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Archive for the ‘General Update’ Category

I like to post Planet Stories notes to this blog when the mood strikes. Take a look at the posting times of some of the entries here, and you’ll see that some of the posts come late at night, others over lunch breaks, and sometimes in the middle of the day. I launched this blog because the sorts of review round-ups, guest postings, and in-depth nerdery I post here isn’t really appropriate for the “official” Planet Stories blog, which is to say the formal blog at the Paizo Publishing website.

I love that website like a child, and post frequently to the message boards. We’ve had a great Planet Stories Requests thread going for a couple of years, and I love chatting with Paizo readers, be they gamers, fans of vintage science fiction, or random walk-ons from the deepest corners of the World Wide Web.

But the blog over on Paizo.com is a formal affair. One post a day. Every post goes through our editing department, and then gets sent to our web team for coding and posting. Everyone knows this is an inefficient, sub-standard way of doing things, but the truth is that a growing publishing company with only a couple of web guys has more pressing concerns related to sales, message boards, and the like than making the blog more user friendly and easier for the staff to use.

I’m writing this post, for example, from the San Jose airport, having just completed a very successful World Fantasy Convention. Were I to send it in to the boys at Paizo, it would be at least 48 hours before it got posted, and that’s only assuming we didn’t have more strategically important posts on the schedule and assuming the editors and web team had enough time to look it over and throw it online.

As it happens, I don’t always have that kind of patience.

In short, saying “Hey, check out what Joe Reviewer just said about Robots Have No Tails!” isn’t really an appropriate way of spending the company’s resources, and it’s frankly a much bigger pain than it ought to be. As a result, that sort of post goes here. For a long while my editors, James Sutter and Chris Carey, were doing a good job posting monthly Planet Stories entries to the official Paizo blog, but with the extremely successful launch of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the attendant ramp-up in our production across the board, they haven’t had much time to post about our novel line.

When it came time to discuss our newest release, A. Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, my beleaguered editors looked to me with puppy dog eyes, asking me to write a piece on the importance of the book and why I selected it for the line. Since this was one of my selections, since I knew I’d have some spare time during the convention, and since it’s virtually impossible to get me to shut up about Planet Stories once I get started, I of course agreed immediately to write the piece.

This is all a very long way of saying “My Ship of Ishtar post just went up on the official Paizo blog. You should read it.

Please forgive any typos in this unofficial blog update. It was written in an airport and hasn’t been proofed.

On the up side, it will post about three seconds after I hit the “publish” button…

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It’s been a while since I last posted here, due mostly to the HUGE release of Paizo’s Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook and the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary. That’s about a thousand pages of gaming material, and the initial releases of the Core Rulebook sold out before we even got it in our warehouse, and the Bestiary (which hits stores next week) is looking like a success of similar proportions. This has resulted in “that’s a good problem to have, but a problem none the less” becoming my official slogan of the last three months. Selling out huge print runs is indeed a problem, and involves all sorts of priority (and money) juggling and a laser focus.

In light of all of this, it’s a bit difficult to remember that Pathfinder is not Paizo’s only brand, and that we’ve got lots of great classic science fiction to publish as well. Sure, the craziness has delayed Planet Stories shipments a bit, but with the chaos largely behind us and the latest Planet Stories volume on its way to subscribers, it’s time to take another look at what’s been going on lately, and what’s coming down the pike.

PZO8005-Cover.inddThat new book I mentioned above is actually 85 years old this year, but it hasn’t been published for decades. I’m speaking of A. Merritt’s THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, surely one of the finest classics of fantasy ever published. Merritt was once counted among the finest fantasy writers in America, and while “in the know” readers recognize his talent and influence to this day, most of the modern audience has never heard of him.

That modern audience, I’m sorry to say, also includes book buyers, and while THE SHIP OF ISHTAR is probably the best-written and is certainly the best illustrated (thanks to 10 plates by the legendary Virgil Finlay rescued from two previous editions and collected here for the first time) Planet Stories book to date, it also has some of the lowest pre-orders on record. I expect reader reaction to be very positive on this title, and hold out hope for a “slow success,” but these things are not exactly going to be falling off off the shelves of your local bookstore, so ordering direct from Paizo.com may be your best bet to pick up this truly remarkable book.

Hey, the guys over at the Robert E. Howard blog The Cimmerian are really excited about THE SHIP OF ISHTAR, and they really know their stuff. Editor Deuce Richardson just called it “the best edition of this landmark fantasy novel in 60 years,” and I couldn’t agree more (admittedly, with a bit of bias).

Speaking of The Cimmerian, the site recently posted a glowing review of Leigh Brackett’s THE SWORD OF RHIANNON, one of my personal favorites from the 23 books Planet Stories has thus far released. Here’s what Deuce had to say about this one:

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Leigh hadn’t been in the writing game quite a full decade when she penned The Sword of Rhiannon and was yet to come into her full powers as an author. That said, Brackett had obviously found her own voice at that point, assimilating her influences and carving out her queendom in the science-fantasy field. The Sword of Rhiannon moves at a relentless pace and is filled to the brim with plot-twists and reversals of fortune. Carse is a “damaged hero” in the classic Brackett mold who hews and schemes his way across a gorgeously-imagined world. The Sword of Rhiannon was a milestone in Leigh Brackett’s career and is a novel well worth reading today.

I couldn’t agree more! Of course, if Leigh Brackett is your flavor of choice, Planet Stories has plenty of excellent adventure in store for you in the other four Brackett novels we’ve published to date. There’s the famous SKAITH TRILOGY (THE GINGER STAR, THE HOUNDS OF SKAITH, and THE REAVERS OF SKAITH), of course, all of which feature her influential and thoroughly awesome swordsman Eric John Stark of Mercury, one of science fantasy’s original outlaws.

PZO8006_180Prominent gamer Joe Kushner recently picked up the first Eric John Stark Planet Stories book, THE SECRET OF SINHARAT, which features two revised Stark novellas that originally appeared in the magazine Planet Stories in the 1940s. Kushner takes an interesting reviewing approach, riffing off of ideas found in the book and extrapolating how they might be used in an RPG campaign. I found this perspective quite interesting, and suspect you will too.

More has happened in the last month or so, but this post is already getting a little long in the tooth. I’ll be sure to come back soon!

Until then, don’t be a stranger. Please post a comment here on the blog. It’s nice to know someone is out there actually reading this stuff!

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Last weekend Pierce Watters and I hit the trail to promote Planet Stories (and other Paizo books) at Book Expo America, the largest book trade show in the country. After an ill-fated move to Los Angeles last year, the Expo has returned to its home at New York’s Javitt’s Center, where it will reside for the next several years. We arrived in New York on Wednesday and set up the Paizo booth on Thursday in anticipation of a Friday morning opening. Once again we were in the Diamond “Alley,” which is to say a row of several booths organized by our American book trade distributor, Diamond Book Distributors (or DBD, if you prefer).

BEA 2009: The Planet Stories Booth

BEA 2009: The Planet Stories Booth


Unlike in previous years, this time Paizo was Diamond’s only non-comic publisher at the show. We were joined by such luminaries as Marvel Comics, Dark Horse, IDW, and a passel of smaller comic, graphic novel, and manga publishers. Traffic was noticeably down this year (the economy and the impending collapse of Borders has really hurt the publishing industry as a whole), with many giant publishers scaling down their booths or electing not to display at the show at all. Just about everyone I spoke to was peeved about this, but there was more than enough stuff to see and do without them. To me, the giant multi-imprint booths are always pretty difficult to navigate. As a tiny booth in the Diamond Alley we often have as much or more of a noticeable presence than, say, Tor or Ace or Del Rey, who are often nearly impossible to find since they are all owned by huge publishing houses with gigantic booths.

As usual, we had piles and piles of free books on hand to give away to buyers, librarians, and the assorted book lovers who come to the show. We managed to give away about 400 books, including 80 copies of our newest Planet Stories release, Robots Have No Tails, by Henry Kuttner.

Reaction to the new look for Planet Stories was almost uniformly positive, with many buyers and attendees congratulating us on the pulpy look of the new books. The covers for both Robots and The Ship of Ishtar received a lot of kudos, and I think the new look will help the books find a bigger market than they have managed to date. We ran a huge library promotion at the show, and though I don’t know if any of the many buyers I spoke to about it will bite, but I remain hopeful.

Now that we’ve been displaying our line for three consecutive BEAs, we’re starting to develop a bit of a reputation. For the first time many retailers attending the show knew about Planet Stories and talked about stocking them in their stores. It’s nice to shift from “here’s our deal” to “nice to talk to you again,” and I see it as part of the ongoing process of making Planet Stories a sustainable, profitable business venture. Very few people (relatively speaking) open our books expecting to see comics, and it seemed like a near-majority of booth visitors were at least familiar with our company (though I heard some VERY interesting pronunciations of “Paizo”). Overall I feel like we’re getting a bigger and better reputation each year, and we’re becoming a more and more important part of Diamond’s overall operation, which is nice.

I finished two Planet Storiesesque books on the planes to and from New York: Judgment Night, by C. L. Moore, and A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I’ll have full reviews soon on my sister blog, Paperback Flash, as soon as I get back from my current trip to Minnesota and have some time to scan up the covers. The upshot is that Judgment Night is a really excellent book filled with the lush description common in Black God’s Kiss and Northwest of Earth, but with a much more active protagonist who prefers taking control of her own destiny rather than passively watching as interesting things happen around her. The opening chapters on a pleasure-moon are particularly noteworthy, as is the later destruction of that world in the final chapters of the book. Fun stuff, and very much in the vein of other material we’ve published.

There’s not much to say about A Princess of Mars that hasn’t already been said. It’s a far, far better book than I expected (I last read it years and years ago and had forgotten almost every detail), especially given that it was originally published in 1912. You can see how it inspired dozens of imitators, and reading John Carter’s first voyage to Mars is like seeing the blueprint for countless hacky ripoffs that have followed in the century since its original publication. There are flaws. The narrative relies WAY too much on coincidence, and by the time Carter randomly crash lands his airship at the feet of his old buddy Tars Tarkas near the end of the book, I’d just about hit my limit. Happily, the book was over very shortly thereafter, and I moved immediately on to The Gods of Mars, which I’m still working on.

More about all of this stuff as I scrape together some additional free time to blog about it.

Until then, subscribers should keep their eyes on their mailboxes and readers everywhere should keep their eyes on the local bookstores. Robots Have No Tails is on its way!

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PZO8005-Cover.inddWe’ve just implemented some changes to the Planet Stories imprint and to Planet Stories subscriptions that we believe will significantly increase the quality of the books in general and enhance the value of your subscription.

Starting with June’s Robots Have No Tails, by Henry Kuttner, Planet Stories subscribers will enjoy a 30% discount on new Planet Stories volumes (up from 20%). Additionally, subscribers will be able to order older Planet Stories books at a substantial 15% discount off the cover price as an added benefit of subscribing. We hope this new discount structure makes it easier for collectors to pick up volumes they may have missed from earlier in our series.

PZO8021TOC_90Also in June, Planet Stories will shift to a roughly bimonthly publication schedule, with six volumes scheduled per year into the future. We’re worried we may be producing Planet Stories books faster than subscribers are able to read them, so we want to slow things down a bit and give each book a chance to make a strong impact on the marketplace and in the minds of our faithful readers. We hope to increase the frequency in the future, but doing so will require significantly more subscribers than we have now and better penetration into local and national bookstores. We believe these changes will come with time, and reducing the frequency in the meantime gives us an opportunity to ensure that Planet Stories has the best possible foundation in the years to come during a very challenging period for the book publishing industry.

PZO8021p50-51_180The biggest change to the line will become apparent when we send out Robots Have No Tails in the upcoming weeks: We’ve completely revised the Planet Stories format to pack in more story for your buck and to include illustrations that harken back to the pulp era from which many of our stories are drawn. In the case of this summer’s The Ship of Ishtar, by A. Merritt, we’ve even negotiated rights to publish illustrations by noted pulp illustrator (and the best man at the wedding of C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner) VIRGIL FINLAY!

Those of you familiar with Finlay’s marvelous work will no doubt be jumping up and down with excitement. Those of you who have not encountered his work are in for a real treat. Other Planet Stories volumes will contain interior illustrations (many original to the Planet Stories line) as well, and we hope to set a new standard of design excellence with the series. We’ve posted sample page layouts on the Robots Have No Tails product page to give you a taste of what’s in store in the very near future.

PZO8005-Cover.inddThe very best way that you can help to ensure a bright future for Planet Stories is to subscribe, and to evangelize the line to your science fiction and fantasy-reading friends. We hope to double the number of Planet Stories subscribers in the next year, and we’re going to need all the help you can provide in order to achieve that goal.

We’re more excited about the Planet Stories line than we’ve ever been. In many ways, we’re finally publishing these stories in a format that does them justice and best matches our original plans for the line. We hope you love what’s in store, and that you continue to support Planet Stories.

It means the (strange adventures on other) worlds to us.

Sincerely,

Erik Mona
Publisher
Paizo Publishing, LLC

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While the “next week” big announcement for Planet Stories looks like it’s going to get shoved off another week until we can get the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game out the door, I did want to drop by with a number of updates regarding recent Planet Stories happenings that will interest readers of this blog.

Cover illustration by Andrew Hou

Cover illustration by Andrew Hou

1. I am very pleased to announce that the Planet Stories edition of Gary Gygax’s Infernal Sorcress has been nominated for the “Best Fiction” Origins Award. The nominees are decided upon by the Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts and Design (read: game designers and publishers) and retailers attending the recent GAMA Trade Show. The winners will be decided by the attendees of the Origins Game Fair in Columbus, Ohio in late June.

The Origins Awards are the longest-running awards in the game industry, and it is an honor to be nominated.

Infernal Sorceress came out last August, and got pretty good penetration into chain bookstores, but I’ve noticed that most stores have stopped restocking the book. If you have yet to read this epic fantasy novel—the very last written by D&D creator Gary Gygax—you can still pick it up from the Paizo.com online store.

paizod20_bigger2. We’ve been pulled into the Twitterverse! After resisting what seemed like a pointless service for months and months, we finally broke down and set up new Twitter accounts at @paizo (for mostly game-related postings) and @planetstoriesTM (for Planet Stories-related posts). Both accounts have already drawn an impressive number of followers, and we urge you to join in the conversation!

3. Senior Editor Pierce Watters is in his homeland of Texas this week. In between sales calls, he managed to have lunch with Michael Moorcock to discuss future Planet Stories projects. What could possibly come of that? Stay tuned for some unbelievably cool news on that front, true believers!

Original cover to 1952 Gnome Press edition.

Original cover to 1952 Gnome Press edition.

4. Henry Kuttner’s Robots Have No Tails went to the printer yesterday, and I predict that many jaws will hit the floor when readers finally get a look at this new edition of what may be some of Kuttner’s very finest work. Let’s just say that there are significant differences in presentation with this book when compared to previous Planet Stories editions. The “next week” announcement will cover these changes, so please do keep in touch.

Cover of 1948 Fantastic Novels edition.

Cover of 1948 Fantastic Novels edition.

With that book on the press, the editorial staff has moved on to A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, which will feature a fabulous new cover from artist Kieran Yanner and interior art by an artist near and dear to most fans of fantasy from the pulp era. I can’t be more specific until a certain contract has been signed, but let’s just say that A. Merritt’s fiction is at its best when accompanied by the work of a particular artist, and we will continue in that proud tradition with our new edition!

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5. Speaking of A. Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar, many thanks to the superlative Robert E. Howard-focused blog The Cimmerian for giving a shout-out to the forthcoming release of this pivotal work in the field of sword & sorcery. Of all the authors I’ve “discovered” since setting out to publish the best out-of-print fantasy in Planet Stories, Merritt is perhaps my favorite. His influence on the writing style of H. P. Lovecraft and C. L. Moore in particular is undeniable, and it is a shame that modern readers are not more familiar with his work. I’m trying to do something about that, and with the help of allies like The Cimmerian, I think there’s a good chance that old Abraham Merritt might just find a new audience.

Oh, and once we announce the interior art details, the folks at The Cimmerian will no doubt feel very self-assured with their declaration of the Planet Stories edition as “the best edition of The Ship of Ishtar between two covers ever“.

Oh, yes.

Much more to come!

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