Monday, October 22, 2012

Is there a Steampunk Shakespeare conspiracy?


     Two months ago I blogged about the Steampunk Shakespeare anthology The Omnibus of Doctor Bill Shakes and His Magnificent Ionic Pentatetrameter. I was reluctant to write the post because, as I revealed, I had submitted a story to the anthology that was rejected, and because I had objected to some criticism by one of its editors towards Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl. I feared that any criticism I had of the book could be perceived as sour grapes or childish payback. 
     When no one else seemed to be reviewing the book, however, I decided to risk it. So far I’ve received no response to the review post, good or bad. I also have seen no mainstream reviews of the book. There was one micro review on Amazon.com, another on Good Reads and one in praise of it on a Canadian blog.
     I also noticed that even the bloggers among the anthology’s contributors were remaining very silent about the book, or only mentioning that they had a story in it, or that the table of contents had been announced or that the book was being published in May. Prominent blogger and multicultural science fiction scholar Jaymee Goh, the co-editor as well as a contributor, was almost conspicuously silent once she announced the final table of contents.
     Most surprising, the website of its “publisher,” Doctor Fantastique Books, doesn’t even list the book for sale (a link to where you could buy it that I found on another blog leads to a Doctor Fantastique “error” page), or indeed acknowledge its existence. So far as I know, the only way to purchase the book is through Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble.com. Don’t imagine you’ll perchance find it in a bookstore; it’s pretty much available only as an e-book or print-on-demand title.
        I spot checked its Amazon sales rank recently: it was in position number 2.4 million for print, 667,000 for Kindle. Every other steampunk book, new and old, does better than that, including Kindle-only titles. The academic essay collection Steaming into a Victorian Future: A Steampunk Anthology costs almost three times as much as Omnibus and was published a month ago, but its sales rank is better than 200,000. Its Kindle edition, which costs more than six times as much as Omnibus, is at 460,000.
     This has me wondering if the book is somehow a scam, or perhaps a joke that I’m not in on. It does exist -- I have a copy to prove it -- but there seems to have been many times more effort expended to solicit submissions for the book than there have been attempts to sell the actual book.
     I have no answers, but a few theories:
     1. The publisher doesn’t want the book to sell. Contributors received no advance payment  from the publisher, only the promise of royalties. Perhaps the publisher is cash-strapped or overwhelmed and would prefer that there be few sales and thus few royalties to distribute. Contributors may have concluded that since royalties are not forthcoming, there’s no reason for them to push the book either. It’s become essentially a vanity press item, a book they can put on their shelves or send to family and friends in whatever quantity they wish.
     2. The publisher doesn’t know how to market a book. While the title is certainly eye-catching,  it fails to mention the words Shakespeare or steampunk until you get to the subtitle (which, on the book’s cover, is at the bottom of the page, and is not included in the Amazon or Barnes & Noble title listing). Also, the cover features a portrait of William Shakespeare in what may be Victorian or Edwardian garb, but wearing a monocle. I’m not saying I’ve never read of anyone with a monocle in a steampunk story -- if anyone wears one in this anthology, I missed it, though -- but it certainly isn’t iconic. Goggles and airships are cliches, but they are iconic and also appear in stories in the book.
     3. The steampunk community is upset with the publisher and/or one of the editors and has decided to freeze out the book. If so, I wish someone would tell me (steve.bitsoli@macombdaily.com).
     Of course, there may be other reasons. Steampunk may not be as popular as the number of titles out there suggests (it looks like Steampunk Poe has already been remaindered).
     Maybe I’m a little obsessive on this subject because I tried to be a contributor to the book and, if I had succeeded, would want it to do well. I still wish it well. Maybe another publisher will pick it up, change the title and cover illustration, add and/or subtract a few stories, actually try to sell it and it will succeed. For now I fear its contributors remain locked in the cabinet of Doctor Fantastique.

1 Comments:

Blogger S.A. Farrell said...

Hi Steven - One of the "Steampunk Shakespeare" authors here. ("A Midsummer Night's Steam") Thanks for your attention and honest assessments of this book - I'm right in line with you on all of it. I'm not sure why the publisher didn't put much support into this book - titles dealing with Shakespeare are quite popular right now, so it seems like this book has something of a built in readership. I would have liked to see the book do better - we did a few promotional talks and signings here in San Diego. I continue to be baffled as to why the book isn't listed on the publisher's website, especially since they told authors at the outset that we were essentially losing money on every copy sold through Amazon.
Right now I'm trying to get my story reprinted in an upcoming anthology of "modernized fairy tales." But I would like to see "Steampunk Shakespeare" given the attention in the market that I thought it deserved.
Thanks for the review, however!

January 16, 2014 at 10:38 AM 

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