[GUEST POST] Christian Schoon on The Shutting Down of Strange Chemistry


Christian Schoon spent several years as an in-house writer with the Walt Disney Company in Burbank, CA, before going out on his own as a freelance writer working for various film, home video and animation studios in Los Angeles. After moving from LA to a farmstead in the American Midwest, he now works on his novels, continues freelance for the entertainment industry and also volunteers with groups dedicated to rehabilitating wildlife and fostering abused/neglected horses. His novels Zenn Scarlett and the sequel Under Nameless Stars were published by from Strange Chemistry Books.

A Strange Chemistry Author’s Take His Imprint’s Vaporization

by Christian Schoon

There was a big disturbance in the Force just recently. SF&F publisher Angry Robot Books announced the closure of their Strange Chemistry (Young Adult SF&F) and Exhibit A (Crime Fiction) imprints. I’m an author with Strange Chemistry, and while the news came as a surprise to me and the other authors in the SC stable, with hindsight, and in the context of today’s red-in-tooth-and-claw publishing environment, maybe it shouldn’t have come as entirely shocking news. (A disclaimer: this post contains no privileged information or secret decoder ring decoding. It’s just me and some opinions/gleanings from what’s been drifting around on the interwebs in the last few days).

The pain will be felt most by: debut authors whose first novels will now go unpublished, authors with continuing series at SC, and employees of the imprint now unemployed. And, of course, the loyal readers of these books left wondering if their favorite series or anticipated debut books would ever see the light of day. As for already-published SC and Ex A titles, these will apparently continue to be made available via Angry Robot, which will “promote and support” those titles. The future for the pending SC titles revolves around “rights reversions” and subsequent sales of the work to other houses.

So, what the huh and how come? The Official Line from Angry Robot and their owner, the Osprey Group, is “market saturation” and the inability of the shuttered imprints to seize and hold sufficiently large patches of ground to survive in their respective corners of over-crowded genre territory. That’s a perfectly credible statement and probably true; the markets for both YA and Crime Fiction are more than well-served. That said, in its brief history, Strange Chemistry piled up a reputation with reviewers, bloggers and readers as an imprint that could be relied on to push the boundaries of SF&F with unique, well-crafted titles. Awards were won. Critics were pleased. TV options signed. The tweetosphere very much lit up with lamentation at the news of SC’s flame-out. I can vouch for the fact that SC authors genuinely appreciated the sentiments expressed.

From the corporate side of things, it seems Osprey has for the past few months been undertaking a “strategic review” of its business model, up to and including the sale of all or any part of the company. So, while Angry Robot is profitable, doing fine and will carry on with its adult SF&F line up, shedding the SC and Ex. A imprints could be part of a streamlining process to polish up AR’s cybernetic titanium-and-carbon-fiber armor for the benefit of potential suitors. This could all be true, but it’s unverified (and who am I? Bob Woodward? No, I don’t second-source my stories. Parking garages are creepy).

Much of the Twitter traffic and elsewhere involves readers wondering if they’ll be able to continue finding/buying SC titles. As noted, AR continues to hold the rights to the existing library and it looks like they’ll offer the books in print formats until the warehouses go dry and then re-evaluate if reprints are needed. Ebook versions will also be available for now via the AR site and the other usual online suspects. As for the future of rights to these books in general, my contract – and apparently most author’s contracts these days – has a clause to the effect that if at some point the only edition available is the ebook (or maybe less than a certain number of print copies), the rights can be reverted. Now, if the imprints are bought up by another publisher, the game board is upended once more.

As for being blindsided by this, the SC website publically posted something a few months back that raised at least a reddish sort of flag. It was announced that the imprint’s next title in the coming summer would be a digital-only effort. So, no print edition (not sure about the author’s contract regarding reversion in this case). At the time, this certainly made me lean back in my chair and think “Hm. Probably not good.” And in the way of taking the long view, one of the more experienced authors involved in the SC shut down had a telling comment for the rest of us: in her career she’s had no less than four publishers shot out from under her.

From a personal angle, I feel hugely fortunate to have had my first two science fiction novels published and supported out in the wild by Strange Chemistry (not mention the support received from this here website and thank you very much). I have nothing but respect and admiration for my editor, the rest of AR/SC’s staff/designers/marketing elves, art gnomes, etc. The Zenn Scarlett books were published as a two-fer, so I’m technically better off than those debut and continuing series authors. (Thought you’d get off without me shilling in this post? Need I remind you that I’m an orphan? *Makes big eyes, sniffs*). And while Zenn has the potential to pick up where she left off and continue her exoveterinarian training with an off-world internship on the twin nature-preserve planets of the Leukkan Kire in the third book… that book isn’t finished yet and may or may not see print/download in the future. Depends on many variables. If book three just continues to live on my hard drive, the fault, dear Brutus, will be mine…

So, anything else to add about the cruelly abandoned Strange Chemistry books, their authors and their fates in the wide and uncanny universe? I can only say that communication between the Chemistry Set authors is ongoing and…stuff is being discussed. If/when something happens, I wouldn’t be surprised to read about it here, whether it involves a White Knight buying up the list or something more unconventional. For the curious, the list of extant SC titles is, for the time being, available here; for those itching to snap up DRM-free editions of these excellent reads (because: orphans) drop by The Robot Trading Company.

A very big thanks to all the SC loyalists out there for hanging in with us as events unfold. Keep on SF&Fing. And watch this space.