Wednesday, July 10, 2024

The Never-ending FAQ: calling all Friends of Stupefying Stories


My inbox was overflowing this morning, so now that I’ve dealt with the most urgent crises, let’s get straight to your questions and comments.

Q: I have a self-published collection of my stories out on Amazon and it’s not selling well. Would you be interested in taking it over as a Rampant Loon Press title? 

A: Once a book has been published, “taking it over” isn’t simple. Basically you have to unpublish your version, and then we have to repackage your book—at the very least, to assign it new ISBNs—and then create a new listing for it and publish it under our imprint. In the process we’ll lose whatever reviews, ratings, and Amazon rankings your book may have (which may not necessarily be a bad thing), and any links to your book that you may have published or shared will become invalid. We also have to go through the whole contract process, because from time to time Amazon will demand that we produce a signed contract to prove that we have the rights to publish a book, especially if it’s been previously published by someone else.

And this doesn’t even begin to touch on the issue of cover art copyrights.

[Sidebar: Re-publishing a book that was previously published by another publisher and then reverted can be a real headache. If you sign a contract with a publisher, make sure it includes a rights reversion clause. If your book goes out of print, make absolutely sure you get a rights reversion letter from the publisher right away. Publishers can and do go out of business without warning all the time, and if your book goes out of print because the publisher went out of business without clarifying your copyright ownership situation, good luck placing your orphaned book with anyone else.]

C: After thinking it over, though, we decided that a flat “no” wasn’t the right answer. We do like the author who asked that question. We’ve published a lot of the author’s work. We want to help promote the book. So…

A: Here’s the deal. If you take a look at our online bookshop

Scroll down a bit until you find the section labeled Henry Vogel: The Private Collection

These are books Henry self-published during a period when he thought he wanted to try going off in a new direction. We have no financial interest in these books; we include them here purely as a professional courtesy to Henry.

But this got us thinking: why not expand on the idea?

C: So that’s what we want to do: add a Friends of Stupefying Stories section to our online bookshop. The intention here is to present a curated list of books by authors we know and whose work we recommend. 

A: Ergo, if you have a self-published, small-press—or what the heck, major publisher—book out there, and you’d like us to consider adding it to the F.O.S.S. list, let us know. Send your pitch and your Amazon link to our submissions email address. 
There will be some level of curation involved, but exactly what that will be, we haven’t yet decided. We don’t want to have any financial interest in your book. We just ask that, if we do accept your book for inclusion on the F.O.S.S. list, you do us the reciprocal courtesy of helping to cross-promote Stupefying Stories.

Any more questions on this topic? Okay, then back to the mailbag.

Q: I’m concerned about the issues of diversity and representation in the authors you choose to publish.

A: I appreciate your concern, but I’m not worried about it. I find that if we just focus on selecting the best stories we can find, we usually end up with a nicely balanced mix of authors and viewpoints. Sometimes a call for a particular sub-genre of stories will result in getting submissions that skew one way or another—for example, if we were to put out a call for futuristic military SF, I’d expect the resulting submissions to come in overwhelmingly from male* writers.

[Like James Tiptree Jr.?**]

But there’s the other part of issue. Given the prevalence of pseudonyms and gender fluidity in the SF/F writing population, if you were to go down a publication’s table of contents and make assumptions based on the apparent genders and ethnicities of the listed contributors, you’d be doing yourself a disservice. We’ve published stories by female authors who write under male pseudonyms, persons of color who write under remarkably bland and Anglo-sounding names, transgender women who write under their masculine birth names, authors who write under intentionally gender-indeterminate names and faux biographies…

The list goes on and on, and on some more, and in the slush pile, we’ve seen even more variations, including some that had us scratching our heads. (“Is that a name or a model designation?”) The point is, we focus on the story, first. That’s what matters. And thus far, we’ve found that if we focus on the story first, we usually end up with a nice mix of different voices and viewpoints.


* And 90% of them would get instant rejections, because they would be either Call of Duty or Warhammer 40K fanfic written by keyboard commandos who couldn’t handle a blunt butter knife without hurting themselves.

** Er, you do know that “James Tiptree Jr.” was actually Alice Sheldon, right? I refuse to disclose the real name of any living writer without their permission, because the Sanctity of the Pseudonym is second only to that of the confessional, but Sheldon was outed in 1977 and died in 1987, so I think it’s safe to disclose this now.


Q: I’ve been reading Stupefying Stories, and I’m concerned about the tone. Many of the stories are dark and strange. Some are sad.

A: I can’t say I’m surprised. We launched Stupefying Stories about a year after I had to identify my eldest daughter’s body in a mortuary. My wife, Karen, was diagnosed with cancer between the time we signed off on the galleys for the first issue and the time the bindery delivered the finished books. The rise, fall, and rise again (and again, and again) of Stupefying Stories has always been very deeply intertwined with Karen’s battle with cancer.

I have never been the most sunny and optimistic of people, but no doubt these events in my personal life had some bearing on what I chose to publish.

[Sidebar: To get some idea of what Karen was like, read “Lucky,” by Russell C. Connor, and know that she picked this one out of the slush pile and insisted we had to publish it.]

But, that said…

Science fiction has always been the literature of darkness, dystopia, alien invasions and secular eschatons. It’s really hard to do optimistic SF scenarios without crossing the line into utopian fantasy. The problem in doing so is that utopias are inherently boring. If everyone is happy, healthy, comfortably well-off and well-adjusted—where’s the conflict? Where’s the drama? Where’s the story?

We humans seem to distrust happiness. We like our utopias with a seamy underbelly, a little rust, rot, and corruption, and a dark secret or two. Sure, you can live in a perfect world of total hedonistic pleasure—

But only until you turn 30.

I think this is why I liked “Deep Fake 37” so much. How do you get to Utopia?

Maybe you don’t need to. Maybe all you need to do is lie to the proles and convince them they’re already living in Utopia.

[Sidebar: For further discussion on the subject of humans and their relationship with satisfaction and happiness, I recommend reading “That Hell-Bound Train,” by Robert Bloch.]

Q: I read on your Wikipedia page that I can buy a copy of your novel, Cyberpunk, directly from you. How do I do this? 

A: Really? It says that? 

Okay, first off, to repeat, I am not responsible for whatever it says about me on other people’s websites, including Wikipedia. I used to try to correct the occasional really egregious stupidity that showed up there, but gave up after one too many run-ins with their editorial gestapo. (“You don’t have the standing to make corrections to this article.” “But it’s about me!” “You need to provide citations from reputable sources.” “I was there! I am the primary source!” “That’s not good enough.”) 


Okay, and now that I’ve got that out of my system:

After we recovered the rights to Cyberpunk from Baen, which took me years and cost me thousands of dollars, I did put a PDF of the manuscript out on my website under a misguided shareware license. I say “misguided” because the file included this language:

If you enjoy this book and want to support this experiment in electronic publishing, please send a check or money order for $5 (USD) to:  [mailing address]

If you do not have access to US funds, please send the approximate equivalent in your local currency. Prizes will be awarded for the most colorful, exotic, and/or amusing bank notes.

It was that last paragraph that was the killer. Thanks to that paragraph I received a lifetime supply of utterly worthless Saddam Hussein-era Iraqi dinars. It seems that after the Gulf War, people brought those things back to the U.S. by the duffel bag-full, and thought it was hilarious to share them.


The plan was always that eventually Rampant Loon Press would release “Cyberpunk” and Cyberpunk Revisited, which was to consist of the “official” version of the original short story, the complete text of the Baen-damaged manuscript, and a lot of content gleaned from more than thirty years of interviews. I keep putting off finishing that book, though, because… reasons. Trust me, they’re good reasons.

But since it still says on Wikipedia that you can buy a copy of the manuscript directly from me: what do you think? Should we make this some kind of premium, to be sent to folks who donate to support Stupefying Stories? (“And at the thirty dollar level, you get the manuscript and the tote bag!”)

P.S. Would you humor me and click this button? You don’t need to make a donation. Just tell me whether or not the button works. I’ve received conflicting reports. It should come up looking like this.

If it doesn’t, please let me know.

Q: Speaking of Cyberpunk

A: Okay, I’m probably going to regret this. For a long time we had a regular column on this website, Ask Dr. Cyberpunk, which ran for years, until I burned out on writing it. But as long as I’m trying to overcome the inertia and finish the @#(*$&#$!!! book, I’m going to open up the lines one more time.

If you have a question you really want to ask me about “Cyberpunk,” Cyberpunk, Headcrash, or the writing of any or all of the above, this is your big chance. 


If you ask a particularly good question, I’ll give you a shout-out in the book.

Until next week,

Bruce Bethke

P.S. And check out some of our books, okay?


Richie said...

Hey Bruce, the button worked fine for me on PC with a Google Chrome browser.

I'd be interested in having my self-published novel, "How to Sell the Stars" being part of your cross-promotion scheme. Shall I send you an email?


Richard J. Dowling

Karin Terebessy said...

The donate button worked just fine on my iPhone. Also, adding to the discussion about the inherently dark nature of science fiction, I think our genre asks readers to reconsider what ‘hopeful’ means. Sometimes our saddened and horrified responses to a narrative IS the hope - that WE at least still have our humanity.

Invictus said...

Button works fine for me on a Windows 11 system running Firefox. I'd certainly like to be thrown in with the FOSS; between my two collections (one published, one soon to be), there are three stories that originally appeared in SS, so it makes sense to me. To answer the repeated question in Verhoeven's take on Starship Troopers, yes, I would like to know more...


~brb said...

@Brandon - Send your pitch and your link to our submissions email address.