Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Further Discussion With Ellen Datlow

Ellen DatlowWednesday Jan 9, 12:47am ESTChizine would be spending less than half that on production including 
copy editing
 I don't know who prints their books. As a successful medium press publisher I trust them to do a great job (their books all look fantastic).As I've already said. Bypassing the slush pile is not about the anthology -Chizine Publications is a BOOK PUBLISHER-it is their slush pile NOT the anthology slush pile. Of course the book publisher reads their novel slush. I do not work for the book publisher. I am a freelance anthologist.Joe Lansdale, Lucius Shepard, Laird Barron, Jeffrey Ford, Brian Evenson, Michael Marshall Smith are some of the writers who will be contributing stories. I chose those for the premiums because I know I can count on them writing great stories.Does that help?
Ellen DatlowWednesday Jan 9, 12:47am EST
Another inaccuracy: I've never said the eBook would be sold for $15. That's the premium.
Chizine sells most of their E-books for $9.95. 

 Paul ManneringWednesday Jan 9, 1:25am ESTThanks,This is why I am asking you the questions - because there is a high risk of mis-information wthout getting comment from both sides.As you are a professional editor and Anthologist, I accept you are entitled to take your fee.My question is: Do you believe that taking that fee in advance (of publication) from a crowd sourced fund is appropriate? Wouldn't it be more appropriate for ChiZine Publishing to absorb the costs of production - including your fee as part of their operating capital?Is this the evolution of crowd sourced projects? Do you believe that the person/company who sets up a Kickstarter or similar project is justified in setting a higher funding goal with the intention of taking a profit from the funds raised?Once all costs are covered by ChiZine (including your fee and production costs related to the book) what is the plan for the remaining funds? Are you involved in making that decision or can someone from ChiZine comment?FYI: I am continuing to update the blog post with verbatim copy-pasta of the discussion. I have information from other sources (including two pages from the Shocklines forum thread that was deleted).

Which is why I contacted Ms Datlow directly in the first place. Clarification on the conjecture and claims being made online, giving her a chance to correct the assumptions being made on public forums.

A bit of digging revealed a cached version of the Shocklines forum thread that was deleted by the forum moderator. Sources have suggested that the conversation ended after Ms Datlow expressed concern that her reputation was under threat. And other sources have also said that the Shocklines moderator will delete a thread if he receives complaints from anyone about that thread.

What Ms Datlow's original post on Shocklines does clarify (as does her response above) is that the "pay $100 to by pass the slush pile" relates only to submissions of Novel Manuscripts submitted to ChiZine and which ever way you look at it, 30 people did pay to get their writing read by editors at the same publisher that is publishing the anthology.

The thread then continues, with the supporters and the questioners, and this being the internet, it gets ugly.

One contradiction does appear - if you contribute $15 to the project, you get an ebook edition of the book. But if you want to buy the book, Ms Datlow has said that ChiZine sells most of their ebook catalogue at around $9.95.
So, why not a $10 contribution to get an ebook? Why the premium charge?

As Ms Datlow points out in the Shocklines thread, this is a larger press with extensive overheads so it costs them 10 times as much as a small press or self-publisher to produce a book. If anything this suggests that the brick-and-mortar book publishing industry is really, really in deep shit. There are apparent advantages in offset printing and making fine quality paperbacks - though Createspace produce nice hardware too. But there is no difference to any ebook no matter what format it is published in. 

Shocklines Thread Page 1

 Shocklines Thread Page 2.

In conclusion, I accept that ChiZine are exploiting a new option for raising funds for covering the costs of publishing books. I also understand that as absurd as it appears in today's publishing environment companies are spending $25,000 on producing a single book. Most of them are expecting to recover that money through sales, though that might change in the next few months given the success of this Kickstarter project.

It is becoming clearer why "medium" press publishers and their big brothers are shitting bricks over ebooks and DIY publishing. The future seems brighter every day for highly experienced and talented editors and producers of books, like Ms Datlow. 

The published anthology is likely to be of a high standard, with a strong line up of reliable authors and some great stories. The 2-3 non-best selling writers who also make it through the selection process will have the opportunity to congratulate themselves on a professional sale, and see their names in print with some great writers.

Justifiable Expense or Kickstarter Con?

Update: Ms Datlow responded (promptly) - and her answers are included at the bottom of this post:

You may have heard about the Fearful Symmetries anthology. It's being edited by Ellen Datlow, the well respected and highly praised writer with a long career as a professional editor and writer, in association with ChiZine Publications.

The internet has roused itself to a frenzy with concerns about the anthology's Kickstarter goal of $25,000.

Yes. $25,000 to publish a book.

Ms Datlow is paying contributing authors 5 cents per word. The other funds are described as covering the cost of editing, formatting, and cover design.

I'm not planning on submitting any stories to this anthology. I'm not planning on contributing (the funding limit is now oversubscribed at $26,513 anyway). I am maintaining an open mind about this. What rouses my curiousity though is the claims of threads being shut down on forums when the discussion got to probing and the general lack of clarification about what the money is required for.

From a purely capitalist perspective it is a genius idea for a publisher. Make a lot of money, without ever selling a book. If however ChiZine and Ms Datlow are paying $25,000 to produce a single book - then someone, somewhere is ripping them off something terrible. It has also been suggested that she plans on selling the book for $15 per copy in ebook format. That seems expensive but if she is only using solicited writers then she will have some good names to back it up.

So out of curiosity I contacted Ms Datlow the only way possible - (other than Twitter) which is via the Ask A Question function on the Kickstarter page.

This is what I wrote:
Hi Ellen,

There's an awful lot of backlash about this project online. I'd like to write a blog post about the project and to keep it impartial - I'd like to ask you the following questions:

Given the 125,000 words @ 5 cents a word (increasing to 7 if you reach $28,000) means the payments to contributors come to less than $9000.

What is the necessity for the rest of the money?

Cover design and formatting shouldn't cost you more than a few thousand. I have heard you are taking a $6,000 fee for the project - can you confirm that?

So even with the contributor costs, the production costs (Smashwords and Amazon mean you don't have to pay for book production) and your fee - what happens to the rest of the money?

Regarding Kickstarter in general - do you think of financial backers as investors, or just people giving a handout in a way that allows you and your publishers to make a profit without selling any books?

Do you have any ethical concerns about this kind of funding model?

The pay money to avoid the slush pile - is that refunded if the contributor is rejected?

It has been said that only the contributors you solicit will be included - so would you agree that anyone paying the $100 to avoid the slush pile - is effectively just giving you a donation towards the goal.

If you do not raise $28,000 and do not raise the payment per word to 7 cents - what will the balance of extra funds be used for?

As I said there are a lot of threads online discussing this particular project. There have been claims that you shut down threads critical of the project and the use of funds. Can you comment on this?

Thanks for your time,
Paul Mannering

Ms Datlow may of course not answer any questions. I'd be impressed if she responds at all. But nothing suggests guilt to the Jury of The Internet like not giving answers to questions asked.

I'll update with any thing I hear further.

Edit: Ellen responded to my questions with this:

There was a brouhaha started by a bunch from one small press publisher on Shocklines-as far as I know, that's it. If you can point me out to "backlash" I'd love to see it.
I think you need to go to the actual kickstarter and do some research. Most of your "facts" are incorrect.
1) we're paying 6 cents a word (minimum)
2) Chizine is publishing the book, with everything that entails
3) Bypassing the slush pile has NOTHING to do with the anthology -it's the CHizine
No one is paying to get read by anyone (anyone can submit novels to Chizine Publications for freePublications NOVEL submission slush pile
4) There will be an open reading period and from that material I will pick 2-3 stories.
Please go read our updates and FAQ so you can understand what we're actually doing.

Btw, the only thread that has come to my attention is the one on Shocklines. Do you really think I have any power to shut down a thread? I hold no power over Matt Schwartz, the owner of the board. He does as he sees fit.

To which I have replied:
Awesome, thanks for the response.
The "facts" were taken from claims made in a Facebook thread. It came up on my newsfeed - not sure who started it - I think a FB friend commented on it - which put it in my feed.

1) we're paying 6 cents a word (minimum)

2) Chizine is publishing the book, with everything that entails
And they are expecting to spend $25,000 on publication? Someone should tell them about Amazon's KDP, Createspace and Smashwords.

3) Bypassing the slush pile has NOTHING to do with the anthology -it's the CHizine
It's the ChiZine?

No one is paying to get read by anyone (anyone can submit novels to Chizine Publications for freePublications NOVEL submission slush pile

Except, I 'm asking about the Fearful Symetries anthology, not ChiZine's novel submission process.
One of the rewards for contributing $100 is bypassing the slushpile and therefore getting read (would that be by you? Or ChiZine editors?)

4) There will be an open reading period and from that material I will pick 2-3 stories.
The remaining content will be from solicited authors? You include Joe R Lansdale and other authors as already included in the rewards list.

Please go read our updates and FAQ so you can understand what we're actually doing.
I'll continue to try to understand - thanks.
Well it was great to get some kind of response so promptly. It's not clear answers to most of my questions - and I don't recall referring to the claims as "facts" - seriously comments in a Facebook thread are hardly referenceable in academia.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Hook, Line and Stinker

The three best ways to open a story:
1) Dialogue 
2) Scene setting
3) Characterization

And do it quickly: Not too much description on the first page. Just enough. Place the hook, then get out for a bit, and come back.

The internet is littered with advice like this. This particular version came from a Facebook post by Jason V Brock (that's a link to his Wikipedia page).

Personally I think it's like all advice (on writing and everything else). Listen to all of it, take it seriously and then do what works for you.

With that in mind, here's the opening sentences to some recently completed stories:

They say the man from Suffolk seemed in fine fettle they day he died. ~ A Clowder of Cats

Dougal Brown ate dirt. ~ Digger

The Coachman’s Arms brought comfort and a wide range of beers and wines to its patrons.

 ~  The Codger

“I figure I have an hour, maybe less, and so for those of you who come in to find out what the hell happened. Excuse the chains, but this is it. An eyewitness report. ~ The Resolute Report

I have 123 photographs of my back. ~ The Tao Of The Tattoo

Richie returned to consciousness in a room that smelt like the high school locker room after a championship game. ~ Rite Of Passage 

The Sharps rifle is the finest weapon ever invented by man, the .50 calibre shot can be fired by a competent marksman at a rate of up to ten rounds per minute with deadly accuracy. ~ Walking The Line 

And for a bonus, the opening line of the yet to be finished Pisces of Fate, the sequel to Engines of Empathy

In the warm tropical waters of the Aardvark Archipelago swims a fish that no one likes.