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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

A few questions for Scott Apel on the new book

I had a few questions after the publication of the new Robert Anton Wilson book, Beyond Chaos and Beyond, drawn largely from the "Trajectories" newsletter that RAW and D. Scott Apel put out. The ebook is put out by Apel's ebook company and Scott edited the book, so I asked if I could send some questions. He agreed, so here is our interview:

Q. I'm already hearing from RAW fans who are anxious to get their hands on a paper copy of the book. Are there plans to make an edition available in paper, and if so, how soon will that happen?

D. Scott Apel: Yes, there will be a Print On Demand paperback version, probably within a few months. I have no exact schedule for that at this time. I am just now learning how to turn an ebook into a POD paperback, and since I'm pushing 70, my capacity for learning new shit like this is severely retarded (in the dictionary definition of the word, not in the politically incorrect interpretation). My "test book" is Science Fiction: An Oral History, and I'm already running into problems reformatting that for POD availability. If I can figure out how to format a decent-looking POD book, I want first to translate my novels (if only so my 88-year-old mother, who refuses to read ebooks, can read my work), then eventually Beyond Chaos and Beyond. Best advice I can give at this point is to check back with Amazon in a month or two for hard copy availability. I don't want to release a half-assed, crappy-looking POD version, so potential readers will have to endure my (rather steep) learning curve, I'm afraid...

Q. I noticed that the book is copyrighted both by you and by the Robert Anton Wilson Trust. Is this book published in cooperation with the trust?

D. Scott Apel: Yes. I have Christina Pearson's 100% blessing to reprint the copyrighted material from Trajectories in BCAB. Bob Wilson and I always shared copyright on this material, so I made sure I got the blessing of The Trust before I ever even started working on the book. We agreed that I'd publish Beyond Chaos and Beyond under my Impermanent Press imprint and sell the book for 3 years, at which point the copyright for all RAW-created content to which I own joint copyright will revert solely to The Trust. They're busy now republishing RAW's major works, but sometime within that 3-year window, our plan is that I donate to The Trust all material (audiotapes, videotapes, print, etc.) to which RAW and I shared joint copyright so The Trust will be the sole owners and can do with the material whatever they wish without my involvement. (In the case of Beyond Chaos and Beyond, for instance, I am the sole copyright holder for some of the material included. I would retain the copyright on the 1977 interview, for instance, since it's included in my book of sci-fi writer interviews, Science Fiction: An Oral History, and I would retain the copyright on RAW's essay "Afterwards," which he contributed to my Phil Dick Tribute volume, and to my BCAB essay on my association with RAW -- altho I would grant them the rights to reprint that essay if and when they republish the book. This might be more than you wanted to know, but the upshot is that as soon as The Trust is ready, I will turn over all my RAW material and copyrights to them and be out of the "RAW business" for good.)

Q. You've priced the ebook so cheaply anyone can afford it. I was wondering what your philosophy or your aim was with pricing it at 99 cents.

D. Scott Apel: Well... The 99 cent price was chosen because in order to give away gift copies, I have to purchase them myself. Now that I've accomplished that, I've raised the price to $4.99 for general sale. My novels sell at 99 cents because no one knows who the fuck I am, or if the books are any good, but I figure they might be willing to risk 99 cents to find out. (It's a variation on the internet rule of thumb that's been around for a couple decades: "99 cents is the new free.") But even $4.99 is pretty damn cheap for a book packed with so much info. My reasoning is that I know I'll never get rich off these books, so why not price them so that people can afford them? (I also recall from my days as a home video columnist when, in the mid-1980s, Disney began selling videocassettes of Pinocchio for $14.99, to sell to consumers, when up to that point, most videos were sold to video stores and carried a price tag of nearly $100. Disney took a chance that people would want to own the movie at that price point rather than rent it, and by doing so opened up a whole new revenue category: direct-to-consumer sell-through -- and they earned far more than if they'd just sold the cassettes to video stores at $100 a pop. So I figure there's always the chance that I'll sell three times as many copies of BCAB at $4.99 than I would if I priced it at $9.99, which would be a win-win situation: readers get the book cheap, and I sell enough more copies at the lower price point that I make more money as well. (As much as I want the RAW material out there, I still have to think like a writer and run my business as a publisher. I mean, I spent literally months last year transcribing audio and videotapes and creating BCAB -- and only an idiot would do all that work for free. I might not ever get rich, but I do expect to be paid for my time and effort, however minimally.)

Q. Is there any significant amount of unpublished RAW material left from "Trajectories" and related projects, or does the new book pretty much cover it? Or if the reaction to the ending essay is good, would you consider expanding it into a full blown biography? 

D. Scott Apel: Beyond Chaos and Beyond pretty much covers the unpublished RAW material that I have -- at least the best of that material, and the most relevant. Nobody probably wants to read RAW's take on the California medfly problem, for instance, or on brain machines that are now unavailable and obsolete. BCAB might have been a bit longer, but some RAW material we had planned for future (unproduced) issues of Trajectories eventually found its way into his final books, like his haiku, and the introduction to "RAW's Book of Black Magick and Curses." I was disappointed not to be able to include that material in BCAB. On the other hand, I was delighted to be able to include stuff like RAW's comments on The Prisoner from our San Francisco PBS appearances in 1978, which I've had on videotape for forty freaking years, and his comments on Phil Dick from the documentary The Gospel of Philip K. Dick, which I was able to include thanks to the generosity of the film's producer, Mark Steensland.

As for my essay on our 30-year association... I think I've said everything that I wanted to say. There's virtually no chance of my ever even expanding on that, much less attempting a biography. Not my territory; not my long suit. I stated a couple of times in that essay that it wasn't a biography, but just a memoir. A biography is an entirely different kind of beast, one with which I am both unprepared and unwilling to wrestle. (Simply attempting to unravel the chronology of where Bob and Arlen were living during that 30-year period boggled my mind, for instance.) And Bob covered much of his own biography in his Cosmic Trigger trilogy. I have no interest in researching and writing a biography of RAW. I have, however, frequently bugged my wife, the incredible Catherine Inslee, to write about her association with RAW during the final decade of his life...but she's got other plans. She's threatened many times to write an essay called "How I Both Saved and Killed Robert Anton Wilson," and through her I am privy to some awesome stories about his final months when she was one of his caregivers...but I have to respect her decision not to share whatever stories and revelations and intimacies they exchanged during his deathbed days. (I am, however, committed to continuing to prod her into sharing her the point that when she recently emailed me an article about immortality, her subject line read "Live Forever...Annoy Me Longer.")

Q. This is not directly related to the new RAW book, but I have bought some of your other books and plan to buy more, and I assume other folks who read my blog might, too. I am confused about the Killer B's books -- are some of the bigger, more expensive ones omnibus editions of the cheaper ones? Or do all 8 Killer B books review different movies, and do we need to buy all 8 to get all of the reviews?

D. Scott Apel: Wow. First of all, thank you for buying some of my books! I would definitely suggest you read The Uncertainty Principle? in which Bob and Arlen are characters (along with Phil Dick). As for the Killer B's movie guides, you are absolutely correct in your assessment. The "core" volumes are Killer B's Vol 1 and Vol 2. These are combined into a single volume in Killer B's: The Hive. The cheaper spinoff volumes are genre-oriented and collect all the titles in a specific genre from KB 1&2 into a single, less expensive, if your only interest in "unseen cinema" is science fiction, for instance, you can purchase Killer B's: Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror for $1.99 instead of spending $9.99 for KB: The Hive to see all the SF movies recommended in the omnibus volume. (I hope the descriptions on Amazon and iBooks make this clear.)

These genre-based volumes were an experiment, to see if people would risk $2 for a book specifically devoted to a genre in which they were interested versus risking $5 for a film guide that included buried treasure from all genres. The only reason I published these genre guides is that they were very easy to assemble once Vol 1 & 2 were published -- mostly just a matter of cut-and-paste. Since I haven't seen any sales for these genre guides, however, I have to assume that the experiment was a failure -- or at least that the experimental results indicate that no one is interested in genre film guides. So I learned a lot with just a little effort -- and since the books will be online forever, they might eventually yield some sales.

Altho you didn't ask -- and I feel like ranting -- I should mention that the single greatest problem with all ebooks is marketing/publicity. Every reliable source I've read about how to market ebooks centers on one method: social media. I'm not a fan of or a participant in social media so I'm left with no viable methods of publicizing my books. I want to direct people to Amazon or iBooks to my books, not create a YouTube video about my books to drive people to my books, since then I'd have to find a way to drive people to my YouTube video instead of driving them to my ebooks directly -- which seems like an unnecessary step: a complication, not a solution. Same with Twitter: How am I supposed to get followers on Twitter to drive them to my books on Amazon? I'm not alone in this dilemma -- I have a couple of friends also who have no clue about how to publicize their books without social media.


Eric Wagner said...

Great interview. I loved Scott’s PKD book.

chas said...

I’m down with D on the conundrum of promoting your work through social media. I spent a decent amount of time working in the blog is fear and came to the conclusion that the whole thing is a pyramid scheme, RRR.