Fans Making A Difference

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.

If you find this post useful or thought provoking, please consider donating to the tip jar at the top right of this site, or buying a copy of any of the books you’ll find listed in the right sidebar. Writing is how I make my living–I enjoy it and would like to keep it up!

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11 Comments

  1. Thank you Dan for the view from the authors. While I do have an eReader, I just can’t get past the wonderful feel and smell of a book. 🙂 I have however purchased some books multiple times (hardback, trade paperback and electronic).
    Well again I just want to say thank you for letting us/me know more about how this works.

  2. Well, the NYT does have an eBook bestseller list and has for a while.

    With respect to mass market paperbacks I think readers are voting with their dollars and it behooves every author to pay attention to that trend. Digital books are a larger and large share of sales and I’m just not sure it’s wise for an author to ask readers not to adopt or to privilege the paper version, especially since the current state of affairs simply isn’t sustainable.

  3. 1. You are making factual assertions that are incorrect. Online preorders and sales count toward both the print and the digital bestseller lists. From the NYT site:

    The sales venues for print books include independent book retailers; national, regional and local chains; online and multimedia entertainment retailers; university, gift, supermarket and discount department stores; and newsstands. E-book rankings reflect sales from leading online vendors of e-books in a variety of popular e-reader formats.

    2. No one has been “caught defrauding authors”. I’ve seen allegations of wrongdoings but no audit results, rather extrapolations. Do you have proof of the fraud? If not, I’d be careful throwing around defamatory per se statements.

    3. The only way writers eat is to get paid? No, writers have chosen to write for a living. They could (and many do) work the normal jobs that readers work to earn a living to provide food for themselves.

    4. How do small press or large press publishers differ in terms of distribution than self published books? You all have access to the same major retailers of digital books either through Smashwords, a third party vendor, or direct.

    If you are going to create strategic instructions, maybe you should gather the correct facts.

  4. Carolyn –

    I completely agree. I’m of the firm opinion that readers should buy in the format that is most convenient and/or agreeable to them. This post is mostly just for the readers who are interested in using their purchasing dollars to actively push an author onto one or another bestseller list and/or are otherwise interested in being a little more activistic.

    For my books, I honestly couldn’t care less what format people buy–so long as my readers are enjoying my stories, I’m happy.

    Thanks very much for stopping by!

    -Dan

  5. Jane —

    1. The NYT statement is very vague, and they do not explicitly disclose who they report to or how they weight it–and their weighting may have changed since the last time I delved deep into the subject. When last I checked, a couple years back, Sam’s and Costco didn’t necessarily report, and Amazon was, according to those who are much further in than I, weighted light. The real mojo behind the NYT Bestseller list weighting is a closely guarded trade secret (and the excerpt you quoted gives no useful information whatsoever), but publishers and agents and old-hand pros do have ways of gaming the system a little bit, and those are what I’ve shared here. My information might be out of date, and if it is I’d like to see something concrete updating the situation.

    2. With self-pubbed backlist ebook sales running 10 to 1 or better against frontlist reported ebook sales for authors at some houses (and no, I’m not going to say who), and with Bookscan numbers coming in at 30-100% MORE than author’s royalty statements for dead-tree books at some houses (again, not saying who), then yes, some publishers have been caught defrauding their authors. (For those who don’t know, Bookscan only reports a fraction of retail outlets, so bookscan numbers should always be lower than the total sales).

    Your understanding of libel law seems to be highly flawed–I haven’t named any names here, and I’ve said quite a lot less than what’s already in common circulation. This isn’t new information, either–publishers have always cooked the books, and they’ve been caught at it many times. The interesting thing about the current brewing scandal is the scale and the verifiability. The new world is much more transparent than the old world was, and it’s harder to hide theft from the authors. But if you think that publishers do not cook the books just like record companies and movies studios are, you’re desperately naive. Authors who mind their business have always known it goes on, and have counted it as a cost of doing business in the same way piracy is. The new numbers are making some question whether the cost isn’t too high, and that’s as may be–and yes, there are audits brewing behind the scenes. It’s going to be an ugly few years in the disputes departments.

    However, I suggest that before you hop on people’s blogs and accuse them of an actionable crime (like libel) you would be well advised to read libel laws. You’d safe yourself a goodly amount of trouble and public embarrassment in the future.

    3. Yup, the only way writers eat is if they get paid–I left out the obvious alternative, that they steal from grocery stores, as that’s both illegal and a very time-consuming way to wrangle dinner. You seem to imply that writers who don’t hold down another job aren’t working for a living. It is, of course, possible that I misconstrue, but in my defense I must point out that it’s very difficult to winnow meaning from a statement that’s as loaded with bitterness and yet relatively devoid of context.

    4. All publishers have access to the same distribution channels (with some exceptions), but not all publishers have the same warehousing considerations, shipping contracts, volume obligations, etc. Those differences make a profound difference in how the publisher does their accounting, their windowing, their tax preparation, and (most importantly for the purposes of this post) how quickly a book has to hit its sales target to be considered “successful.” Larger publishers that operate on the produce model are prone to dropping books or series that are only turning a modest profit, while small presses who are doing POD or small offset runs and don’t have the large shipping obligations can afford to have more titles turning a modest profit over a long period of time. Perennials, if you like. Larger publishers often don’t have that luxury, and that changes the definition of “success” for the author with those houses.

    Thanks for dropping by.
    -Dan

  6. Heather —

    You’re most welcome. Thanks for reading 🙂
    -Dan

  7. However, I suggest that before you hop on people’s blogs and accuse them of an actionable crime (like libel) you would be well advised to read libel laws.

    Dan is correct that he is not engaging in defamation; because he refuses to name names (which means there’s no way to verify what he’s saying), he is not committing libel under U.S. law. I think even in less free-speech jurisdictions like Canada or Britain, “publishers” are not a group protected by the laws against group libel/hate speech.

    However, at least in the United States, no form of defamation (whether written libel or spoken slander) against a non-governmental entity is a “crime.” People or entities who feel injured by a statement must bring a civil lawsuit and can obtain only civil remedies (damages, injunctions, etc.), not criminal penalties like jail time.

  8. PG-

    You raise a fair point. I stand corrected.
    -Dan

  9. Dear Dan:

    I am bitter about the way in which authors are spreading misinformation around the net and inciting fear and guilt amongst readers over their purchases.

    As to your arguments, I am not sure whether you are deliberately misunderstanding me and obfuscating the facts or whether I simply didn’t articulate myself well enough. I’ll go with the latter:

    1. The NYT statement is very vague and they do not explicitly disclose who they report to or how they weight it.

    This is true, however you have made the unqualified statement that “Ebooks, typically, aren’t yet counted in this scheme.” This is patently untrue. Further, given that Amazon accounts for over 25% of the print book purchases then not giving Amazon appropriate weight is the fault of the Times and not that of the readers.

    And, as you say, the Times calculation is a closely held secret so I’m curious to know what evidence you have to back up the statement that “Amazon was, according to those who are much further in than I, weighted light.”

    “publishers and agents and old-hand pros do have ways of gaming the system a little bit”

    If this were true, then these individuals would be able to achieve success for their most backed books which, as there are always spectacular sales flops, is patently untrue.

    2. With self-pubbed backlist ebook sales running 10 to 1 or better against frontlist reported ebook sales for authors at some houses (and no, I’m not going to say who), and with Bookscan numbers coming in at 30-100% MORE than author’s royalty statements for dead-tree books at some houses (again, not saying who), then yes, some publishers have been caught defrauding their authors.

    What you and other authors are doing is extrapolating which is not the same as catching someone defrauding others. I suggest you look into the legal definition of fraud which, I assume you understand as someone who professes to have legal knowledge as evidenced by your comment, requires an intentional versus a negligent act. I

    Your understanding of libel law seems to be highly flawed–I haven’t named any names here, and I’ve said quite a lot less than what’s already in common circulation.

    Defamation per se (which I’m sure, again, you know is different than defamation per quod) is the untruthful statement that damages someone’s business reputation or accuses them of committing a crime (amongst other things as there is a list of statements that are considered per se defamatory).

    The fact that a defamatory statement has been published before doesn’t shield the new publisher (or repeater) of the same libelous act. Common knowledge doesn’t excuse the defamatory statement either, only truth is a defense to defamation.

    Like authors attempts to extrapolate their earnings without an audit, to which they are contractually entitled, the term “publishers” can be proven to have an identity. Given that you have such certainty on the subject, a reasonable person could understand that you are talking about your own publishers. The fact that you don’t “name names” doesn’t insulate you either. It may only make it harder to prove.

    However, I suggest that before you hop on people’s blogs and accuse them of an actionable crime (like libel) you would be well advised to read libel laws. You’d safe yourself a goodly amount of trouble and public embarrassment in the future.

    Luckily for me I’ve written extensively on this subject and do know what I am talking about so I am not at all publicly embarrassed by my statements.

    3. Yup, the only way writers eat is if they get paid.

    Writing for a living isn’t an entitlement, it’s a choice. I write for a living as well, by the way, and in so far as your bitter comment, see infra.

    4. All publishers have access to the same distribution channels (with some exceptions), but not all publishers have the same warehousing considerations, shipping contracts, volume obligations, etc.

    I was referencing digital books as you explicitly instructed people to buy print.

  10. Jane–

    I’m sorry to hear about the burr under your saddle, but you may find if you read closely that there’s no guilting or fear going on in this blog. I’ve said directly that I don’t really give a damn where or how people buy books, and that the most important thing is that fans who want to take an active interest spread the word.

    1. We may be talking at cross purposes. The NYT maintains several lists, which are format-specific. Ebooks (though not all titles) are counted toward the ebook list, paperbacks to the paperback list, hardbacks to the hardback list, etc.

    If you re-check the post, you’ll see that “This scheme” refers to the escalation clauses in publishing contracts (not the NYT ebooks list)–books hitting the market right now were signed before the existence of the NYT ebook list, and before the existence of that list (which debuted late last year) there weren’t any provisions specifically for ebooks to count in escalation clauses. Some writers and/or their agents were canny enough to negotiate specific provisions for ebooks to figure in escalations, most were not. This is a temporary problem from authors POVs–once books hit the market that were negotiated after the existence of the list, those authors smart enough to fight for escalation clauses will most likely have clauses that get triggered by an NYT Ebook list listing.

    As far as ebooks not counting towards publishers ordering a reprint, I’d have thought this was a no-brainer. You don’t print ebooks. The only reason this counts as “trouble” right now is because of the aforementioned market shift in between the times current contracts were negotiated and the time those books hit the market. As the next couple years come and go (and current shipping contracts expire), I daresay the offset publishers will move toward a business stance that includes more POD and less offset for the titles which aren’t performing at the high numbers they need (at least for the titles where the writers involved aren’t able to–or aren’t interested in–reclaiming their rights).

    RE: your point about if it were true that people could game the NYT system a little bit they “would be able to achieve success for their most backed books” is ridiculous.
    First, I said “A little bit.” It’s a marginal game–it doesn’t change the number of units moved, it only attempts to move the traffic towards those bookstores that the publishers suspect are weighted more heavily in the statistical averaging. How to publishers and authors come by this information? The same way most people come by trade secrets–by snooping around people who were in the know and have loose lips over drinks or in other circumstances. Does this mean the information is reliable? Of course not. But it’s the best information any of us gets, and it probably decays by the time it filters down to us writers.

    Second, the backlist is not where the promotional muscle gets put, for a variety of reasons.

    Third, if you find an opportunity to leverage a marginal improvement on a statistical model, and everyone else in the game does too, than those marginal improvements will be matched by others who are also gaming the system to whatever extent that they can. In a competitive zero-sum environment, there will always only be a limited number of winners.

    2. The problem here is not the legal definition of fraud. It’s a dictionary issue: You seem to think that “caught” is a synonym for “convicted in a court of law” which is a terrible violence to the language. Some publishers have been caught–it’s happened many times before, it’s happened again, and it’ll happen from time to time in the future. Those that haven’t been caught may or may not be dealing honestly–not my place to say, though until such a time as they get caught with their hands in the cookie jar they’re certainly entitled to the presumption of good faith (so long as the author extending that presumption doesn’t drop their guard and fail to cover their ass).

    You’re correct about defamation–it involves accusing someone. But I’ve accused no one, and I have no current beef with any of the publishers I currently work with. I also own the publisher I do most of my fiction work with, so if I think I’m defrauding myself then I’d probably be well served to get a good therapist.

    And no, a reasonable person would not make the wild leaps you’re making. All professional freelancers talk off the record about vendors and customers. We have reputations and ways of gauging the accuracy of the information we’re shown. When there is trouble with a skim or a grab, the word does get around–usually until the audit gets done and the settlement happens, when the NDAs clamp down.

    So I’ll thank you to withdraw your accusations of defamation, and your attempts to intimate shadowy danger hanging over my head.

    If you’ve got a personal beef with me, or you think I’ve slagged off a friend of yours in the business, say so. Otherwise, give it up.

    3. Garbage collecting is a choice, too. People that do the garbage collecting still have to get paid in order to eat. Writers have to sell their books in order to eat–as you evidently write “for a living,” it seems you’d appreciate this point.

    4. It was not clear at all that you were speaking only of ebooks, as you were responding to something I said specifically about dead tree books. In either case, that hardly matters, as you continue to mis-characterize the stated intent, content, and purpose of the post (despite explicit clarifications), this seems to me a dead point.

    That said, I can’t say I’m impressed with your conduct in my house. You stomp in, throwing accusations motivated by (as you admit) a grudge that long predates your association with my blog, accuse me of actionable offenses, drop implied threats, spend a lot of time bitching, and haven’t yet contributed anything substantive to the discussion beyond the above.

    If you have something substantive to say, please do. Otherwise, you might have more fun grousing to someone who actually gives a shit.

    -Dan

  11. BTW, in the interest of fairness, I’ve just discovered that Jane has been far more articulate on her own blog. I think my disagreements with her position (not to mention the personal vendetta she seems to be pursuing against a number of other authors, for reasons I can’t speculate on, but in the pursuit of which she seems compelled to talk about other authors paychecks with a great deal of snark) are pretty clear, so I won’t re-articulate them. You can find her blog post in question here: http://dearauthor.com/features/letters-of-opinion/readers-rights-to-buy-when-where-and-in-what-format-they-want/

    ::Going to shake my head for a while::
    -Dan

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