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Author: Bud Webster

Selling Your Books Ain’t as Easy as it Looks

Selling Your Books Ain’t as Easy as it Looks

bud-dealing-smallAs I write this, I’m preparing to travel 60 miles or so to attend a (more or less) local convention, MarsCon 2012 in Williamsburg, Virginia. It’s a terrific event, mostly a relax-a-con where the emphasis is on having a good time rather than doing business. The Guest of Honor is S. M. Stirling, author of Dies the Fire and the other Emberverse books.

I say that doing business is a secondary aspect of MarsCon, but that’s true primarily of hanging with agents, editors and/or publishers and signing contracts. Not a lot of that kind of business goes on. There is plenty of trade going on, though, and in fact MarsCon is well known for having one of the best and most varied dealers’ rooms on the Eastern Seaboard.

Me, I sell used and rare books there every year. Did you have any doubt?

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Talk to Any Squids Lately? In Space, I Mean?

Talk to Any Squids Lately? In Space, I Mean?

the-moon-poolWhen last we spoke, you and me, the subject was what I wasn’t. Feel free to go back and refresh your memory, I’ll wait here. La, la, la; biddley-biddley-boooo; Rump-Titty-Titty-Tum-TAH-Tee….

Ah, good, you’re back. And you brought me a root-beer, much thanks. This time around, I’d like to address the subject of what I am. At least in part:  if we did the whole thing, we’d be here through Entropy, and I’d have to pay you by the hour.

You already know I’m a bibliophile, and a stfnal historian, and Estates Liaison for the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I probably wouldn’t be here otherwise. I’m also a Leo (like that matters worth a tinker’s cuss), a native Virginian, white, middle-class and not nearly as overweight as I was a year ago. None of that is germane to this discussion, though, except perhaps peripherally.

For our purposes here at the Black Gate blog, I am a professional writer of science fiction and fantasy. Well, strictly speaking I write whatever I can get paid to write, within reason, but my preferences (not to mention my influences) run to fantastic fiction of one sort or another. I make no bones about that and never have; I don’t apologize to my family about it, I don’t qualify it as “something I’m doing to pay the rent while I work on My Novel,” and I don’t try to turn what I do into Art or Literature.

Don’t get me wrong, now; if anything I write approaches those lofty heights (and believe me, I do consider those heights both lofty and worthy of aspiration), I would be absolutely delighted. I’m just content when people tell me I’ve written a pretty good yarn. Anything else is space-icing on the cake-droid. With time-travel.

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So, What the Hell Am I, Anyway?

So, What the Hell Am I, Anyway?

critic-fsf-august-62

Mrs. [Rosel George] Brown is just about the only one of F&SF‘s former gaggle of housewives who doesn’t strike me as verging on the feebleminded; in fact, I think her work has attracted less attention than it deserves.

That’s James Blish (writing as William Atheling, Jr.) being nice. He was talking about Brown’s story in the August, 1962 issue of F&SF (then edited by Avram Davidson), pictured at right.

He doesn’t name the story – odd that a critic wouldn’t, even in a review published at the time – but a little online research shows it to be the novelette “The Fruiting Body.” It’s a pretty good read, too, as most of Brown’s work was.

For me, though, the salient point of the quote above is the off-hand contempt he throws on fine writers like Zenna Henderson, Katherine MacLean and Miriam Allen DeFord, a blatant disdain that is both unfortunate and unwarranted.

Looking over the first Blish/Atheling volume of collected criticism, The Issue at Hand (Advent Publishers, 1964), in fact, the reader finds similar contempt for one writer or another on nearly every page.

It gets worse. In the March, 1954 issue of Campbell’s Astounding, a story by one Arthur Zirul titled “Final Exam” appeared. It was the author’s very first story. Blish/Atheling, in the Spring 1954 issue of Redd Boggs’ fanzine Skyhook, devoted almost his entire column (which translated to an incredible six pages in book form) to tearing this story to shreds; calling it “…one of the worst stinkers ever to have been printed…”, and on and on.

Why? What was the point?

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It’s Not NPR’s Fault (No, Really)

It’s Not NPR’s Fault (No, Really)

childhoods-end1By now, any and all who are interested have long since examined NPR’s list of the 100 greatest science fiction/fantasy books, fumed over the titles left out (and/or the ones included), grumbled about it in blogs and social network sites, and by now almost certainly forgotten it.

So now it’s history, and that makes it my turn to bloviate. Pay attention, now, there’ll be a pop quiz.

A lot of my friends were looking to me to pontificate about the list, pedant that I am, eagerly expecting me to tear it a new one and castigate the whole idea of leaving such an important poll to, y’know, readers instead of the Experts. Like me.

Am I disappointed that I wasn’t consulted? After all, I talk back to my local NPR all the time when I’m driving to the grocery store or the park to feed the crows Cheesy-Poofs, don’t I? Don’t I promise myself twice a year to pledge at least a fin so that my local affiliate can continue to play the same tired old Puccini and Wagner operas? By now, they have to know who I am and have researched me the way they do all public figures, so they certainly have my e-mail and cell number, right?

But noooooooo. They haven’t called, haven’t pinged me, they haven’t even written on my Wall, the uncaring bastards. It’s okay, though. I’m not bitter or anything.

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A Galaxy of Stars

A Galaxy of Stars

galaxy-june-51By the time you read this, you will already have seen the announcement of RosettaBooks’ The Galaxy Project, or so I assume.

Rosetta is preparing to release e-versions of many of the best stories published in Galaxy in its heyday, which is a terrific idea, but is taking it a step further by launching a contest to find a novella or novelette which will, in the words of RosettaBooks CEO Arthur Klebanoff, “carry forth its tradition of outstanding science fiction writing with a new generation of authors.”

So, I hear you ask, what? Whatever might he mean by “tradition?”

Worry not, I live to educate. No, stop edging towards the door and looking at your watch, I know better.

In 1950, two things happened in fairly close proximity: John W. Campbell published a controversial article in the May issue of Astounding, and the first issue of Galaxy Science Fiction appeared on the newsstands in October. These two events were important in their own rights (for vastly different reasons), but there was a synchronicity – one might almost say a serendipity – at play that could be seen to have made a major change in the SF publishing scene at the time.

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Holding History

Holding History

sfwa-bulletin-11eBay.  It’s a silly place to be for any amount of time, not to mention its hideous potential as a money-sink.  I do spend time there, though, on a daily basis, and money as well.  It’s one of the sources I use to replace the stock I’ve sold at a convention, and it comes in handy to add to my personal collection on those rare occasions when I have disposable income.

Three weeks ago as I write this, I was lucky to have won a small lot of magazines that popped up on my radar because of the authors included therein.  I was up against another collector, and although the bidding was spirited in the last day or so I walked away with the prize.  And what was it, I hear you ask?

It was a dozen issues of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction Writers of America dating from 1967, the earliest being #10.  After I paid for them – with shipping, a little over a dollar each – the seller found another issue dated 1970 and threw it in.

A few days later the package came, and I slit the tape carefully to open it.  They don’t look like much: just 8.5×11″ pages folded in half and stapled to make a booklet.  The pages are browned; the few photos are black and white.  All in all, pretty unimposing, really.

So why were my hands shaking as I lifted them gently out of the box?

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Estate Your Business, Please

Estate Your Business, Please

Christopher Anvil, Jerome Bixby, Raymond Z. Gallun.

raymond-z-gallunA couple of years ago, Michael Capobianco, then President of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), approached me for help on a project.

See, I’ve sort of acquired a reputation as a genre historian, and a fair number of editors and publishers have come to me over the past decade in hopes that I might know who was in charge of dead authors’ literary estates so that they could gain permission to reprint a story and make payments.

I had already run across a few agents and individuals while writing about one Past Master or another.  I also had access to a network of other sf tweaks who might have data on the ones I didn’t.  This put me in a good position to research the list and not only correct it but add to it.

P. Schuyler Miller, Ross Rocklynn, Wallace West.

What Capo wanted from me was my help in updating and correcting the list of estates that SFWA publishes each year in the SFWA Directory.

This is important to the organization, as the information is vital to keeping classic material by founding members available to a new readership, not to mention making sure that the information on writers who had passed more recently stayed current.

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The Joy of Booking

The Joy of Booking

best-loved-poems

bib·li·o·phile: (b b l – -f l ) also bib·li·o·phil (-f l ) or bib·li·oph·i·list (b b l – f -l st), n.
1. A lover of books.
2. A collector of books.
(From www.thefreedictionary.com/)

That covers it reasonably well, I think. You can’t be one without the other, you know, and if you’re reading this then we all know that you’re both, poor thing.

My life-long love of the bound codex is evident to any and/or all who venture into my general environment. There are books in every room; stored neatly on shelves, stacked carefully on tables, painstakingly packed in boxes and bags and piled precariously on nearly every flat surface in the joint.

I come by it honestly. My folks taught me to read at a very early age, and I was surrounded by books as a kid. One in particular was to have a significant affect on me on several levels: The World’s Best Loved Poems, edited by James Gilchrist Lawson for Harper in 1927. About half of it was made up of “inspirational” or “newspaper” verses, which are interesting at this point primarily as artifacts of the time; but it also contained Shakespeare, Poe, Whitman and Robert W. Service, who are still among my favorites.

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Spreading the Word (or, “Book ’em, Bud-O”)

Spreading the Word (or, “Book ’em, Bud-O”)

pirates-of-zanThere’s a convention in town this weekend, RavenCon to be specific. As usual in the days before a con, I spent evenings away from the television (not to mention the damn cats) getting the books ready.

See, I don’t just write about old books, I sell them, and have been doing so for the past forty years. Bookselling is a way for me to interact with fellow convention-goers (a lot of interesting conversations go on around my tables), it gives me an excuse to pontificate about classic authors and titles and to tell embarrassing stories about editors (trust me, they love it) and it’s a way for me to cover the expenses of hotel rooms, traveling and, y’know, eating and stuff.

These are good, solid practical reasons; as I communicate with potential buyers, as I “educate” them about writers and stories they may not be familiar with, I’m building bridges that, with luck and hard work on my part, they will cross with money in hand.

Yet there’s a less practical, but equally satisfying reason: I love to turn new readers on to old books.

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What I Do It With

What I Do It With

doriangrayYou already know I’m a recalcitrant book-geek, right? Loads of books, scattered all over the house, piled up and in boxes, and covering almost every flat surface – including the bookshelves. Where in hell did they all come from, anyway?

That’s the $64,000 question. I’ve been accumulating books since I was in junior high school (“middle-school” to you kids), when I traded a stack of comics to a friend for his copy of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

It wasn’t a first edition, of course, but it was an early one and did have Wilde’s signature reproduced on the front board in gold. It was also in pretty rough shape; the front hinge almost completely gone and the cover hanging by only a few threads.

Didn’t matter. Doesn’t even matter that, looking back on it, I realize that the comics I turned loose in swap were worth a hell of a lot more – I’d heard a lot about that book (and the movies made from it) in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland, and I wanted it. I kept it for years until it got lost in some move or another, and I’ve missed it ever since.

It was inevitable, really. Anyone who collects anything – from Beanie Babies to boy-dolls (or “action figures” as a friend of mine insists) – eventually acquires enough of them to require books about their collections, just to keep them straight and as a guide to what they have so they’ll know what they still need. So it was with me and my books.

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