Nov 23 2009 3:59pm

Barbara Hambly sequel stories to download for $5

One of my favourite fantasy writers, Barbara Hambly, has written some stories set in universes that the publishers cancelled and is placing them on her webpage as downloadable PDFs for $5 each. There are a couple of Benjamin January stories and a 15,000 word Antryg novella.

She says:

This is an experiment. As pretty much everybody knows, fantasy serieses get dumped by publishers—and as pretty much every author knows, other publishers generally do not fall over themselves to pick up these abandoned serieses.

That doesn’t mean the author doesn’t want to write about those people anymore, or that fans of the series are not longer interested.

These people are very real to me. I like them.

I also like being able to pay my medical insurance.

Thus—at the urging of those who’ve loved my old Del Rey fantasy serieses—I will continue to write original short stories about the people and places in those serieses: Antryg and Joanna, Sun Wolf and Starhawk, the gang at the Keep of Dare, John and Jenny, the Sisters of the Raven… anyone whom I’ve written about in previous books.

I love the Antryg books, The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage and Dog Wizard in which an evil wizard is trying to make a copy of his brain run in CP/M. The world is on the cusp of an industrial revolution, with connections to our world (in the eighties) and very interesting magic. I’m also very fond of the Benjamin January mysteries and most especially the Sun Wolf and Starhawk books—The Ladies of Mandrigyn and sequels. If you are also interested, you may well want to check this out.

I think this is an interesting experiment in the set of things people are doing with fiction online—are people going to pay $5 for individual PDF stories? The economics is interesting. 

If she’d sold a 15,000 word original fantasy novella to a magazine she’d have received somewhere between $750 (5 cents/word) and $3750 (25 cents/word) for it. You’d need 150 people paying to better that first figure, and 750 to better the last. It’s not hard to imagine far more than 750 people paying $5 for a story in a series they enjoy. There are also a lot of people who wouldn’t pay that—a whole novel is only about $10 in paperback, or in an electronic edition, and a PDF is an unwieldy thing to be locked into. But she doesn’t need all the people in the world to download it, if she gets a thousand she’ll be well ahead. This goes against the general trend of putting things online free as free samples, but she’s also doing it with sequels to existing series. I really have no idea how well this is likely to work. I suspect a number of authors will be watching with interest.

It might be worth noting here that Hambly’s fantasy worlds always have very designed economies.

Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

M. Ellis
1. M. Ellis
My only issue with the idea is that they're PDFs rather than epubs. Assuming there's no DRM on either the PDF or the epub file, the latter is a much more flexible format for online reading.

And I'm quite sure that our family will be purchasing these, since my wife is a big Hambly fan. (And I might go re-read The Silent Tower trilogy now.)
Jo Walton
2. bluejo
I agree: I don't like PDFs either. But I don't know how much more complicated it would be for Ms Hambly to put the stories in everyone's favourite format.
M. Ellis
3. M. Ellis
Wouldn't surprise me if she's releasing PDFs because it's the simplest thing for her to do (print PDF works in her current writing software or with a simple addon), whereas an epub builder something she doesn't want to deal with.

I keep being surprised that nobody's written the 'cannonical writing lifecycle site for authors', sort of the ultimate cat vacuuming exercise of choosing an editor, durable document format, content and formatting language, revision control system, output selection, and backup and recovery. Then again, most working writers are either perfectly able to choose that for themselves (say, Charlie Stross), or more interested in actually writing than playing sysadmin.

I would be curious to see what the reaction would be to a netbook-friendly package based on LaTex with sffms, Make, CVS/git, and some sort of TeX2epub/TeX2word/TeX2pdf setup to do output formatting. Not sure how user-friendly it could be made, but it would be free, open, durable (my wife's high school papers written in Tex are still perfectly usable, mine written in some ancient verison of Wordstar not so much), output just about everything from a single, human-legible source file, and the documents easily backed up to flash/the net/whetever.
Paul Howard
4. DrakBibliophile
I just purchased "Firemaggot" (the Antryg short). If you have Mobipocket Creator (the advanced version), you can convert the PDF to a Mobipocket version. Oh, Mobipocket Creator is free.
5. Hapalochlaena
Calibre will also do a quick-and-dirty conversion to most formats, but if the PDF has the author name, title and page numbers at the top of each page, you'll probably want to edit them out. My suggestion:

1. Convert PDF to EPUB in Calibre.
2. Remove the header things with Sigil and save as EPUB (Sigil has its own file format).

Both programs are free.
M. Ellis
6. Bryce Ellicott
Sounds like a very interesting experiment. I am one of those fans and writers who gets enmeshed in a universe and very caught up with characters. I'm quite likely to make small $5 purchases to continue to enjoy the people and places I've come to love. I think this will work well for an established writer, if she can get the word out. But new authors (as noted by the self-publishing quick-and-dirty industry) would really struggle to make this break even.
One Writer's Mind
Clifton Royston
7. CliftonR
Oh hell yeah. Antryg Windrose is one of my favorites, surely one of the most engaging and likable characters in fantasy. I'll also happily read anything she writes about Sun Wolf and Starhawk. (Not sure I'd characterize them as engaging and likable, given their past, but well worth reading about.)
M. Ellis
8. Chriscot
I am *SO* pumped to hear about this!! Thanks so much for publicizing it! I used to check Barbara Hambly's website and blog very frequently but the news about series I liked was always depressing, so I've gotten out of the habit! This is something I will do immediately...yes!

Oh, and from the totally non-techie perspective...I'm glad it's a PDF. I've got Adobe, as does most everybody else...I'm pleased not to be forced into getting a program I don't already have (facing the several hours download time that would come with it, given my slow internet connection) in order to read it. That's the main reason I didn't buy the Gathering Storm prologue and chapter two.

Anyway, it strikes me that even if it's not someone's favorite format, it's the most widely accessible.

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