Welcome to our new free website column, focused on the stories that build the basis of Dungeons & Dragons—in particular the stories we tell through our novels line. Normally published on the first Tuesday of each month (starting in February), we’ll take you behind the curtain to meet the wizards on our story/publishing team and give you insights into the sometimes magical, sometimes mundane process of developing and presenting the stories of D&D. If there’s a question you’ve been dying to ask, or if there’s a topic you’d really like for us to cover, please feel free to shout it out in the comments field below. Or send me a private message on the community site. We want to hear from you!

Not coincidentally, the concluding part of our serial enovella series, Cold Steel and Secrets, releases today (hence the date of this column). And so for this first column, I wanted to address a topic that’s been foremost on our minds—as well as most of the book-loving world: digital publishing.

I’ll admit it. I’m a born-again ebook evangelist. I never thought I would be. Growing up, I loved physical books so much that in the 9th grade, I even taught myself how to make my own—coptic binding and all. No surprise that I became an editor. As an editor, you are the one person in the process who gets to stand witness to the creation of a book from beginning to end—from the birth of the manuscript, to the creation of the cover, to the devising of the marketing plan that sends the book off into the world. And at the end of that long journey, I’ve always loved that moment when I get to hold the book in my hands, hot off the press—the book that I’ve spend months, sometimes years, coaching into existence.

But the publishing world is evolving. And as a reader and an editor, so am I. At home, I read almost everything digitally. My household collectively owns three Sony Readers and two Kindles. Although I was an ebook skeptic at first, now I absolutely love them. For a read-a-holic like me, there’s nothing better than being able to purchase a book in the middle of the night from under the covers. Plus, I no longer have to lug around ten paperbacks for my one-week vacation, for fear that I’ll run out of something to read. I’ve got a hundred books on my ereader, ready for any emergency.

At Wizards of the Coast, although we’ve been taking baby steps for several years now, this past year has really seen us leapfrog forward in terms of digital publishing. Every one of our frontlist titles this past year was simultaneously published as an ebook (in all e-formats). We’re also working on making our entire backlist available. (With hundreds of titles, it will take some time.) For my fellow converts to the freedom of ebook reading, I hope this comes as welcome news. Others of you, I know, aren’t as thrilled by this direction.

Rest assured, our commitment to physical books is not going away. Ebook sales are growing exponentially, but are still a small fraction of sales industry-wide. So the part of me that relishes holding a physical book in my hands won’t be giving that up just yet. But from a creative standpoint, I’m excited about exploring the opportunities ebooks present. Without the fixed cost of paper to limit our word counts, our authors can tell the stories they want to tell in the length they need to tell them. We can offer exclusive related content within each book, such as additional short stories or novellas featuring the characters from the book, articles about monsters or magic items, exclusive maps and illustrations, author interviews, and eventually possibly even videos as well. We’ve already set the stage with our first ebook exclusive, Erik Scott De Bie’s Shadowbane, a thrilling Forgotten Realms novel about a dark vigilante hero. In the coming months we’ll be releasing more ebook exclusives based on 2012’s D&D themes and exploring what digital magic can allow us to create.

Ebooks also allow us to play with formats like the serial story that would be unviable for us in paper form. Cold Steel and Secrets, our first serial novella in years, is a prologue to the Neverwinter Campaign Setting that was released last fall and the forthcoming Neverwinter video game. One part fantasy mystery, one part spy thriller, the book opens as spy Rucas Sarfael infiltrates a group of antiroyalist rebels led by the beautiful fencing master Elyne.

The author, Rosemary Jones, crafted the story specifically as a serial, with tons of twists and turns and a devilish cliffhanger at the end of each section. A collector of serial fiction from the Victorian era, Rosemary relished the chance to play with one of her favorite genres. “Creating a serial story offered me a chance to work outside of the boundaries of the print publication. Which is always fun for a writer! This digital format, in many ways, would have seemed old hat to the authors of the late 19th century and early 20th century, when magazines and newspapers offered serialized fiction on a daily basis. But I'm glad that I'm composing on a laptop rather than scribbling with a pen or pounding on a typewriter!” It’s ironic that the evolution of ebooks allowed Rosemary to return to a form that was a cornerstone of a golden age of storytelling. Perhaps that’s a sign that ebooks aren’t going to kill publishing—but instead make it stronger than ever.

Lucky for those of you who haven’t read it, the final installment of Cold Steel and Secrets (Part IV) comes out today. Start at the beginning, and I guarantee that even you ebook skeptics won’t be able to put it down.

Nina Hess is the editor-in-chief of Wizards of the Coast/Dungeons & Dragons Novels and a hopeless read-a-holic. Before the days of ereaders, she had to resort to reading the hotel welcome packet if ever she was caught on vacation without enough to read. She was once almost kicked off a plane flight for sneaking out to buy a book on a layover.


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