35 Years of Tor
Posted on October 5, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 18 Comments
Tor.com is unveiling Tor’s new logo today — it looks like the old logo, only, you know, more modern — and offering a timeline of highlights from Tor’s now 35-year-long history. I’m delighted to say I show up on the timeline twice, first in 2005, when it’s noted that I and Brandon Sanderson debuted in that year, and again in 2013, when Redshirts won the Hugo award. It’s nice to be considered part of that history.
I’ve remarked on it before, but I’ll do it again now: I like that Tor is my publisher. Part of it has to do with the fact that Tor is Tor, the largest publisher of science fiction in North America and possibly the world (I’d have to check to see what’s up with China these days to be sure about that), and so being published by a company that has the talent and skill and reach of Tor is a nice thing indeed. Tor is also one of the smartest publishers, too — it hasn’t been afraid of the digital world, and it trusts its readers, which is why their ebooks are DRM-free.
Part of it is that nearly all the time I’ve been with Tor, they’ve been willing to back what I did in fiction, even if it didn’t necessarily make great sense on paper. Write a book that starts with a chapter-long fart joke? Go for it! Rewrite a classic of the genre just to see what it’d be like. Cool, let’s see what happens! Take one of the oldest jokes in science fiction — hey, it’s not a great idea to be the dude in a red shirt! — make a whole novel out of it, and tack on three codas at the end, just for kicks? Why the hell not, we’ll run it up the flagpole and see who salutes! And so on.
The leeway I’ve gotten from Tor in what they publish from me is a microcosm of how I think Tor approaches science fiction and fantasy in general, a philosophy of well, let’s try it and see what happens. Tor is no stranger to “old school” science fiction, of course — one need only look as far as the Old Man’s War series for confirmation of that — but I like the fact that they don’t hold to the philosophy that science fiction is only that (or that fantasy should only be one way, for that matter). Science fiction and fantasy by their very definitions should contain multitudes: Multitudes of stories and ideas and perspectives and authors. I look at what Tor publishes and I see a lot of different work, from a lot of different points of view. This is good thing. There’s always room for more, and I like seeing my publisher going toward the direction of more. I hope it continues to be a guiding philosophy.
Mostly, however, I’m glad to be part of Tor because of the people I know there. My editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden, most obviously (and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, font of wisdom that she is), but so many other people as well. To name just a few: Irene Gallo, the company’s art director, who is one of the very best in publishing, period; Alexis Saarela and Patty Garcia in Tor’s PR department, who have to put up with me when I’m on tour; Liz Gorinsky, who even as Patrick’s assistant was always one of the smartest people in the room; and Tom Doherty himself — if anyone can be called a wizard of publishing, it would be he. There are more, many more, than this. I like the people I know at Tor. They make publishing there a generally pleasurable experience.
Is Tor perfect? No, it has its foibles and missteps, and it and some of its people have done dumb things in the past, because people are people and business is business. It hasn’t even always been perfect with me; I’ve had some sharp disagreements with the company in my past, and I’m sure I will have kvetches and complaints in the future. I like Tor and am happy to be published by them, and consider many of the people who work there to be my friends. But I also don’t forget that Tor is also a publishing company, owned by a larger publishing company, owned by an international holding company, with fallable humans comprising those companies all the way up to the top. Their priorities and mine are not always in sync and never will be. If as an author you don’t understand this fundamental disconnect, you’re going to be grievously surprised one day. This is not me saying know your place; it is me saying understand the context. If you understand the latter, you might be surprised at how far you can get.
Tor and I are going to be in business together for a long time, so I’m glad I like the people and the company, and the general philosophy of the publishing house. I’m invested in Tor’s success, as they are now in mine. I’ll be happy to have that new logo on the spine of my books over the next decade.
Because I suspect someone somewhere will use my musings on Tor as evidence that I am a slave to the company, and self/indie-pub is the only true marketplace of free wills and free minds, please note that when I talk of the leeway Tor gives me with ideas, it is not to say that the company controls what I write. Indeed, with Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts, I wrote the books first and then told Tor what I was up to; their reaction was “Cool, we can work with that,” and then did. That is a large part of what I mean about their openness to off-the-beaten-track ideas, at least as they apply to me.
Also to the point, Tor can’t tell me what to write or not; they can merely decline to publish something if it doesn’t appeal to them. It which point I can take it to someone else, or self/indie-pub it if I choose. That was true before and continues to be with the new arrangement.
I do hope that people don’t use my general discussion of Tor as more fodder for the completely artificial “us v. them” formulation of publishers vs. self/indie pub. I find it generally tiring. Thanks.
On a separate note, since I didn’t make it 100% in the article: I like the new Tor logo a lot. It’s cleaner and sharper and a logo I think better reflects the marketplace as it exists right now.
Worked for Google… Change the world, but start by changing the font.
I’ve been reading Tor novels since the beginning; I was ten years old when my dad handed me Forerunner. The breadth of the work they’ve published over the last three and a half decades is just one reason they’re on my list of dream publishers. Patrick and Teresa’s support and advice at Viable Paradise is another; Patrick’s advice made finishing the novel much easier.
Wherever my writing career goes (and even if it never does), they’re tops for me. I hope they’re around for at least another 35 years; I’ll keep reading as long as they keep putting the books out there.
“Actually, your 100-year-old brand is superb, has a proud history, and shouldn’t be changed”… said no branding consultant, ever. *G*
That being said, Tor’s new logo seems that rara avis: an updated brand that preserves the history and worldwide recognition of the old logo. Well done!
When I first saw the new TOR logo, REI’s logo popped to mind. That would be REI, the outdoors/sporting goods company. . .The two logos are not identical, but both contain symbols that look like mountains . . .
@Jonathan Vos Post – I’m not sure that “Goo-Goo Google” (as Google Apologist and Anti-Privacy Fanboy Jeff Jarvis called it on This Week in Google) Font actually “works” at all. Yes, it may well have been meant to make Google appear cute and harmless in the wake of being seen as The Evil Empire in the EU (especially France and Germany, if Jarvis is to be believed), but to me it just looks like “Senility’s setting in a bit early, eh?”….
When I was first aware of Tor as a SF “brand” in the mid-late Eighties, it was due to the fact that a lot of books they were publishing were books I had no interest in reading. I’m not sure, given the rise of Puppy-dum, what that says about me, but I was more apt to enjoy something Baen published back then.
Either Tor’s booklist has gotten better, or my reading has….
Pretty sure the first Tor book that I read — that I remember it being a Tor book — was Ender’s Game.
“Irene Gallo, the company’s art director, who is one of the very best in publishing, period”
I’m assuming from the above that you mean Ms. Gallo is one of the best art directors in publishing, which I think has been pretty thoroughly demonstrated. Tor has consistently had phenomenal covers while she’s been there.
In the penultimate paragraph, it’s “fallible.” QED.
For the mature readers among us unfamiliar with every single Scalzi work, which one was the novel that began with the chapter-long fart joke?
@Peter: The Android’s Dream. :-)
I looked on my shelf to find the older Tor logo(s) for comparison. Here’s what I found (these were in various colors depending on the specific book):
@Dana A: a *lot* of various colors, too: for the “mountain-with-stars” fantasy logo, I count 15 different color variations on just my Modesitt paperback series alone before they seem to have standardized on white mountain and stars with a see-through interior, and the SF brand was just as varied. White mountain-purple sky-yellow stars followed by pale green-white-pale green. Doesn’t seem like they kept a standard color scheme within series or authors at all. Even the plain Tor mountain got different colors on different books, though just the one color. Wonder if they’ll keep that going with the new logo, or if it will always be blue and white?
Meh, I think the new logo’s kinda bland, but I guess that’s in fashion these days. Just once, though, I’d love to see a big company go for broke and go for baroque, when designing a logo. :D
I do want to take this opportunity to say something I’ve wanted to say for years, though:
I know you want people to write your company’s name in mixed case, rather than all-caps. Yet you print it in all-caps on the spine of every book you publish. What do you expect? Sheesh!
Oh, and congrats on your 35th, and thanks for all the good books over the years.
Um, I guess that’s it. Glad you’re happy with your publisher, John. I always like it when authors I like like their publishers.
i wonder whether its worth it to see if John C Wright complains on his blog about not being mentioned in the timeline due to his record Hugo nominations for works he did at a competing publisher.
David Drake wrote a blog post or something about how Robert Jordan’s sales in the 1990s allowed TOR to take risk on more new authors.
I have not read this yet, but I read about it at the Elitist book review… Peter Orullians first book bombed. The reviews I read said it was a cheap Eye of the World knock off. He got a new publisher and they let him re-write his first book. The reviews I read told me it was greatly improved. That strikes me as highly unlikely at most publishers. I have not read either version, so I can’t comment on the quality. Its worth reading about this on the Elitist Book Review site. The guy who runs it, helped him edit his new version.
Thank you, John. You’re a pleasure to work with.
Xtifr, spine logos have to read clearly when you’re doing a fast scan from a few feet away, and they have to work with all fonts, all cover art, all color schemes, and all spine sizes. Elegant simplicity is the way to go.
Dana A: that Tor Fantasy logo takes me back. I’d just started working in-house as Associate Managing Editor, which back then mostly meant “person responsible for interior pages of paperbacks.” Art and graphics weren’t mentioned when I was hired. I was a brass-knuckles text specialist.
At the time, Tor didn’t have a proper Art Director. Editors art-directed their own covers (some of them were better at it than others), and then freelance designers Joe Curcio and Carol Russo would make it happen. This arrangement stalled and jammed when Tor needed a Tor Fantasy logo. The designers had a game try at the fantasy-ish elements that were suggested to them — swords, stars, crescent moons, etc. — but it all came back looking Soviet or Islamic.
Debbie Notkin, who was working in Tor Editorial for a year, suggested that I have a go at the problem. Why ask me? The only possible explanation is that she’d seen my self-published fan art. I went home that evening and thought about it: genre fantasy, quasi-medieval, treat it as heraldry, make it shield-shaped. Put a mountain on it because Tor. Add stars because fantasy, especially the scene when they’ve just gotten out of Moria. Make the stars irregular because irregular stars are Just Better — more humorous — and because they don’t look Soviet or Islamic.
I rendered this somewhat ineptly in Adobe Illustrator 1.0, printed it out, and handed it off to Editorial when I got to work the next morning. That afternoon, Debbie Notkin stopped me in a hallway and said “Congratulations, you’ve designed the Tor Fantasy logo.”
So that was nice. I didn’t mind when it was eventually superseded years later, because by then it was looking a little clunky and dated. Besides, Irene & crew are much better designers than I ever was.
Personally, I was kind of sorry to see the Eurostile font (the square-ish blocky kind) go… but now that it’s considered “retro-futurist” (as one typography blog recently called it), it’s time for somebody else to use it (not making any suggestions, but…)