Hasslein Blog: February 2017


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Plea for Policy Change to Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Dear readers,

Please excuse my indulgence in this post, but I sent the following letter today to Amazon's founder, chairman, and CEO, Jeff Bezos, and wanted to also post it here since it discusses an absurd and counterproductive Amazon policy that affects every single writer who uses Amazon Author Pages to promote their work, and because it partly involves Hasslein Books' titles. I tend to doubt my letter will change anything, but I firmly believe that it's always worth trying. If you're an author, I recommend you let Amazon know how you feel about their policy as well.

—Rich Handley


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I write to you today to express concern about a pair of emails I received regarding my Amazon Author Page. Recently, I've been adding books to my page for which I've contributed substantial amounts of writing, in an effort to make it easier for readers to find my work. Today, I added Planet of the Apes Archive Vol. 1: Terror on the Planet of the Apes to my page, for which I penned both the foreword and the afterword. After doing so, I received an email informing me that although the book would be added, Amazon has a policy of not listing books on Author Pages for those who have written foreword, introductions or afterwords, and that herein, no further such books would be listed on my page.

I politely protested this policy, but received another email repeating the rule. With all due respect, your company's reasoning on this matter is flawed. Here's why:

For every book on my Amazon Author Page for which I'm listed as an editor, I'm also one of the writers. I don't list any books on my page for which I am only the editor and not one of the authors, such as those put out by my independent publishing company, Hasslein Books. For example, I'm the editor of Total Immersion: The Comprehensive Unauthorized Red Dwarf Encyclopedia, but not the author. Hence, although I have an editor credit on the book's landing page, it's not included on my Amazon Author Page since I don't take credit for others' work. On the other hand, I'm both an editor and an author of The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planetof the Apes. Hence, it's listed on my Amazon Author Page, as it should be.

So far, your staff have been quite helpful and friendly, and have added all of the books I've asked them to add. But given today's emails, that's apparently no longer going to be the case. That's a problem for me, as there are several unannounced books for which I've been both an editor and an author as well, but which I won't be able to include on my Author Page now, once the publishers announce them. This is going to majorly dampen my enthusiasm when those volumes come out. In fact, it applies to a majority of the books to which I've contributed.

For Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone, for example, my co-editor and I conceived of the project, brought it to Titan Books and 20th Century Fox, hired all of the authors, and then each wrote more than 40 pages (a short story and an introduction). I'm one of the book's seventeen authors. But because I'm listed on Amazon as the editor and my co-editor is listed as an author due to how the publisher set up the landing page, your policy would dictate that I wouldn't be allowed to have it on my Author Page, yet he would. How is that a working system? How does that make sense? 

The same problem applies to all of my Planet of the Apes and Star Wars books from Sequart—I co-edited each of them, but I am also one of the authors for every volume. Each of these books is a team collaboration, and I wrote lengthy essays that ran with my byline alongside the work of the other essayists. We're all equal contributors. But if Sequart decides to list me as the editor while setting up the book's listing on Amazon, suddenly I'm not allowed to have any of them on my Amazon Author Page? Again, that makes no sense to me.

As for forewords, introductions and afterwords to other books, those involve a good deal of writing and research on my part. In fact, for the books from IDW and BOOM! Studios for which I've written a foreword, an introduction and/or an afterword, I'm the only person who wrote anything new for those books—they're all reprints of classic comic strips (Star Trek, Star Wars and Planet of the Apes), and I was invited to compose all supplementary text created for each book, in essence having me present the strips to the fans. And in the case of IDW's five Star Trek hardcovers on my Author Page, they're actually reprinting my personal comics collection, and I'm the one who conceived of the project in the first place. So how sensible is your policy if I'll no longer be able to list such books on my page?

The thing is, I'm not trying to be argumentative, arrogant, difficult or rude—honestly, I'm not. Your staff are all just doing their jobs, and I appreciate how helpful and expedient each has been every time I've asked to have a book added. They're not the enemy and neither are you, and I mean no disrespect to anyone involved whatsoever. But the bottom line is this: Amazon's policy is just too rigid. It screws over authors like me, whose contributions aren't so clear-cut and black-and-white. For the Titan and Sequart books, for example, my name is on the front cover of each volume, and I'm one of each book's authors, yet I wouldn't be able to have any of them on my Author Page, simply due to an arbitrary "no editors" rule. It's a policy that is dismissive of what editors do, and it's as unrealistic as it is admittedly offensive. I urge you to reconsider.

I use my Amazon Author Page to promote my work, in the hope that others will buy it after finding it all listed together. If I can't list half my books from now on due to some ill-conceived policy about what constitutes an author, then of what use to me—or to any writer, for that matter—is the Author Page? If a writer has helped to spearhead a project from start to finish and has contributed many pages to a book, as I have with my books from Titan and Sequart, how is that writer not an author? If a writer pens supplementary materials for a book, such as an afterword, an introduction, a foreword, a lexicon, or whatever else, as I have with the books from IDW and BOOM! Studios, how is that writer not an author?

More importantly, why would Amazon want to reduce its revenue opportunities? From a promotions and marketing standpoint, that seems nonsensical. What could you possibly gain from making it so that I can't promote all of my books at Amazon from a single landing page? Wouldn't you want fans of my work to be able to easily find and buy all of it? How could you possibly be better off as a seller of books if half of the titles containing my writing aren't listed when people look me up? Honestly, I'm baffled by this. Please help me understand.

Better yet, please consider making your policy much simpler and author-friendly. I respectfully recommend that if an author wishes to list a book to which he or she has contributed as a writer on his or her Amazon Author Page, then let him or her do so, provided that there's proof of that individual's involvement. How would such a policy in any way constitute a problem for Amazon? It would mean more potential book sales. You'd win, I'd win, your customers would win—everyone would win. The current policy, on the other hand, hurts all of us.

In short, I see no downside to letting authors include foreword, introduction and afterword contributions on our Author Pages. Where's the business logic in limiting my ability to promote my books that you sell? Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.

Rich Handley

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Awakening

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

In 1899, Kate Chopin published a short novel called The Awakening. Considered controversial at the time for its feminist themes and the candid way in which it deals with female sexuality, it has gone on to become a major headache for unsuspecting high-school and college literature students everywhere.

Thankfully, this essay has nothing to do with it.

The "awakening" I'm referring to was—for lack of a better term—an event that took place during my freshman year of high school, though it was not related to school itself. In June of 1988, I celebrated my fourteenth birthday. One of the gifts I received was a Nintendo game called The Legend of Zelda. Since then, it has spawned numerous sequels across numerous systems, has been featured in cartoons and comic books, and has appeared on T-shirts, tote bags, and even cereal boxes, but at the time it was a brand-new thing.

I had gotten a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) the previous Christmas, and, having grown weary of Super Mario Bros., the game that came with it and of which I had at one time been a rabid fan, and Elevator Action, the second title I had picked up, I was eager to get into something else. I had no idea what Zelda was all about. At that time, the Internet as we know it today didn't exist, of course, so you could only get information about NES games from Nintendo Fun Club News (the precursor to Nintendo Power), to which I did not have a subscription, or from word of mouth. I didn't know anyone who had played the game, but I had seen a lot of commercials for it, so I decided to give it a shot. After all, Nintendo had cultivated a reputation for quality, so the odds of its being a letdown were slim.

I imagine that for many players Zelda was a revolutionary game, as it was for me. Up to that point, most console games lacked an adventure component. The aforementioned Super Mario Bros., for example, only allowed you to go in a predetermined direction, and backtracking was not permitted. If you missed something, you had no choice but to suck it up and keep going. Zelda was different. Its world was open and, for the time, vast. You could revisit areas again and again. In fact, one of the chief elements of the game was exploration. You were not told what to do or how to do it. You had to figure everything out through trial and error, to traverse deadly forests and spooky graveyards to find the entrances to the game's various levels. You had to determine how weapons and items worked and when they should be used. A map and instruction manual were included, but they only told you so much. Every now and then a wise old man in a cave would give you a clue, but it was often cryptic. For the most part, you were on your own.

Computer-game players were already familiar with this kind of thing. Games like Ultima, Wizardry, and Bard's Tale worked this way. The difference was that while these games required exploration and puzzle solving, they lacked action. The outcomes of battles were resolved by the computer, in a fashion similar to tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). In a sense, the computer rolled the dice for you during an encounter and told you the outcome. In many of these games, the player controlled an entire party of characters rather than just one. The reason for this is that tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) are designed to be played by a group rather than an individual, with each player having a specific function within the party (a fighter for combat, a wizard for magic, a cleric for healing, et cetera).

Zelda, by contrast, was an action game through and through. It required fast reflexes and could be terribly frustrating at times, particularly if you wandered into an area filled with monsters you were not prepared to fight. Like computer adventure games, it had an overhead view rather than a side-scrolling one. Its closest antecedent was the Atari 2600's Adventure, but while this game required exploration and experimentation and featured rudimentary action sequences (mostly running from dragons or trying to stab them), it was much smaller in scope, did not allow you to carry more than one item at a time, and had primitive graphics due to the system's limitations. No one had seen anything like Zelda before.

As I recall, it took me about a month to conquer it. For those four weeks, it was pretty much all I thought about. I even took the map with me when we went on vacation. It was the most immersive game I had ever encountered. But the experience of playing the game, while rewarding, was not the most important thing. I got something much greater out of it. It was my introduction to fantasy.

As an avid collector of Masters of the Universe (MoTU) action figures and a devoted fan of the tie-in cartoon during my younger years, I had been exposed to the concept of fantasy, but I had never really thought of it as a genre. I didn't even know what "genre" meant. I just found it cool that the warriors fought with swords and axes and that there were magic and monsters involved. D&D had become huge by the early 1980s, and many toy lines reflected its influence. I was a fan of many of the MoTU knockoffs, as well, including Thundercats, Blackstar, and The Other World, the first two of which also had their own cartoons. There was even a toy line actually based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which was the preeminent version of the game at the time.

The most memorable figure was probably Warduke, who was later made into a miniature as part of the D&D Miniatures set "War Drums." Of course, there was also the D&D cartoon (the "Advanced" was likely removed to prevent confusion, although that didn't stop DC Comics from using it in the title of its early-'90s comic book series), which was fairly controversial due to the absurd allegations that the game was linked to suicide, antisocial behavior, and devil worship. I can remember watching it standing up so I could keep an eye on the door of my parents' bedroom. Not even kidding.

By the time Zelda came along I hadn't given fantasy much thought in several years, having become instead interested in Garbage Pail Kids, Madballs, and horror films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Soon after I began playing it, I became intrigued by Zelda's fantasy setting, and when I had finished the game I began looking for others in a similar vein. When school started, I met a guy named John (with whom I remain friends to this day), who was a computer- and console-game enthusiast, an RPG player, and a fan of speculative fiction. He was the first full-on nerd I had ever met, and I mean that as an enormous compliment. He introduced me to D&D, Commodore 64 adventure games (with their cloth maps and copy-protection wheels), and Dragonlance novels. (I subsequently turned him onto Forgotten Realms novels, thus returning the favor.) It didn't take long to realize that I was onto something big.

At the start of 1989, I began collecting comic books. I had grown up enjoying Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and The Incredible Hulk on Saturday mornings, but I was a reluctant reader, so I had never bought many comics. Even though most comic books are not fantasy in the strictest sense, they feature speculative tales of a similar nature and borrow elements from fantasy, so there are, therefore, a lot of crossover fans. There's a reason that many comic-book shops also carry RPG books and accessories.

The "awakening" was, hence, my discovery of fantasy fandom. In the span of just a few months, I had found my niche, and I have remained there ever since. Today, I have a comic-book and magazine collection that would have made fourteen-year-old me lose control of his bodily functions. I have well over 700 miniatures, a plethora of dice (especially d20s, my favorites), and a number of publications related to fantasy games going back to the 1970s, which are just engaging to read. I have used my writing ability as a means of sharing my passion, contributing to the hobby, and "giving back" to the community. I have found incalculable joy in the books and games I have picked up during the last 28 years.

I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I had never slid The Legend of Zelda into my Nintendo Entertainment System in the summer of 1988. Traversing the environs of the fictional world of Hyrule helped me discover myself.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Star Trek Comics Get Graphic

By Rich Handley

I recently posted a piece about the new Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection from British publisher Eaglemoss, which is reprinting numerous Star Trek comics published during the past 50 years. The books, available by mail-order subscription, feature a painting of the various spaceships of the Star Trek franchise adorning each volume's spine, forming a single image that grows as a collector acquires new editions. Shortly after I posted that article, I received the first shipment in the mail and was very pleased at what it contained: the first three volumes of the series, each reprinting a popular IDW miniseries.

Volume 1 repackages Star Trek: Countdown (story by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, written by Tim Jones and Mike Johnson, and illustrated by David Messina), which revealed the background of Nero, the Romulan renegade from 2009's Star Trek film. The second volume collects Harlan Ellison's Original The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay (written by Scott and David Tipton and illustrated by J.K. Woodward), which breathed life into the oft-discussed early version of the episode's script that Ellison originally submitted before several plot and character changes were mandated. And reprinted in volume 3 is Star Trek: The Next Generation—Hive (written by Brannon Braga and Terry Matalas, with art by Joe Corroney), a 25th-anniversary celebration offered up by one of that show's key creative forces.

Having previously read these series as each one hit stores, I already knew that they all contained great stories accompanied by beautiful illustrations. As such, the question remained as to whether or not it would be worth collecting and re-reading books I already owned. After looking through these first three volumes, I no longer have any such reservations.

The presentation in these books is fantastic and makes the re-reading experience unique and so much more than merely a rehash of what has come before. The colors are crisper, the lines stronger, and after only three volumes, I can already tell that I'm going to love how this will all look on the shelves once I have the complete collection. How maddening that it'll take time for them all to arrive, and that I have to wait for the fourth volume, Spock—Reflections (by the Tiptons and Messina). Like Willy Wonka's Veruca Salt, I want it now!

There's very little negative one can say about this series. The covers are beautiful, the reprinted miniseries well-chosen. Plus, the lapel pin that comes with the first shipment is a nice little bonus for those who collect such things. Admittedly, I'm normally not such a person, but I have to say that I like how it looks on my shelving unit next to the books. Eaglemoss has done a wonderful job with this series, and I look forward to what's to come.

Sadly, due to a problem involving the Post Office (for which Eaglemoss is clearly not to blame), my shipment arrived in a damaged box. As a result, the collector's magazine packaged with volume 1 was nowhere to be found. Amazingly, despite the crumpled state of the carton, none of the three graphic novels were damaged in the slightest, and the lapel pin was actually present. How that little Starfleet symbol managed to survive the journey through the mail in a broken box, I don't know, but it's a testament to Eaglemoss that the books themselves were entirely unaffected, thanks to plastic wrapping around each volume. Even better, Eaglemoss is sending me another copy of the missing magazine, which is a very good indicator of the level of customer service the company provides.

My verdict: This is a stellar series, well worth purchasing. Some fans may balk at having to cough up money to buy stories they already own, but consider this: comic books, by their very nature, are flimsy and easily destroyed. These hardcover books, on the other hand, are sturdy and built to last. If they could arrive at my doorstep without any damage whatsoever, despite the box in which they were shipped looking like a pack of alien gorillas had decided to use it as a soccer ball,* then that means I can count on them not to fall apart or degrade. And that means I can pick up these volumes whenever I want to enjoy my favorite Trek comics, without worrying about potentially damaging my ever-increasingly old collection of individual issues. What's more, it's going to look so good once the painting along the spines is complete.

Keep 'em coming, folks. Keep 'em coming.

* It remains to be seen whether or not Eaglemoss plans to reprint the 1969 British comic strip storyline originally published in Joe 90: Top Secret issues 11-14, in which the Enterprise crew actually teach alien gorillas how to play soccer.

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