I have just done the first draft of my article on Internet Publishing, which will be posted the same time as this column. It is my intent to provide useful discussion and information for writers, both novice and serious, and to update that article regularly to make it increasingly accurate and relevant. My spot survey of sites suggests that there are some very nice ones for hopeful writers to check out, including a number associated with the Romance genre, which overlaps science fiction and fantasy, and seems to have a far more, well, romantic approach that I admit charms me. Maybe next time I'll report just how far my romance with Romance gets.
The rest of this column is a hodgepodge of irritations and personal bits, of no particular consequence. I generally have too much to say; I want to cut down, but so far haven't found out how. As I write it this time, I have some physical discomfort, because I strained something in my lower back when exercising. I take physical fitness seriously, and I regularly jog, row, and work out with hand weights. I ran into trouble when leaning forward and moving my arms as if flying, with a ten pound dumbbell in each hand, twenty repetitions. I have done that exercise for years, but this time it got my back; I didn't realize how much stress that can put on that section. I feel it mainly when leaning forward, such as when I need to pick something up or put on pants, or when getting up from the bed. It will pass, and I'll be more careful in future, or pay the consequence.
Reader Tandy Dolin put me on to the Nerdity Test, at www.frontier.net/~jbennet/nerd/n500test.html, because I am mentioned in it. That's some test; it has 500 questions. The one that relates to me is "Have you ever read anything by
" and lists Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Robert A Heinlein, Piers Anthony, J R R Tolkien, Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan and others. Yes, I have read things by all of them, and I like the company. I didn't try to answer all the questions, but a random sampling suggests that I am dangerously close to nerdity.
I received a form letter and a silver pin from SFWA, the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., saying "Dear Nebula Nominee," and explaining that their Board of Directors has decided to honor all Nebula nominees throughout SFWA history by awarding them these pins. This would seem to be a nice gesture, but gives me mixed feelings. You see, my relationship with SFWA is distant and hostile, because thirty years ago when I was a member I had the temerity to write a query letter to the SFWA Contracts Committee to see what I could do about a publisher who was violating my contracts and cheating me. That letter was funneled directly to the publisher, when then blacklisted me for six years and spread the word to other publishers in an attempt to wash me out as a writer. It did indeed drastically reduce my market, and I lost at least one novel sale I would have had because the editor was afraid to do business with me. I don't know what stories were being spread about me, but since I have always played straight with those I deal with, they must have been false. What did SFWA do about that? Its former president wrote me saying that I had acted hastily and rashly and maligned the finest publisher in the world, and would be hurt thereby. That gave me half a notion of the source of some of the mischief. Well, I pursued my case, got a lawyer, got some of the money owed me, and the blacklisting editors later got booted, and the new management at that publisher, knowing the truth, treated me far, far better. I later published the whole matter in my autobiography Bio of an Ogre, and I believe the truth is now generally known: I had the right of the case throughout, and not only was the publisher wrong, so was SFWA for supporting an outfit that I believe was similarly cheating many of its other members. Today, having learned my lesson, I no longer pussyfoot; I query an errant publisher at first politely, and if that does not bring results, I take legal action. I always make my case, having the will and the means to follow through. I don't get blacklisted again because what idiot would try to blacklist Xanth? There has never been an apology from SFWA; in fact through the years its spokesmen have slandered me, accusing me of saying things I did not say or of writing letters I did not write. Anything to blacken my reputation, apparently, truth no object. So now this dubious organization sends me a silver pin, under the impression that a Nebula nomination is a special thing? All you need is another writer to trade favors with, and nominations are a dime a dozen. Winning is another matter; for that, if the system remains as it was in my day, you need the right connections and a pretty good piece of writing. Not necessarily the best writing, just good enough so as not to embarrass the award. The letter says I was nominated once; in fact all my early novels were nominated, until that blowout with the publisher; then I think I dropped off the nomination radar. My first novel, Chthon, came in third in its year of 1967, as I recall; my second, Omnivore, in 1968, was the leader in number of nominations until the officers changed it to the wrong year and washed it out. My major one, Macroscope, in 1969, was not allowed on the ballot, though what reads very like an apology appeared in that year's Nebula Awards story collection; I think they knew they did wrong. This was not a campaign against me, just routine foul-ups BP: Before my Publisher run-in. Thereafter it was apparently another matter. The Nebula is supposed to be a merit award, but in fact it is more like a political one; I know that from experience. So what do I do with this pin? I'll file it away, and return it if they ask for it back. They seem to be already well on the way to obliterating the record of my Nebula nominations, so maybe they can manage to abolish it entirely.
For eight years Daughter #2 Cheryl lived apart from us, in another city. She now lives across town from us, and she is the family movie/video freak, so we see more movies. We saw A Midsummer Night's Dream, and you know, I almost fell asleep in the theater. Sure, when I was an English teacher I taught Shakespeare, but let's face it, Shakespearean language is horribly dated and stilted and often opaque for today's market, and I had trouble following the dialogue. I believe that movie bombed out, but had they had the wit to update the language it should have done better. Then Cheryl and I saw The Mummy, my wife staying home because that's not her type of thing; obviously our daughter's taste for weird yuck did not come from her mother's side of the family. We liked it; it was much more than just gooey gore. I am partial to archaeological settings, however faked up, and there were some grand ancient Egyptian ruins and labyrinths. There was also the usual fighting adventurer, lovely girl, despicable bad guys, wildly improbable action, impossible magic - this is really my kind of junk. And there was a bonus: they say that the true ruler of the household is the one who has the TV remote control. It was about two decades before I even learned how to use the thing; wife and daughters governed it. Similarly with driving; I hardly ever get to do it. But this time I did. I taught both daughters to drive, way back when, and now Cheryl got to critique my driving. She said I was too slow on the straight-aways and too fast through the turns. Probably so; what do you expect from one who gets to drive about once in five years? So this time it was Daughter wincing at Dad's driving, rather than the other way around. It doesn't get much better than that. Cheryl recently had another adventure of a sort: two years ago a month old kitten showed up in the stable of her barn, so she adopted it and named it Barnstable. One year ago another month old kitten showed up, on her carport, so she named that one Carport. This time she was driving to work, and there at an intersection was another month old kitten. No, she didn't name it Intersection, or the one I suggested, Roadkit. I believe she's naming it Stagecoach, because the it was found on Stagecoach Road. My daughter the cat-woman.
My main current project is writing the sixth Space Tyrant novel. I moved though the five original novels in the series in six weeks, proofreading and correcting them as my wife scanned them into the system. Scanners may have advanced, but scanner translation software still doesn't seem able to get things quite right, and one program started blowing out the moment it was invoked. So it was painstaking work for both of us, but the novels are now on disk. In the process I had a thorough review of their story, and was much impressed; it's some of the best writing I have done. The series is a unified story, tracing the life of the Hispanic refugee Hope Hubris through a military career, and then politics, until he makes it to the top and becomes the Tyrant of Jupiter. Later deposed, he achieves further power of the Solar System itself, facilitating its expansion into galactic travel and colonization. Every aspect was as authentic as I could make it. But it was also the story of Hope's sister Spirit, arguably the architect behind his career and power behind the throne. They call her two things: "The Dear," after her associated song, whose key words are "I know who I love, but the dear knows who I'll marry." She loves her brother with an intensity verging on incest, but can't marry him. And they call her "The Iron Maiden," for her toughness. She is tough, but painfully human inside, as we come to see. I am now 35,000 words into The Iron Maiden, and will work on it the coming month, though at some point I'll have to break off for the next Xanth novel on deadline.
I try also to read books that I haven't written. A reader sent me Alexander Dolgun's Story, about an American who was abducted in Moscow in 1948 and brutally interrogated by the paranoid Russians who wanted him to confess to spying. When he wouldn't confess to what he hadn't done, he got shipped to Siberia. It was 24 years before they let him go, and one dreadful and compelling adventure. It makes me disinclined to visit any foreign capital, lest I be unable to return. Then I read Stephen King's Bag of Bones on the recommendation of Daughter #1 Penny, who said it featured a writer. It starts slow, but gradually gets there, and the middle and later sections get savage. It was published in paperback in the same month, JeJune, as my 3-way collaboration Quest for the Fallen Star; in bulk it looks much bigger, but it is actually a shorter novel than Quest by about 30,000 words. It's an irony that Bag starts with the death of the protagonist's wife in the vicinity of a car accident, and then Stephen King himself got bashed by a car, and will be long recuperating. Critics claim that King is not a good writer, but the fact is that he is a good one. Not necessarily the best--and who can say objectively who is best?--but there are nice touches and nice characterization here, as the protagonist slowly runs down the mystery of what his wife was up to before she died, and slowly falls in love again, before things get really ugly. Horror fiction is not my preference, as I don't like that kind of ugliness, but it certainly evokes emotions.
I am at this writing just barely shy of my 65th birthday. For the record, in case there were any question: no, I will not retire. I love writing too much. Meanwhile I'm receiving solicitations for insurance for supplemental Medicare. I suppose I will have to review them at some point and make a decision, but I suspect I'll settle for the straight Medicare without supplements.
I received an email from David L Kuzminsk, editor at PREDATORS & EDITORS, saying that the HiPiers site has been found deserving of their highest award, and applauding my efforts to help other writers. I may if I wish display their award symbol on my site. I'll see if that can be done.
The proprietress at www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Studio/2460/story.html asked my permission to run the story/poem I wrote for Ligeia #1, "The Ugly Unicorn," and I gave it. So those who wish to read that can do so there. The girl I wrote it for was fourteen at the time, desperately depressive, and the poem has 14 lines, each of which is 14 words. Unfortunately, as far as I know she didn't make it; she was institutionalized and I don't know whether she ever got out. Meanwhile this site, titled WEHAT'S BRAIN, has several other stories.
One of my correspondents, Tammy Bender, is a devotee of dragonflies. We have discussed them many times, because here on our tree farm we have them in all colors and combinations. Ordinary dragonflies are dull drown, but ours are green, blue, black, yellow, reddish, and combinations. Sometimes one will sit on my hand. I like them in part because the biting flies abruptly flee when a guardian dragonfly approaches. So when I'm concentrating on something, like archery practice, and don't want to get bitten on the leg when trying to draw the 60 pound pull on my bow and aim at the target, the company of a dragonfly is more than welcome. But Tammy is even more of a dragonfly fan than I am. For evidence of that visit her site at www.angelfire.com/tx/headcancer/poems.html. There she has poems and pictures all relating to dragonflies, and one of the pictures is an animated beauty of a kind I haven't seen before, a real visual treat.
There has been recent interest in interviewing me; I'm not sure why. PATH, to which we have a link, has one, though one question about Kosovo is already getting dated. I was also contacted by Dryta D'Ken of PERSONALITY DISORDER at www.crosswinds.net/~pdmagazine/, a magazine by and for teens, asking for an interview. She sent their standard roster of questions, and I answered those I felt competent to. That interview is now on the site, cleverly amended by other information and pictures she garnered from who knows where. For those curious about what doesn't get into print, as it were, I'll give an example: one question was whether I would randomly kiss someone. I asked in return "Are you offering?" and said it depended on what her hair smelled like and how she related to trees, things discussed in the interview. Sure, this will disgust some, who will wonder whether a man of retirement age doesn't have better things to do than flirt with teens. Well, flirting is about as far as an ogre my age can go. There is also one at TalkCity coming up on AwGhost 12 at 7 Pacific time, an hour later for each time zone east of that. There may also be one coming up at http://scifi.ign.com/, which seems to be a great informational site for movies and forthcoming genre books.
A daughter put me onto a fairly competent bibliography site that covers many writers, me included. Mine's at www.sfsite.com/isdb-bin/extract_author.cgi?Piers_Anthony. It misses my online novels and misplaces several Xanths and one GEODYSSEY, but for those who find the biblio material at HiPiers inadequate, check this out. This one lists my stories, for one thing. That same daughter now has some Jacob's Sheep. She mainly keeps goats, but these are special sheep: they have four or six horns. I also received a "canned courtesy notice" for the Science Fiction Resource Guide at http://sflovers.rutgers.edu/Web/SFRG/. This is surely a useful bibliographic reference, but its entry on me is w-a-a-ay out of date and virtually unusable. If you want current bibliographical material on me, you are better off here at HiPiers. But for other writers, maybe this SF Resource Guide will do.
Another item I received as junk mail, but it intrigues me: MISS UNIVERSE AMATEUR BEAVER PAGEANT 2000. In my day a beaver was either an animal that built dams in rivers, or the genital region of a human woman. So I checked - and sure enough, it's a competent porn site. I have no philosophical objection, but am not listing the Web address here because that is not the kind of traffic I want at HiPiers. It's bad enough having the former HiPiers 800 number taken over by a porn outfit.
I am getting better acquainted with the Internet, and with email. Sometimes an error message breaks in and says I SAID RSET, AND THE SMTP SAID ACCESS DENIED. I am trying to figure out what the letters stand for. "Reset," I can figure, and I think the other must be cussing, something like "Son of a Mitch Total Prune." I expected to like email and the Internet, and overall, I do. The one is like a snail traveling at light-speed, and the other is like an endless arcade with more booths than I can compass. One thing I still haven't figured out is how to get one of those spots that says "You are the 99 millionth visitor to this site since yesterday." I have no idea how many hits HiPiers gets, and would like to know.
I took half a step closer to LINUX. I got a manual, LINUX FOR DUMMIES, and it satisfies me that I am not even up to the level of dummy, because this stuff is mindnumbingly complicated. It has a disk, and I tried that, but before I can install it I need to know all the myriad defaults of my system, and three quarters of them say "in use by an unknown device." I am unwilling to buy a whole new system with Linux pre-installed until I know whether I like Linux. So this is apt to be a while yet.
I have had better luck on my archery. I started it three years ago and my interest has not flagged. This month I bought some more targets, so that I can flank my main target and not lose arrows when I miss. One is a kick-target; it's a block of foam one foot cubed that you can kick to anywhere, and shoot at when it lands. I think it's cute. I also bought a dozen carbon arrows, and those are interesting. The shaft is narrower and lighter than steel. I got a Power Pull, which is like a big slingshot whose rubber bands have a 40 pound pull, to use to exercise my archery muscles on days I'm not firing arrows. 40 pounds? I draw 60 pounds on my compound bow, but I can't out-muscle the Power Pull. Of course the compound bow has a let-off, so that once cocked, as it were, the pull reduces to about 20 pounds. The Power Pull doesn't do that. So I keep learning things. Meanwhile I like the carbon arrows, though I don't seem to be any more accurate with them than with the others. I tried them right handed and left handed, and they work well.
We have a geothermal heat pump, and like it; it saves us about 20% on our electric bill, and it's only one unit of three. But this past month something went wrong. The upper story of the house kept getting hotter, and so did the hot water, which is heated by the associated heat exchanger. If the unit wasn't working, what was heating the water? It was burning hot. Finally we called for repairs, and it turned out the Freon (it's not really Freon, but they still call it that) had leaked out, so most of the unit wasn't working, and the heat exchanger was trying to do the whole job itself. Thus the boiling water. It's back to normal now. Just as well, because it's hot here. All around us they are getting rain, but here on the tree farm we have a spot drought, and the last day of the month peaked at 99°F. So we share the drought that plagues the northeast, and north Florida; it has one little outlying province, and that's us.
Readers often ask about Jenny Elf, my paralyzed correspondent. I finally have news: she is going to college this fall. So if any of you readers out there find yourself in a class with her, no, she can't give you a pass to Xanth.
News that should interest readers: my agent has found a publisher for DoOon Mode, the 4th Mode novel. So it may take a couple of years, but TOR will publish it, and all you folk who have been bugging me for six years can then read it and inform me how it's not what you expected. Similarly, after three years on the market, he placed the sequel to my autobiography, How Precious Was That While, which summarizes my early life then gets serious about the decade from age 50 to 60. It has much to say about writers and publishers, often more candid that either will like, and poems by about 20 depressed correspondents. It's been so long that I can't be sure if all of them remain alive. I shall want to send a copy to each, but without valid current addresses that will be tricky. So if any readers of this column are among those contributors, please get in touch in the next year or two; saying what you wrote when, so I can verify it. I was just about ready to put that volume on the Internet, but regular publication will give it a wider distribution.
I continue to receive many solicitations. Each one is for a worthy cause, a school program, a library program, a community program, a political or social cause. But here's the problem: there are perhaps hundreds of thousands of schools, libraries, communities, and causes, and they are all worthy of support, but it is beyond my capability to send them all money or artifacts. I am unwilling to honor just the ones who ask, because I have no evidence that they are more worthy than the ones that don't ask; they may simply be more bold. So as a matter of general policy I don't respond to such solicitations. The same goes for folk who send personal address labels with my name, in an effort to inspire me with guilt. I have a sheet of such labels for Mr. Anthony Piers. That shows how much they know of me.
Stray notes: one reader asked where the pun was in the character Mouse Terian, who works with Com Passion. Well, back in the days of Neandertal man, the culture was called the Mousterian. It's actually pronounced Moose-terian, but I think it will do as a visual pun. Mouse Terian did say she was very old. Every so often I have a touching query whether I have died. No, not yet. And readers are still suggesting variants of the talent of copying talents. I get tired of explaining that I regard that as too much of a talent.
Correspondent Kimberly Hirsh told me of her site, where the Silly Adept moves mountains by puns. That has a link to HiPiers, but its print is in white so it doesn't print. It is at www.unc.edu/~khirsh/.
Every so often I mention an old song I'm looking for. This time it's an old poem. It was in my high school English text, I believe, but despite that I liked it. Its concluding sequence was "Since then no joy I find taught me of trees, turn I back to my own kind, worthy as these; there at least smiles abound, there discourse trills around, there, now and then, are found life loyalties." Maybe someone from my generation will remember it.
Let me mention one more site that was called to my attention, at www.activeworlds.com. I understand it is associated with an upcoming World Science Fiction Society convention in Australia, and working with virtual reality in three dimensions. I looked at the site, and it's one of those Grand Central Station affairs, with myriad links to aspects. So anyone who likes to get into the throes of things can check that one.
Last time I bought a boar spear, so as not to have to be concerned about any pigs who might contest ownership of my tree farm with me. Well, in the interim I did encounter a boar. It was on our drive, and actually banged into our car when my wife was driving. So I went out with the spear and saw it. It was a medium sized brown one, and it evidently wasn't looking for trouble, and soon disappeared. I also saw a large black boar around that time, and we conjecture that Big Black drove Medium Brown out of his territory, so he was looking for a new pasture and was balked by our fence. The company I bought the spear from, COLD STEEL, had a 50% off sale on folding knives, and I bought a couple; that's my kind of sale. They are bruisers; one has a six inch blade with a wickedly serrated edge. As such time as I have to hack my way through a jungle section of our tree farm, this is the one I'll use. Then my wife spied some knives at the catalog for AMERICAN SCIENCE & SURPLUS, formerly something like JERICHO, which is like a remainder catalogue for intriguing objects. So we bought cute little folding knives at $1.75 per, and "Swiss Army" multiple purpose knives for $3.50: blade, saw, scissors, can opener, bottle opener, screw driver, Phillips screw driver, nailfile, and corkscrew. I never had one of those before.
Our big dog Obsidian is now about six years old. Remember, she dates from the time Penny passed by a boxful of puppies, and they were going to send the last one to the pound, so Penny took her and in due course passed her along to us. Obsidian decided that my wife was the mistress of the house, and resents any other attention being paid to her. She loves riding in the car to fetch the mail, but on Sundays there is no such trip, so I started taking her on walks through the tree farm then. That's the one time she wants my company; she loves to explore. But now it is so hot that this become problematical. The fact is, uncomfortable as we may find hot weather, man may be the animal best equipped to handle it; that's why our bodies are nominally hairless, so we can sweat effectively. Man can range out in heat that will literally kill other animals, provided he has water. So now I have to watch it; when the temperature is 95°F I can go out and do things and return to wash off and change all my clothing. But if I took the dog along I could kill her; she can't sweat the way I can. (That reminds me of one of my descriptions in Xanth: an invisible giant who smelled like a hundred fat men sweating in unison. Some day a corpulent man may accuse me of insulting him, but if he can't sweat in unison, he has no case.) So until things cool, I have to be cautious. Thus does my research for paleontological fiction return to affect my routine home life.
My correspondence has been shifting from snail mail to email, now that I know how to do the latter. For years I answered 150 letters a month; that gradually declined last year, and now is 100 letters a month. But we also get about 300 emails. Most are handled by HiPiers with notes to the effect that a printout is being forwarded to me, and that I appreciate the communication. That is exactly what happens; I read every one of them, and sometimes add a note myself. So I spend half an hour a day or more on email, seven days a week, because it comes in continuously. A number of them express doubt that they will actually reach me, but they really do reach me. Sometimes they don't get answers, because we do answer, and they bounce. Listen, you twerps who ship out bales of mail while blocking incoming mail: I don't find this waste of my time funny. But the others I appreciate.
One of the questions I get most often is how can a hopeful writer get started? The simple answer is to just keep writing and trying the market, as I did, hoping for eventual success. But a realistic answer is a good deal more complicated. I seem to be almost incapable of answering a simple question simply, so this may turn out to be rather more information than some care for, but it does seem to be time for me to address this matter in detail. First, let me give my background with respect to getting started:
As many of my readers know, I have a grudge against conventional publishing. For those few who don't know, a capsule summary: I started writing for publication seriously when I was 20, in college, and my BA degree is in Creative Writing. It still took me eight years to make my first sale, and it was a problem just finding out what the proper format for a manuscript was, or what an editor really wanted. One writer won a magazine contest, and the prize was an hour of the editor's time. In that hour the writer asked for the straight goods on what the editor wanted. Then he wrote it and made a sale to that editor. But most of us don't get to win contests. Editors ignored me, or told me not even to try to compete for publication. I entered a story contest, and was among the top ten entries when they decided to have no winner. After four years I got a story accepted - and then the magazine folded. I entered a novel contest, which offered a prize of $230,000, but - you guessed it! - had no winner. When I finally did broke into print it wasn't much better; rates ran about one cent a word, and only one in four stories ever sold. When I got into novels, my first publisher cheated me, and blacklisted me when I demanded a correct accounting. When the Science Fiction Writers of America tacitly sided with the publisher, though I'm sure many of their other members were also being cheated, I quit that organization in disgust, and have since been slandered by its spokesmen. I have required financial auditing of my accounts at several publishers, and have recovered significant money thereby. Usually this has been carelessness on their part, and they have voluntarily corrected the situation, but sometimes I have taken legal steps to make my point. It is not chicken feed; the amount of money recovered in the aggregate is well over a hundred thousand dollars. So when it comes to mischief in Parnassus, my term for the conventional publishing establishment, I am a battered expert, and yes, my career has suffered because of it. Publishers don't much like writers who stand on their rights or who speak out the way I do.
Aside from going to law, I have responded by supporting small publishers both financially and with my novels, by speaking out on the truth as I experience it, and by promoting Internet publishing. I believe that the Internet is the current great hope of future writers. I think exact figures do not exist, but I believe there is general agreement that only one of every hundred seriously hopeful fiction writers will ever get published conventionally. It is true that many would-be writers are not as good as they think they are, but it is also true that publishers have the arrogance of power when dealing with writers. I once criticized a publisher's contract; the publisher then withdrew the offer it had made for my novel. That's typical. That's why writers need agents, and the agents handle contract negotiations. If a publisher tries that crap on a reputable agent, that publisher may lose all the future business of that agent, and some have, and they were hurt thereby. An agent can blacklist back. I got around my own blacklist by taking as my agent the one who represented Robert Heinlein, considered by most to be the premiere writer the genre has seen. Lo, then it was the blacklisters who mostly went out of business, while I survived and even flourished. But it is just about as difficult for a beginning writer to get a good agent (and the writer is better off with no agent than a bad one) as to get published. Many agents are as arrogant as publishers in their treatment of writers. So Parnassus has become in a general way a closed shop. Small publishers are more open, but they lack the resources of the big ones, and their books will not be stocked by the majority of bookstores. But the Internet is wide open. So far it is not a way to make money, but it is a way to get published. So if a hopeful writer is in it for money, keep trying Parnassus, because that's where the money is. Don't be ashamed of writing for money; as Samuel Johnson said, none but a blockhead ever wrote but for money. Critics who condemn those who get paid for their writing I think are mostly jealous; why don't they take off on those who get paid for brick-laying, banking, or truck driving? I write for money so that I can spend full time doing what I live for: writing. That does not mean I'm a hack; I do the best I can on everything, and I regard writing as an art form. I think most other writers, published and unpublished, have a similar attitude. But if you just want others to have the chance to read your works, go to the Internet. Actually the Internet does not necessarily preclude conventional publishing; it depends on the contract.
Ah, but where on the Internet do you go? I feel it is time I addressed this matter, and thus I have come to this column. I have done a spot survey of Internet publishers, and while this is hardly authoritative, I hope to correct and update my information as I get feedback from readers and the publishers themselves, so that perhaps in time it will become authoritative. The fact is, there are many Internet publishers, and there are lists and descriptions of them, but some of these lists may be confusing for readers. In any event, the typical query I get is something like this: "Mr. Anthony, I love to write, and my friends all say my work is great, but how do I find out for sure, and how do I get published? Everyone has a different answer, but I trust you." Because they ask and trust me, I feel constrained to answer meaningfully. I care for my readers; they are my justification for existence, and I don't like to see them get hurt. So I hope that this column, which I expect to be ongoing, helps those hopeful writers get started, and to find their destinies. Understand, few - very few - of them will ever become rich or famous as writers, but at least they will get to play the game.
I started with information provided by Katharine Krueger, a writer of my generation who found her answer on the Internet. I branched out from there, discovering how wide the net becomes; what follows is a mere fraction of the whole. In general, I see three types of publishers (from here on, assume that the word "Internet" precedes that word): those that pay advances, those that neither pay nor charge, and those that charge. Your first effort should be to get one that pays an advance, and here is why: the advance is really a guarantee. Some publishers, on and off the Internet, cheat writers, but when there's an advance the writer already has his money. That counts for a lot. The bigger the advance, the better. Even if you don't care about money, an advance means that the publisher will care about your book. But most simply publish the material and pay royalties for copies that sell. For example, if the royalty rate is thirty per cent (30%) and the download sells for $3.50, the author gets just over a dollar ($1.05) per sold copy. In Parnassus the writer is lucky to get more than 6%, but sales are so much greater that this is still a much better deal; don't be fooled by the rate. 6% of a hundred thousand sales is more than 30% of a hundred sales. Always look at the larger picture. So look for a decent royalty rate if you can get it. Statements should be every three or six months, so have patience; the publisher has bookkeeping to do, and sometimes seeming sales get unsold, so time is necessary to sort it out. But choose carefully, because some publishers that are here today will be gone tomorrow. That's a special risk on the Internet. Then there are the ones that charge. Now a distinction has to be made: in Parnassus, paid publication is vanity or subsidy publishing, and it has a very bad smell; it costs thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and you don't get much for your money. Stay clear of it. But you can self-publish via the Internet for under one thousand dollars, and royalties may earn that back. So if you can't get published any other way, this is your most likely avenue. I plan to self publish about 50 novels in the coming years, and feel no shame in it; I am proud of all my novels, and believe the readers like them. Mine will be mostly republication of novels that were published ten or twenty or thirty years ago and have gone out of print, but I will do some new ones too, if I can't sell them.
Now the publishers. First I'll get two conflicts of interest out of the way. I have more to say on these because I know them better; as I learn more about the others I'll say more about them too. The others are in the order I happened to look them up; position does not indicate merit. I am taking their presentations at face value; if anyone has direct experience, positive or negative, with any of these publishers, let me know and I'll incorporate it in the next update. I should also say that I understand there have been sites that list bad publishers or agents; apparently there is a campaign to get those sites off the Internet, and I was unable to access any. Well, we'll see what pressure comes to get HiPiers off the Internet, because I will list what I find and learn here, of whatever nature. I'd like to know just how free the Internet is, if wrongdoers can remove those who blow the whistle on them. That's exactly like Parnassus, and I don't want to see it here. But that reminds me: one thing you want in the contract is an audit clause, so if you suspect you are being cheated you can examine the publisher's books of accounting. That is what I have used against Parnassus. The clause should say that if any error to the writer's disfavor greater than 10% is found, the publisher must pay the cost of the audit. That actually protects the publisher against frivolous nuisance audits, and against getting hung for an inadvertent five dollar error. And yes, publishers do sometimes make errors in the author's favor; you can be sure that those really are errors. In one case I used a $200 per hour professional auditor, and made the publisher pay for it. But I repeat: usually publishers are willing to check the books themselves, and will make corrections of inadvertent errors. So query politely first - but do carry the big stick of the audit clause, because that's like a finesse: you usually don't have to use it if you have it. If you don't have it, you may be dead meat. My impression of online publishers is that they are well-meaning, motivated by the principle of freedom of expression, and like the idea of publishing good works that Parnassus shuts out. Chances are they will be open about finances and you won't have any trouble. Until such time as there is real money in Internet publishing; then the sharks will move in. So you want a tight contract even if the publisher is a personal friend, because times can change. In any event, you are unlikely to get rich here; my guess is that if you make more than a hundred dollars, you're doing well. Contrast that to a Parnassus advance, which may be $25,000. Oh - the dots following the Web site addresses signify the end of the sentence and are not part of the addresses themselves.
XLIBRIS - at www.xlibris.com. This is a self-publisher, and I have invested in it and am on its board of directors, so I have a conflict of interest in recommending it. I invested because I want something like this to exist, and if it fails it will cost me a pretty penny, and if it succeeds it could make me a prettier penny. So visit its site, get its information, check with anyone you know why may have had experience with it, and decide for yourself; this is a listing, not a recommendation, because of said conflict of interest. Xlibris makes physical hardcovers and trade paperbacks identical to those of Parnassus, and does not download. Xlibris had financing problems and growing problems, and can be slow on responses, but has recently tripled its staff and I believe will give good service in the future. To the best of my knowledge and belief it is honestly run, and yes, if you feel it has treated you unfairly, I will listen, try to get the matter settled, and blow the whistle here if that seems warranted. Basic publication will cost you from $450 to $750, and sales of copies are not rapid, based on my experience. But my novel Volk has just paid back its investment, and I am about eight dollars ahead, after about two years. You may do better or worse, but that provides a notion of the ballpark.
PULPLESS - at www.pulpless.com. This is the other publisher I have invested in, so similar cautions apply. It pays no advance, but hopes to be able to guarantee royalties of $25,000 for name works. (That is, if you are a recognized professional writer.) Much less, I suspect, for nameless writers, but it too provides physical copies, and cheaper downloads. Pulpless is trying to arrange to distribute its books free to readers, paid for by advertising. My novel Realty Check is an example; it can be bought, but I don't know whether the free edition is yet available. I invested because I feel this is a notion that has the potential to blow open Internet publishing, and perhaps Parnassus too, and I hope it works. But I expect to lose my money. The Pulpless books I have seen are all of standard publishable quality; one reader told me that he has not seen any good Internet novels, but I suspect he hasn't tried Pulpless. However, Pulpless has had an indifferent attitude about statements of account, and may be sloppy about following up. It is bigger on ambition than on performance in the dull details. So if you like a wild gamble, consider this one.
AWE-STRUCK E-BOOKS - www.awe-stuck.net. I mentioned this in my prior regular column. This was the one that made me decide to do this survey, because I liked the look of it, and the way it offers a real sample for a free download - such as a 100 page segment of a novel - so you can decide whether you want to buy. If you can't make up your mind in a hundred pages, you need more help than I can give you here. I understand that one of the proprietors is physically disabled, and wrote a book featuring a disabled character, and when he couldn't get anywhere with Parnassus (an all too familiar story) he decided to set up a publisher for such work. It publishes romance and science fiction, but if you are disabled, or write about that subject, you will surely get a sympathetic hearing here.
NITELINKS - www.nitelinks.com/. I heard from Laura Kercherson, the proprietor, a year ago, and liked her attitude. She is much concerned with quality of fiction, and with the rights of writers. I have not read what she publishes or had experience with her as a writer, but she came across to me as the kind of publisher a talented newcomer should check with first. She is also republishing literary classics that are in the common domain. Her taste seems eclectic, and does include science fiction.
ANTELOPE PUBLISHING - www.teleport.com/~writers/books/index.html. A family oriented site doing children's books, juveniles, wholesome works of fiction, religious works that teach without preaching, and uplifting nonfiction. But at present it is swamped with submissions, so is not accepting books. Getting swamped like that suggests that it must be treating its writers right, though.
DISKUS PUBLISHING - www.members.tripod.com/diskus_publishing/. This seems to be a Romance site. No problem there; just about every novel in every genre includes a romantic element, and I understand the Romance sites tend to be more friendly to beginning writers than science fiction or fantasy sites. This lists about a dozen categories of fiction, including science fiction, and has plenty of information in subsections, including guidelines for writers. It looks good to me.
BIBLIO BYTES - www.bb.com/. This offers free downloads, so if you like to read and don't like to pay for it, this is your site. I'm not sure how their authors make money. This also has a forceful article on the battle against censorship, but ironically it will not print out: it's in white against a black background, and so my printer leaves the print blank. I've got 13 pages of nontext. But go and read the article onscreen; I am much with it in spirit.
BOSON BOOKS - www.cmonline.com/boson/. I did not explore the whole site - there are only so many hours in my day - but it does look to be worth exploring. For one thing, it lists other online publishers as links, so if you want to check out several, this is an easy way. I tried the link to The Graham Literary Agency, because one of my quests is to find decent agents for hopeful writers, but it was just like other agencies: it didn't answer. There is supposed to be a Writer Talk feature, chat sessions with Boson authors. That could be interesting.
DREAMS UNLIMITED - www.dreams-unlimited.com/. This is fantasy/romance with many links, making it another good starting-point site. My prior survey followed an erotic link to another site, giving the impression that it was DU (Dreams Unlimited). Thus this correction: DU does do some erotica, but is not a porn site. If your fantasy, for example, has integral erotic scenes, you probably don't need to worry about them being chopped out by the editor. DU also does straight Fantasy, Time Travel, Futuristic, and other types generally related in some way to Romance. It says it is looking for hard-to-sell romance, which suggests to me novels that go well beyond the parameters of category romance. This is a good sign. My Arabian Nights fantasy novel Hasan was bounced twelve times by editors because it fell between categories, having strong fantasy, romance, and historical elements. I finally sold it years later it by asking a normally hostile reviewer to review the manuscript, and a normally hostile editor saw the review and bought the novel for magazine serialization, and then it became acceptable to book editors. But most writers can't put something that weird together. Too bad DU didn't exist in 1970! Anyway, there's a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section, Guidelines, sample contract, and a generally good attitude towards writers here, and I recommend this publisher. I do have two caveats: a notice says it is not accepting submissions until August. I looked at it in August, so presumably it's open now, but this suggests that this publisher is commonly swamped with submissions so it may be hard to get a reading. And much of the site text is white, so that it won't print out. Those like me who prefer not to spend a lot of time on-line will thus be frustrated because they can't print out the material and consider it at leisure later.
HARD SHELL WORD FACTORY - www.hardshell.com/. This covers several genres, including science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and shows the covers. It gives author guidelines and other information, and seems like a good site. One correspondent expressed concern because of Hard Shell's connection to Rocket EBooks, part of a monstrous Parnassus complex. Now I'm as paranoid about Parnassus as anyone, but I don't see this as necessarily evil. Just watch the contract fine print.
MOUNTAIN VIEW PUBLISHING - www.whitbey.com/mountainview/. This looks good for inspiration fiction. It's a Christian site.
DOMHAN BOOKS - www.domhanbooks.com/index.htm. This looks like an excellent site. I checked the section for Kate Saundby, whom I know from elsewhere, and the presentations on her books are nice. Indeed, I am mentioned, perhaps because I read and commented on one of her novels, The Wages of Justice. But here is where I blow a whistle: I also happen to know that this publisher has been accused of stiffing its writers on royalties, and that a complaint has been lodged with the National Writer's Union. Until that matter is resolved, I can't recommend this publisher.
NEW CONCEPTS PUBLISHING - www.newconceptspublishing.com/. This site took a long time to download, but looks good. It covers a number of genres, including fantasy, and gives brief descriptions of each novel. I took a deeper look at the science fiction romance Endless Night, paired with Rendezvous, so you get two for one. It gives a summary, sample, and author bio. If I were an early writer, this is the kind of treatment I would like.
ORPHEUS ROMANCE - www.orpheusromance.com/. This publisher pays an advance, and provides guidelines for submissions, including format - Courier New 12 point, 1.5 inch margins - which is what I use, except that my right margin is only one inch - and it even provides a sample contract. So if you write romance, start here; everything is upfront, as it should be.
PETALS OF LIFE PUBLISHING - www.members.tripod.com/~PetalsofLife/authors.html. This one is upfront with its submission guidelines. It pays 50% royalty on books sold. This is good. So if you are into Inspiring writing, this is for you.
I was contacted by Jason L. Blair, editor-in-chief of Key 20 publishing, so I looked at his site, http://members.xoom.com/_XOOM/Key20/intro.html. Unfortunately this is another with white print, so my printout is blank. But those who work from the screen rather than printouts may find it interesting.
Another is FANTASY TODAY, at www.fantasytoday.com/. This is the home of the Internet Fantasy Writers Association, IFWA, a group of published and unpublished fantasy writers. It is intended to be a crossroads for writers to meet and exchange ideas, and more, but it still seems to be setting up. I was told of it by Darin Park.
DenMark Publishing at www.freeyellow.com/members7/dennismoore/denmark.html hopes to change the face of entertainment history, by putting the creativity into the hands of the readers. It seems to be an online book writing program, and I gather anyone can join and participate.
But there are other publishers. Let me tell you where to find them. Go to http://dir.yahoo.com/Business_and _Economy/Campanies/Publishing/Electronics_Publishing/, where you will find a list of about 150 online publishers. (Yes, the address does not contain www, though when I typed it in instead of dir, I got there anyway.) So if you really want to search out publishers, this is your site. Here's another: http://coredes.com/~mermaid/epub.html. Again, if you put in the www it still gets there. This is a practical list of publishers, including many of those I have discussed here. Curious about the author of this list, Mary Wolf, I followed her, and learned that she is a romance fiction author. One thing made me look twice: she offers an excerpt of Julie and Mark's first meeting in her novel. So I printed that out to forward to my collaborator Julie Brady, who is engaged to marry Mark. Has Julie been moonlighting?
Then there is http://authorlink.com/. Again, it works with www. My printer glitched so I got only the first page of its site, but it seems to be a general publishing information site worth checking out. PAINTED ROCK at www.paintedrock.com also gives advice; my glitch also spiked that printout.
One site worth checking is ROMANCE FORETOLD, at www.romfort.org/. There are those in the SF/fantasy genre who may sneer at the Romance genre, but this a wrongheaded, because these folk evidently have much to offer new writers. I quote: "Romance Foretold, Inc. was created to encourage, inspire and nurture anyone with the love of reading and/or writing the speculative genres." That is, romance, gothic, suspense, young adult, science fiction, fantasy, and historical. My information is that they really mean it, and are very helpful to those who come to them in need. Their site has two doors, one for members, the other for visitors. I used the visitor's door, and got a nice welcome and introduction to their services, which include a mentor program to help you learn the writing trade, an art gallery, chat rooms, newsletters, seminars - I mean, this site is loaded, and I can hardly imagine a more friendly place for a timid hopeful writer to come to. They offer a free trial one month membership. I'll ponder; I may join, simply to find out whether this romance is as nice as it appears, once you marry it.
And EGGPLANT PRODUCTIONS - www.eggplant-productions.com/ep/index.html. This appears to be an electronic magazine centered on science fiction, fantasy and horror, with a number of projects, including "The Newbie Writer Resource Page" for writers new to these genres. Eggplant says it wants to change the way readers view publishing. Seems worth looking into.
There are two I understand are well worth avoiding: Edit Ink, and Commonwealth Publications. I have seen published articles about the nefarious deeds of the former.
There is also a Parnassus agent who is worth reading. I know him from way back. He's got an attitude somewhat like mine, and I might well have taken him as my agent but for certain aspects that are beyond the scope of this piece. He has always fought for the rights of writers and tried to get improved contracts. He is Richard Curtis, at www.curtisagency.com. Visit that site for some apt discussion of electronic publishing rights. One point he makes is that writers should try to get better definitions of "in print" and "out of print" clauses in contracts. That may seem like irrelevant nit picking to you, but it isn't; interpretations of the in-print clauses can enable a publisher to hang on to the rights of your novel until seventy years after you die, without necessarily paying any royalties. They say that you remain technically in-print as long as your book is theoretically available by being in the memory of the publisher's computer. That's a black hole. My own novels are on license, so that I get them back after a set period of years regardless of their in-print status, but few American publishers will allow licenses, and you have to have fair clout to get them. But you should be able to get licensing with on-line publishers if you bargain for it. Do so.
Another resource for writers is the National Writer's Union, NWU. This requires a bit of explaining. First, yes, it really is a union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO, so if you don't like unions, this is not for you. Second, if you are serious about writing, you can join. Most writer's organizations require a writer to have had something published or sold recently to be eligible; NWU recognizes that the vagaries of sometimes whimsical or mean-spirited editorial decisions are not the definition of a writer. If you are writing, you are probably eligible for membership, and not on a standby or second-tier basis. If you have written a novel, or stories, or articles, and have tried to get them published, in any genre, or if you have written a movie or TV screenplay and it wasn't a joke, or poetry, or whatever, you are a writer. Maybe an unsuccessful one, but you still do bleed when editorially cut, and NWU cares. It is your dedication and effort that count, your dream and heart, not the luck of the editorial draw. I understand some writers organizations refuse to consider Internet-published writers; no need to be concerned. In short, NWU is doing for writers what the Internet is doing for publication: opening it up so that the common grunts can play too. There is no elitism here.
It will cost you, however. Annual dues are $90 or more. So why should you join? Well, you shouldn't, if you are not serious about writing. But if you have any notion of making any money at writing, let alone a living, you should join. Other writer's organizations may or may not help their members when there is mischief; I have described how one actually facilitated a blacklist against me for being right. Some do good work, but on a higher plane; your objection to getting stiffed on a payment for an article may be beneath their notice. But NWU is really there fighting in the trenches. For example, it sued to salvage electronic rights for writers, so that publishers could not stiff writers on the Internet. It actively goes after errant publishers. In terms of protection for writers, this is an attack dog. Its membership is growing rapidly; it is now over 5,000 and not cresting. It maintains an agent database that includes negative as well as positive input. In short, if there is an organization with an attitude much like mine, it is the NWU. I have been a member since 1993, and it has not disappointed me. It is not illustrious, but in gut terms it may be the most influential writer's organization extant. Check it out at www.nwu.org/nwu. If you are a writer and can join only one organization, this is the one. Oh, there are some glitches; for example, I can't access their online members-only section, because my password doesn't work. I'll complain when I get around to it.
Okay, this is enough for now. I will update in a couple of months, hoping to make my listing more comprehensive and authoritative. Do let me know if anything herein steers you wrong. I will regard this not as an attack, but as a tack, the kind of which it has been said "Blessed is he who sitteth on a tack, for he shall rise again." That is, a call for action.