Science Fiction: Merging, But Not Yielding
Robert K.J. Killheffer -- 1/17/00
Despite -- perhaps because of? -- recent publishing reconfigurations, the SF market continues to prosper.
Events in the publishing world over the past couple of years bring to mind the traffic jams one encounters all too regularly on New York highways. A flashing arrow forces three lanes into two, then two into one. Merge left. Merge right. Merge.
Over the last two years, publishing companies have been combined like those lanes of traffic. Viking Penguin and Putnam Berkley merged in 1997 to form Penguin Putnam Inc. In 1998, Bertelsmann bought Random House, bringing that already huge publishing group together with Bertelsmann's existing goliath, Bantam Doubleday Dell. And in the summer of 1999, HarperCollins acquired the William Morrow and Avon Books companies from Hearst -- another marriage of giants.
These moves provoked much angst among editors, authors and most anyone else associated with the publishing business. Worries were at least as strong in the field of science fiction and fantasy publishing. The Penguin Putnam deal brought together not two but three separate SF imprints -- Ace, Roc and the independent DAW, which relies on the sales and distribution facilities of the larger company. Bertelsmann now holds two large and prestigious SF lines -- Del Rey, from the Random House group, and Bantam Spectra -- as well as imprints that had dabbled in the SF arena (Doubleday and Dell). HarperCollins now has its own HarperPrism and the acquired Avon Eos imprints. Will this diversity of lines, each with its own editorial style and niches, be compressed into three or four? Will that mean a commensurate shrinkage in the number of SF books published each year?
For the most part, the answer (so far) has been no. Ace, Roc and DAW continue to c xist at Penguin Putnam; Bantam Spectra and Del Rey remain strong and independent. Only the HarperCollins deal with Hearst -- the most recent of the bunch -- has resulted in a merger of lines, as HarperPrism and Avon Eos will be integrated into a single line called Eos. Indeed, the word from the front lines has it that these conglomerations may have actually improved the vitality and outlook for SF publishing.
"The bottom line is that it hasn't been detrimental at all," says Ginjer Buchanan, senior executive editor at Ace, "and there are perhaps ways in which it has been helpful. The sales force now has a much broader sense of what's going on in the market -- they now know not just how one line of books sells, they know how three lines of books sell." DAW co-publisher Sheila Gilbert concurs. "It works because Ace, Roc and DAW are very different lines," she says. "They're compatible rather than competitive."
The Penguin Putnam merger was the smoothest, in that no significant changes occurred among the editorial staffs of the three SF lines (though jobs were lost in sales, marketing and other departments). The Bertelsmann acquisition of Random House did lead to the loss of one long-time editor at Del Rey, but otherwise the editorial department there and at Bantam Spectra have remained stable, and the shake-up has led to helpful changes in other areas. "The merger gave Random House a chance to look at everything and improve operations," says Del Rey associate publisher Kuo-Yu Liang.
The biggest editorial changes came in the wake of HarperCollins's acquisition of Morrow and Avon. In merging the two science fiction and fantasy lines, HarperCollins dismissed most of the Prism staff, moving only one editor over to join the existing Avon Eos team. But none of the books under contract for either line has been cancelled. "Some books have been pushed forward in the schedule," says Eos executive editor Jennifer Brehl, "but nothing is going to be cancelled. In fact, none of the scheduling changes will be deleterious -- moving the books guarantees that they'll get the proper attention paid to them."
While this round of large-scale acquisition appears to be over (for now), it's almost certainly not the end of the changes facing science fiction and fantasy publishing -- and the industry as a whole. "This is only the beginning," says Liang. "The business needs to continue to restructure. The next 10 years are where most of the changes are going to happen."
The Joys of Bestsellerdom
These mergers have -- big surprise -- had little effect on the popularity of science fiction and fantasy in the bookstores. Science fiction and fantasy made more appearances on major bestseller lists around the country in 1999 than at any time since the early 1980s -- perhaps more than ever before. Del Rey rode the publicity wave surrounding Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace to the #1 spot on the New York Times list with its novelization of the film, written by bestselling fantasy author Terry Brooks. "When you look back at the year-that-was, 1999, two series dominated," says Liang at Del Rey. "Harry Potter and Star Wars -- nothing else came close." Del Rey published another Star Wars novel, Vector Prime by R. A. Salvatore, to smaller (though still quite significant) success in October, and has a new one scheduled for May: Rogue Planet, by award-winning novelist Greg Bear, is the first spinoff based on The Phantom Menace, set three years after the film. "Obviously," says Liang, "we're very excited about it."
Though no single Star Trek book reached the pinnacle of The Phantom Menace, Pocket's Trek franchise saw strong performances from several titles, including Dark Victory by William Shatner; I, Q by John de Lancie and Peter David; and the Double Helix multibook sequence. And Bantam, which had lost the lucrative Star Wars franchise to Del Rey, launched a new spin-off series based on the classic Dune novels of Frank Herbert. The new series, co-written by Frank Herbert's son Brian and bestselling author Kevin J. Anderson, debuted last October with Dune: House Atreides, which spent eight weeks on PW's bestseller charts (reaching as high as #9) and also made the NYT list.
More remarkable than the continued success of such franchises was the appearance high on the lists by some authors who had never been there before -- with work all their own, not connected to any other media entity. Orson Scott Card, a perennial reader favorite and winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, reached the top 15 on the New York Times list for the first time with Ender's Shadow (Tor, Sept. 1999), a "parallel" novel to his award-winning 1984 Ender's Game. Ender's Shadow reached #1 on the L.A. Times list and on Amazon.com's hardcover fiction list as well. (The paperback reissue of Ender's Game also enjoyed brisk sales.)
Neal Stephenson, author of Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, reached new heights with his ambitious and sizable novel Cryptonomicon (Avon, May 1999). It hit the top 15 on the Times list and, as of this writing, remains at #17 on the Amazon.com hardcover fiction list. It also spent four weeks on PW's fiction list, and was chosen as one of our Best Science Fiction Books of the Year. Avon published Cryptonomicon outside of its Eos imprint as general fiction -- the book is only tangentially science fictional -- but the title clearly rode a wave of popularity that had built over Stephenson's previous, more indisputably science-fictional work.
The presence of science fiction and fantasy has been even more notable on regional bestseller lists and in the second tier on national lists like the Times's. Several SF books made their way onto the "extended" Times list, including A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen, Sept. 1999) and Raymond E. Feist's Krondor: The Assassins (Avon Eos, Nov. 1999). Tad Williams reached #35 with Otherland: Mountain of Black Glass (DAW, Sept. 1999). All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson appeared on several regional lists and had a strong showing on Amazon.com's hardcover fiction list as well.
In short, science fiction and fantasy could be found on lists around the country at almost any time of the year, and 2000 may well see even stronger performances. (It would be appropriate, would it not?) In March, Tor will publish The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, which could make a run at the lists. And in August, the publisher will release a new book, Faith of the Fallen, in Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. With the previous volume in the series, Soul of the Fire, reaching the #6 spot on the Times list, Faith would seem likely to get at least that high.
Meanwhile, Baen has a new novel from its bestselling author David Weber. Ashes of Victory, scheduled for March, returns to Weber's immensely popular Honor Harrington series, and Baen believes that Weber could actually break into the NYT top 15. "His rocket has yet to reach its highest point," says executive editor Toni Weiskopf. As of this writing, Ashes holds the #8 spot on Amazon.com's "Not-Yet-Published" list, which bodes well.
This month, Ace published Obsidian Butterfly by Laurell K. Hamilton, the first venture into hardcover for the author and her bestselling Anita Blake-Vampire Hunter series. Obsidian Butterfly has been moving at a rate that should put it onto several lists nationwide. In May, Avon will publish a new book by Neal Stephenson: Quicksilver, a follow-up to Cryptonomicon. And Bantam has another Dune book, Dune: House Harkonnen, scheduled for October. There's every reason to believe this will be another strong year for science fiction and fantasy sales. (For a look at what's new for younger readers in this category, readers can check out a feature on YA fantasy later this spring.)
Wooing the Unbelievers
Sales alone aren't always enough to please SF writers, or their editors and publishers. Commercial success is wonderful, but some still yearn for a different kind of validation. For decades -- perhaps since its coalescence as a publishing category -- the world of science fiction and fantasy has chafed at its failure to capture widespread respect in the wider world of literature. Despite the success of individual books or writers in crossing over to a general readership -- some, like George Orwell's 1984, even attaining the status of "classic" -- SF as a category still labors under some narrow preconceptions. In this sense, the phenomenal success of Star Wars and Star Trek, while raising the profile (and marketability) of a certain type of SF, has actually become an obstacle, reinforcing simplistic ideas about what SF can be and how high its literary sights can be set. "I'm passionate about SF," says Brehl at Eos. "I believe it has a legitimate place in literature, and I want that to be recognized."
Some encouraging signs have emerged of late which suggest that such recognition might be (slowly) coming around. The success of writers such as Neal Stephenson and William Gibson, being published outside of category imprints with packages that hardly evoke SF at all, indicates that it's often a barrier of perception more than anything else -- with the right book and the right package, it's possible to reach beyond the core readership to a wider market.
This is something Kuo-Yu Liang has been trying quite intentionally to do at Del Rey. Last fall, Del Rey published Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear, a novel with a thriller-style plot dealing with timely issues such as deadly viruses and the relationship between modern humans and Neanderthals. The publisher gave it a cover leaning more toward thriller than science fiction, and worked hard to get out-of-genre coverage for the book. And it worked. "In early November, NPR reviewed Darwin's Radio on All Things Considered," says Liang, "and sales went crazy. An immediate spike. The NPR review ran on Friday, and sales started going up on Saturday. From what we can tell, this was the best-selling Greg Bear hardcover ever."
Sometimes it's not the bias of the audience but of the system that can keep a good science fiction or fantasy book from reaching a larger readership. Tor has just released the mass-market edition of A Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge, and in order to get more copies out into more venues than it has been able to do with most genre titles, the publisher made Deepness its mainstream fiction lead for the month. The packaging makes no bones about the book's science fictional nature -- hard to conceal that with a book set thousands of years in the future -- but it's got a distinctly upscale feel. "We did it out of faith that this is just an extraordinarily good science fiction novel," says senior editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden. "We wanted to send the message that anybody who has ever liked a big, sprawling science fiction novel but isn't a regular genre reader should check this out."
|Conquering the World -- With Laughs|
Consider these astonishing facts: British fantasy author Terry Pratchett's last seven novels have been #1 hardcover bestsellers in the U.K.
By some estimates, as many as 1% of all books bought in Great Britain are by Terry Pratchett.
During the 1990s, Terry Pratchett sold more hardcover copies of his novels than any other living writer. That includes Stephen King, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell -- anyone you care to name.
Yet you may not have heard of him before. Most readers in the U.S. don't know who Terry Pratchett is.
But his publisher, HarperCollins, hopes to change that. They're setting out to make 2000 "the year that America discovers Terry Pratchett." The house is mounting a very aggressive publishing campaign, featuring two new Pratchett novels in 2000 and reissues of his earlier books with smart new packages. In March HC will publish the first three of Pratchett's Discworld novels in mass market paperback with a $3.99 price, and in April Pratchett's latest novel, The Fifth Elephant, hits the stores.
Pratchett's already got a healthy following among readers of humorous fantasy, but HarperCollins hopes to bring his work to a wider audience, including those who might not read fantasy at all. "Pratchett has so much to say about the world," notes executive editor Jennifer Brehl, "and in such an entertaining, spot-on way, that we really feel we can break him out of the category and reach an even wider U.S. readership."
Pratchett's brand of humor has an intelligence and satiric relevance that could appeal to readers of any stripe. He's clearly reached far beyond the limits of the core fantasy readership in his native land. Who knows? If Pratchett can do the same in the U.S., he might start outselling the Bible.
Warner Aspect is trying to send a similar message in a somewhat different direction, targeting the growing black readership with SF by black authors. "I see this as a niche within a niche," says Aspect editor-in-chief Betsy Mitchell. This month, Aspect published Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler, one of the field's most respected black writers, with a cover that speaks as much or more to the general reader of African-American fiction as it d s to the reader of SF. "I took copies of the cover to the African-American Booksellers Association, says Mitchell, "and everyone just loved it." Aspect had great success with a first novel by Nalo Hopkinson, Brown Girl in the Ring (which has gone through four printings), and will bring out Hopkinson's second novel, Midnight Robber, in March. Both titles have been offered by the Quality Paperback Book Club -- a strong indication that the crossover strategy is working. In July, Aspect will publish the first-ever anthology of "speculative fiction" (that is, science fiction and fantasy) by black writers. Dark Matter, edited by Sheree Thomas, covers a century of African-American writing, and includes not only work by recognized black SF writers such as Hopkinson and Tananarive Due, but also authors more familiar to a mainstream readership: W.E.B. DuBois, Jewelle Gomez and Charles Johnson.
Still another indication of SF's increasing acceptance among mainstream readers is the number of non-genre publishers who have taken to publishing some science fiction and fantasy (though often without the category label). Small publishers have published established SF writers such as Lucius Shepard, Kathe Koja, Paul DiFilippo and Octavia Butler. Seven Stories was the original publisher of Butler's Parable of the Talents, and two of the five nominees for last year's Philip K. Dick Award (given for best science fiction book published as an original paperback) were published by Four Walls Eight Windows.
Perhaps the most convincing sign of SF's slow acceptance by the mainstream is the publication of classic SF authors by Vintage. In the early 1990s, Vintage reissued a series of Philip K. Dick's novels with significant success; from 1996 to 1998 the house published The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, as well as a collection of Bester's short stories and a collaborative novel, Psychoshop, which the late Roger Zelazny completed after Bester's death. In 1999, the house published several titles by Theodore Sturgeon, including The Dreaming Jewels, More Than Human and Venus Plus X. In August, Vintage will publish a collection of Sturgeon's short fiction, The Selected Stories.
The Audience Insatiable
There is of course no shame in simple commercial success, and in recent years there's been no surer formula for that in science fiction and fantasy than the one laid down by J.R.R. Tolkien half a century ago (see sidebar). The epic fantasy subgenre -- multibook sequences usually focused on world-shaking battles between good and evil -- owes its existence almost entirely to Tolkien's magisterial Lord of the Rings trilogy, but by now, after decades of homage and imitation, the shapes in which the epic fantasy come vary considerably. No longer content with the three-book model, many series now run to four, six, even nine or 10 volumes. (Robert Jordan's #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Wheel of Time, will see its ninth book, Winter's Heart, appear in November from Tor.)
Some writers stick close to the Tolkien model -- in fact, Bantam will be launching a series by Michael Stackpole in March that's going straight back to the Tolkien blueprint, down to starting it all off with a short, one-volume prequel, The Dark Glory War, not unlike Tolkien's The Hobbit, which preceded and set the stage for The Lord of the Rings. Others carry the form further afield. "I try to publish books that offer something different from the boilerplate," says Bantam editor Anne Gr ll. "You have to, if you're going to distinguish them from all the other series out there." Robin Hobb, one of Bantam's most successful fantasy writers, sets her current Liveship Traders series on a world of seafaring and piracy where the vessels are living beings with personalities and purposes of their own. The third volume in the series, Ship of Destiny, will appear in August.
The need to distinguish epic fantasy series from each other becomes more acute each year, as nearly every publisher launches new writers and new series into the crowded market, while continuing existing series and established authors. So far, the limits of the market have not been reached. "We now have more of these big commercial fantasy writers than we have seasons to launch them in," says Tor's Nielsen Hayden. "It's a problem, but it's the kind of problem you don't mind having."
Tor already has the hugely popular Wheel of Time series running, as well as Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series. In September 1999 the house launched a new series with a first novel, Rhapsody, by Elizabeth Haydon, which enjoyed great success. (The second book, Prophecy, will appear in July.) In 1998 Tor launched another successful fantasy series with The Last Dragonlord by Joanne Bertin, and the second volume of that series, Dragon and Ph nix, appeared in November. Last month, Tor published another volume in the Spellsong Cycle by L.E. Modesitt Jr. -- Darksong Rising -- as well as the first book in a new series from Deborah Christian, The Truthsayer's Apprentice.
Tor's list for 2000 is just as crowded. February will see The Kingless Land, the first volume of a series by Ed Greenwood. March brings Ricardo Pinto's The Chosen, Book One of The Stone Dance of the Chameleon. In April, there's the third volume of David B. C 's Lon-Tobyn Chronicle, Eagle-Sage. If you're losing track of all this by now, you may have a sense of how active this particular subgenre is. The amazing thing is that these books are all, to a greater or lesser degree, succeeding.
Tor's not alone with such a wealth of solid epic fantasy series. Bantam has not only the Robin Hobb series, but a bestselling series by George R.R. Martin with a new installment due in November, a series by Tom Dietz (second volume, Springwar, due in July), a series by John Marco (second book, The Grand Design, coming in April), and a series by Mark Anthony (the second volume, The Keep of Fire, appeared in December). DAW likewise has series under way by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon (Owlknight, third in the series, was an October 1999 hardcover), Irene Radford (The Renegade Dragon, book three in The Dragon Nimbus History appeared in November), Jane Fancher (the third installment, Ring of Destiny, appeared in December) and Gayle Greeno (the second volume, The Farthest Seeking, scheduled for June), among many others.
Tor, Bantam and DAW may have dozens of epic fantasies, but it's a rare SF list that has none. Roc publishes bestselling fantasy author Dennis McKiernan, as well as Anne Bishop, whose latest novel, Silver Wolf, Black Falcon, will appear in hardcover in June. Warner Aspect has its premier epic fantasist in J.V. Jones, whose next book should appear late this year. Aspect's list also features Holly Lisle, author of The Secret Texts series; the second volume, Vengeance of Dragons, appeared in October 1999, and the third is due this fall. Eos publishes the bestselling Raymond E. Feist; a series by Andre Norton (the latest volume, Wind in the Stone, appeared in November); and a series by Dave Duncan (the second installment, Lord of the Fire Lands, hit the shelves in October).
There's no telling when -- or if -- the audience's appetite for the heirs of Tolkien will fade. For now, epic fantasy is that rare sure thing on the usually unpredictable publishing landscape.
The British (and Australian) Invasion
One of the more interesting recent phenomena on the SF scene is the striking success of a whole batch of writers from the U.K. and Australia. For years it has been a truism of SF publishing in the U.S. that it's very difficult to get American readers interested in books by British writers. (Fantasy author Terry Pratchett has been successful in the U.S. for years, but not nearly as terrifically as in his homeland -- see sidebar, p. 34. In any case, he has been one of the few exceptions that proved the rule.) Over the past few years, however, several of the brightest new names in the field have come from overseas.
Stephen Baxter is one example. His first few novels appeared as mass-market originals in the early 1990s, but as his popularity grew, he made the transition to hardcover (in the U.S. -- Baxter had been published in hardcover in the U.K. much earlier) with Voyage (HarperPrism, 1997). Titan (Nov., 1997) followed that, and Moonseed appeared in 1998. By then Baxter's star had risen sufficiently that a bidding battle ensued over his next series, which Del Rey won (Manifold: Time, the first of three books, was just published). HarperPrism picked up another series from Baxter, though, and published the first volume, Silverhair, in hardcover last November.
HarperPrism has also enjoyed success with Australian writer Greg Egan. Prism brought out his first two novels in mass market, and then took him into hardcover with 1997's Distress. His fourth novel, Diaspora came out in 1998, and in December 1999 the house released his fifth, Teranesia. Both Egan and Baxter have garnered spectacular reviews and growing popularity with the scope and complexity of their ideas. "In my opinion, Stephen Baxter and Greg Egan are going to be the two most important SF writers of the next 10 years," says Del Rey's Kuo-Yu Liang.
Tor hopes to have similar success with a Scottish writer, Ken MacLeod. The Cassini Division, MacLeod's third novel but the first to appear in the U.S., was published in July 1999. "Of his four novels to date, we thought The Cassini Division would appeal to the broadest range of the American audience," explains Patrick Nielsen Hayden. And it did grab the attention of reviewers and even non-genre venues such as the online magazine Salon, which ran a special feature on MacLeod. This month Tor publishes MacLeod's second novel, The Stone Canal; The Sky Road, his fourth (third in the U.S.), will appear in August.
Tor has had notable success with a number of Australian writers as well, including Sean McMullen. The publisher released The Centurion's Empire, the first McMullen novel to reach the U.S., in hardcover in 1998, but it was with his second U.S. publication, Souls in the Great Machine (June 1999), that sales began to take off. (The book has been through three hardcover printings.) A new novel, The Miocene Arrow, will appear in hardcover in August.
Australian writers Sean Williams and Shane Dix have done well for Ace with The Prodigal Sun, the first book in their Evergence series. Ace published Sun in mass market last November, with the next Evergence book, The Dying Light, scheduled for July. "Some of the most interesting science fiction being published these days is coming from Great Britain and Australia," notes Ginjer Buchanan.
Perhaps the biggest success of a British author on these shores in recent years has been Peter F. Hamilton. "He's one of our absolutely top sellers," says Warner Aspect's Betsy Mitchell. Tor published a series of three novels over the past couple of years, but it was with his epic The Reality Dysfunction for Aspect -- so large it was published in two mass-market volumes, Emergence and Expansion (both 1997) -- that Hamilton really made his mark. He followed that up with another blockbuster, The Neutronium Alchemist, which again appeared in two mass-market volumes, Consolidation and Conflict (both 1998), and Aspect has just published Hamilton's latest, The Naked God, this time in one big hardcover (nearly 1,000 pages).
Good News, Bad News
Science fiction and fantasy hitting bestseller lists in record numbers; mainstream readers and publishers embracing the genre; the epic fantasy craze running on undampened; British and Australian writers finding success in the States. Sounds pretty good, and it is, but in the ever-shifting world of publishing, there are always problems as well, difficulties that will likely shape the business for years to come.
Chief among them is the continuing decline of genre sales in the mass market format -- particularly on the wholesale end. "The basic story of this decade," says Tor's Nielsen Hayden, "is that SF is getting somewhat more successful in hardcover and trade paperback and a lot less successful in mass market." This is forcing some publishers to make difficult adjustments. "We're having to do a lot of thinking about doing more books in trade paperback," adds Nielsen Hayden. And he's hardly alone. "We used to do almost no trade paperbacks," says Ace's Buchanan. "But now we're doing 22 books a year in hardcover and trade paper. It's a big change."
An increasing number of science fiction and fantasy books now never appear in mass market at all -- a very strange state of affairs for a category that once offered almost nothing but mass market format. Gene Wolfe is one of Tor's most prestigious authors, widely regarded as one of the genre's finest prose stylists. His readership remains solid and eager for each new book. In October 1999, Tor launched a new three-book series by Wolfe with On Blue's Waters in hardcover. Earlier this month, Tor published a collection of Wolfe's short stories, Strange Travelers. On Blue's Waters may eventually come out in mass market, but Strange Travelers will almost certainly be reissued in trade paperback only.
Even some top-selling authors may be leaving mass market behind. In August, Ace will reissue William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties in trade paperback, and they may not take the book into mass market thereafter. Fantasy author Peter S. Beagle's most recent book, Tamsin (Roc, Nov., 1999), will likewise be reissued in trade paperback instead of mass market. "We don't do him in mass market," says Roc executive editor Laura Anne Gilman. "His are the kind of books you not only want to keep, but you want to pass on to your kids."
Other publishers are having a very different experience. At DAW and Baen, the mass market format remains as strong as ever, largely because neither publisher invested heavily in distributing their books to the wholesale market. "We saw the problems with wholesale coming years ago," says Baen's Weiskopf. Both DAW and Baen continue to publish most of their titles in mass market -- in many cases, in that format only.
At Bantam, the talk is of abandoning trade paperback in favor of the traditional mass market. "Except for existing contracts," says Bantam editor Anne Gr ll, "we're phasing out the trade paperback format. For us it hasn't worked. The feeling is that we tried an experiment, it didn't work as well as we had expected, so now we'll try something else."
Bantam's shift applies mainly to the more commercial books on their list. Gr ll concedes that "there's a difference when you're talking about something more literary." Bantam may continue to use the trade paperback format with books such as next month's The Memory of Fire by George Foy, which the house sees as appealing to a readership more comfortable with buying fiction in that form. Other publishers agree that trade paperback remains a good format for books with a more literary audience. Warner Aspect is publishing The Extremes by Christopher Priest -- a New York Times Notable Book of 1999 in its hardcover edition from St. Martin's -- in trade paperback in May. "I think if a book has crossover appeal to the mainstream readership, trade paperback is a very good format to use," says Aspect's Mitchell.
Eos experimented with trade paperback as well as with smaller-sized hardcovers, priced in the $15 range -- significantly lower than the usual hardcover cost. But now Eos is phasing out that format. "It was a brave experiment," says Jennifer Brehl. "We thought it would attract more readers, but it didn't." For the right book, though, an unusual size can make a difference. Ace has published several books by award-winning fantasy writer Patricia McKillip as small-size hardcovers, and the results have been good. "It's not a cure-all for everybody," says editor-in-chief Susan Allison, "but it suits her style." McKillip's next book, The Tower at Stony Wood, will appear in that format in May.
|Some publishers have begun experimenting with their schedules as well as their formats in an effort to improve sales. Baen, Ace and DAW have all taken to the notion of special author-focused lists, where the slots in a given month are devoted in whole or in part to a single author's backlist titles. "We tend to have fairly deep backlists for a good many of our authors," says Weiskopf at Baen, "and it's a good way of drawing attention to it." In September 1999, with the appearance of Lois McMaster Bujold's A Civil Campaign in hardcover, Baen featured two of Bujold's backlist titles on the same list. In December, the publisher focused on Elizabeth Moon with a new hardcover -- Change of Command -- and the two previous books in the series in mass market. And March will be David Weber month, with his new book, Ashes of Victory, and two of his earlier books on the list.|
DAW has been pursuing a similar strategy. Its January list features a new book by Mickey Zucker Reichert and Jennifer Wingert, Spirit Fox, and in the same month it is reissuing five of Reichert's earlier novels. In February it's the same for the late Marion Zimmer Bradley, who has a featured release and four reissues on DAW's list. In March it's Irene Radford's turn: she's got a lead hardcover, a lead paperback and three reissues that month. April focuses on Tanya Huff, with her new novel, Valor's Choice, and five reissues.
Ace approaches the author-focused scheduling less aggressively, using it less frequently than Baen or DAW and devoting fewer slots to a featured author when it d s. In March Ace the focus is on Sean Stewart, whose new novel, Galveston, will appear that month in hardcover, along with the trade paperback reissue of his previous novel, Mockingbird. In April, the publisher will highlight Sharon Shinn with a new novel, Heart of Gold, in paperback, and her previous book, Wrapt in Crystal, in mass market.
|The Books That Started It All|
When in 1954 and 1955 a little-known Oxford scholar published three books full of imaginary creatures such as hobbits, orcs, ents and elves, few if any would have believed that this work would lead to an entirely new literary subgenre -- still less a subgenre that would consistently top bestseller lists during the final 25 years of the century.
J.R.R. Tolkien's epic The Lord of the Rings serves as a classic illustration of the unpredictability of publishing and popular culture. His masterpiece -- which Houghton Mifflin, in releasing a special "millennium edition" last October (seven volumes, boxed, $70), called "the greatest book of the 20th century" -- didn™t show much sign of becoming a phenomenon for more than a decade after its initial publication. And it wasn't until the late 1970s, when a generation of Tolkien imitators began to publish their own wildly successful fantasy epics, that the true scale of Tolkien's achievement became clear. No other single work of literature has so directly inspired such numbers of bestselling authors, from Terry Brooks and Stephen R. Donaldson to David Eddings, Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman, and Robert Jordan.
Houghton Mifflin brought attention back to Tolkien™s original work with several publications in 1999, including not only the "millennium edition" of The Lord of the Rings, but also a one-volume trade paperback of the trilogy; a boxed set of three separate trade paperback volumes along with Tolkien's "prequel," The Hobbit; and new editions of other Tolkien writings such as The Father Christmas Letters and Farmer Giles of Ham. With these and a film version of The Lord of the Rings under way in New Zealand, Tolkien's work should continue to capture imaginations well into the next century.
Tolkien himself scarcely dreamed of the effect his books would have. He set out not to produce a new form of popular literature, but to craft a kind of creation myth for his homeland, England. The Lord of the Rings has blazed a rather different trail through the culture, but the Oxford don (who died in 1973) would undoubtedly be pleased with the reverence his imagined world has inspired.
Developing for the Future
For all the benefits of experimenting with different formats and scheduling approaches, there's no substitute for the time-honored method of dealing with an ever-changing marketplace: developing new writers who may become the anchors of the genre in the years ahead. After all, Kim Stanley Robinson -- author of the hugely successful Mars trilogy for Bantam, as well as The Martians, which Bantam published in hardcover in September 1999 -- spent years writing well-received but not explosively commercial novels before hitting the big time.
Eos has been developing a host of strong young (and some not-so-young) writers over the past few years. In November 1999, Eos published The Annunciate by Severna Park, her third novel and the second that the house has done in hardcover. In October Eos published the third novel by Jeffrey Ford, Memoranda, in trade paperback. Ford won the World Fantasy Award for his previous book, The Physiognomy, and Eos has a fourth book, The Beyond, scheduled for hardcover in early 2001. In February Eos will publish a new novel, Crescent City Rhapsody, by Kathleen Ann Goonan, whose previous books earned stellar reviews and spots on the New York Times's list of Notable Books of the Year.
With two full lists now combined into one, Eos may have an unusually large number of notable up-and-comers, but every publisher has its own crop. In October, Ace published Better Angels, the third novel by Howard Hendrix and his first in hardcover, and in November, Ace published Nina Kiriki Hoffman's third novel, A Red Heart of Memories, in hardcover -- Hoffman's first in that format as well. Harcourt has published two novels by Kage Baker that garnered widespread acclaim, and in February will publish her third, Mendoza in Hollywood. Also in February, Warner Aspect will publish a new novel, The Quiet Invasion, by Sarah Zettel, in hardcover.In April, Roc will publish a first novel by Jim Butcher, Storm Front, in mass market -- the beginning of a series. Out this month from Tor is a first novel by Kij Johnson, The Fox Woman; in May Tor will bring out Thomas Harlan's second novel, The Gate of Fire, a sequel to his successful 1999 debut, The Shadow of Ararat. Also in May, Del Rey will release Prospero's Children, a first novel and start of a trilogy by Jan Siegel. "We're very excited about it," says Kuo-Yu Liang. "We'll be doing a big push."
Baen has been grooming Eric Flint for a couple of years now -- after a solo debut in mass market, the publisher paired him with the well-established David Drake, and together Flint and Drake produced the Belisarius series, the fourth book of which, Fortune's Stroke, will appear in hardcover in June. Baen will also publish a solo novel by Flint, 1632, in hardcover in February. DAW has been building Julie E. Czerneda over the same period of time. In October 1999 it released her third novel, Ties of Power, and a fourth, Changing Vision, is scheduled for August.
A Bright New Millennium
No one knows better than SF writers how unpredictable the future can be, but a general mood of optimism and excitement pervades the field at the moment. A few new bestsellers don't necessarily indicate a coming explosion in science fiction and fantasy publishing, but perhaps the arrival, at last, of the long-awaited year 2000 -- a year virtually synonymous with "the future" -- d s open some opportunities. "Everyone is getting tired of apocalyptic pessimism," says Tor's Patrick Nielsen Hayden. "I think our culture is already showing encouraging early signs of being ready for a new dash of futurism -- a sense that, hey, we have a future, there are possibilities, so maybe we ought to get down to engaging with them. If that's at all true, the next few years should be very good ones indeed for science fiction.
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