Monday, October 9, 2023

Status Update • 9 October 2023 • Introducing UBLs

With STUPEFYING STORIES 26 now out the door and selling, we decided it was time for us to take a step back, take a deep breath, take a few days to look at what we’ve learned over the course of the past four months, and then to give some very serious thought to what we want to do going forward, through the rest of this year and on into 2024.

Three new books in three months: that was a heck of an accomplishment, yes, but is this pace sustainable? STUPEFYING STORIES 26 was, to be blunt, not merely a monster, but a full-blown kaiju, that left a massive trail of destruction in its wake and left us exhausted.

So, first lesson learned: no more double-issues. More double-issues would work only if we went to a bi-monthly or quarterly release schedule, and doing that would introduce a whole new set of problems, which I’ll get to in a minute. But before that: okay, if we make it a principle not to do any more double-issues—at least, not until we start thinking about putting together the 2024 horror special—then what do we do with all these great cyberpunk stories?

Our call for cyberpunk stories for STUPEFYING STORIES 27 resulted in an embarrassment of riches. We have far more good stories in-hand than we have the space or budget to publish in a single issue. So if doing a double-issue is out… What do we do? Reject stories that really deserve to be published? 

I’d hate to do that, especially since I specifically asked writers to send them to me.

Put together two issues, and release the second one sometime in Q1 2024? No, that would squander whatever momentum we might pick up from SS#27. 

Put together two issues and release them back-to-back in the same month? No, we’ve tried that before and it never works. Doing a mid-month issue is as much work as doing a double-issue, but sales of the trailing book in the pair are always very soft.

Hold on a moment. Science fiction is the literature of “what if.” So what if we were to do two cyberpunk-themed issues, release them back-to-back as issues 27 and 28, and slide “CLANKALOG” back to being issue 29, to release in January 2024?

Hmm. In the words of almost every heroic scientist character in almost every bad 1950s sci-fi monster movie, “It sounds crazy, but it might just work.” Given the quantity and quality of the submissions we’ve received for “CLANKALOG,” we could easily put together two back-to-back issues of nothing but hard sci-fi.

Hmm, again…


In the meantime, while we’ve made great progress in resolving our production issues, all this remains academic if we don’t do something to improve sales. Our latest books look good and are full of great stories—I’m particularly pleased with STUPEFYING STORIES 25—but unit sales remain disappointing. 

This may be a self-inflicted injury. When we rebooted STUPEFYING STORIES, I made the decision to “go wide” and try to get distribution onto as many different e-book platforms as possible. I did this in part because our absolute dependence on Amazon made me nervous, and in part because I’d heard there were vast numbers of readers out there who were hungry for high-quality e-books but who did not have or want Kindles. In particular, Kobo and Nook owners kept being mentioned as being under-served markets eager to find new SF/F e-books.

To reach out to these markets, we’ve started to code up and deploy UBLs: Universal Books Links. These are kind of fiddly and fussy to create and maintain, but the result—

—is one link to rule them all. No matter which e-book reader you prefer to use, you should be able to find the right e-book for your device or app through one of our UBLs. You should even be able to find print editions, as our understanding of how to code UBLs improves.

I will be watching the UBL metrics closely, though. If it turns out the majority of people are hitting the UBL just to click through to the Amazon Kindle page anyway…

Well, hmm. Again.



Finally, one of the things we learned from the aftermath of STUPEFYING STORIES 26 was actually a confirmation of something we’d suspected all along: when we take a break from posting new SHOWCASE stories—even if it’s only for a day or two—readership drops off dramatically and it takes a long time to come back up to pre-break levels. The solution at first seems obvious: don’t take a break from posting new SHOWCASE stories.

Except the problem with that, you see, is that we pay our SHOWCASE authors—and thus far our low-key attempts at crowd-funding aren’t working. We have a decent number of donors, but not nearly enough to begin to come close to covering the costs of keeping SHOWCASE going on a daily basis.

SHOWCASE was always intended to be a free taste; a sampler. An invitation: “If you like this story, perhaps you’ll consider buying one of our books.” But with support for our crowd-funding campaign remaining low and book sales remaining soft, perhaps our resources would be better spent on more conventional, in-your-face, and annoying advertising, rather than on publishing free stories online. Hmm again, for the third time.

What do you think?

—Bruce Bethke
Editor, Stupefying Stories

P.S. For more about our crowd-funding campaign, read this.

Or you could always buy a book.


Made in DNA said...

As both an author and a reader of Stupefying Stories, I am OVERWHELMED -- in a very excellent way. I've never done so much reading or writing. I feel like a part of the process and publication (if I may be so bold). However, I realize the maniac pace at which you may be hauling asterisk and wonder if you couldn't use a reminder of what you told me earlier this summer: health and family above all else. So, I love you, you wonderful fiction-father, you, but take care of your health. We are coming into the fall/winter months, and I wouldn't like you to fall ill, sir.

Karin Terebessy said...

Do other genres have a champion like you? Like, is there a romance or children’s book counterpart to you, devoting this much to other writers? I don’t have any actual practical advice or feedback. But what I always say to my daughters when they meet challenges of this nature is may we always be burdened with problems such as this.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Good question. I imagine there are champions for all sorts of genres, hobbies, beliefs, etc.