Introducing Stone Skin Press

Or, Buy These Books and I Won’t Use the Word “Synergy”

By Robin D Laws

(The following column will make greater sense to you if you check out this press release before proceeding further.)

Whenever I run across discussion within the mainstream publishing industry about the transformative effects of emerging, disruptive technologies such as print-on-demand, ebooks, and piracy, I can’t help but feel a sense of deja vu. As the sort of avid roleplayer who reads this webzine, you probably do, too. Roleplaying publishers, thanks to their position as purveyors of written content to the geekiest of niches and the nicheiest of geeks, are already being there and doing that. Depending on where you fall on the optimism-pessimism spectrum, we are either a vanguard of swashbuckling innovators or the canaries in the coal mine.

(The fact that I am still here to write this column, rather than drowning my sorrows in a grim waterfront bar complaining about the lost golden age of adventure gaming, indicates my membership in the glass-half full brigade.)

Within the context of our goldfish-bowl sized industry sector, we already had a thriving ebook segment, even before the advent of your Kindles and your iPads.

Three interlocking developments have granted financial viability to small press publishers of quality RPG work aimed at a discerning audience:

  • the sudden affordability of small print runs
  • alternatives to the traditional publisher-distributor-retailer sales model
  • the maturation of social networking

The first reduces the cost sunk into the non-content component of a physical book, from upfront print costs to warehousing. The second increases the margin that goes to the publisher from the sale of books, physical or otherwise. Now a sustaining chunk of sales are made directly to the consumer, at 100% of the cover price. The third allows the contact with readers, the sense of community and shared taste, that is the emotional and financial lifeblood of a small press. Direct contact with fans is by no means new, but recent platforms such as Twitter and Facebook seem to be refining and multiplying its effects. Every time I attend a convention I see the growing impact of the new communications convergence. The books published by a company like Pelgrane aren’t just products—they’re a locus point in an vast shared conversation that has taken on a life of its own.

Which begged a question, as posed to by a wily Simon to a jetlagged Robin in a drafty London cafe just over a year ago. Now that we have this convergence going for us, what other creative ventures can we harness it to?

Our answer: a fiction line.

The roleplaying scene buzzes with untapped story talent. Its collaborative nature trains writers to be fast on their feet and to grapple adroitly with creative challenges. Certain writers, like Ed Greenwood, Matt Forbeck and Monte Cook, have demonstrated this both with original work and well-received tie-in fiction. Others write RPG material while seeking parallel breakthroughs in the traditional genre or literary spheres. Enterprising pioneers like Greg Stolze make their own use of transformative technologies to release short stories on direct patronage models. Others write roleplaying games that demonstrate their great potential in the fiction realm.

Most roleplayers read genre fiction; some will also pick up gaming tie-in novels and anthologies, while others won’t. This is certainly no knock on the gaming book: all but one of my own novels, the upcoming Worldwound Gambit included, fall into that category.

It’s our bet that there’s an untapped audience to go with our untapped talent pool—one that will seek out gripping, original stories from their favorite gaming names that don’t assume or require an investment in a particular world or setting. Instead we’ll be choosing themes for our anthologies—the iconic hero, Lovecraftian horror with action sequences—that resonate within our core community. At the same time, these will be broad enough to capture broader interest, as awareness of the line ripples outwards, from readers who wouldn’t know a d12 from a Sanity stat.

As well as bringing you works from roleplaying stars, we’ll be reaching out to writers from the broader geek diaspora and beyond. Our roster contains names from F/SF, litfic, television, and more. Most importantly, we enjoy their stuff and want to work with them. The fiction line gives us a chance to collaborate with people we wouldn’t get by sticking strictly to our gaming lasts. Among them are names you know well, and others we’re very proudly looking forward to introducing to gamers throughout the English-reading world.

Naturally, we also hope that these familiar names will bring the books to the attention of the aforementioned non-gaming reader.

In keeping with the range of talents we’re working with, we’ll be positioning the line as straddling the boundary between lit and genre.

In the established publishing world, short story anthologies have traditionally been a tough sell. As one adviser told us, the trick to publishing success is to print novels by very famous best-selling writers. Our management of scale allows us to try a different path. Here we’re playing an additional hunch—that the social media explosion changes the math on anthologies, too. We’re reckoning that a book including work by a long list of writers, each the center of their own communities, can reach our needed critical mass of awareness. Coupled with the aforementioned revolutions in making and disseminating books, this ought to allow Stone Skin Press the space it needs to grow and thrive.

The last part of that equation lies with you, the reader. (Or as I like to think of you, Ready McReaderson.) The process of putting these books together has proven deeply rewarding on a creative level. These are some great stories I have waiting for you here. Now comes the hard part—persuading you to pick up the books as they appear.

We’ve figured out how to launch a fiction line in time-honored fashion—by jumping in and doing it. In the process I’ve learned a ton. In columns ahead I’ll be sharing some of those lessons with you here. Also look for more specific previews of anthologies, stories, characters, and writers, with lots of surprises still to come. I’ll also be answering salient questions, such as, “Hey, Robin, why haven’t you asked me to write a story for you yet?”

In the meantime, I hope you’ll stay with us as we embark on this exciting new adventure. I promise you, once you get your hands on these stories, you’ll consider yourself part of a swashbuckling vanguard, and definitely not a dead canary.


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