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Catch all, Part 2

A couple more questions fielded, from comment threads. I should probably try to keep the answers in the threads, but I find it easier this way; I think the moveable type model is probably a better one for an ongoing discussion, because it lacks the threading, and it's easier to see what's new. But it also requires scads of bandwidth, because you can easily end up reloading a megabyte or more everytime you look at a post. That was tonight's digression.


rowyn wrote:

The interesting part for me is that the author who sells 16,000
hardcovers out of a 50,000 printing would be in worse shape, career-wise,
than one who sold 10,000 out 12,500 hardcovers.

Now, I certainly wouldn't expect the publisher to treat the next book as
if it were just as valuable as they thought the one that failed would be.
But that they might figure the author that got 10,000 readers was worth
another chance, while the author that got 16,000 isn't -- that suggests
the publisher does have a lot of faith in the ability of promotion to
sell books. Not the whole of the game, but a significant part of it.
Which is not unfair of them. ;)

There is a certain smoke and mirror element to every business. The 10K sale out of a 12.5K printing looks better for a variety of reasons, and one of them would be that the publisher probably paid a lot less to the author as an advance, because they expected a lot less. Midlist numbers like those are respectable. If bookstores don't think that book is the next Jordan, they're right -- but they won't sneer at them.

The case where 16K out of 50K sold is different. The bookstores know the book flopped. Yes, it sold more than 10K -- but it has the aura of failure about it; the hard numbers are not the only thing that counts.

The publisher had faith that the book would sell not because of the promotion involved -- which we argued for example's sake did work -- but because the buyers ordered the book in large numbers. When the readers didn't respond in a like fashion, they would be stymied. Obviously, promoting the hell out of the second book in house would be a huge sisyphian effort.

Would buyers pick up the next novel? Yes. But in numbers approaching the 16k sale, which means the print run and orders would instantly drop to a third of what they had been. As there were no reorders on that kind of sell through, this means the second title would sell -less- for the author than the previous book had.

In the 10K case, especially with a mass market paperback to boost interest in the author's next hardcover, you might see a modest increase in the number ordered, or even a significant one, depending on reorders, etc. In -that- case, the author would be on the move up, rather than on a spiral down.

scarfish wrote:

Hi--I linked over from Making Light.

Wow! From which comment thread?

I've been interested in the publishing industry for some time, and have
needed exactly this type of introduction to figure out how things work
and exactly where I want to be in them. I don't have The Great American
Novel, but I'd like to help provide those who do with a conduit to get
their work to the (perhaps unappreciative) public. Can you recommend any
other sources (besides PW, which I read religiously) to help me figure
out where I belong in the industry?

This depends on exactly what type of novel the people you want to help are writing. andpuff and I subscribed jointly to PW for a year, but in the end, because it was expensive (for Canadian subscribers, compared to US subscribers) we let it lapse because there wasn't enough of interest for our genre to make it worth the expense. Locus is the magazine of record for the SF industry, and you can't do much better than Locus if the people you advise are writing SF/F. People and publishing is useful because it often mentions sales by agent and to editor, and you can get a good idea of who's buying what long before you see the book sold hit the shelf.

Where you belong in the industry is, of course, entirely dependent on what you write. If you write romance, Locus is not the magazine for you -- and neither is this set of ramblings, sadly. If you write mystery, ditto; mystery is a different beast, although there is some crossover in the readership and I think the speciality stores operate in a very similar fashion. If you write YA, depending on which subgenre, PW is a great magazine.

Literary novels are, again, an entirely different beast -- and I know so little about the sale and marketing of those that I bow out at this point.

While much of the bookstore stuff is relevant in general, because bookstores work in similar fashions, each genre has its own expectations in terms of sales, and it's own marketing paradigms in terms of covers, etc. So there isn't a good blanket answer to your question, even if the question is a good one.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 7th, 2004 07:32 am (UTC)
Because the publishing company I work for subscribes to PW, I have the advantage of reading it every week for free, but I can state it's definitely not worth the money (about $225 a year!) for someone interested in only sf or other genres. PW tends to focus on the big-money stories (such as the large advances for books like "Shadowmancer"), which don't happen that often. What is useful in PW is when they dedicate entire issues to certain segments of the industry, such as romance or sf/f. In that case I think it's good to buy the issue just to read what editors and publishers have to say about current trends in their area.
Aug. 8th, 2004 09:56 pm (UTC)
I remember seeing all kids of discounted subscriptions for PW -- for people in the US. You could pick it up for as little as 1.50 a week, including shipping, etc.

It was, otoh, about 225.00 a year for us, which is why we only tried the one year. At the moment, the store is now getting it, and I peruse it from time to time -- but the only genre stuff I generally see are for big deals (as in, money paid, as you've mentioned), and those, in this market, are exceedingly rare.

I have friends who live in LA who suggested it as a useful tool <mumble mumble> years ago -- but again, because I'm so genre-focused, it wasn't, for us.
Aug. 8th, 2004 07:09 pm (UTC)
blanket explanation
Well, it's kind of hard to explain how I got here....I linked to Making Light through cmpriest's recommendation of a first-time con-goers' article, and from there to you...I think.

Anyway, I don't have a particular genre in mind at this point. I'm a pretty avid reader of SF/F, but I'll read nearly anything I can get my hands on. I enjoy recommending books to others, and I think perhaps what caught my attention the most was your discussion of the person who goes over the frontlist and decides which and how many books to purchase for their store (I think you called that a buyer, but I'm not sure). That seemed like a good fit for me. I thought I wanted to be an editor, but I agree with your assessment of an editor's position--caught between the publisher, who wants to keep costs down, and the author, who wants to relieve him/herself of "starving artist"-ness. But without being in the industry in any way, I haven't the slightest idea of how to break in and where I'd want to be if/when I were able to.

At any rate, PW has been my industry magazine of choice because a) it's free at the library (even in the US, the subscription fee is atrocious--I can hardly imagine the Canadian cost), and b) it's a good general overview with what's happening in the industry. But I think that maybe it would be easier if I were to focus on a genre like SF/F, because the houses are typically smaller, more likely to be independent, etc. But I'll definitely check out Locus and People and Publishing to see if I can find something that jumps out at me.

Thanks for your answers!
Aug. 8th, 2004 09:58 pm (UTC)
Re: blanket explanation
Editing is a talent, like any other talent; I think it's a vocation. But I do know that most editorial assistants (which is where people start, although interns who work for credit, etc., might eventually be hired as assistant editors instead) also held part-time evening jobs at various retail stores just to make ends meet.

It's not only authors who don't make much of a living in this business <wry g>.
Aug. 8th, 2004 09:59 pm (UTC)
Re: blanket explanation
I should add that while there are smaller SF houses, most SF lines are part of larger houses; Del Rey is part of Ballantine; Eos is part of HarperCollins; Roc/Ace are part of Penguin Putnam US, etc. So focusing on SF/F because the houses are smaller isn't really the best reason to do so.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )