Writer's Bloc
My SFWA Bulletin Column

Never Run Out of Books, Ever

from The SFWA Bulletin #175, Fall 2007


Netflix for Books

    With NetFlix practically a generic term and legions of imitators playing the “never leave your house, never stand in line” game, an equivalent renal service for books was sure to follow. It has. Two of them, in fact. A Business Brief in the August 2007 NINK announced that BookSwim.com has risen as a powerful rival to the older Booksfree.com in offering book rentals online.

    BookSwim launched in May, although the site still calls itself a beta version. The website claims 150,000 hardback and paperback titles, including some magazines but no audiobooks. On their blog, www.bookswim.com/blog/, they say they now have 160,000 titles after adding titles requested by readers. They also announced there just at the time of this writing that their website would soon move out of beta to BookSwim 2.0.

    Clicking on the Science Fiction & Fantasy category brings up 2965 titles. There are ten ways to sort this list, each of which displays a frustratingly low 10 books at a time. The titles are an eclectic, indeed an odd lot, ranging from the latest bestsellers through children’s books through 1950s F&SF’s and Galaxy’s. These older books are purchased used from the usual places that we buy our own used books, everything from Amazon Marketplace to Craigslist to garage sales. New books are purchased via Ingrams.

    Books are sent out a minimum of three at a time, USPS Media Mail, to cut down on the shipping costs. Monthly programs therefore also start with 3 books at-a-time, for $19.99. Other programs range up to 11 books at-a-time, for $35.99. Books can be kept for an unlimited amount of time and all except rare items can be purchased. Send back three books in the prepaid mailers and another three are picked from your list and sent out.

    Compare that to Booksfree.com. They started all the way back in 2000 as a paperback book rental service and added audiobooks in 2003. No hardbacks, however. All the items appear to be new rather than used, also through Ingram. There are separate plans for paperbacks and audiobooks, and a combo plan that allows both. Paperback-only plans start with 2 books at-a-time for $9.99 and go up to 12 books at-a-time for $37.99. There are no due dates or late fees, and all plans above the 2 books at-a-time one allows for a new set sent out during the month. Books can be kept for a discounted price. Booksfree also uses USPS Media Mail.

    Clicking on Science Fiction brings up 3171 titles; clicking on Fantasy yields another seemingly different 3107 titles which makes our category a larger percentage of their claimed 96,000 titles. There are only five ways to sort the lists, including, oddly, “First Name.” (Using it brings up a typo first.) Pages contain twelve titles. The title sort unfortunately does not remove articles, so books like “A Clash of Kings” are sorted under A, a mistake that BookSwim does not make.

    Booksfree also has a blog, www.booksfree.com/blog/, at which they claim to have rented one million paperback books since their launch. The good news: the one millionth was an sf title. The bad news: it was The Road, rather than one of ours.

    Various librarian and book blogs have discussed the pros and cons of these services, with comments ranging from (paraphrased) “why don’t people just go to their libraries” to “why don’t libraries use these services when they don’t have a book available?” Guaranteed that much more comment will follow, especially if BookSwim is a success.

Blogging Your Way Across the U.S.A.

    Every column I seem to come across a new way of promoting your books. This time it’s Blog Book Tours, which is also the title of an article by Elizabeth O. Dulemba in the September/October 2007 SCBWI Bulletin.

    Few authors will find their publishers springing for a book tour, especially authors of genre fiction. Even those bestselling authors who are so honored invariably complain afterward about the toll it takes on their time, the cost to their productivity, the hit and miss nature of the publicity, and the sheer grind of travel.

    The Internet, a modern ether that pervades everywhere and everything, provides an answer. Gather a group of bloggers in your field and have each of them devote a blog day to your book. Dulemba explained the model that she and her friends created.

      Five bloggers agree to interview one author/illustrator in a one-week time period. Each blogger is assigned a day to post their interview. Within their blog posts they include links to the other blogs along with a cover image of the featured book, an image of the featured author/illustrator, a link to the author/illustrator’s website, a link to where the book can be purchased, and, of course, the interview.

    Success to date is of course anecdotal, though that’s true for virtually all other means of promotion as well.

Changes to ISBNs

    Both NINK and InSinC had squibs that alerted me to changes to the old familiar ISBN numbers.

    First, remember that all books in the supply chain after January 1, 2007 need the new 13 digit ISBN number. The Book Industry Study Group (www.bisg.org/isbn-13/faq.html) states that the change is necessary:

      to expand the numbering capacity of the ISBN system and alleviate numbering shortages in certain areas of the world;

      to fully align the numbering system for books with the global EAN.UCC identification system that is widely used to identify most other consumer goods worldwide.

    During the transition period, according to ISBN.org (www.isbn.org/standards/home/isbn/transition.asp) publishers should:

      Print both the ISBN-10 and the ISBN-13 on the Copyright Page in this format:

        ISBN-10: 1-56619-909-3
        ISBN-13: 978-1-56619-909-4

      Use both the ISBN-10 and the ISBN-13 in all marketing and sales communications materials and business documents such as invoices, packing slips and credit memos.

      Print only one bar code on Cover 4 -- the EAN bar code -- and cease using the UPC bar code. The EAN bar code is already a 13 digit ISBN without hyphens.

    Note that you cannot just append the new 978 prefix to the old ISBN-10 code. The check digit must also change. An ISBN converter is available at: www.isbn.org/converterpub.asp.

    Moreover, a second prefix, 979, has been created and will probably start being put into use in 2008, although not until all 978 prefixes have been assigned. The 979 prefix has no counterpart in the ISBN-10 system. It cannot be back converted.

Tom Doherty Honored by WWA

    A name familiar to the f&sf world, Tom Doherty, was given the Lariat Award of the Western Writers of America. It’s described as a special honor “designed for those who have shown exceptional support for WWA and to the literature of the West.” It is only the second time the Lariat has been awarded, the first to Caxton Publishing. Forge Books put out three WWA anthologies and Doherty has published a long list of western writers in his career.

    That career is summarized in the June 2007 Roundup Magazine.

      Tom Doherty has been in publishing for forty-nine years. He started as a salesman for Pocket Books and rose to be Division Sales Manager. From there he went to Simon & Schuster as National Sales Manager, then became publisher of Tempo Books. He was Publisher and General Manager of the Ace and Tempo divisions of Grossett & Dunlap before founding his own company, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC (publishers of Tor/Forge Books) in 1980.

      Tor became a subsidiary of St. Martin’s Press in 1987, both are now subsidiaries of Holtzbrinck Publishers. Tom Doherty continues as President and Publisher of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, publishing under the Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Aerie imprints. Many authors of the Tor and Forge lines have won honors as diverse as the Nebula, Hugo, Edgar, Tiptree, Stoker, and Western Heritage awards, as well as fourteen Spur Awards though 2006.

Markets Outside the Box

    Cindi Myers, in the October 2007 NINK, listed one online and one print site interested in serialized fiction.

    Virtual Tales (virtualtales.com) offers subscribers twice-weekly emails of installments of longer stories. Each “chapter” runs 1500-2000 words. Readers get the first four installments free to whet their appetites, then they have to purchase additional material. The editors will accept original fantasy, horror, and science fiction novels; previously published works to which the author owns electronic rights; and short story collections if they have a unifying theme. Payment is 60% of sales, quarterly via PayPal. Exclusive worldwide electronic rights are purchased. These revert if the story is no longer for sale at their website. For guidelines, go to: virtualtales.com/submissions.html.

    Thrilling Tales (thrillingtales.net), no relation, is a planned quarterly print magazine whose first issue is scheduled for Fall 2007. They’re looking for material that could have been printed in the 1930s pulps, only better written. They can accept hero pulp tales up to 20,000 words. Query for serialized material up to 60,000 words. Pay is 3 cents/word, but 60 days after publication, so beware. For guidelines, go to: thrillingtales.net/sub.html.

    The Market Update in the October 2007 RWR has two imprints of interest.

    Liquid Silver Books, an imprint of Atlantic Bridge Publishing, is currently accepting all erotic romance genres, particularly fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal. It is primarily an e-publisher but also publishes selected titles in print. Send first three chapters, synopsis, and cover letter to: subs2007@liquidsilverbooks.com. For guidelines, go to www.liquidsilverbooks.com/guidelines.htm.

    Sourcebooks, Inc. (www.sourcebooks.com) is launching a new line, Casablanca. It will publish paranormal and time travel books among other romance genres. They plan to publish 15-20 titles per season in a mix of mass market and trade paperback formats.

SFWA Gets Mentioned

    SFWA often works with other groups on common issues, and that work does not go unnoticed.

    First I saw a scam alert in the July/August 2007 SCBWI Bulletin, warning of the Children’s Literary Agency of NY, which advised their readership not to look inside for help, but to go to Writer Beware for information and aid.

    When Simon & Schuster (S&S) tried to redefine “out of print” out of existence in a new contract last May, SFWA was one of several groups that worked with the Authors Guild to get the message out. I was pleased to see our efforts recognized by David Curle in the Summer 2007 Authors Guild Bulletin.

    The problem lay in contract language that stated that “The Work shall not be deemed out of print as long as it is available in any U.S. trade edition, including electronic editions.” Works would never revert to the author under this scheme. A “Republish or Perish” campaign at the BookExpo America show apparently worked. S&S has apologized for its “miscommunication” and agreed to:

      negotiate with authors on a case-by-case basis to determine a revenue-based threshold for determining when a book would be considered out of print.

Too Good Not to Share

    Not from a writers’ mag, but how could I pass up a headline like “Rocket Scientists Stymied by Hearst Elevators”?

      The elevators in Hearst Tower are, like the rest of the building, designed to look cool and be efficient. They're so cool and efficient, in fact, that they don't even have buttons on the inside. Instead, Hearsties punch in the floor number on a panel outside, which then tells them which car to hop into. Though the system is simple enough if you go there every day, it's confusing for visitors. Especially, you know, models. But you wouldn't think that they'd stymie some of the country's most brilliant engineers. But last night at Popular Mechanics' Breakthrough Awards, which honored the top innovators and inventors of the year, the tower's lobby was a scrum of confusion. Honorees stood gazing at the elevator doors, stumped. "Excuse me, but how do you get this to go down?" one, the inventor of a nonturbine wind alternative, was heard asking. Meanwhile, the maker of a nerve-powered robo-arm trotted off to ask for help from a security guard. Eventually, Hearst dispatched staffers to the lobby to escort honorees upstairs.

    A vision of the non-Jetsons future from The Daily Intelligencer, October 11, 2007.


Organization, Publication, Address, Web Address

Authors Guild, Bulletin, 31 E. 32nd St. 7th Floor, New York, NY 10016, www.authorsguild.org/

Mystery Writers of America, The 3rd Degree (TTD), 17 E 47th St, 6th floor, New York, NY 10017, www.mysterywriters.org/

Novelists, Inc., NINK, P. O. Box 2037, Manhattan KS, 66505, www.ninc.com/ Romance Writers of America, Romance Writers’ Report, 14615 Benfer Rd., Houston, TX 77069 [new address], www.rwanational.org

Sisters In Crime, InSinC, PO Box 442124, Lawrence, KS 66044-8933, www.sistersincrime.com

Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Bulletin, 8271 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048, www.scbwi.org/

Western Writers of America, Roundup Magazine, MSCO6, 1 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque NM, 87131, www.westernwriters.org

Copyright 2007 by Steve Carper

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