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July 2015

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writing plot octopus

the kids of tomorrow don't need today

A cool thing came in the mail today, which is to say, my Random House royalty statements. Royalty statements are kind of fascinating, not just because it's how I get paid, but because I can do things like watch the market share of ebooks burgeon over time. Or that mysterious thing where book two of a series sells fewer copies than either book one or three. (How does that even work?)

This was a particular good batch of royalty statements, though, because it came with the news that, nearly nine years to the day after it was published, Scardown has sold through its advance. (Hammered sold through much much more quickly, but it was my first novel and it had a lower advance--and frankly, better early sales.)


  

These books did super-well for first novels. They won me a Campbell (not a Hugo) award, and they also collectively as a trilogy (since they were all published in the same year) won the Locus award for best first novel. Hammered is in its fifth printing, the last time I checked.

For those of you who have joined me in the years since they were published, the Jenny Casey series concerns the adventures of Canadian Master Warrant Officer (Ret.) Genevieve Marie Casey, a foulmouthed fiftyish disabled vet who is seriously out of fucks to give, in a post-climate change future in which I anticipated smartphones but made the mistake of using mid-line 2002 predictions of what we could expect in terms of global warming effects.

Jenny still has my favorite voice of any character I've ever written. There are spies, badass older women, teenage girls who think they know how to save the world, morally ambiguous antagonists, space travel, perfect storms, an A.I. who thinks he's Richard Feynman, a loving homage to Jonesy the Cat, and my warning shot across the bow to anybody who thinks any of my characters might ever have plot immunity.

Still, talk about a slow burn, right? January 2015 will be Hammered's 10th anniversary, and all three books were published in the same year--2005. They'd be in fifth grade, if they were people. How does that even happen?

The thing that made me laugh out loud and text my friends, though, was that I have learned that Worldwired is $58.11 (fifty-eight dollars and eleven cents) from earning out its advance.

That's approximately a hundred (100) copies at mass market paperback rates.

And so I would like, in a completely self-serving fashion, to remark that the entire series makes a great gift*!



*for any of your cyberpunk, near-future thriller, or military-SF-loving friends.

Comments

I loved those books!
Thank you!
Good books. Glad the first two have earned out.
Thank you!
Or that mysterious thing where book two of a series sells fewer copies than _either_ book one or three. (How does that even work?)

The idea of that happening has not previously crossed my mind. But I wonder if this accounts for most occurences of that sales pattern: book one sells X number of copies. Not all of the buyers like it enough to follow the series, so book two has fewer than X sales. However, by the time book three comes out, book one has been in the used market (and in libraries, in your friend's collection, and available via piracy) long enough that people have read book one for used price or free, deliberately sought out book two at lower than new price, and then found the only way they can read book three is by getting it new.

I have seen something like this happen when customers come in looking for a specific series, although it isn't limited to customers looking for book three. It usually happens with books that initially release in hardbound. A customer will come in, rave about some series or author they've discovered, and then grumble that the only way they can read book two or three (or fifteen) is by getting it new.

Edit: misplaced an apostrophe.

Edited at 2014-05-09 06:34 pm (UTC)
Alas. Well, if they want any more of those beloved books, eventually buying a few new will ensure that.
Indeed.
Wonderful books. And the covers are superb too!
More thanks for the Max Gladstone rec as well :D
Yes, exactly. It happens a lot. So *many* people will only buy a new paperback if they can't find it used. This does not feed authors.

I have sympathy for both sides. Used sales don't feed the authors at all. On the other hand, if you're broke and like to read, sometimes those $2 discount mass market paperbacks that are from the '60s and falling apart are all you can afford along with the day's food. I've had times when I was much better off than I am right now, and I bought a ton of books both used and new. This weekend I have shelter, electricity, heat, internet, cat food, a working phone and fridge, and a bag of smoked salmon trim, a jar of herring, a mini-loaf of bread and some marmalade, and a bunch of fruit juice and vitamin water. I have $7 and change for anything else I want to buy.

Look at it this way. A person with a limited budget for non-essentials has a set spending cap: all they can do is decide how to allot what's there. Everyone has a limited budget really, but there's an average level of limitation that is a lot lower than Bill Gates' level and a lot higher than the kid who used to live down the street from me who never had breakfast. Most people sort of assume there's a level of consumption where buying more ceases to be reasonable.

So let's say you have a non-essentials spending cap of $8, because that's what a single mass market paperback costs in a state with no tax. You can buy a single new paperback, which (unless you're buying a reprint by a dead author, such as Cordwainer Smith or Marion Zimmer Bradley) is likely to feed a living author after you feed yourself.

Or you can buy two minimum price used books. Most used books that are more than a few years old and from major publishers devalue to a cost of one cent on amazon plus $3.99 shipping. The two used bookstores in my city whose prices I know well sell a standard used paperback novel at $3.50-$3.98.

Since the chance each paperback has of becoming used increases with time and the age of its owner, the two used books you buy are more likely to be older books until you get back to the publication year that makes a paperback liable to be falling apart, or the publication year that occurs before cheap mass market paperbacks became widely available. Still, it's entirely possible you buy a book by a living author. Each book by an author you like makes you more hooked. You are not trading the author any food for their table. You *are* inching yourself towards the day or week where you take the whole $8 and buy one of the author's books new because you can't wait. You are also probably telling your book-loving friends (or the internet or your bored-to-tears relatives) how good this author is and how they should go read this author's books.

But maybe the author is dead. What's more, maybe they had no heirs and they left all their book rights to an organization to promote dairy farming in a state half a continent away. Are you trading anything to the author in return for making art? Yes. You are trading them history. That's what every author wants, right? To be read after they're dead. To be great, and so great that they're famous.

The buyer of used books trades the author history, advertising (word of mouth), and an increased space in their brain (dedication, addiction, a longterm commitment, the psychological hook) for making art. These are things the author wants, without which the author is unhappy. The buyer of new books trades the author money for food, without which the author dies.

With the caveat that I don't want to die yet, used book sales are not really that bad. The buyer may complain about the book industry when they spend the money, which is annoying, but they don't do it to your face except for the internet trolls and they're trading value, if not money. It's also equally true they could take that $8 and buy a meal at McDonald's or a couple used CDs.
Don't get me wrong. I fully support used bookstores and libraries, and have used them many times.

And continue to.

However, I don't feel *too* bad that my new releases are generally not available used.
*snicker*
I actually just bought two hardcovers and four paperbacks used for seven dollars even today. (Of course, both hardcovers were discarded library books which brings the price way down.)

I do try to buy new books from my favorite authors now and then (or get other people to buy them for me as birthday gifts and the like), but given the amount I read and my general lack of money, buying them all new would be unsupportable. I think most authors are okay with that. :)
Feeling very sympathetic to this based on my own experience.

Never really liked the practice of Wall Street-style speculation with comic books for related reasons, but... *shrugs*
That annoys me too (especially when the really expensive comic is issue 4 out of 5 etc). I suppose it does make people less likely to throw out their children's comic book collections. :/

Hey, that's actually a fascinating piece of grammar in there! "Children" is plural. (And unlike "that fish"/"these fish" is definitely and recognizably plural.) That means it (or 'child' and all its other forms) must be one of the few English words where you take a plural and make it possessive by sticking an apostrophe S on there instead of adding the apostrophe and then having the S drop off because it's hard to pronounce.

Sorry, I'm feeling particularly contemplative today. I'm not on drugs, I'm just contemplating grammar and human psychology.

It's shiny!
Conratulations on this!

Edited at 2014-05-09 06:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Just wanted to let you know that because of you I now have another "buy ASAP" author--Max Gladstone. Thanks for that. :-)
*cackle*
Laugh while you can, missy. The next time you come to Austin, I can control your peach-ginger muffin supply!
This seems like as good a place / time as any to tell you that I ADORE Jenny Casey and those books. Just, thank you.
Thank you!
The Jenny casey-trilogy is one of my favorite sci-fi series - with Jacob's Ladder.

And I love that we get a damaged, middle-aged heroine, who's very human but also kinda badass.

The Jacob's ladder series just blows my mind - that whole, weird and organic world inside the generation-ship is just so well done.

I own almost all of your books, and I push them on my friends as often as I can.

I love your fantasy as well - and am really looking forward to reading Range of Ghosts.
However, I find it difficult to find really good sci-fi and your books are it - so I was wondering if you're planning to write sci-fi again at some point?
I'll be writing two space operas for Gollancz, actually. The first comes out in 2016.
Cool! Will they be published in the US and can you tell us anything about them?

I love the Jacob's Ladder series too. It is beautiful. I want to find out what happens with that water-dwelling sapient on the planet.
No U.S. publication information yet, but I will make a fuss when there is, of course

And thank you. I like them too, and I too wonder what the future holds. *g*
What's funny, is that I have been thinking about buying e-copies of the series to replace the battered and bruised paperbacks that are hiding somewhere in my house. How do e-pubs play out, or did your contract take that into account back then?
They pay slightly better than paperbacks. *g*

They pay slightly better than paperbacks

Thankyou, that is very helpful to know, as I've finally broken down and bought an ebook reader. It's not the same as having a *book*, but it sure takes up less space than a bookcase... and now I don't have to feel guilty at maybe sending less $ to the authors.

Re: They pay slightly better than paperbacks

Depending on the contract, hardcover royalty is usually 10-12%, and ebook royalty is 15-25%. But ebook prices are generally a little lower, because they don't cost anything in materials and storage. (They cost the same for editing, copyediting, typesetting, design, cover art, etc are the same, obviously--not to mention the writing!)

So the ebook royalty usually comes out to slightly more than the hardcover royalty, or about the same, and both are quite a bit more than the mass market paperback royalty.)

Jenny Casey wasn't the first protag of yours that I encountered, but she's memorable. I LOVE her. Maybe my grandpa needs some Jenny for his birthday... (Yes, my grandpa *is* that cool.)
Most excellent!
I'm glad someone brought up the ebook royalties. On backlist books, a writer will get more money from ebook sales than from paperback sales. Plus, instant gratification for the buyer!

It's a

great series. Well told, entertaining, and satisfying.
They were the first books of yours I bought after Charlie Stross pointed you out as a writer to watch.
It's hard to believe that it's been almost 10 years since Hammered came out - I remember reading your LJ before it came out. Are you sure you're not just messing with our heads? ;-)
We're just old.
Much as I hate to admit it, you're probably right. ;-) I heard on the radio today that this is the 20th anniversary of Weezer's first album, and the end of this month will be the 9th anniversary of my move to Minneapolis.

Well, I might have to grow old, but I refuse to grow up! :-D