I Love the Smell of New Books in the Morning
Joining the club comes with a mild authorial tension in that Book Club editions of books usually generate a smaller royalty rate to authors; i.e., they get paid less for the books than if you go and buy them in the book store. In my particular case with Old Man’s War, I’m not in the slightest bit worried about this, so if you have a SFBC membership, I don’t want you to feel conflicted about picking up my book in Book Club form when it’s promoted in January. For my purposes, any sale is an excellent sale. So please, select away! But when I buy books, I do like the idea of maximizing author profits whenever possible. At the same time, I’m also aware that sometimes I’m feeling cheap or am on the bubble with a book, and in those times, cost is a factor. With that in mind, I’ve generated my own little internal template of rules regarding when to get something in the bookstore and when to get something in the Book Club.
1. New and/or recent(< 5yrs)books from authors I know I like: Bookstore.
2. New books from writers I haven’t read yet: Okay to buy from Book Club, since it’s a “first taste” thing. If I end up liking the book, I’ll buy the next one in the bookstore. This does not preclude buying that first book from a bookstore, of course. I imagine where I buy these books will be a matter of where I am when I see them.
3. Old (> 5yrs) books from authors I know I like: Book Club’s okay. Hey, those omnibus editions save shelf space, and it’s nice to have them in hardback.
4. Books I’ve already purchased before, the copies of which have gone missing and/or have been permanently “borrowed” by people who shall go nameless today but who will be punished at a place and time of my choosing: Book Club.
5. Books by dead people: Book Club. Because, you know, they’re dead.
6. Short story collections/anthologies: Book Club. Because — no offense to short fiction writers — there’s something about books of short stories that genuinely repel my need to purchase books. I have no idea what my malfunction here is, since I do like short stories. All I know is, prior to this Book Club spree, I haven’t bought short story collections at all. So if the Book Club gets me to buy them, it’s adding to the overall royalty pot for some author, not taking away from it.
7. Writers who I’ve liked but whose previous couple of books have been, you know, disappointing: Book Club’s okay. It’s like probation. If the book is good, then the next purchase will be in the bookstore. If it’s not, eh. I’ll get to the next book when I get to it, if I get to it.
Let’s see how this little collection of rules applies with my selections, shown above:
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke: First time author who I’ve not read before, but about whom I’ve heard good things, primarily from Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who writes about the book here. I’m inclined to trust PNH’s taste in books (he bought mine, you know), and if it’s as good as I hope it is, Ms. Clarke can expect full royalties the next time out.
For Us, The Living: A Comedy of Customs, by Robert A. Heinlein: Heinlein’s dead, baby. Also as a practical matter, as much as I like Heinlein, I don’t know that I would have been inclined to pay full-price for this book anyway. It’s not so much a novel as a political lecture, with the words “he said” put in every now and then to give the tang of fiction. Heinlein in lecture mode is my least favorite Heinlein. Still, for Book Club prices, I’m in. Call it the completist in me.
Endangered Species, by Gene Wolfe: Whoops. This isn’t from the Book Club; it was sent to me because I’m on the Nebula short fiction jury this year. Note to short fiction writers in Tor anthologies or who have collections from Tor — they’re doing an excellent job putting your work in front of me for my consideration this year. Other book publishers: Not so much. At some point in time I’ll discuss how I read short fiction for consideration for the Nebula jury; I’m sure it will appall and frighten you.
Succession, by Scott Westerfeld: This is the Book Club selection that violates my rules about buying from the Book Club, since this book is an omnibus of two of Scott’s novels (The Risen Empire and The Killing of Worlds) which were released in the last couple of years, and I’ve read enough of Scott’s work (notably his faboo YA titles Midnighters and So Yesterday) to know he deserves the full royalty treatment (so follow those links, people). However, I know Scott personally and I’ll be seeing him in the reasonably near future, and when I do, I’ll make royalty restitution in kind, probably by way of beer. So I felt okay with the purchase.
The Time Quartet, by Madeleine L’Engle: I’ve bought each of the individual books in this series (A Wrinkle in Time, A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters) at least once, and in most cases three or four times (for myself and as gifts), so, you know. Maddie’s sucked a lot of cash out of me over the years.
I’ll share a moment with you here: Athena saw the book and I mentioned to her that I read it when I was a kid, so she opened it and said “It’s not a kid’s book. It doesn’t have pictures!” To which I said “Nonsense! You could probably read this book.” And then I opened the book to the first page of text and had her try it. And she read that first page just fine, and she had a big grin on her face when she was done. Some people get through high school without ever reading a book without pictures, so I’m glad we got that out of the way.
The John Varley Reader, by John Varley: A short story collection. Interestingly, at the moment, the thing I’m enjoying most about the book are not the stories (which are generally pretty good), but the introductions to the stories, which give a little commentary I find fascinating.
Stories, by Ray Bradbury: Another short story collection — many of which I had already purchased in paperback at one point or another, Ray Bradbury being the only writer whose short story collections I’ve ever bought (often because some of his “novels” were simply short story collections with connective tissue, e.g., The Martian Chronicles). Most of those books are God knows where, however. So now I have a bunch in one place. Convenient.
And now you know two things: I have a lot of excellent books to read, and I’m a master at silly rationalizations. It’s possible you knew these things about me already.