A Tale of Two TORS. Be Warned, I’m Annoyed

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They are the best of publishers, they are the worst of publishers. It all depends on who you talk to. If you can.

Many know TOR books as a science fiction powerhouse. They publish best selling authors who love them to pieces, and well they should.

Then they publish us. This might be a surprise to many of our readers, as we have been self–publishing Girl Genius and other comical books for over thirty years. But, in fact, TOR is the publisher of the first Girl Genius Omnibus; Agatha Awakens. You see, TOR was thinking about starting up a line of science fiction graphic novels, and told us that they thought having a multiple Hugo Award winner as the launch title would be a nice touch.

We agreed, but had reservations, as we had been selling Girl Genius for over ten years at this point, and didn’t want them to be disappointed. We told them how many copies we’d sold, and they sat back, chuckling knowingly, and assured us that our entire sales history would be a nice warm up for their edition, and in fact, they very nicely allowed us to continue producing books in our current format, so we wouldn’t cheese off all the loyal readers who’d already invested the book shelf space in this format (We had been prepared to insist on this, as I know how much I hate it when a series jumps publishers and the bindings don’t match up. I have friends who think I worry about things like this too much, but then they never correctly sort the spoons in their utensil drawer, so what do they know), but to our pleasant surprise, we didn’t have to. Better and better.

So Kaja put the book together (this was a bit unfair, I’m afraid. Kaja is the computer, technical and graphic design part of our team. She had to take all the art, reformat it, edit it, repaginate it, and all that other stuff so that TOR just had to ship it to the actual printer. For my part, I make damn sure she never has to open a drawer and see a misplaced spoon), and off it went.

So…Hey presto! The book came out, and looked great. Very nice production quality, and a breathtaking low low cover price (http://www.amazon.com/Girl-Genius-Omnibus-Volume-One/dp/B00DEKOIB0/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1391062386&sr=8-2&keywords=foglio+agatha+awakens). And that was the hardcover edition, which meant that the softcover, which is where the bulk of a books sales come from, would be priced even lower, and thus, even more accessible to new readers. Sweet.

So then we asked when the paperback edition would come out, so we could promote that. Soon, we were told, first they wanted to assess the sales on the hardcover, so they could get an idea (based no doubt on some secret mega-publisher mystery math) on how high they should set the print run. Okay…so when do you want us to get you the files for the second omnibus? Because at that point, we could have had three of them out the door in as many months, and any noob to publishing can tell you that the way to build sales on a series is to keep the books coming.

Silence.

I mean, nothing. I called my agent. “Hey, did I cross a line or something?”
No. In fact, they’re not responding to him, either. No e-mail response, no written replies, and secretaries telling him over the phone, “Sure, I’ll transfer you…Um…Oh. No, she’s gone. Yes, totally gone.”

What the hell is going on? Well, according to friends I have who do this for a living, TOR is not so much this monolithic publishing behemoth, but is, more accurately, dozens of little editorial fiefdoms, overseen by editors of varying degrees of competence and professionalism. Ostensibly they all report to the editor in chief, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

So after a year of this (yes, an entire year. We are Slow to Take Offense, here at Studio Foglio), I write to Mr. Hayden, asking him if our editor is dead, or just fired? This question surprises him, as he saw her in the office that morning. He seems sympathetic. We even have a face-to-face meeting at worldcon the next week where he explains that TOR just really doesn’t know how to sell graphic novels, and when someone takes on a job they don’t know how to do, they tend to just stick their fingers in their ears and hope that eventually, it goes away. Fair enough, I am occasionally like this with The Experiments.

I mention that we’ve been selling graphic novels fairly well for quite awhile, and that we’d cheerfully give them pointers. However, if they just can’t wrap their heads around it, which seems obvious since after three years they have yet to sell through the initial print run (We’d have done it in 16 months- and that’s with no advertising, which is a fair comparison, as they did no advertising either), then we’ll just sing a chorus of “So Long, It’s Been Good To Know You”, and then we’ll publish them ourselves, because if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s publish and sell Girl Genius graphic novels.

But we can’t. Because our contract with TOR says we can’t publish “a competing product” for five years. Okay, what can we do about this? But now, Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has apparently decided that we’re too much trouble.

Silence.

No, seriously. You don’t want the series. You can’t sell it. We’ll even buy the remainder sitting in your warehouse. Talk to me. Talk to my agent. Prove you’re not dead or fired.

Silence.

The only conclusion I can come to, is that Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has decided that he can ignore us. Eventually, we, like many other confusing things that he cannot make money from, will go away. It may take five years, but really, who cares?

Personally, I think that the problem is that we’re this little studio alllll the way out on the west coast, and thus, easy to ignore. If you have stayed with me all through this screed, then I would like your help. Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a Facebook page.  So does TOR Books. Here is his old e-mail address; pnh@panix.com (I say old, because as far as I can tell, it’s been deactivated). We very rarely ask our readership to do anything other than enjoy the strip and purchase the occasional book (Hey, TOR, your first lesson in marketing. And it’s Free!) But if some of you would write to let the folks at TOR know that we’d like to take our book and go home now, we’d appreciate it.

Sorry for the rant, but really don’t know what else to do. It’s like punching a rope.