Sunday, September 14, 2008

Visit with Tom Doherty


Here is a copy of the story I wrote about the Tor.com web site after interviewing Tom Doherty Tuesday. It was published in the Mount Pleasant, Tx., Daily Tribune today. It was easy to get reprint rights, since I'm also the managing editor.

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Web site creates portal for science fiction fans
By LOU ANTONELLI
Managing Editor
With the internet becoming a bigger part of everyone’s life, its uses have also proliferated. Once used simply for email, bulletin boards and research, today it is also a major source of entertainment.
A New York City-based book publisher stepped out recently and created an innovative web site that combines blogs, bookmarks, and the other common personal uses of the internet with original science fiction literature and art, published free on-line as a comprehensive web portal for people interested in the genre.
The fact Tor Books publishes science fiction and fantasy may be a reason the web site has done so well, says the company founder and President Tom Doherty.
“Science fiction readers are early adapters,” said Doherty, “It’s a fast changing field.”
Doherty, 73, has seen a lot of technological change since he got his start in the business as a salesman for Pocket Books in 1957. He says the latest innovation with the Tor.com web site is a wonderful tool to allow the company to interactively “communicate more broadly with its readers.”
Doherty founded Tor books in 1980, and it is the most successful of all science-fiction publishers. It has won the award as Best Science Fiction Publisher in the annual poll conducted by Locus magazine - a trade publication of the science fiction field - for the last 21 years.
Since the Tor.com web site was launched in July it has featured original fiction by some of the best-known and “hottest” names in the genre, included Stephen Gould (whose book ‘Jumper’ was recently made into a motion picture), Charles Stross, John Scalzi, Cory Doctorow, Elizabeth Bear, and others. It also features original art with image galleries from today’s most celebrated science fiction and fantasy artists
Tor.com will also serve as a major social networking destination where registered member SF and fantasy enthusiasts can engage with one another and personalize their online experiences.
Doherty – who’s usually described as a ‘living legend’ in the publishing industry – said the development of the Tor.com web site was a collaborative effort that spanned a two years and involved many people, including editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
“I am very proud of it, it came out very well,” he said. “Everything came together.”
Given its audience, Tor took advantage of the annual comics convention in San Diego held this summer (Comic Con, July 24-27) which drew 130,000 people for the rollout of the web site.
“The roll out went great,” said Doherty. “We got great feedback. Everyone was very enthusiastic.”
Doherty’s publishing company, Tor/Forge (the Forge imprint publishes other types of fiction, including a strong line of historical novels, thrillers, and American westerns) had a web site, Tor-Forge.com, but it wasn’t meeting the need Doherty saw.
“The web site is great as a catalogue, but we wanted something broader, we needed to communicate more broadly with our readers,” he said.
The days of supermarkets and drug stores having long book shelves and wire spinner book racks are almost gone, he said, a victim of market pressures, he said.
While committed readers still go to book stores, those other traditional outlets for impulse buying of paperback books have almost disappeared. “It’s a big problem,” said Doherty.
Those impulse buys in other retail locations have traditionally been a way many people find a first book they like, perhaps leading them to become regular science fiction readers, he noted. “When we lost that, we lost an important part of our outreach,” he said.
The creation of the Tor.com web site is an attempt to re-create what was lost, “some kind of modern equivalent,” where people can go to try out the latest literature in the field.
“It’s a step in the right direction. It’s a way to let the world know that this kind of thing is out there,” he said. For example, on Thursday the web site published an original short story by Elizabeth Bear, “The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder”.
Once on the web site to read the free on-line fiction, visitors can also check out blog postings by the authors themselves. Authors such as Stross, Scalzi, Doctorow, Gould and Bear frequently post on the web site, as well as others, such as Editor Patrick Nielsen-Hayden.
While there, the readers can check out the other features, such as links and bookmarks, they will also see what books Tor is publishing. “We want to attract people so they will be coming back week after week,” he said. “Most people can tell vey quickly, after visiting the web site one time, whether they are interested in what we are offering.”
As much as he likes the web site, Doherty says he doesn’t post all that often. “I’m too bloody slow typing,” he says with a laugh.
One of the things that has kept Doherty at the top of his field for so many years is being on the cutting edge of landmark publications. “I learned from the best,” he said, “Ian and Betty Ballantine.”
The husband and wife team helped start Bantam Books after World War II and went on to found Ballantine Books, which became the most prominent publisher of science fiction during the Golden Age of the 1950s.
The Ballantines made history in the 1960s when they acquired the rights to publish the works in the United States of a British university language professor who wrote fantasy on the side. The paperback publication of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit” in the United States by J.R. R. Tolkien is widely credited as the start of the modern era for the fantasy genre.
Doherty follows in the same tradition today, and those “impulse” visitors to the Tor.com web site will see the company is about to release “Paul of Dune” on Tuesday, Sep. 16, a direct sequel to the famous Frank Herbert novel, written by his son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson.
Despite being in the thick of the book publishing industry for over half a century, Doherty says he has no plans to retire. “I still enjoy being active and involved. I think it would be very dull to retire, although,” he said with a chuckle, “I probably should take more vacations.”

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