A Bracing Moment of Market Reality: The Class of January 2005

For anyone out there who believes that once you’ve sold a book, you’ve got it made, may I present to you the following list of the science fiction and fantasy books that are being released in January 2005 (i.e., the same month as Old Man’s War) in the US, UK and Canada. I get to compete with all of these for the science fiction reader’s dollars and pounds. And of course, these are just the books in the genre. Also note that from what I’m told, January is traditionally one of the less-crowded months to sell a book.

Am I worried? Not really. But it’s a reminder that selling a book to a publisher is just the beginning of the life of a book, and in many ways the easiest part of its life.

To all the authors on this list, of course, I wish tremendous success, equal to (or perhaps just one book less) than my own.

(List nicked from here — a SF bookstore which is, alas, going out of business. It may or may not be entirely up-to-date or accurate.)

Anonymous (ed), Horrorscape, Book 1, paperback
Anonymous (ed), Star Trek: S.C.E.: Wildfire, paperback
Piers Anthony, Unicorn Point, paperback
Sarah Ash, Prisoner of Ironsea Tower, UK paperback
Robert Asprin & Eric Del Carlo, War Torn, paperback
Steve Aylett, Karloff’s Circus, UK paperback
L.A. Banks, The Bitten, trade paperback
Elizabeth Bear, Hammered, paperback
Anne Bishop, Dreams Made Flesh, paperback
Ben Bova, Powersat, hardcover
Rachel Caine, Chill Factor, paperback
Adam-Troy Castro, Just a Couple of Idiots Reupholstering Space and Time, paperback
C.J. Cherryh, Mercedes Lackey, Nancy Asire & Leslie Fish, The Sword of Knowledge, omnibus hardcover
Greg Cox, Star Trek: The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volume Three: To Reign in Hell, hardcover
Peter Crowther (ed), Constellations, paperback
John R. Dann, Song of the Earth, hardcover
Charles de Lint, Trader, trade paperback
Marianne de Pierres, Parrish Plessis #3, UK paperback
Sara Douglass, The Wounded Hawk, US hardcover
David Drake & Eric Flint (ed.s), The World Turned Upside Down, omnibus hardcover
S.L. Farrell, Mage of Clouds, paperback
S.L. Farrell, Stone’s Heir, hardcover
Pauline Fisk, Sabrina Fludde, UK ya trade paperback
Alan Dean Foster, The Hour of the Gate, paperback
Leo Frankowski & Dave Grossman, The War with Earth, paperback
David Gerrold, Alternate Gerrolds, trade paperback
Terry Goodkind, Chainfire, hardcover
Mitchell Graham, The Ancient Legacy, paperback
Robert A. Heinlein, Rocket Ship Galileo, ya paperback
Barb & J.C. Hendee, Sister of the Dead, paperback
James P. Hogan, The Anguished Dawn, paperback
Graham Joyce, The Limits of Enchantment, UK hardcover
Michae P. Kube-McDowell, Alternities, trade paperback
Katherine Kurtz, In the King’s Service, paperback
Mercedes Lackey, Burning Water, trade paperback
Robert Mayer, Superfolks, trade paperback
Todd McCaffrey, Dragonsblood, hardcover
Alex McDonough, Scorpio, paperback
Patricia A. McKillip, Something Rich and Strange, paperback
R. Meluch, The Myriad, paperback
Robert A. Metzger, Cusp, hardcover
L.E. Modesitt Jr., Ordermaster, hardcover
Stan Nicholls, The Covenenant Rising, US trade paperback
Michael Paine, Steel Ghosts, paperback
Paul Preuss, Arthur C. Clarke’s Venus Prime 2, paperback
Alastair Reynolds, Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, US omnibus trade paperback
Justina Robson, Natural History, US paperback
Jeff Rovin, Dead Rising, paperback
Fred Saberhagen, Rogue Berserker, hardcover
E. Rose Sabin, When the Beast Ravens, hardcover
Al Sarrantonio, Hayden of Mars, paperback
Robert J. Sawyer, Action Potential, hardcover
John Scalzi, Old Man’s War, hardcover
Robert Silverberg, The Man in the Maze, paperback
Bram Stoker & John Shirley, Constantine, paperback
Judith Tarr, Queen of the Amazons, trade paperback
Sheri S. Tepper, The True Game, omnibus trade paperback
Mark W. Tiedemann, Asimov’s Chimera, paperback
Harry Turtledove, Homeward Bound, hardcover
Harry Turtledove & Martin H. Greenberg (ed.s), The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century, trade paperback
Peter Watts, Behemoth, Book Two: Seppuku, hardcover
David Weber, Bolos!, hardcover
Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Midnight Harvest, paperback
Timothy Zahn, Star Wars: Survivor’s Quest, paperback


Selling Agent

I’ve been asked this question a couple of times in the last few days, once from a reader, and once from an interviewer: Now that I’ve sold other novels, am I going to try to sell Agent to the Stars?

For those of you coming very late to this party, Agent is the very first novel I wrote, back in 1997. I wrote it primarily to see if I could write a novel (yup), but then made a half-hearted attempt to sell it (nope). When I lost interest in that, I popped it up on the Web site in 1999 as a “shareware” novel, in which people could read it for free and if they liked it, could send me a buck or whatever they wanted. I wanted to see what would happen, basically. In the time since I’ve collected about $4,000 from it, in individual amounts ranging from 65 cents (a one dollar donation after PayPal gets done with it) to $200 (I sent that fellow a free copy of Old Man’s War, because, well. $200 is a lot). The book is still available to be read, and it still gets downloaded a hundred or so times a month, and people still send me money.

The answer to the question of whether I’m now going to try to sell Agent: Probably not. This is not the same as saying I wouldn’t mind seeing Agent in book form. It’s a pretty good story, and I think it’d be reviewed and sell reasonably well, and if someone from a legitimate publishing house wants to come on by and make an offer, I’m willing to listen (it’s happened before, after all). But I’m not going to go out of my way to make a sale.

Why not? Well, basically, I think Agent has value doing what it’s been doing for the last five years: Being an advertisement, if you will, for my other writing. I think people who read Agent and enjoyed it will probably be more likely to consider shelling out for Old Man’s War or other novels because they’re dealing with a novelist they know they like already, not a debut author who is an unknown quantity. When it comes out, Old Man’s War will cost anywhere from $16.77 to $23.95 to pick up — a fair amount to consider spending (although about the same cost as a DVD, a CD, or a used video game, so, you know. It’s still a bargain for your entertainment dollar). If giving away Agent makes someone more comfortable investing in OMW (not to mention recommending it to friends, family and total strangers), that’s a net benefit for me.

Now, by the same token, if they hated Agent, they’ll be less likely to pick up other work of mine. So maybe I’m losing some sales this way as well. But I’m okay with that, actually. One, as a writer, I’d rather have readers make an informed decision; if you’ve read my stuff and don’t like it, that’s fair enough, although hopefully you’ll be in the overall minority. Second, I imagine the reader who didn’t spend any money to find out he or she doesn’t like me would be less inclined to dissuade other readers from me than the one who shelled out $20 and felt he or she got burned. It’s the difference between “Well, I didn’t like him, but maybe you will” and “I wasted money on him, and you shouldn’t bother.” I’d rather lose the reader who knows he doesn’t like me than the reader who might like me but has been warned away.

By and large, however, I think having Agent out there for the reading has been a net benefit for me, and I expect it will become even more so when I my fiction books are finally on the streets, and people come to the site who didn’t know me before. I think this “loss leader” aspect of Agent is important enough, in fact, that if a publisher did want to put out the book in traditional form, I’d make the deal only on the condition that there would still be a freely accessible online version on my own site. My own feeling on this is that it would make publishers hesitant — perhaps less so than a couple of years ago, thanks to Cory Doctorow’s experiment with free online versions of his novels, and also to Baen’s free library, both of which seem to have resulted in a net gain of sales and/or notoriety for the authors, but even so.

I certainly wouldn’t fault a publisher for that position; publishers are in the game to make money. But so am I, and as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the economics of publishing from the point of view of the writer and the point of view of the publisher are related but they are not the same. Unless someone’s going to offer me hundreds of thousands of dollars for Agent — and they’re not — in the long run I judge that it’s better business for me to have the novel out there as “shareware” than to lock it up in bound form. Again, if a publisher can live with an electronic copy living on this site, then by all means, let’s chat. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Another reason I’m not likely to make a big effort to sell Agent: I’m pretty much done with it. I wrote it almost six years ago now, and since then I’ve had a fair number of other projects to attend to, and I’m working on making sure I have a fair number of projects to attend to after these projects are done. I’d prefer to spend time thinking about what’s coming up next than worrying about what I’ve done in the past; it’s more fun. Fiddling with Agent after all this time just doesn’t strike me as very productive.

Final reason to keep Agent where it is, and this is kind of a gooshy reason: As far as my books go, it’s my firstborn — the first book-length thing I’d ever written. When I was done with it, I was tremendously relieved; I could write something that long. And as a bonus, it wasn’t bad. My first inclination then (and now) wasn’t to sell it, but simply to show it off: Hey! Look what I did! In a very real sense, it’s a joyful creation, whose existence is its own rationale (OMW, while no less good and in some ways better, was in fact written with the market in mind, as were all of my non-fiction books). Anything else it does is just an extra.

So that’s the final reason that I don’t make a huge push to sell it: It’s just more fun to share it. So I do.

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