Books!!!

It’s a new month, which means new books to read!  In a purely self-interested move, let’s start with the one that has my story in it.

* A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Monsters [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] is … well, pretty much what it sounds like. Urban fantasy women, weapons, and monsters.  Including my story “Heart of Ash,” also known as the werejaguar/dryad story.  Anton Strout and Tanya Huff also have stories in this one.

* Next up we have the mass market release of The Horsemen’s Gambit [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] by David B. Coe.  This is the sequel to Coe’s book The Sorcerers’ Plague.  As a Tor book, this one isn’t available from Amazon.  Fortunately, Barnes & Noble, Mysterious Galaxy, and your local bookstores are all there to take up the slack!  Read chapter one here.

* Cherie Priest has a trade paperback release out this week, with Fathom [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon].  Another Tor book, and thus another contender for Sir Not Appearing at Amazon.com.  Publishers Weekly describes it as,  “A decidedly dark departure from Priest’s Eden Moore saga (Four and Twenty Blackbirds, etc.), this stand-alone novel is equal parts horror, contemporary fantasy and apocalyptic thriller.”

* Mark Henry‘s Happy Hour of the Damned [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] is out in mass market as well.  From Mark’s site, “There’s a campaign sweeping the internets to save my zombie diva from obscurity … What it boils down to is, Amanda Feral’s getting one more shot before the series gets nixed. My publisher is reissuing Happy Hour of the Damned, the first book in the series, in mass-market paperback for the paltry sum of $6.99.”  How can you refuse such a friendly-looking zombie?

* I missed posting the release of Jennifer Estep‘s book Spider’s Bite [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] last month because I suck.  This is the first in Estep’s new urban fantasy series about an assassin named Gin.  It’s an intense book, pulling no punches on the sex, violence, or darkness of Gin’s world.  I liked that we had more openly fantasy elements in the urban setting.  No vampires secretly living as mortals here; everything’s out in the open.  My biggest nitpick was an aspect of Gin’s magic — I lost suspension of disbelief when she was able to use ice lockpicks.  Estep is guest blogging and giving away a copy of the book at SciFiChick.com.

* Finally, we have Michelle West‘s latest novel, City of Night [B&N | Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon]. This is the second book in her House War series, the sequel to The Hidden City.  You can read the first chapter on West’s web site.

I’m sure I’ve missed some, but this is already getting long and link-heavy.  What else is out, and what have you been reading and enjoying lately?


E-book Privilege

I’ve been thinking about e-books a lot lately, for some reason.  (Amazon still hasn’t restored Macmillan titles, last I checked.)  In particular, there’s a debate in the SFWA Lounge about the shift from printed books to electronic.

I think we’re in a very dynamic time.  E-books are changing, and we’re waiting to see who’s going to be the dinosaurs and who’s going to follow the superior evolutionary path of the  platypus.  Will multipurpose devices (iPad, smartphones) do away with single-purpose readers (Kindle)?  Will Cory Doctorow single-handedly throw DRM into the abyss forever?  Will e-books approach 100% market share, doing away with all but a handful of print-on-demand artifacts?

It occurred to me that there’s an element of privileged assumption going on with some of these predictions.  I’ve had this conversation online with people who obviously have stable Internet access and a fairly high degree of tech-savviness.  I also see it at conventions, where people whip out their Kindles and iPhones to compare features.

The thing is, these are luxuries.  If you’re in a financial position to afford the latest toys, great.  But to project near-100% dominance of electronic books assumes that either the reading devices will drop to a price where all readers can afford them, or that if you’re poor, you simply won’t/don’t read.

Tobias Buckell jokingly called for a boycott of Kindles until they bring the price down below $99.  (He’s trying to break Amazon’s “monopoly” on the Kindle.)  But even $99 is a lot of money, and not everyone is in a position to invest that much extra money every few years (because the technology keeps advancing) in their reading.

I do think e-books are going to be a larger part of the market.  We’ve seen cellphone novels take off in other countries.  E-books make tremendous sense for certain markets — universities, for example.  And the technology keeps advancing.  But I don’t think you can assume everyone is going to switch to electronic books any more than you can assume everyone is going to get flat screen plasma TVs.

Printed books are relatively cheap.  $7-8 for a new mass market paperback.  A buck or less for a used one.  I don’t see that going away any time soon. What do you think?

Sunday Roundup

1. At 10:00 p.m. last night, I typed “THE END” on the first draft of Snow Queen.  First draft is done!!!  So, time to start reading and marking things up for rewrite #1.

2. HUGE thanks to everyone who suggested titles for Snow Queen.  You had some wonderful ideas, and I’ve e-mailed my top picks as well as a few crowd favorites to my editor.  I’ll let you know what I hear back.

3. Catherine Shaffer believes I should be smothered with a pillow in my sleep for writing “The Creature in Your Neighborhood.”

4. The CEO of Macmillan explains their side of the Amazon incident:

“This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon.”

4b. Charlie Stross and Tobias Buckell offer two good essays on Amazon’s move.

4c. I don’t think I could offer anything more articulate than what’s already out there.  But I did want to point out that my previous post has already generated one angry comment which reads, “will not be buy macmillan books. it is ridiculous to pay such a big price for virtual books. will look for other authors.”

Brilliant.  Let’s punish the authors for something they have zero control over.  But it’s a good reminder that most people are pretty ignorant about how the business works, and a lot of those people are going to see Amazon as some sort of hero standing up for cheap e-books.

4d.  I was happy to find a short YouTube clip which I feel better captures Amazon’s attitude toward these negotiations.  This is my first-ever attempt at embedding a YouTube clip, so my apologies if I mess it up.

Macmillan vs. Amazon

So the writerly block of the Internet is up in arms after all of publisher Macmillan’s books (including major SF/F publisher Tor) vanished from Amazon.

According to a blogger at the New York Times:

I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between Amazon.com and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Neither Amazon nor Macmillan has weighed in on this yet, as far as I can find.  But we’re pretty sure Amazon pulled the books.  Unless Macmillan pulled them.  But it was probably Amazon.  We think.  At least according to that single unnamed source in the NY Times blog….

The timing does seem highly suspicious.  It happened on a Friday, when companies would be slow to react, and right after the Apple iPad news (which also impacts the e-book wars).  And regardless of what happened, this sucks for a lot of writers, including many of my friends at Tor.

But despite all of the angry speculation, I don’t know what happened.  Once I have a little more information, I’ll happily join in the condemnations.  If Amazon pulled the books, then shame on them.  If Macmillan did it, then … well, WTF, Macmillan?  If it was a database glitch[1. Unlikely, I admit, but I work with major database applications in my day job, and I’ve seen some weird glitches.], a lot will depend on how fast Amazon fixes it and how quickly they apologize.

For now, I’m just going to say this looks bad, and I expect to see more info very soon.

ETA: That was quicker than I expected.  From the CEO of Macmillan:

“This past Thursday I met with Amazon in Seattle. I gave them our proposal for new terms of sale for e books under the agency model which will become effective in early March. In addition, I told them they could stay with their old terms of sale, but that this would involve extensive and deep windowing of titles. By the time I arrived back in New York late yesterday afternoon they informed me that they were taking all our books off the Kindle site, and off Amazon.”

Click for the full article.  Thanks to Laura Anne Gilman for the update.

Search for the Snow Queen’s Title

Following up on yesterday’s post, for anyone interested in publishing industry numbers, one of my readers provided a link to Bowker’s 2009 industry statistics.  This doesn’t provide numbers sold, but does show the number of new books in various categories.  Worth a look, for anyone interested in this stuff.

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So the princess series is going to be four books long.  Three of these books have titles:

The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]
The Mermaid’s Madness
[Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]
Red Hood’s Revenge [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]

Book four doesn’t have a final title, and I’m almost out of time.  We’re doing page proofs on Red Hood soon, and I want to make sure it includes information number four.

So I’m turning to y’all for help.  The final book is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen, as most of you already know.  I need a title that will fit with the rest of the series, and will be so exciting, so vivid, that everyone is helpless to resist its allure.

At the moment, the tentative title is Spell of the Snow Queen.  It works, but my editor and I would love to find something that had a little more zing.  Rejected titles include:

Shards of the Snow Queen
Scourge of the Snow Queen
The Snow Queen’s Secret
Snow Queen and the Half-Blood Princess
The Snow Queen and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
The Snow Queen would make an awesome movie!  Are you listening, Peter Jackson?  E-mail me!
iSnow: Apple’s Revenge
Godzilla vs. Snow Queen

All suggestions are welcome.  If we end up using yours, you’ll receive an autographed book and a shout-out in the acknowledgements.

Remedial Publishing Math

Yesterday, Victoria Strauss tweeted a link to The Ugly Truth About Getting Your Book Published, in which Phil Cooke is just the latest voice to proclaim the Awful Truth about Publishing.

The article flaunts various numbers to show that book sales are PLUMMETTING, and everything is AWFUL!  (He also includes strategies for dealing with these awful truths.  Coincidentally, Cooke runs Cooke Pictures, a media/publicity consulting company who will happily help you survive this terrible storm … for a fee.)

(ETA: Phil Cooke commented to say that he does not, in fact, charge a fee for his services.  And then follows up with a sockpuppet.  Sigh…)

For example, “Bowker reports that 560,626 new books were published in the U.S. in 2008, which is more than double the number of new books published five years earlier (2003) in the U.S. These figures include print-on-demand and short-run books, which is where most of the growth has occurred.”  (Emphasis added.)

And then, from point number three, “Average book sales are shockingly small, and falling fast.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have MathFail.  Let me break it down with simple and totally made-up numbers.

Let’s say a decade ago, 1000 different books were published, and each book sold an average of 10,000 copies.  1000 x 10,000 means 10,000,000 books sold overall.

Then print-on-demand technology leads to an explosion of self-publishing and vanity presses.  Ten years later, we have twice as many books being published.  But the average PoD title sells what, 100 copies?  Let’s be generous and call it 200.  Assuming no change at all in traditionally published[1. I hate that phrase, but can’t think of a better one right now] books, we see:

1000 x 10,000 = 10,000,000 traditionally published books.
1000 x 200 = 200,000 PoD books.
10,000,000 + 200,000 = 10,200,000 total books published.
10,200,000 / 2000 = 5100 average copies per book.

Oh noes!  Average book sales have been cut almost in half!  It’s the end of publishing … even though, in our made-up example, traditionally published books are selling just as well as they did a decade ago.

If you want to educate me, show me useful data.  Be specific.  Don’t just flash around misleading and utterly useless generalizations.

Want another example?  “A book has less than a 1% chance of being stocked in an average bookstore.”

MathFail Redux.  If you sell a book to Tor or Baen or DAW, you have an extremely good chance of having your book stocked in an average bookstore.  “Sell” to Publish America, and your chances are closer to 0%.  But lump everything together, and you can get your average to be nice, scary, and utterly meaningless.

“Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies.”  And how many of those titles are out of print?  Specialty books?  Vanity Press?

It’s true that publishing is in a rough place right now.  Print runs really are down, overall … but not necessarily to the extent implied in Cooke’s article.  Things are changing, and we’re working to keep up and adapt.  It’s not the end of print, the end of publishing, or the end of the world.

Goblin Wedding

Fan mail is always nice. I love hearing from people who have enjoyed the goblins or the princesses, or even just a short story I wrote.  But this week, I received an e-mail that took it to a whole new level of writerly awesomeness.

Bartosz Walczyk from Poland e-mailed to thank me, explaining that Wojna Goblina (Goblin War) was directly responsible for him meeting his fiancee Ann.  Today’s post was late because I was waiting on permission to share the story.  In his own words:

I’m a teacher at school and I have been assigned a substitution to one of the schools – as I had some free time then, I took up the challenge. You have to imagine that at school there is always much work that needs to be done, so time is really short. And shy as I am, I don’t like going to people, greeting and meeting them. Especially when I know that I will be working with them for very little time.  But when I saw someone sitting in a corner of the teacher room reading Goblin War, I had no choice but to approach that woman. And this is how it started. Believe me, without the book, I would never have done it.

Bartosz and Ann are engaged to be married in 2011, and I’m told one of the first things they did together was to finish reading Goblin War.

Coolest.  Reader.  E-mail.  Ever!

My heartfelt congratulations to them both.  And for the rest of you, forget match.com and e-harmony and the rest.  If you really want to meet your soul mate, pick up a copy of Goblin War [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]!

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So I’m (obviously) back from ConFusion.  Had a wonderful and crazy time.  Saw many excellent people, and did not get to spend near enough time with most of them.  (I did get to play with the Buckell twins though.  Twins = exponentially increased cuteness!!!)

Brain and body are a bit fried.  I’m planning to write something a bit more coherent, but in the meantime, have a picture of me and Chewie from the con.  This photo was taken mere minutes before Chewbacca turned and ripped the arms off of that stormtrooper behind us.  Click the thumbnail for the larger shot.

Friday Notes

Jaclyn Dolamore (fabulousfrock on LJ), author of Magic Under Glass [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] announced yesterday that Bloomsbury will be doing a new cover for the book.  From the publisher, “The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

This is Dolamore’s debut novel, which is scary and exciting and stressful all by itself.  Now add cover controversy and the unknown of a brand new cover.  This can’t have been an easy time.  I’m hopeful Bloomsbury gets it right this time, and that Dolamore is able to get back to writing and enjoying her debut.

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For those unfamiliar with Twitter, Fridays generate a fair number of #ff posts.  #ff stands for Follow Friday, people sharing a list of interesting Twitter accounts.  I figured I’d do the same for my blog reading list.

The Graveyard Shift– Lee Lofland is a veteran police investigator who blogs about different aspects of police procedure.  For a writer, the details he shares make his blog a gold mine.  He also posts regular reviews of Castle, which is a bonus.

jongibbs– Jon’s LiveJournal is another good one for writers, including link roundups and his own thoughts about various aspects of writing.  He comes at it not from the approach of telling you how it is, but instead asks questions and opens up discussion, as in this post about book trailers.

Writer Beware– I debated even mentioning this one.  Every writer out there is already following the Writer Beware blog, run by authors A. C. Crispin, Victoria Strauss, and Richard White, right?  Right?  Everything you wanted to know about writing scams and other pitfalls, and how to avoid them.  They’ve assisted the FBI in putting away several scammers (and they have a good sense of humor to boot).

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I’m off to ConFusion this afternoon.  I’m not going to post my full panel schedule, but let’s just say I expect to be a bit frazzled by the end of Saturday.  Seven panels plus the 5:00 autographing session.  This should be interesting.

Looking forward to seeing everyone!

Books Read

Haven’t posted any book reviews lately.  Shame on me!  Must remedy this…

First up, The Secret History of Moscow [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] by Ekaterina Sedia.  From the synopsis:

“Galina is a young woman caught, like her contemporaries, in the seeming lawlessness of the new Russia. In the midst of this chaos, her sister Maria turns into a jackdaw and flies away – prompting Galina to join Yakov, a policeman investigating a rash of recent disappearances.”

If you’re looking for quick-paced, action-heavy fantasy, this probably isn’t the book for you.  If you’re looking for deep characterization and a much richer cultural background than your average American fantasy novel, I’d definitely recommend it.

Not a cheerful book, but I enjoyed it a lot, particularly the characters from Russian folklore.  I think the Celestial Cow was my favorite.  Sedia has a beautiful writing style, and it’s so refreshing to read something different.

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Next up, CodeSpell [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] by Kelly McCullough.  This is the third book about Ravirn, descendant of fates and magical hacker extraordinaire.  CodeSpell continues where the last book left off, with Raviern working to restore Necessity while trying to survive a new and powerful enemy.

These books are in many ways the yin to Sedia’s yang.  Short, fast, and fun.  I zip right through them, enjoying the ride immensely.  With that said, I didn’t think this one was quite as good as the previous book, Cybermancy.  Cybermancy felt like it had a clearer plot, and the issues surrounding Persephone made that book far more powerful to me.  In CodeSpell, I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in saving Necessity.

I did enjoy seeing Ravirn’s development. It was interesting to see McCullough show how his growth affected his relationships.  Zeus was fun to meet in this one, and of course I always enjoy Melchior the webgoblin.

If you like my goblin books, I think there’s a good chance you’d like this series.  And if you enjoyed the first two Ravirn books, go pick up CodeSpell.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in #4.

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Currently reading Michael Jasper‘s book A Gathering of Doorways [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Like much of Jasper’s work, this is a modern-day fantasy with a cast of vivid, flawed, gritty characters.  No pretty quests here.  Gil and Melissa are a farming couple whose marriage is already in trouble.  When their son Noah goes missing in the Undercity, they each set out to try to save him.

I’ll have more thoughts on this one later.  For now, I’m enjoying learning about the Undercity, though I wish I could have gotten more information earlier in the book.  The strained relationship between Gil and Melissa is painful, but believable.  I don’t think it’s my favorite Michael Jasper work (I’d probably reserve that for The Wannoshay Cycle), but I’m most of the way through and hoping to finish it up before heading to ConFusion.

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Your turn.  If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  And what else has everyone been reading lately?  Any recommendations for the rest of us?

Covers Gone Crazy

So apparently this is the week for cover art kerfuffles.  We start with my own publisher DAW, who put out the anthology The Dragon and the Stars.  This is an anthology of “18 original stories melding the rich cultural heritage of China with the imaginative realms of science fiction and fantasy.”

In DAW’s defense, I believe the budget for their monthly anthologies is significantly smaller than for original novels, which I suspect is why they tend to go with stock art for the former.  And artistically, I like the look of this one.  I just wish they’d gone with stock art that showed a Chinese dragon instead of a western one.

Cover number two comes from Bloomsbury, who you might remember as the publisher that whitewashed the cover for Justine Larbalestier’s book Liar.  After much outcry from author and fans, Larbalestier’s cover was changed.  Now Bloomsbury brings us Magic Under Glass.  To quote the Book Smugglers review:

“Nimira is supposed to be dark-skinned! The book trailer captures that and is true to the book (check it out here) but the girl in the US covers is definitely white.”

It’s deja vu all over again.

Last but most certainly not least, oldcharliebrown points out the Baen covers from the Flandry books by Poul Anderson.  Young Flandry came out last month.  The cover for the forthcoming Captain Flandry is similar, aiming for that same demographic of young boys who for whatever reason can’t get real porn online.

I know many publishers have multiple imprints, but when did Baen launch their “Orgies in Space” line?  I’m all for not judging a book by its cover, but even as a teenaged boy I don’t think I could have brought this one into the house.  As a grownup wanting to introduce my daughter to SF/F, I’m embarrassed for my genre.

Click on any of the thumbnails for larger versions.

Please keep in mind that authors have little to no control over their cover art.  Larbalestier was able to push for new artwork for her book, but she’s a fairly high-clout author and was able to rally reader/fan support.  Generally, the author has little input into the cover.

So, what do you think?

Jim C. Hines