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Fantastic Books: I Take It Back 
12th-Dec-2009 09:13 am
Pennterra cover
At the time of my most recent post, almost four months ago now, I had just received a box of authors' copies of my 22-year-old first novel Pennterra, reprinted courtesy of Warren Lapine's POD venture, Fantastic Books. I gave the reprint volume high marks for just about everything. The finished product was all I could have hoped for, if not dreamed of, and I said so here, as I'd promised to do.

Pennterra had been the test case; if I liked the way it turned out, I was prepared to let FB reprint the first two volumes of my Holy Ground trilogy too. And in the event--so pleased and impressed was I at the quality of the Pennterra reprint--that the day after blogging about it, August 29, I mailed signed contracts to Warren for The Ragged World and Time, Like an Ever-Rolling Stream. Implicitly, I also suggested that other authors with a backlist should definitely consider Fantastic Books as a means of getting those titles back into print.

Back in April, when I first started blogging about all this, dqg_neal asked the very sensible question, "What would you consider a goal point to consider the POD venture with your book a success?"

I replied: "If it's a quality product--good enough paper, nice cover design--and if Lapine advertises it enthusiastically in Realms of Fantasy, which he now owns, and if it literally costs me nothing but brings in a little income, I guess that would do it for me. . . What would success amount to for you?"

dqg_neal replied, "I guess I would probably say it was pretty successful if the reprint saw 500 copies sold in the first year." He added that for a book that's been OP for a good while, however, fewer than that might be okay.

You can see the way my mind/psyche works--has, alas, always worked--from this exchange. I defined success without even mentioning sales, other than in the vague phrase "a little income." For dqg_neal, sales were primary. "I don't know if I'd feel too bad if I didn't like the cover, but the book sold a lot."

Turns out that the experiment with Fantastic Books has been a success in the terms I named, but a flop at this point in those of dqg_neal. Well, and a little bit of a flop in my own as well, given that, to the best of my knowledge, one ad has run in Realms of Fantasy to announce the book: not what I'd call enthusiastic advertising. (At one early point, copies of Realms with a big ad for the series were going to be distributed free to everyone at the 2009 Worldcon.) By his own account, Warren has sent out 22 review copies--after numerous polite naggings by email, and about five months after publication, i.e. quite recently. Ergo, no reviews (thus far). Ergo, no sales. (Almost none; four or so copies have sold through the Amazon site, which is essentially identical with the FB site.) Moreover, I've never received confirmation that Warren has even opened the envelope containing the contracts for Holy Ground Volumes I and II that I sent him in late August.

I don't rule out the possibility that copies may have sold via other channels. I should also mention that I've attended no cons since the book appeared, so have not participated actively, myself, in the flogging of the product that has become a larger and larger part of that product's fortunes in the world.

Still, it's disappointing. Apart from L-J readers, and whoever may have seen the ad in Realms of Fantasy (not in fact the likeliest place to advertise it, as mine is a science-fiction novel featuring amphibious aliens and a sentient planet--no sorcerers, no elves, no dragons) nobody even knows the new edition exists.

I have the impression that the magazine has been taking up a tremendous amount of Warren's time and energy, and can guess that he may have found himself totally overextended. Something probably had to give, and what would give, in such a predicament, would be the enterprise lacking monthly deadlines, i.e. Fantastic Books. I imagine he's disappointed himself at not having been able to do more as yet with that side of his business. In this regard, in fact, I shouldn't carp; Pennterra has been published, nearly all the other titles acquired last year with such enthusiasm are still in limbo.

But however all that may be, I'm posting this blog to rescind, with much regret, my endorsement of Fantastic Books as a way to get your backlist titles into circulation. I doubt that any more titles are being acquired in the current climate, but in any case I would look for other ways to get my OP books back into print. That's what I plan to do.

Warren is on L-J, and may read this and reply, or simply post about the situation. I hope he does; I imagine quite a few people besides me would be interested in hearing his side of the story.
Comments 
12th-Dec-2009 04:20 pm (UTC)
It seems I am one of the lucky four who've got your book through Amazon (the back flap says, 13 October 2009, must be the print date). I became interested in Pennterra when I saw it mentioned in a theological SF discussion on urth.net (list dedicated to Gene Wolfe's books), here is the link:

http://lists.urth.net/htdig.cgi/urth-urth.net/2009-September/013869.html

Thanks for the book, by the way. I have never heard of it before and I have deeply enjoyed it!

BTW, the way to link to other users is quite simple (lj user="username" tag), like this: hefngafr, and is described here:

http://www.livejournal.com/support/faqbrowse.bml?faqid=207 (scroll down a bit).
12th-Dec-2009 09:28 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you were one of the four buyers (wow!) and especially that you enjoyed the novel. I clicked on the link you provided and was pleased to see Pennterra recommended by someone I don't know at all.

I also appreciate the techno-help, and have fixed the post! So thanks for that too.
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