The Brave New Whirl: E-publishing

Published by Gregory Benford on August 26th, 2011

I had a fine time  at the worldcon in Reno. There were many old friends and some new ones. I met Claire Brailey, who then won a Hugo as best fanwriter. She really is good, as you can see from this link.

I had decided in May to reissue my recently reverted novel Chiller. It seemed a good way to combine my fannish self with the pro in my life. Debut a revised novel at worldcon!—first time ever. It even turned out to be fun, working with Judith Harlan and Cindie Geddes at Lucky Bat Books.

Published in 1993 under the pseudonym Sterling Blake, Chiller was to be the opener in a series of “scientific suspense” novels. With my Bantam Books editor Lou Aronica I intended to write a series of novels exploring future technologies. I had long noticed that Michael Crichton and others captured the sizzle of science in novels like Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, but at novel’s end the world returns to its previous state, the intrusive, exciting possibilities and threats dissolving like the dew of morning.

I wanted to write realistic fiction about future prospects that didn’t end in the essentially conservative or even reactionary finish of the Crichton school. Chiller is about cryonics, beginning now and taking it into the future. It’s the longest book I ever wrote.

Alas, Lou Aronica left Bantam for the chance to be Publisher (not to mention a huge increase in salary) at Berkeley, a few months before Chiller appeared. The crew that took over then, when Bantam was the #2 publisher in the country in profits, cut the book’s ad budget to zero and did nothing to promote it. Still, it sold well in the US and England. My thinly disguised pseudonym got uncovered quite quickly, too, and may have helped sales.

Still, soon enough Bantam’s new fiction head, straight from romance novels, let me know that I and other writers like Bill Gibson and Robert Silverberg were no longer wanted. Off I went. Bantam now ranks #6 in profits. The same people are still in charge.

But by getting Chiller reverted I could begin anew. Much else has changed since 1993, but I believe it remains a fair description of cryonics and the people who believe in it. Rereading it to eliminate anachronisms, I was amused to see I had anticipated today’s e-readers and online newspapers fairly well when writing in 1990. Also some biotech, including a bath mat that cleans your walls as it crawls along. I could use our brave new whirl of e-publishing, too.

I gave Lucky Bat Books the revised ms. July 7 and at worldcon on July 17 they had 100 finished copies of a big new trade paperback—speedy indeed. Plus a new idea: e-book cards like big greeting cards, the first page the book’s cover, with info on the book inside and back, and a plastic card you could peel off to discover on the reverse the code to download the e-version in any reader you want. This allows book stores to sell e-books. All this cost me about $4000, a good gamble considering I’d made over $300,000 on the 1993 edition.

At the worldcon, both the trade pb and the e-cards sold well. I signed dozens. The e-cards give collectors something signed to put on the shelf. Just mailing the card lets the buyer send a gift to a friend. The hucksters liked that a lot. I found the whole experience enlightening: moving into a new market with a big book, the second edition sporting a new introduction and long afterword.

Into the future! Even if you’re not frozen…



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