The year 2003 is shaping up to be a banner twelve months for the flourishing world of the genre small press. Known also as the "alternative," speciality," "print-on-demand," "desktop," "trashcan," "ego-boo," or "semi-literate" press, these feisty, pint-sized powerhouses some of them employing as many as two or three part-time workers are fighting tooth and claw with the major publishers to see who can capture more readers: the bland, faceless suits touting Star Trek Winnebago: The Hemorrhoid Maneuver or the quirky, personable bibliophiles offering a six-volume, leather-bound set of The Collected Unsold Fantasy Manuscripts of Hazel Heald.
Already this year we've been flooded with numerous books we never knew we couldn't live without until they appeared. Original anthologies such as Twenty No-name Authors and a Three-page Fragment from Stephen King, and Chunder from Down Under: Aussie Splatterpunk. Novels such as The Dragon Who Ate Only Unicorns and Burnt Miasma: A Dystopia. Collections like The All-Original Tales of Craig Strete and Teddy Bears and Lollipops: The Heroin-Inspired Fiction of Anna Kavan. Critical works such as An Exegesis of Rod Serling's Twilight Zone and Night Gallery Introductions and Interviews with Assistant Editors. A rousing lineup, to be sure, but one that is a mere trickle compared to the flood of titles to follow.
The granddaddy of small presses remains vital and adventurous in its seventh decade of publishing, under the guidance of Pedro Rubric. Arkwright will issue one-and-a-half books this year (half the signatures of their second offering will ship in 2003, half in 2004, with binding left to the discretion of the purchaser). The first title is Lovecraft's Diet Book: The Canned Beans and Ice Cream Way to Lose Weight. Following that breakout title comes the long-awaited new book by Thomas Ligotti, a sequel to Noctuary titled Actuary.
Barnaby and Christine Rodman continue their program of returning to print every fantastical story ever printed, no matter how obscure. Having exhausted the Edwardian, Victorian and Romantic eras, they are now concentrating on the Elizabethean period. Up this year are Supernatural Passages from Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe's Creepy Quatrains.
U.K. publisher Brinley Seapej plans to offer David Pringle's Favorite Scottish Ghost Ballads, with a companion CD of Interzone's editor warbling selected eerie poems while accompanying himself on the bagpipes. Hot new superstar Richard Morgan contributes a novella in his Altered Carbon series: The Varley Tipoff. And Eric Brown and Keith Brooke step forth with The Big Idea Neither One of Us Knew What to Do With Solo.
This ambitious POD firm catalogues such new titles as Paul Park's Stories Playboy Should Have Bought; the latest Garry Nurrish bookazine, focusing on alcohol-related stories, Redeye 75; and a novel from Richard Lupoff, The Bentfin Sacred Locomotive Flies Into the Aether of Lovecraft's Vintage Paperbacks. Publisher Seamus Walters has also signed up every single one of SFWA's junior members, in hopes of acquiring their debut story collections, should such an event ever come to pass. Editor Nike Grover has subsequently resigned.
Feeling their schedule of a book per month was insufficiently ambitious, Delirious has ramped up their output to one new title per week. Readers can subscribe to the complete weekly plan, or choose from selected titles such as Charlee Jacob's Scary Girly Things; Jeffrey and Scott Thomas's retelling of the entire canon of the Brothers Grimm, Los Bros Tomassos; or Gerard Houarner's Inexplicable Allegories.
If this ambitious new scheme meets with success, publisher Shuman R. Stallworth promises to issue a book per day in 2004.
Co-publishers Myrtle Halberd and Gray Turnover made a big discovery this year. "No one was actually reading the text in our books," explains Halberd. "Despite all our efforts to publish definitive collections by modern masters, all that the buyers cared about were the Thomas Canty or Bob Eggleton covers." "Plus the fact that the books were numbered sequentially," chimes in Turnover. "That means everything to collectors." Consequently, Gilded Graustark titles numbered 30 through 50 will appear this year with the requisite artwork and enumeration, but without any actual interior pages, titles or bylines. Halberd and Turnover swear they'll use the monetary savings to enjoy long vacations abroad.
Following the success of the Jack Williamson series that reprints every single short story by the ninety-five-year-old Grand Master, publisher Stefan Haffling is searching for other geriatric authors to get the same treatment. "We've already signed up Fred Pohl and Hugh Cave, and we're moving fast to get them to do afterwords while they can still type. And although Bob Silverberg won't pass our eligibility cutoff-point the three-quarters-of-a-century mark until 2010, we've got to start getting tearsheets ready now, he's written so darn much!"
"We've learned," says head honcho Tommy Louis of Northeast Industrial States Fantasy Agglomeration, "that the bigger the omnibus, the better it sells. Our readers demand maximum value for their money." This market research explains why NISFA's offerings this year will be such gargantuan hardcovers as The Complete Novels of A. E. van Vogt; The Nearly Complete Except for One We Couldn't Find Novels of Kenneth Robeson; and The Complete Comicbook Adapatations of Robert E. Howard Material. The publishing industry, realizing that the outmoded terms "bugcrusher" and "doorstop" could no longer apply to such titanic bound objects, has already begun testing such designations as "tombstone," "herniator" and "shelfbuster" for such volumes.
Jerzy Willard is quite excited about the books he's lined up for his Oregon-based press. "Now that we've finished with our successful Manly Wade Wellman series, we've decided to focus exclusively on dead authors with three names. We have work lined up from Stephen Vincent Benét, Charles Brockden Brown, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Charlotte Perkins Gilman why, I could go on and on!" Any purchasers whose middle names are printed on their checks or credit cards will get a ten percent discount.
"The fewer copies of each title I publish," discloses Petrus Crowfeather, "the more profit I make. Collectors are so avid for short-press-run books that they'll pay anything for what seems to be a very exclusive printing. I've taken the next logical step, and decided that all PIPS books from now on will come in editions of one. That's correct, just one copy of each title will be printed. Begemmed and bound in the hides of endangered species, signed by everyone from the author on down to the pressman, these objets d'art will be sold exclusively through Sotheby's. I expect to rake in millions and that's honest pounds, not dollars or euros!" The first book to receive this treatment will be Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Shillelagh.
"I've never believed in maintaining a high profile," says publisher Billingsly Shatner. "Publicity, reviews, author tours, conventions they're all meaningless to me, and completely against my principles. I publish only the highest quality fiction by the biggest names, in genuine first editions that arrive at your door minutes before the same text from the New York publishers is available much more cheaply on Amazon. Consequently, this year I'm scrapping my website and refusing to offer any catalogue of forthcoming titles or backlist. The kind of readers we want will know how to find us and order. And don't try calling this number again, because I'm changing it as soon as we hang up!"
"Thank God for the public domain!" Such is the rallying cry of POD publisher Sean Beetletrap. "If it weren't for dead authors, I could never support the occasional living ones I take on. For every David Bischoff or Brian McNaughton, I need at least ten James Branch Cabells or Théophile Gautiers. It's kinda like the Social Security System, only the dead are funnelling their royalties to the living. I only pray that libraries continue to need to replace their copies of the demi-classics at a good clip. And in fact we're now offering a plan whereby for every stolen library book by, say, Robert W. Chambers or Zane Grey that a reader sends us, they earn points toward the purchase of a new Lloyd Biggle or Laurence Janifer title. Oh, wait a minute, they're dead now too. Make that Alan Rodgers and Mike Resnick."