Want to Know What Lies Ahead for Publishing?
Ask a Best-Selling SF Author
Lucky Bat Books asked author Gregory Benford, best-selling author of science fiction novels and stories, to delve into what makes the new world of publishing tick for him. LBB asked; Gregory answered. Here’s what he said.
LBB: You’ve mentioned — and you’ve proven — that you’re intrigued by the new world of publishing. Why? What is the magnet for you?
Gregory: Of all genres, sf should look to the future. The digital transition can liberate authors and readers as never before, with publishers playing not the single pipeline but one of several paths. Plus, digital carries the scent of permanence, liberating prose from matter so it can transcend time.
Want to be read in a century? Go digital. I have dozens of books and hundreds of stories that need moving to e-formats.
LBB: What are you working on now? Books? Short stories? Any upcoming projects you want to let us know about?
Gregory Benford: I’m systematically getting my older books reverted from Harper Collins (done!), Bantam (nearly done!), Ace (working!) etc. Then Lucky Bat Books publishes them in e-editions and sometimes Print on Demand, as with my 1992 novel Chiller, reissued in 2011. I often include a new introduction, making them true second editions.
Beyond that, I have a new novel coming Fall 2012 from Tor, co-written with Larry Niven, Bowl of Heaven. More novels to follow that, including the Bowl sequel, to be called Shipstar. Many of my books remain in hard editions (“p-books” I’ve heard them called; printed) like Timescape and continue to sell well. But I spent five years starting and running some biotech companies and did little writing. That blows you out of the stores. I had half a dozen paperbacks in Barnes and Noble in 2005; now there are few. Time to get back in, on new terms.
I always write a half dozen or so shorter works per year, usually commissioned, to stay in the game. In science fiction (sf) you can get new readers with your short fiction, the traditional path. It’s nice being included in Best Of Year collections—good advertising. To drive this further, Lucky Bat Books is publishing my 5th short story collection this winter 2012, Anomalies.
LBB: What about topics? You’ve broken ground in your novels about time/space and even about cryonics. What science are you tackling now?
Gregory Benford: Bowl of Heaven is about what Larry & I call a Big Smart Object. His Ringworld is a Big Dumb Object since it’s passively stable, as we are when we stand still. A Smart Object is dynamically stable, as we are when we walk. There’ve been several Big Dumb Object s in sf. Our Big Smart Object is larger than Ringworld and is going somewhere, using an entire star as its engine. But why? Fun!
As well, Lucky Bat Books brings out further titles like Cosm this year, which did well at Harper. They reverted my books, so now it’s my turn.
LBB: All but your book, Chiller, recently published by Lucky Bat Books after rights reverted to you, have been published by traditional publishers. How does that model differ for you from the experience of publishing through a house like Lucky Bat Books.
Gregory Benford: After 47 years publishing, I know enough to shape my own books – art, especially. So getting to commission new art, arrange formatting and not dealing with %$@#*! art directors is a gift. Where else in the arts does a creator get so little say in how his work gets presented?
(I had arranged for a jacket illustration of an anthology I co-edited: a lovely 1948 Bonestell painting showing the US East Coast from orbit…and an art director flipped it because he thought it looked better mirror reversed…for the jacket of Skylife, Harcourt. Aaargh!)
Plus, publicity (what little remains) can be contracted out. Distribution through Amazon is potent, and one can arrange placement with Barnes & Noble, etc. Piecemeal publishing, distribution and advertising can be quite effective. Look at the newbie authors who’ve sold a million e-books! These are methods in their infancy, a brave new whirl.
LBB: Are you planning to be on the road or at any conventions this year where your readers can see you?
Gregory Benford: No plans as yet…last year I hit worldcon, World Fantasy Con, Condor & Loscon—plenty of fun. I’m Guest of Honor at VCon in Vancouver late Sept. In Fall Larry & I will do a west coast book tour. Loscon again, probably, too.
LBB: As a professor of physics at the University of California Irvine, you’re conversing with students every day. Do they ever challenge the physics in your science fiction? Or make it a part of the classroom discussion?
Gregory Benford: I use sf examples especially in mechanics classes. I’ve been a lifelong researcher, with hundreds of scientific papers published, and several books—so I truly care about communicating science to people.
A fun part of Physics Through SF, a course I taught at UC Irvine, is seeing where you should tweak the physics to make the story work better. Hal Clement called it “the game” and it’s mostly played these days at Analog. I posted a long piece about this on my blog, gregorybenford.com.
LBB: What lies ahead?
Gregory Benford: A whole new landscape in publishing. I suspect that within this decade fully half of all new books will appear in e-formats and stay available forever. An enormous backlist will reside there. Many editors will be as freelance as writers are now. (A senior editor I worked with many times has gone freelance already, betsymitchelleditorial.com.)
This is more than an opportunity; it’s a revolution. Join it!