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?

In Defense of Criticism

Got a note from my editor earlier this month, saying The Stepsister Scheme [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] was going back for a second printing!  Always nice to hear.

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It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about racism in Transformers, research failure in Criminal Minds, plot shortcomings in Avatar … pretty much all of these discussions eventually produce comments along the lines of:

Why are you wasting your time and energy on this? Relax and enjoy it for the mindless entertainment it is.

I was able to turn off my brain and enjoy the first Transformers movie.  I even sat through most of Attack of the Clones yesterday.  (Though I did fast forward through the “romance” scenes.) I’m perfectly capable of choosing to enjoy brain-dead entertainment.  But it’s one thing to make that choice.  It’s another thing entirely to wander into someone else’s critical discussion and tell them to stop all that unnecessary thinking.

I’m speaking as someone who writes light fiction.  My first book was called bubblegum fantasy, and I’m good with that.  But the moment you try to tell me that light entertainment isn’t worthy of discussion, that it’s somehow exempt from criticism, I’m going to take it personally.

Good writing — even fluffy bubblegum writing — takes work.  It takes research.  Goblin Quest [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] required a consultation with a geologist, weapon and armor research, lots of time looking up real-world recipes for Golaka the chef, and several re-reads of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

When someone e-mails to say I messed up a sailing term in Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], am I supposed to tell them it’s just entertainment and they should stop being so critical?  I made a mistake, and that mistake threw someone out of the story.  They have every right to call me on it.  Just as people were right to challenge problematic aspects of Talia’s character and sexuality in Stepsister.

To say it doesn’t count, that there’s no point in critical discussion of such “fluffy” works, is a bit insulting.  It’s also flat-out wrong.

Often, this attitude goes hand-in-hand with the idea that criticism and analysis are academic practices, suited only to dusty old classics.  Keep on analyzing Ulysses. Stop wasting your brain cells on Twilight or the latest Hollywood blockbuster.

I think it’s the other way around.  Those blockbusters are exactly what we need to talk about.  How many people actually read Ulysses?  Compare that to the numbers reading the Twilight series.  The latter might be pop culture fluff, but it’s worthy of discussion because, for better or worse, it is our culture.  Because it reflects and affects our society today far more than Ulysses does.

There’s also the fact that, for many of us, this sort of discussion is fun.  (Just look at Elizabeth Bear’s reviews of Criminal Minds.)  I like stories.  I like disecting them, trying to understand where they worked and where they failed.  Like taking apart a watch to see what’s inside.  Some people might say that the dissection takes the enjoyment out of the experience.  For me, the discussion is part of the enjoyment.

Criminal Minds on Diabetes

From this week’s episode of Criminal Minds, “The Uncanny Valley”:

“Diabetics metabolize everything they consume differently.  Food, drink, drugs … it all gets broken down into blood sugar.”

Ignoring the fact that not all food and drink gets broken into blood sugar (Coke Zero, anyone?), you’re telling me my drugs all turn into blood sugar too?  Guess I’d better start taking insulin with my cholesterol pills from now on.

The show also asserts that diabetics can metabolize drugs faster, and thus our victim could shake off the paralytic.  (Which was being received via an I.V. drip.)  This struck me at first as either poorly researched or poorly explained.

So I spent this morning digging up research so as not to come off as an idiot when I wrote my rant, and what do you know.  I came across a 2007 study from The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases which states:

In fact, type 1 diabetes not only leads to activation of drug metabolic genes, but also has a profound effect on the metabolism of certain drugs. Mice with induced type 1 diabetes rapidly clear their systems of a compound that induces temporary paralysis, while normal mice cannot.

From that same article, “Controlling the diabetes reversed the effect: when insulin was given to the mice, the CAR-induced genes turned off. ”  So in theory, since this woman was off her insulin, there might have been a window where she would have thrown off the effects of the drugs before falling into a diabetic coma.

I’m not finding anything to support the idea that drugs all break down into blood sugar, though.  That one still strikes me as goblin dung.  According to the article above, a diabetic with out-of-control glucose doesn’t clear the drug by breaking it down into sugar, but because (in mice, at least) this activates certain genes that clear the drug from the system.

So, I’m cranky about the “Everything turns into sugar” bit, but it looks like they did the research on the rest.  Thanks for that, Criminal Minds — the widespread laziness and misinformation spread in most books and shows when it comes to diabetes is a huge peeve of mine.

On that note, if any of my writer friends are ever doing a story that includes diabetes and have questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.  I’m not a doctor, but I can give you the basics and tell you what it’s like to live with the damn disease.

Also, I think I have a man-crush on Dr. Reid.

File-sharing Follow-up and Friday LEGO

So on Tuesday we had an all-nighter at the E.R.  Last night my four-year-old got sick.  This week officially bites the wax tadpole.

I did have two follow-ups to yesterday’s post on e-book file sharing.

1.  It’s almost a rule on the Internet: Don’t read the comments.  Particularly with something like book piracy, it’s easy to get into rabid nastiness.  Instead, once again people were thoughtful, respectful, and flat-out smart in your comments and conversation yesterday.  Thank you for that.  Y’all are awesome.

2.  One of the questions that keeps coming up is “How can someone be against file sharing but not against libraries and used bookstores and people loaning books out to all of their friends?”  Inspired in part by the discussion over on Facebook, I came up with this:

When you buy a paper book, you purchase a physical object that you now own.  It’s a thing, and you can do whatever you like with it — keep it, burn it, give it away, sell it, etc.  With an electronic book, there’s no physical object.  With file sharing, you’re not sharing a single object that you’ve purchased and now own; instead, you’re distributing that book.  You basically set up a competing “publisher,” one which takes the work done by the actual publisher, then distributes the end product for free.

Again, a lot of good points from yesterday’s comments, but the used bookstore/library question has always nagged at me, and hopefully this clarifies why.  (I know it helped me to sort some things out in my own head.)

And that’s about all my brain is good for today, so here, have some LEGO.  Most of you should recall the Nebulon-B Medical Frigate from the end of Empire Strikes Back?  Steef de Prouw has done it in LEGO.  This thing is amazing, over four feet long, with little docked X-wings and even the Millennium Falcon.  Click the pic for the full photo set.

Jim C. Hines