Friday, July 29, 2011

Buying: Books vs Magazines

Mike Stackpole had an interesting post this week about how books are being handled more like magazines than books by publishers and retailers. I thought I'd add my two cents in on that thought. And my two cents is that this is very, very bad for bookstores.

For several years, I was a buyer, then head buyer, for a distribution company that handled, among other things, role-playing game books (RPGs). We sold very few novels, so those tended to be special order only affairs; unlike bookstores, we didn't get full returnability. The RPGs (also mostly not returnable) sold much like books do in traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores. We also handled a few specialty magazine lines, which, for the most part, were also not returnable.

When it came time to order the magazines, I ordered just a handful over what I thought we would sell in the first week, and I almost never reordered. Why? Because those magazines were only relevant for the first week or so that they were available. Unless there was something REALLY cool and fairly timeless in that particular issue, after the first month the stupid things never sold again.

Book sales have always been front-end heavy. There's a rush for the first few weeks, and after that it slows to trickle. The more popular the book, the steadier the trickle, but it's still a trickle. Now, that trickle can over time amount to more sales than the initial rush...but only if the book is available.

If, as I've heard from several sources now (including this great post by Kris Rusch), book buying is really turning to the magazine model of buying, this is going to severely impact backlist sales, and it will also drive people to online buying. I know that anything I had full returnability on got overbought by at least 20%, and a lot of buyers overbuy by more than that, but with the increasingly limited shelf space, the bookstores just don't have room for all of those books even though they aren't out money if the books don't sell right away.

What this means is that backlist sales from brick-and-mortar stores will virtually disappear except for a very few titles from a small percentage of authors. People who want any of the other books will have to either find them at a used bookstore (no money to author), get it from the library (no money to author), or they'll have to buy it online. For some people, online sales are still impulse buys; they may go to the bookstore, find out they can't get the book without ordering it and waiting, and they may go online right then and there and buy it for their e-reader.

I'm willing to bet that the majority of people are not at that point yet.

We live in a culture that thrives on instant gratification. When we want something, we want it now. If we have to wait for it, or work for it (ie running around to more than one store, or make an order online), odds are we'll lose interest. I foresee a lot of this scenario:

Reader goes to bookstore, and wants to buy X book. Reader is told by staff that they don't have a copy, but they can order one. Reader thinks "If I have to order it, I might as well order it online because I can get it cheaper than I can ordering it from the bookstore, plus I won't have to come back to the bookstore." Reader goes on about Reader's business, and by the time Reader gets home, Reader has forgotten about ordering the book. Reader, being a reader, probably already has a stack of books waiting to be read and picks up one of those because Reader wants something to read right now. If this happens often enough, Reader will probably stop going to the bookstore at all, and will just buy all of their books online.

So my guess is there will be a downtick in backlist sales for awhile as readers migrate more permanently to online book buying. Then backlist sales will probably start to climb again, but only online. Meanwhile, traffic in bookstores as a whole will dwindle, because people are used to not finding what they want at bookstores and will buy their new books online too, wrapping backlist sales into new release purchases so they can get free shipping. This will lead to more bookstores closing, less shelf space, fewer readers finding what they want at brick-and-mortar stores (or being able to find brick-and-mortar stores)... You get my drift.

I also think used bookstores will see increased traffic. People will learn that if they want a backlist title right now and they don't want a digital copy, the used bookstores are the place to look. And if they don't find the title they're seeking, well, there are lots of other backlist titles there that might fit the bill and satisfy their immediate gratification need (making it less likely that the reader will remember to order book X later). Plus a lot of used bookstores also carry a limited selection of new titles, and that's one less online order for Reader to make.

Don't get me wrong, I love used bookstores. But this will impact sales. And impacts on sales can have very weird effects on what publishers decide to publish down the road.

Image: Pixomar /

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Publishing Podcasts I Listen To

I'm always on the lookout for more awesome podcasts, an you might be too, so here are the ones I hit every week, in no particular order:

Writing Excuses - The best 15-20 minutes of listneing a writer can spend all week.
I Should Be Writing - Fun interviews, and follow Mur Lafferty as she traverses the worlds of publishing and podcasting her own books.
Adventures in SciFi Publishing - Great interviews with authors, editors, and publishers, plus fun commentary and discussions.
The Reading and Writing Podcast - interviews with authors about their books, writing, and the weird hobbies authors pick up.
eBook Ninjas - Occasionally a bit technical, but informative. The folks from eBook Architects discuss ebook formatting, digital readers, and publishing news.
The Creative Penn - Interviews with authors, podcasters, cover artists, and basically anyone who has useful information for authors, with indie author Joanna Penn.
SF Signal - As powered by the Functional Nerds, these podcasts cover everything SF&F, including panel discussions and interviews.
The Dead Robots' Society - young author hosts provide interviews, con panel recordings, commentary and discussion on everything writing and publishing.
The Hopkinson Report - The Marketing Trends That Matter from Wired Magazine's Jim Hopkinson. Includes some awesome interviews with authors, social media marketers, website people, and more.

If you have any publishing/reading/writing related podcasts that you like, leave a comment and I'll add them to my list. I'll update this periodically as I find new ones.

Friday, July 22, 2011

100 Words About: Book Buying

Kris Rusch had a great post yesterday about the upcoming third quarter sales slump. The short short version (and I do recommend reading the whole thing) is that with Borders gone, there is less shelf space for books. And Barnes & Noble is also reducing its shelf space for books. Since 70% of books sold are still paper copies of one form or another, that means that third quarter sales are likely to drop. Which means that a lot of authors whose work would normally be selling will have a hard time convincing their publishers that the drop in sales is not because their writing has suffered. (Kris points out that, traditionally, publishers fail to take external factors into consideration when looking at sales numbers.)

Times just keep getting more interesting...

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writing as a Business

I've been doing a lot of reading and research on the small business side of writing lately. It seems to me that a lot of writers are not very good businesspeople. Of course, in the days when our only option was traditional publishing, we didn't necessarily need to be. We didn't have to think about layout, had no control over the cover art, and nothing at all to do with the money save catching what fell through at the end.

With more and more writers going indie, that's all changing. But what's a newbie business-writer to do? If you don't know the first thing about business, it's hard to figure out what questions you should be asking, much less where to look for answers.

Enter Dean Wesley Smith. Man, if I had found his Think Like a Publisher series sooner, I wouldn't have taken that small business class. If you're thinking about delving into self-publishing, do yourself a favor and read these posts first! Not only do they provide lots of wonderful real-world-experience advice, they answer the most important questions of all: the ones you didn't know to ask.

Friday, July 15, 2011

100 Words About: Overtime

I'm working 16 hours of overtime this weekend, which basically means I don't get a weekend. This is voluntary, but still rather daunting. The money is great and much appreciated, but it's going to seriously cut into my writing time. (Much of my writing gets done on Sunday mornings when The Husband sleeps in.) I continue to make good progress with my revisions, and I'm proud of that and very happy with the way the book is turning out, but ugh, I'm going to need a vacation soon. I just don't know if I should take it before or after the revisions are done.

Image: renjith krishnan /

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Twitter, Novel, and Dog

I have joined The Twitter (as Stephen Colbert likes to say). You can see my feed over on the right there. I'm not making the best use of it yet, as far as the whole social-media-for-writers-thing goes. I'm just getting my feet wet at first. But I'll be posting links to neat articles and things as I find them, as well as updates on my own writing, and things will pick up as I get closer to some bigger things later this year.

Speaking of my own writing, things are going pretty well. I'm making some changes to the novel, nothing too huge. (Well, if you don't call adding two chapters and rewriting one from scratch too huge.) I'm hoping to have all the edits done by the end of the month. I'm also doing research for a new novella, and I'm pleased to announce that my short story "Succor the Child" has been accepted for Burning Bulb Publishing's Big Book of Bizarro (Sept 2011). Oddly, it's not one of my erotic pieces. Bizarro for me.

We've discovered that The Bulldog acts very differently at home than he does at other people's houses. Or, more precisely, on other dogs' territories. We tried bringing over a shar pei that he'd met over at the shar pei's house. At the other house, no problems. Here, The Bulldog started resource guarding: water, treats, bones, even entry into the living room (where The Bulldog sleeps and hangs out with his humans).

The Husband and I have no idea of how to work on this, because The Bulldog doesn't resource guard with humans at all. Just other dogs. And mostly just here. We may just have to be a single-dog family. Which we could do, because The Bulldog has enough awesome for two dogs, but it would've been nice for him to have had a playmate, since he doesn't play with toys. Sigh.

Picture by CarrotCreative

Friday, July 8, 2011

100 Words About: Amazon and Piracy

Not that long ago I had a post about piracy. Today's post is about a whole new level of piracy: not only stealing someone else's work, but "publishing" it yourself for profit.

PG over at the Passive Voice alerted me to the plight of Ruth Ann Nordin. It seems someone has taken one of her free stories and published it on Amazon and is charging money for it.

Ms. Nordin has tried contacting Amazon, but they aren't doing anything about it. She's actually having to get a lawyer over it.

Now, it's hard to imagine anyone paying $21.99 for "the-path-to-christmas.pdf" but that's not really the point. Amazon needs to respond to these issues quickly. Given that their business depends on internet sales, they need to be careful that they don't develop a reputation as a digital fence for stolen goods.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July! (Now With Vuvuzelas)

It's just after 10:30pm on our first July 4th with The Bulldog. Poor boy. It's so easy to forget just how messed up this dog was when we first got him. I mean, wind was new to him. Wind. He was three and a half years old, and he'd never had wind in his floppy ears.

He's still a little sound sensitive, but he's made huge progress. Normally he alert-barks when he hears a new noise, and then we go see, and he's fine after that.

Fireworks, apparently, are a bridge too far. Trust me, a 90lb American bulldog can make a lot of noise when he feels like it, and loud noises are definitely on his short list. And then there's the freaking vuvuzela. I mean, really, whose bright idea was it to give the tween neighbor kid a vuvuzela? In the middle of town, at night, when I have to work tomorrow?

I love fireworks. I love the Fourth. But for the love of apple pie, stop with the noise making at 10:30p. That's not so much to ask, is it? Assemblage 23 is apparently just not thumpy enough to disguise all the firecrackers. And A23 (among other bands) has gotten the Bulldog through several weeks of road construction outside our house.

At least he doesn't do this during thunderstorms...

Image: Chris Sharp /

Friday, July 1, 2011

100 Words About: Newspapers

At my day job, we get three newspapers: the Wisconsin State Journal, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the Wall Street Journal. Every day on my breaks I pour through the Wall Street Journal, looking for news about publishing and technology, as well as reading the book review. Not to mention all the neat articles I find just by skimming the titles--articles I never would've found otherwise, but which I'm glad to have read.

You know what else I love about the newspaper? I get all sorts of interesting news about what's going on in the world, but I don't have to listen to or watch or read anything about some comedian I've never heard of from a show I've never seen who said something stupid, or what reality TV star is currently having a meltdown, or which movie celebrity is adopting a kid from some foreign country. You know why? 'Cause that crap's not news, that's why. The only reason that crap gets play nowadays is because the 24-hour news cycle needs stories, and they know they can get the soap-opera crowd to tune in if they have celebrities and human interest stories.

I'll be very sad if newspapers ever really do go away, because even if they are slanted, they're slanted a heck of a lot less than television. And I'd hate to have to rely solely on BBC for honest-to-God news.

Image: Salvatore Vuono /