Recently launched BookViewCafe.com is a website run by a consortium of over 20 professional female authors delivering short stories, poetry and excerpts from novels, bypassing the traditional publishing route and looking for new ways to take content directly to readers. Although it encompasses a wide range of genres, much of it is SF and fantasy and includes big names like Ursula K Le Guin. Although there are plans to sell material, BVC itself is not a profit-making organisation. We caught up with one of the founders, Sue Lange, and asked her about what's been going on.
SFX: So, tell us when and how your online venture was set up.
Sue Lange: " BookViewCafe.com was conceived early in 2008 by various members of the SF-FFW yahoo group. SF-FFW stands for science fiction-fantasy female writers. We had been discussing internet publishing and all the various opinions floating around on the subject. Whether it was something good or bad for authors. Sarah Zettel burst in one day and said, 'That's it! I'm going to do it. Who wants to join me?' A bunch of us raised our hands and the next thing you know, we're figuring out what internet publishing is and how to go about doing it."
SFX: What's the idea behind it? What's the mission?
Sue Lange: "The publishing industry is changing. More and more fiction is being offered for free as a way to expand an author's readership. Supposedly offering fiction free online will attract a larger audience for the author's printed materials. Our mission is to provide a place for the authors to do that. In addition we intend to maintain a dynamic website with new content posted daily and an eye to new publishing formats and trends in the industry. Whatever is happening out there, we want to be a part of it."
SFX: What can SF and fantasy fans expect to find there? Any familiar names?
Sue Lange: "You can expect new stories and chapters of novels from your favourite authors every week. We have a feature just for checking that out quickly. You can also expect to see changes in the look of the website as we try out new things, new formats, new genres. All of our authors are established in the print industry. We have such writers as Ursula K Le Guin, Vonda N McIntyre and Sarah Zettel. We are maintaining our author membership at 20 right now as we go through our beta testing phase. We hope to begin adding a few more authors around February. We have a rather long waiting list, but I don't want to mention any names until they're actually on board."
SFX: Do you see this as the future of book publishing? What's happening to traditional print formats?
Sue Lange: "As long as people like me are around, there will be traditional books! I like books, I'm not big on gadgets. The thing that will get me to buy a Kindle is if something I want to read is only available that way. If more and more books aren't available in hard copy, then we'll start to see the industry truly change. There may come a time when the vast majority of fiction is not printed because it's considered disposable. People won't be interested in having copies of it. They want to read it and move on to the next thing. Only work that is headed for 'classic' status will be printed. If that's the case there will be even less money for authors than there is now. Or maybe more money for true authors, the ones that stick it out book after book after book until they've built up a large pool of readers that simply must have the work in book form and are willing to pay for it."
SFX: What sort of technical know-how do readers need - do they need an ebook reader like a Kindle?
Sue Lange: "For BVC, a regular internet connection is all you need. Some of our content is available at TextOnPhone for which you need an iPhone. Book Glutton is also one of our partners and through them, a bit of our work will be available via any cell phone. I don't have the particulars on that as that's something they're working on at the moment. Once we have ebooks available, then an ebook reader would be required."
SFX: Are there other initiatives out there like this? How do you compare?
Sue Lange: "I think the thing that makes us different from other websites offering free fiction is the level of activity of our author members. We relentlessly put up new work every day. We prod our members to keep in touch with readers through such outlets as the BVC Facebook group and our blog. The blog usually has two or three posts a day from the authors. Our author members are encouraged to keep other sites (especially science fiction/fantasy sites as that's what most of our authors are publishing) updated on what we've got going on. Our author members can't just park their work and information at BVC, they have to stay engaged."
"Another thing that makes us different is our cooperative nature. There is no entity behind BVC that will rake in the dough once we get the model working. All of our work is free at this point. Some day soon we will have ebooks for sale, but at this point we're just trying to figure out how to run the site in a way that will provide each author with what she or he needs. We need flexibility without sacrificing substance. The site is still in beta mode mostly because there is no backend out of the box application that will provide us with what we want. But it's coming along very quickly. When we do start offering ebooks for sale, the authors will directly benefit. There will be no middleman. That should enable us to keep our prices down."
SFX: You're an author yourself: is your fiction available on BVC? What's been your personal experience of it so far?
Sue Lange: "I have a few short stories up and my serialised novel, The Textile Planet. The novel has been a lot of fun because I added interactive content to it. I cut out some extraneous stuff from the novel and added in a few visual and aural clips. This is one of the things I think the internet is good for: multimedia. I've always wanted to do a story that doesn't just describe the music, it actually plays it. Because it's the internet and easily updated I imagine myself adding content forever. The problem is I don't have a lot of time to mix sound files and graphic movies and so on now that I have to actually promote the dang thing. But I love coming up with the ideas and putting little touches together for effect. I hope I can do that for a while because it's so much fun."
SFX: What sort of response are you getting from readers?
Sue Lange: "BVC itself has been getting a lot of great feedback and support from the internet community. We've just been invited to do a panel at the Library of Congress on the subject of internet publishing. We're particularly proud of that. Personally I've been getting some response from readers - naturally I'd like a lot of feedback, especially with all the doodads, but as long as people are reading the second and third instalments, I assume that's because they like it. And that's fine, but I have a performance background. I like the guffaws and spitwads right in my face. I want to hear about what resonates what resonates with a reader or what is just too silly to believe. That's another great thing about the internet , the iron curtain that separates author from reader is slowly being torn down. And it's all good."
SFX: Thanks Sue!
Find out more over at BookViewCafe.com . What's your experience of using online ebook formats? Have you tried BookViewCafe.com or books from other sites? Or do you still need that beloved paperback in your hand? Give us your thoughts in the comment thread below.