What Kate Wilhelm Is Doing

By Nancy Jane Moore

Music MakersKate Wilhelm’s mystery, Death of an Artist, which came out in March, is her last traditionally published book. From now on, all her work will be published as e-books by her newly established publishing house, InfinityBox Press.

Not only will InfinityBox bring out two new works — a new Barbara Holloway mystery, By Stone, By Blade, By Fire, in September and The Fullness Of Time, a novella, in December — but it will also publish her considerable backlist as e-books. The InfinityBox bookstore launched May 1 and already includes 11 Charlie Meiklejohn and Constance Leidl mysteries, two collections, and a piece of short fiction. (The book pictured is one of the collections.)

After InfinityBox finishes putting up a complete collection of Kate’s work, it will publish the backlist of her late husband, Damon Knight. And then it will turn to publishing other people as well. And since writers have to write, I’m willing to bet we can count on a few new works from Kate as well.

This is very big news.

Kate Wilhelm is an outstanding and established writer, with over 50 published novels to her credit along with about 100 pieces of short fiction. She’s won three Nebulas and two Hugos and a number of other awards, and is in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Her first work was published in 1956 and she’s been going strong ever since.

Publishers are still interested in her work. They’re just not willing to do business on her terms. As she explains in an open letter on the website:

In the fall of 2011 I was offered a contract that was so egregious that the publishing house that sent it should have been ashamed, and if I had signed it I would have been shamed. I proposed additional changes to those my agent had already managed to have incorporated and each suggested change was refused. I rejected the contract and withdrew the novel. At that point, I could have tried a different publisher but I knew it would have been a repeat performance, because the major publishers are tightening ranks and the contract I had rejected was more or less the new standard.

She goes on to explain that the major issue was rights, not the advance. What this means is that even an established writer, one guaranteed to make money for the publisher, finds she can’t get a reasonable deal these days.

In addition, despite her strong fan base, her out-of-print work is not likely to be reprinted by anyone else “because that rarely is done with a writer’s backlist unless that writer magically gets on the New York Times bestseller list.”

So yet another writer who can get a publishing deal is choosing to walk away from established publishers. That’s what makes this such big news.

Obviously, we here at Book View Cafe applaud her actions. While most of us are doing business with other publishers as well — both large and small presses — one of the reasons we launched BVC was to provide ourselves with options. There are many ways to do business these days and no one has to take a bad deal anymore.

Plus Kate Wilhelm is more than just a good and well-known writer, she’s a leader who’s spent her career giving back to other writers. I personally never had the opportunity to study with Kate and Damon at Clarion — it was before my time — but I know they gave many writers their start. And some of the writers they helped turned around and helped me.

When someone like Kate Wilhelm makes a change like this, other people will listen. And follow.

Things keep changing in publishing. Stay tuned. And go buy a book.

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What Kate Wilhelm Is Doing — 8 Comments

  1. While I applaud being able to get backlistbooks in e-books and having established writers use the new media and publishing opportunities, I’m starting to worry that too many will give up if they go it alone. From all I can see it can very much be a long-tail investment, publishing your own ebooks – that’s why I think the way that BVC pools their resources (and other writer cooperatives do) is a good compromise between quality, time and effort.

    But single writers opening their own online store – I now have accounts with all kinds of tiny e-publishers, but only because I wanted to buy books I had previously read by writers I already knew – I don’t know if it will entice new readers. Of course, most e-publishers at least offer Amazon.com versions – so they actually fall under the umbrella of the way Amazon changes the rights on their publishing/retail contracts at some point.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that I love the new opportunities for writers and readers but am worried that too many single settlements make it more unlikely for the new order of society to have a chance to survive and thrive. Hrrm. Not the best image, but the only one that came to mind – and that’s why I’m a reader ^^.

    • Estara, you make a good point about people going it alone as opposed to working in groups. But everything happening right now is an experiment. Given the way InfinityBox is set up — with the idea of publishing other people once Kate and Damon’s backlists are up — it looks to me like she’s intending to make it a small ebook publisher and expand the offerings. She is putting the work up on Amazon, too, though I’m sure she makes more money if you buy it directly.

      I’m interested in looking at all the different things writers are trying, though I’m a big believer in the cooperative approach we use here on BVC. I suspect publishing is very much in transition mode and where everything ends up is anyone’s guess.

      • True enough. I’m simply somewhat of a pessimist and I worry that people might not have the long-term patience needed to build a brand as an e-publisher and then we’d lose those books again.

        And for sheer genre convenience I would have loved a one-stop genre shop, ideally yours! Hehe.

  2. What makes me sad about this is that it takes reliable revenue away from small bookstores. The best situation would be if these small publishers had a POD arm so that bookstores could still stock their books and libraries can get copies and people without the funds/interest in ebooks can still have access.

    • Me, I keep hoping that we’ll come up with something that allows small bookstores to work together with small presses of all kinds. Right now most small bookstores don’t stock books from small presses because the bookstore can’t afford to offer books that they can’t send back to the publisher if they don’t sell and the small presses can’t afford to offer that kind of return policy.

      • A few weeks ago I did a book signing at Hastings books in Richland, WA. The only new books offered were ones I brought and sold on consignment. They apologized they no longer buy more than one or two copies of new books because they can no “no longer return unsold copies.”

        I’m not certain if this is just from their distributor or from the publisher. Either way it is a shift in the business model that we need to watch closely.

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