Business

E-book Updates

Yeah, I know. Jim never posts twice in one day. But I had a lot to babble about, and I’m going to be gone this weekend for Constellation, so figured I’d get the latest e-book data up now.

Let’s start with an update on Goblin Tales [Amazon | B&N | Lulu]. The book came out on March 15, and the March sales were pretty darn good, in my opinion.

Amazon: 130
B&N: 55
Lulu: 20 (18 print and 2 PDF downloads)

The book is also up on iBooks, Kobo, and Wizard’s Tower Bookstore (which will hopefully help international readers). However, I don’t have sales data for these sites yet.

Overall, that’s close to $400 in sixteen days. Nice, eh? Especially for short fiction. So the short term results are looking nice indeed.

The long term? That’s harder to say. April sales for the first week show 20 copies sold at Amazon, 12 at B&N, and 5 at Lulu (4 print, 1 download). Not bad, but a definite dropoff. I’m not going to make any confident predictions here, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see the same sales curve I get with my print books, where there’s an initial spike in sales followed by a dropoff to a lower long-term rate.

Moving on to overall e-book sales, I received my royalty statement from DAW, which had some interesting data. I graphed e-book sales of the goblin trilogy and the first two princess books below. (Red Hood hasn’t been out long enough to generate multiple data points.)

E-book sales jumped in July – December of 2010 for all five books. Even for Goblin Quest, which is a four-year-old book. Not as dramatic an increase for the goblins, but a noticeable one. A number of people have commented on a spike in e-book sales around the end of last year and the start of this one. I’m guessing some of that is due to the holidays, and all of the people who received e-readers and gift cards to spend.

I have no idea if this trend will continue. It would be rather silly to base predictions on a single-period jump. But it’s interesting.

All total, e-book sales make up about 4.3% of total goblin sales and 6.8% of princess sales, but those percentages appear to be increasing over time. For Red Hood’s Revenge [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which came out in July of 2010, e-books represented 6.7% of total sales.

So there you go. I’m happy to say I’m continuing to earn royalties on all of the goblin books and the first two princess books, and Red Hood should start paying out as well once the reserve against returns goes away.

On Robin Sullivan’s Author Comparison

Several people have e-mailed me about Robin Sullivan’s Midlist Author Comparison, wherein she compares my writing income to that of e-published author David Dalglish.

Tangential disclaimer: back in January, I pointed out some errors in Sullivan’s guest post at J. A. Konrath’s place. She recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.

Sullivan’s new post has its own erroneous details, like “Thomas Buckell’s” survey on advances, or my book “Step Sister Scheme” being book #2 of the Faery Taile Project. But the numbers she gives regarding my writing income look correct. I assume the numbers she cites for Dalglish accurately reflect his self-reported sales as well.

Her conclusions:

  • “Jim’s six books has taken him 4 ½ years and he still is not earning a living wage. His income is impacted substantially by his foreign sales … and without that his income would be dismal …”
  • “David’s six books took 1 year to get to market and while his income initially appeared to be modest within 10 months he has grown to a substantial six-figure income that certainly would classify as a ‘living wage’ … if the current trends for both of these authors continue there will be a significant gap with David outperforming Jim by a substantial margin.”
  • From her post at Absolute Write, “It took Jim 4 years to release six-books and he can’t make a living wage on his writing. David Dalglish has been at it less than a year and gone from making a few thosand a month to making a six-figure income.”

I initially planned to ignore the post. I’m getting more and more bored by the “Indies vs. Traditional” thing. I’ve got a friend whose updates have turned into nothing but advertisements of his own books, retweets of other self-pubbed authors, and slams on commercial publishing. It’s tiresome.

My guess is that people who want to believe Sullivan’s conclusions will do so. But here are some of my thoughts as I read her post… 

  • If Dalglish’s numbers are correct, then he and his books are doing quite well, and I’m happy for him and his success.
  • A comparison of two individuals doesn’t do much from a statistical standpoint (though I recognize the difficulty in gathering larger samples of this sort of thing).
  • Sullivan’s conclusions are based in part on the assumption that both Dalglish and myself are representative of the “midlist.”
  • Her analysis of Dalglish’s data appears to omit a few months.
  • Her projection of Dalglish’s future income assumes his February/March sales rate will continue.

Some of her comments about commercial publishing also jumped out at me:

  • “Typically when published through a traditional publisher a book can take 15 – 18 months to be released and they generally stagger offering from an author at 12 month intervals. For those who write a great deal this can be problematic.” Counterexamples: see Seanan McGuire, Jay Lake, Elizabeth Bear, and many others.
  • “[I]ndustry standards are that only 20% of authors earn out their advances so in many cases the advance is the ONLY money they will see.” More statistics without citations. If she’s correct, doesn’t that imply that 80% of traditionally published authors end up with more money than if they were getting a strict per-book rate?
  • “The traditionally published author will get an advance but it is woefully small … I’ve done a ton of research on this and it really hasn’t changed much over the years but generally ranges from $5,000 – $10,000.” She only cites Buckell’s survey … but that survey appears to contradict her numbers if you read past the section on first novel advances.

Draw your own conclusions.

Harper Collins and the Expiring E-book

From Library Journal: “In the first significant revision to lending terms for ebook circulation, HarperCollins has announced that new titles licensed from library ebook vendors will be able to circulate only 26 times before the license expires.”  The idea is that this matches the average number of times a print book can be checked out before it falls apart and needs to be replaced.

As you might have guessed, this has not gone over well.  There’s the usual cry to boycott the publisher, lots of anger, a Twitter hashtag, and plenty of accusations that HC is stuck in the past and doesn’t understand the future of publishing.

My agent weighs in here: “I’m of mixed emotion on this. I don’t think it’s prima facie a heinous thing to do because businesses do need to adjust to changing business models … On the other hand, it pisses off customers.”

I came across one author suggesting that the idea itself wasn’t necessarily bad, but 26 copies was too few.  I.e., it’s not the principle of the thing, but the numbers.

I’m still thinking about the implications.  I love libraries, both as a reader and an author.  Libraries buy my books, and they allow readers to discover my work.  Realistically, unrestricted e-book lending could decrease the number of my books libraries buy.  If those books never wear out or expire, a library could keep all of my work in circulation forever.  Which would be really, really cool on the one hand … but could also cut into sales, and I like being able to pay my mortgage.

Two things I’m pretty firm on are:

  1. Authors deserve to be paid fairly for their work.  So do publishers and agents.
  2. I like libraries very much, and I don’t want to lose the service they provide to the community.

I keep coming back to the Public Lending Right (PLR) system used in a number of non-U.S. countries.  Basically, PLR is an author’s “legal right to payment from government each time their books are borrowed from public libraries.”  Such a system would eliminate the source of contention, at least from the authors’ perspective.  If I get paid for each checkout of my books, then by all means, keep all of my e-books forever!

I think it would be fair to split such payment with the publisher and agent as well.  And we’re probably not talking about a huge amount of cash here, at least for nonbestselling authors like myself.  But I really like the principle of the thing.

Actually implementing it could be a problem.  Libraries, like many public services, continue to be targeted for massive budget cuts these days.  I asked a librarian friend for her thoughts, and she suggested it would require some sort of tax to cover those PLR payments.  Not likely to happen any time soon, given the current political environment in the U.S.  (If things continue, I imagine a lot of libraries will have to close, which could make the whole thing moot.)

I don’t know the best way to be fair to libraries and their patrons as well as to authors and publishers.  Maybe it would be better to switch to a rental model where libraries pay an annual fee for the right to lend out a certain number of e-book titles from publisher X.  Older books could be removed from the list over time, replaced by newer and more popular releases.

I’m sure there are flaws with that plan, too.  I don’t have the answers.  But I’d love to hear what other folks think, particularly my author and librarian friends.

The Anti-NY Playbook (Bashing Commercial Publishing)

I asked on Twitter a while back why, if e-publishing is so successful, so many self-published e-authors are still promoting themselves by bashing commercial publishing.  Instead of, you know, promoting their writing.

To be clear, I’m not saying that all self-published authors do this.  But there are a number whose public personas spend most of their time going on about how awful commercial publishing is. And I finally figured out why their rhetoric bugs me so much.

It’s because this is the same stuff I’ve been hearing for years … only a decade ago, it was coming almost entirely from scammers and vanity presses.

Take the author who cited Snooki’s book as proof that commercial publishing is imploding.  New York is only interested in celebrity trash!  There’s no room for the truly original, so your best bet is to sign with Publish America e-publish your own work.  (See First Book Friday for a list of non-celebrity authors who sold their books to major publishers in recent years.)

Another e-published author criticized commercial publishing for being too slow.  Why wait two years for your book to come out when Publish America can release it within a week of signing the contract you could self-publish through Amazon and start earning 70% Kindle royalties within 90 days?  (Assuming you don’t care about things like editing, good cover art, pre-publication publicity, and so on.)

But commercial publishers want to rip you off!  Look at these e-published authors who are selling like crazy, getting 70% royalties and making tens of thousands of dollars every month.  It reminds me of the way Paolini used to be “proof” that self-publishing was the way to go.  By the same logic, don’t Rowling and Meyer prove that commercial publishing is the best choice?  Because that way you can become a bajillionaire like them, right?  (Paraphrase: Don’t use outliers to make your arguments.)

Whether it’s the old-school scammers or the new indie author with a grudge, we all know the real enemies are the evil, greedy, clueless editors and agents.  The people who are only in it for the money and wouldn’t know a good story if it hugged their face and planted a book that burst out of their chest a few days later.

The only problem being that this is bullshit.  Most editors love the field, and love discovering new writers and new stories.  The agents love signing new authors and watching their careers take off.  These are jobs that eat up a hell of a lot more than 40 hours a week, and if you’re just in it for the money, then you learn pretty quickly that you chose poorly.

Are there bad editors and agents?  Of course … just like there are lousy [insert any other career here].  What’s your point?

I’m not against e-publishing.  (Heck, I’m about 90% ready to e-publish Goblin Tales.)  I know not all e-published authors are taking this approach to self-promotion and publicity.  But to those who are, well, when so much of your playbook seems to have been swiped from Publish America and their ilk, I hope you’ll understand why I look elsewhere for worthwhile information and conversation.

Hines: Wrong on Piracy, Wrong on Batman

The title is a reference to this Shortpacked strip, and probably made no sense to anyone else.  But it amused me, so I kept it.

I received a great deal of feedback on last week’s post about book piracy.  My thanks to everyone who jumped into the discussion.  While I still believe much of what I wrote to be true, I also find that some of my assumptions were either overly broad or flat-out wrong.

Legality: I was going to start out by saying at least we can all agree that downloading copyrighted books without permission is illegal, right?  But maybe not.  While it’s illegal under U.S. law, Corinne Duyvis was kind enough to translate copyright law in the Netherlands, which gives broader allowance to make copies for home use.  The uploading/file-sharing part appears to be illegal, and you can only download small portions of books … except for “works of which you can reasonably assume that no new copies will be sold to third parties in whichever form possible.”

In other words, downloading out-of-print (which is not the same as out of copyright) books in the Netherlands is currently legal if those books don’t look like they’ll be coming back into print.  Thus blowing away my “simple and obvious” assumption.  Oops.

Americentrism: Another friend messaged me privately to ask who my audience was for my piracy post, which was a tactful way of pointing out that I seemed to be assuming everyone downloading illegally had convenient, cheap, legal alternatives.

I started up a very informal survey in the comments.  Take a book that costs $7.99 in the U.S., or $8.99 in Canada.  In Australia, that same book might sell for about $20.  Another commenter said SF/F paperbacks in Ireland generally run about 25 Euro, or roughly $35 U.S.  And these aren’t generally considered to be poor or third world nations.

Does the fact that something is expensive mean it’s okay to steal it?  No … but it makes me less willing to level an across-the-board charge of dickishness.  If you’re sitting at home with your high-end computer and smartphone and are downloading because you’re too lazy to go to a nearby library or too cheap to shell out $8 to buy the damn book, then the charge stands.  If you’re living in Malaysia and a book costs as much as eight meals?  Maybe not…

Marina on Dreamwidth takes this a step further, asking “I’d like to see how many of these authors who complain about their books being ‘pirated’ would still have the libraries they do if every paperback cost them 25$+ and took weeks to acquire.”  She goes on to say, “the places where ebook … ~piracy~ is most widespread are not developed, Anglophone countries, and there are reasons for that.”

I wish I had a source for that last claim.  I follow the logic of why readers in less developed countries might be more likely to download books and other media, but I’m not sure I accept the claim that piracy is most widespread in those countries.  It could be — I don’t know.  I just want more info and haven’t yet been able to find it.

The publishing industry has problems to address, no argument there.  A number of people expressed frustration at the way regional limitations prevent them from being able to legally buy e-books.  While I somewhat understand the basis for regional sales/publishing restrictions, I also recognize how frustrating it is that someone from the U.S. can click and buy an e-book in 30 seconds, while someone in another country can go to the exact same website, click the exact same links, and be denied.

Deconstructing the Western Foundation of Intellectual Copyright Law: Colorblue has another good post which points out various abuses of copyright law, and goes on to challenge the entire western foundation and assumptions behind intellectual property.  As an author currently working within that intellectual property system, this was a challenging read, one I’m still processing.

Links: Tobias Buckell has a long, thoughtful piracy post today.  He does a nice job of addressing various arguments for and against piracy, and I’m hard-pressed to argue with most of his conclusions.  In addition, Charles Tan and Fantasyecho both did link roundups of the discussion, which are worth checking out.

I’m still sorting this out.  I do think that for people like me, piracy is pretty much a dick move.  But of course, I’m privileged as hell.

Does that mean it’s all right for someone to pirate my books if they’re poor, or if they’re in a country where it’s harder to get books or where books are too expensive?  I don’t know.  But I’m not convinced they’re doing me much harm, if any, and I’m no longer comfortable with across-the-board condemnation.

Your thoughts?

Arguing Book Piracy

Last week, I saw a lot of authors linking to “Free” Books Aren’t Free, a blog post by author Saundra Mitchell talking about the costs of book piracy.

Let me state up front that illegally downloading books is stealing.  If you’re doing it, at least have the guts to admit you’re committing theft instead of spouting off excuses.

With that said, I disagree with some of Mitchell’s reasoning.  She argues:

If even HALF of those people who downloaded my book that week had bought it, I would have hit the New York Times Bestseller list. If the 800+ downloads a week of my book were only HALF converted into sales, I would earn out in one more month.

Yes, and if my dogs pooped gold, I could quit my day job.  But it ain’t going to happen.  Author Scott Nicholson guesses that 10,000 illegal downloads equates to maybe 5 lost sales.  I suspect he’s underestimating, and the true numbers are somewhere between his and Mitchell’s, but I don’t think there’s any way to say for certain.  I’m just not buying the argument that half of those downloaders would have actually bought Mitchell’s book (particularly since we’re talking about a hardcover.)

She goes on to say:

[M]y book is never going to be available in your $region, not for lack of trying. My foreign rights agent is a genius at what she does, and has actively tried to sell it everywhere- UK, AU, China, France, you name it, she tried to sell it there.  SHADOWED SUMMER will only be coming out in Italy, because that’s the only place there’s a market for it.

The implication being that piracy killed her chances at foreign sales?  I’m confused on this one.  Does the availability of a pirated English book really reduce demand for a Chinese edition of said book?  I suppose it’s possible … most countries are more multilingual than the U.S.  But it’s a stretch, and I’m not convinced.

[T]he sales figures on SHADOWED SUMMER had a seriously detrimental effect on my career. It took me almost two years to sell another book. I very nearly had to change my name and start over. And my second advance? Was exactly the same as the first because sales figures didn’t justify anything more.

The thing that makes me hesitate here is that piracy is an across-the-board problem.  Every commercially published author’s books end up on torrent sites.  Some authors are still doing quite well.  Others, not so much.  So does it make sense for struggling authors to blame book pirates for low sales when other authors are selling well despite said pirates?

Mitchell says a lot I agree with, too.  If you can’t afford books, go to the library.  Try to get review copies.  Or maybe if you can’t afford the books, you just don’t get them.  Wanting a book doesn’t give you the right to steal it.

I agree with her that, “People who illegally download books are more interested in their convenience than in supporting the authors they want to read.”

I’m NOT saying book piracy is harmless.  (To authors or to readers either, for that matter.  Laura Anne Gilman recently pointed another example of a torrent site which was installing malware with downloads.)  Bottom line, it’s a dickish thing to do.

And it does hurt authors.  How much, I don’t know.  I suspect it will hurt us more in coming years, as electronic reading becomes more widespread and book scanning technology improves.  Lost productivity alone is a serious cost for authors who try to keep up with DMCA notifications to various sites.

It pisses me off when I find people illegally sharing my books online.  And I think it’s important to educate readers.  But I don’t think it helps our cause to distort or exaggerate the problem.

Discussion welcome and appreciated.  I expect some disagreement on this one, and as always, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Fact-checking the E-Revolution

Update: Sullivan recently responded that the errors were part of Konrath’s introduction, and were his mistakes, not hers. Konrath’s post was edited within 24 hours of my post, but looking at it now, it does appear that the mistakes I pointed out are Konrath’s, not Sullivan’s. My apologies to Sullivan for that.

Robin Sullivan had a guest post at J. A. Konrath’s blog recently, wherein she presented a list of successful self-published authors, asking, “Are you ready to be blown away?”  She listed a number of authors who sold anywhere from 2500 to 100,000 books in December, 2010, and adds, “MORE WRITERS THAN J.A. KONRATH ARE DOING WELL SELF-PUBLISHING, AND THEY DON’T HAVE PUBLISHING BACKGROUNDS … On this list, only five people had previous print novels. The rest did not.”

If you’re curious, those five people are:

Scott Nicholson, J. A. Konrath, Lee Goldberg, Stephen Leather, Aaron Patterson, Beth Orsoff, Blake Crouch

Okay, admittedly, I was an English major, but that seems like more than five to me.  You could argue for the addition of folks like  Selena Kitt, whose first book was published by StarDust Press.  That’s an e-publisher, which to me counts as publishing background, even if she didn’t have a print novel.

It’s frustrating.  Knowing Sullivan got that part wrong makes it difficult to trust that the rest is accurate.  The sales numbers quoted are self-reported by the authors in the Kindleboards, collected by Sullivan and another blogger.  One problem — and this isn’t Sullivan’s fault — is that there’s no outside source.  There is no Bookscan for e-book sales, so we just have to trust them.  And I do trust that some of these numbers are correct, but overall?  I’m … skeptical.

Konrath himself presents another list of authors selling more than 1000 e-books a month, “none of who had any traditional publishing background (no deals, no agents).”  Authors like Aaron Patterson—  Wait, didn’t we hear that name before?  He also lists William Meikle, who published with KHB Books. I can’t say for certain, but KHB looks like small press–are we counting that as publishing background?  Then there’s Bella Andre.  You can check out one of her early books from Simon and Schuster.

This post took about an hour to put together, and I didn’t check every single author on the list.  I’m not writing this post to bash e-publishing.  I want to learn more about how e-publishing is evolving, and how I might be able to take advantage of it as an author.  But I want facts, not cheerleading.  Reliable data, not hearsay cribbed from other blogs.  How am I supposed to trust these wonderful numbers if the people putting them forth aren’t fact-checking their own claims?

I’m not going to warn people away from e-publishing.  It’s growing, and while I’m personally happy with DAW, I do believe electronic self-publishing is becoming more of a viable option for some writers.  Neither of the lists above were entirely accurate, but they do include successful e-publishing authors.

Just be careful.  And don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

#

Two random notes from perusing the lists:

1. Many of the authors mentioned as selling all of those books in December had released one or more new titles in December.  I.e., in some cases this may reflect an initial sales spike, as opposed to long-term sales.  (For comparison, I sold well over 1000 copies of Red Hood’s Revenge in the first week it was out.)

2. A number of these authors were selling e-published books about how to succeed with e-publishing.  I’m not drawing any conclusions from this, but it was an interesting pattern.

Evolution of Snow Queen’s Cover Art

I get asked about cover art fairly often.  How is it designed, how much input does the author get, etc.  I spoke to Scott Fischer, the artist for books one, two, and four in the princess series, and he generously agreed to let me share his sketches and the finished art.

The process started late last year, after my editor Sheila read the manuscript.  During our chat about revisions, she took a few minutes to discuss possible cover ideas.

I should note that this doesn’t always happen.  I had no input into my first few covers, and not all editors want authorial input.  My contract gives me zero control over cover issues, which is the norm.  (See here for a very different, very painful publishing tale which includes cover problems.)

In early November, I e-mailed Sheila some notes about the characters and setting: not a set of instructions, but brief descriptions to help the artist.  For example:

Talia: Talia hates the cold. She’s wearing a heavy jacket, but keeps her hands bare for fighting. She’s darker skinned, with black hair she keeps pulled or tied back. At one point near the end, she carries a [REDACTED]. She’ll be in boots, and possibly a scarf as well if that doesn’t obscure her too much. Being Talia, she also carries half an armory on her person.

Scott mentioned that these have been helpful.  In his words, they’re “detail specific, but not too controlling.”

On Monday, January 4, Sheila sent me the first sketch.  Have you noticed a pattern here?  There’s no direct author-artist communication; everything goes through the editor, and I suspect that’s for the best.  I might be the brilliantest writer on the planet, but that doesn’t mean I know squat about art or about what makes a successful cover.

Here’s sketch number one.  Click for a larger view.

Sheila didn’t like the stars, and wasn’t happy with the poses for Danielle and Talia. I pretty much agreed with her, though I liked the overall layout, and thought this had the potential to be the best cover in the series.  I also suggested that the castle wasn’t quite right for the book, but this was a minor nitpick.

Snow’s sword isn’t precisely accurate to the book either, but you know what?  I like it.  I think it’s more important to have a good, attractive cover than it is for that cover to be 100% accurate.  (I’d fight over major errors, or the whitewashing of a cover, but not something like this.)

Sheila e-mailed Scott, and a day later we received the second sketch.  (Scott is fast!)  The stars were gone, and I liked Talia’s pose a lot better in this one.  I’m also really liking that the  characters don’t feel posed the way they have in previous covers.  This is an image that tells a story, and I love that!

That palace was still nagging at me. Sheila said she thought it had too much of an SF feel.  But we were close!  I’m a little curious where the cover text will fit, but I figure that’s DAW’s problem to figure out.  At this point, I really couldn’t wait to see the finished version.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long.  Scott turned in the finished art on Monday the 10th.  I’m still talking to my editor, and there may be some minor tweaks, but this is pretty much final:

What do you think?  I’d love it if other authors could weigh in on the cover art process.

My thanks to Scott, both for producing yet another awesome cover, and for permission to share his work.  Check out his web site or his Facebook page.  He’s also got a children’s book out called Jump [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], which — in addition to being available at the usual outlets, was packaged with boxes of Cheerio’s.  And he’s a musician.  This is a man who’s clearly exceeded his quota of coolness.

2010 Writing Income

There are an awful lot of myths and misconceptions about writing, and one of the biggest is that writers are all rich, hanging out in their mansions and sipping champagne and role-playing with dice made from etched diamond.  So for the past few years, I’ve been posting my writing income and expenses to provide what I hope is a more useful data point.

Posts from previous years are here: 2007, 2008, 2009.

I ended 2010 with a last-minute check from my agent for the French on-signing advance for Red Hood’s Revenge.  With that added to the total, I made $25,718 in writing income in 2010, down about $3000 from the previous year.

Here’s the graph going back as far as I have data for:

2008 was a fluke.  A nice fluke, but a fluke nonetheless, with a big spike due to the success of the goblin books in Germany.  The princess books haven’t been as popular, and I think the ongoing decline of that particular income stream is part of the reason for the drop from 2009 to 2010.  But let’s break down the 2010 numbers a little further:

Novels (U.S. Sales): $9297
Novels (Foreign Sales): $15876
Short Fiction: $200
Nonfiction: $120
Speaking Fees: $225

I still make the majority of my income through foreign sales (Thank you, Joshua!), but the balance shifted a bit this year.  Foreign sales were a smaller percentage of the overall income, with the money from DAW here in the U.S. climbing a bit higher.  I have no idea what this means for the long term, but it’s interesting.

That foreign income includes novel sales to France, Germany, and the Czech Republic, along with royalties from Germany and Poland.  In general, individual foreign sales tends to be less than their equivalent U.S. deals … but those foreign sales add up.

Expenses were about $2000, with more than half of that going into conventions.

Of course, this is all before taxes.  I have a higher deduction at the day job, which balances out a lot of the self-employment taxes I owe for the writing, but even so the numbers here don’t exactly represent the amount I put in my pocket at the end of the day.

So that’s 2010.  A pretty good year, and I’m expecting 2011 to be even better, at least with the U.S. income stream.  No clue what to expect with the overseas sales.  And to answer a commonly asked question, no I am not planning to quit the day job any time soon.

Questions and comments are very much welcome, as always.

Borders + B&N = Do Not Want!

Last week, GalleyCat reported on the possibility of Borders buying Barnes & Noble.  I don’t give a lot of credence to rumors, and I’m doubtful this one will actually happen.  But the idea scares me.

Let me tell you a story from years ago.  Tobias Buckell and I were in Chicago for Windycon, along with my then-agent Steve Mancino.  When we weren’t conventioning, we headed out to various bookstores to sign stock: Crystal Rain for Toby, and Goblin Quest for me.  Within an hour, we had the routine down:

When we went into a Borders, I would run to grab my goblin books, autographing like a fiend.  Toby got to sit around twiddling his thumbs.

When we went to B&N, it was my turn on thumb-twiddling duty while Toby did his autographing thing.

There were a few exceptions, but we hit a lot of stores, and the pattern was obvious.  Borders liked the goblins, but wasn’t interested in Caribbean steampunk space adventure.  B&N liked Crystal Rain, but wasn’t excited about goblins.

In each case, the chain’s buyer had looked at our books and decided whether or not to stock our books.  How much better would Goblin Quest have sold if the B&N buyer had liked it?  How much worse would I have done if the Borders buyer hadn’t?

These are the two biggest brick & mortar chains in the United States, meaning a good portion of book sales go through these two businesses.

Imagine this hypothetical merger actually goes through.  Now it’s one chain.  One buyer.  One person’s opinion will have an even greater impact on your sales.  One person determines which books you find on the shelves, and which ones you don’t.

It scares me.

I imagine some will see this as yet more proof that brick & mortar stores are dying, and online sales/e-books are the wave of the future.  Amazon has millions of books available, after all.  (Aside from the ones they ban for being too naughty.) But that means your book is one among millions.  I know Amazon is working to help readers find new books/authors they’ll like, but I don’t think they’re there yet.

I believe there is a need for a gatekeeper function.  Physical stores have to rotate stock, emphasizing new releases, popular titles, and books they believe customers will buy.  They go through those millions of titles to find the ones they believe their customers are most interested in.  So if your book gets into the stores, it has a better chance of being seen by random browsers.

Let me put it this way.  Amazon has a listing for every single Publish America title.  Your local bookstore might special order a PA title for you, but you’re not going to find them eating up shelf space.

When you have a lot of bookstores making different choices, I think this model can work.  Particularly when stores have the autonomy to buy and stock books that will be popular in that region.  When only two chains dominate sales, the bookstore-as-gatekeeper model develops problems, but it’s better than a single big chain.  The idea of merging the two, or of Borders simply going out of business . . . either way, you’re left with one giant.  One gatekeeper controlling a frighteningly disproportionate number of books.

My agent has posted his thoughts about the state of Borders and the two big U.S. chains.  NPR recently published an article talking about how the changing nature of bookselling could actually strengthen the independent bookstore.

What do you think?

Jim C. Hines