Assorted Thoughts on Writing

Last month, Tor re-released The Soprano Sorceress in a trade paperback edition, but the Amazon Soprano Sorceress webpage that linked to me and my other books never showed the trade paperback edition. I brought this up to Tor, because what’s the use of publishing a new print edition if no one knows it’s out there, and, even if they do, they can’t order it? It took Amazon over a week to get back to Tor, and when the Amazon people did, they said it would take a week to fix the glitch. They informed Tor that there is a page that shows the trade paperback edition, but I can’t find a way to get to it, except through the link that Amazon provided. So far, almost two weeks later, the glitch has only been partly fixed. That is, is you search for The Soprano Sorceress, you can find the trade paperback, but if you search for me first, the only webpage for the book that comes up doesn’t have access to the trade paperback [at least as of this posting].

They can find and ship a book in minutes or hours, but it takes a week to find a glitch that’s already been brought to their attention… and another week to fix it?

And this is the high-tech master/monster of bookselling? Except, I forgot. It’s only concerned about obtaining books and ebooks as cheaply as possible and getting as many as possible to consumers as fast as possible. Fixing a problem with a reissued backlist title? That can wait.

And then, there’s still the elephant in the room, or the bookstore… Amazon’s treatment of ebooks and their authors. There’s one factor that’s so obvious to authors and publishers that it’s really been overlooked in the discussions, or those I’ve seen. Under standard contracts, royalties paid to authors for physically printed books are calculated and paid based on the list price of the book. It doesn’t matter to the author financially whether that $27.99 hardcover is sold for $27.99 at the small local independent bookstore, or at $20.99 at Barnes & Noble, or at $17.45 at Amazon; the royalty is the same. On standard ebook contracts, the royalty paid is effectively a percentage of the actual price paid, and it matters a great deal to the author whether that ebook is sold at $14.99, $12.95, or discounted to $9.99… or less.

Series mania seems to be continuing. Fewer and fewer authors are writing and publishing stand-alone novels. Practically every new author that appears debuts with the first book of a series. Now I realize that I have lots of books in series, and a fair number of series, but, given the way I write series, I’d submit that bulk of my series books can be read as stand-alones. If we’re talking pure stand-alone novels, twenty percent of my published work consists of stand-alone novels [all SF, I will admit], and I’ve continued to write them over the years, despite the sad fact that stand-alone books seldom sell nearly as well as series books. The bottom line here, literally, is that if you as readers want more stand-alone novels, you need to buy them, lots of them, because most writers, especially mid-list writers, can’t afford not to write series, and even if they’re not supporting themselves entirely on their writing, their publishers can’t afford to publish many stand-alone books by newer writers.

12 thoughts on “Assorted Thoughts on Writing”

  1. JakeB says:

    Fixing something like that can’t be more than a minute’s work for someone who has access to a database . . . even if it needs to be pushed to mirrors, that’s half an hour, maybe? You continue to make me glad I buy nothing from Amazon.

  2. Corwin says:

    As a LONG time reader of fantasy and SF, I love ‘series’. My first was probably Burroughs Martian novels which I still have. When you invest time in a character, or a world you want MORE. That’s why I note people often asking you for more of Lerris, or Rhen for example. Yes, the odd stand alone novel is fine, but somehow at the end of it I’m disappointed that the story is finished and I’ll never visit with that ‘person’ again. It’s why the only thing I don’t personally accept from an author is the death of the main character in whom I’ve invested hours of my life.

    1. John Lord says:

      I agree and also love “series” books. I believe I now have all of L. E. Modesitt Jr.’s books and am eagerly awaiting the next one scheduled for March 2015. At this time, I am re-reading through my collection of his books (for the 3rd time) and am in the middle of The Spellsong War. I have over 1200 paperbacks and over 300 ebooks and, while I sometimes pick up new authors, I just as often re-read my favorites. I enjoy Mr. Modesitt’s books because his characters and settings feel real, coherent, and filled in. I also like how he often presents the same settings from a different character’s entirely different viewpoint. Anne McCaffrey also used this a lot in her Pern books, but I think I prefer Mr. Modesitt’s method better. I also enjoy all the underlying lessons in his books that get delivered without becoming ‘preachy’ as happens all too often with lesser writers.
      Back to reading my book now… 🙂
      p.s. – as of 12/25/2014, I “Googled” for “amazon the soprano sorceress” and the first link below the Ad link showed all five formats: Kindle, Hardcover, Paperback, Mass Market Paperback, and Audio CD. I’m not sure which paperback format is the “Trade paperback” he referred to – choice 3 or 4?
      The most difficult time I had getting one of his books was when I snagged a used copy of The Green Progression, which – sorry folks – I am not reselling.

  3. John Prigent says:

    I just have to agree with that, Corwin. Alexander Kent’s Bolitho sea stories were splendid, but instead of letting Bolitho retire at the end of the war the stupid man killed him off – and tried to continue the series with another character. Epic fail. Mind you, another thing that upsets me is when the _author_ dies and leaves a series incomplete!

    1. I’ll try not to do that.

      1. John Lord says:

        Yes! Please don’t die with a series incomplete – leave lots of notes. Or wrap things up with a book like Heinlein’s “To Sail Beyond The Sunset” which gave closure to so very many of his stories that I hadn’t even realized needed any other extensions! Time travel comes in so handy for that. And to top it off, his wife Virginia kindly published “Grumbles from the Grave” with many interesting bits about Robert that we as readers hadn’t known.
        You DO have an outline sketched up for a posthumous book, don’t you? But please, live long and prosper. Or as I got in a birthday card once: “May you live as long as you want to, and want to as long as you live.” However things work out, your thoughts are already immortalized in your books. 🙂

  4. Alison Hamway says:

    Amazon has definitely changed the face of publishing — but book sales and the publishing world was already changing. The giant megastores knocked out many of the small independent bookstores; then Amazon and e-publishing really changed everything. I admit I read on my e-reader far more than I read actual paper books. I love the ability to sample books, to store LOTS of books on a small device, and to change the print size.

    But it can be very frustrating dealing with giant megastore on line retailers. Recently a friend and I bought international trips on Groupon; my friend never got her actual Groupon even though they took her payment. Trying to actually speak to a person and get help tracking the missing Groupon certificate was a huge hassle for my friend.

    I was not aware that the payment to authors depended so much on the e-book price (or that the payment for paperbacks was more tied to the hard-cover price). I also was not aware that series were more popular than stand-alone books. I read (and purchase) both.

    Publishers are not innocent in the economic battles that are claiming many good writers. Several good mid-list writers that I used to read are no longer available — not because of Amazon, but because they were dropped by their publishers.

  5. Ryan Jackson says:

    Unfortunately I have found from personal experience that tech and IT people come in two flavors. Those who deeply want everything to run right and will spend the time to do it. And those who are lazy and just want to avoid doing anything. The second thrive on the fact that in any situation with them it’s actually in YOUR worst interest to force the issue to come to light with their behavior.

    To give an example, my work has offices in several states. We were handling a report daily that went to our local vice president every morning. Another center was supposed to take it over. We wrote up all the documentation, made sure it ran flawlessly and provided the data to the other center. Who then didn’t run it. We spent three weeks sending emails, messages and calls to them asking when they were going to do the job they requested from us. We got silence, in one case we had one of the analysts asking us about a different issue and when we changed topics they ended the call on us without another word. They get away with this only because it would cause us an IMMENSE amount of hassle and bad blood to just not provide the report and explain to our VP that “The people responsible didn’t do their job.”

    This is the same issue here. TOR is making enough money through Amazon that Amazon feels TOR won’t risk anything by raising the issue.

  6. Toni says:

    I went to our local Barnes and Noble to buy Heritage of Cyador when it came out. They didn’t have it and told me it would be a 2 week wait; did I want to order it. I said no, and bought it from Amazon…took 3 days.

  7. Plovdiv says:

    Here is Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s latest post on publishing in 2014. Also, if you have the time, it might be interesting for you to peruse her other publishing blog posts. I’ll be interested to know what you think, as Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been in the publishing/book/writing industry for 30 years, and is uniquely equipped to give a level headed view of the whole thing.

    1. I can’t say I’m surprised, or that I disagree violently with what Kris has to say,although there are areas where we differ. For example,Tor kept a huge amount of my backlist in print long before ebooks were even a factor and, from what I’ve seen, worked to develop authors over time. Admittedly, Tor is likely an outlier.

  8. Plovdiv says:

    Thanks for your response.

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