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Posts tagged as “Thinking Ink Press”

The Future of Books is Bright

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Some time ago my good friend Jim Davies said, "If I was a traditional publisher or bookstore owner, I'd be very worried about my business with the rise of ebooks" - and he's right. While the demise of the bookstore Borders may be more properly laid to the feet of Walmart and Costco than Kindle and Kobo, ebooks have disrupted the traditional publishing industry. Once you had to, like, go to a place and shell money to get a thick tome; now you can pull books out of the air into a wedge of magic in your pocket, sometimes for free. If I owned a publishing company or bookstore, I'd be worried: the number of people who buy traditional books is dropping, and from Borders to Borderlands to Bookbuyers to Keplers, bookstores are in trouble.

But are books? At the time I interpreted what Jim said as indicating the demise of books, but he didn't say that at all: he just pointed out the existential threat a business faces if two thirds or half or even just a third of its customer base disappears. A ten percent drop in a business's sales might mean the difference between smiles and Christmas bonuses all around and a death spiral that five years later closes the business's doors as prices inexorably rise and profit margins plummet. My fear was, as ebook readers get better and better and physical book purchasers got fewer and fewer, that the economies of scale would not favor book publishing. I had imagined that as fewer and fewer people bought books, the unit cost would go up, it would no longer be profitable to print books, and both books and bookstores would go away.

Now that I've helped found a small press, I've learned the economics don't work that way.

Once I thought that Barnes and Noble and similar stores would shift to an on-demand model, with shelves filled with single copies of books and with book printing machines behind the counter, running your order for your chosen edition while you got a cappuccino in the bookstore's Starbucks, and, hey, maybe that will happen. But one thing I didn't anticipate was the ability for print on demand distributors to create an effective and useful FedEx-like just in time model, where books are printed essentially as they're needed, rather than enormous stocks being kept on hand - and the other thing I didn't anticipate was applying paper arts to book production to create a new category of books as art, encouraging a bite-sized reading model and a love of the physically printed word. Now, I don't know the details of Amazon's or Barnes and Noble's warehousing model. I do know that most of the books you see above were printed just in time for a recent event, and all of them represent departures from the traditional publishing model.

Some people have argued that we’ve hit the bottom of the bookstore market and it is getting better; it isn’t clear whether Barnes and Noble will survive, but local bookstores are having a comeback - but it’s not hard to look at the march of technology and to assume that things are going to HAVE to change. We no longer print books on scrolls, or parchment; the printing press disrupted the illustrated books model, and online news sources have dealt a serious blow to the newspaper industry - I wish I had a picture of all the newspaper boxes in Mountain View; there are a dozen of them at two or three places, and they don’t have any real newspapers in them anymore, just free magazines. This industry has collapsed radically within the last few years, and it’s hard not to think the same thing will happen to books as e-readers get better and better.

But technological updates are not always replacements. Phone screens are not a replacement for watching TV, and TV is not a replacement for movie theaters. I’d argue that more movies are watched on cell phones than at any time in history, and yet the most recent Star Wars movie has made something like a billion dollars from people going to an actual darkened room to watch the movie with friends and a bucket of popcorn. Similarly, movie theaters are not a replacement for actual theaters, plays performed with real humans in front of a live audience: even though movies have largely displaced plays, they haven’t displaced them completely. Perhaps one day they will, if only in the sense of being able to expose a wider audience to that of a play; but the experience you have watching a real human playing a role right in front of you is completely different than the experience of film.

The same thing is true of books. Sorry, e-reader folks: your interfaces are a joke. The contrast is poor, scrolling is slow, you can’t easily make notes or create bookmarks or - oh, I’m sorry, are you about to say that your bad low resolution stylus and awkward commenting interface and hard-to-discover notes and general lameness are somehow a replacement for flipping through a book, tossing in a piece of paper, and writing a brief note? Oh, go on, try it. I’ll write an essay before you’re done figuring out how to leave a comment. The point isn’t that it isn’t technologically impossible to solve this problem - it’s that right now, the people who make e-books aren’t even trying. They’re trying to increase contrast and resolution and battery life and page refresh rates and e-book distribution. The things I want out of books - that tactile sense, rapid note taking, rapid access, discoverability, the ability to stack a set of them in a pile as a reminder - are literally twenty or thirty years away. E-readers are, technologically, at the days of vector graphics, when real books provide you a tactile feel and a random access interface that’s superior to the best 3D TV.

One day they’ll get there. And one might assume that those awesome e-readers of the future, with all the books in history on them, in sharp color, with a fast random access - I imagine something that looks actually like a large paperback book, with a hundred or so flexible pages, all in glorious color that you can flip through, mark up, whatever, except you only have to carry one book - will kill traditional bookstores. But then I go into Barnes and Noble and see a section of vinyl records and go what the hell? There’s no way that you could have told me ten years ago that we’d be in a world where we’re not just likely to move past CD’s, but to move past iPods with local storage in favor of streaming, but that at the same time vinyl is having a resurgence. Supposedly this is because DJ’s like to scratch records, and audiophiles prefer the analog sound. Who knew?

And yet, at the same time, the production of books themselves is getting better and better. They’re being printed on better paper, with better typography, better book design, color covers, printed and embossed covers, the whole nine yards. As a publisher, I’ve been going around collecting new examples of awesomely printed books and just in the ten or so years I’ve been looking at this really closely the entire production process of books has become stellar and awesome. Sometimes I’m sad when I get an old book on a topic I like and open it up to find pages that look like they’re typed up on a typewriter. Back in the late 70’s, when Douglas Hofstadter published Gödel, Escher, Bach, it was possible to produce awesome books with awesome typesetting, but it was an epic struggle; Donald Knuth reportedly spent eight years developing TeX to help him produce The Art of Computer Programming. Now these tools are available to everyone with a computer - I’m a Word junkie, but even I recently downloaded MacTex to my computer while sitting in an internet cafe. Now anyone can produce something that’s truly awesome and get it printed on demand.

SO I can’t see the future of books being anything but bright. Physical books are going to be around forever, at least as a niche product, and possibly more; they’re getting better all the time - but if they get replaced, it’s going to be by something even better, and even if they do get replaced en masse by something awesome, there will always be people who will love and preserve the printed medium forever, bibliophiles motivated by the same love as theatergoers, audiophiles, and lovers of fine art.

-the Centaur

Welcome to 2016

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Hi, I’m Anthony! I love to write books and eat food, activities that I power by fiddling with computers. Welcome to 2016! It’s a year. I hope it’s a good one, but hope is not a strategy, so here’s what I’m going to do to make 2016 better for you.

First, I’m writing books. I’ve got a nearly-complete manuscript of a steampunk novel JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE which I’m wrangling with the very excellent editor Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books. God willing, you’ll see this come out this year. Jeremiah appears in a lot of short stories in the anthologies UnCONventional, 12 HOURS LATER, and 30 DAYS LATER - more on that one in a bit.

I also have completed drafts of the urban fantasy novels SPECTRAL IRON and HEX CODE, starring Dakota Frost and her adopted daughter Cinnamon Frost, respectively. If you like magical tattoos, precocious weretigers, and the trouble they can get into, look for these books coming soon - or check out FROST MOON, BLOOD ROCK and LIQUID FIRE, the first three Dakota books. (They’re all still on sale, by the way).

Second, I’m publishing books. I and some author/artist friends in the Bay Area founded Thinking Ink Press, and we are publishing the steampunk anthology 30 DAYS LATER edited by Belinda Sikes, AJ Sikes and Dover Whitecliff. We’re hoping to also re-release their earlier anthology 12 HOURS LATER; both of these were done for the Clockwork Alchemy conference, and we’re proud to have them.

We’re also publishing a lot more - FlashCards and InstantBooks and SnapBooks and possibly even a reprint of a novel which recently went out of print. Go to Thinking Ink Press for more news; for things I’m an editor/author on I’ll also announce them here.

Third, I’m doing more computing. Cinnamon Frost is supposed to be a mathematical genius, so to simulate her thought process I write computer programs (no joke). I’ve written up some few articles on this for publication on this blog, and hope to do more over the year to come.

Fourth, I’m going to keep doing art. Most of my art is done in preparation for either book frontispieces or for 24-Hour Comics Day, but I’m going to step that up a bit this year - I have to, if I’m going to get (ulp) three frontispieces done over the next year. Must draw faster!

Finally, I’m going to blog more. I’m already doing it, right now, but one way I’m trying to get ahead is to write two blog posts at a time, publishing one and saving one in reserve. This way I can keep getting ahead, but if I fall behind I’ve got some backlog to fall back on. I feel hounded by all the ideas in my head, so I’m going to loose them on all of you.

As for New Year’s Resolutions? Fah. I could say “exercise more, blog every day, and clean up the piles of papers” but we all know New Year’s Resolution’s are a joke, unless your name is Jim Davies, in which case they’re performance art.

SO ANYWAY, 2016. It’s going to be a year. I hope we can make it a great one!

-the Centaur

Pictured: The bookshelves of Cafe Intermezzo in the Atlanta airport, one place where I like to write books and eat food.

Getting it together

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What you see there is my "working stack" at home ... the piles of books for my most active projects. These include Dakota Frost (shelves to the left and right that you can't quite see), Cinnamon Frost (middle shelf on the right, middle center shelf and others below), robotics at work (top shelf on the right), Thinking Ink Press (bottom visible shelf on the right and middle center shelf), Lovecraft studies (middle center shelf and top shelf on the left you can't quite see), and general writing (above, below, all around). I accumulate lots and lots of books - too many, some people think - but there's a careful method to this madness, as most of these books are not recreational, but topical, filling out a library around things I'm trying to accomplish. This means that when I'm working on a problem on, say, a Cinnamon Frost novel, and get stumped, I can have the pleasant experience I had last night of glaring at a Wolfram MathWorld article, not finding all the info I needed, peering through the references ... and finding that the references pointed to a book I had on the topic, right in the Cinnamon shelf (pictured above). For a long time I was terrified of my own library. Well, not terrified, but I'd piled up and accumulated so much stuff that I couldn't effectively use it. This has been accumulating since the days of my condo in Atlanta, which was approaching near gravitational collapse, but I've made two major pushes to clean up the library since I moved to California, which organized it usefully, as I've reported on previously, and since then two major pushes to clean up the files. I've still got a lot go go - you can see more piles below - but now I've got a better system for organizing paper, I am starting to develop a system to get things out of the library and back to used bookstores (slowly, grudgingly, occasionally) and ... I actually find myself wanting to go in here again. The piles are still scary, but now I've got a nice reading area set up, which I can lean back and be cozy in... My current reading pile and art projects are intimidating, but now organized and useful and even attractive ... My cognitive science section has developed a cozy, hallowed feel, that makes me want to dig in more ... ... and at last I once again have a workspace which makes me want to sit down and work, or write: I can't tell you how healthy that feels. I need to stay on top of that. But for now ... time to get back to it. -the Centaur P.S. Yes, I do actually use all those computers and monitors, though the one on the far right is slowly getting replaced by the floating hoverboard of an iMac that is now struggling to supplant my MacBook Air as my primary computer (good luck, you'll need it). For reference, there's my ancient MacBook Pro on the left, which formerly served as my home server; the iMac that's replacing it, hovering over the desk, a MacBook Air which is my primary computer, and the secondary keyboard and monitor for my old Linux workstation, which is about to be replaced because it's not beefy enough for my experiments with ROS.

Thinking Ink Press Instant Books at the Arsenal

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It's amazing how things come together! Several of the Instant Books created by Thinking Ink Press, the small press of which I'm a part, are now on display as part of the local book section of the Arsenal artist-owned art store in San Jose!

One of the great things about Instant Books is that they seem to be opening new doors. I really enjoy working with traditional publishers and editors like Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books, and all my novels are published that way, but working with the writers and artists at the Write to the End group has really opened my eyes to the physical joy of handmade books.

Sure, I've done a couple printed chapbooks for my own amusement, but author and paper artist Keiko O'Leary introduced us to this folded format. Fellow flash fiction author Betsy Miller and I started thinking about the stories we had that fit the format. Writer and editor Liza Olmsted helped us prepare them for publication. Keiko, my wife Sandi, and I provided the art. And creative barrier-buster Nathan Vargas gave us important feedback that helped us push the project home - telling us how the prototype books had an awesome feel, like "snack books" that you can read in a single sitting but still get the feel of reading a traditional book.

Except on much, much nicer paper. It matters. It really matters.

My two titles are the flash fiction collection "Jagged Fragments" and the steampunk chapbook "Jeremiah Willstone and the Sorting of the Secret Post", and Betsy has the flash short "Bees.

So drop in on the Arsenal and check them out, or stay tuned to Thinking Ink Press for more awesome books!


Jeremiah Willstone and the Sorting of the Secret Post

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If you love steampunk, flash fiction, or cool things printed on paper, come by Clockwork Alchemy this weekend. I'm pleased to announce that Thinking Ink Press is printing two pieces of ephemera for the con - the flash fiction Instant Book "Jagged Fragments" and the short story Snapbook "Jeremiah Willstone and the Sorting of the Secret Post."

I had hoped we'd have JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE ready for Clockwork Alchemy, but Debra, my editor at Bell Bridge Books, thought we should focus on getting Dakota Frost #3, LIQUID FIRE, out first - and she was right. That's out right now, in fact, just in time for the con - I got the books early this week.


But Betsy Miller of Thinking Ink Press suggested that I put something together for the con, thinking of three pieces I already had - the flash fiction pieces "The Secret of the T-Rex's Arms" and "If Looks Could Kill" and the essay "The Rules Disease". Not to be daunted by taking on too much, I decided I wanted a piece teasing THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE.

So I wrote a brand new short story just for the occasion, "The Sorting of the Secret Post".

Hand-printed copies of these books will be available at the con. We aren't sure what we'll do with these in the future - the beauty of instant books (books printed on a single sheet of paper) and snap books (chapbooks printed on conventional printers) is that they can be printed on demand for an event. We call them "ephemera" and they enable us to experiment with the printed word.


Here you see Keiko O'Leary of TIP folding instant books (and Liza Olmsted of TIP scowling at a tax form). The editions we've produced this time just came together in time for the con. You can't even have the first ones - Nathan Vargas of TIP bought the very first copies of both books, one-of-a-kinds that will never come around again.

"The Sorting of the Secret Post" in particular is a direct prequel to THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE, but it isn't clear whether we'll reprint it once the book from Bell Bridge is out (though I hope we will, we haven't decided). So come on down and get your copies … because whatever they become in the future, they'll be something different.

-the Centaur


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One of the roles conferences fulfill in my life is a chance to recharge. I'm driven to pursue writing, art, comics, software, entrepreneurship, publishing, movies - but I was raised to be responsible, so I have an equally demanding day job that pays the bills for all these activities until such time that they can pay for themselves.

Sometimes I describe this as having four jobs - my employment (search engines and robots), writing (primarily the Dakota Frost and Jeremiah Willstone series), comics (mostly related to 24 Hour Comic Day through Blitz Comics), and publishing (Thinking Ink Press, a new niche publisher trying to get awesome things into your hands).

Having four jobs means that you sometimes want to take a break.

That's really difficult if you don't have an excuse. There are literally hundreds of items on my to-do list that I could work on right now, all day and all night. If I finish one, a dozen more are clamoring for my attention - and that's not counting the time I want to spend with my wife, friends, and cats, or the time I need to spend on exercise, bills and laundry.

But a few oases exist.

Layovers in airports are one of those: I deliberately arrange for long layovers, because between plane flights you have nothing else to do other than grab a bite and a drink in an airport restaurant, chill out, and read something. True, I often work on writing during layovers, but it's big-picture stuff, researchy, looking at the picture on a scale larger than I normally do.

Conferences are even better. Whether it's GDC, AAAI, Dragon Con, Comic Con or Clockwork Alchemy, conferences are filled with new information, interesting books, even more interesting people, which spark my imagination - right at the time that I'm in an enforced multi-day or even week-long break from my schedule.

For a long time, conferences have been a great time to pull out the laptop and/or notebook to write or sketch. The idea for the Jeremiah Willstone series started after I saw some great steampunk costumes at Dragon Con; I sold the Dakota Frost series after Nancy Knight saw me writing at Dragon Con and pointed me to my editor Debra Dixon at Bell Bridge Books.

More recently, I've been adding to this the power of ruts. This is something that I need to expand at greater length, but suffice it to say I used to think I simply had to do something different every day, every week, every month. I used to keep lists of restaurants and tried to make sure that I never went to the same one two days in a row, trying new ones periodically.

But then I noticed that I really enjoyed certain things, but didn't always fully take advantage of them because of this strategy - great places to eat, cool coffee houses, and nice bookstores that I simply didn't visit often enough. Often, on top of this strategy, my schedule would change, making it hard to visit them - or worse, they'd go out of business, and those opportunities were lost.

So I've started cultivating habits - ruts - to do the things that I like. Not too frequently - you don't want to burn out on them - but if you do the same thing all the time, then you can be free to miss it any time. Even better, if you find a great thing that's efficient - like a place to eat near work, with a late night coffee house conducive to writing - take advantage of it regularly.

Because one day it may be gone.

At conferences, I employ this strategy with a series of life hacks - go to breakfast before the conference to up your energy level and organize your thoughts, pick the best breakfast place for writing and reading, break for lunch at 11:30 to 11:45 to miss the lunch rush, and also find the best place where there are no lines and concentration can be had.

At GDC, I've found a good set of hotels near the conference, a few good breakfast joints on the walk to the Moscone Center and a few places to eat slightly off the beaten path that are pretty empty just before noon - and I hit these places again and again, pulling out my notebook and tackling problems which are really big picture for me, mostly related to future game projects.

At Dragon Con I do similar things - hitting the Flying Biscuit breakfast joint that appears in Dakota Frost, getting coffee at the Starbucks in the Georgia Tech Bookstore, hitting the Willy's lunch counter that inspired the Jeremiah Willstone story "Steampunk Fairy Chick," et cetera, et cetera; and at each one I pull out the notebook and work on big picture story ideas.

These places are real oases for me: a break within a break, a special place set aside for thinking within a special time already set aside for recharging. Because of how human memory works, sometimes I can even pull out a notebook (or an older notebook), find my place from last year, and pick up where I left off, plotting my future in an oasis of creative contentment.

This, of course, is my strategy, that works for me - but it works so well, I encourage you to find a strategy that works for you too.

-the Centaur

My Presence at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

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The submarine surfaces, oh so briefly. So, between work, writing and life, things have been stacked up on me so much that not only do I have several half-finished blog posts begging me to finish them and put them up, but also I now find myself already a day into San Diego Comic-Con - and just now blogging about my presence at San Diego Comic-Con.

This year is the tenth anniversary of 24-Hour Comics Day, a challenge to create a 24 page comic in 24 hours, a challenge which me and my buddy Nathan Vargas have tackled a dozen times between the two of us (him seven, me five). It's a difficult challenge, and we failed the first few times, so we collected our advice on how to succeed in the 24 Hour Comic Day Survival Guide.

Nathan worked with ComicsPRO to create a panel celebrating the 10th anniversary of the event, and will be on the panel along with the creator of the annual event Nat Gertler and several other creators. But what's special is that we were already planning to update our Survival Guide for this year's 24HCD in October - and were able to put together a Preview Edition of the Guide.

Thanks to our friends at Thinking Ink Press, we have expanded our original 8-page guide into a 76 page booklet, with over a dozen chapters of tips and advice and interactive exercises. We'll be giving away signed copies of the Preview Edition of the Guide at the panel celebrating 24-Hour Comics Day, and also giving them away at various events or on the show floor.

The panel is at 5:15 on Friday at Room 18 at San Diego Comic-Con, and Nathan will be appearing with Nate Gertler, Chris Brady, Jimmy Purcell, and Marco Devanzo (with me in the audience). While Nat Gertler created the annual event, the actual 24-Hour Comic challenge was created by Scott McCloud, who will be appearing himself at Comic-Con, and whom I hope to meet.

Regardless, the official 24-Hour Comics Day is held the first week in October every year - this year, October 4. Nathan and I will be appearing at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) on the same weekend, hopefully with some 24HCD themed events, but will take the challenge at Mission Comics and Art in San Francisco which this year is holding 24HCD one week early.

So: that's what's going on. As many of you know, I have two novels sitting at the publisher - LIQUID FIRE and JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE CLOCKWORK TIME MACHINE - but Debra Dixon is still reviewing them, so I'm hacking away at Dakota Frost Book 4, SPECTRAL IRON, and blissing out on comics while I wait for the edits to land.

-the Centaur