Saturday, January 14, 2006

How An Omnibus Is Made

Another Saturday, another post culled from the archives. It almost sounds like a plan, when I put it that way. This one was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written 1/3/01, in response to a specific question from one person. I actually do get people asking me about this every so often (even people in the business), so it might be of interest to five or six folks out there:

The workflow goes vaguely like this (I'm simplifying, since I don't think anyone wants a mind-numbing explanation of my paperwork):

1) Decide a series might work as an omnibus -- this is relatively straightforward in the case of classics (such as The Compleat Dying Earth or the more recent John Grimes: Lieutenant of the Survey Service by A. Bertram Chandler) and sometimes more complicated if it's an ongoing series (since then we also have to consider how the series might break into several omnibuses).

2) Figure out how many books are in the series and what order they should go in (this is sometimes not as simple as it seems -- I had to repeatedly consult The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction when trying to figure out what should go in the aforementioned John Grimes book).

3) Get copies of the books (again, mostly a matter of haunting con dealers' rooms and second-hand booksellers for classics but usually more simple for new works -- we would then just call the publisher and ask to see the series).

4) Have somebody (one of our crack staff of freelance readers) read the books and tell us if they hold up in the first place and would work together as a single volume.

5) Read the proposed omnibus in order ourselves ("us" being in this case either me or Ellen Asher, the Editor-in-Chief and Ranking Poo-Bah of the SFBC) to see if we like it.

6) Assuming we did like it, do quick wordcounts to work out how big the proposed omnibus would be (this can get done earlier, especially if there's a concern about whether the omnibus would even fit between two covers at all -- though we can do some pretty immense books in the SFBC), and use that to work out rough ideas of costs, pricing, royalties earned, etc.

7) Call up whoever holds the rights (sometimes there can be an additional step of just tracking down the person who does) and make an offer. Dicker until both sides are basically satisfied with the deal.

8) Get extra copies of the books for the copywriter (who has to write about the books for the jacket flaps and the club magazine) and for the art director (who needs to send them to an artist to get new cover art done). Working with the art director to figure out what artist(s) would be best for the book -- and then dealing with sketches and other art concepts -- is probably my favorite part of the whole process.

9) Get yet more copies of the books to mark up for my book production folks (to say things like: "The ad pages in the back come out, I've got a new copyright page enclosed, and the acknowledgements pages need to be treated thusly").

10) A few months later, a book emerges.

I'm not sure if that's exactly what you wanted to know (well, it's probably more than you wanted to know, anyway), but there it is.


John D. said...

I find it interesting that the stories in a set of omnibuses are in series order and not publication order. Sometimes the "earlier-in-the-timeline" book that were published after later books reveal plot details that are better left as surprises, no? Is it not safer (and more enjoyable for the reader) to present then as published? You could always include a series-order list in the omnibus.

Andrew Wheeler said...

I don't think we've ever had to deal seriously with a long series set completely out of order. (Even the AB Chandler books are really just two semi-separate series that ran for most of the same time.)

This may be what doomed Ellen Asher's first stab at the Poul Anderson "Dominic Flandry" books; I know just trying to figure out what order they were published was a problem with them, and we did one omnibus a few years ago and didn't manage to continue. (Though I still bug her about it, every so often; I like things neat and organized, so unfinished series bug me.)

We're currently reprinting at least some of the DAW omnibuses of Marion Zimmer Bradley's "Darkover" books, which had to deal with some of those issues -- the world isn't consistent across books, and the books were written radically out of order. With something like that, I think we wouldn't want to be the ones to try to impose an order on the series; we'd probably wait for someone else (the "real" publisher) to do it the right way, and maybe reprint their books.

This isn't an issue most of the time; most series don't have radically different internal and publication chronologies. And those that do often break down into sub-series or groups that are the natural omnibuses, anyway.

Occasionally there is a short series with odd chronology -- one I did was The Chrestomanci Quartet by Diana Wynne Jones -- and there I asked the first reader what order he thought was best, and read the books in that order. Since it worked pretty well, and no other order seemed likely to be better, that's the order I put them in.

I like to have card pages (that's the list up front in the book, called "Other Books by the Author" or something similar) be as complete and useful as possible, since I used them a lot in my own younger, pre-Internet days to find more books to read. I've even included original publication dates now and then, though it does tend to clutter up the page and make it harder to lay out.

Now that I think about it, five years later, we probably do follow publication order most often, but that also is the same as internal order most of the time.

John D. said...

I never considered that some series, even if very few of them, were published out of order. (Forgetting for the moment Isaac Asimov's later attempts to tie together the Robot and Foundation series).

It's a personal preference, of course, but I always tend to read books in publication order. I would really hate to ruin a "later" book because the "earlier" one had a spoiler. Plus, it has the added advantage of seeing how the author tried to tie them together.

Thanks for the info!

Jvstin said...

I think that the L. Sprague De Camp "Krishna" novels deserve an Omnibus. Tracking down the paperbacks, out of print, is a PITA. And to have a nice SFBC hardcover of them all would be sweet...

Andrew Wheeler said...

One last thought: I checked back, and my original post didn't actually say that we put stories in series order as opposed to publication order. What I actually said was that we figure out the "right" order. And the right order for any particular series is what works best for it; I don't have any overarching Theory of Series (or Omnibuses) that I'm trying to fit all of the books into.

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