Yes, we’re building a new web site, separate from our perfectly good corporate site. “We,” in that sentence, being Tor Books, publishers of the largest line of hardcover and paperback science fiction and fantasy in the English-speaking world. Where I work as manager of the science fiction line, and Teresa is an occasional consulting editor, yes, even now, even in these palmy days of Federated Media and Boing Boing. (As you know, Bob. I trust all of you appreciate the subtle, professionally-handled incluing going on here. Quality craftsmanship like this doesn’t come easy, you understand.) What’s going on? How’s this new site going to work?
Well, as I told at least one web reporter, if we knew exactly how it’s going to work, we’d be done. We don’t, entirely, so we’re not, entirely.
But we know several things. We know that the site will use a blog-like architecture to present an ongoing stream of news, opinion, and observation from various Tor people, myself included, about the SF and fantasy events of the day—and about perhaps less-current things that are nonetheless of interest to SF and fantasy readers, such as medieval siege engines, the Van Allen Belt, hoisin sauce, XKCD, and the novels of Georgette Heyer. We know that there will be non-Tor bloggers also posting to the “front page”; in fact we’ve already recruited several in order to ensure coverage of particular niche areas. (Some of these individuals will be familiar to Making Light readers—wave hello, Bruce Baugh—and we haven’t finished recruiting, either.) We know that the site will also feature new original fiction on a regular basis, illustrated under the supervision of art director Irene Gallo, and that these original stories—free of DRM, offered as part of the blog feed and also Available For Your Convenience in a variety of other formats—will have their own associated open comment threads, just like everything else on the blog. We know that there will be lightweight “social networking” features for registered users, including the ability to form mutual-interest groups through tagging and the ability to create journals and/or discussions of their own. Most of all, we know that the real point of the exercise isn’t to create yet another blog, but rather, a place and a context for the lively, ongoing, wide-ranging, and profoundly self-organizing discussions that have characterized the science fiction subculture since its earliest days. In other words, it’ll be a lot like Making Light, except with original fiction and art, more front-page bloggers, a more direct connection to SF and fantasy, and run out of the middle of Tor Books.
THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: So this is, like, a big Tor promotional exercise, right?
PNH: Only in the sense that Tor is a pretty good brand to put on something associated with science fiction. In fact we mean to cover everything that seems interesting. Entertainment Weekly reviews movies and books and music produced by entities unconnected with Time Warner.
THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: So what about the free e-books?
PNH: I’m glad I made you up so that you could ask that question! As you know, Bob, since you already clicked on the very first link in this post, we’ve got a little “holding page” currently at the tor.com URL, where we’re urging people to sign up as preregistered users. In exchange for their advance support (and their permission to email them our newsletters) we are, For A Limited Time, sending them links through which they can download free, un-DRMed digital editions of various recent Tor books in a variety of formats. For instance, if you sign up now, you can download The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory; in a few days, that will go away but you’ll be given the opportunity to download Farthing by Jo Walton. Since we’re rotating books in and out of the program at a fair clip, the earlier you sign up, the more free books you’ll score.
However, the munificence of this offer (Slashdotted twice on its first weekend), combined with our vagueness in describing the actual site for which the offer is merely a build-up, has caused a lot of people to jump to the conclusion that the new site will be all about selling and/or giving away digital books. This isn’t the case, although Tor does have a bunch of future plans for the selling and/or giving away of book-length digital works, some of which plans may even involve this particular project. But the actual point of this site—
THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: —Is to be a Focal Point Fanzine, meyer.
PNH: So very busted.
THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: We thought so. We recognized the signs. The sensitive fannish faces. The faint but unmistakable aroma of mimeo ink. Exactly whose idea was this?
PNH: Well, er, Fritz Foy, former Holtzbrinck CTO and incorrigible ubergeek…and the aforementioned Irene Gallo…and, er, well yes, both Nielsen Haydens. Not long after the project’s initial phase, Teresa was promoted to the Vingean Beyond, from whence she sends occasional messages of encouragement to those of us back in the Slow Zone where FTL and true AI are impossible. But we’ve been joined by luminaries such as Tor editor Liz Gorinsky, and Gina Gagliano of graphic-novel imprint First Second, both of whom will be helping us find and develop original sequential-art material to add to the site’s mix. And of course we’d be nowhere without the energy, enthusiasm, focus, and endless Outlook-calendar meeting notices of professional Web producer Larry Hewitt, hired by our corporate management to turn our gauzy ideas into a properly flowcharted plan. (Look! He has a plan! We must eat his brain!) We cope.
THE PLAIN PEOPLE OF FANDOM: So when do you launch? Do you have a beta phase? Are you looking for early volunteers?
PNH: Again you anticipate me with the slan-like acuteness of your fine minds! We hope to launch in May. We hope to have a beta-testing phase beginning in early April. SPECIAL, HEART-POUNDINGLY EXCLUSIVE OFFER AVAILABLE ONLY TO READERS OF MAKING LIGHT: Send us email at “firstname.lastname@example.org” and we’ll set you up as beta testers, able to wander around, sneer at the unfinished wiring, write rude villanelles on the exposed sheetrock, tell us what does and doesn’t work, and otherwise carry on. Act now! Act without thinking! WORK LIKE YOU WERE LIVING IN THE EARLY DAYS OF A BETTER NATION. Anyway, that’s our plan.