour and things than originally expected, so head over to the FantasyCon 2011 site by clicking their name above.

I heartily encourage anyone attending the convention to go to anything involving either Mr. Probert or anyone of his retinue. Also recommended is placing a pint in the hand of Christopher Teague in the Dealers Room downstairs. While you’re doing that, why not hand him some money and purchase a copy of one of the splendid Atomic Fez titles on offer? You know it’s right…

The other event of note is the British Fantasy Awards which get announced on Sunday afternoon (which is around 8 AM in the Pacific Time zone). There’s two categories in which Atomic Fez figures: “Best Novella (2010)” has Andrew Hook’s Ponthe Oldenguine among the five possible recipients, as well as Atomic Fez itself considered along with four UK publishers for “Best Small Press (2010)”. ‘Fingers crossed…’, and all that.

Poster for VCon №36 uses art by Artist Guest of Honour Jean-Pierre Normand
Poster for VCon №36 uses art by Artist Guest of Honour Jean-​​Pierre Normand

But the Publisher /​ Proprietor will be at VCon №36 in scenic Richmond, BC! This year’s VCon theme: “Visions of the Future; Imagining Tomorrow from the Past to the Present”

Those attending will not only have the chance to rub elbows with Guests of Honour Larry Niven (well-​​known for the “Ringworld” series, as well as other works employing solid science in its fiction), the artist Jean-​​Pierre Normand, and the film editor Lisa Lassek (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pushing Daisies, Firefly, etc.); you’ll also have the opportunity to meet me!

Further down the post you’ll see a floor plan of the Vendor Hall for the event, so that you can more easily rush to the Atomic Fez table and hand over all of your dough discover just how wonderful all the books are.  Plus – prior to their official publication date – copies of Terribilis and Dirk Danger Loves Life will be available for purchase for ready money! Copies sold directly, however, will not qualify for the “Pre-​​Order & Win!” competition, which will continue until the official publishing date of about a fortnight from now.

Remember: pre-​​order a copy of either – or both – of those two brand-​​new titles through this site, and your copy might be one of the four which are personally signed and dedicated to you by the author(s)!

Plus, if you live in North America, you’ll be able to win one of the two copies of the hardback edition of Terribilis, which is not available in your area in that binding! Additionally, you’ll only pay for the Trade Paperback edition, so it’s like a double-​​win!

The Vendors Hall at VCon №36 (with subtle notation locating Atomic Fez table of excitement)
The Vendors Hall at VCon №36 (with subtle notation locating Atomic Fez table of excitement)

But let’s get back to VCon №36, shall we…?

VCon is the oldest general-​​interest science fiction and fantasy convention in Canada and the Pacific Northwest. The convention has promoted the interests of science fiction and fantasy fan culture in Vancouver, BC and its environs since 1971, offering events and exhibits focused on a variety of Science Fiction and Fantasy fandom interest areas such as literature, art, media, music, costumes, comics, games, etc.

VCon is organized by a subcommittee of the West Coast Science Fiction Association–a non-​​profit organization dedicated to the advancement and understanding of science fiction and fantasy fan culture in Vancouver BC and its environs. VCon is not, nor will it ever be, owned by a big business or corporation. For now, and for as long as efforts continue, VCon will be a convention built “For the Fans, By the Fans”.

If you’re interested in more about the history of VCon and its events this year, their official Media Release can be read by CLICKING HERE.

Thus, as is fitting an event which celebrates the genre itself, topics of discussion on panels are rife with ways to better explore the books, art, movies, and games inspired by SF & F style of story-​​telling! Here’s four panel discussions which specifically interest me, as I’m going to be a part of them (while I’m doing that, the table will be taken care of by two able-​​bodied former educators):

Panelling for VCon [full schedule grid here]

First Page Idol Are You Prepared to be Published?
Description: Find out how to hook a reader from the very first page. Anonymously submit your novel manuscript’s first page to be read aloud by a guest of honour and critiqued by a panel of pros. Description: What do authors need to know before they are published? Publishers are here to tell you.
When: Friday, 8 – 9 PM When: Saturday, 11 PM – Midnight
Room: Cedarbridge Room: Cedarbridge
Panellists: Phoebe Kitanidis, Moderator
Brian Hades
Stephanie Johanson
Ian Alexander Martin
Marcie Tentchoff
Panellists: Brian Hades
Ian Alexander Martin
 

 
Listen to This! Listen to This! Page 189
Description: Pros read brief bursts of excellent SF & F by writers well-​​known and obscure (not including their own humble selves). Description: You be the judge. Listen to a short excerpt from Page 189 of unknown works, then vote on whether you would read the book before learning what it is and who wrote it. You may be in for some surprises…
When: Sunday, 10 – 11 AM When: Sunday, 1 – 2 PM
Room: Richmond D Room: Richmond D
Panellists: Ian Alexander Martin, Moderator
Toren Atkinson
Casey June Wolf
Panellists: Ian Alexander Martin, Moderator
Jaymie Matthews
Sandra Wickham
Casey June Wolf

 Yes, it’ll be one action-​​packed, excitement-​​filled experience after another, Kids! Come on along!

…especially for the one on Saturday which I expect will be attended by the two panellists, three drunken louts, and every poetry-​​writing 68-​​year-​​old woman desperate to get their name on the front of a book before they die of anonymity.

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Works Progress Administration poster

This Week's Fish Wrap (№37): VCon & FCon Anon!

With the autumnal period comes a return to school, a return to the day-​​to-​​day routine of the office drones, and the excitement of the literary conventions organized by the British Fantasy Society and the West Coast Science Fiction Association. Hooray!

’40s-era Works Progress Administration poster
40s-​​era Works Progress Administration poster

This year creates a bit of a problem for Atomic Fez, as both of those organizations have rather inconsiderately scheduled their events on the same week-​​end. As much as we prize our forward-​​thinking, new-​​frontier located technology around here, it’s not yet possible to be in two places at the same time, and travel from Brighton (in the UK) to Richmond (in Canada) isn’t possible under about eleven hours, at least when using commercial air travel.

Thus, while the books Atomic Fez publishes will be available in the Dealers’ Room at FantasyCon 2011 in Brighton, the brains behind Atomic Fez will not be. Instead, the Proprietor /​ Publisher will be spreading the joy of all things “Eclectic and Genre-​​Busting” at VCon №36, held at the beautiful Sheraton Vancouver Airport Hotel, in exciting Richmond, BC, from Friday, September 30th – Sunday, October 2nd. You can find him in the gigantic Dealers’ Room at the mighty Table 502 (just on your left as you come in the door), or possibly taking part in a panel discussion and explaining to everyone JUST HOW WRONG THEY ALL ARE!

The additional reason that it would be so nice to be beside the sea-​​side is that the prestigious British Fantasy Awards Ceremony is held on Sunday 2nd October 2011 after the fabulous FantasyCon 2011 Banquet. Andrew Hook’s Ponthe Oldenguine is nominated in the “Best Novella (2010)” category, and Atomic Fez is the sole non-​​UK house among those on the “Best Small Press (2010)” short-​​list. The best of luck to everyone on the short-​​list, including that “Steve King” fellah, whoever he might be (but frankly, I think he’s trying to get into the literary game by grabbing his son’s coat-​​tails).

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something to get you in the mood for the Richmond event, here are three of them.

September is “Science Fiction and Fantasy month” at the Vancouver Public Library, and VCon is partnering with the VPL’s Downtown Branch (350 West Georgia) in three events: “Fantastic Art” on September 19th; a “Vogon Poetry Slam and “Vog-​​Off” on September 22nd; and a panel discussion, “Page to Screen”, on September 27th. All three events are free, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the Alice MacKay Room (on the library’s lower level).

Fantastic Art

 Tonight, September 19th, come to hear George Metzger (“Moondog”) and Tarol Hunt (“Goblins”) discuss Fantastic Art, with an emphasis on sequential art and graphic novels. Then join in some audience-​​participation fun with previews of two VCon favourites: “Pencils at High Noon” and “SF Pictionary”. Both are quick-​​draw competitions that depend more on wit and imagination than artistic ability. On view will be examples of art from VCon-​​s past.

 Vogon Poetry Slam

The (Second Annual) Vogon Poetry Slam and Vog-​​Off is on Thursday, September 22nd. Stormtroopers from The 501st Garrison will be on hand to keep order as contestants vie for cash prizes by reciting their worst possible poems. There’s even a $42 prize for the worst poem by someone under 14. See details at the VPL’s website: Vancouver Public Library – News & Press Releases

Page to Screen

The third event is “Page to Screen”, a discussion of how well – or badly – science fiction works have been adapted for the screen. That’s on Tuesday, September 27th.

By next week details of which panels at VCon №36 the Proprietor /​ Publisher will be participating in, during which time the table in the Dealers’ Room will be ably taken care of by whichever passing gypsies or miscreants have the misfortune to be passing by shortly before the discussion commences. It’s also possible that the site will look a fair bit different at that point, but those sorts of things have a habit of throwing complexities at one when one least expects it, so let’s not get our hopes up for that. A fortnight from now, however, all should look more exciting and the site be easier navigate one’s way around in.

In the meantime, become a “job creator” by buying some books – shipping’s free after $5035 – and then give them to someone who could use some entertainment in these economically challenging times.

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and/​or announce the latest news Atomic Fez has about the publishing house, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

Chapters has new stores called “Lifestyle” and “Paper”

This Week's Fish Wrap (№33): Indigo Slashes Book Inventory

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

 

Before we get too far into the topic of the headline, you ought to know that the two newest titles from Atomic Fez are not only available in eBook format from Kindle and Kobo now, you could even win one of 15 copies of each book being given away through LibraryThing! Here’s some linkage and graphic-​​happy stuff.

LibraryThing Early Reviewer logo WIN AN eBOOK COPY OF DIRK DANGER LOVES LIFE
THROUGH
LIBRARY THINGS
EARLY REVIEWERPROGRAMME!

click here to see details
CLICK HERE to get more details and order copies (new tab)
LibraryThing Early Reviewer logo WIN AN eBOOK COPY OF TERRIBILIS
THROUGH
LIBRARY THINGS
EARLY REVIEWERPROGRAMME!

click here to see details
CLICK HERE to get more details and order copies (new tab)

So, there we are. As always, the winners will receive DRM-​​free files in the following formats: ePUB, PDF, and PRC (and you can re-​​name that last one with the KMZ or MOBI extension to use on your Kindle or MobiPocket unit respectively). Whee!

Plus, while were at it, here’s a couple of things you might want to look at that have nothing to do with the topic about to be shouted about in the next section:

  • Cory Doctorow’s 45-​​minute Keynote Address about copyright at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver: CLICK HERE (and thanks to ‘Jules’ for that)

  • Reading in the new age of things: CLICK HERE (and thanks to ‘Maryann Kempson’ for that)

  • If you spend all day at a desk, you can still get some exercise: CLICK HERE (and thanks to ‘Lifehacker’ for that)

 

The Bookstore's Books May be Found... Over There Behind the Pillows and Throw Rugs

Early last week, I saw that Chapters/​Indigo Books & Music, Inc had posted their latest financial figures for the year so far, or the last financial quarter, or whatever it was. Apparently, it was fairly good over-​​all, with printed books’ sales taking a bit of a dip alongside the rise in eBooks’ sales, so the end result is swings and roundabouts. All good so far, and hardly a surprise what with Amazon now getting all shouty about how they’re selling copies of more books through the Kindle store as they are selling in paperback and hardback combined. Good stuff, thinks I, this should increase the number of books available over-​​all, increasing selection for the reader and thus royalty payments for authors as their back-​​catalogues are thus easier for the publishers to maintain. Huzzahs in general ought to be heard around the land.

Now here’s the real issue that has got me jumping up and down, and possibly biting the hand which feeds me as a publisher, as mentioned in passing from the article linked to above:

The company is also planning to launch its own brand of gift and lifestyle products, which means that less space will be devoted to books.

Chapters has new stores called “Lifestyle” and “Paper”
Chapters has new stores called “Lifestyle” and “Paper”

Saying to myself …pardon me? I then saw the e-​​mail on the right (and click to make the image all big and legible), telling all and sundry on their iRewards SPAM-​​age list that Heather Reisman, CEO of Chapters/​Indigo, has undertaken to become more than merely a book retailer with a bunch of goo-​​gaws that have little to do with books on some shelves; now she’s selling her own, in-​​house designed, broad line of seemingly endless variety of goo-​​gaws that have nothing to do with books. Yes, Virginia, Canada now has its own Martha Stewart, and it’s Heather.

A BIT OF NECESSARY DISCLOSURE: Atomic Fez books are available through both Amazon and Indigo, including the Kindle and Kobo outlets therefrom.

To be perfectly honest, the selling of non-​​book items in bookstores is hardly something new. No doubt even as far back as the early 1800s people have been able to locate copies of books alongside blank journals and other ‘note books’, stationary, reservoir pens, wrapping paper, and illustrated note and post cards. No doubt the availability of books at newsagents’, filling stations, grocery stores, and cafés has been just as equally maligned by those who wish those locations to be purely places of broadsheets, transportation fuel, food, and caffeine. Just so have the denizens of book shops decried the offerings of non-​​book items therein. Nothing new there, then.

However, I find it difficult to recall any bookstore which has decided to create their own non-​​book stuff in any sort of amount this substantial, never mind enough of a selection that they could declare it their “fall collection”, as Ms Reisman has done. They’ve got two shop specifically dedicated to these products: their Lifestyle Shop and their Paper Shop. The video below appears on this page of their site, along with a 39 item display of their new in-​​house designed products. They are, in their words, creating “Home as a Nest”; although ‘nesting’ is something I thought all those YUPPIES were doing about half a decade or more ago, but whatever.

Were one not to have “Indigo” shoved at the camera repeatedly (and it’s a wonderful study on how to reinforce your ‘brand’ in that regard), it would be entirely understandable to mistake this for a new line of products from Bowring’s, the Bombay Company, Pier 1 Imports, or some such place. This may be the sort of market placement Indigo is hoping to accomplish, as any business is best operated when following where the money leads it. That said, what went so wrong with book retail that the books on offer are no longer seen as a sufficient enough draw to bring in customers to purchase the books they wish to read?

The answer, obviously, is Amazon.

Even before Jeff Bezos had the idea for the Kindle, Amazon was already making life damned difficult for book shops of all sizes, and apparently the struggle is even there for Indigo. A couple of years ago, if you had asked me what the landscape in the retail book industry would look like at this point – and some people did, so this actually was the answer – I would have said that, while the big boys might take some hits, the really narrow niche shops such as Murder One (in London, for the mystery lovers) and Biz Books (in Vancouver, for everything to do with show business from acting to writing to technical specialties) would continue, due to their one-​​stop shopping convenience. Well, gracious me, was I wrong. Neither the UK or American versions of Borders were expected to tank, Barnes & Noble in the USA is struggling its way through some complicated negotiations for a part change in ownership, it’s possible that Indigo is struggling (otherwise why would they try to hit a new market), and independent stores like Vancouver’s Biz Books and Ardea Books & Art have shut, along with Murder One and several others in London, as well as countless more the world over.

Obviously, times are hard for everyone, and the result is that people’s discretionary income is nigh-​​on non-​​existent. I know this to be the case because, despite all my efforts with promotion, marketing, and simple pavement pounding, there’s not a single Atomic Fez title on a shelf in a book shop anywhere in the world. Having mailed countless packages to store managers in authors’ hometowns suggesting in-​​store readings and signing events – complete with promotional posters, leaflets, and generous wholesale discounts and return policies on un-​​sold stock – nary a peep has come to this office by return post or e-​​mail; unless you count the three envelopes in front of me marked “RETURN TO SENDER, ADDRESSEE NO LONGER AT THIS LOCATION”.  While I hadn’t thought it a “slam-​​dunk /​ easy to do /​ wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” sort of affair, one had expected some sort of reply, especially after an author had done a face-​​to-​​face follow-​​up; none of which got anything more than “oh yes…? …so?” response. Further materials quoting glowing reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, and other respected industry sources, as well as British Fantasy Society Awards’ long– and short-​​list inclusions for titles and the publishing house itself have gone similarly ignored by those in the retail environs.

The key to retail shops being interested in a publisher’s books is often said to have a distributor: someone like Ingram, or Baker & Taylor, and so on. This permits the shop to include your book in an order for stock with a lot of other books from other houses, thus resulting in one shipping cost for all of them, as well as one bill to pay. Thus, very near the end of last year, Atomic Fez entered into a distribution agreement with Author’s Choice, thereby having not only the respectability of saying “yes, we’re distributed by…”, but also getting direct, up-​​to-​​date inclusion in the on-​​line catalogues of Amazon.ca and Chapters/​Indigo, and potentially on the shelves of the latter retailer too! So far… nothing in that latter situation; neither Chapters/​Indigo or a shop on any continent.

Actually, there’s a bit of relief that Chapters/​Indigo hasn’t wanted to stock Atomic Fez books, because if they did want to stock them, I’d have to get a good two thousand or so copies of each title done and shipped to their warehouse, all at my expense, and then be prepared to get all of them back inside six months because none of them sold, and I’d be paying for that shipping as well as having to figure out how to sell nearly ten thousand books from the basement (never mind where to put them down there). The additional problem is that the return policy for Chapters/​Indigo has recently had the time period reduced by 50%: where it used to be the case that books could be returned from each shop after that title hadn’t been moving for 90 days, now only 45 days are required, making it likely that no book that a reader has heard about a month ago will be available to pick-​​up and handle in a store. The one advantage any retail outlet has over Amazon is that people can look at a book, leaf through to a random page inside, read it a bit, have a look at the page layout, maybe look at the photo plates in the middle if there are any, and then walk out of the shop with their book in their hand. To limit the number of ‘new’ books that a customer can do that with – especially given that this sort of customer is less prone to get the latest book quickly – is possibly the worst thing a retailer could do.

I have, quite honestly, given-​​up on ever seeing books published by Atomic Fez on sale anywhere but on-​​line book dealers, this site, and the occasional table at a convention where I (or the delightful men of Wales who generously handle UK orders) happen to be in attendance. While I had hoped to fulfill a vision of seeing my efforts sit proudly in public for people to wander past, judge the worth of through direct contact, then purchase, this dream shall remain unrealized. Instead, one must throw in one’s lot with the Artisans who ply their trade in craft shows, parking lots, and bazaars.

I refuse to believe, however, that people are reading less, or will ever not enjoy the telling of tales through the written word. All the rules may be changing, but surely this one is eternal…?

UPDATE: For those of you who, like me, could use a bit of a cheerier end to this, head over to THIS POST on George Verdolaga’s blog to read about a success that an author he knows has made.

February 1946 cover of “Science and Mechanics” magazine with Monorail feature article

This Week's Fish Wrap (№32): A Canadian in the USA Market

“This Week’s Fish Wrap” is an on-​​​​going series of posts summing up the news of the previous seven days in the publishing industry, and appears here each Monday. It’s also quite possible that the posts merely serve as a dumping ground of links so that Atomic Fez Proprietor Ian Alexander Martin can find articles later to include in his occasional rants about how ‘EVERYONE ELSE IS ENTIRELY WRONG’ about various things.

There are many complications in the small press publishing game. As soon as you move objects from one place to another you double those complications. Have those same object cross an international border and you can easily make that an exponential increase. Even with the North American Free Trade Agreement (or ‘NAFTA’) you can still have thing pop-​​up that you hadn’t considered to even exist. For today, let’s limit ourselves to the oddities experienced by a Canadian publisher – let’s call them “me” for easy reference – dealing with the market of the United States of America.

February 1946 cover of “Science and Mechanics” magazine with Monorail feature article
February 1946 cover of “Science and Mechanics” magazine with Monorail feature article

Let’s say that I sell electronic books through the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing set-​​up. This means that I actually ‘earn’ money through the sales of books in the United States through Amazon.com; as well as the United Kingdom through Amazon.co.uk and in Germany through Amazon.de, but let’s not get too far ahead here). Thus, the USA’s IRS wants to know what’s going on with all of the money changing hands. Here’s a quick explanation of that (thank you, Wikipedia):

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is the revenue service of the United States federal government. The agency is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury, and is under the immediate direction of the Commissioner of Internal Revenue. The IRS is responsible for collecting taxes and the interpretation and enforcement of the Internal Revenue Code.

So, in essence, I am collecting revenue inside the USA, and thus the government of that nation wishes its cut of the proceeds. Due to a tax revenue treaty between Canada and the USA, as a Canadian Citizen I will be taxed on that income by the Canadian Government, and not by the American one. The inverse of the situation also applies, should an American person earn monies in the Dominion of Canada; although that situation is far more complicated due to the US Government taxing its citizens no matter where they might earn their income, but again, let’s stick to the topic here.

In order to make everyone aware that there’s nothing untoward going on, it’s necessary to present the IRS with the right bits of paper proving that everything they might want to do isn’t required, as the Canada Revenue Agency will be doing their bit, what with me not actually living in the USA.

Here’s where things start getting complicated, because there’s two different things you need if you’re an author, and only one if you’re a publisher.

SELF-​​PUBLISHING AUTHORS: If you head to THIS ARTICLE, then you’ll get a full set of details, but the relevant bit here is that you need to get a W-​​7 form so as to apply for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (or ITIN). This is because you don’t have either an American Social Security Number or a Work Permit, yet you’re earning money in the USA because that’s where the transaction takes place. You’ll also need a letter from one of the firms who sell your books on-​​line, such as Smashwords, Kobo, Createspace, or whoever, saying that they are indeed selling your book(s) in the USA, and that you are a Canadian as far as they know due to a Canadian mailing address or something (you can request one from Smashwords HERE).

There’s a list of Canadian Acceptance Agents HERE, and the W-​​7 form is available HERE. You need to fill in as much of that form as you can (instructions for that are HERE), then head to one of the Agents on the list who will then confirm all your information, then fill in particular bits with specifics such as photocopies of your passport and so on, then you can send the whole lot off to the IRS. This step will cost you money, but getting it done right the first time is obviously worth the cost. If you’re in Vancouver, I highly recommend Bluecarp Tax Consulting Limited at 1055 West Hastings Street in the Guinness Building, as the chap I spoke to there was wonderfully helpful and charming as well. Once he realized I am only a publisher and not an author receiving royalties – and that’s the dividing line here – he took some time to explain what I ought to be doing next, and he waived his hourly consultation fee as I could do all that myself. A sterling fellah.

Now carry on with the next step, as you’re acting as “a publisher” in addition to being an author.

PUBLISHERS: Because you’re not the ‘end point’ of the money, but are dividing it betwixt you and the authors, you get to skip the step above, including the note from someone that the books are being sold in the USA. Hooray!

What both Publishers and Self-​​Published authors have to do is fill in a W-​​8BEN which is – obviously – a Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding. This then clarifies to all concerned that Amazon.com doesn’t need to withhold 30% of any monies earned through them, which normally would be done until I had filed a tax return with the IRS. Because I won’t be filing a return with them, but with the Canadian Revenue Agency, there’s no need to hang on to the 30% that would normally be held as being the likely amount of taxation on the US income. Thus, Amazon hands over all of the money, and then I can carry on with my normal Canadian tax forms. Hooray!

You can find a copy of the W-​​8BEN RIGHT HERE, and the instructions for that are RIGHT HERE.

If you’re sending it to Amazon, this is important:

We need to receive a physical copy (paper form) of the W8 that contains a US tax id and that is signed in blue ink. Please put your supplier code/​vendor code in the upper right hand corner and then mail it to the below address. As soon as we receive it, we will update the account and reimburse withholding that has been deducted this year. Note: withholding can only be paid back in the current year it was deducted.

Amazon Digital Services
ATTN: Vendor Maintenance
PO Box 80683
Seattle, WA, 98108 – 0683.

If you’re sending the same things to Smashwords, then HEAD HERE for some instruction.

ADDITIONAL NOTE FOR CANADIAN AUTHORS: Just like the UK authors, you can get in on the “Authors’ Royalties from Library Borrowing for Canadian Authors” programme. Sure, it might not add up to much (especially if the Ford brothers in Toronto get their way with hacking a bunch of libraries out of that city’s system), but there’s not much point in throwing money away to which you’re entitled. Additionally, it proves to the CRA that you really are an author, and thus you are justified in declaring all those expenses of your income. For details on how to get in on that endless river of money, HEAD HERE.