In these the last days of 2010 I wanted to post something reflective about the past year and the one to come. But real life kept getting in the way so instead of something bigger, looking out, I thought I’d try a year-end wrap-up since I’ve enjoyed seeing some writers and others doing them and see if it becomes anything more than a list of facts and figures.
This was a year of experiments (a new ebooksite! radio ads! working with a great publicist, Molly Mikolowski! hardcovers in the age of ebooks!) and some changes.
Kelly and I are still in Boston with our lovely daughter Ursula. Ursula is well. I am very grateful for Massachusetts’s health care plans as her needs are still high. We have weekly (or more frequent) visits to Children’s Hospital and her wonderful pediatrician at Franciscan Hospital for Children. Mass Health means we get a lot of home help from nurses. Over the holidays a lot of the nurses went on holiday so there’s not been so much work (or, sometimes, sleep) around here. But, hey, it’s the holidays! Kelly, Ursula, and I will be here in Boston until late next summer but everything is up in the air and any plans we make are by their very nature tentative. By fall and winter life we be more settled. I looked to see if we had any interesting pics from the year and pretty much all of the pictures ended up being of Ursula, so that says everything.
Another big change was seeing our steadfast editor Jedediah Berry build up a head of steam and take off to explore wider horizons. Oh how we miss him! CTO and Head Brewer Michael J. DeLuca moved to the Boston area—but kept making beer and did the heavy lifting behind Weightless Books. And in the office we had fantastic array of volunteers including Nicholas Miriello, Kristen Evans, Abram Thau, Samantha Guilbert, Su-Yee Lin, Cristi Jacques, Rebecca Isherwood, Matthew Harrison, and Hannah Goldstein. Just seeing that list of names is humbling. Thank you one and all. There would be a lot less of everything without you.
Bookscan says our bestsellers were:
Since some of these books just came out, in a month or so this list will be entirely different. And if we checked with our lovely distributor Consortium they’d probably have a different list. And the Weightless bestseller list would be entirely different. Random quantification-R-Us.
Quid Nunc? Quid Nunc! was fun. Simple Economics show we can’t afford to pay you and Michael’s post on spruce beer were extra popular. We managed quite a few posts at the end of the year from Karen Joy Fowler, Vincent McCaffrey, Edward Gauvin, Karen Lord, and Kathe Koja. There are a few more posts in the new year and we’ll have more guest writers in the future. We have a Facebook page. We do not have a Sputtr account, a Trimblit, nor a Flxxa—but only because the last two won’t be invented until next year.
Other popular pages here included Ray Vukcevich’s lovely, creepy story “Whisper,” which was Dugg (if that’s right?) and mentioned on io9 and more when a somewhat-similar movie came out. The Creative Commons books are still very popular. As are the Submission Guidelines. Pages on Rights and pages for reviewers were added. Ooh. Some of our books made end of year lists, some did not but I enjoyed making our Holiday Book List which simplified gift giving for Small Beer completists.
I went to a few book fairs and conventions but my brain was only ever half there (and sometimes it was inebriated, who’d have thunk it?) and Kelly wasn’t there so they were odd compared to years’ past. I’m planning on going to some this year but major travel (and anything out of state has now been classified as major) is mostly off the table for a bit. Will be Book Expo in May (for my sins). Boskone and Readercon may see all of us, but, again, that’s theoretical until it happens.
We published eight books and the second edition of A Working Writer’s Daily Planner. Geoff Ryman’s collection, Paradise Tales, was meant to be published in November but we couldn’t quite hammer down the details of the contract (which includes reprinting The Child Garden, Was, and The Unconquered Country) until almost that date so it was pushed back to February. I think it will be even later than that. Boo. However, on this, the last day of 2010, Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge has arrived at our distributor so the first book of 2011 will ship out right on time.
We put out a few older LCRWs as ebooks and as well as a couple of books we hadn’t been able to do before including Sean Stewart’s Mockingbird and Perfect Circle and Naomi Mitchison’s Travel Light. Our ebooks are available in the usual places including (depending on how many they’ve accepted through either us or our distro’s program), Google, Apple’s iBookstore, Kobo, Sony, Mobipocket, Amazon, Fictionwise, and, as of this March, Weightless Books, which is run by myself and Michael J. DeLuca with some help at the start from a few volunteers. It’s a site to find interesting indie ebooks and now has titles from Blind Eye Books, Fairy Tale Review Featherproof, Lethe Press, Prime Books (and Lightspeed Magazine), BookCyclone, as well as all our titles. It grows and grows. Weightless means we will always have a place where our ebooks are available and no one can hold them hostage over price controls or any such thing. And, of course, NO DRM! So far, so good.
Ebooks are increasing in popularity and Weightless is one way we’re hoping to still be able to publish books in a few years time but most of our books are sold in bookshops—if 10% of our sales are ebooks and and 10% on Amazon (those estimates are a bit high) we’re talking 80% of our sales taking place in bookshops. We have a deep love of actual bookshops and very much appreciate all those booksellers who took the chance of stocking our books and selling these weird (and we think great) books. Every time you buy a book in a bookshop you support a whole line of businesses from the printer through the distributor to the actual bookseller being able to work in a real bookshop. We’ll have some interesting news about a local bookshop endeavor we’re taking part in in the new year. But in the meantime, thanks for buying our books at actual bookshops.
Our 2010 books started with our second Big Mouth House title, Holly Black’s stunning The Poison Eaters and Other Stories, which was our biggest seller—no surprise with Holly being a #1 NYT list bestseller. Holly’s husband, Theo, did the great interior illustrations. The first story, “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown,” is online at BSCReview and two of the stories are available as podcasts (“Paper Cuts Scissors” and “The Dog Kind“) at PodCastle. Holly’s novel this year, White Cat, is a great twisty start to a series and I highly recommend it. [“Black’s first story collection assures her place as a modern fantasy master…. Sly humor, vivid characters, each word perfectly chosen: These stories deserve reading again and again.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)]
The next book was Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud’s A Life on Paper: Stories, translated by Edward Gauvin. This was Châteaureynaud’s first book in English and it was a treat to see how, slowly but surely, it won readers over. Just this week “The Beautiful Coalwoman” went up at Podcastle and there’s a new essay by Châteaureynaud on Hungarian writer Ferenc Karinthy’s Metropole. A Life on Paper received fabby reviews in the NYTimes, The Believer, BookSlut, and so on, and Edward Gauvin placed stories in all kinds of on-and offline journals. This book was an honor to publish and as Edward works on more of Châteaureynaud’s work we hope to get to bring it to you. [“Beautiful prose featuring ingenuous protagonists and clever, unexpected forays into horror are the hallmarks of these mischievous stories.”—Publishers Weekly]
In June I realised/realized a long-held ambition as we published the US edition of Alasdair Gray’s latest novel Old Men in Love: John Tunnock’s Posthumous Papers. Gray has been receiving all kinds of fantastic praise in the UK with the publication of A Life in Pictures. In terms of work, this was a reprint of the UK edition (with some author corrections and addendums) so, really, how hard could it be? Ha. The book was scheduled for April but came out in June as every line in the book (and all those pieces of art) had to be redone to match Gray’s own vision. It was interesting publishing a book that we didn’t either design ourselves or have a hand in the design but Gray and everyone else we’ve worked with on the book was a delight. Watch out for more news on this book in April when Gray’s A Life on Pictures (a beautiful book from Canongate which I received for Christmas from my mother-in-law, thanks Annie!) comes out over here. ["Funny and profane, but with a shuddering anger to the politics. ”—Jessa Crispin, NPR]
In June we also published a debut novel: Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo. This book is such a breath of fresh air and is still delighting readers. Laura Miller just reviewed it this week in Salon, which follows excellent reviews in the NYTimes and two starred trade reviews. Karen came over from Barbados in September for a couple of readings in New York and the Brooklyn Book Festival. She was a tremendous sport and charmed everyone who met her. [“Extends the Caribbean Island storyteller’s art into the 21st century and hopefully, beyond.”—Seattle Times]
July brought a second debut novel (and third debut of the year, counting A Life on Paper), Julia Holmes’s Meeks. This one really hit home and it received show-stopping reviews in The Nation, NYTimes, LA Times, and so on. Was it Ben’s lack of a bachelor’s suit? Was it the Robyn O’Neil art? Was it the French flaps? All of this and more: this was a debut that got under people’s skin. Julia spent a day at BookExpo with her editor, Jed, and I in May and, as with Karen Lord, Julia charmed all who met her. And throughout the publication and the readings (from NYC to Portland, OR) she was gracious and funny. The second printing arrived just in time for The Nation review and out it went again to the world. [“One of the most original and readable novels that’s come my way in a long time.”—The New York Times Book Review | Editor’s Choice]
In August we were supposed to ship the new Working Writer’s Daily Planner but it actually arrived in late September and Consortium started shipping it out in October. There are a couple of things pushing back the publication date (besides us being a bit stretched): we print it here in the USA (got to pay people here to work good jobs otherwise no one will have money to buy books!) but it takes a little while extra to print it in color. The main thing is that it’s hard to get confirmations from the programs in time for inclusion. We’ll see if we can speed the next one up. Although since 90% of sales seem to be in the last two weeks of December and the first two weeks of January, maybe there’s no hurry!
Hmm. This has run longer than I expected. In fall we published three big books: first a reprint of Ted Chiang’s debut collection from 2002, Stories of Your Life and Others. Just the title story alone makes this one of my favorite books and it was a treat to bring it back into print with the cover Ted commissioned. It sold like hot cakes and is heading back to the printer next week. [“Shining, haunting, mind-blowing tales.”—Junot Díaz (author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)]
The second superb collection for fall was Karen Joy Fowler’s What I Didn’t See and Other Stories. We’ve been hoping to publish this book for years and years and to see these dozen stories collected with Small Beer Press on the spine was a total delight. The first story in the book, “The Pelican Bar,” won both the World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Awards and there are two Nebula Award winners in there, too. But: awards, schmawards: just read the first and last story and then go do something good in the world. What a book. [Read a story: “Standing Room Only” · “Always” · and a short interview in the LA Times.]
The last book of the year was Kathe Koja’s baroque and sexy Under the Poppy. Kathe is in the process of turning this into an immersive stage show for the Black Box Theatre at the Detroit Opera House (and maybe beyond) and readers will instantly understand why. This is a book that gets under your skin and demands that you pay attention to all kinds of detail. A piece of fun indeed. [“An atmospheric tale for those who like their historical fiction on the dark and lurid side.”—Library Journal]
We did our regulation two issues of LCRW and launched electronic subscriptions. Chocolate subscribers are still outnumbering electronic, but how long will that last? I was very proud to publish Haihong Zhao’s first story in English. There are generally a few debut authors every year in LCRW, and I truly love—although I am always behind on my reading—that we get submissions from writers all over the world whom I’ve never heard of. I’m getting pushed toward electronic submissions even though I am even more behind on emailed manuscripts. Hmm. I have many favorite writers and many writer friends but I’d give the zine up tomorrow if those people were the only ones sending us stories. Thanks for your faith in our tiny zine. We appreciate it.
We bought a bunch of books for 2011 and beyond. The strangest might be John Crowley’s The Chemical Wedding. Start saving your pennies for the limited edition. Some of the books we announced, some: not yet. Some you could guess: another Working Writer’s Daily Planner, the Ryman reprint series (it will be nice to have 3 of his books in print at Readercon), and some you might not: a hard science fiction debut novel; a collection from a writer we love love love, darker than her previous work but heartbreaking, too; Unleaving as a solo paperback; the next Big Mouth House titles: first Lydia Millet’s new series begins with The Fires Beneath the Sea and late in the year Delia Sherman’s Freedom Maze; there are a couple more reprints, not too many; and an anthology of Mexican science fiction and fantasy that many people have been working for the last year or more that is just so excellent that we can’t wait to get all the contracts dotted and signed and start getting it to readers.
And, there’s Hal Duncan’s chapbook, “An A-Z of the Fantastic City,” illustrated throughout by Eric Schaller, which will come out in limited, signed, numbered hardcover edition as well as a trade paperback edition. That is a corker, full of subtle humor, sexy asides, and alphabetical fun. We’ll put a preorder page up for that early next month.
Outside of Small Beer Kelly and I have been working on our YA anthology, Steampunk! An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories for Candlewick. There are new stories from Kelly, M.T. Anderson, Holly Black, Libba Bray, Ysabeau Wilce and nine others! Comes out in fall. Has a great cover and the interior is beautiful. We’ll have a website going up for that in early spring. Or, 1861, whatever comes first.
So that’s what 2010 and 2011 in our books (and zines) looked and looks like. And again: thank you.
In 2011 we will be celebrating 10 years of publishing books and we know we are immensely lucky (and only sometimes desperately in debt) to be able to do this. In some ways 2010 will be hard to beat: Alasdair Gray, Holly Black, a couple of fantastic debut novels, Greer Gilman’s Cloud & Ashes won the Tiptree Award, publishing a Karen Joy Fowler collection.
But 2010 was also occasionally a tough row to hoe—given a time machine it would not be high on my list to revisit (although Ursula being discharged from hospital after 13 months was one of the best days of my life, so there is that)—so fingers crossed 2011 will be easier. Maybe easier isn’t the right word. Maybe I’m hoping to be grow more used to the cycle of challenge, learning, and acceptance.
Then again for every crap day there were still huge surprises and great joys from the writers, books, readers, reviewers, booksellers, and everyone involved in these exciting days of this great, roiling literary industrial complex. I’m already looking forward to the first death-of-publishing article of 2011.
Hope you are well and spending the turn of the year with those you love and: happy new year!
Ok, enough of those posts about new books: Here’s everything we’ve got coming (not counting LCRW and maybe a surprise or two) between two covers. There’s an astounding new collection of stories from Karen Joy Fowler, a huge sexy historical novel from Kathe Koja, Karen Lord’s debut novel, and even a few authors whose names don’t begin with K. The catalog (below) can be downloaded from Scribd (as a pdf or a text file, but the pdf is prettier), and at some point we’ll print some and send them out. Peruse, pre-order, and pass it on? Sure, why not.
and so we are working like mad mad mad on our April book. Which is, I have to say, a bit of a stunner in a couple of ways: that we managed to acquire the title and of course the book itself.
My parents and my own reading tastes only match up sometimes—it would be fun to try and quantify how much/little but I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get them onto LibraryThing or Goodreads. Back when I was in high school my mother suggested I try Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. Sadly for me I put it aside (with other recommendations, woe is me) for years. After all, if my mother liked it surely it wouldn’t be a brain-mangling metafiction set in a world I sort of knew (Scotland) and its mirror underside? It wouldn’t be a modern classic that had been anticipated by those in the know for 20-30 years? Urgh. Should have read it.
A few years later in uni when I got around to it I went straight to the university library and read through what I could find in quick order: I think 1982, Janine, Something Leather, and a fabulous collection, Unlikely Stories, Mostly. Later on I was able to catch up on most of what I’d missed and tended to try and read his books when they came out, including Poor Things, A History Maker, another great collection, Ten Tales Tall & True, and a doorstopper, The Book of Prefaces.
In 2003 when The Ends of Our Tethers came out, Canongate UK was in the midst of rearranging its US set up. I queried on US rights but they eventually decided to distribute their own titles here so there was no Gray title on our 2003 or 4 list. Dum de dum. A few years pass. [Insert montage of Small Beer titles, LCRW covers, chocolate bar wrappers, convention badges, tear-stained spreadsheets, etc.]
Then in 2007 Bloomsbury published Old Men In Love: John Tunnock’s Posthumous Papers. My copy was given to me by Kelly—signed by the man himself, amazing—and the copy I’ve been working from, so it may not be quite as pristine as it once was (cough, chocolate stains, cough).
I contacted Gray’s agent in November 2007 and in August 2008, on a trip to Scotland, Kelly and I visited Gray in his beautiful, art-stuffed flat in Glasgow. Things went well and contracts were generated and signed. Yay! Small Beer Press would publish the US edition of Old Men in Love. Inconceivable! Yet, apparently coming more true every day.
After the contracts we were soon in discussions with his agents about how we would put the book out. If you’ve ever seen one of Gray’s books—which he designs and illustrates—you’ll understand why this wasn’t a simple thing. We’ll put a section up on here and Scribd to show it off, it’s a strong style that works really well on the printed page. But oh the files, oi! Also, the UK paperback was being worked on so we would have corrections to include for our edition (not that many, really, but fascinating to see—we have them as scans of handwritten pages) although we could not use the UK paperback files as they are black ink and ours will be printed in blue and black. There was also one small section that Bloomsbury’s lawyers had decided might be actionable so Gray had taken it out but marked where it went with asterisks. On doing a little research it seemed prudent to follow Bloomsbury’s example (they have more lawyers, I suspect, than us) so we will have to leave it that way in our edition, oh well. (British politics in the 1970s was ugly, no surprise.) For the curious, the author reports that his Bulgarian publisher is putting out a translation that will include this part of the original text.
There won’t be an ebook of Old Men in Love, or at least not yet. Gray is taking a cautious approach to the format but we’re still talking with him as we think that DRM-free PDFs would work for this book (whereas html-based formats won’t) as they would hold his design and give something of the feel of the paper book.
Gray did some hilarious things in Old Men In Love: John Tunnock’s Posthumous Papers including adding his own piece of criticism at the end of the book (and another as a letter within) taking apart the construction of the novel and criticizing it as a fix-up of his own plays and some other work from the 1970s. As with his earlier novel Poor Things, there is a preface (maybe to be included in future editions of The Book of Prefaces?) by another writer, Lady Sara Sim-Jaeger, a distant cousin of the eponymous John Tunnock who, on receiving Tunnock’s diary and papers after his death commissions Gray to make something of them. The resulting novel brings together Tunnock’s diary from 2001-2007 (there’s a smidgeon of politics in there) and his memoir of being brought up by his two maiden aunts in Glasgow. Tunnock, a retired school teacher, is working on a book titled Who Paid for All This? which goes through various forms until eventually Tunnock decides it is to be made up of three strands: Periclean Athens, Medician Florence, and 19th century Bath, England.
All of these stories come together in Gray’s final edition into a sometimes hilarious, sometimes dark novel that will be beautifully printed in blue and black ink as the author intended it. What fun it all is! At the moment early copies have wung (surely the past tense of to wing isn’t winged?) their way to the trade reviewers and a few others: for everyone else, check it out in April. There’s nothing quite like it (not true, see Gray’s other novels!) and as ever we can’t wait to see what people think of it.