On Being a Collector

When I was a little kid, I had a string of trinkets. I must have been three, maybe four, and the trinkets probably cost me a penny each. That was the first thing I collected.

Somewhere along the same time, I have picture of myself with a little record player, and a bunch of 45s. My parents tell me that I ripped off the labels, but still knew what each record was called. I’d say, “This is ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’,” and sure enough, I’d be right. I had the rips and tears memorized. I don’t know that I collected 45s at this early age, but I had a bunch of them.

Next thing I remember collecting was rocks, then pennies, then stamps, and finally, when I was about ten, I started collecting baseball cards. Stamps and cards occupied my time until I discovered 45s again, and started buying them from the local record store in Woodland, Traynam’s, on Main Street. Traynam’s was a musical instrument shop that sold a few records on the side, and I quickly became one of their most fervent 45 customers.

Somewhere around age fourteen, I started collecting books. I only remember the age because I was in junior high, and that’s when they introduced us to Scholastic Books. I was hooked from that first brochure. We didn’t have a bookstore in town, so I started buying books via catalogs. I’d write to the publishers like Ballantine or Pyramid or Lancer, ask for a catalog; then pour over them for all the interesting books I could find. That’s when, thanks to the Ace Books catalog, I discovered Philip K. Dick.

Somewhere in my high school years, I discovered British imports. There was a head shop in Davis—our hip Mecca in the area—that sold a handful of British paperbacks: horror anthologies, Nevil Shute, Georgette Heyer, Dennis Wheatley, stuff like that. They intrigued me, and soon I had the name of a UK wholesaler who would ship me books from Falmouth, England. Now I felt like I had access to the world.

And, of course, there was Tower Books and Records over in Sacramento. I was living the collector’s dream.

Fast forward to 2016, and what have we got now: ebooks, music downloads, data streaming. What do collectors collect these days? I have no idea. All I know is that Stark House Press grew out of that young man’s collecting obsession—his desire to share the treasures of the book world—and that I remain dedicated to publishing BOOKS. Sure, we publish a few ebooks along the way. I understand that many readers appreciate the convenience of a kindle or a nook. But I just don’t get it.

To me, an ebook is as disposable as Kleenex. As efficient, certainly, but no more or less lasting as a tissue, to be used then thrown away.

My problem is, I’ve been a collector for about 60 years. I don’t get downloads and streaming. If I like a musician, I want all their albums. If I like an author, I want all their books. If I like a director, I want all their movies. Sure, it’s a disease. It’s a mania. It’s an obsession. But when someone tells me how their mom threw away their comic collection when they went off to college, I grow visibly pale. When someone tells me that they sold their vinyl collection when cds came along, I am filled with a nostalgic sadness. When I sold my baseball card collection recently, I felt like I was cutting out a chunk of childhood and throwing it away. But, hell, I’m in my 60s. I haven’t looked at these cards in over 40 years. It hurt, but I figured it had to be done.

The vinyl and the books? They’ll have to tear them out of my hands… Or in other words, my sons will get to deal with that when the time comes. I just hope by then that one of them becomes a collector.

—Greg Shepard

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More ebooks are coming

The question comes up from time to time as to what constitutes our ebook policy. We have about a dozen Stark House ebooks so far, and there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the list. There’s a reason for that: I know that modern readers have fallen in love with virtual books, but I’m still in love with those old fashioned things with bindings and covers and printed pages.

So when it comes to formatting books into ebooks, I don’t tend to prioritize this process. Those authors who insist get top priority. That’s why Charlie Stella’s ebooks are available. And Rick Ollerman, Andrew Coburn, Robert Silverberg and Mercedes Lambert. Every other ebook is hit or miss, and trial and error.

Okay, I’m admit it: until three years ago, I didn’t even automatically include ebook rights in our contracts. It took a conversation with a local bookseller to convince me that I was missing out on a major source of revenue. I explained that I started Stark House to produce BOOKS, not computer programs. But the bookseller suggested I consider having the best of both worlds, and giving them a try. And then, of course, there was Rick Ollerman, our associate editor at the time, who also kept at me till I produced some ebooks, contributing his own efforts to make sure they happened.

Our first ebook was One for Hell by Jada M. Davis. We followed that with Secrets & Sovereigns by E. Phillips Oppenheim and Johnny Porno by Stella. Three very different books. The experiment had begun. So far, the Stella books are the biggest success. But then, Charlie’s books in general are big successes for Stark House. The Mercedes Lambert books also do very well. Oppenheim, not so much.

But we’ve also dabbled with some of our regular noir authors, offering a Gil Brewer, an A. S. Fleischman, a Douglas Sanderson, and even our Beat collection. Yesterday, a reader from Canada asked for more Brewer. Presumably, considering the cost of U.S. imports, he would accept more of everything. So the next ebook from Stark House will be our new W. R. Burnett two-fer, which has only been out for about a month.

I hate to compete with my own preferred print editions, but the arguments in favor of ebook publishing make sense. What I hear is that certain readers will always buy the print editions. But other readers only want ebook editions. And that the crossover isn’t that clear-cut anymore. By not providing the latest Stark House books in simultaneous print/ebook editions, I am killing half our sales, depriving half our readers.

I guess I’m just retro enough that I stubbornly pursue those initial print sales. But going forward, I am also going to acknowledge that if the ebook rights are available, I will offer that format as well—and not wait a year or two or three to do so.

This isn’t a solid gold promise. But it’s a statement of intent. Ebooks are here, readers seem to love their kindles and nooks and ipads and whatevers. And Stark House will, reluctantly or not, bow to the demands of the marketplace and enter the 21st century kicking and streaming.

–Greg Shepard