Book/Author Buzz

Over just the past few years, I’ve gotten the general impression that the reading public’s attention span in dealing with new books has shortened, but that impression was gained mainly from my observation of other authors’ book sales from the outside and what I observed in far more detail from everything surrounding my own books, i.e., the sales patterns, the reviews, the blogs, internet commentary, letters, etc. What I observed in my own case was that, besides changes in overall sales figures, the initial sales “bump” and associated “buzz” have been compressed into shorter and shorter periods after, first, the initial hardcover release, and then again, at the time when the mass market paperback sale, and lower ebook price, occurred. Because we all have the tendency to generalize based on our own experience, my first thought was that, because I’m an older author, this just might be particular to me… and possibly to other authors with a similar career profile.

So I started looking for other figures that might confirm or refute my impression. A quick look at The New York Times listing of books remaining on the fiction bestseller list for extended periods showed that the number of books with long runs on the bestseller list had a pattern – of sorts. That is, there were about the same number of books with a long time on the list in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1990s and 2000s, but not in the 1970s or 1980s… or since 2010. Looking deeper into the lists, I discovered something else. While there still remain a few “mega-seller” books every year that stay on the lists for months, sometimes, years, as in the case of George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the percentage of fiction bestsellers with moderate runs, say more than five weeks on the list, shifted fairly significant in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so that a far larger percentage of best-sellers are “one and dones,” if you will, or perhaps hold on for two weeks. Speaking frankly, that’s certainly been the case for my books. My only multiple-week best-seller was in the 1990s, although, in hardcover sales numbers, my biggest bestsellers have been after that shift, several even after 2010.

At least in a general sense, those figures tend to confirm that “peak sales” are being squeezed into a shorter and shorter period for all but literally a handful of mega-authors. While a short sales period has been the norm for first-published authors as long as I’ve been writing, the shortened prime sales period for all but the mega-authors appears to be a comparatively recent development. Whether that causes a shorter period of heightened “buzz” about an author, or whether those who create the buzz are only interested when a new book comes out… or a combination of both, I couldn’t determine in any factual sense, not unless I wanted to invest months in market research and analysis… and I left that career behind a long time ago.

At the same time, it’s a mixed blessing to learn that my perceptions based on my own situation weren’t totally off base, because it shows on the one hand that I wasn’t too self-deluded, but on the other it does indicate a much shorter attention span on the part of readers in dealing with new books and authors, and I can’t help but think that hurts not only up-and-coming writers whose work is good and solid, even outstanding, but not flashy, but also mid-list authors who don’t get the media and internet buzz for as long a period as before… and this has to impact their sales to some degree.


P.S.  Interesting enough, just after I posted this, I read an entry on [ Under the Radar: Mid-Series from the Mid List ] that has a related theme.

9 thoughts on “Book/Author Buzz”

  1. Robert The Addled says:

    “Peak Sales” are also being driven by the information age. Amazon (for example) lets you pre-order as soon as they have publishing dates for books, and some popular TV series they anticipate the release and let you order w/out a release date. ‘Alerts’ and shopping algorithms concentrate on the existing fanbase, both of a specific author, and sometimes by genre or others who bought the same item(s).

    Using your own books as an example, I have had Cyador’s Heirs on order since October 2013, and Heritage of Cyador since February 2014. Both were ‘recommended’ to me based on my prior shopping history of your works.

    The long ‘discovery’ period concentrates the sales for those familiar with the author to the release date. Thus generating a ‘spike’ where they used to discover new releases over time by visiting a brick-and-mortar bookstore.

    I will admit I rarely go to physical bookstores anymore – mostly because A) they often don’t have a selection of SF/Fantasy to browse, and B) the ‘long tail’ makes finding older releases and out of print easier online.

    Recently discovery of new Authors for me has often been thru used books, then hunting down other works by the same author.

  2. Lourain says:

    A point to consider…books are easier to obtain now than twenty years ago, at least for those of us who live in rural areas. I don’t think that this would be the complete explanation, but it might be a factor for some of the difference.

  3. Nathaniel G says:

    To add on to Robert’s note about the increase in the prevalence of pre-orders, even if you only buy the books after they’re released the same sources (Amazon, Goodreads,, etc.) now do much more targeted and timely advertising about new releases- in the 90s, I might find out that a new book by an author I liked was out because I saw in on the new releases shelf in the bookstore, whereas now I find out days or weeks beforehand because I get emails about authors that I like, recommendations from Amazon about upcoming books when I’m shopping for unrelated things, announcements of upcoming books on blogs I read, etc. Even if I didn’t read e.g. this blog, I’d still know well in advance whenever a new Modesitt book was coming out- I don’t think I’ve missed buying a new book in the first week by an author I follow in years, if not a decade.

  4. Kathryn (@Loerwyn) says:

    I also wonder if, possibly due to this wealth of information about authors and new books, that people are spending less time looking at/discussing new books and simply moving on to the next one? Whilst podcasts and blog reviews do sometimes go back to older books, they often seem to spend a few months going on about a certain book or a certain author – a lot of reviews and podcasts recently have been about Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, for example – so unless you’re a hit like that, you’re going to be overshadowed.

    I only go “oh! a new book!” if there’s an author I’m only just looking into or if the publisher isn’t (arguably) doing their job right. I only found out about the new Rachel Pollack novel about two months before it came out because the publisher hadn’t mentioned it (as far as I knew) and I wasn’t actively searching out new books by the author nor the publisher).

    Actually, thanks to sites like The Book Depository, I can find out about things before they’re finalised or before the authors/publishers talk about them. I’ve got my eye on a box set of David Weber’s first three Safehold books, which I’ve known about since last year (it’s not due out until October, I think) because Tor US sent the information to that store ahead of schedule.

    I don’t know if it’s a shorter attention span or if it’s this shift to many overlooked books due to certain ones taking the spotlight.

  5. Plovdiv says:

    I read the article, and the preceding articles in the series, and the thing that struck me was that the samples chosen were almost sure to be small sellers, as all but one came from Night Shade Books, who as we know had substantial financial problems, which would have affected their ability to get these undoubtedly good to excellent books noticed. However, the point made by the last article in the series, the one you linked to, that debuts sell well and then the subsequent books often disappear, is an interesting one. It does seem as though people have less patience with writers, especially new writers, today. If a book isn’t good to excellent from the get go, then the readers will move to other authors, or to familiar authors, rather than make the choice to see how or if that writer grows. This is not just worrying, as of course it is, because it hints at a lack of perseverance and an unwillingness to try something more than once, but also at the fact that there are so many more books published now than there used to be. You will have to check out Mike Shatzkin’s website for exact numbers from his time in the business, but there are so many new titles being released that it arguably lessens the time a book spends on the bestseller lists, because there are so many other books out there. I don’t know what your take on this is?

    1. It doesn’t seem to lessen the time spent on the lists by the mega-bestsellers, but I suspect it lowers the time on the lists by others.

  6. R. Hamilton says:

    I think the point about pre-ordering is great – I do that if it’s something I want as soon as possible; only for the last few of the HP books did I brave the crowds, and those I typically devoured within 24 hours (and very little sleep).

    But I wonder if another factor is the economy. Sad to say, I think that even for those people who like to read, for about half of them it’s really an optional activity.

  7. D Archerd says:

    One thing those of us who read LEM’s blogs could do for each other is make author/book referrals. While the algorithms that Amazon and B&N use to make recommendations are okay, I’d trust the readers and contributors here to make recommendations for Sci-Fi/Fantasy reading suitable for adults. I’ve been conned a few times by the online book recommendations into purchasing dreck that was poorly written, juvenile and/or turned out to be “paranormal teen romance” (which is now its own separate category in bookstores, believe it or not).

    So for anyone who appreciates LEM’s work, I would also recommend anything by Tad Williams, Patrick Rothfuss, Carol Berg, Robin Hobb, CJ Cherreyh, and Kate Elliott. And based on Kathryn’s mentions, above, I’m certainly going to look into Ann Leckie and Rachael Pollack.

  8. Tom says:

    I tend to “follow an author” if a book I read was particular in some way or other. While I have liked all your books (because I now enjoy your detail, adventure, and humor as well as teaching); I am not sure if I would have become such a follower of your writings if my first book from you had not been “The Empress of Eternity”. This being so I am not suprised by the apparent short attention span of the media on some authors. The opinion of someone else about a book is frequently wrong (in particular N&N and Amazon) so I rely on the synopsis to interest me in a book and then if I like a book I follow the author (some times longer than necessary). If there is a long gap then I stand at a book stall and look at each book searching for a new Asimov, Clavel, Jeffery Jenkins, or Modesitt Jr.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *