To get ahead of some questions that might arise — it’s very very early days on this (I mean, obviously, since the book hasn’t even been out three weeks as I write this up), so I don’t have a whole lot of answers for folks about how it’s all going to shake out. What I can say is that I’m happy with the deal, I’ll be well involved, and I think Legendary is a very good place for Lock In to be. Aside from that, the answer I’m currently going to be able to give to you about just about anything is: “Interesting question! We’ll see.” I’m not trying to be evasive. Just: Early days.
I will say this, however: Holy crap, my life these days. Lock In is the third book of mine currently in development for a TV series at the moment (following Old Man’s War and Redshirts), a fact which is amazing and exciting and also kind of absolutely ridiculous if you think about it for three seconds straight. And in each case I am getting to work with fantastically talented people who know what they’re doing. And this is on top of the books, and the amazing people I get to work with doing those, and the video game, which again gets me working with just the best people you can imagine.
To repeat: Holy crap, my life these days.
More details, of course, when I have more details to give. For now, just know that I am happy. And thank you to all of you who are wishing or have wished me success. I think it’s working at the moment.
Unpacked some of the books and ARCs that arrived while I was on the second leg of the tour; here they are for your delight and perusal. Of particular interest, I think, are Ancillary Sword, the sequel to the multiple award-winning Ancillary Justice, and Last Plane to Heaven, the official final story collection of Jay Lake.
What do you find interesting in this collection of works? Share in the comments.
I am home today but tomorrow morning I set out again for the third and final leg of my Lock In book tour, which will take me to Brookline, Massachusetts; Concord, New Hampshire; Saratoga Springs, New York; Brookyn and Philadelphia. When all is said and done, this tour will have had over two dozen events on it, and I will have seen and signed books for, conservatively, about two and a half thousand people.
When I’m out and about and recount my tour adventures to people (I can reel off my itinerary just about in my sleep at this point), the question often arises about whether all this touring is actually still useful and/or desirable in an age where so many people get their books electronically, and when one (or at least, one like me) can show up to a comic con, at which between 20k and 50k people will show up in one place, where you also happen to be. In this context, book touring can at least initially seem like an anachronism, and of questionable value.
Here’s why it’s not questionable, at least for someone like me (and I will explain what “someone like me” means in a bit — stay tuned). In no particular order:
1. Because print books still matter. Chest-thumping about the digital revolution aside, print books are still 70% of the market in a general sense. I personally sell more electronically than in print, but my print sales are still substantial and I’m not inclined to ignore them. Book tours take me to places where those print books are sold, especially at the beginning of the book’s sales cycle. Showing up can make a difference.
2. Because it pumps up best seller list appearances. Lots of tours (including mine) include stops to bookstores that report to Bookscan, the New York Times, and to local and specialty newspapers and magazines, all of whom collate that information and offer up best seller lists. Best seller lists matter because it’s free advertising in newspapers and online, because bookstores (including Barnes & Noble, the largest book chain in the US) put best selling books front of store, making your work easier for people to find — especially if you’re in genre, because sometimes people won’t intentionally wander over to the genre racks — and because it becomes a useful tool in marketing. When you can claim you are a bestseller, it assures someone who has never read you before that they aren’t wrong for giving you a try; after all, lots of other people agree with their decision.
3. Because it helps to support bookstores, and not just in the sense of selling a whole bunch of books to people at the event to see me, although that doesn’t hurt. It also reconnects people to the fact that there is a bookstore in their city, gives them an opportunity to walk the aisles and look at the wares, and gives the bookstore a chance to make the argument to these folks that shopping at the store is still a great way to buy books and a great way to support local business. Helping keep bookstores in business and front of mind to locals is in my long-term best interest, because, again, print isn’t going away anytime soon… unless the bookstores go away.
4. Because it can generate local and national attention. Aside from best seller lists (which generally happen after the fact), local press often run interviews and features — or even just appearance listings — prior to an event, which can help draw people in to the local bookstore, and which can help my publicist capture the interest of reporters and media outlets further down the line on the tour. Simply just showing up can make the difference in whether there’s a review or feature. And again, people may snark about newspapers/magazines being in decline, but know this: Those newspapers and magazines still go out to tens and hundreds of thousands of people. You can still get a lot of attention from and awareness out of them.
5. Because it develops relationships between you and book sellers. If I come into a bookstore, fill it with dozens of people, all of whom buy books, talk up the book seller to my audience, and show appreciation for and respect to the book seller for having my event at their store, you know what? Weeks and months later, long after I’m gone, that book seller is still likely to be recommending and hand selling me and my books to customers who come into the store — and ordering my books, both in back list and when the new books come out. This matters quite a lot because, again, print isn’t dead, and people are people; they remember the people who have helped them out and have been on their side.
(The flip side of this is that if you come in to a bookstore, act like a jerk and give a disappointing appearance for the people who have come to see you, the book seller is going to remember that, too. So, you know. You try not to do that.)
6. Because not everyone who comes to your book tour is going to come to a comic con or other convention. Note that I don’t think these things are either/or — you can do book tours and appearances at large general events, like comic cons, book fairs and other such things. I mean, I do — I do several conventions and book fairs a year. But anecdotally, there’s a large number of people who show up to my bookstore events who aren’t going to go to something like a comic con. Some of them are people who do not see themselves as “geeks” — i.e., people whose idea of fun encompasses spending a day (or three) in a convention center among tens of thousands of other people. Some people hate large crowds and prefer an opportunity to see you in a more intimate setting. Some people have never heard of you before and found out about you through a book seller flyer or email, or a newspaper write-up. Some people just happen to be in the store when you start doing your thing. And so on. Limiting one’s self to one sort of appearance limits you to the sort of person who will come to that sort of appearance — limits your potential audience, in other words. I’m not sure why I would want to do that.
7. Because people want their moment with you. The number of people who have a book signed specifically to have a signed book is actually pretty small. The majority of the people who are getting a book signed are getting a book signed so they get a little time with you — to talk to you about the book, to get a picture, to share a thought or otherwise spend just a moment with someone whose work they like and who they might even admire in some way. A book tour is a good way to have those moments, and those moments matter — it can mean the difference between someone being a casual fan, and someone being a lifelong reader of your work (and being someone who recommends that work to others).
And yes, this is a very hands-on, time-intensive, retail way of doing things, but again, it’s not just about the moment, it’s about what happens after the moment — the knock-on effects of that moment, over days and weeks and months and years. Looked upon that way, it’s not a bad time investment.
(And once again, it can work the other way, too — if you blow that moment with someone, they’re going to remember that. You have to be fully engaged in the moment, and you have to make sure the person you’re having the moment with knows you are actually happy to be sharing it with them.)
8. Because it’s fun, even as it is a lot of work. I mean, come on. I get to go around the US and meet people who are fantastically happy to see me, perform for them for an hour with the reading and Q&A, and then spend a moment with them as I sign their books and/or take a photo with them. It’s a lot of travel and a lot of work being “on” the whole time, but it’s not hard, and there is, bluntly, a lot of ego gratification, which doesn’t suck, either. People geek out about meeting me. That’s weird. And delightful! But weird. I like it, and I like that every day that I am out of tour, I get concrete evidence that people enjoy what I do. It’s a nice life, you know?
There are other reasons to tour, including some that are very inside pool for publishing and book selling, but you get the idea.
Now, it’s important to note a couple of things here. The first is that in general I get toured a lot more, and a lot longer, than most authors; I’ve toured for five out of my last six books and I’ve toured for no less than two and a half weeks each time. That’s a lot, especially when you consider that I publish new books more or less annually. I am also someone who sells a lot generally and is well-along in his career; my position and perspective are different than many authors.
It’s also important to note that by and large the benefits of touring are not short term; at the end of my tour, Tor, my publisher, will just barely zero out the cost of putting me on tour, or will either eke out a tiny profit or suffer a tiny loss. This is all about the long-term benefits: To me, to them, to booksellers, and to the relationships between all of us and the folks who read my work. In the short term, the book tour benefits might seem iffy. In the long term, however, it is totally worth it.
So, again, for me, touring makes sense, and will probably continue to make sense, for a long time to come. I expect I’m not the only author for whom this is the case.
Further proof that the folks at Tor are excellent people with whom I am happy to work: The arrival this morning of a box of “Lock In” cookies, offered up in celebration of the book hitting the bestseller lists. I like that they timed the cookie arrival for when they knew I was going to be home. I also like how they have my photo on some of the cookies. Now when someone bites my head off it won’t have to be an entirely sinister thing.
Vaguely related, not too long ago I noted with some amusement a perennial detractor of mine blathering ignorantly, as he nearly always does on any subject relating to me, about how it didn’t seem to him that Lock In was doing particularly well; this was almost immediately before the book hit the NYT Hardcover list and was Bookscan’s #1 top-selling front list science fiction novel. I considered sending him one of these cookies, so he could eat his words. But then I thought that giving a cookie to an asshole was a backwards way of doing things, at least from the point of view of the cookie. So, no cookies for him. He’ll just have to bask in the infinite pleasure of being wrong, so very wrong, yet again. He’s used to that, in any event.
But if I could, I would share these cookies with all the folks who have bought the book, or come out to see me on this tour. You have made this book a success (so far!) and my appreciation for you knows few bounds. Thank you again, folks. Life is good.
Sixteen years ago today I set down at my computer and wrote what would be the very first entry in what I was then calling an online column, which I labeled “Whatever”; and look, here I am today, roughly 10,000 or so entries later, doing the same thing. Time passes; people change; children get older. And yet, here I am, at it still.
And the sixteenth anniversary comes at an interesting time, both for the site and for me. I very recently wrote about how my online center of gravity has shifted; Whatever is my home online, but I spend a lot of time out of the home, and particularly on Twitter. This mirrors me in the real world as well: I’m writing this piece from home, but only because I’m on a small break from a monster book tour that started August 26, when Lock In came out, and will continue through September 20, when I take the last plane I have to take to come home (and even this small break isn’t really a break, since I have an event this very afternoon at 2, at my local bookseller, Jay and Mary’s Book Center). Next month, I’m a week away at New York ComicCon and then Books on the Banks in Cincinnati. And there are reasons to believe that next year will see me away from home even more than I am here in 2014.
These are not bad things — I’m out of the house a lot because my writing career is doing very well, and Twitter is a ton of fun, which is why I’m there a lot — but they are things that affect this site. Add to that the general slow migration away from blogs toward other social media, which is occuring in tandem with the Internet generally changing from something you read during a long sit in front of a computer to a thing you glance at from a phone while you’re on your way to (or wasting time during) some other thing, and what it means is that for the first time in a very long time, I wonder how Whatever fits into the world, and fits into my life.
At the moment, I don’t have any answers to any of that, other than: I guess we will find out. I don’t have plans to stop writing Whatever, that is certain — now as much as ever it’s a release valve for me, and a place where I go to air thoughts that I want to express, on whatever topic I’m thinking about today. And it’s still fun for me, and I think interesting for people who stop by, whether they’re longtime readers or people who funnel in because they’re referred by a link from Twitter/Facebook/Google+/Tumblr/etc. So this isn’t me trying to break the news gently that Whatever is going away. It’s not. I suspect it’ll be here for a long time yet (assuming that I, myself, will be here for a long time yet).
It is me recognizing, however, that as in all things, time moves on, and I move along with it. I’m curious to see what that means for Whatever, and how what’s here will reflect the changes in the online world and in my world. It’s an exciting time in my life, for reasons you know already and for some reasons you don’t — all good things, I’m happy to say, for the moment at least, and I hope that this particular moment lasts. I expect at least some of that excitement will be reflected here; that I will, as I always have, share at least a little of my thoughts at these moments in time. Which is, of course, what Whatever has always been.
So, things change and yet in some ways they will also stay the same. Here’s to another year of Whatever, and to all of you who come by to read it. Thank you. Let’s find out what happens next, shall we.
(Comments are open on this entry — because I’m home for two days! Wheeee!)
First, the Polish version of my short story “The Tale of the Wicked,” in Polish SF/F magazine Nowa Fantastyka. I’m always tickled when short fiction of mine gets translated into other languages.
Second, the cover of Redshirts in its Italian edition:
Kind of funky looking, I have to say, but I like how Peter Lutjen’s symbol for the Universal Union is getting around out there in the world. And of course I like the fact the book is out in Italian, seeing as I am nominally of Italian descent and all. I hope they like it over there.
I should note that a) the difference between positions one and two is so small as to be almost invisible, b) the only album here I think of being genuinely bad is No Line, c) although I fully note that Rattle and Hum (where the “mediocre” level begins on this list) is the album where U2 was the most egregiously full of itself.
Provide your own thoughts and rankings in the comments.
Tomorrow: I have a day off and I am going home. Hooray! However, Saturday,I will be at Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio at 2pm. This is my hometown bookstore and the first time I’ll be doing an actual event there, so I am excited. If you are in the Dayton area, some see this lovely little bookstore, and me.
In the hubbub surrounding the release of Lock In, I forgot to mention the other thing of mine that was also released on the 26th of August: The Old Man’s War Box Set, which contains the first three books of that series, all in one convenient package. Perfect for gifts and/or for people who have not yet jumped into the series.
As an author, I’m pretty tickled to finally have a box set. It’s a bit of a career milestone — a nice little acknowledgement in packaging form that what you’re doing is popular enough that it makes sense to bundle your books into box form. One could do worse.
Well, not Chicago precisely — somewhere near the airport since my event is in a northern suburb and I will need to be back at the airport relatively early to head toward Lexington. So: Airport hotel! Yay!
A smidge overcast here in Iowa City, but it’s still a nice day, and Iowa City a lovely town.
Tonight: I am at the estimable Prairie Lights bookstore, at 7pm. Please bring yourself and everyone you know (and if you’re a professor, give the kids extra credit for showing up). My understanding is that tonight’s event will be recorded for radio and aired at some point in the future, but it’s still always better to catch the live show.
Hugo and Nebula Award winner Nancy Kress is thinking big about something small: Your genes. In the real world, they connect you, for better or worse, with every other human on the planet. In Kress’ latest, Yesterday’s Kin, they also connect with something else — something surprising.
Yesterday’s Kin is, at its heart, about mitochondrial DNA–which means that it is, at its heart, about what it means to be human.
Can you define humanity by its genes? Maybe not all of human behavior or growth or soul, but since 1981, you can define humanity’s past that way, in order to decide who is related to whom and how.
Somewhere in Earth’s deep past (very, very deep, possibly 1.5 billion years ago), an ancient bacteria merged with an ancient single-celled organism that already possessed a nucleus. It was a good marriage. The DNA in the bacteria evolved into mitochondria, little powerhouses that help convert oxygen into energy in every cell of your body. The DNA in the single-celled organism went on doing what DNA does: creating proteins and replicating itself. Everybody was happy.
However, mitochondria had a pre-nup that many Hollywood actors would envy. In the case of a cell split, a mitochondrion get to keep all its DNA and pass it on, unchanged, to the egg that will become the next generation. Sperm gets almost no mitochondria, and what little it does have is shed with its tail. Thus, all your mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) came from your mother, who got it from her mother, all the way back to the common matrilineal ancestor, “African Eve,” approximately 6,000 generations ago. Humans can be grouped into “haplogroups,” clusters of people defined by their differences in mtDNA.
When I discovered all this, I was fascinated. Coupled with a higher mutation rate relative to nuclear DNA, the inheritance of unchanged mtDNA makes it possible to trace ancestry of a person, or groups of people, through the restless migrations that characterize our species. All sorts of anomalies abound: Why does the Korean sequence turn up regularly in Norway? How did that family on the Russian steppes acquire the mtDNA signature of a Polynesian? And what does any of this have to do with science fiction?
A concept is not a story. To turn my enchantment with mitochondrial DNA into something with the possibility of enchanting anyone else, I needed characters, plot, conflict, setting. This stalled the entire project for a year, while I pondered. Pondering is what writers do best, since it has the virtue of feeling productive without the pain of actually confronting a keyboard. Eventually, however, pondering must end and writing begin. For SF, aliens are often a good place to start.
In Yesterday’s Kin, aliens arrive on Earth. They willingly subject themselves to being sampled and probed: tissue, blood, organs, DNA. The results are conclusive: These aliens are human. Their particular migration reached farther, and deeper into the past, than any other—but how? When? And why are they returning now? The answers to these questions formed my plot.
My protagonist was created from twin desires. First, I wanted to portray contemporary biological science as it is actually done: with sophisticated equipment, as part of an international conversation, with career-impacting mistakes and triumphant corrections. Too often, the “science” in SF is of the cloning-in-a-basement-by-a-mad-scientist type, or else gibberish hand-waving (“If we hook up the actofrabble cycle to the Hartford drive, we can create galaxy-spanning life insurance!”). I have enormous respect for science and scientists (all right, I’m a science groupie) and I wanted to show biological discoveries being made under pressure, with the inevitable competition as well as the teamwork, as realistically as I could.
Second, I wanted a female scientist who (1) was not young, (2) did not tote a blaster, and (3) had a family. Humanity comes, of necessity, in families, at least in the beginning of lives, but from much science fiction, you’d never know this. Protagonists whiz around interstellar space unencumbered by so much as memories of anybody back home, much less the aching concern that most parents never lose for even their grown children. Dr. Marianne Jenner, evolutionary biologist, has three grown children, all of whom carry around the marks and scars of their upbringing. Just like (I fervently hope) real people.
Yesterday’s Kin was absorbing to write. During my research, which was extensive because I am not a scientist, I discovered enough material for several books in several genres. The United Kingdom, for instance, has recently approved the insertion of mtDNA from a donor egg into an egg whose own mtDNA carries inherited mitochondrial diseases. The donor mtDNA replaces the defective mtDNA. When the egg is fertilized in vitro, the resulting child will actually carry DNA from three different people. Legal thriller, anyone? Family saga? Star-crossed romance? (“We can’t marry; you’re my one-third sister.”) However, SF is what I write, and with Yesterday’s Kin, Marianne Jenner’s story is not finished.
Nor are the surprises written in human mtDNA. Your mitochondria supply you with more than physiological energy. They can reveal our shared past and the connections that, to a large extent, make us who we are.
If you’ve been following me here and on Twitter this week, then you know I’ve been delighted that Lock In has been doing very well in terms of sales: It hit the New York Times Hardcover Fiction best seller list and a few other lists as well. And in doing so, the list shows that the book is seemingly all over the charts.
For example, Bookscan, whose lists note sales at bookstores (well, some bookstores — the ones that report to Bookscan) reports Lock In as the #1 front list science fiction seller last week. The New York Times reports it as the #20 hardcover fiction book. The USA Today bestseller list, which I got sent to me today, ranked the book at #107 — which seems a far cry from #20 or #1. So what’s going on?
The answer is that all these lists report different things. Bookscan, as noted, reports bookstore point of sales, and the list in this case is confined to science fiction books (or even more specifically, books identified as science fiction), and to “front list” — books that are new to the market. Bookscan gets reports from many but not all bookstores, and focuses on print sales. So many sales won’t get reported — sales from some indie stores, sales of electronic books and audiobook sales are not part of these reported numbers. The discrepancy is sometimes significant.
The New York Times, as I understand it, uses a combination of sales, sampling from specific bookstores and a few particular guidelines for each list it generates to create its rankings. So the Hardcover Fiction list focuses (generally) on new releases in (surprise!) hardcover fiction, not considering electronic or audio sales at all (NYT also has electronic only lists, as well as combined print/electronic lists, plus various fiction and non-fiction lists).
The USA Today list doesn’t make any distinction between fiction and non-fiction or between older and newer books, or between print and ebook (although I think audio is still excluded); it simply puts them into one big pile and tells the ranking of everything that is selling that purports to be a book. On the USA Today list, Lock In competes with everything from 50 Shades of Grey to To Kill a Mockingbird to Minecraft strategy guides.
So each of these lists tracks sales, but does it in a different way, using different metrics and lumping books in different piles. As a result, Lock In is legitimately the #1 book, and the #20 book, and the #107 book, in all of the United States. The #1 NYT hardcover fiction book last week, The Long Way Home, is #5 on the USA Today list. The #5 NYT hardcover fiction book (The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks — congratulations Brent!) is #26 on the USA Today list. And so on.
These variances may lead you to ask which is really the most accurate bestseller list, and the answer is: Well, based on what? Bookscan is based on pure sales — but only sales that Bookscan tracks. NYT chops up sales into categories and adds a few twists to the pure sales number, presumably to give a clearer picture of what’s really moving among newer books. USA Today loads all books into the same pile but also does “analysis” based on sales. Again, each of these lists (and any other list you might name) are working off different numbers, and using different ground rules.
At the end of the day, what the best seller lists do is not exact. What they do, both individually and as a gestalt, is give you some idea of which books are the front of sales and front of mind, from week to week. I’m happy to say that what it means for me, no matter how you slice it, is that Lock In did pretty well for itself in its debut week. And that works for me.
San Diego! One of my favorite cities on the planet. And it’s a gorgeous day here, too. What more could you ask for.
Today,I’ll be at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore at 7pm. It’s one of my favorite bookstores, and Mysterious Galaxy has always been a huge supporter of me and my works, so I’m always happy to come by and spend time with them. You should come by, too, and, of course, being everyone you’ve ever met.
It looks like this blog is no longer the first term that pops up when you enter the word “Whatever” in Google — it’s been supplanted by a YouTube channel of the same name. Thus ends a decades-long domination by Whatever of the word on the world’s pre-eminent search engine. All glory is passing.
How do I feel about this? I am curiously lacking angst about it. One, it’s still the number two entry for the word, i.e., not at all difficult to find, really. Two, YouTube is a Google property, so I would not be surprised if it lends YouTube channels a little extra search engine juice. If so, that’s fine too. Three, well, you know, a decade is a good run for owning a relatively common word in the English language on a search engine.
In any event, I still have the corner locked on “Scalzi” on Google, which is, strangely enough, the word people search on most when they are looking for me. I suspect I will be fine, Google-wise.
The airport. There are individual variations depending on the airport, mind you. But the gist is the same. It’s interesting to think that this particular assemblage of these particular people will never happen again — that the airport is always different. Heraclitus would probably roll his eyes at me for the observation, but that dude’s dead.
Today’s event:Vroman’s, in Pasadena, CA, at 5pm. This event is the midpoint of my tour. After this, there are more tour events behind than ahead. It’ll be nice to be on the backslope. If you’re in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, please swing by and have some fun with us.
Tomorrow: San Diego and a 7pm event at Mysterious Galaxy. I was just there!
The view out my hotel window is not hugely inspiring today, unless I want to do a San Francisco version of Rear Window, but on the other hand I get to stay in this hotel room for three whole days. Which is three whole days on not having to wake up early to catch a plane. Which is awesome. I slept ten hours last night. Which is also heaven. San Francisco is heaven, is what I’m saying, even with this window view.
For those wondering why I didn’t post this picture yesterday, it’s because I was so busy I didn’t actually get into my hotel room until 11pm. My check in earlier in the day was literally dropping off my bag and then hopping back into a car two minutes later to get down to Google, where I had an event. Then a few very nice hours hanging out in Mountain View with my friend Diana, and then the event at Books, Inc, which was lovely could be.
Event tonight: Petaluma, at Copperfield’s, at 7pm. It will be a ton of fun, so if you live north of San Francisco, please come, and bring every single human you know. Tomorrow, I will be at Borderlands Books in San Francisco, one of my favorite bookstores on the planet, for an afternoon event: 3pm.
Other Stuff: One, editorial cartoonist Ted Rall, whom I have known for years and consider a friend, gives me a cameo in his cartoon today. And yes, this is why I do carry at least a little cash on me (for what little good it would do me in the scenario Ted posits). And I do like that he drew me with a little more hair.
Two, this little tidbit, which I will use a tweet to convey:
A friend with Bookscan access says Lock In is the #1 front list science fiction book this week. TIME FOR QUEEN. http://t.co/OqmZagM2Ri
(For those of you wondering about terms here, “front list” means newly released books. Books that have been out for a while are “back list.” So Lock In is the best selling new science fiction book out there this week. Back list best seller is almost certainly Ender’s Game.)
Three: For those wondering, the tour is going fantastically well, although I am slightly discombobulated. I am on tour time, not real time, which means I have frankly no idea what day it is any more, as I am outside the rythym of the days. I had to confirm with my wife this morning that today was actually, in fact, Friday. It’s a pleasant discombobulation, but it’s also a bit weird. I mean, I’m a writer — it doesn’t usually matter to me which day it is anyway. But now it’s even more so.
Finally: I’m opening the comment thread here for a couple of days to let folks talk about whatever they want. Because why not? Chatting amongst ourselves is fun. So: How are you? Are you on tour time too? Tell me. TELL ME.