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Sci-fi publisher Tor.com launches novella platform

Naturally, the people who tell us about intergalactic travel and robot romance have no fear of newfangled publishing formats. After all, the web, the ebook, the hyperlinked novel – they’re all science fiction come true. And readers of science fiction have been some of the most passionate early adopters.

One of the biggest planets in this solar system is Tor.com, an online publisher of science fiction and fantasy with 1.5 million readers a month. It recently announced plans for a new imprint – called the Imprint – to focus on selling novellas, a literary form that’s often been lost in space.

The leader of that mission will be newly appointed Senior Editor Lee Harris, formerly of the British publishing house Angry Robot. “There isn’t a day when I don’t wake up and look forward to getting to the office,” he said. “That’s largely because I not only get to meet and work with my heroes, but I get to read brand-new talent – the heroes-to-be of my 6-year-old daughter’s generation – and I have the privilege of helping to launch their careers.”

At at the Imprint, he said, “We’ll be looking to publish commercially attractive fiction, of course, but we fully intend to publish only those stories that excite us.”

In addition to reviving the novella, the Imprint also plans to create a better, more transparent financial arrangement for authors. Writers will be able to choose between an advance or a higher percentage of each sale. Titles will be offered as ebooks (without digital rights management), print-on-demand and audiobooks.

The shift from bound paper to free electrons doesn’t erase the need for eye-catching design. Harris said that the Imprint’s art director, Irene Gallo, will “commission covers that are just as astonishing as the ones she has been commissioning for the last two decades.”

Harris rejects my claim that novellas are the lonely stepchildren of literature. He points to Slaughterhouse-Five, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, A Christmas Carol, The Time Machine and two recent favorites: Whitstable by Stephen Volk and The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough – “all firmly camped within novella territory.”

But he concedes that “it’s often harder to sell a novella in-store these days than a novel. It’s tempting to view a 544-page epic fantasy at $7.99 as better value than a 160-page book at the same price. But there are plenty of readers – myself included – who enjoy the opportunity to consume literature in healthy snack-sized chunks.” He notes that the ebook platform – such as his new Imprint – is particularly well-suited for stories too long for magazines and too short for traditional publishers.

Pressed to name some of his favorite authors, Harris mentions Chuck Wendig, “one of the most exciting new talents out there”; Kameron Hurley, whose God’s War “shows how good a debut novel really can be; and Ramsey Campbell, “the best author working in the horror genre for decades.”

Considering shorter fiction, he praises Joe Hill, Robert Shearman, Catherynne Valente, Kij Johnson, Aliette de Bodard and N.K. Jemisin. “And there are so many others,” he said. “It’s a very exciting time to be working in the genre.”

Nevertheless, he said, “It is hard to get attention in the mainstream press.”

Then a thought: “Hang on – you work in the mainstream press. Let’s do lunch.”

Resistance is futile.

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