Offering an array of original fiction and comics, online communities, commentary, and blogs organized—sometimes loosely—around science fiction and fantasy, Tor.com is an online experiment in transforming a corporate Web site into an all-purpose publishing platform. Although a similar publisher site, Random House's Suvudu.com, tries to act as an online hub for science fiction fans, Tor.com offers a dizzying variety of original content and commentary that reaches far beyond Tor Books and its authors.
Tor.com was conceived at a Tor Christmas party in 2007 by Tor's v-p of strategic technology, Fritz Foy—now publisher of the Tor.com site—as a way to create a site that was more than a corporate brochure. While parent company Macmillan maintains a very corporate site for Tor and Forge books, the new and improved Tor.com site manages to offer a little something for anyone who's into science fiction and fantasy. Tor's senior editor and manager of science fiction, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who created the original Tor Web site in the 1990s, said, "Fritz said we could pay for and publish original fiction and it would be cheaper than buying advertising." Tor.com and its accumulation of original publishing, blogs, and related features is conceived, Nielsen Hayden said, "to be a continuation of science fiction by other means. We've adjusted that since the site's launch in 2008, but stayed true to the original vision."
That vision includes focusing the site on themes like the just completed Steampunk Fortnight, a two-week follow-up to last year's Steampunk Month—"a month can be an eternity on the Web," said Nielsen Hayden—offering a focus on a fantasy subgenre about a fictional historical era of futuristic technology powered by steam. Steampunk Fortnight offered a host of guest bloggers like writers Jared Axelrod and Evelyn Kriete, original steampunk fiction from Eileen Gunn and Cat Rambo, listings of steampunk events, as well as lots of giveaways and swag for the steampunk faithful. Past Web site themes have included Cthulu Christmas (an homage to horror writer H.P. Lovecraft), Urban Fantasy and Romance; and Zombie Week. Tor.com offers a kind of one-stop-shopping venue for fantasy, science fiction, and related genres.
Since its launch in July 2008, the site has acquired and published more than 60 pieces of original short fiction (novellas and short stories) by professional writers. "We're building an online community," said Tor Books art director Irene Gallo. "Traffic continues to grow, helped by word-of-mouth, and we use social media to drive it." Tor.com has "over 200,000 active registered users," Gallo said. "We do better than double that in unique viewers every month and have grown 40% in the past four months." Gallo also said that "the key statistic" is the time per visit "our community members spend—weekly averages of four and five minutes per visit are not uncommon."
Gallo is also creative director of Tor.com and took over the position from Pablo Defendini, art director and producer at the Tor.com site, who left Tor to join Open Road Media. Science fiction fans are usually interested in comics, and Defendini and Tor editor Liz Gorinsky both acquired original comics for the site—Defendini acquired Dan Goldman's quirky long-form Web comic, Red Light Properties, recently serialized on Tor.com, and the site also features such notable comics creators as Jim Ottaviani, Sean Beri, Andi Watson and Joanna Estep.
Gorinsky continues to acquire comics, but she also acquires fiction for the site, and Tor.com serves as a laboratory for all kinds of online publishing. Last year Tor published The Year's Best Fantasy 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, a book collection of short fiction first published online at Tor.com; the next volume of Year's Best Fantasy is about to be released. Tor has also repackaged original online stories as downloadable e-books, Gallo said, and sells them for 99 cents through the iBookstore, Kindle store, Kobo, and other e-retailers, to readers who want them on their devices. Online short fiction is acquired for a flat fee upfront, not an advance, and writers receive 25% of net receipts from digital sales, Gallo said.
Even more important, she added, the site allows editors to "talk directly to readers and for readers to talk to us," helping to build relationships with new authors as well as with an army of illustrators. "I can try an artist out and see how they work," she said, pointing to the site's ever-growing gallery of works by artists who have created illustrations or comics for the site. "Tor.com has helped us speed up the publishing process," Gallo said, "and we can promote works by releasing a chapter through the site or by bringing in authors from other publishers."
Since many sci-fi fans often haven't read the latest titles, Nielsen Hayden explained, the site created Rereads and Rewatches, separate blogs focused on ongoing discussions about famous books and/or movies and TV shows related to the genres. Tor brings in an author to lead an online discussion of such backlist classics as Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series or discuss the anime classic Cowboy Bebop or Star Trek.
But navigating Tor.com can be tricky. There's no way, for instance, to find all the comics on the site, or even to easily locate themed content. Gallo said Tor.com is in the process of a redesign that will take a few months. And the sooner it's finished the better, Gallo said, because working on Tor.com "is all fun. It's got all the fun parts of my job and none of the bad stuff."