Most people why buy a book or pick it up from the library just want to read it–that’s an excellent thing! Sometimes, though, us authors get email from fans who, for whatever reason, what to know what extra they can do. If you’re in that camp, this is for you. If that doesn’t describe you, you’re gonna be bored or annoyed by much of what follows 😉
Let’s say you’ve found an author you love with a series you adore (and, let’s face it, who hasn’t?). If you’ve been a reader long enough, you’ve experienced the frustration of an orphaned series–where the publisher just drops things mid story, and the next book is never written. You might even have gotten very annoyed with the author for it, and confronted them at a convention or a signing, only to be told it’s out of their hands.
Unfortunate though it might be, the truth is that the success of a series lies in your hands. You may be just one of thousands of readers, but it only takes a handful out of every thousand readers to make a huge difference in how a book does on the open market.
Seanan McGuire a.k.a. Mira Grant and Gail Carriger have both recently chimed in recently on how you can help an author out, and it caused a bit of a shitstorm on twitter–I suspect that storm is a by-product of the interesting times we live in in publishing.
To make a long story short, writers have to eat, and the only way we get to eat is if 1) we write books you like, and 2) you buy them. Sometimes, though, there can be some weird confounding factors. Because there are publishers, distributors, and the New York Times in the mix, things can get complicated for books slotted in one of the two business models currently on offer. Let’s call these two models the “Produce” model and the “Long Tail” model.
I’m going to start with the most important thing you can do to help ensure your series continues, and this is common to authors using both business models:
Post book reviews
Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Goodreads, your blog, your podcast, twitter–if there’s a place you can post a book review, do it. And be honest–a four-star review that’s enthusiastic but points out the things that bugged you, or even a BAD review that goes into detail are just as good, or better, than a five star gushing review. (A five-star review that goes into detail is, of course, the best of all). A spread in reviews shows other potential readers that the book is well-written enough to provoke a real reaction, and thoughtful, honest reviews help other readers decide if the book is one they’d enjoy.
You don’t have to write a different review for each venue. It really is okay if you write one review and post it in lots of places. We don’t mind.
Word of mouth is, in the end, the only dependable way to sell books. As the reader, you are the mouth whose words matter. If we authors make you feel something, speak up!
Also, when you’ve got a book you’re enjoying, read it in public and tell your friends about it. Loan it out. The ultimate goal is to have a book go viral, and the more people talk about it, the better chance it has.
The Produce Model
The Produce model is focused on cramming as many sales as possible into a short space of time. Publishers have lists they have to fill every month with new titles, so whatever the new release is is the NEXT BIG THING ™. If the book does well in the Produce model, it may “earn its keep” and be shuffled to the backlist through multiple reprintings, and thus stay in print for a long time.
So, Produce books are are new releases from medium-to-large houses (including, but not limited to, those owned by the “Big Six” media conglomerates). These books, like blockbuster movies, have just a few weeks to prove themselves. They’re not afforded the luxury of finding an audience–they either fly off the shelves in the first thirty-to-sixty days, or they don’t get reprinted and/or the next book in their series doesn’t get picked up.
If you’re interested in a book that’s in the Produce section, the best thing you can do for an author is to buy a paper copy (not an e-book copy) of the book in the first thirty-to-sixty days after release (better yet, pre-order it). If you buy the book from a brick-and-mortar store, it’s more likely to count toward the New York Times bestseller list (and if the book hits the NYT list, the author might get higher royalties, depending on her contract terms).
Ebooks, typically, aren’t yet counted in this scheme (which can make life tough on us authors as more of you readers are preferring ebooks). Publishers are trying to slow the transition away from print so they can have time to adapt their strategies, and they are dragging their feet on figuring ebooks into their re-order calculations (they’ve also been caught defrauding their authors on ebook royalties even more aggressively than they usually do with print royalties, but that’s whole other blog post).
This does not mean “don’t buy your favorite author’s ebooks.” This is just information on how the business works right now, to help you be strategic with your buying if you’re inclined to being strategic. Gail’s blog has some other great suggestions on way to leverage your ebook buying to make maximum impact.
Note of clarification: Paper copies get more attention in a lot of publishing houses at the moment because of institutional lag. Big companies have cultures that are slow to adapt to the market. If you buy an ebook, it still “counts,” but since books which are printed today have contracts that were negotiated between one and three years ago, we’re currently in a transition regarding exactly how those sales count. It’s complicated, and if you prefer ebooks, you should feel free to buy your preferred format. The current weirdness will not last forever.
The Long Tail Model
Those books working on the Long Tail model are often older books–backlist–released through mainstream publishers or published by the author. Many authors have some books operating under one model and others under the other, and this percentage will grow as the Long Tail model shakes itself out and becomes more common.
The selling point of the Long Tail is that it allows a book to hang around and find its audience, even if it takes a long time. Rather than selling a lot of books very quickly, a book in the Long Tail model is a success if it sells slowly but steadily. In the long run, it can even accrue more sales than a blockbuster book. In this sense, it’s the opposite strategy from the blockbuster-driven produce model. All self-published books operate under this model, as do many older books from larger houses. If the book you love has been out more than about ninety days, it doesn’t really matter what format you buy it in or where you buy it–a sale’s a sale.
Not all Long Tail books are older books though–some are books written and released under the Long Tail model intentionally. Authors do this when they self-pub an original title, and some small and medium sized presses that don’t have the same distribution requirements of larger publishers operate this way on all their titles as well.
In the case of the Long Tail original book, your author may have a personal threshold after which he’ll write the next book (such as Stackpole, who writes new installments in a series after he’s sold 10k copies of the current installment), or he may have decided to write a certain number in a series and then see how it does before deciding whether he wants to commit to further installments.
Or, as is the case for four of my short stories, a title may be available both in an anthology and as a self-pubbed ebook. In this case, when you buy the anthology, your author won’t get much out of it–a few pennies at best–while if you buy the ebook the author will get 35% to 70% of the cover price (depending on which storefront you buy it through and how it’s priced).
This is how it all looks from the POV of the author. As a reader, you may not want to be bothered with this. If that’s the case, my advice is: don’t worry. Just stick to point one: tell your friends. We’re in the business of entertaining you, and as long as we’re doing a good enough job, the rest will ultimately sort itself out.
These are very turbulent times in the publishing, so turbulent that I’m sure I’ll have to update this post a couple times over the next two years–but for now, this is the best info we authors have got.
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