I am frequently possessed by the irrational fear that technology has made our lives worse and not better. Yes, Twitter and Facebook are bringing us ever closer to the inevitable robot uprising. (Repent! The end is nigh!) And yet, occasionally something occurs to remind me that we can use our powers for good. Online publishing is one of those things (which is why I blog for this site, after all). More good reads to more people more easily—this is what our ancestors worked so hard for us to achieve, kids.
The folks at BookViewCafe.com are relatively new among the clever individuals using the Interwebs for (gasp) cultural enrichment, by offering free literature in all shapes and sizes. The website, which launched in November, has sizeable sections for science fiction, fantasy and speculative fiction. BVC’s 20-odd authors offer serialized novels, short stories and even poetry, by gum. The site includes heavyweights like Ursula Le Guin and Vonda McIntyre, and they’re exclusive: right now they’re not accepting new members, but adding applicants to a waitlist. Think of it as an online collective/bookstore made up of professional, published authors, most of whom write SF/F. It’s a place where established authors hope to build a Web presence, promote their printed works, and connect directly with readers.
I caught up with some of these word peddlers on Sunday at WritersChatroom.com, where they discussed their work, tips for new writers, and the future of the printed word. In attendance were: Maya Bohnjoff, Brenda Clough, Laura Anne Gilman, Sue Lange, Nancy Jane Moore, Pati Nagle and Sarah Zettel.
BVC is not quite like other e-book Web sites. As Moore writes, “We’re different because we’re writers controlling the publishing process. Other e-book sites are either publishers of e-books, or e-book bookstores.” Clough added, “As Marx advised, we own the means of our production.” This collective format enables the authors to define their own work and how they’re going to release it, and allows them to respond quickly and directly to reader feedback, members agreed. This is how, for example, BVC ended up with separate sections for science fiction and speculative fiction. Authors label their work as they see fit, rather than, as one participant put it, being typecast by their publishers.
The great thing about BVC is you can get hard-to-find works from authors you know. Much of what BVC offers are works that have been published but are out of print, although they also have never-before-seen content. Feast your eyes on a Le Guin screenplay, or Sue Lange’s serialized Textile Planet (complete with sound effects), or Anne Harris’ oddly kinky “Still Life with Boobs” (for adults only). Currently everything is free, but they do plan to offer additional paid content beginning in a few weeks, both by subscription and one-off purchases.
Sure, there’s room for improvement, and BVC knows it. Right now their format options are limited. You can get some BVC content for iPod and iPhone, but no PDFs or ePub for other handheld users. But patience is a virtue: As they expand the site for paid content, they plan to add more formats and more members.
Speaking of which, if you want to join the fun, e-mail Book View Cafe your C.V. When the site staffers are ready to add new members, the current members will vote. (Although one-on-one combat was proposed during the chat as an alternative.) BVC grew out of a women writers’ newsletter, so all the current members are women, but don’t let that stop you from applying if you’re low on estrogen. Sarah Zettel assured the room that, “We will be letting the boys play in the future.”
Better living through online publishing. There’s hope for the human race yet. Now if we could only get more e-books out of Tor.com …