C8 final logoFrom the Crazy 8 Press press release:

“Award-winning and best-selling science fiction and fantasy writers collective Crazy 8 Press has expanded its roster of contributing authors with Paul Kupperberg, whose upcoming comic-book themed mystery novel The Same Old Story debuts through Crazy 8 Press in August.”

And here, in a long-winded and roundabout way, is why:

“Finishing the Hat,” from Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George is about the artist’s need to finish a piece of work to the exclusion of everything else. It’s about the magic and the elegance of the act of creation that makes it worth “turning back too late from the grass, or the stick, or the dog, or the light; How the kind of woman willing to wait’s not the kind that you want to find waiting to return you to the night, dizzy from the height.” And it tells the truth about what happens in the aftermath of “entering the world of the hat; Reaching through the world of the hat like a window; Back to this one, from that … Finishing the hat. Starting on a hat. Look, I made a hat — Where there never was a hat!”

The act of creation is a weird and mysterious thing (“Finishing the Hat” is about that, too). When I first started making hats … well, comics and books, anyway … they were still being distributed the old fashioned way, same as they had been for decades. Retailers ordered their comics (or books or magazines) from a distributor, who in turn ordered them from the publisher. The distributor then sent the retailer a number of copies of a title depending on what they thought the retailer should be able to sell. The retailer kept the comic (or book or magazine) on sale for a specified amount of time, then returned the unsold comic (or book or magazine) to the distributor and would pay only for the actual units sold. The unsold returned books were counted, credited, and pulped.

It’s true publishers and distributors took the lion’s share of the profits, leaving the creators with a paycheck or a comparatively meager royalty … but that was how one got one’s hats to market.

Thirty years later, that model of selling’s been knocked squarely on its ass. And so have many creators. Where many of us used to get our hats (or comic books, novels, whatever) to market via the Publishing Industry (the dark triangle of Publishers-Distributors-Retailers), the change in the way printed matter is distributed has resulted in a change in the way publishers do business. One Dan Brown or J.K. Rowling blockbuster is worth more than two hundred mid-list books … which publishers did little or nothing to promote when they actually did publish them. Why bother putting money into a book on the chance it will help it turn a profit when you can save all your advertising dollars for the books you know will sell?

Web publishing has made it possible for the Publishing Industry to produce ebooks that don’t require the expense of printing, binding, and shipping. Publishers can still sell an ebook for almost as much as the printed copy and make a bigger profit on it … without upping the royalty to creators, of course. Corporate Comics even try to score free or minimal payment online comics from newbie creators desperate to “go pro.”

Web publishing has also made it possible for anyone to publish a book — and now everyone does. Hundreds of thousands if not millions of titles seeing “print” on Smashwords, CreateSpace, or any of dozens of publishing services, filling the Amazon and Barnes & Noble online catalogues with so many titles — what I call “noise” — that it’s become harder than ever for the (for want of a better term) “professional” writer to make his presence, and his hats, stand out from the cacophony.

Publishing is, without doubt, in the midst of a sea change in the way it delivers books to readers. This democratization of the business has got to have the Publishing Industry crapping its corporate pants. Dan Brown’s Inferno, released in May, sold a quarter of a million copies in its first week; this is a Summer reading blockbuster that will likely go on to sell many millions of copies, netting Doubleday a healthy chunk of change even after Brown receives his royalties.

But what if … what if Brown said screw Doubleday; with his fan base, he could have bypassed the publishing house and put out Inferno on his own, in print and digital editions, and kept 100% of the profits instead of taking the smaller percentage offered by the publishers.

People like me who make our livings as creators are also undergoing a sea change in how we do business, both with the publishers and with our audiences. It used to be that just about all we had to concern ourselves with was making our hats. Once made, they would be turned over to the hat-sellers, the same ones we had been doing business with all along. They paid us for our hats and, as the common wisdom that was thrown in our faces whenever we asked for more for our hats, assumed all the risk in being stuck with the hats if they didn’t sell.

Most writers don’t have a fan base anywhere near the size of Dan Brown’s. Today, a writer has to spend as much time, if not more, looking for work as he does actually working. He has to network, chase editors and publishers just for a response to his emails and calls, write proposals on spec, work the social networks to keep his name out there so the publishers will stay interested … and, failing all that, act as his own editor and publisher and public relations person.

Remember that “noise” generated by the Web’s democratization of publishing? Well, now the individual writer with a limited or non-existent budget has to also become his own P.R. man and figure out how the hell to make his voice heard over the thunderous din of both his fellow professionals (in the same or similar boats as himself) and the hundreds of thousands of wannabes filling the online catalogues with titles?

One way to start is by joining his voice with the voices of others.

And the voices I’m joining belong to the writers hub known as Crazy 8 Press, consisting of founding members Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, Aaron Rosenberg, and Howard Weinstein, and Russ Colchamiro. A couple of old friends, several new ones, and a group of good writers trying just trying to get their books out to their readers. In fact, that’s pretty much the Crazy 8 mission statement: “Crazy 8 Press is a consortium of writers who have decided to bypass the traditional publishing process to bring our work directly to you, the reader.”

In recent Tweets and postings about ReDeus: Beyond Borders (the second volume in the ReDeus shared universe anthology series I co-created and write for with Greenberger and Rosenberg, published by Crazy 8 and now available), I started adding a tagline: Support Writer Owned Small Presses; Buy Our Books! It began as a sort of joke, but it’s not so funny. Peter, Michael, Bob, Glenn, Aaron, Howard, Russ, and myself all labor long and hard to make hats of the finest quality we’re capable of producing. You’ve bought our hats before when you’ve seen them in the stores, but just because the stores no longer carry our brands doesn’t mean we’ve stopped making or selling them.

So…Buy Our Books!


Now, I’ve got to get back to making my newest hat.

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