Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2010 Issue

Sci-Fi, New Tech & the Modern Book Collector


Reinventing the backlist
Let's go a step further out into unknown territory. C.J. Cherryh is a well-established, Hugo Award winning SF author who has been publishing since the 1970's. She continues to write, sell and publish (in physical form) books, generally two a year. In her case, however, she has found that her backlist (the books published in prior years and still available in bookstores) has dwindled dramatically. Some of that is due to waning interest in certain series, but the majority of the books are no longer on the backlist because the publishers have had to make drastic changes in their ways of doing business.

In a way to be more proactive with the threads of her own career, Cherryh has decided to either buy back the rights to older out-of-print material, or renew the copyrights on material that had reverted to her. Once the copyright is under her name, she can do what she wants with it - and Cherryh is making a concerted effort to re-edit, or in some cases, re-jigger plots that had devolved during the publication process.

She, along with two other published authors, has created a website specifically aimed at making backlist titles available to fans. All the books (and she and the other two authors are adding more books as time allows) include new cover art, and textual changes. The books could be considered as variants or new editions and therefore of collectable value (again, depending on your taste as a collector). As time permits, she has mentioned that she will be posting new material (IE: previously unpublished in any form) to this site as well. All of this material is in downloadable format - NO hardcopies available.

Blogging as firsts
John Scalzi, (the newly minted president of the SFWA - Science Fiction Writers of America) is highly techno. He has a blog which has won online awards for his blog-ability. He too utilizes the digital domain to help promote his writing, though at present, he only lists material that has already been published in some physical form and generally without textual changes. On the other hand, his blog itself is a wonder of craftsmanship in the art of writing (though generally not fiction). Would fans who collect copies of his books also be interested in keeping bits of the blog?

Robin McKinley started working on her blog at the request of her publisher, but the configuration of the blog was up to her. Her blog was put together as a means to help drive sales - it has since morphed into something completely different than a promotional tool and she has, on occasion posted both new material she's working on (in small bits), or parts of novels and short stories that have never been completed and most likely never will be. In past decades, fragments of writing have been collectable, either in manuscript format, or as published pieces - so how do these digital versions fit into a collection?

Sci Fi for "i"
Even bestselling author Anne Rice has jumped on the bandwagon with digital material with a novella published in paperback format in 1991. The Master of Rampling Gate has now been re-issued for i-pad and i-phone with some additional material including an interview with the author and links to websites which highlight various aspects underlying the story. Again, while there is a physical book already available for collection purposes, the new material included gives this re-issue something unique and of collectable value. The next logical progression for authors and publishers - instead of starting with older material and re-mixing it to be enticing for the modern reader (especially the younger, computer-inundated readers), why not begin with the digital version with added content (say, like some CD-Rom movies) and then possibly, work backwards to the physical book?

Print as a retro specialty
At some point, it might be that the only books to make it into physical form would be books with special significance which would, in some ways, harken back to the days before the printing press when books in physical form were seen as art objects and items of to be revered. The everyday written word that we take for granted would be switched over to digital format. This process has already begun - just look to the imminent demise of the newspaper industry - as more and more customers read their news online and forgo paying for the printed version.

Rare Book Monthly

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