The Newsletter of
FFC: Fantastic Fiction Collective
Who we are, and what we want to accomplish:FFC is an innovative publishing venture in "fantastic" varieties of fiction, including and transcending the genres traditionally known as fantasy and science fiction, magic realism, surrealism, or "slipstream."
The members of FFC, an expanding group of writers and independent publishers, have established the organization to further their own professional interests and, in so doing, satisfy the interests of a large and diverse reading public that the present publishing industry has either very little concern for or no efficient means of reaching. Above all, the members of FFC are devoted to publishing books of the highest quality, many of which are books that traditional publishers reject because they might attract too small a readership to make a profit under current mass-marketing practices.
What is "innovative" about FFC:The founders of FFC recognize in the current state of electronic technology a means to provide printed books of the highest quality at competitive cost to that large and diverse but ill-served readership alluded to above. At the same time, these new electronic means promise to maximize the earnings of FFC's member writers and publishers.
The technological means that make FFC viable:1. ON-DEMAND PRINTING: On-demand printing systems have recently made their revolutionary debut in the publishing world. Books stored in an electronic database can be printed on order, one at a time if need be, and at costs that are completely competitive with those incurred under the traditional--and highly wasteful--bulk-printing system. Inventory and warehousing costs thus become practically negligible, to the benefit of FFC members and customers alike. Set-up costs (electronic formatting of a manuscript for printing) per book are very low, and on-demand printing means that the costs of actual printing are prepaid with the customer's order.
2. A WEB-BASED, DIRECT-SALES SYSTEM OF DISTRIBUTION: Internet book sales make possible elimination of the middleman. Conventional book distribution depends on distributors who themselves gobble up a large portion of the cover price of a book. Bookstores themselves demand forty to fify percent of the cover price of a book, and in addition they reserve the right to return unsold copies--which they now do within a short few months of publication, and at no financial risk to themselves, not even the cost of postage. Income due to publishers, filtered through the distributors, may not reach the publishers for six months to a year or more after a sale. In short, the entire system is set up so that the publisher bears virtually all risk, and only the well-heeled, traditional publishing firms can remain financially solvent with all the uncertainties and delays.
These conditions have left the small, independent presses in financial limbo. Authors' hopes for an expansion of new outlets for quality writing via the small press have been squelched, and so has the number of quality small presses in this country. To buck the system and keep quality fiction in print and widely available, a Web-based, direct-sales system of distribution is therefore today's most promising technological fix. Traditional means of distribution will not be rejected out of hand, but the direct-sales approach will be the core of FFC's distribution efforts.
3. WEB-BASED PUBLICITY: Fortunately, given the proliferation of Websites and newsgroups devoted to "fantastic fiction," it will be easy to get word around regarding FFC's titles. Huge numbers of readers now buy books through the Web, and through reviews and recommendations gleaned from the Web. FFC will employ traditional means of gaining media attention as well, yet much of the consequent publicity should cost FFC virtually nothing. The media should regard as NEWS any organization that describes itself as "revolutionary." The biggest-name FFC authors (and many "name" authors are committing to FFC) will be happy to give interviews and in other ways contribute to FFC's promotional activities.
4. FFC AS A SMALL-PRESS UMBRELLA: Many quality small presses that are facing hard times will enormously benefit by printing their new titles, and reprinting their backlist, in association with FFC while retaining their own logos. Reduction of costs, prestige of the FFC list, and centralization of publicity efforts will attract these presses into an affiliation with FFC. Meanwhile, these small-press affiliate publishers will not lose editorial control over the choice of books that FFC publishes under their imprint.
5. FFC AND THE TRADITIONAL BOOKSELLER: It is time for publishers and booksellers to enter into synergistic partnerships and end the adversarial business relationships that have proved destructive to both, and to the flourishing of American literature, during the course of this entire century. The current system is fast destroying all but the largest publishers and threatens to undermine the sources of the very stock on which booksellers depend for their existence. FFC, thanks to technology-enabled savings, will develop new and mutually advantageous arrangements with both large chains and independent bookstores that will help to revitalize the American literary marketplace.
Why FFC can maintain a high-quality list:1. AUTHOR DISSATISFACTION WITH THEIR CURRENT SITUATION: Our recent author survey shows that about 80% of responding writers (of fantastic fiction) are dissatisfied with their current, traditional publishing arrangements. Some may be dissatisfied with their advances, some with royalty rates, and there is a host of other bread-and-butter contract stipulations that work against the interests of many authors. The fact that books go out of print so soon and are not reprinted--an economy measure taken by publishers that may leave thousands of potential readers unserved--is alone a great incentive for many "name" authors to be gravitating toward FFC. A significant portion of FFC's initial list will consist, therefore, of "oops," out-of-prints, but of books that have been well reviewed or have shown other evidence of successful reader appeal.
2. FINANCIAL INCENTIVE: Many of these authors of "oops" will, at the same time, be glad to offer new works to their readers under the FFC imprint.
What will be their incentive? Very simply, the fact that they can earn vastly more from an FFC sale than from sale of a book under the traditional system. FFC is a "collective." It exists to enhance the earnings of its members. Its cost-cutting package of technological innovations means that the hefty percentage of cover price that would normally go to middlemen will largely go to the authors (even after deductions for various organizational business expenses). One copy of a book sold through FFC may bring in the royalties equivalent of two or three copies of the same book sold in the traditional way.
3. FFC'S INCENTIVE TO PUBLISH NEWER AUTHORS: FFC does not wish to be known as simply a reprint source for tried and proven "oops." Oops may initially help gain the organization some working capital, but the "innovative" quality of the organization will include the desire to introduce EXCELLENT NEW WORK, whether by known or unknown authors; and the fact that on-demand printing enables the introduction of new work at low financial risk makes it possible for FFC to ignore bottom-line considerations and focus, editorially, on considerations of the writing quality alone. FFC wants to find and promote new books and new authors who may appeal to as few as one or two thousand readers. Numerous potential readerships numbering a few thousand at most are ignored under the current system of mass-market publishing. If FFC can tap those potential audiences, it will foster new reputations and enhance the overall variety and quality of the entire field of contemporary fantastic fiction.
4. FFC'S MEANS OF PROMOTING NEW WORKS AND NEW AUTHORS: To insure the selection of new works of the highest quality, FFC will institute an innovative member-based system of manuscript review. As a condition of FFC membership, member authors will agree to review incoming manuscripts for publication. The process should prove both efficient and relatively undemanding of the member authors.
Here is a model of such a procedure: each member will agree to read a maximum of five manuscripts per year (in the subgenres of his or her choice). Each manuscript will undergo two reviews--and, in the case of disagreement, a deciding third. In this way, up to several hundred manuscripts per year could be handled with utmost fairness and dispatch.
As an added benefit to any new author, blurbs by FFC member authors will kickstart an accepted book's promotional campaign. Member-authors' reviews will be posted on the FFC Website. It will, of course, be in the interest of established FFC authors to accept and promote only the best of the new submissions, for the reputation of FFC in general rests on the quality of its entire list. FFC will function thus as a nurturing environment for quality new fiction and in that way alone justify the spirit of a true "collective," as is suggested in its name.
5. FFC AND ARTISTS OF THE FANTASTIC: FFC's books will not only be of excellent literary quality but will be physically beautiful as well. The best artists will be recruited to design FFC book-covers, innovative financial arrangements will be negotiated with artist-members, and their work will be promoted through links on the FFC Website.
In Conclusion:As we round the corner of a new millennium, we writers, publishers, artists, and booksellers must develop a new paradigm of relationships if the American bookscape is not to continue on its downhill path toward "simplification"--a trend that threatens a future in which the field has shrunk to three publishing conglomerates, two booksellers, and a hundred miles of shelving filled with returnable bestsellers by the only four authors left in print. Quality fantastic fiction has been a major victim of this anti- pluralistic, self-destructive tendency. The finest writers, in their hundreds, are waiting for the revolutionary systemic changes, enabled by the above-described technologies, to go into effect. The founders of the Fantastic Fiction Collective, fully cognizant of the positive changes that are possible, are determined to explore and develop this promising new literary landscape.
|The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.|
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Copyright 1999 Daniel Pealman, Author2, and Author3
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