The inmates are running the asylum again

The past couple of weeks have been surreal when it comes to some of the things I’ve seen coming out of this profession I love so much. I know that the publishing industry is changing. I’ve been following the industry for much longer than I’ve been writing as a profession. I’ve had to accept that, by some people’s standards, I am not a professional because I don’t have a contract with one of the major publishing houses. That doesn’t matter because I know I’m a professional because I write enough and make enough to live off my writing now. (Yes, my expenses are low but that doesn’t matter. I can live from my writing if I have to.)

But some of the head-shaking stupidity that I’ve seen of late really does leave me at a loss. We have John Scalzi telling us that youngsters don’t get into reading science fiction by reading the classics. On its surface, that is such a sweepingly broad statement as to be false. True, a number of readers don’t first discover their love of science fiction by reading Heinlein or Asimov or any of the other Grand Masters of the genre. But, it is just as true that there are any number of them who do because they see their parents reading them or they find the books on the bookshelf at home. He tends to ignore the fact that our children learn their love of reading, in many cases, from the example set for them by their parents. A kid who has run out of books from the library will go to the bookshelves at home to find reading material (or to the family Amazon bookshelf on their electronic devices).

I could have lived with Scalzi’s statement as just being Scalzi but it was what came next that blew my mind. Scalzi wrote in his blog, “All love to Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, et al., but they’re dead now. They don’t need the money from readers; living authors do.”  So, if an author is dead, his books should be set back so living authors can sell theirs. What? If that is the criteria, why not apply it to living authors as well? After all, if an authors has been making six and seven figure advances for years — or even more — why do we need to continue buying their books? They have enough money now. Right? Let’s start supporting those other authors who haven’t been so lucky. Why isn’t Scazli supporting that position? Oh, wait! I know the answer. He isn’t because he just got that huge, multi-book, mutli-million dollar contract from Tor. He isn’t about to cut his own throat that way.

Scalzi isn’t, believe it or not, the most unbelievable part of what’s been going on of late. That has to go to the bean counters at Samhain Publishing. Samhain has been around for years. I know authors and readers alike who have sung its praises. However, many of them are now looking at Samhain and wondering what in the world is going on. You see, word has gotten out that Samhain has fired horror editor Don d’Auria. That is bad enough. Authors loved working with d’Auria and his reputation is one of being an exceptional editor.

What makes the news even more unbelievable is the fact that just days before news of his termination reached Samhain authors, they received a request from Samhain’s PR Department asking them to write testimonials about d’Auria. Was this a case of the right hand not knowing what the left was doing or was it an attempt by Samhain to make it look like d’Auria was leaving on his own or perhaps even retiring? I don’t know and I’m not sure anyone does.

What I do know is that the ripples of disbelief and anger are running through the horror community. Samhain has completely bungled the matter, making it seem that having someone who knows social media is more important than having an editor who is respected and who has a proven track record of knowing what he is doing. Worse, it appears from what little Samhain has said on the matter that they are going to, at least for the immediate future, have their romance editors take over the editing and acquisitions on the horror side of the business. You can imagine the howls of outrage that is causing and rightly so.

There is something else that is a perfect example of what is happening in our industry right now. When he learned of d’Auria’s firing, horror author Brian Keene called for a boycott of Samhain’s social media outlets. Using the hashtag #‎SamhainBlackout‬, he asked others who supported d’Auria to join him as he unsubscribed from Samhain’s twitter feed, etc. Guess what happened? Within minutes, the panic set in from those who hadn’t taken time to read what Keene actually asked for. The cries of foul! and traitor! began. After all, he was calling for a boycott of Samhain itself. That would wind up hurting the authors more than the company. Didn’t he see that? Where’s the cliff we can all jump off of?

Except that isn’t what Keene proposed. He proposed a course of action that did nothing more than get people to quit following Samhain in social media, an ironic plan of attack since the company said it let a ell-respected editor go so it could afford more social media exposure. Keene proposed a reasonable consequence for an unreasonable action. But, as we have seen so often before, one person saw the words boycott and Samhain in close proximity and jumped the shark and all the rest of the sheeples followed suit.

Finally, a word of warning. For those of you who are considering going with a publisher, especially a small press, please do your research. Go to Absolute Write and see what the boards there have to say about the publisher. Check out Preditors & Editors. Do a Google search. And then go to Amazon. Search out that publisher’s name as well as authors who have worked with that publisher. Download samples of e-books put out by the publisher to see things like how well they actually edit a manuscript, the formatting, etc. You can tell a lot about not only and author but an editor/publisher by the first few pages of a work.

Look at covers. If the cover is like one I saw from a small press recently, run away. This particular cover was for a supposedly young adult novel. The cues were Western and female because there was a teenager on a horse. But whether it was a straight Western, a romance, a coming of age, Christian fiction, whatever, I couldn’t tell. Worse, when looking at the cover, even in thumbnail I could tell it was a lousy Photoshop job. How? Because half the girl’s leg was missing. Her boot in the stirrup was there and her thigh upwards was there but everything between was missing. Only the horse was present.

But then there was the final straw, at least in my book. For the e-book version, the publication details on the Amazon page looked “legitimate”. Everything was there, including the ISBN and publisher’s name. In other words, it looked like a traditionally published book, even if it was from a small press. But, when checking out the page for the print version, that disappeared. Yes, there was an ISBN. What was missing was a publisher’s name. Instead, it showed that is was published by Createspace.

Now, as an author who uses Createspace for her print books, and as an editor who did the same, I know that there are ways to avoid having Createspace listed as the publisher. You can either supply your own ISBN that you’ve purchased previously for the book or you can spend a whopping $10 to buy one through Createspace. The latter will mean Createspace is listed as your distributor in things like Books In Print. But your publishing house’s name is listed on the product page — thereby making your work look like it came from a “real” publisher.

If you have signed with a publisher who doesn’t do one or the other, you may have some problems. Either your publisher doesn’t know the tricks of the trade, so to speak, or they are in serious financial straits and can’t afford the $10 or they simply don’t care. All should be red flags. If you are giving up a portion of your earnings to go the traditional route, that publisher had better be doing everything it can to make your book look like it came from a traditional publishing house.

So do your homework. Please.


  1. I find Johnny NoShoes’ stance on older writers interesting given some of his best known pieces are either pastiche’ of other works in the field, or strait up writing in a dead authors universe. I’m thinking he doesn’t want younger readers discovering he’s not that original to begin with.

    1. He’s part of a circle of authors that, whenever there’s an article about what science fiction authors recommend, only really recommend works by each other.

      Interestingly, all those 50 years is too far in the past articles over the past few years have also recommended his Old Man’s War as the proper introduction to science fiction… (My occasional references to science fiction Before and After Scalzi are chosen for this reason.) Odd that none of these learned fools only take swipes at Heinlein and not his contemporaries Roddenberry and Lucas…

  2. Two things occur to me…
    1. C.S Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were my introductions to sci fi/ fantasy, followed by Asimov. Asimov was still alive at the time…
    2. I guess when you don’t read the classics, you’ll never recognize when an author rips off the classics with a cheap knock off.

      1. Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. That’s my business model! Filing off the serial numbers and adding cell phones.

  3. “We have John Scalzi telling us that youngsters don’t get into reading science fiction by reading the classics.”

    My vote is that Scalzi got it half right. For those of us who didn’t come from SFF families, the odds that we’ll discover the classics on our own are 50/50 (it all depends on our own drive, curiosity about what came before, etc.). BUT, the current writers/editors/publishers have a big influence on the reading habits of new/young readers (like it or not). So, if classics aren’t found on the shelves of the local library or bookstore, and/or current writers disparage (or even ignore) classic authors, then newbies will pass them by. Again, depending on the reader’s curiosity/drive, they may discover the classics on their own at a later date. True classics, as we all know, stand the test of time.

    As someone who’s discovering the classics after decades of reading SFF, I’m currently working my way through ERB’s Gods of Mars (read REH’s Conan stories a few years back, and loved them!). Going forward, I’m going to try to alternate new/modern and classic SFF ’cause its never too late to widen my horizons and discover those classic writers who created this wonderful genre.

    1. As I said in the post, I know not everyone gets into science fiction by reading the classics. My first objection to his comment was his broad, sweeping comment that basically implied that no one gets into it by reading the classics. I lucked out when I discovered it because neither of parents, who were voracious readers, were fans. I found it while staying at my grandmother’s house and looking for something to read. Long story short, she wasn’t a reader and I had already gone through the dozen or so books she had. So I was plundering through closets, etc., and came across one I’d never been in before and it was stacked floor to ceiling small room (it was too big to call a closet once I got through the door) filled with books, magazines and 78 records. Among all those books, I found The Moon is a Harsh Mistress in its original serialized form, books by RAH, Asimov and others. They all came home with me, already read, and were read again and again until they fell apart. So it is part what is available and what you are exposed to. But Scalzi would have us believe there is no one young who discovers science fiction via the classics.

      1. Oddly enough my intro to SF was via the Heinlein juveniles in the bookcase at the back of the room in 6th grade at Catholic school. No idea how they got there or why. My parents were readers but mostly newspapers and magazines.

        1. My mother was the reader, my father not so much. Found out he managed a BSEE with dyslexia back when there was no such thing, the nuns just beat it out of you.

  4. Just the other day, I had lunch with a co-worker and her son, a recent college graduate. She mentioned that the son and I had a common interest in stf. (Not shared to my knowledge my she or her husband.) The son had just finished re-reading Bradbury’s “Rocket Summer”, which he had first read in middle-school. It would seem that he and I discovered Bradbury at about the same age; although, more than a generation apart.

  5. As long as there are kids who are voracious readers and have read everything in the vicinity, there will be kids who discover classic science fiction, one way or the other.

    1. … as long as they’re available.
      ebook reprints, small-town libraries that don’t throw out good books to make room for new, used-book stores, etc.

  6. “We have John Scalzi telling us that youngsters don’t get into reading science fiction by reading the classics.”

    Scalzi’s point would be more credible if his own books didn’t get the crap kicked out of them, saleswise, by 50 and 60 year old Heinlein books.

    It’s not old white guys buying those books. The old white guys bought their copies of Starship Troopers decades ago.

    Also note that LOTR and C.S. Lewis rate big-budget theatrical films, while Shoeless Johnny’s masterwork gets a series on a Z List cable channel. Maybe. Possibly. He’s been pretty quiet about that of late.

      1. Of course, no one could *possibly* be handed copies of Foundation and Stranger at age 10, simply because there was no time to head to the library before leaving town…

    1. That shows that Scalzi’s point is utter nonsense. The LOTR movies alone influenced a large number of folks to go out and read the books.

  7. Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov may not need the money, but what Mr. Scalzi and his position of income privilege seems to forget is some people, like kids in low income families, don’t HAVE money to spend on books. He’s not getting anything from them regardless. Or is he saying that book reading should be reserved for those with the income to support authors? How very…1% of him. 😀

    Libraries are the best. Old forgotten books are like pirate treasure to a kid. Strange books with musty, fragile pages talking in awed tones about telegraphs and self-propelled auto-mobiles and machines that fly! A hearty Bronx raspberry to him and his “F#%$ you, pay me” attitude. I’m as capitalist as the next writer but I see nothing wrong in creating a large, healthy population of fiction addicts, strongly motivated to then work and earn enough money to get MY books. I can wait.

    1. Well said. The first science fiction novel I read on my own was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, checked out of the school library. Horror was Poe. Fantasy was The Wizard of Oz. County libraries opened that door wider. It’s doubtful I’d be an SF or Fantasy fan were it not for those those days spent browsing the library stacks, with more SF selections than any local person could afford.

      Where Scalzi’s motivations become suspicious is his insistence that the old should be swept away by the new., and his circular reasoning to bolster that assertion. If a kid prefers Krautman, Correia, and Pratchett over Heinlein, Asimov, and Howard, so be it. Everyone has different tastes. But if Starship Troopers shouldn’t be forced down their throats, nether should Redshirts.

      It’s perhaps worth noting that my own never cared for the classic orthe modern SF stuff. They do read Lewis and Tolkien and Pratchett, which is both the classic and modern end of Fantasy, for a very simple reason: They like their books. I would never have dreamed of forcing them to read either at the exclusion of the other.

    2. The first Heinlein was *probably* Rocketship Galileo, which because it was 1960’s Central Florida (30 miles South of Cape Canaveral), is funny. *I was hooked.* So, scalded Ass knows not of what he speaks. 🙂

  8. It is ridiculous what all is going on in the publishing world right now, especially the stuff with Samhain.

    Thanks for the tips about publishing though! I had no idea those were things to look for. (Not that I’ll be publishing original work anytime soon.)

  9. Scalzi has a perfect reason for dissing ‘old’ and ‘dead’ authors. It’s so he can rip them off and plagiarize them like he did with H. Beam Piper.
    The man hasn’t had an original idea in years.
    I wonder which Heinlein novel he’s got his eyes on? He has to earn those million dollars some how.

    1. “All You Zombies”. That way he can get praised for his totally original handling of transgender issues.

    2. Actually, Scalzi had the Piper Estate’s permission to do his Fuzzy reboot, so it was not plagiarism, just utterly craptastic. That may well be the worst book I’ve ever read except (barely) for Battlefield Earth.

  10. Those classics are classics because they’ve stood the test of time and earned their place.

    Or is this one of those cases where those old dinosaurs can’t say anything of interest to the hip kids of today?

        1. Indeed! But the kids want so badly to believe that they invented sex, and can shock us elders who are fresh out of some imagined fiftiestopia. They really, really don’t want to hear that we were dancing the time warp with “a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania” before they were born!

  11. The really important follow-up question is “So you support works becoming public domain 20 years after the death of the author?”
    Watch him squirm.

    1. I would support 25 years. Long enough so my immediate family can support themselves off my work, but then they have to get real jobs. 😉

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