Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ongoing Correspondence with Jacqueline Lichtenberg


I find it very interesting that Jacqueline Lichtenberg has responded once more to a post of mine with respect to her Sime-Gen novels. I shouldn't be surprised, however. It actually is very much 'in character' for her to do so. She always has reached out to her readers and other potential writers alike, not so much in order to promote her own work but to inspire others to write and create, to JOIN her in her creative efforts.

I am copying her response below, but I will answer her question here. I believe in the power of the printed word and if anything, the internet and the technology of the personal computer (and related systems) has empowered writers in a way that hitherto was impossible to all but the rich or those with a source of funding.

Book publishing no longer is monopolised by a few firms who specialise in printing and distribution. ANY ONE can publish a printed book now. 'Printed book' in this context should not conjure forth visions of pages organised in an amateurish binder similar to that created for a thesis at University. I am speaking now of REAL books, with proper bindings, some of which are well-illustrated.

The 'Kindle' is an interesting toy, in my view. Like any other system of its nature, it will become outdated quickly. The owners either will be forced to update frequently or actually buy a new system within a year or two. I have considerable experience with gaming platforms and have seen how the GBA was replaced with the GBA SP, then the DS, the DS Lite and now, the DSI. Nintendo, who created ALL those systems, has had the grace and decency to make them 'backwards-compatible' until now. With the DSI, finally, they have broken with their own tradition, sad to say. Any one who buys the new system will not be able to play old games on it.

Individuals who are not involved with gaming may have had comparable experiences with their IPods or Zunes. Constant updates and 'improvements' force consumers to purchase new versions of these systems.

The Kindle is a transient platform. A book is as permanent a format as we have in our society, apart from carving words on stone or marble.

I worked in the field of book publishing in London and in the States, but writing game guides has taught me something else about contemporary publishing. We who use the internet constantly tend to exaggerate its sphere of influence. Having written over 100 game guides published by IGN (Fox) on the internet, I sometimes lose sight of the limited reach that these guides have. Yes, I have readers from every continent and received hundreds of emails daily from gamers, but these players only represent a percentage of the total number of gamers. That is why printed 'Official Strategy Guides' continue to sell. Furthermore, the printed guides will outlast all of the internet guides I have written unless some one converts my guides to print.

It is easy enough to tell some one to download and print a document from the internet, but that requires a printer, paper, ink AND time. Nonetheless, people tend to prefer printed words to the words displayed on a screen. Furthermore, at the end of the day, I believe that any one who wishes to have a permanent copy of a book would prefer to pay for that book to be bound properly.

That having been said, I know quite a few writers who have published their own books in professional format. Amazon and other outlets actually organise the printing and distribution. The writer simply sends the material in the format desired. I would urge Jacqueline Lichtenberg to consider something of this sort rather than relying upon the Kindle or any internet link that offers a download to prospective readers.

Yes, computers in the home are far more prevalent than they were a decade ago, but a large percentage of those who have computers at home use them only for email or for their accounting. They do not download books. Many of them wouldn't have a clue how to go about it.

As far as the 'next generation' of readers is concerned, computer literacy is taught in every school now, but all of the teenagers I know read printed books and use their computers for IMs or school research. They do not WANT to read books on a screen...

One need only recall the incredible success of the very lengthy Harry Potter novels with readers of ALL ages to realise that printed books STILL are a desirable commodity. Children, teens and adults queued up outside bookshops hours before a new Harry Potter novel was due for release in order to buy a copy on the very first day. They were hardcover, expensive novels and they SOLD. In similar fashion, the 'Twilight' series by Stephenie Meyer and Erin Hunter's 'Warriors' series have sold very well in hardcover form.

Use the internet by all means to promote the Sime-Gen series and network with other writers, but find a way to PRINT the books at a reasonable cost. If you do not wish to organise that aspect of it yourself, I would expect that there are countless writers' groups and small publishers who would be more than pleased to assist in this project if the behemoths of the book-publishing world are too short-sighted to involve themselves. The reputation of any small publishing venture would be enhanced greatly if it were to produce a new edition of these Classics as well as new novels in the series.

Finally, if you could sell a concept for a film based on the Sime-Gen series, the world would be your oyster in terms of re-publishing existing novels as well as publishing new novels. The time really is right for a Sime-Gen film but you should be in charge of the screenplay. Of existing novels, I would recommend 'First Channel' as the book most likely to capture the interest of a general audience. Of course, in writing for the screen, you could combine aspects of more than one novel or even create something entirely new.

In a film, the scientific aspects of the mutation could be explored (as you probably would like them to be!) without becoming tedious to non-scientific minds and at this point in history, technological advances in computer-generated images as well as the ability to create almost ANYTHING in a realistic fashion would allow the mutation to be presented very elegantly on the screen. The Sime tentacles would look REAL and the entire selyn exchange could be intensely erotic and romantic... as well as utterly terrifying when the Gen is unwilling. In fact, the film could begin with a scene of that... quite shocking, attention-grabbing... and then, as the story unwinds, selyn exchange would be shown in its most powerful positive manifestations.
As with the book publishing industry, film no longer is the monopoly of a few. Although I believe you could sell a good screenplay to any of the 'big name' producers, there are a host of talented independent film makers who could do justice to your work as well.

And then, of course, there is the potential for a game based on the series...

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

Oh, YES we have MUCH new Sime~Gen to present - but where and from whom and in which formats, that's the question.

Freyashawk wrote:
Had Jacqueline Lichtenberg asked me the question I wished she had posed, I would have answered that I would welcome new novels about the period prior to Zeor's founding, the period when the mutation still had not been studied scientifically, when Simes viewed Gens unconditionally as a source of sustenance and Gens lived in terror of the 'unnatural' Simes. This dynamic, I believe, would appeal strongly to a new generation of teens, the same readership that follows Stephanie Meyer's saga of Edward and Bella with almost obsessive interest.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg: And that is exactly where 2 new novels and a screenplay are set - WAY before things get technically complex.

On the divided focus between Jean and me, Jean's degree is in English and mine is in Chemistry.

Sime~Gen is an example of the modern breed of "mixed genres" that is emerging, and it is a "universe." My ambition is to have a novel in the S~G Universe that can be identified as belonging to each genre. One unpublished by Jean is a Romance which would today be classed as a Futuristic Romance - maybe a bit on the Paranormal side.

I've completed the novel on the years before the founding of the House of Zeor (when they knew almost nothing and had no customs to speak of). It's got a lot of Paranormal in it at the insistence of the publisher who commissioned it (then went bankrupt owing us tons of money).

The unpublished material is sitting there. We have a number of options available, but would love to know what you and your readers would prefer - paper, ebook, downloadable, fictionwise, amazon Kindle, some other publisher. I hadn't considered CD delivery, so thanks for mentioning that.

Paper is possible, but expensive. What is your price-point for a paper copy?

Collectors drove the price of my Vampire Romance, THOSE OF MY BLOOD and it's companion volume DREAMSPY over $400 before a publisher picked it up for a new Trade paper edition. Collectors have had a copy of just one of the volumes the Mass Market trilogy DUSHAU over $70 - but now you can get it on Kindle. And read free chapters (see

I've been watching the Amazon price of the Sime~Gen omnibus THE UNITY TRILOGY climb.

We ought to make a move on this soon, but in which direction? We need input.

And thanks for the flattering comparisons. I actually like TWILIGHT!!!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


Fleming said...

I agree with you about the desirability of published, paper books. Not only do I have a sentimental attachment to the feel and scent of old-fashioned books, but I also am among the many you mention who simply don't like to read books on an electronic screen. I'm happy to read your excellent game guides online, but for a novel I would take a paper book over Kindle.

Authorhouse and Exlibris Publishing, and Trafford, are "self-publishing" businesses that I've heard of, but don't have enough knowledge to recommend any. For me, actually printing and binding a book at home would be beyond me.

Mariner said...

If you’re looking for self publishing service recommendations, I’ve had good experiences with Createspace. Their prices seemed competitive with any of the other Print On Demand and their service was always great (their books look good and they get the product out on time.) While POD prices work on small runs that would not make cost effective minimums for other publishing approaches, it still has a hard time against the cost of a large conventional print run.
My books and other writers I know publishing on Createspace are usually retailing their books around $17 to $20. Everyone is probably aware of what’s been happening to book prices in the mass merchandisers in the U.S. A new writer at $18.99 is competing with John Grisham at $9.99. It just comes down to offering something John Grisham can’t.

The Kindle certainly does have its fans out there but the percentages still show it’s a tiny fraction of readers in general. I like the display, doesn’t require backlight but they’re still way too expensive for me. Every year the Kindle seems to get more expensive and advanced. If they want to sell me one they need to go the other direction. A device to read books needs to be simple and cheap (I don’t need my book to have wi-fi). If they got the price down to $80 dollars, I’d consider one. If they got it down to $50 dollars I’d buy one. But I don’t think the printed page is in any imminent danger.

I don’t think anyone has yet asked an author to sign their Kindle but I could be wrong. There is something a little transcendent about an actual book versus an e-format because it’s tangible. I’ve often harangued Freyashawk about working with me on compiling a printed anthology of her web writings. :)


Freyashawk said...

Thank you, Fleming and Mariner, for your thoughtful responses to these questions. If you read this, Jacqueline, perhaps you would be interested in a little background information on the two writers. Fleming Lee is a published writer who worked with Leslie Charteris on the 'Saint' series as well as writing his own wonderful books for Children. He is a consummate professional with a superb intellect linked to a marvelous sense of humour.
'Mariner' is a talented writer named John Stanton whose incredible creative energy in every direction never ceases to amaze me. He has helped to organise a consortium of writers who have created their own publishing house. Actually, he could describe this better to you. You may be interested in following the link at the end of his comment.

I always feel that my life is enriched by the friendship of both of these individuals.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg said...

Thank you for the quick history on the two comments to this post about the value of paper books persisting.

Considering the size of the manuscript, I think both the Sime~Gen books that haven't yet been published would have to cost maybe $30 or $35 through They were planned to sell for $25 but the POD method wouldn't allow that.

One of them consists of a novel and a novella and a few short stories, that could be published separately but actually need to be read together. The other is a very long novel set during the founding of the House of Zeor.

We could also provide e-book so people could see if they want to buy the expensive edition.

These books are designed to be better on second or third reading.

One day a publisher with multiple capacity may step up to solve these problems. We had a great contract with Meisha Merlin, but their business model which was ideal for Sime~Gen (local SF specialty stores & Cons) collapsed so fast they went bankrupt before they knew what was happening.

So we are on the market with Sime~Gen reprints plus new material that's ready to go to editing. However, as has been pointed out here, there may be other viable ways to provide that access.

You mentioned distributing on CD, so in that case which electronic file format would be preferred? PDF?

Remember, making something available in electronic format does not preclude providing POD access too -- provided the electronic format was pre-chosen to be compatible with the POD provider's system.

So as many other SF writers have done, we COULD provide e&POD copies for Sime~Gen - but each one has a cost. Publishers actually earn their profits, you know.

Oh, and yes, several groups of gamers with professional or high amateur credentials in the field have attempted to make a S~G game, but it hasn't happened yet. It is something we would like to see!

Jacqueline Lichtenberg For current availability. - for all about Sime~Gen

jean said...

People who think ebooks are inconsequential and want anything called a book to be printed on paper are missing the invaluable function of the ebook in publishing today.

Books were very expensive items until the beginning of the 20th century. In the 19th century people rented books the way we rented videos until very recently--there were no free public libraries until the early 20th century. People would purchase only a few precious books that they wanted to read over and over, and books stayed in print long enough that they could do so.

Then in the early 20th century publishers had a brainstorm: leave the expensive leather bindings off and sell the books' interiors with the pages loosely sewn together. People could purchase, read, keep, or give away these "paperback" books. But if they found one that they wanted to read over and over, maybe pass down to later generations, they could pay to have it bound.

Then came the "dime novel," printed on cheap paper and never intended to be leatherbound. During the Depression it evolved into the paperback as we know it--a throwaway book that can be read perhaps half a dozen times before it falls apart. At the same time, free public libraries grew up across the U.S.

Do you see a pattern? Throughout the history of printed books (that is, 15th century and onward with the rise of literacy), people had means of reading books before they decided to buy permanent copies. But after WWII the publishing industry, in search of greater profit, turned the centuries-old system on its ear.

They began to put expensive hardcover books out first, following with cheap paperback editions only if the hardcovers sold enough copies that they thought they could make a big profit on such paper editions. Many works never became paperbacks, so that if people discovered them in libraries once they were out of print, there was no way for them to obtain copies they could own. Publishers began publishing only a few hundred hardcover copies beyond the ones to fill their library subscriptions (another profit scheme).

That system prevailed during the second half of the 20th Century: there was no longer a means of obtaining a permanent copy of a book AFTER reading and loving it. Direct-to-paperback books did not go on to become hardcovers, and people who discovered and loved a book after its hardcover edition had sold out could either not purchase it at all or could purchase only a disposable paperback.

The ebook has restored the natural order. For a small fee, a reader can read an ebook. If the reader falls in love with the book, s/he can order a POD, a trade paperback on good paper that will certainly last through many more readings than a traditional paperback. We are back to reading either a library version or a cheap version first, and then purchasing the expensive version only if it is worth it to us.

THAT is the thus far unrecognized value of the ebook: it restores the natural way for readers to buy books. The only difference is that it's not possible to get a really good hardcover via POD. But on the other hand, PODs are likely to remain available indefinitely, so if one is read until it falls apart, it can be replaced.

So don't scorn the ebook! It's one of the most important inventions in the history of publishing.

Jean Lorrah
Jacqueline's collaborator and author of BLOOD WILL TELL, which went exactly the path described above from ebook to paperbook and now to POD available at Amazon

Freyashawk said...

Jean, thank you for visiting my site and for your well-argued essay on the value of the e-book. You are correct, of course, to argue against complete dismissal of the 'e-book' as a valuable resource. As a matter of fact, the internet has created a revolution in almost every aspect of our lives, including politics. As some one who was extremely active in political journalism during the past two decades, I witnessed the 'equalising' effect of the internet first-hand. With virtually no funding and in concert with individuals living in nations that prohibited 'freedom of expression', we were able to reach the entire WORLD and did!

On the other hand, one cannot minimise the importance of the audience that is not computer-literate, whose contact with the media in terms of literature is restricted to printed books or journals. That was the point I was trying to make. When I wrote an Official Strategy Guide for print by a subsidiary of Penguin, I was told that it had to be a different sort of Guide from my internet guides. The internet guides are far more sophisticated in a sense, as they have a global audience very-much aware of the international history of any game and the various nuances and mutations that occur when, for example, the same game is produced successively in Japan, North America and then Europe. Changes always ARE made in each version and my internet Guides must compare the different versions and give directions for each.

In the printed Official Strategy Guides, however, the main audience purchases the game without knowing its complicated history and without needed to know about it. The printed guide exists in its own sphere of reference. Regrettably, as with the Sime-Gen novels, the printed guide soon is 'out-of-print' as book publishers prefer to fund new projects and couldn't care less about keeping game guides in print longer than six months. I therefore prefer to publish on the internet, for all the players who may not be able to afford to buy the game itself within the brief period that the print publisher allots to the Official Guide.

Yes, the internet is an invaluable resource for those who haven't the money to purchase hard copy or haven't access to a retailer selling that hard copy. I tend to be opposed to capitalism and the value of the internet in terms of undermining the monopolies of huge corporations and the strangleholds even of governments who portray themselves as 'democratic' is incalculable. Nonetheless, the value of the printed page cannot be underestimated either. As I wrote initially, those of us who use the 'internet highway' on a daily basis easily can lose sight of the vast majority who do not use computers at all or solely for keeping their accounts and fielding the occasional email (if they can remember how to do THAT).

My last word on this, however, would be the same as my first in this particular comment: You wrote a very compelling essay and you are absolutely correct.

Freyashawk said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Freyashawk said...

Finally, it is the 'Kindle', not the 'e-book' in general that I believe is less consequential than all the Amazon hype. The project Gutenberg is an amazing, fabulous effort to preserve and recover literature that is out-of-print, whether universally designated 'Classics' or obscure works of interest only to 'niche' audiences. I applaud it and the incredible efforts of those who typed thousands of pages of text in order to make a book freely accessible to every one with a means of reaching the internet.

It is the 'Kindle' that I deprecate slightly. The prices are high for the system and I believe my comparisons with handheld gaming systems are valid.
What the official Sime-Gen site has done in making e-texts freely available to readers is fantastic... but again, there is an audience out there for the Sime-Gen novels that does not have access to the internet as well as those who do but find reading any lengthy text on a computer monitor a headache.

The ability that Amazon has given authors to communicate directly and easily with audiences and 'fans' on is wonderful. Every professional writer I know finds that aspect of satisfying. On the other hand, Amazon is NOT the entire world, even where the internet is concerned, and I distrust any business that seeks to acquire a monopoly in EVERY area of consumer merchandise. Amazon is fairly good where new books and even games are concerned but when I wish to find an out-of-print book, I definitely would not rely on Amazon's 'marketplace', filled with sellers who inflate prices outrageously. In almost every situation where I have purchased an out-of-print text, I have been able to find the SAME book that the Amazon marketplace advertises for a 10th of the price in better condition (often from a more reputable seller) elsewhere.

Amazon is promoting itself as 'your one stop seller' and as usual, has bitten off more than it can chew. Its reputation will suffer ultimately by allowing sellers to operate freely without any limit on price or quality.

Mariner Trilling / John Stanton said...

I posted this comment above almost two and a half years ago. It was a time when the Kindle costs about three hundred fifty dollars and the Kindle Two just came out costing over four hundred dollars.

- "The Kindle certainly does have its fans out there but the percentages still show it’s a tiny fraction of readers in general. I like the display, doesn’t require backlight but they’re still way too expensive for me. Every year the Kindle seems to get more expensive and advanced. If they want to sell me one they need to go the other direction. A device to read books needs to be simple and cheap (I don’t need my book to have wi-fi). If they got the price down to $80 dollars, I’d consider one. If they got it down to $50 dollars I’d buy one. But I don’t think the printed page is in any imminent danger." -

Today, I was in a consumer electronics store and saw the basic Kindle for $79.00 and honored my comments by buying one.

Two years is not a long time chronologically but I find myself looking at a different publishing landscape now. The ebook revolution was completely underway in 2009 but now it is part of the world around us (and some might argue no longer revolutionary.)

I still buy classical literature in book form but now my library is a mix of ebooks and paper books.

It'll be interesting to see what the next two years bring.