If you look closely, you’ll see a parking lot in the picture.
Tomorrow: Seattle! I will be amongst you, for my event at the Seattle Public Library, co-hosted by Elliot Bay Books. 7pm!
Stories can be dangerous, demanding things.
The Trials is the middle book in a trilogy of military thrillers that took over my imagination. I had never planned to write a military novel—not until an alliance of small ideas infiltrated my subconscious and gained control, insisting that together, they were the Big Idea behind a new science fiction story world.
The first incursion came in the fall of 2012 when I was struggling to write a hard SF short story. The reason I was having so much trouble? This was a completely new story world, so everything about it had to be worked out: the state of the Earth, the level of technology, the extent of solar system exploration. All of this for a storyworld that I didn’t expect to revisit—until I found myself writing this odd bit of background about an AI antagonist known as “the Red.”
“…it bled through every aspect of life—a relentless tide of information and influence shepherding the thoughts and actions of billions along paths determined by its unknowable goals.”
Yeah…what does that even mean?
I wasn’t sure. Not at first. Nevertheless, I had a strong feeling I’d just found a key element of a new novel.
In fiction, AIs are often depicted as self-aware entities with relentless survival instincts and a hunger for power—a lot like people, just smarter and faster. But it’s narrow AI that’s used everywhere these days, non-sentient and focused on a specific task. Self-awareness is not expected, wanted, or required. So what if an AI of that sort—let’s say a marketing AI, one originally designed to gather data on individuals, to assess their wants, and to manipulate their behavior in ways both subtle and overt, simply evolved to do its task better?
I mean, we’re already on our way to that. I’m sure you’ve gone shopping online, only to be pursued around the web by whatever product you were looking at. If you have an Android phone, Google is certainly aware of where you are and often has a pretty good idea of what you’re looking for. Facebook presumes to know us well enough that its algorithms can decide what posts we want to see in our newsfeed. Amazon has our browsing, buying, and reviewing histories going back years.
The NSA may have a lot of cached data, but surely it’s the consumer programs that know us best—and when they chase us around with ads, they are trying to influence our behavior by matching us up with products we might want to buy. So in the classic science fiction tradition of “if this goes on…” I wondered what might happen if a marketing AI began to more overtly shape potential consumers. Instead of matching people up with a specific product, it begins to match them up with the life they would have chosen if only they’d had the opportunity—and the courage for it.
There is a special sort of excitement when I sense a novel coming on. I felt it as I finished up the short story (which you can read over at Lightspeed Magazine—it’s called “Nightside on Callisto”). But in the end this concept was just a nice bit of background. I didn’t have my Big Idea yet.
Then, several months later, I was ambushed by another short story.
(You see? Stories are dangerous. They are demanding. They mess with your head.)
“Through Your Eyes” (Asimov’s April/May 2013) is set in a very near-future New York City. It’s a tale of surveillance, civil rights, the corruption of corporate-controlled government, and the power of hidden cameras in the hands of citizens. Just like the earlier story, this one had a background element that intrigued me: the idea that the military industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about so many years ago has come to control US foreign policy, and war is a business decision.
This is another “If this goes on…” scenario. After all, the United States has been at war for a very long time, and is likely to continue to be at war on some scale for many more years to come. In a long-term market like that there is money to be made—a lot of money—and defense contractors stand to reap large profits.
Again, a nice bit of background, but still not the Big Idea I needed—until I put the two scenarios together: a paranoid defense contractor declares all-out war against an elusive, rogue AI with unknown goals. The two ideas combined in an explosive rush of writing that yielded the draft of a novel in only four months—record time, for me.
That was The Red: First Light, the story of US Army Lieutenant James Shelley, who finds himself a frontline player in a widening conflict that forces him to question who he’s really fighting for—and just how far a soldier’s duty will allow him to go.
As soon as The Red was done, I was faced with writing a sequel. I knew The Trials would open with Shelley and his squad of cyborged soldiers facing the consequences of the decisions made and the actions taken in the first book—even as they find themselves locked into the hero’s role.
And that, I realized, was the Big Idea behind The Trials.
In a world linked by cell networks, satellites, mass media, and surveillance, the subtle but far-reaching machinations of the Red have begun to turn the lives of individuals into real-life stories—some quietly heroic, and some harrowing, some that derail lives, and others that inspire.
I freely admit that I’m addicted to adventure stories, and I suspect many of you are too. Action, struggle, discovery, facing your fears, overcoming the odds, doing the right thing in the face of danger, in the service of others. It’s all great to read about.
But what if you found yourself caught up in one of those harrowing stories, actually confronted with the hero’s role? Would you want it? Would you take it, even knowing that your life was being manipulated—and that not all stories have happy endings? That’s the choice Shelley has to make. As the world is gradually redesigned by an entity no one understands, he has become an actor handed a plot whose end he can’t know.
So the Big Idea behind The Trials is that it’s telling a story about being caught within a story—and as we all know, stories are dangerous, demanding things.
No parking lot. I hardly know what to do with myself. Also, very modern. Feels like Piet Mondrian might have a pied a terre here.
Tonight! 7pm! Madison Central Library, and sponsored by A Room of One’s Own. Very much looking forward to tonight’s event.
Tomorrow! I leave the middle of the United States and head west to Portland! And thence to Beaverton, where I will be appearing at the Powell’s there, also at 7. Get there on time because The Doubleclicks are opening for me and will be playing a couple of songs. And they are awesome.
And that’s where things are at the moment.
It’s here. I’m doing five events: A reading, a signing, two panels and a kaffeklatche. I’m only there on Friday and Saturday, however, so if you’re looking for me before or after then, I regret to say it will be in vain. I’ll be in Seattle on Wednesday, Boise on Thursday, and Fort Collins on Sunday. The tour. You know.
Also, when you click through, you will see my name presented without capital letters. This is an error made when I bought a membership. I have not suddenly become precious about this.
(To everyday Whatever readers: This is a post I’m putting up for Twitter folks; I’ll be pinning a link to this on the top of my Twitter page.)
Dear New (and Potential!) Twitter Followers:
Hi there, I’m John Scalzi, and if you’re reading this, you may have just decided to follow me on Twitter, or may be thinking about doing so. If this does in fact describe you, here is what you should know before clicking the “follow” button.
1. If you have no idea who I am besides some guy on Twitter, here’s a brief bio.
2. I post on Twitter a lot. 40 to 60 times a day is not unusual, and some days I can put up more than a hundred tweets. Many of those are replies to people, so you might not see all of them. Nevertheless, I am a high volume tweeter. If you’re not prepared for me stuffing your tweetfeed full of my silliness, it’s okay to bail out. I don’t mind!
3. I’ve written a bit about how I use Twitter, and how I interact with followers, and why I happily mute and/or block people who want to start fights with me on Twitter. That piece is here. It’s worth the read. Short version: I often use Twitter as a performance space; I respond to tweets from followers but not all of them because of time and other factors; I’ll mute and/or block you if I think you’re obnoxious.
4. I am often asked for retweets, enough so that I have an official policy on retweets. Here it is. Also, if you’re an official Twitter account of a business, or someone trying to sell/promote things on Twitter, you should look at this.
5. I don’t automatically follow everyone who follows me, so if that’s your hope or expectation you will probably be disappointed. Please don’t ask me to follow you (and please don’t do it multiple times). Also, don’t ask me to follow you in order to send me a Direct Message. If I don’t follow you and there’s something you want to ask me privately, you can send me an email.
6. I very often tweet about politics and social issues. In the US, I am considered a liberal, and everywhere else in the English speaking world I suspect I am middle-of-the-road and maybe leaning ever-so-slightly to the right. If you get annoyed with these sorts of politics, my Twitter feed may also annoy you. Fair warning.
7. Because I tweet about politics and social issues, from time to time groups of people who don’t like my positions like to try to gang up on me on Twitter. So from time to time you may see me tweeting about the fact that stupid people are trying to annoy me and/or see the tweets I put out where I belittle and condescend to them. When that happens, don’t worry, it’s usually over fairly quickly (because I mute and/block them immediately thereafter).
8. Other common tweet subjects include: Writing and publishing, food, pets, travel, family and various things I think are funny. I retweet a lot of cool stuff my friends are doing so you can find out about it too. I will very often have conversations with these friends, on matters both snarky and serious. Feel free to follow along.
9. If you see me tweeting in ALL CAPS, it is very likely that the portion of the tweet in all caps is meant to be sarcastic and/or sardonic and/or silly. I tweet in all caps a lot. Do not be alarmed. I am not having a stroke.
10. If eventually you find me an exhausting and/or annoying part of your tweetstream, please unfollow me! I will not be in the least offended. I want my presence in your Twitterverse to be a fun and enjoyable one, and if it isn’t, then I’m okay with you taking your leave of me. There will be no hard feelings.
And now you know what you need to know! I hope you enjoy my presence on your Twitter feed, and thanks for following me.
It’s not a hotel window. It is, however, in a sense, a view of a parking lot.
Today: I’ll be in Lansing, Michigan, at Schuler Books & Music, at 4pm. A good time will be had! By me, at least. And hopefully, you too.
Tomorrow: I’ll be in lovely Madison, Wisconsin, for an event at the Madison Central Library, presented by A Room of One’s Own. That’ll be at 7pm. Plan your life around it!
Update: 2:07pm: In Lansing now. And the view from my window? You guessed it!
Parking lots are awesome.
Parking lot? But of course!
(The room is lovely. I do not wish to imply complaint. It’s just that parking lots out my window really do seem to be a recurring theme this tour.)
Today! The Barnes & Noble in Westlake, OH at 2pm (i.e., not long from when I am writing this). Hey, they haven’t started playing college football yet, Ohio. Come on by.
Tomorrow! Lansing, Michigan — the state capital, no less — at Schuler Books and Music. 4pm! Please come see me. I do not wish to be all alone.
Another very fine parking lot. Which, you know, is perfectly fine with me, actually. I don’t demand gracious views from my hotels. I want a nice bed, a distinct lack of bedbugs and/or soiled linens, and an Internet connection. Everything else is optional. Also this hotel has the distinct advantage of being a minute’s walk from tonight’s event venue, which is pretty great. I’ve stayed here before. Can recommend.
On the subject of the “views from a hotel window,” I am occasionally asked if I’m ever worried that people will be able to stalk me with the pictures. No, not really. One, I have a lock on my hotel door. Two, it’s not like I’m the Beatles or One Direction. Hordes of screaming fans are not hovering in the lobby and needing to be dispersed by an exasperated cop or anything. I’m fine, really. Most of my fans are delightfully polite and save their moments of squee for the events. Which is the right place for it.
Speaking of which: Tonight, Joseph-Beth Lexington, 7pm. Come on by, we’re gonna have some fun. All the tour stops so far have been excellent and Lexington is always a great place for an event. If you’re in Lexington or the near environs, I hope to see you there.
Tomorrow: Cleveland/Westlake, 2pm at the Barnes & Noble. I don’t frequently get to northeast Ohio, so if you want to see me there, tomorrow will be the time. And place! Come on up. Cleveland rocks.
Parking lots are beautiful, man. My event tonight is in Athens, GA, but my hotel room is in Atlanta, in part because it’ll be easier to get to the airport in the morning this way. Ah, tour logistics!
As noted, my event tonight is in Athens, Georgia, and although it’s being hosted by the fabulous Avid bookshop, it will be taking place at the very nearly Cine Athens theater. All the details are here; show starts at 7pm.
Tomorrow (Friday): I will be in Lexington, at Joseph-Beth booksellers. These are awesome folks and it’s going to an awesome time. Again, at 7pm. Please come and bring all your friends, most of your family, and also that one guy you just sort of tolerate.
As a person with some infamous ancestors in his family tree (ever hear of John Wilkes Booth? Yeah, he’s an uncle), Stephen Moore’s Big Idea for Graynelore speaks to me in several ways. Read on to discover why.
When I talk about a big idea in relation to Graynelore I find myself looking back to the very start of the project. Not to the main themes, or the twisting plot. No. Rather, I want to tell you about the big idea that set the ball rolling, so to speak, and ultimately changed the very direction of my writing.
A few years ago I had a revealing conversation with my mother about her family roots and discovered something amazing: my ancestors include links to the infamous 16th Century Border Reivers.
Who? The Border Reivers were inhabitants of the English/Scottish Borderlands; family groups who considered theft, kidnap, blackmail, murder and deadly blood-feud as all part of their day job. While the crown heads of England and Scotland were engaged in an endless bloody conflict over sovereignty that reduced the borders to a virtual no-man’s-land, ordinary folk were effectively left to get by as best they could. And if that meant turning up on your neighbour’s doorstep and beating the hell out of them to take whatever little they possessed (up to and including their lives) then so be it! Reiving, as it became known, was very much a way of life for close on three hundred years. The Reivers even gifted the word bereaved to our dictionaries!
What’s my connection? My mother’s family name is Kerr, and they originally hailed from the Scottish Borders. Let’s be blunt. The Kerrs were notorious Reivers back in the day. Blood-feud a speciality! If one fact about them tickles me! Unusually, the Kerrs were left-handed. It meant they fought with their swords in their left hand and built their fortified tower houses with left-handed spirals to their staircases. It just so happens I’m also left handed. I like to think it’s in the blood.
I was instantly intrigued by my infamous ancestors. Right there and then, the big idea was born! What author worth their salt would not want to write about them? I only had to find the right tale to tell.
So, I took the historical world of the Border Reivers; their way of life, their society, their homes, their landscape, their goods and their chattels. In true Reiver fashion, I stole it all, misused and abused it and made it my own. (With my family links, I’m just a little bit proud of that.)
Mind you, if I’m claiming that as my big idea, there was an issue to overcome: I’m an author of fantasy, not historical fiction. To satisfy the writer-within-me I had to combine the two; fantasy with my own version of Reiver society the bedrock to stand it upon. I like to think of it as twisting history.
Where did my fantasy tale find its birth? I’ll tell you. One hot summer’s day I was sitting in a beautiful garden overlooking the Welsh coast. In the middle distance, out upon the sea, I could see the Isle of Lundy. There were warm currents of air rising off the sea, and as is the way on hot summer days, they slowly obscured the scene, until at last Lundy Isle disappeared. There was only the sea and the endless blue sky. Of course, it was a simple trick of the eye. But in that moment I knew I’d found the idea I was searching for. This wasn’t Lundy Isle at all, but the Faerie Isle. Sometimes there, sometimes not, ever moving…
And so began a long and winding journey of research and development that ultimately lead me to my novel, Graynelore. You might call it a Reiver faerie tale. But believe me, not a faerie tale as you know it.
At the outset I had to make one further inspired leap of faith. You see, up until this point, all of my books had been written for children; and I’ve been writing for almost twenty years! However, I knew that if I was going to write authentically about Reivers, the story might well be a faerie tale but it could not possibly be for children (for me, a big idea in itself!) A Reiver’s world is naturally brutal, sometimes cruel, and often graphically blunt. If I could pull it off, Graynelore had to be my first novel strictly for grown-ups. And so it is.
Energy is on author David Nabhan’s mind, and in The Pilots of Borealis, it’s on the mind of a lot of his characters too. What do they all know about energy that you might not? The author explains below.
The Pilots of Borealis is many things: a study in athleticism and strength, experiencing a world of the future that still trucks in the sins of the past, and survival, by any means necessary. However, what I hope to tackle in this novel, the concept that drove me to explore a world fueled by dwindling Helium-3 and sub-zero lunar dog-fighting, is actually an idea that’s existed since the day the universe exploded into being: energy, and the things people will do to have it and to keep it for themselves.
Historians always a make a point to describe what exactly wars are fought over: fertile fields and plains, mighty timberland, mineral-rich terrain, rivers and oceans and more. However, one thing I always found interesting is that there is never any focus on what goes into those resources after they’ve been conquered, accrued, or won; how many hours go into plowing a fertile field? How much lumber will a lush forest reveal? How many fish can one catch in a given day?
Having the resources isn’t enough; one must work the resources and tame the land, in order to show any yield for a given material. The human race had a rough yet intrinsic understanding of the ways the Earth had to be fashioned to provide life, first with muscle power, then beasts of burden, harnessing wind, water and gravitational power. The greatest empire of the ancient world, Rome, at its height conducted its business on the backs of five million slaves, watered its cities with thousands of miles of gravity-powered aqueducts, employed tens of thousands of water-wheels and wind capturing devices for flour and saw mills, hydraulic mining, marble quarrying, irrigation for farming, and for transportation by sea.
It is said that coal and the steam engine produced the Modern Age, and that’s hard to deny. But there is nothing that altered the world as dramatically as the incredible changes wrought by petroleum. One gallon of gasoline contains energy equivalent to roughly three weeks of human labor. There is nothing else like it on Earth, liquid power to be transported at ease, shaped to fit any container, making it the most strategic material in the world.
The Pilots of Borealis doesn’t take up the story here though. It picks up after the horrific wreckage of four Petroleum Wars. It’s the twenty-fifth century, and gasoline is useless and primitive. Humans haven’t changed much, even though their civilizations now stretch out to Titan. And instead of clashing arms over earth-bound material, the sabers are now rattling for a resource that is running low, one that feeds the countless fusion reactors that make everything go, from the Alliances on Earth, to the Jovian Colonies and further: Helium-3. Infused into the regolith of the Moon, this rare commodity now spawns a ruthless death struggle between the great powers, desperate to protect what they consider is their rightful share.
And yet, the big idea here, the underlying conceit throughout all of The Pilots of Borealis, is actually that, regarding energy, we’re utterly clueless. For the human race to wring its hands about the next great energy crisis is tantamount to fish worrying about when and how they might die of thirst. They are awash in a sea of water, and we are just so, but in an unfathomably extensive ocean of energy; aware of it, yes, but unaware of how to tap into it.
Our very universe was born in a blinding flash of pure energy. Before there was anything, there was light in its most ferociously radiant essence. The characters of Pilots of Borealis exist in this beautiful, light-filled universe, fighting over a dwindling resource when the real secret exists all around them. These characters strive, fight, prevail, succeed, fail—and sometimes die—without ever realizing the truth around them.
Ultimately, they must come to realize the nature of the universe in which they live, but only after paying a price that makes all previous choices pale in comparison. But what will they do with this knowledge? And how will they move forward, and survive in an ever-changing universe?
We are, indeed, children of the universe. But that universe is not one of just matter, but also one of pure energy, too. And I think that deserves some more thought, don’t you?
This part of Tennessee is apparently quite lush.
Reminder to everyone: Tonight! I will be at The Booksellers at Laurelwood! Event starts at 6:30pm. Don’t be late! You’ll miss the puppet show!
(Note: There will not actually be a puppet show. Sorry).
Tomorrow: Raleigh and Quail Ridge Books. There are a lot of reasons I really like North Carolina. You could be one of them.
Today is the day! The End of All Things, the sixth novel in the Old Man’s War universe and my eleventh novel overall is now out and available at your favorite local bookstore or online retailer. Get it! Get a copy for your friends! Get a copy for the people you would like to be friends with! Get it for people who are currently your enemies but with whom you hope for some sort of détente! Get it for your dog! Your dog won’t be able to read it, but it certainly knows when you are doing something nice for it! It will appreciate the thought!
Don’t get it for your cat. Honestly, like your cat gives a shit about anything.
And while you’re picking up The End of All Things, remember that my book tour starts today! The first four stops are Memphis (tonight!), Raleigh, Athens, GA and Lexington. If you are in or around those cities, please come to my events and being along every single person you know. It’ll be fun. And, because you’re making the effort to show up, I’ll be giving you something special: A sneak preview of “The Dispatcher,” the new novella I just completed that’s coming out later this year. Plus other cool stuff. And yes, if someone brings a uke, I might even play it. You’ve been warned (please make sure it’s tuned). The entire tour itinerary is at that link above, or (if you’re on the actual site) in the sidebar for the duration of the tour.
Want a signed copy of the book? Order it from one of the bookstores I’ll be at for the tour, or visit or call up Jay and Mary’s Book Center in Troy, Ohio and order one from there — I signed a bunch of them yesterday.
I’m very happy with The End of All Things — it’s not the last Old Man’s War book ever (my Tor contract specifies at least one more), but it’s likely to be the last one for a few years. I think it leaves the universe in a good place. I’m excited for you all to read it. And I’m excited to see at least some of you on the tour. We’re going to have fun. So much fun. Like, nearly illegal amounts of fun. See you soon.
Eighteen months ago, as Redshirts moved from its hardcover era into trade paperback, I did an examination of its sales to the point, across all its formats, and chatted about what its sales meant, or didn’t mean, and what we could learn from the numbers. Last week, Lock In, my most recent novel (until tomorrow), transitioned from hardcover to mass market paperback, and I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to do something similar with it. So I asked for numbers from my publishers. Here they are, up to July 31, 2015. The numbers are rounded to the nearest 100.
For those who choose not to whip out their calculators, that’s total sales of 87,500 copies in Lock In’s hardcover sales era, in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. Note the hardcover/eBook sales do not include the UK edition of Lock In, published by Gollancz, nor any foreign language editions. These are North American edition sales (Audible owns world English rights for its version, and so the audio numbers may include sales outside North America). Note also that the audiobook numbers are sales, not downloads, important because Lock In had two versions, and the pre-orders included both versions.
So, thoughts on these numbers.
1. 87.5k is a pretty healthy number for sales here. If you want to do a comparison to Redshirts, the total sales numbers are up (Redshirts sold 79.2k in its hardcover era), although Redshirts‘ time in hardcover was shorter, so in all it may be a wash. The distribution of sales is also a reminder that all sales channels matter — if I were to lose access to bookstore distribution, for example, I’d lose roughly a quarter of my total sales for this sales pass. If I weren’t doing audio, in this particular case (I’ll discuss this more a couple of points down), I would have lost nearly half.
This continues to be my major concern with digital-only self-publishing, incidentally: there’s money being left on the table if you can’t address all these sales channels. Most self-publishers (or micro publishers) don’t have access to bookstores, nearly all of which continue to operate on a “returns” basis. This is not about the ability to create a physical copy of a book; at this point that can easily be done with print-on-demand options. It’s about having the book already on the shelves, attractively packaged and ready to buy, when the customer walks into the store. If you don’t have that, you’ve largely lost out in that sales avenue. Likewise audio if you’re not there.
At this point in my career, I’m a four-quadrant author, which means that at the end of the day my income as a novelist comes out of four areas: print, eBook, audio, and foreign sales. For any one book or project, one of these might be significantly out of proportion to others, in terms of sales. But over the length of time, they’ve all tended to even out as backlist sales kick in and other factors come into play. At this time, and I expect still for a while to come, the best way to address all these markets effectively and consistently is to partner with publishers.
This doesn’t mean people can’t and don’t make money addressing only one or two of these quadrants — people do, and good for them. But I tend to think diversity in marketplace access allows both the ability to hedge when one sales channel underperforms, and allows for the happy possibility of overperformance in one of those quadrants adding to the bottom line — for example, several years ago The Android’s Dream outperformed in foreign sales (it was a hit in Germany, where it won the Kurd Laßwitz award), or The Human Division electronic sales (when you add in the sales of individual episodes) swamping the sales in every other quadrant, or, in this case, Lock In’s audiobook sales being a substantial sales driver for the novel.
Which is to say a writing career is not at all unlike a stock portfolio — diversify for long-term success.
2. So obviously the audiobook is a major factor Lock In’s total hardcover-era sales — 46% of total sales through the end of July 2015. As a point of comparison, Redshirts‘ audio sales during the hardcover era were 21% of total sales. So what explains the surge in sales, both in raw numbers and as a percentage? My guesses:
a) Audible creating a marketing event around Lock In having two versions, each with its own celebrity narrator (Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson);
b) Audible gaining the ability to pre-order titles and offering both versions of Lock In to people who pre-ordered;
c) Strong, consistent sales of my work in audio growing the overall audience for my work in that sales channel — an audience which has overlap with, but is not exactly the same as, my print and digital audiences;
d) General, overall growth in the audiobook segment of publishing, led by Audible, who is the segment’s market leader.
Also, you know. The book’s pretty good, and Wil and Amber’s narrations were just great. Which helped.
Add it all together and you get a solid hit for Audible, as my audiobook publisher, and for me as the writer. Most writers would be happy to get 41,000 copies their work sold overall in their book’s hardcover era; to have those come out of audio, in a nearly 1:1 ratio with print publisher sales, is I suspect unheard of.
What does this tell us (anecdotally) about audio? One, that genre work can sell very well indeed in the segment, which should be immensely heartening to authors in genre; two, that audio as a segment is growing and it makes sense to get into it if you can; three, that audio has its own audience, with its own sets of desires and expectations, and that’s something you’ll want to factor in as you create you work. At this point I absolutely give consideration to how my work sounds as well as reads — I’m starting to use substantially fewer dialogue tags (“he said,” “she said”), as an example.
This also goes to my argument of why working with established publishers can continue to have its advantages for writers. Audible (in my case, other major audio publishers in the case of other authors) has the wherewithal to get the best narrators, an entire marketing and PR staff and the ability to push a title in the space, in a manner and with the wide-band strength that it would be very difficult for me, as an individual, to do. They do it well, which is a thing, and they also do it better than I would, which is another, separate thing. I benefit, and reach an audience I wouldn’t otherwise, through their competence and expertise. Which is why I’m glad to be working with them.
Which suggests this is a fine place to bring this up: Last Friday I signed a multi-year, multi-book contract with Audible, who will be the audiobook publisher for the books that are to be published by Tor over the next decade. I’m going to skip over the fiddly details of that contract right, except to say that I’m very very happy with it, and also very happy to be working with Audible for the next decade. Like Tor, they are simply the best at what they do, and I like working with the best.
3. On the subject of Tor, how do I feel about the performance of Lock In, in the print and eBook editions? Short version: I am delighted with how the book did. Note well that the book is in many ways a departure from my standard science fictional remit, which is action-oriented space opera; even Redshirts has lasers and aliens and spaceships and explosions. Lock In: No lasers or aliens or spaceships. Relatively few explosions. Instead: a near-contemporary cop thriller with a gender-ambiguous lead and a heavy dip into issues of disability and social dynamics. And Tor’s marketing and PR helps it sell 46K copies in hardcover-era print, land on the NYT, USA Today, LA Times and Bookscan bestseller lists, get optioned for TV and earn a sequel? Hell, yeah, Tor rocked this one pretty hard.
I mean, I helped, too. Don’t get me wrong. But essentially I threw Tor a curve ball and asked them to hit it. They drilled it, and in the process both helped introduce me to some new readers, which is great, and to expand the parameters of my writing career, which is even better. Lock In was in many ways a case study of what it means to be John Scalzi, author. Now we’re sure that my name can sell more than just action-oriented space opera, and that Tor is good at selling me, not just a certain flavor of book by me. That knowledge is part of why Tor and I both decided that a long-term contract was in our mutual self-interest.
These numbers (along with the audiobook numbers) are also solid number to bring to the table when someone argues that science fiction “should” be about, or that the science fiction that really sells is [insert sub-genre of science fiction here]. I mean, guys: I sold nearly 90,000 copies, at a premium price, of a book that, again, has a gender-ambiguous lead and a heavy dip into issues of disability and social dynamics. Why? Well, because the book was fun, too, which doesn’t hurt. But also because the audience for science fiction and fantasy today is both diverse, in who it is, and diverse, in what it is happy to read.
This makes me happy as a writer. I love space opera, and trust me, you’ll be getting more of that from me — the 2016 novel from Tor, in fact, is currently scheduled to be a big ol’ epic space opera-y kind of thing — but I like the idea that I can write other things and that (with an assist from my publisher in marketing and PR) my readers will come along for those rides, too. It will keep my writer brain happy to mix things up. It also makes me happy as a reader, since it means that we have some more anecdotal proof that science fiction and fantasy doesn’t “have” to be one niche or another to sell. It can all sell. You just have to know how to sell it. Tor knows how to do that.
4. As a bit of inside pool, these numbers are again a reminder that Bookscan, the service that tracks book sales, is at this point a bit of rubbish when it comes to tracking sales across multiple formats and media. As of August 2nd, Bookscan has recorded 11,175 sales of Lock In, a number that is barely half of actual physical hardcover sales and a ridiculously small 12.7% of the book’s total sales.
Bookscan’s reporting of my sales is so wildly inaccurate, in fact, that it’s concerning to me as an author, because bookstores make orders based on its numbers. The general rule of thumb is that Bookscan captures roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of physical print sales, but in my case it doesn’t, and I have to suspect the same is also true of a number of genre authors, and not just science fiction or fantasy genre authors.
So, if you’re a bookseller: Hey! I sell pretty well! Stock all my books! Thanks. Genre authors: Check your actual sales alongside your Bookscan numbers. You may be surprised at what’s not there. And, finally, Bookscan: Please get your shit together if you’re going to continue to tout yourself as a reasonably accurate gauge of sales. Thanks.
(Also, and as an aside, the unreliability of Bookscan’s numbers mean that if you’re using them to snark on an author, you run a high risk of looking really very foolish. This comment goes out to all the Sad/Rabid Puppy partisans, who at the height of their silliness, waved around Lock In’s Bookscan numbers as evidence the book had failed and both Tor and I were in a panic about it, when in fact both Tor and I felt pretty damn good. We knew the actual number of units sold, and that Bookscan was capturing less than a quarter of Tor’s actual sales of the book.)
5. The really good news for Lock In? Everyone, including me, figures that its natural sales home will be in paperback. We’ll find out over the next couple of years if it’s true. In the meantime, these hardcover-era sales are give the paperback a healthy push out of the gate. Good luck to it.
Hey, I finished a new writing project today!
It’s 23,000 words long, which means it’s a novella.
It’s called “The Dispatcher.”
And it’s —
— wait for it —
— urban fantasy.
YES URBAN FANTASY SHUT UP I CAN TOTALLY WRITE URBAN FANTASY Y’ALL.
Also? It’s pretty good.
Also also? Done before the deadline, which is tomorrow. Which is good because on Tuesday I start a three week book tour, and speaking from experience, writing fiction while traveling suuuuuuuuuuks.
When will you get to read it?
Well, that’s just it. You won’t. At least, not for a while. Because I wrote it for Audible. Which means it’s going to be an audiobook first. And then, later, we’ll bring it to print.
So when will you get to hear it?
That’s up to Audible. But the plan, as I understand it, is to have it out later in the year.
BUT! There’s a loophole to this. Which is, if you come see me on tour, and only if you come see me on tour, then you’ll get to hear me read the first chapter of “The Dispatcher.” Now you have a reason to come see me on tour! I mean, another reason. Yeah.
Anyway: Hooray! I’m done. Now to rest my wrists, eat celebratory sushi, and then sleep for ten hours or so.
Beats (which means Apple) has created a page which lets you create your own album cover based on the artwork for Straight Outta Compton, the upcoming film about NWA, and one presumes also their debut album.
So, yeah, I played with it.
Yup. Life in the 45308, y’all.
That’s it for today. Have lots of stuff to do this weekend. Hope you enjoy yours.
And now, on our way into the weekend.
The last collection of new books and ARCs for about three weeks, on account of my upcoming book tour. So enjoy this while you can! Anything in the stack that speaks to you? Tell me in the comments!
This is a fun song I’ve been hearing on the radio recently as I’ve been doing my travels. The video’s a little silly, but no less silly, I suppose, than many other videos have ever been. And the song is super-catchy in any event. Enjoy.
So, your favorite superhero? Yeah, Lexie Dunne’s novel Supervillains Anonymous isn’t about them. Or your second favorite superhero. Or your third. Maybe your fifth? or seventh? Yup, that’s about right.
Gail Godwin is what I like to call mid-sized. Not physically—she’s so small that I’ve chucked every short joke in the book at her and will keep going until my editor tells me to stop—but power-wise. Superheroes Anonymous was Gail’s origin story, moving her from the villains’ favorite whipping girl to a hero in her own right. That was fun; I can understand why Hollywood’s rebooted Spider-man 47 times now. It’s addictive! But after the origin story, what if the hero you’re left with isn’t the bottom rung or the top level? What if she’s decidedly middle of the line? This was the fun playing field I got to discover in Supervillains Anonymous, my new sequel.
Caped crusaders come with some super-evident truths: heroes with great chins and an even greater thirst for justice, “smart” villains that somehow take nine steps when four would have been fine, loved ones kept in the dark for their own safety. And it’s not any different in the world of Superheroes– and Supervillains Anonymous, which has its own Gawker-like site to track superpowered social activity. In superhero fiction, you’re either the underdog or you’re the alpha dog. That’s why we have seventeen or eighteen different Bats-man (Batmen?) comics and movies all going at the same time. We like ourselves a good Batman.
But when you put Gail on a team, she’s neither. Her powers are strong enough to make her dangerous, but not deadly. Somebody on her level gets one or two jazz hands moments in a battle and then is relegated to watching the main hero’s back. She’s not the Slayer—she’s a Scooby (but a cool Scooby like Willow, not like Xander). In an ensemble work, these mid-sized characters add great flavor, but it’s not often we’re put in their shoes for longer than the moment it takes to release an outstanding quip and make the money shot. I, on the other hand, found myself writing an entire book in this “moment.”
I would call it an accident, but it’s probably fate. In movies, I’m always more fascinated by the background of the shots than I am by the principal actors. My favorite characters show up for a couple of chapters around page 47 and leave with some hint of mystery still clinging to them. I wonder at the actuaries and cleaning crew that have to assess the rubble after the dust has settled. It’s viewing what’s typically a macro-level world with megalomaniacal villains through a micro lens, and it’s always been a favorite hobby. So Gail’s a perfect fit for me.
Aided by the super-element Mobium, she runs faster, hits harder, and banters more mightily than your average human, but she can’t fly and she’s not invincible. Definitely mid-sized, especially when you consider everybody around her. Her boyfriend can fly. Her mentor decimates buildings and breaks the speed of sound. If Gail wants to get across town in a single bound, it’s either be carried or give in and take the El. I discovered early on in my outlining stage that there was no feasible way for her to be the one fighting to the death atop a building, not with the calibre of villains I’d created for the world.
Her place is on the ground, surrounded by dirt and with pebbles wedged in her boots. She takes out the mooks. Luckily, for the sadist in me, what mooks lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. So the stakes might be considerably smaller, but they still exist (and they’re just as likely to vaporize her). She’s still got challenges facing her and she’s still enhanced. This is especially great for me because I really like beating her up and now I can do that even harder. And with great enhancements come a great chance of having a front row seat for the important bits of the final battle.
When I was coming up with this series, it would have been easily to level Gail up and make her one of the heavy hitters. Instead of instincts and honed muscles, the Mobium could have made her invincible, light as a feather, faster than a speeding train. But honestly, where’s the fun in that? We’ve got enough Supermen watching the earth from space. Give me more mid-sized heroes, outclassed by everybody around them, doing what they can to help. I want to spend more time in the trenches, looking up.
After all, that’s what you do with superheroes, isn’t it? You’re always looking up.