Thursday, June 28, 2012

Is Anybody Out There? -- Variant Covers and a Second Printing

While attending SETIcon II this past weekend, one of the attendees, who was purchasing a copy of my co-edited anthology Is Anybody Out There? (Daw Books, 2010), pointed out to me not only a difference in the books' covers but also that some of the books were a second printing. Learning that your book has sold well enough to necessitate a second printing is always great news. And to learn, too, of the cover variants was surprising as well.

In preparation for SETIcon, I had previously ordered a number of copies of Is Anybody Out There? direct from Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Aside from checking that the number of books in the box was accurate and that none were damaged, well, that was as far as my keen observations went.

I've tried to scan the covers to show the differences, but the glare and all prohibits such distinctions. So, I will do my best to explain.

For all you completists out there: What we discovered is that the first printings had a matte-finish cover, whereas the second printings had a glossy cover, with a press line on the left side of the cover about three-sixteenths of an inch from the edge. Another way of describing a press line (possibly "press line" is not the correct term, but that's how I know it) might be a manufactured/built-in reading crease near the left edge on the front cover.

Also, the first printings have the full number line 1 through 8, whereas the second printings begin with the number 2.

But wait, there's more! When I returned home that evening I pulled out my own first printing of IAOT? -- a copy that I had received in 2010 when the book was published -- and verified the full number line. This copy has a glossy cover but no press line.

So, we have two different covers on the first printing: glossy and matte finish; and a different cover than either of those on the second printing: glossy with a press line.

Is anybody out there? Does anyone really care?

Unfortunately, I had no knowledge that the book was going back to press. Had I known I would have alerted the publisher to the two typos (at least the only two that I am aware of) and asked that they be corrected. One typo is in the David Langford story, "Graffiti in the Library of Babel," and the other is in the Ray Vukcevich story, "One Big Monkey." Sorry, guys....

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Writing 101: Reality Check

Fair use allows me to use the cover art to this wonderful manga comic Reality Check!, however truth in advertising requires I state that this blog post has absolutely nothing to do with this comic. I just needed a catchy graphic that contained the words "Reality Check" -- and this Rikki Simons comic [full title: Super Information Hijinks: Reality Check!] serves that purpose.

My reality check, the one about which I am writing today, has to do with that point in a writer's life when s/he has to come to grips with the manuscript they've been working on for months, possibly even for years.

In mid-2007 when I was acquiring for Golden Gryphon Press, I received a submissions query from a writer who was a fan of "pulp sword & sorcery" fantasy fiction. He explained that since little fiction had been written recently [at the time of this query] in the style of Robert E. Howard and Lin Carter, among others, he had written his own pulp sword & sorcery novel and was seeking publication.

His email was well-written and quite intriguing; he had my attention, so I replied in kind. In his next response, he attached a copy of the full manuscript, but included a caveat:
...the opening couple of chapters are admittedly the weakest portions of my novel, and I am at a loss as to how to improve them, so if you wouldn't mind reading ahead to chapter three or so where the real action begins, I would greatly appreciate it.
Trust me, this is not something I want to hear as an acquiring editor, that the first two chapters of a submission are weak and the author is at a loss on how to fix it. [Maybe just begin the novel with chapter 3 and weave in the necessary back story from chapters 1 and 2 where appropriate?]

So I read the first three chapters; actually, the novel began with a lengthy prologue, too! The overlong, wordy, winding sentences, that seemed to ramble on and on, nearly drove me to drink (well, at least an excessive amount of coffee)... As a test, I rewrote one paragraph (only two sentences!) without all the unnecessary verbiage and reduced it from 84 words to 77 words. Doesn't seem like much but it made a huge difference in the flow of the paragraph. In another scene he introduced five major characters -- plus a demon -- all with names that weren't...well, they weren't as easy to pronounce as "Conan."

So I sent him a response that included quite a bit of feedback: the paragraph example from above, the overwhelming number of characters in the scene from above, a few examples of sentence structure issues (misplaced phrases), grammar errors, etc. I also suggested that he find himself a local writers group, through a bookstore, or library, or college, so that he could obtain feedback from fellow writers. His response to my email was quite cordial [I had also mentioned that I was leaving Golden Gryphon Press at the end of the year] but not what I had expected:
Thanks for taking the time to evaluate my submission, and best of luck to you, as well, in your future endeavors. As for your suggestion to allow my work to be critiqued by some manner of reader group, I will have to pass, as I generally find writers to be a rather pretentious lot, and I have no desire to associate with such. Just so you know, I wrote this novel for my own personal amusement, and only decided to shop it around to publishers at the behest of friends and family. Obviously, based upon your critique of my work, I should just stick to writing for pleasure as I obviously haven't the necessary skills to compete in the professional market nor do I have the drive to make myself more competitive. Lesson learned.

That, boys and girls, is a reality check.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury....

In my month end Links & Things post for April 2009, I included the following entry on Ray Bradbury:

Ray Bradbury, during his regular appearance at the Los Angeles Festival of Books, remarked that this may be his final appearance unless the LA Times resurrects its "Book" section, which, like most of the paper, has seen staff and page counts cut over the years. Bradbury worked for the LA Times "Book" section more than forty years ago! He shares some anecdotes in this article, including how he typed the manuscript for Fahrenheit 451 using a "pay" typewriter in a basement room under the Powell Library on the UCLA campus. The typewriter required 10 cents for 30 minutes. Bradbury came each day with a bag of dimes. When the manuscript was complete, he had spent $9.80. (via @GalleyCat) [Good luck, Ray, on getting the "Book" section reinstated!]

The link above is to a brief article in the Los Angeles Times and well worth your time (no pun intended) -- and includes a photo of ole Ray signing books at the LA Festival of Books. His appearance there will be sorely missed.

Speaking of Ray's love of the printed word, and the joy he took in signing copies of his books and stories, I thought I would include one such book in my library that I personally had Ray Bradbury sign many years ago:

You'll have to pardon the inclusion of my thumb in the photo, but the book is too fragile (the binding glue is completely dried out) to lay flat. The signatures, from top to bottom: Ray Bradbury, Philip K. Dick, Robert Sheckley, Isaac Asimov, Alan E. Nourse, and Chad Oliver -- all past masters, all of them now gone.

There are far more knowledgeable and eloquent tributes to Mr. Bradbury across the web today -- particularly this one from the LA Times, which includes twenty-one photos of Bradbury from throughout his life, beginning at age 3. But I just wanted to acknowledge his passing with this very brief post.

Ray Bradbury
(August 22, 1920 – June 5, 2012)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

May Links & Things

This is my monthly wrap-up of May's Links & Things. You can receive these links in real time by following me on Twitter: @martyhalpern; or Friending me on Facebook (FB). Note, however, that not all of my tweeted/FB links make it into these month-end posts. May was another busy month, so there is a lot of content here. Previous monthly recaps are accessible via the "Links and Things" tag in the right column. 
  • What would the publishing world be without another "authors beware" entry.... In this case I'm referring to Open Casket Press, Living Dead Press, and Undead Press. Don't be fooled: these three presses are all run by the same individual: Anthony Giangregorio -- and when "Tony" mentions his "editor" (Vincenzo Bilof) he's also talking about himself, though he wants you to believe that he is referring to some other nebulous individual. New author Mandy DeGeit was excited to have her first published story accepted for an Undead Press anthology -- that is, until she discovered after the story was published how the "editor" had rewritten her work, going so far as to include a paragraph of a dog beating (and sexual arousal) that was never in the original story. Mandy's sad tale went viral shortly thereafter, and when Richard Salter read it, he decided to go public as to why he pulled his novel, World's Collider, from Open Casket Press. You can read Richard's blog post, which also contains a link to Mandy's blog post. Bottom line: Stay away from Open Casket/Living Dead/Undead Press and Anthony "Tony" Giangregorio/Vincenzo Bilof. You have been duly warned.
  • But I'm not quite finished with Tony Giangregorio. Author Adam-Troy Castro posted a lengthy Facebook piece concerning this individual; since only FB users could read said post, I asked Adam to repost it elsewhere, and he graciously complied. So now non-FB users can read his "Secret Sequels" post. Here's a quote: "What Giangregorio has done is specifically, and deliberately, hijack the name of a better work and superior work to his sequel; he is specifically saying, 'This is a sequel to Dawn of the Dead.' Which he has no right to do."
  • I spent Memorial Day weekend at the annual BayCon convention here in Santa Clara County. One of the many panels in which I participated was entitled "Editors, Agents and Other Endangered Species"; the moderator, Dario Ciriello, posted a recap of the panel, with particular emphasis on the "editors" part.
  • Hugh Howey. Recognize that name? If not, neither had I, until May 14 when I read in Publishers Weekly online that film rights to his science fiction series Wool had sold to 20th Century Fox -- and partnering with Fox on the film deal is Scott Free, none other than Ridley and Tony Scott's production company. So I purchased a copy of Wool myself, and in the process learned that Hugh Howey had originally self-published Wool as a series of five novellas. The book will be published in hardcover in the UK, and the author is currently at work on a prequel series. If you search out Wool you will read nothing but rave reviews of this book. It represents one of the true self-publishing success stories, the result of a great story and great writing, and hard work. Howey's guest blog on IndieReader provides some personal history on Wool and how the movie rights came about. And he even writes on his own blog about receiving payment from a reader who originally obtained a copy of his book for free from a pirate site. As Howey writes: "How cool an exchange is that?"
  • Self-publishing is, of course, what everyone is talking about, especially when you read success stories like Hugh Howey's above. Rudy Rucker (@rudytheelder) has posted a four-part series on his step-by-step road to creating an ebook, which includes working with HTML code and apps like Calibre and Sigil. Begin at part one: "Getting Started," and you'll find links at the top of each page to get you to parts 2, 3, and 4. In part 4, you can even purchase the ebook edition of Rudy's How to Make an Ebook for only $1.95 from his own Transreal Books press.

Friday, June 1, 2012

To Every Thing There Is a Season....

On Saturday, July 1, 1989, I drove nearly 400 miles -- with my wife and young daughter in tow -- in order to meet Leo and Diane Dillon. They were appearing that weekend at Westercon 42, at the Anaheim Marriott Hotel.

The Dillons weren't the artist guests of honor, but somehow I had learned they would be in attendance at the convention. (Remember, there was no online "social media" then like there is now.) According to Tom Whitmore [more on Tom in a bit], the Dillons tended to turn down GOH invites, but they were in the middle of a book tour, and managed to squeeze in some convention time into their hectic schedule. Regardless of how I heard the Dillons were planning to be at the convention, I was planning to be there, too.

Nebula and Hugo awards for Best Novel
Upon arriving in Anaheim on Saturday, July 1, we stayed at my parents' house [the house, alas, that I finally sold in April] as they lived only a mile or so from the hotel. And while my wife and daughter spent time that weekend with my family, I made my way to the Marriott and Westercon 42.

In addition to my family and a couple pieces of luggage, I had also brought with me two fairly large boxes (printer paper boxes) of books that I had hoped to have Leo and Diane Dillon sign. Among the approximately 50 or so books were all 36 original Ace Science Fiction Specials, edited by the late Terry Carr, in which the Dillons had done the cover art.1 Obviously this was back in the days of my book collecting mania. I still have these books -- and probably about three thousand more -- I just don't worry about getting them signed any longer. (That is, unless the book is one that I edited and/or the author is a personal friend.)

To successfully get all of my books signed, I needed some dedicated time with the Dillons. So, I approached Tom Whitmore, who was on the Westercon 42 staff, and asked for his assistance. Tom was one of the three founding partners of the Other Change of Hobbit bookstore in Berkeley; I knew Tom from spending far too much time (and undoubtedly far too much money) at that particular bookstore during the mid-to-late '80s and '90s.

Leo and Diane Dillon were presenting a slide show of their work in the afternoon, I believe it was on Sunday, July 2; following the slide show presentation, Tom graciously escorted the Dillons and me to a smaller room where we could have some private time -- and, in fact, Tom even remained by the door to ensure we were not interrupted.

But before all the signing was the Dillons' slide show presentation. I have this vague (after 23 years!) memory of the event, and truly wish that a recording of the Dillons' commentary was available. They showed slide after slide, discussing the particular technique used with each one: wood block prints, batik (or some similar process), various mixed media; and the occasional hassles they had with art directors, deadlines, and such. How Leo fell asleep while painting late one night and Diane picked up right where he had left off... How each piece they did was a collaboration of ideas and skills: what they themselves referred to as the "Third Artist." They touched on -- but didn't dwell upon -- some of the difficulties they encountered in the late '50s and '60s as an interracial couple.

Tom Whitmore also reminded me that it was this slide show that the Dillons presented an unfinished cover for The Last Unicorn. I don't recall the full story (i.e. how the cover came to be, and then remained unfinished), but Tom informed Connor Freff Cochran -- Peter S. Beagle's agent, co-producer, publisher, etc. -- about the unfinished piece; Connor then contacted the Dillons and had them finish the piece for a reprint edition of the book.