Much Ado About Paper Books

*This post is in its entirety a copy of a post just published at Mad Genius Club (under another title.)  I don’t normally do this, but it’s such a long post, took me so much time (and I need to shower and write the paying stuff) and besides I think it will spark different discussion here, among mostly readers than there among mostly writers.  Feel free to comment on both blogs, if you wish, the discussion will take different paths.  I am shocked at how long this ran, but I think it needed to be said, and also available to refer to later, for good or ill.*

One of the puzzling things about the writing business, right now, is that “nobody knows anything” (or in proper vernacular “we don’t know nothing.”

So I am continuously puzzled watching indie authors who are doing better by an order of magnitude than any traditional writer I know succumbing to the lure of a traditional contract.  I’m not disapproving, mind you — who the hell am I to be disapproving of other people’s business decisions? If I had my time again, I doubt I’d have made most of the ones I made.  I’d still want to write for Baen, but that’s about it — I’m just jaw-dropped shocked.  Because they’ll be giving up 90% of their income or so.  But perhaps they want the respectability.  And perhaps they think it will give them further reach.

Is the reach thing true?  For now.  For a time. More on this later.

Is the respectability that important?  Sure, if you want to have some sort of job as a “real writer” such places are starting to choose indies, but not really.  Some conferences too (though we’re not absolutely sure, in this new era how much attendance of conventions contribute to sales, with the remarkable exception of hard copy books [more on that later.]) expect you to flash your “real writer” credentials in the form of  contract.  I even understand it from the social point of view, where when you’re at a party and people ask what you do, the question after you answer “writer” is “so have anything published?” (Or maybe that’s just to me, because of the accent.)  Mind you, you can answer “Sure” and  list your books and not say “indie” but I also know that when I say “Sure, x books with Berkley, x with Bantam and x with Baen” people’s attitude changes completely.  And I can see that when people suspect you’re indie they say “So you published yourself” and dismiss it.  I know that’s a stupid reason to give up 90% of your income, but humans are social animals and I can see “not being embarrassed at parties” making a difference.  I can even see the velveteen writer thing, wanting to be a “real” writer in your own eyes, the wy you envisioned it.

The thing is, that though people sometimes mention reach, most of what they actually mention as a reason is not sane.  They mention “excellent editorial developmental oversight.”  I.e. the publisher will assign someone to help you develop your book or take it to the next level.  I don’t know if this happens to some writers.  It doesn’t happen to ANY writers I know.  I’ve heard stories of it in the 40s and 50s of the last century, but whether that was true or memorex, who knows?  They mention publicity.  Uh… most of the publicity I’ve got, I’ve designed and paid for myself, and I suck like a dyson at it.  If the houses offered anything (other than an ad in locus, which I’ve sometimes got, but like conventions the question is how much it helps) I wouldn’t do it. Baen puts me in the Baen slide show, most of the time, and that’s the most any publisher has ever  done in terms of publicity. I’m grateful, and I’m not discounting it.  Part of the reason I’d still go with Baen “if I had my time again” (I’d go with Baen and put in a drawer for indie anything Baen didn’t want, so when indie hit, I’d be able to put a lot of stuff up that first year.  What? like you don’t plan for being able to send your mind back to your younger body.) is because they have a rabid and dedicated fanbase, and those slide shows help with word of mouth.

But other traditional houses?  I wouldn’t consider it!  Only most of the people doing this have never worked with the other houses, or studied the stories of successful indie who went trad.  That’s fine.  Their career, not mine.  Their decision, their results.

Is this because I think traditional publishing will go away?  No.  I do think however that the current houses are going to mutate. They have to, if they want to survive.

Now, I’ve never been a publishing executive, but I’ve been close enough to have an idea how traditional houses operate, how small/agile new houses operate (I saw the running of two really close up and personal and heaven have mercy on my soul, part of the plan for 2017 is to embark in starting/running a new one. [It’s complicated, but for accounting reasons, I need somewhere to send collaborations, to publish anthologies and to provide a haven to some of my friends [Kate, cough] who inexplicably don’t want to do it themselves.  If we’re going to do that, we’re publishing other friends who don’t want to do it themselves, and we’re hiring someone to deal with it day in day out so I still have time to write. Do NOT send me manuscripts because at this stage they’ll be circular filed.  We have enough for the first year, and after that our manager will set up some process to review — maybe — cold submissions.]

Here’s the thing, the publishing houses, as they currently exist, are the lumbering giants created by the merge-mania of the eighties.  They run several lines over several genres, hire mostly humanities graduates who might or might not have any interest in the line they’re overseeing, and more often than not belong to media conglomerates, for which they are a tiny and relatively unprofitable arm.

It wasn’t always like this.  Publishing enterprises in the — ah — good old days were often small businesses, run by people fanatically devoted to the genre/subgenre they published, and passionately interested in their version of good sf/mystery/whatever.  These enterprises ran at a tight margin and paid book-reps to hit the road, as traveling salesmen, putting books into small bookstores and gas stations and yes corner convenience stores.

All of this is as dead as the dodo, and it was the change in distribution that caused the change in publishing.

When the mega bookstores came in, and, with their discounts and glitzy fronts swept the mom and pop bookstores out of the business, small publishers were out of luck.  You didn’t even need book reps, really, though you still had them.  Their job was now to wine and dine the regional manager of B & N or Borders, or what have you, who in turn chose to place the books the publisher was “pushing” (not all of them) into every branch of the store int he tri-state area.

And this is ultimately what burned the mega stores, because h*ll, the market is different in the same state, say between Denver and the Springs, let alone between Denver and Columbus Kansas.

To make it worse, the agglomeration and conglomeration of the business made it that the people in charge really didn’t read what they were pushing. Push or non push was decided in a business meeting at the publisher’s headquarters.  The rep didn’t read it, and the store’s tri-state manager was an MBA graduate who might never have read a book in his life and who, last year, might have been managing shoe stores, and next year might manage grocery stores.

This worked for a time, both because book addicts are book addicts, and because there was nowhere else to turn for our fix.  The “push” worked too, because if there are a hundred of the book, you’ll stop and pay attention, where you might not if there are two.

But such a model could only work with excellent choices, geared at the fandom of the particular genre, and that was not what we were getting.  It was more the “new new” thing that some NYC office decided to pursue.

And so, as a reader (I wasn’t even published when the decline became obvious) I (and my friends) started referring to bookstore trips, looking for new material, as “I’m going to go and get disappointed by Barnes and Noble, or Borders, or whatever.”  And here we’re talking of people who had a hard and fast trip to the book store a week penciled into their social calendar.

It might have dragged on.  Almost certainly would, see addicts and fix.  But disruptive technology happened. Kindle came on.  And though a few hard and fast (older — more on that) readers are still stuck on their paperbooks, I actually prefer my paperwhite, because of lighting and ability to read next to a sleeping spouse, as well as portability of an entire library in my purse.  Most people seem to.

And here I go into how I have visibility into at least two new-publishers (we should call them agile-publishers) and countless indies.  For every one who says they sell a lot of paper books (and there are reasons usually for those) most people sell a hundred ebooks to one paper book.

You read that right.  A hundred to one.

Which brings us to bookstores.  Barnes and Noble still survives — barely — but I had to go there last month, to buy a gift for a friend (because I’m a derp and was having massive asthma attacks, so I forgot to order.)  They still have books, at first blush.  On second approach you realize a good 50 percent are book-shaped objects.

I’m not dumping on the adult coloring-book craze.  Some of my hobbies are weirder.  BUT I’m telling you that those aren’t books that will help traditional publishers of FICTION.  They’re just books in which traditional doesn’t face competition from Indie.  Yet.

Most of the other books were non fiction (that’s not new) i.e. what celeb x says about how you should run your life, manuals for this or that computing platform, or (and I confess for research I still use paper books) history books, quote books, that sort of thing.  Oh, and a whole lot of lifestyle gifts  “Night lights for the discerning night reader” and “Mugs to impress your colleagues at work” type of stuff.

Mind you distributing to B & N even in their present state is still an advantage of traditional (hence the more later) but how long it will be, I don’t know.  No one knows, at this point, if B & N will survive, or if the pivoting of their business away from fiction books will leave any room for fiction books on their shelves.

Also from grumblings I heard, while trad publishing is still making money in fiction, that part of the business is being subsidized by non fic and “lifestyle and hobby books.”

Which brings us to the part of this post (ah, you though we were almost done, you fools) where I put on my futurist hat.

Remember that making predictions is hard, particularly about the future. However, yesterday I had some news that made me think “All is proceeding as I have foreseen.”

Before we get to that I’ll give anecdata which might or might not be in any way significant, but it’s the sort of thing I do to keep an eye on what is happening in various fields, books included.

Because I am a cheapskate (Everyone say “Noooooo”.  Thank you.  I feel better.) I often shop through craigslist.  I knew vcr tapes were on the way out when people were giving away the cabinets and shelves designed for them.  And I suspect a lot of people are giving up on dedicated TVs (we already have, but we are a techy household) and having large computer screens fulfill the need (which btw, must play havoc with Nielsens because you really watch whenever) because everyone is outright giving away “entertainment cabinets” made for the huge tvs of the 90s.

Which brings us to bookshelves.  I have been a bookshelf hunter for years (now I intend to build up another wall in the library, after I deliver the next three books, and donate/get rid of mine, too) and now, in the last five years for the first time, they’re showing up free or very cheap and in batch lots.  And I hear of more and more people going “electronic” and getting rid of paper books, which, let us face it, for all their sentimental associations, are cumbersome dust traps that make you need twice the house space.

Also, when we moved out of the last house, we put up a batch of 1k books for sale on amazon, and then the bottom fell out, after about a month or two, and I just donated something like 7 k books.

Judging by my own buyer behavior, I only buy 1c used books, and only for things I either can’t get or are insanely expensive in e (I’m not buying a mystery for $14 in ebook.  No.  Won’t be happening.  I’ll buy some of my sf favorites in both paper and e but it hurts like hell.)

And here we hit on the problem traditional houses are having.  They’re not geared for ebooks.  Ebooks offer them no advantage over indie.  (In fact I wish to hell they’d get competent ebook people.  I just bought an e “boxed set” of Miss Marple mysteries, and when I have time I’m going to ask a friend to remove the DRM.  Oh, not so I can give it away, but so that I can put it on my computer and reformat it.  This is a 7 (I think) book collection that has NO WAY to navigate between books.  There’s a table of contents within each book, but not for the boxed set in general.  Also, the indents are about half an inch, which looks bizarre on the kindle, and there are ENTIRE SECTIONS doublespaced.)  They don’t know how to publicize/promote books, beyond the obligatory page on a genre trade magazine, and maybe some talk from their editors in blogs.  They only know how to push books to the super-bookstores and those don’t matter with indie.  I saw them once put an ad for a book they were pushing in a times square billboard.  This was early days of kindle competition.  It doesn’t seem to have done them much good, particularly since the book was a fantasy niche.  I sometimes hear of that book and author, and I judge they’re both about the level I’m at.

They are simply NOT equipped to make the switch from “big push to big stores” to “market ebooks.”  And part of the problem, of course, is that none of us is too sure how to market ebooks.  (I seem to have had some success with DST marketing on comics vaguely related to the book.  I need to look into that again.  The years since 2011 have been too fraught to do anything like that again, but things are calming down.)

Most of what markets ebooks seems to be word of mouth, which intersects badly with the annual-and-done model of big publishers, who at least are no longer taking books out of print on the anniversary of their publication, but also aren’t giving those books any help, while holding onto them.

Compared to the new agile-model long-tail publishers (most of them medium size, not large, sort of like the old publishers, pre mega-mergers.  Or sort of like Baen, though Baen is mixed on this, since it’s larger than these agile-publishers) the traditionals have hellofalot of sunken costs: buildings in NYC, dedicated editors/proof readers/book reps/cover designers who must be paid every month, whether or not the book makes money.  The model I’m seeing emerge from the agile publishers is more a 50/50 (or sometimes 75/25 (with the house taking the greater part and justifiable, depending on what the writer negotiates and how much of the burden the publisher is shouldering, for promo, etc.) with fees for proofreaders, cover artists, finders fees for readers, etc. coming out (as a percentage, say 5% for a proofreader, 10% for a structural editor, etc) of the book’s earnings.

Since there is no advance in most cases, this reduces the house’s sunken costs to pretty much zero.  Which makes them better, faster, leaner, and more able to survive bets on books that just don’t sell.  (This is something that can’t be helped. Even if there were decent customer surveys — there aren’t — it’s impossible to figure out what will catch fire.  See the “nobody knows nothing” in this new ebook thing.)

Meanwhile, these emergent, agile businesses, in the end, provide the same respectability and further reach to indie writers.  Maybe not as much, but they’re changing, and these are the people that traditionals need to compete with.

Dave Freer, in this site, has many times told them “abandon the office in NYC.  Give up the raft of employees that do almost nothing for the books.  Stop with your concentration on promoting bestsellers who would sell anyway.”

They probably won’t do that.  They probably won’t do what I suggest below, too, though I’ve seen some movement in that direction.

Yesterday I heard that Ace, who was an almost-exclusively paperback publisher has now gone all-hardcover.  And I muttered “quite right” except at their decision to shed writers they don’t think “fancy enough” (my wording, not theirs) for hardcover.

Because those are the writers they should be concentrating on.  The ones with a large following, writing popular books, not “prestigious” ones.

From what I’ve seen, both from agile publishers, and from my own experience as a reader and a writer, paper books are becoming, instead of a vehicle for the story, a sort of promotional product, crossed with a souvenir/collectible.

Most of your paper books will sell from events where you meet your fans.  Most of them will be signed.  Even people divesting from paperbooks (even us!) keep signed copies of books they REALLY like.  Because it’s something they can touch and admire and which sometimes reminds them of meeting the author.

So  going hardcover is a brilliant idea, as is (as Baen who is smarter than the average bear is doing) bringing out numbered, signed leatherbound editions of your most popular authors and books.  That cashes right in to the “collectible” market.

The next step to this, which I suspect that traditional publishers will not see their way to doing, would be booths at all the massive conventions (comicon, or more closely related to the book’s content, say gun shows for Larry Correia, or space conferences for me (scientists LIKE pulp.)  Have your author flown to those, have them meet the readers.  Sell books.  Sell more books (and ebooks) by word of mouth, as people talk about how great it was to meet Big Bestseller, how fun he/she is, and how great his/her books are.

So, are there other venues for traditional publishers, where they would have the advantage (being able to fund a booth, which is pricey, at major events?) over indies.

Sure.

I don’t know how many of you are familiar with the concept of a packager.  In SF/F (and mystery) for many years the late Marty Greenberg was the packager par excellence, and I worked for him for years, off and on, as a writer.  Some years, he was the one who kept the lights on in my house, and certainly the one who kept my then fast-growing sons in shoes.

A packager is someone who comes up with an idea, sells it to major publisher, finds writers to work it, and takes a relatively small cut for his effort.

A lot of Marty’s sales were anthologies (and I miss getting a phone call saying “Sarah, we have a hole in an antho, can you write a short story on fairyland, say about 11k words by this afternoon?”

But there were others.  If a bestseller got critically ill or ran away with his office boy and a  suitcase of turkey feathers, and they needed the book yesterday, people who could imitate styles would get a phone call saying “Can you write this?” and then get very well paid indeed both for the work and for keeping their mouth shut forever.

Sometimes the houses took their own hand at a sort of packaging, too.  I wrote Plain Jane under the house name Laurien Gardner, for what was then for me the biggest advance I’d ever got and — my agent fought like hell for this — a 2% royalty.  That book has now made me double the advance on that paltry royalty share, which means it’s probably a cash cow for the house.

Houses can and perhaps should do that.  Take young and eager writers, and chain them to the house name mills. Have them write in either fantastically successful series, (how successful? Well, Weber might work.  I don’t know if anything below would) or really appealing concepts, or perennials, like say Henry VIII’s wives.

The more inventive houses could hire an actor to play the author at their booth.  Or they could delegate a junior staff member to write the author’s blog, within guidelines.  (NO politics, but you can talk about your dog, Little Tail.)

Another way to do it is shared worlds, either owned or contracted to the publisher.  This is a risky thing.  Sure some shared worlds (163x) do very well, (but it was also started way back, and the original concept-holder kept tight hold on the concept and who gets to play in it) but as Kindle World’s attests, it’s hit or miss, and depends (as all books do) on whether it catches the reading public’s fancy AS A CONCEPT enough to support books by very different authors.  In the sense that each author uses his/her name, it’s fairer to the author, but it is also a big issue in terms of name recognition.  This becomes not “I love that new series by Laurien Gardner” but “I kind of liked what so and so did with x world.”  Honestly, if I were a publisher going that route I’d acquire the rights to some of the more popular gaming or anime series, because you have a proven “I like this world” concept there.

[Addendum I meant to put in: it would also be wise for publishers to start an ebook-only side, and some like Harlequin have.  This could not just be the “farm team” to identify authors who could fly with a little push, but also a way to test “shared worlds” and “packaged concepts” cheaply.  OTOH since having a paper edition is now the mark of “real book” it might be that this would be counterproductive and cause these books to be ignored.  I don’t know.  I just know if I were a traditional publisher, I’d try it.]

The middle option is frankly awful for writers, as they would be laboring in other peoples’ vineyards, with no right of reversal, no name recognition and maybe no royalties.  BUT OTOH if they pay enough up front, it’s a living and new writers could sharpen their skills that way.  Maybe.  (Those who don’t wish to go indie.)

Will the houses do any or all of these?  Yes, I suspect so.  In the long run.  Those that survive.  Because they’re larger organizations, it’s going to take them a while to turn the boat around, but some of them will do it and will thrive.  And some other houses will join in that model.

What I don’t think they’ll ever be again is the primary market for writers of fiction to sell to.  No.  That primary market is and will continue to be the general public, directly.  And that’s an option that opens up new vistas of income and perhaps even of fan-building.

So strap down, it’s going to be a wild ride.  But those of us willing to try new things should be better off in the end.

185 responses to “Much Ado About Paper Books

  1. Another virtue of Baen, and one not to be sneered at lightly, is their “back of the book” promotion (as well as inclusion in the various versions of the Free Library) in which readers of Bujold, Ringo, Weber, Flint, etc. are advised: If you enjoyed this book you might also enjoy …”

    I believe other publishers do similar (if less enthusiastic) promotion of their back list, but I’ve doubts their Brand is so well curated as to generate much enthusiasm.

    I admit that when I was in High School I took up ordering publishers’ monthly “catalogs” and ordering all the SF offerings that caught my interest in a given month, but that was pre-Amazon and even then I was cognizant that I was not anybody’s definition of “normal.”

    • …even then I was cognizant that I was not anybody’s definition of “normal.”

      And how many literate wallaby’s have you encountered so far?

    • I was rereading through the Baen Galaxy magazines recently and I realized just how much effort Jim put into not only promotion, but trying new ways to do it better. He was always promoting, all the time. He may have been almost as good as Stan Lee.

  2. …I need to shower and write the paying stuff

    Go and do. Clean is good. Stuff that pays is good when you write it, at least this has been my experience so far, so I wouldn’t mind at all if you kept it up. 😉

  3. Chocolate covered c4c

  4. Publishing houses, as they currently exist … more often than not belong to media conglomerates, for which they are a tiny and relatively unprofitable arm.

    One of the sad facts of the comic book business is that the comics don’t make any money (at least, not in the amounts to show up in conglomerate ledgers as other than rounding errors.

    But boy howdy, do they ever excel at creating intellectual properties that can be licensed for movies, TV and toys — areas where the real money is harvested.

    Thus DC is an R&D sink for Warner, and Marvel for Disney.

    Actual comic book sales don’t generate enough zeroes after the dollar amount to even show up on income statements.

    • Christopher M. Chupik

      Not anymore they don’t, the end result of the grey-gooification of the comics industry.

      Seriously, those guys need Sad Puppies more than SF/F.

      • There’s a reason I largely stopped reading comics in the late 80’s (long about 87). The X-Men had gotten slit your own throat depressing. And while Batman had had his darker and lighter periods, taking an excellent one-shot mini-series (Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”) and making it the mainstream Batman ruined the character for me. (Want to see good Batman? Try The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne, To Kill a Legend–both collected in “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told”–and Night of the Stalker.) And so on and so on. Yeah, money was tight then too, but I would have scraped up money for some if the stories hadn’t become so uniformly dark. Bleah. Add in the recently diagnosed (but untreated) depression I had in the day and, well, give me Heinlein’s Juveniles any day.

        • What soured me on the Big Two was the advent of the Mega-crossover. But I have an indy comic habit dating back to the Black and White Explosion, and those are still going strong-ish.

          • Christopher M. Chupik

            It’s the advent of the never-ending-mega-crossover that’s really irritating.

            • I had just decided to give one DC title a try again when they launched “The New 52”, killed the story, and I was done.

              • What, you don’t buy comics to see Batman’s butt as he’s having on-screen, intense sex with Catwoman on the top of a building?

                What’s wrong with the Hoes and He-Hoe relaunch?

                *sarcasm dripping*

                Seriously, how the heck they managed to make Harley less attractive by putting her in a hooker costume with a Lolita twist, it boggles the mind.

                • Just watched the new R-rated DC animation of the Killing Joke. To pad it out they added a story in the beginning with Batgirl and Batman working together. They have an argument and then end up having rooftop sex. By the time they got to the Alan Moore plot, it actually felt rather weak.

    • They use to make money– back when they were making money they were also making those intellectual properties.

      And now when the movies tap into that Awesome, instead of echoing the grey goo from the modern stuff, they rake in money, too.

      • The movies can use elements of the more recent stories. Both the second and third Captain America movies drew their official inspirations. But when you actually go and see the films, you realize that you’re watching carefully set up bait and twist plots. You go in with expectations about what you’re going to see. The existing history behind the storylines that are being adapted contribute to those expectations. And then at some point in the movie, you realize that you’ve been fooled. The conflict in the movie is because of something else entirely.

        And one of the great things about it is that in both movies, I can pretty much peg the exact moment when the pieces finally fall into place. For instance, in The Winter Soldier, it’s the bunker scene when a completely unexpected character suddenly reveals himself.

  5. To make it worse, the agglomeration and conglomeration of the business made it that the people in charge really didn’t read what they were pushing. Push or non push was decided in a business meeting at the publisher’s headquarters.

    In fairness, it is likely that publishing houses rationally concluded that it didn’t matter if a book is “good” — especially if it is good by their standards. The history of publishing is strewn with books rejected multiple times by authors of lesser talent that found a niche and struck a nerve in the public knee. I expect any of us could name three better and more “deserving” writers than J. K. Rowling (I’ll start the bidding with Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, and Patricia Wrede) but that simply does not matter. It isn’t a question of who is the better writer but who captures the public’s (Twilight) imagination.

    Of course, the field is not shaped by who hits the jackpots but by who consistently pops out moderately successful product — but the industry tends to focus on the jackpot (just as film focuses on blockbusters) because those are what get editors promoted and publishers huge year-end bonuses.

    It ain’t fair, but what’s fair got to do with anything?

    • I adore all three of those writers (and I love Harry Potter, too), but Susan Cooper and her Dark Is Rising sequence holds a special place in my heart!

      • The Dark is Rising series is a great treat, a family favorite, and casting Chrestomanci is a not uncommon choice for whiling away the odd hour, but the point is, of course, that writing a great book and writing a best-selling book are almost entirely different things, with the latter task possibly being the harder one.

    • In fairness to Mrs Rowling, her initial Harry Potter offering, like Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time or Tom Clancy’s Hunt for Red October was roundly rejected by most of the major publishers. Little Women (Alcott) would have got a pass but the editor’s teenage daughters raided his slush pike, wouldn’t give it back and be wasn’t a fool.

      “Deserving” Isn’t the right word here. The problem is with gatekeepers.

  6. a few hard and fast (older — more on that) readers are still stuck on their paperbooks

    Regrettably, while I still resolutely prefer tree slaughtering to provide my reading matter, I am no longer either hard (by any definition beyond hard-headed) nor fast. I also recognize the peculiarity and inconvenience of my preference and have no desire to command the Universe comply with my tastes.

    • Then again, my wife, who passed retirement age some time ago, has pretty much stopped reading paper books because they are hard on the arthritis in her hands. With the ebook reader, that problem goes away, as does the issue of inadequate type size. Another benefit is that she gets to enjoy old books long out of print, courtesy gutenberg.org.
      Sarah, for DRM, search out the “DeDRM” program, it works nicely and is easy to use. For managing downloaded or modified ebooks, I use calibre. Both are free (open source) software.

      • Been trying that, because I prefer reading on my ‘nix laptop over phone, and haven’t had much luck getting it to de-DRM. Yes I use Calibre. Wonder what’s up with that, since from my observation I have the latest versions.

        I still prefer paper books, especially for reference and research.

  7. As to marketing ebooks, I wonder what would happen if a publishing house employed the KULL model for their back listings? A simple subscription to the entire catalog of Random House or Scribner or whoever might generate a tidy little income stream.

    Or imagine a subscription to the e-file of every issue f Analog ever published? Probably not doable, rights having reverted, but the accounting for fees to writers published would likely not be so great of a challenge to preclude the process.

    • The sad thing is I wouldn’t trust them with the accounting.

      • Perhaps licensing/outsourcing it to a credible third party, such as Amazon which already has the in-house systems developed?

        Probably best to do it by issue rather than story; while they undoubtedly have the ability to determine which story in any given issue gets read there is a benefit to protecting readers’ privacy. Alternatively, there is a likelihood that the stories read won’t be cover stories — everything by, e.g., RAH/Anson MacDonald is likely already available in an anthology and the reasons for swimming in the Analog pool would be for lesser known, not republished works (or as a way for field historians to see what was being published at a given time.)

    • Or imagine a subscription to the e-file of every issue of Analog ever published?

      You realize that you can already find find copies of every issue of Astounding just by judiciously search Archive.org? As for every issue of Analog, I suspect most of them are there, but my interest begins to wane after the Campbell years. The pre-Street & Smith issues appear to be public domain; so, you can find them at Project Gutenberg

      • I downloaded them all, and Galaxy, and If, and a bunch of ancient SF magazines I’d never heard of.

        Apparently there have been some issues with copyright; a few of the issues have stories redacted by request of Poul Anderson’s estate.

        High-res copies of everything run about 15Gb. I’d set up a torrent if I had any outgoing bandwidth…

        • Odd about that copyright comment. If the copyright has expired — which would be the case for those old magazines if it wasn’t renewed at the end of the initial 28 year term — then the work is in the public domain as of that point. The wishes of the author or his estate after that are legally irrelevant, and I would not expect Gutenberg to pay attention to requests to suppress or edit public domain material.
          It’s a different issue if the copyright was renewed and that renewal was originally overlooked. It’s not that hard to find the renewals, though — the Copyright Office published them monthly.

    • At least two publishing houses have– DC and Marvel. You can sub and get access to at least some of their old, good issues.

      Last I heard, it made more money than the modern comics. 😀

      • I don’t know about DC. But Marvel has a mobile app that allows you to grab just about anything that they’ve published. I haven’t confirmed that their contents go all the way back to the start of Marvel (which would be Fantastic Four #1, iirc, and presumably doesn’t include stuff like the old Captain America stories), but it might very well all be there.

        • The Marvel app includes the Timely and Atlas era stuff as well. You can read Namor and Human Torch to your heart’s content.

  8. Christopher M. Chupik

    I had to roll my eyes recently when I saw a book at the library (forgot the author) which advertised “Contains bonus chapter not found in e-book version!”

    • Probably the first chapter of the next book.

      I find those incredibly annoying. If I like the book/author, I want to sit and enjoy the ending – and make my own decision as to whether I will seek out the next.

      • Something I’ve wondered: If I skip reading the “free chapter of my next book in the series!” tacked onto the end in a Amazon KU book, does that “didn’t read to the end” status impact how much the author gets paid?

        • The system is supposed to pay for pages read. I don’t know how that would work with a free chapter of another book, unless that’s put in as an appendix or something.

          I didn’t know they had a ‘didn’t read until the end’ count.

        • Yes.
          (Although it must also have some kind of rounding error, because I’ve seen case of 61 of 64 pages being read on mine. Easier to spot when you only sell one at a time.)

      • In contrast to that, look at Brandon Sanderson’s most recent ‘Alcatraz vs. the Evil Librarians’ book. The original idea was to have an envelope with a card containing important information on the inside back cover of the book. But, among other things, cards in envelopes are kind of hard to do in e-book format. So they did it a different way.

  9. A related article in today’s WaPo.
    https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/meet-the-elite-group-of-authors-who-sell-100-million-books-or-350-million/2016/12/20/db3c6a66-bb0f-11e6-94ac-3d324840106c_story.html?utm_term=.4903cd640732

    I’m wondering in the hard science or fantasy genre who is considered a sales superstar. I confess I don’t check sales, because I read what I like, based on recommendations from friends I trust.

    • Hunh. I missed that in their online paper. Thanks for the Head’s up.

      There is also this interesting tidbit in their Metro section:
      Students, some of them immigrants, write children’s books inspired by their own life’s journeys
      Wilmer De La O left El Salvador three years ago, taking a month-long journey to reach the United States. Now a senior at Park View High School in Sterling, Va., he still speaks in halting English, but he dreams of becoming an educator so he can someday teach his adopted language to other newcomers.

      In a small way, he is already on his way. As part of a project called Viajes de Mi Vida — or, Journeys of My Life — De La O and about 70 of his classmates conceived, wrote and illustrated children’s storybooks in English and Spanish that are now in the hands of Salvadoran schoolchildren.

      “It feels great because you’re sharing what you think, and you know that children from your own country are reading it,” De La O said.

      De La O, 18, and his classmates have published 15 children’s stories as part of the project, which is in partnership with the Loudoun County Public Library and funded with a grant from the American Libraries Association. The project included award-winning illustrator and author John Parra appearing at the school library for a two-day workshop. The school assembled a group of students — including English-language learners and aspiring writers and artists — to draft and illustrate the stories over several weeks.

      [SNIP]

      Keivan Malhani, a 16-year-old sophomore, said the project taught lessons that are difficult to get in a traditional classroom. He said he improved his ability to work in teams and got an inside look into the publishing process.

      “We didn’t just learn how to just write a book. We learned the whole experience of publishing a book, cooperating with a team,” he said. “All these skills you can’t really teach unless you’re in that situation.”

      Headley said some students, who spoke English only tenuously at the start, were confident enough to read their books aloud in English by the end of the project.

      “They are proud of their journey and they are viewing the academic journey ahead with a new sense of hope and ownership and pride in a very humble manner,” she said.

    • SF sales Superstars:
      Larry Correia
      David Weber
      John Ringo.

  10. On the shared worlds … there is the Baen method of pairing an established author and a (leave us be polite and call him/her lesser) known writer to write a book or series. This has several benefits, such as allowing the known author to write a draft, do a final edit and mentor a newish writer, presumably a less demanding effort than cranking out whole books and enabling more titles to come out as part of Name Author’s brand than Name Author would ordinarily produce in a year.

    See: Weber/Ringo Empire of Man series
    See: Ringo’s Graveyard series anthology
    See: Correia’s Monster Hunter tie-ins

    Paperbacks as promotional products has intriguing possibilities. Giving away (or selling at low price or offering to accept returned ppb for discount with purchase of HB edition) PPBs would be a way of promoting new authors’ series, a function they’ve sorta kinda served traditionally, e.g., Butcher’s early Dresden books. The key is for publishers to seriously and deeply consider what the actual function of a dead tree book is and craft their product to that market’s requirements. Giving books as gifts is still done, or so I hear, especially when a recipient’s tastes are readily recognized (my family frequently gives me books on Baseball History for reasons which escape me.)

    • Collaborations are great when they work, but authors are a cranky bunch and some shall we say not the most efficiently organized sorts. The coordination required between two authors lengthens the development time exponentially. Weber/Ringo Empire of Man is the perfect example.
      And one poorly chosen pairing can effectively outrage fans and kill a series.

      • And even if a collaborative pairing is a success, sometimes the fledgling author can stumble once he/she leaves the nest.

    • limited addition 5 years after first addition
      On Basilisk Station ISFDB Publication Record # 24877
      Authors: David Weber
      Year: 1998-10-00
      Publisher: Baen
      Price: $1.99

  11. Reblogged this on Spin, strangeness, and charm and commented:
    Sarah Hoyt expands on the shape of things to come in the publishing world: when people give away bookcases for free on CraigsList, and voracious readers give books away by the thousands, you know paper books will eventually acquire curio status except in some niche markets.

  12. Another related note that shows my age, and how the “houe author” hasn’t aged well. In the early ’60s Franklin W Dixon books (Hardy Boys) were very readable, including those published in the ’50s that I bought at a used book store. I recently went back about 2011 and picked up a new Franklin W Dixon book and the writing was terrible. The teen detectives had cell phones but the plot was paper thin, the main and supporting characters were cartoon thin. Not an engrossing read. I’m guessing writren for the illiterate i year old of today.

    • Been that way with the new ones since the ’90s.

      • I gather that what has been done to Nancy Drew in this age of “female empowerment” is even more horrible.

        I do wonder how the Tom Swift books have held up; when I was a youth they had retired Dad in favor of Jr. but I found some of the originals in a library and found them rollickin’ reads.

        I wonder whether Baen could get the rights to do an anthology of contemporary authors each doing a Tom Swift tale?

        Oh John Ringo No! We don’t need a story about Tom Swift and the Electric Vibrator!

      • Even the 80s ones were fairly horrible compared to the more well written earlier ones.

    • BobtheRegisterredFool

      That family of house names goes back a hundred years. You can read the Victor Appleton Tom Swift books on gutenberg.

      Wiki says the properties were sold to a corporate publisher in the ’80s, which is about right for some of the decline. I understand that newer versions of the same story printed these days are severely bowdlerized.

    • When I realized that added rape, torture, arson, and terrorism to what had been growing up books for boys, they mysteriously vanished from the books my precocious 7-year old was reading. I don’t think he picked them up when he was older.

  13. Food for thought … I think I last went into a Barnes & Noble to meet a Watercress client in the coffee shop.
    Interesting thought about the specialty hard-bound editions for sales to fans … I have the Trilogy in hardback, and a very nice-looking book it is, too – but I hardly make any money on it, and it is so heavy that most readers find it difficult to read. I have considered doing some of my other books as hard-bound souvenir editions, though …

    • I confess I dislike thick PPBs — anything over 350 – 400 pages is ill-suited to the format, in my not at all humble opinion. But then, I have largely perfected the art of reading a PPB without leaving egregious creases in the spine or mangling the covers, a trait which marks me — to judge by the abused books on offer in the used book stores — as not normal.

      Well, shucks — good thing “being normal” ain’t on my bucket list.

      A HB trilogy is a serious investment for a work not already known. Creating artisanal editions of books for the souvenir trade has its attractions, providing there is adequate market for that purpose. I seem to recall they tried that with the Louis L’Amour Library a time or two over the years, allowing people to subscribe to quite reasonably priced fancy editions to be sent out every other month but I know not how that ended up working. If there is an author popular enough to make that a sustainable niche it would be L’Amour.

      • If I’m reading a thick paperback – especially traveling – I simply rip off the section I had time to read and tuck the remainder in my pocket. For some reason this upsets people.

      • I encounter a lot of used paperbacks apparen;tly previously owned by people who read only the right-hand page. At least, all the pages and front cover were tightly rolled up… pretty much ruins the book.

      • I have largely perfected the art of reading a PPB without leaving egregious creases in the spine or mangling the covers, a trait which marks me — to judge by the abused books on offer in the used book stores — as not normal.

        In this regard we can be not normal together. I have paperbacks that I have read multiple times that still look like they came new off the shelf at the bookstore. It is definitely more difficult, though not impossible, with thicker paperbacks, particularly of the mass market variety. I’ve found trade paperbacks hold up better overall, but there’s the cost issue involved there.

      • I’ve been looking up how to hard-bind your own books; because I want to rescue some beloved paperbacks that are rereads and fun. Not sure if I can do it, because it’s a lot of effort and I’m not sure I can find the necessary hard-stuff for the cover, but I’m looking it up.

  14. …seldom commenter/always lurking …now regard this as the go-to “how to” rules-for-success for newbies. Thanks so much SH.

  15. I’d still want to write for Baen, but that’s about it …

    I’ve already come to the conclusion that pretty much the only way I’d write for a publisher is if Baen or someone similar enough like them to have the same good rep came to me and just wanted to print the physical editions. Just print them.

    People scoff when they hear I’m not bothering to send my books into any publishers … but the thing is I really don’t see a need. As ebooks go, I’m doing pretty well—better and better all the time, actually—and one of the old “classic” publishers isn’t a need for me.

    Sure, if Baen happens across my work and contacts me regarding a physical deal, I’ll take a look at it. After all, I’ve got fans clamoring for hardcovers I can’t give them (doesn’t help that some of my books blast right past the createspace limit on pages), so there’s a market there to be filled that I don’t have the means to fill. It’s open. But at the same time, I’m not going to throw myself at that segment so completely I lose what momentum I’ve already built and gained.

    The beautiful thing is that I can afford to have this position. It used to be that you needed a publisher to get anywhere, to be anything. Now?

    The publishers need the authors. Authors can be picky. The power balance has shifted in the content creator’s favor.

    I’m okay with this.

    • Yeah I think that nails it. Publishers are being disintermediated away. What you need at this point is not a publisher but a printer who can stock stuff for Amazon and others. I suspect that’s a niche that some enterprising printing company will figure out and fill.

      • Part of the thing, is people on facebook are going “Don’t be silly, they’re still selling a lot of other things — than genre” and that’s true, of course. But each line is to an extent a separate account, and the pop fic lines were always run on very tight margins. I think those are hurting badly.

    • If you have a demand for hardcovers, have you looked into IngramSpark / LightningPress for example? If you have a sufficient demand, you could set up a run with those companies which (assuming you price your hardback at $20+/book or so before shipping) may be somewhat profitable and give you things to bring to conventions, etc. to sign and sell.

      • Size is the catch I keep running into with places. A lot of my books are large and long (I do epics) … and in some cases outstrip print capability. My most recent title, for example, Colony, weighs in at over 1100 pages—well past most small print press’ capacities.

        • Have you considered the Tolkien approach then? (i.e. split into 3 books)

          • There’s a catch with that. A few catches, actually. The first being that then you need three, self-contained stories … rather than one, cohesive whole. You get the same problem that plagued the movie adaptation of The Hobbit which was, to borrow Bilbo Baggin’s phrase “stretched like butter over too much bread.”

            There are other problems as well. Where with one volume, it’s one purchase, with splitting something into three volumes, you also have three sales to make. A good deal for royalties, maybe … but not so much for the reader.

            Books as large as Colony and larger still have been published, but it’s usually something like Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives: a specialty print specifically for the massive volume.

            All I need to do is get ebook sales to the point where that’s the logical option.

            • For those unfamiliar with Sanderson’s Stormlight series, the second (and most recent) of the planned ten books was literally at the absolute maximum page count that the book binder could handle.

            • The truth of the matter is that Tolkien himself designed the Lord of the Rings as a single work and it was always a publishing decision to split it into three books.

              Let’s take Colony as an example. I assume this is the Colony to which you are referring:
              https://www.amazon.com/Colony-Max-Florschutz-ebook/dp/B01MDSRRFQ

              Just looking at the table of contents, I can tell you already have it divided into 4 parts. I’ll admit, I’m in the process of reading the Amazon sample, so please forgive me if I get this slightly wrong:
              Book I: Prologue & Part I (ends with what is currently Interlude I)
              Book II: Part II (ends with what is currently Interlude II)
              Book III: Parts III and IV (with End and Epilogue)
              Depending on how many pages are in Part II versus Parts III and IV, you might decide to shift Part III into Book II – but guessing by the number of chapters in each part, this would work. The only additional work you might consider is (a) adding a dramatis personae list to the end of each of the three books, (b) adding an additional intro chapter to books II and III summarizing what you view as the key events in Books I and II respectively and (c) coming up with subtitles for the three books: “Colony – _______”, “Colony – ________” and “Colony – __________”. Key additional thoughts for you: (i) If there is a way to exclude the additional intro chapter on what has gone before from the Amazon preview, I’d recommend you do so. (ii) The subtitles could be as simple as “Beginnings”, “Intermezzo”, “Finale” or could actually reflect something of what is going on in a given part of the book.

              Now, let’s talk pricing. You have the complete saga priced at $7.99 on Amazon. For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to presume you’d leave the current offering available. For “Colony – Beginnings” (i.e. Book I), I’d suggest an ebook pricing of $0.99. This is the crack to get the reader hooked. You are significantly discounting the first 1/3 in order to get them to try the book. Admittedly, given my limited understanding of the royalty structure, that puts you in a lower royalty percentage for the first book (35%), but I think you still come out slightly ahead if someone buys all 3 piecemeal with the prices suggested below. For “Colony – Intermezzo” (i.e. Book II) and “Colony – Finale” (i.e. Book III), an ebook price of $3.99 for each of them is more line with many of your competitors and yields a total price to the end reader of $8.97 – only $0.98 greater than your current ebook pricing (and gets you only around $0.35 more in royalties from each reader).

              You are then in a position to do POD for each of the three books – both hardback and/or soft cover – and potentially can look at offering a slight discount if someone orders the “full boxed set”. It is still an epic saga – it is just one spread over 3 books. If the boxed set sells well enough, then you can talk about a special leather covered special printing / high quality edition which contains all 3 books of Colony at an appropriate price point.

              Just my 2 cents.

              • While it’s a good theory, and was discussed for a while during the editing process, it didn;’t work. Believe me, it was tried, but it destroyed pacing, structure, etc. After much debate, the decision was reached to not split the story into two parts (parts I and II, parts III and IV) in order to best preserve the story and make it a cohesive whole.

                It’s a good theory, in practice. But there are some books you don’t split because it just doesn’t work.

  16. BobtheRegisterredFool

    There’s a whole lot of organizations in New York I want to go bankrupt.

  17. Yes, times are changing, and I think more rapidly than the dinosaur press can keep up with.

  18. Like the post duplicates one over on MGC, so too does this comment. 😉

    because everyone is outright giving away “entertainment cabinets” made for the huge tvs of the 90s.

    A complication there is the availability of flat screen TV’s that hang from wall mounts. We discussed getting such a thing with our last TV upgrade (my wife likes to watch TV Japan on ours–and I don’t know of an online streaming source for that). So at least some of the dumping of “entertainment cabinets” is because the TV’s are going up on the wall rather than going away.

    How much of a factor that is, I don’t know.

    Houses can and perhaps should do that. Take young and eager writers, and chain them to the house name mills. Have them write in either fantastically successful series, (how successful? Well, Weber might work. I don’t know if anything below would) or really appealing concepts, or perennials, like say Henry VIII’s wives.

    Lawrence Block, back when he had the Fiction column in Writer’s Digest Magazine, used to tell about one of his early “jobs” writing was writing “adult” novels under pseudonyms. The novels were very tightly structured. So many chapters of so many pages each. Half the chapter to advance the story, half for the scene that was generally read one handed. It was basically a way to keep the bills paid while honing the craft of writing.

    These days it’s easy enough to take the “learn the craft” stuff and put it up for sale. If it only makes a few bucks, that’s still more than being rejected by everyone in the old day. And sometimes I think people are so desperate for stories of the kind they like (which isn’t what New York publishes for many of them) that they’ll put up with a lot of poor craft if somebody can provide the right “type” of story. I know I can be awfully forgiving of a lot of things if a story has elements that matter to me.

    • I’ll ask my wife how she coped with the lack of Japanese TV when we were in California. IIRC she had a pretty good hit rate doing google searches for youtube and other video sources. Combine that with a chromecast and you could watch it on the big screen just fine

      • My wife actually spends a good bit of time watching news reports and the like–not the kind of thing you’re going to see much in youtube videos.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          The broadcasters might stream video over their website.

        • Hmm. that sounds like a new year task. I think I can get something that shows Shimane/Chugoku channels going that she can stream if that helps. It’ll include NHK and their news

        • Viki and DramaFever have Japanese TV, but not necessarily news. Some of it is free, some of it costs around $6 a month (I think) to watch (and ads are taken off if paying).

          • And worth every penny at that, too. My wife is fond of Korean tv series and the occasional movie in the evening after work.

    • “These days it’s easy enough to take the “learn the craft” stuff and put it up for sale. If it only makes a few bucks, that’s still more than being rejected by everyone in the old day.” And you get responses from that give you a better idea how your stuff reads to uninvolved readers who aren’t writers or editors themselves.

    • I’m seeing a lot of hacks for old entertainment centers to turn them into craft stations or other storage solutions. Keep that in mind if you ever see a beautiful one going up for cheap.

      • I recently saved an old (1902) Kimball pump organ, that mostly works as is, from such a fate. A little bit of work, and it will sound good as new, and look almost as good as. Not a bad deal for $50.

      • I want one, to turn into an altar. Which I will do, once I have a place where I can put it.

        • *giggle* my daughter and I picked a vintage armoire off the sidewalk on last bulk-trash collection day but one, and made it into an entertainment center . We just built an insert to hold DVDs. At some future point, we can turn it back tinto an armoire, and put rollers under the insert to make it into a media shelf/TV stand…

    • I considered arguing on this one, but… the flat screens are computer screens. Not high quality gaming screens, but decent– I’ve done raids on them, I’d rate ’em slightly higher than cheap CRTs.

    • Add to that the ability to watch YouTube shows like GMM or Film/Game theory on cable TV with the kids…

  19. I’ve been an ebook reader ever since I discovered Baen’s ebooks in about 2001. Mostly for reasons of me living in non-English language places and thus not having ready access to bookshops. In fact the advent of amazon.fr and .de allowing me to buy English language books with cheap(ish) shipping caused me to briefly start buying more paper books. But I totally get the failed book store trip. It happened to me almost every time I went on a business trip to England or the US. And has not happened with such regularity that I rarely even bother to go to a bookshop now when I’m in the US or UK.

    I don’t know what the trad pub market is like and to a great extent I no longer care – Baen being the one standout from that. They don’t produce books I want to read at any price, and so it’s simpler to just ignore them. While that means I have to miss a few good authors (Jim Butcher for ex) there are plenty of great Indie authors so I’m not exactly short of reading matter.

    In one of the groups on the book of feces, Dave Freer posted this interesting article about John Birmingham making the jump from Trad Pub to Indie

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-17/brisbane-author-john-birmingham-makes-leap-to-self-publishing/8127990

    I suspect that’s going to be a trend, particularly as publishers go for “a more selective audience”, as Spinal Tap would say.

    • I’ve been an ebook reader ever since I discovered Baen’s ebooks in about 2001.

      I’d picked up from the library the first four books of John Ringo’s “Posleen” universe. The last of the set had one of the Baen CDs with a bunchaton of ebooks on it. I could read them on the computer but another factor came into play: I was traveling overseas a lot on business back then. And I’d constantly run out of reading matter when stuck for a week or more in a country where I didn’t speak the language. This prompted me to buy my first PDA and get my first ereader program (MobiPocket at that time), letting me carry a whole library with me.

      • Same thing happened to me. Our public library had several hard covers with the cd’s in the back still. I scooped them, downloaded them, and ended up getting a palm pilot to read on. This was back in 2005 I believe? Since then I have graduated to the Kindle (first in 2011, second last year), and managed to keep my entire library. Don’t ask how many Baen books I have purchased since. Loved their pricing, love their DRM free concept, and love tripping through the free library for stuff that I haven’t read or might find interesting.

  20. actually, my favorite book reader these days is my iPhone 6s+ (using the Kindle app), as I have it with me literally anywhere and it gets much better B/W contrast than eInk (quirk of my eyes is I need high contrast ratios or they tire out).

  21. It’s pieces like this that make me continue to drag my feet about getting my books into POD.
    Has anyone, btw, had any experience with the Amazon POD service? I just noticed it.

    • Createspace is good and easy.

    • The brand-new Amazon POD? From what I hear, it’s their attempt to integrate Createspace from a separate company they bought into a seamless part of Amazon. Right now, the functionality doesn’t look all there, but keep checking. It’s Amazon; either things keep getting better, or they get killed off.

      I recommend POD over no print options. Just because it’s a good marketing tool to have on your page – it makes your books look even more “real” to the consumer. That is, the effort to format the book and upload isn’t expected to be recouped in print sales, but in increased ebook sales.

    • You should though. It makes the books seem “real” to the LI Reader. I am late getting a bunch of stuff on pb, but it’s worth it, because it improves your esales.
      I use createspace. It’s fine. Just pick cream paper for the inside, or they look like page proofs. 😀

      • Good to know. Thanks, all.

        • Some few readers will buy umpty-eleven paper copies to gift to friends. Maybe it’s just me and my circle: a friend came to home school co-op the other day with thirteen identical paperbacks because “all of you need to read this.”
          The logistics of doing that with ebooks is daunting. I’d have to, what, find out from everyone which email address they use on Amazon, if they do? What if some are on kindle and others on nook or whatever? Paper is a universal format. I imagine having someone buy a bunch of copies for friends isn’t a bad thing as far as advertising goes.

          • Yep. I give Christmas books to friends and family and e-books just don’t work well for that

            • They’re good stocking stuffers– that reminds me, I need to send Vathara’s Net book to my mom. I could’ve sworn I already did, but I was prattling on about something or other and she kind of frowned at me and asked what on earth I was talking about. 😀

            • TWADDLE!!! There’s nothing to compare with the experience of eagerly unwrapping a beautifully packaged printout from Amazon announcing [book] is available for download to your Kindle, and holding up the slip for all the family to ooh and awe over!

              Sure, some people, materialistic people, will give you a Kindle with the gift book already installed, but that simply undermines the spirit of the gift.

              • oh, thank heavens. You’re alive. I was worried.

                • TMI Alert!

                  Merely a momentary inconvenience — apparent food poisoning (beware the chili dogs of doom!) — that produced extreme abdominal cramping, fever and chills and devout prayer. The Lord said I was full of crap, which was a condition He could alleviate (albeit with great abruptness comparable to my colonoscopy prep) and after that matters were up to me.

                  The fevers stopped recurring a couple days ago and the system seems to be returning to its previous processing efficiency, although getting back up to speed has been … challenging. I’ve eaten more oatmeal this last week than in entire decades previous. Sleeping twenty hours a day has been rolled back to its somewhat less indulgent quantities, and ability to focus on matters beyond the belief of abdominal muscles having gotten two minutes of attention from John L. Sullivan seems to have become complete today.

                  Just in time to catch the Beloved Spouse’s departing cold, aka the Drip of the Thousand Nostrils which has me abrading my philtrum with fine-woven tree-pulp while wondering whether to simply use the box of tissues in bulk, either lying on my back and placing them on my nose or, more probably, lying on my stomach to bury my face in the pile.

    • I use it. Then, Draft2Digital lets me submit there. The only problem is throwing together the full book color — front page cover, choose the solid color, throw the blurb and the company logo on the back, choose a line to put up top, put a title on the spine — which is still easier than the original front page cover.

  22. Reblogged this on The Arts Mechanical and commented:
    Great advice for the Big Five. would they take it? Probably not. Give up NYC and the “heart of Culture” almost certainly not. NYC made sense back when books were a bunch of smallish businesses that had advantages in being near a cluster. The authors knew where to go, the agents could make the rounds and the library and bookstores were all there. The authors now have email, as do the agents, the library is mutating and the bookstores are gone, essentially. So all the advantages of the cluster are gone and all that’s left is people living on, “this is the way we’ve always doe things.” Which will not last much longer.

  23. Cool! Will the new publishing venture accept tech/mystery stories?

  24. I have two store outlets, one on-post and one in a university town.
    Originally (in the 90’s), the store sold a roughly equal mixture of comics, SF/F paperbacks, and tabletop games.
    Nowadays, the store in the university town makes all its money on games and comics, with only the occasional random sale of a book.
    The store on-post also does its best business with comics and games, but does fairly well with SF/F paperbacks because there’s a “captive audience” of bored soldiers who don’t have Kindles. However, 95% of the sales are the same three-dozen evergreen titles — Salvatore’s Driz’zt books, Tolkien, Game of Thrones, Jim Butcher, Brent Weeks, Halo and Wh40k novelizations, etc.
    I don’t even bother to order in new publications from the Big Five anymore unless they are authors I already know will sell (e.g. the latest from people like Butcher or Salvatore).
    So yeah, its easy to see where things are going for trad-pub…

    • About ten, fifteen years back I traveled to Fayettenam to provide warm body support for a Ringo signing at a Walden Books (B. Dalton? Whatever) at a mall just off base. The store manager there had gotten special corporate dispensation to stock three times the standard amount of Manga because she could sell it.

      That she needed such permission tells you pretty much what is worth knowing.

    • It’s a chicken or egg situation, but Salvatore does awesome work on the “go visit your fans” thing.

      He was on a military post, and the guy who’d scheduled him for something like two hours.

      Four hours later, he was still there, and…well, being impressive and making his fanboys love him even more.

    • Its not that soldiers don’t have Kindles, its that there are places they can’t take thwem where having a paperback is fine.

  25. My move to e-books was purely practical: I was running out of space to keep them. :-/ The fact that the mainstream writers of the time didn’t ‘e-publish’ pushed me into more classics (found on gutenberg.org and the like) and indies. I’m still struggling to get the ‘older’ parts of my dead-tree library in ‘e-book’ form (especially the early paperbacks that aren’t aging well). I tell you, this is a business opportunity waiting to be seized, because I can’t *possibly* be alone in this…

  26. There’s a problem with indie publishing and ebooks, to my way of thinking. There’s an awful (by which I mean “awe inspiring”) amount of works available for very good prices, usually by people I’ve never heard of. That doesn’t put me off at all, but I don’t have any easy way to know which works I’d find most enjoyable and which I’d rather pass up. I used to use NoveList to find read-alike recommendations, but they’re not very useful in the indie world.

    What I hope (and predict) will happen is that some enterprising people will decide to become semi- or completely-professional reviewers, reading ebooks and reviewing and rating them on their websites, perhaps as a subscription service. That way, you could find a reviewer whose tastes reflect your own, and be more likely to find new authors you’d enjoy. And authors could send their works to the reviewers in the hope of getting good reviews and generating more sales. So a reviewer’s reputation would become something he or she would be careful to protect (I would think).

  27. I haven’t read much fiction this past year [chorus from peanut gallery: “We can tell!”] but what I have read has been indie and by things I heard of by word-of-mouth, and Baen and Castalia House. Why? 1) Time constraints – I’m having to read a lot of non-fiction for work and research. 2) Cost – I’m not paying $12.99 for an e-book novel, no matter how much I used to love the author. 3) Tor-cott. 4)I’ve got a better guarantee of either high quality or at minimum “interesting idea and the writing doesn’t suck” with indie, Baen, and Castalia House. YMMV.

    • Yeah, and even indie has been, due to time and patience constraint, radically limited to “suggested by person I know”, “already like the author”, or “Amazon also-bought of something I like with really enticing cover, title, blurb.”

      Every author thinks their book is the best thing since sliced bread. (Although many also, at the same time, hold the belief that it’s the worst thing ever written and will shame their ancestors. Eh, authors.) But “Can you keep me entertained and not worrying in the surgical waiting area?” is a very, very high bar to clear.

    • I hadn’t been reading much, then these last three weeks the cork came off and I’m chugging at two books a day, not counting audio while doing chores.
      Weirdly the writing has uncorked too.

    • Yes. I have been reading quite a lot of fiction this year and it’s pretty much all been Indie word of mouth and Baen. Castalia a bit, but more by mistake than anything in that it turns out some of the authors I like seem to be getting published by them .

      Your reasons 2 & 4 also apply to me. 3 sort of does but only because it seems like I’ve been Torcotting for years anyway and not noticed. You’re dead right about the $12.99 ebook being a turn off. Jim Butcher is losing my custom because of it

  28. Carrington Dixon

    When the mega bookstores came in, and, with their discounts and glitzy fronts swept the mom and pop bookstores out of the business, small publishers were out of luck.

    Of course, not all were cozy little mom and pop stores. I grew up an hour or so from what was then the largest bookstore west of the Mississippi. Think the biggest B&N you ever saw but stocked with nothing but hardback books. (You wanted paperbacks, you went to the newsstand down the street.)

    Their science fiction section was not big; I could have stacked their entire inventory on my kitchen table, but it included books published by Arkham House, Gnome Press, Shasta, and FPCI. I still have some of those and remember seeing others that I still wish I had bought.

    Of that list of ‘fan’ publishers, only Arkham House still exists. I don’t thank the mega bookstores killed them; they died too soon for that. I suspect that most of these publishers were not very good businessmen. Certainly several of them ended up antagonizing their authors.

  29. By the way, Sarah, love your posts on Instapundit and following you on Facebook. Brilliant marketing techniques. You once mentioned that you follow Wretchard at The Belmont Club. I’d love to, but how? He doesn’t have a “follow” button.

    • I follow him on facebook. I swear the man does some of his best work in off the cuff FB posts. It’s odd but very good.
      Enough, almost to warrant an FB account.
      From Stephen Green: Richard Fernandez is the smartest guy in the world, and the second isn’t even close 😉

    • I think the last time the question came up, she mentioned that she was one of the folks who got in under the bar on the “friend” list, before he filled it.

      He’d have to set it up so that he could be followed.

  30. They’re just books in which traditional doesn’t face competition from Indie.  Yet.

    That they don’t recognize as competition, yet.

    Or maybe it’s just that a lot of the fad has to do with it being a fad, and when it has a fandom, it’ll show– but I can think of several different websites that mostly sell school supplies, including normal coloring books (pdf), who also offer “advanced” or “intricate” coloring books.

    Heck, I’ve printed out some of the very fancy ones for my own use, too. Makes the kids happy that mommy is working with them.

    • Yeah, I have discovered that when you work on a computer in a cubicle environment, coloring books provide 1.) something to do with downtime that requires no effort to stop or restart when work interrupts, 2.) does not require looking at the computer screen, thus giving eyes a break, 3.) appears wholly engaging and allows one some introvert-time instead of looking free for any conversations, 4.) is kinda fun.

      Netflix / Hulu / streaming video requires effort to stop, restart, and track the story progress, and requires looking at the computer screen. Paper books / e-ink kindle require remembering where you stopped/started, and sometimes reading the same chapter 30 times to make it all the way through, given interruptions. Making crafty things consumes your desk, right when you need to pull out reference manuals for one tricky bit of troubleshooting and fixing. But coloring books? Stick a couple extra pens/pencils in your pen-holding-jar, and you can dump paperwork on top or clear it as need be, and then get back to the lines.

      …So, from interrupt-driven-priority cubicle world, Coloring books are a decent de-stressor.

  31. If I ever hit the lottery, I plan to start two niche hard copy publishing houses. One for text books and one for web comics.

    There is no way text books should cost as much as they do and there are a ton of web comics that are crying to be printed but the authors don’t have the time or background to shepherd the process.

    I really think there would a market for those publishers.

    Not really on topic, but the mention of starting a publishing house triggered the thought.

  32. Yesterday I heard that Ace, who was an almost-exclusively paperback publisher has now gone all-hardcover.  And I muttered “quite right” except at their decision to shed writers they don’t think “fancy enough” (my wording, not theirs) for hardcover.

    *mournful* A ton of the second hand paperbacks I loved when I was a kid were Ace. It use to be as much of a check-it-out as Baen at the used book store.

  33. I hope B&N manages to stick around, if only because they provide competition to Amazon. People around here generally have complimentary things to say about Amazon. But a part of me wonders how long that will continue to be the case if Amazon manages to outlast its book-seller competitors.

    • a part of me wonders how long that will continue to be the case if Amazon manages to outlast its book-seller competitors.

      That concerns me too. But not hugely as the barrier to entry on the ebook side is pretty low.

    • I don’t know how central Amazon’s actual physical book business is anymore – they are selling so vastly much other stuff nowadays, and working so hard on ebooks to sell the readers and pads, that I’m not sure the competition from any meatspace bookstore even registers on their radar.

      If you search in the most recent (Oct 2016) quarterly results release from Amazon IR and search for the word “book” it only shows up once, and that related to a new ebook Prime offering.

  34. A lot of what you are saying about the changes in publishing track with my changing reading habits. I had largely drifted away from reading Science Fiction at all, having even let my Analog subscription lapse. Then I started hearing about Larry Corriea’s MHI, either on blogs or on a podcast that Old NFO might be able to identify. By the time I read it, Baen was publishing it. That led to reading other books by people I knew from blogs, especially after I got the Kindle. Further internet word of mouth got me here, which has led to reading a few authors I first found in you promo posts. Sometimes it seems like most of what I read now is stuff by friends, acquaintances, or friends of acquaintances. Certainly a preponderance of Indy/Ebook only fiction.

  35. I’ve started trying to get on with Baen for the simple fact of the matter that I’m not seeing the vastly better sales on indie. Some of that might be that I have, so far, mostly written in a fairly niche genre (military action/adventure) that is largely dominated by the likes of Clancy’s ghostwriters, Brad Thor, and Vince Flynn. My stuff has a hard time breaking into that market. The other might be that I just suck at promotion, though any advertising that I have done seems to have generally fallen flat.

    Again, maybe I’m just doing it wrong, but indie appears to be a dead end from where I’m standing.

    • Have you considered the military action/fantasy field? Mix in a bit of magic, or your favorite monster, and go! Might be an easier sale than straight mil fiction?

      • mil sci fi is a cash cow for indie.
        There will always be exceptions, of course.

        • Big Blue–Military action with kaiju and lovecraftian horror (Not Quite Godzilla vs. Not Quite Cthulhu)–is my biggest seller so far. Mind you, that’s not saying much, but it is far and away my best seller.

      • I’ve got a series similar to that already. Monsters, demons, lever-actions and holy water. It’s gotten a little traction, but less so than the military action stuff.

        • I suggest going to Larry Correia’s blog and reviewing posts about how he promoted the MHI books. If nothing else, printing up a small number of books and donating them to cons for prizes might get people to try them. (I suggest that rather than simply giving them away as people will often put off reading stuff they consider mere con swag.)

          Alternatively, open a blog site and post 2500* words a day of one of the books. That might increase the sample rate and encourage the impatient to say “Eff it, just sell me the bleedin’ book.”

          *Amount arbitrarily selected, opinions more informed than mine would include almost anybody’s.

    • I’m sorry, if you’re writing action adventure military sf, it’s just a matter of publicity. Or perhaps your take on it. THAT niche seems to be the cash cow for all my friends.

      • If it’s SF, it’s generally from a very, very near-future standpoint (to the point that the third book in that particular series came way too close to being overtaken by events). It tends to get lumped in with the likes of Clancy and Thor rather than Drake and Williamson.

        I expect a great deal of it is a matter of publicity. I’m just not sure what else to do; as I said, the advertising I’ve done so far hasn’t yielded much in the way of return.

        • So, thriller, not really SF to people’s perception.
          I recommend you examine your covers, in relation to what is selling in the field and then bring a book out every six months. The “prolific” is part of making a living now, at least for indie.

        • Sounds like my Gadget problem– I’ve got several Gadgets that are handy for living and working with kids, but I can’t connect with the folks who’d be willing to exchange money for me to set them up. 😀 (Looked into the Standard route, we can’t afford $400 on a “maybe” of making a single red cent, and I’m definitely not going to mail in the completed specs to any of the “market your invention” folks so they can review it and tell me if they think it’s a great idea. Born at night, but not last night….)

  36. I’m one of the weirdos that still prefers print books to e-books, but that’s just a purely aesthetic thing. I like the feel and smell of a print book. I am also in college and don’t have the time to read a whole lot. I suspect once I leave college, I’ll have to buy more e-books to be able to afford my usual voracious reading appetite.

    • I also prefer print books to e-books, but that’s because I can’t justify in my mind paying actual money for something that I won’t really own.

  37. Btw, for all your “bitter divorce among early netizens” needs, the Daily Mail is covering the goings on at snopes.com. I remember when the Mikkelsons used to behave well and factcheck apolitically, but that was twenty years ago. So it does not surprise me that professionalism and good sense would be abandoned in other fields, too.

  38. I suspect that B & N is going away for this reason: when Borders was going through its death throes, I was getting a 30% off coupon from them in my email every week. I’ve noticed that B & N is now doing the same thing.

  39. Huh. This is the first post of Mrs. Hoyt’s I’ve ever wanted to fisk (and not in the snarky-make-fun sense. Let’s see what the huns/hoydens/commenters have done, first…