As of May 2016
When HarlanEllisonBooks.com started (as HarlanBooks.com), I was hired to edit the initial offerings and liaise between Harlan and the publisher during the development of the books. With this arrangement, we put out the first two volumes of BRAIN MOVIES, HARLAN 101, and THE SOUND OF THE SCYTHE in 2011. They were a great success, and Harlan was very pleased with the books.
In 2012, the publisher who’d hired me to produce those first four volumes changed focus and future HarlanEllisonBooks.com releases were no longer on the table. Unwilling to let the venture end when so much great material remained uncollected (and, in many cases, unpublished), I crunched some numbers, made some phone calls, and—with the blessing of both the outgoing publisher and Harlan Ellison—took over the enterprise. (For “enterprise,” read “a project undertaken or to be undertaken, especially one that is important or difficult or that requires boldness or energy” rather than “a company organized for commercial purposes; business firm.” I am one guy in a 48 square foot office; we are not talking Random House here.)
The deal was very simple: I’d do the research, find the files, re-type or scan the material as necessary, edit, proofread, layout, design covers* (unless one was supplied to me by Harlan), supervise the printing, handle the marketing, and oversee the website*. I agreed to do all of this on spec—without any guaranteed payment—in exchange for a percentage of Harlan’s profits. To be clear, these were the terms that I proposed to keep HarlanEllisonBooks.com in business; I am not looking for sympathy or a pat on the back, just explaining how the sausage has thus far been made, so the reason for changing the recipe can be fully appreciated.
(* The execution of covers and the website were handled by my long-time friend and fellow Ellison enthusiast, Bo Nash. Without him, this whole operation would have died in its infancy.)
Using the printing and distribution system established by the previous publisher, I released ROUGH BEASTS and NONE OF THE ABOVE in 2012 and the third and fourth volumes of BRAIN MOVIES in 2013.
Those of you who purchased those volumes upon release will recall that the 2012 set came signed and inscribed by Harlan (if you pre-ordered) and the 2013 set featured roughly 300 bonus pages of alternate scripts if you purchased within the first month of release. This was because CafePress—the company which printed and shipped the books—offered a substantial bonus for high-volume orders. It was in Harlan’s best interests for as many people to buy the books in the same month as possible. When I use the word “substantial,” understand that a book sold during the frenzy of its debut month earned Harlan about 30–40% more than an odd copy sold in isolation a month later. It was very important to sell as many books as possible during that first month of release, so we resorted to what I considered crass marketing ploys.
This is probably a good time to note that CafePress paid royalties 45 days after the close of the month in which the books were sold. So, if you bought BRAIN MOVIES III to celebrate Harlan’s 79th birthday on 27 May 2013, Harlan did not receive payment for that purchase until 15 July 2013.
Because I produce the Ellison books without up-front payment, I have to take on extra non-Ellison editorial work to finance the time off to edit the Ellison books. While other people take vacations, I edit Ellison books. It takes me a month, give or take a week, to prepare one Ellison release. Because CafePress didn’t offer free shipping, I always tried to release at least two Ellison books at a time so folks could get more books for their shipping fees. So, if I worked double time at my day job in January and February, I could devote March and April to preparing two Ellison titles, release them on May Day, and Harlan would receive the royalties mid-way through July. It wasn’t a great system, but it worked okay as long as everything went smoothly, and I could either spend time producing books or researching alternative business models. I chose the former.
In October 2013, things stopped running smoothly. I’d prepared BRAIN MOVIES Volume 5 and HONORABLE WHOREDOM AT A PENNY A WORD for release. The latter had been a very arduous endeavor, so I’d run a bit over schedule, and things went hideously awry. I won’t bore you with the details, but I spent a weekend feverishly seeking out a workable replacement printer/distributor. (It’s amazing how quickly you can manage these things when you’re rapidly running out of money.)
I landed on CreateSpace, an Amazon subsidiary that manufactured paperbacks of superior quality to CafePress’s (win), paid royalties two weeks faster (win), made the books available on Amazon.com (win), did not offer a royalty bonus on high-volume orders (lose), and offered poor user interface for both customer and publisher (big lose). On paper, it looked like a lateral move, and there had to be a move, so I took it, released the two new books, and—over the next few months—reissued the eight CafePress-printed books via CreateSpace.
So far, so good.
(For the record, BRAIN MOVIES Volume 5 and HONORABLE WHOREDOM were designed—like the two previous BRAIN MOVIES volumes—to have bonus material that would only be available for the first month of release. Because CreateSpace offered no volume bonus and because I had to jump through hoops for a week to fix a minor typo in the BRAIN MOVIES book, I opted not to excise the “bonus” material, and left the debut editions in print. That made me happy, and I’m glad those of you who bought either of those books in the last month get all the content that was available in the initial release.)
When the first payment arrived from CreateSpace, I realized that not only was the loss of the old CafePress bonus a bit of a gut punch, but that most people had bought the books through Amazon rather than HarlanEllisonBooks.com, meaning that the royalties per book were 25% less, not to mention the non-existent bonus. Even though the books sold comparably to their eight predecessors, the net profit was substantially lower than for the previous two-book releases.
Given the discount and free shipping offered by Amazon, I can’t blame anyone for going that route. I’ve bought small-press books from Amazon in the past, though this experience gave me a new perspective on the matter and I’ve made an effort to buy directly from publishers whenever possible over the last couple years.
To combat this revenue reversal, I raised the price of the books from $39.99 to $49.99 and offered a standing $10/book discount to everyone who bought directly from HarlanEllisonBooks.com. This resulted in a healthier royalty for books purchased from Amazon.com (though still not as much as books purchased directly from HarlanEllisonBooks.com, even with $10 off!).
October 2014 saw the quadruple release of AGAIN, HONORABLE WHOREDOM; BRAIN MOVIES Volume 6; 8 IN 80 BY ELLISON, and HARLAN ELLISON’S ENDLESSLY WATCHING. I had hoped to release these four books (plus four more) in time for Harlan’s 80th birthday on 27 May 2014, but the logistics above thwarted me and only half the slate arrived five months late and in the shadow of Harlan’s stroke.
In 2015, I was hired by Subterranean Press to edit CAN & CAN’TANKEROUS, so that was a welcome change—to be paid before publication. As is my wont, I used the revenue from that gig to put in some time on two of the Ellison titles that I hadn’t been able to finish for the 2014 release.
That brings us to the May 2016 release of BRAIN MOVIES Volume 7 and THE LAST PERSON TO MARRY A DUCK LIVED 300 YEARS AGO, and the changes I alluded to above. For the time being, these books will be sold as a set (just like NONE OF THE ABOVE and ROUGH BEASTS were originally offered), they will contain bonus material for those who purchase them in the first month of release (just like BRAIN MOVIES Volumes 3 & 4), and HarlanEllisonBooks.com will be taking orders directly, rather than routing them through CreateSpace or Amazon.
To clarify: these books WILL NOT be available via Amazon for the time being, and if they are eventually offered by Amazon, they’ll be at least 50 pages lighter, so buy ’em here and get more Ellison for your money!
If you read through all the foregoing, I thank you for your indulgence. I put out these books because I love Harlan Ellison and I love his work; if I’d been doing this solely for the money, this would have ended after the four books in 2011.