Amazon and Hachette

A brief comment on the Amazon/Hachette debacle:

As some of you may have caught previously, my publisher Hachette is currently in a dispute with Amazon. Amazon, like a petulant child, has thrown a fit. They've raised prices on Hachette books, are shipping them late (even the ones marked Prime that should arrive in two days), and are making pre-orders "unavailable." My own books have suffered from the first two items but I have no idea how long until they take the "buy" buttons off my books. Many authors who depend on their books to provide a portion or all of their income are hanging on by a thread, and this kind of behavior by a distributor as big as Amazon is enough to destroy careers.

Please share this information with your friends and family and encourage them to purchase their books from Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, their local independent bookstores, or even directly from the author.

You can find out more following this link.

The Importance of Pre-orders

We all know that sales are good for an author. I mean, of course we do. Sales get money to the bookstores, the bookstores pay the publisher, the publisher pays the author. Or in the case of self-pubbed authors, sales get money to the distribution channel (Amazon, Kobo, etc) and then the distribution channel pays the author. The former is how it works for my Powder Mage novels. The latter is how it works for my Powder Mage short fiction. How those two benefit me in different ways is a whole new blog post. Some of you know that my second book, The Crimson Campaign, is coming out in two weeks. That means that sales are on my mind a bit lately.

What most people don't know, and what I certainly didn't know before getting into the industry, is that even with all other things being equal some sales are more important than others. Pre-orders land in this "more important" category. These are any purchases made before the official release date of a book and can be made for ebooks, hard copies, and sometimes (but not always) audiobooks from major publishers.

Why are pre-orders important? The most obvious reason would be bestseller lists. Pre-orders count toward first week sales that often determine whether a book winds up on a bestselling list, a possibility that can be huge for any author. Aside: first week sales also land in the "more important sales" category for this same reason.

Pre-orders also affect what happens behind the scenes. A large number of pre-orders can cause a vendor (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-a-Million) to go back to my publisher and ask for another order of books. That's before the book is even out. How cool is that? That order could be 200. It could be 2000. Doesn't matter how small it is, another order is fantastic. In addition, notes will be made about how well these books seem to be selling. My publisher can go to their other vendors and say "Hey, X just ordered another 300 copies of Y, which means you'll probably have a high demand as well. Can we send you more?"

It's a snowball effect. It can cause sales to grow and as we established before, sales are good for an author. And remember that we're still only talking about pre-orders. The book hasn't hit shelves yet and it's already gotten both booksellers and publishers excited for it, and when booksellers and publishers get excited about a book they will push it all the more to the book-buying public.

If one or more vendors order more books this can cause a novel to get a large first printing or to go back to a second printing. This means that the book has sold better than expected even before it comes out and guess what? Both publishers and booksellers take note of this as well. I was told last week that The Crimson Campaign has already gone to a second printing, and I walked around all day with a grin on my face.

All of these facets spin together to make pre-orders a huge part of the business. They're good for bookstores, publishers, and most especially for the authors whose living depends on their books selling well.

If you have an author whose book you're planning on buying and you can afford to put the money down ahead of time, please pre-order their book. This could be one of my books or books by any author you would like to give an extra boost. Here are the books that I've pre-ordered this summer: Sworn in Steel by Douglas Hulick, The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin, City Stained Red by Sam Sykes, and The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler.

If you want to read a bit more about this, Kevin Hearne talks about pre-orders over on his site as well!

The Crimson Campaign Delayed

Hey everyone. There's some bad news in the Powder Mage universe today. As some of you may have noticed when Amazon changed the release date yesterday, The Crimson Campaign has been delayed. It has been pushed back from February 18th, 2014 to May 6th, 2014; a delay of about two and a half months. Let me assure you that I'm just as disappointed as you are. Release dates have quickly become the major milestones in my life (this being my full time job) and changing one of them has a pretty huge effect on me psychologically.

That being said, my publisher has decided that a May release would be so much better in order to put The Crimson Campaign into has many hands as possible. I completely trust their decision in this matter. They've done such an awesome job with my books so far, I don't think they're going to let me down now. You may be grumbling that it sounds like a marketing decision and wondering why this matters to you. It is, and it does: the better The Crimson Campaign (and subsequent books) does in the bookstores, the better I will do as an author, which will allow me to focus on writing and not, say, go find a full time job doing something else. This means that you'll continue getting a Powder Mage book every year for the next four years after this one, rather than me having to spread out the release dates because I don't have as much time to write.

This also effects the release of the Promise of Blood trade paperback. Orbit will push that release back to April 8th in the US. The UK release will stay the same (January 18th). Yes, the trade paperbacks are already printed. They are pushing this back so that the TP of Promise of Blood and the hardcover of The Crimson Campaign are in the bookstore at the same time (new releases generally only spend 3-4 months in the bookstore).

I know this all amounts to a big pile of having to wait for all of you guys. I'm sorry about that. To help ease the waiting a bit, I'm going to fast track a couple of story ideas I have and put out more Powder Mage short stories this winter. The first of these will introduce us to Erika, the wife of Field Marshal Tamas.

Sorry to let you down, and I hope you all have a safe and happy holiday season!

Bundling

I came across this article the other day about the future of bundling. Bundling, if you're too lazy to read the article, is when a publisher takes multiple forms of a book and puts them together to sell as a single item. In this case, they're talking about bundling ebooks with print copies, and what it is the customer expects vs what the publisher is willing to provide.

Most customers, it would seem, want to get a free copy of the ebook with their print copy. Well, duh. Consumers want to get more for their buck. I know it irritates me when I can either buy the ebook for $10 and get the convenience of reading it on my kindle, OR I can get a paperback for $8 and have something both cheap and that I can one day get signed, OR pay out the butt for the hardcover or trade paperback and have something I'm proud to have on the bookshelves in my office.

The article puts forth that ebooks will one day be free with a copy of the print book, and that will be the industry standard. Sounds great! Yet...

I hope not. The biggest argument has to do with driving down the prices of the books, which drives down the amount publishers will pay authors for advances, then the quality of work suffers, etc.

As a consumer, it would not make a different to me buying a paperback that came with a free ebook. I feel the two formats fill the same role: a small item that can be read practically anywhere. I have not once bought both a paperback and an ebook of the same book. Sure, it would be nice, but it's not a big selling point.

I won't say the same thing for trade paperback or hardcover. These are books I want for my bookshelf. I want the covers to be big and beautiful, I want to sit on the couch and read them in the comfort of my own home. I want to get them signed by my favorite authors. But I also want to be able to read them at my convenience, and have, and would again, purchase an ebook version of a hardcover or trade paperback I already own.

Yet I don't own a lot of them.

My nice books take up a single shelf of the dozens of shelves worth of books I have. I want more. I can't afford it. I can either get 3 new paperbacks, or (in most cases) a single hardcover. Or I can go to Half Price Books or Amazon and get 6 books or more. When you have the reading list I do, it's not an acceptable trade for the hardcover.

However, I'd start buying more hardcovers if they came with a free ebook. And I'd certainly pay a little more ($2-$4) for a trade paperback that came with an ebook. It would be worth it to me for the convenience. I'd feel as if I was getting two books for my $25 instead of just the one.

World Fantasy

I wrapped up my World Fantasy experience at about 11PM last night and spent the two and a half hour drive home digesting my experience. It's going down slow, and I suspect I'll still be thinking about it in a week.

Things I learned from WF:

1. I am not good at talking to strangers.

The attendees were wonderful, friendly, and by all reports very approachable. Despite that, it took me two full days to work up to talking to just a handful of people. The conversations I did have were short and rather blah from my end. I don't think I made a bad impression, but I didn't make a terribly memorable one either. I did get some face time and I did receive a couple of invitations to send in my work.

2. Publishing is changing.

This was alluded to in just about every panel I went to. E-books, the internet, greater clamor for visual, interactive media above the written word. All of these things are killing the paperback. I have the feeling that much of the old guard is unwilling or unable to keep up with these changes. The younger publishers are far more receptive to change yet I feel like they too are nervous about how this will affect their future. Rightfully so.

3. Fantasy is still viable.

This stuff still sells. The genre is evolving. Sword and sorcery and epic/high fantasy are in many ways melding together. I've heard this referred to (and called it myself) heroic fantasy. Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie are examples of this.

4. I'm really young.

I don't know what the average age was at WF, but I was far, far below it. I may be an old man with my arthritis and curmudgetude but biologically I'm only 24. I talked to countless men and women in their 40s and 50s there with their writing groups or hanging around trying to pitch books. Which brings me to the next thing:

5. I am not unique.

This was very daunting, and I think it added to my inability to approach people. There were hundreds of wanna-be authors there, each one with their own stories and ideas, many with a finished book--or several. They buzzed around the editors and agents like moths around a flame. How am I supposed to stand out in that crowd? Kathy Hague, an editor at Tor, came up to me at the Tor party and introduced herself. It was very kind of her. She probably felt sorry for me standing there by myself.

I saw this post from Jennifer Jackson recently. It's her log of queries responded to, compared to partials/manuscripts she's requested in the last month. That's 838 queries. She asked to see 4 partials. That's 1 in every 210. And it's not as if she's offering to represent that one. She's simply asking to see more of the book. Every agent will have different numbers here. But still. Talk about daunting.

For a moment, let's use these numbers as a guide. Now, I've read slush piles. They are full--and I mean FULL--of unreadable garbage. I'm a snob, and I'm overconfident, so I'll say that my stuff, even my query letter, is easily better than 90% of what an agent will see in their inbox. If that is indeed the case, I'm still competing with 83 other halfway decent queries each month. Only one in twenty of those will be asked for partials.

A few other thoughts from WF:

I need to get in touch with the industry. I spent the last two hours finding agent and editor blogs and subscribing to them, and rearranging my Google feed so that I'll see blog updates every day. I need to know what these people are thinking and doing and buying and writing.

I need to read more. I've had this self-imposed rule for about 2 years now that I don't read when I'm working on a big project. It tends to ruin my goals and take over my life and then I find cool concepts and ideas that I want to assimilate in my own books even though I'm already half way done and dear lord not another partial edit. I have to get over that. I should be reading a book a week, at least.

Finally, There are so many cool ideas out there. So many interesting stories and powerful reads. Some people write because they have a deep-set muse that makes them want to create at odd hours of the night. I write because I want to support my family with it someday. That's been my pragmatic approach to things all along, but I realized something this weekend: I write because I want to be part of of this collective consciousness of creativity. I don't want to be just a reader--I want to be a colleague. I want to be a professional in this field.