Thursday, October 16, 2008

Reviews, Reprints and Awards - what benefit small press?

In the past few months I've been party to a number of discussions with different people regarding the value of awards, Year's Best reprints and honorable mentions, and reviews. These three areas have differing purposes and processes, but all three can impact upon the perception readers have of a book or story.

My perspective on this is diverse:
  • I'm a reader, and while I never really run out of things to read, because I am, and always have been, a compulsive reader, I'm always looking for new things to read.
  • I'm a reviewer. I have been reviewing for a few years now, both books I've purchased and chosen to review, and books supplied by publishers and authors, for various print and online publications.
  • I'm a judge - for the past two years I've convened the Fantasy Novel panel for the national Aurealis Awards.
  • I'm an editor/publisher. I publish stories that have been considered for awards and mentions in Year's Best compilations and have done so for six years.

By rights, I should know the worth of awards, reviews and Year's Best mentions. But my opinions on this issue may not be the same as others, and I am very interested in hearing what others think.

Let's start with awards: I would not personally purchase a book for pleasure reading simply because it had won an award - even an award I know of, and in Australia alone there are quite a number of well respected and established adjudicated awards. However, when I'm purchasing in my role as teacher librarian at a secondary school, awards may play a part in my decisions. It certainly has when I've been weeding the fiction collection, and books that I don't know myself have managed to keep their place on the shelves because they have won a Premier's Award, or Children's Book Council Award. Is this wrong? I don't believe so. I try to read widely in the young adult arena, but I can't read everything. Many of these books were published in the years between when I left high school and when I started in the role as TL, and there's so much new work to consider, I simply don't have time to read it all. Other than popularity in borrowing, sometimes knowing a book has won an award or two is the only real measure of worth that I can go by.

From a publishing point of view, I have heard small press editors say that even multiple awards for a particular book has not had any impact on their sales. I wonder though, if in some cases, it's a little like building credit. In this case, credibility, the kudos that come with having work that has previously been critically acclaimed, and using it to create a positive image for the NEXT book that is released?

The same thing can be said for Year's Best reprints or honorable mentions. By the time these appear, it's probably a bit late to impact the sales of the collection the story appeared in, as these books can be produced more than 18 months after the work is released in some circumstances. But there is some merit in being able to utilise the acclaim with later works, with clever and consistent marketing of the product and making the most of previous accolades. Hopefully, with every sale of the new product, the buyer is also exposed to older publications, slowly selling through the long tail.

When it comes to reviews, I'm becoming more likely to purchase based on reviews of books. A number of reviewing and book blogs are on my RSS feed and "friends" lists, and this year I've made more personal and school library purchases based on recommendations from these blogs than from simply shelf browsing, demonstrating that for me, reviews are a powerful selling tool.

As an editor, it's always a good feeling to have my publications well reviewed, and I know many authors get a kick out of seeing their story received positively. In the case of short stories though, I'm not certain the same impact on sales is seen. The old adage "All publicity is good publicity" probably holds true though. Perhaps we're talking about two different things though. Possibly it's easier to make the decision to purchase a novel based on a review than a short story collection or magazine, knowing that if a novel is well reviewed, it's likely to be a good read through and through, whereas a story collection may be uneven in quality. Possibly it's the difference between large press and small, where the large publishers can send hundreds of copies of a book to reviewers and have a very good chance of gaining widespread publicity, but small press much count the value of each and every one.

Maybe it's true that the only person impacted by a positive review, an award, or a Year's Best mention is the author of the work. Maybe there are no other benefits to such things. I don't want to believe that, although there are arguments that validate it. Perhaps awards don't always get things right. Popular vote awards rarely do (just look at Australian Idol in years gone by!) but I think in most cases, adjudicated awards have valid reasons for choosing their winners. Year's Best compilations are really just one person's personal taste put together in a collection, but they also have their place in showcasing authors and markets consistently producing quality work. It's likely that reviews have the most impact on sales overall, but even then, for small press there's a barrier - availability. Getting rave reviews is a moot point if the work is not easily available to purchase. And while purchasing may be informed by reviews, awards and other factors, the truth is, often that review doesn't come to mind until the reader is confronted with the book on the shelf. But that is a topic for another post!

Would be very interested to hear some other perspectives on this. What influences your buying the most? Do you see a value for publishers in Year's Best mentions/reprints and/or awards? Is it really only to stroke the egos of our authors, or is there more to it?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Year's Best Science Fiction 25th Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois

Unlike in the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, Australians don't feature nearly as prominently in The Year's Best Science Fiction. Dozois is generally supportive of small press and has said nice things about the Aussie small press scene in the past, but he's not impressed this year. Almost all the Honorable Mentions garnered by Australians have been in international publications, barring two from the Cat Sparks edited AGOG! Ripping Reads (well done Cat, who gained an Honorable Mention for her SF writing as well). Two Greg Egan stories were reprinted in the volume itself, "Glory", from the Strahan/Dozois collection The New Space Opera, and "Steve Fever" from Technology Review.

The Honorable Mentions for Australians or for works published by an Australian editor/publication are below. Apologies if I've missed any and congratulations to all.

Jenny Blackford, "Python", RUINS TERRA
Simon Brown, "Reiteration", MAN VS MACHINE
Jack Dann, "Cafe Culture", ASIMOV'S JANUARY
Stephen Dedman, "Centenary", COSMOS APRIL-MAY
Terry Dowling, "The Magikkers", WIZARDS
Terry Dowling, "The Suits at Auderlene", INFERNO
Grace Dugan, "Somewhere in Central Queensland", STRANGE HORRIZONS, 22 JANUARY.
Greg Egan, "Dark Integers", ASIMOV'S OCT NOV
Greg Egan, "Induction", FOUNDATION 100
Margo Lanagan, "Reflecting Glory", FOUNDATION 100
Margo Lanagan, "She Creatures", ECLIPSE
Chris Lawson, "Screening Test", AGOG! RIPPING READS
Geoffrey Maloney, "When the World was Flat", AGOG! RIPPING READS
Geoffrey Maloney, "Blonde on Blonde: An American Fable", ALBEDO 33
Barry N Malzberg and Jack Dann, "The Art of Memory", JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE DECEMBER
Garth Nix, "Bad Luck, Trouble, Death, and Vampire Sex", ECLIPSE
Garth Nix, "Holly and Iron", WIZARDS
Garth Nix, "Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz go to war again", JIM BAEN'S UNIVERSE APRIL
Cat Sparks, "Hollywood Roadkill", ON SPEC SUMMER
Anna Tambour, "The Jeweller of Second-Hand Roe", SUBTERRANEAN 7
Sean Williams, "Cenotaxis", MONKEYBRAIN BOOKS

Bruce Carlson, "Dogs of War" (June-July)
Sara Genge, "Family Values" (Aug-Sep)
Mary Robinette Kowal, "For Solo Cello, p. 12" (Feb-Mar)

ECLIPSE 1: New Science Fiction and Fantasy (edited by Jonathan Strahan)
I counted nine honorable mentions other than those by the Australian contingent already mentioned, so well done to editor Jonathan for picking such a fine batch.

THE NEW SPACE OPERA (edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan)
Almost the entire contents is reprinted or Honorably Mentioned, so I'll not reproduce them here.

WIZARDS: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy (edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois)
Again, almost full contents Honorably Mentioned, which is interesting, considering the blurbs for the book (and the title) all indicate it is a collection of fantasy stories...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Working together

The 26th Story have made a very interesting post called 5 Publicity Tips for Authors - I recommend that publishers take a look too, because it really is about working together to get devise the best methods of publicising your work, be it as author or publisher. An excellent example right here in Australia is that of Simon Haynes of the Hal Spacejock success story. Simon works extremely hard to get the message out there, investing his own time and money to work with his publishers and make Hal a household name. Through websites, blogs, social networking, print media, merchandising, e-books and other methods, Simon promotes and supports his work and his publishers, in a partnership that gives Hal Spacejock a far bigger presence than the publishers themselves might otherwise achieve alone.

Kate Eltham over at Electric Alphabet also responded to the 26th Story post, with her thoughts on author and publisher branding - another brainstorming suggestion for publishers. One particular point she made:

Isn’t it possible, however unlikely, that some publishers could create an identity so strong and a community so vibrant that audiences seek out their books because they trust and like the people producing them? It’s hard to imagine of the multinationals, but not so hard to imagine of the quirky independents who have well-known identities associated with them, such as McSweeney’s (Dave Eggars) or Small Beer Press (Kelly Link).

Romance publishers have been branding themselves for years - I remember fastidiously collecting Harlequin Historicals just because they WERE, although I did discover favourite authors among the ranks as time went on. e-Harlequin is using the world wide web not only as a marketing tool, but as a way to create a sense of community and support their authors (or perhaps even prospective authors) as well.

Publishers are doing it. Small press can too.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Aurealis Awards nominations closing soon

Nominations for Australia's premier speculative fiction award, the Aurealis Awards, close on October 31st. Works of short and long science fiction, fantasy and horror for adults, young adults and children must have been published between November 2007 and October 2008 to be eligible for consideration this year.

This is an opportunity for Australian publishers and authors to be recognised as producing the finest work in their field. Nominating for the awards is free, but print copies of the work nominated must be supplied to the judges.