Odds and Ends and Stuff and Crap
Posted on April 26, 2005 Posted by John Scalzi 35 Comments
First off, a big congratulations to Naomi Kritzer, whose book Freedom’s Apprentice has its official release today, the second book in her Dead Rivers Trilogy. You’ll recall I praised the first book in the series for being other than the usual rote fantasy and for exploring an unknown and fascinating alternate history, and I reasonably expect this one to be as good, enough so that I bought it at about two minutes after midnight on that Amazon thingie you hear so much about.
Over at her own Journal, Naomi experiences a little bit of angst about what being a second novel in a series means for her book sales, which (seeing as I’m writing a sequel) I can appreciate. This is one of the reasons why Ghost Brigades is not a direct sequel — it takes place in the OMW universe, but you won’t have to have read that book to get into TGB, and I hope to high holy god that Tor will use the words “From the Author of Old Man’s War” on the cover instead of “The Sequel to Old Man’s War.” Having said that, I have confidence that Naomi’s fears are just twitchiness; she’s a good writer and she written three other good books so far: I expect nothing less than that for number four. Which is, you know, why I bought it.
* Also purchased at the same time as Freedom’s Apprentice: The Tiger OS for the Mac. As it happens Amazon has a $35 printable rebate coupon you can send in, and as it happens I have a wife who actually sends in rebate coupons, and that means I got the OS for less than $100, and that’s reasonable to me. My understanding is that this amazing new OS will fold my clothes, tutor my child and make me an unstoppable sex machine (or should I say, even more of an unstoppable sex machine than I already am) and naturally I am all over that.
* Carey McGee comments on my recent blatheration about the Beatles and the Stones, and muses:
I have had in my mind for a story idea about a group that was the extreme version of this, whose musical invention and sheer power was such that they only released one recording, a six-song EP that becomes something of a holy talisman of the band’s fans — the absolute apex of rock and roll. And since their output was so small, and they weren’t around to tour, very few people would have heard of them.
It made me wonder, what if this situation already exists — that there is some absolutely brilliant music being made out there by mad geniuses and I’ll never even know about it.
The answer to this question is almost certainly yes. A close call to this would be The La’s, who thanks to the absolute perfectionist weirdness of its primary songwriter only produced one self-titled album — but Jaysus Mary and Joseph, what an album. And of course if it weren’t for the otherwise entirely bland Sixpence None the Richer covering “There She Goes,” about six people in the US would know about them. I can’t see how there couldn’t be even more obscure bands in the same position, and I already regret never having heard them, especially since I heard that new Kelly Clarkson song six times in three hours on my drive up to Michigan this last weekend.
Incidentally, McGee’s blog Rational Explanation is pretty good overall, so you might want to check it out. I don’t know him personally, although it appears he’s the reviews editor of the Internet Review of Science Fiction and as such has some definite thoughts on the matters of books and reviewing.
* My friend Mykal Burns pointed out this Boing Boing entry to me late last night, about a guy who — based on the overall consumption of the eucharist and sacramental wine over the 2000 years of the transubstantiating Catholic Church — calculated the current size of the body of Christ (it’s big). Mykal’s comment was along the lines of “Hey! Didn’t you do this once?”
And indeed I did — around 1994 I wrote a short story about a Catholic school in which the kids were rioting after they got in trouble for attempting to calculate the size of the body of Christ in just this fashion — the priests tried to curtail their mathematical endeavors as sacrilege, which prompted the riot, and afterward the kids were left to their academic pursuits; at least they were evincing some interest in school work. After an initial and incorrect calculation of the body of Christ being nearly the size of Mercury (leading some to wonder if the body of Christ had its own atmosphere, and if so, what it might be comprised of), a later revision showed the body of Christ to be roughly the same size as Mount Everest. Which lead to the further theological speculation of whether the Second Coming would in fact be the impact of the massive Holy Meteor Jesus, and Armageddon the economy-sized Tunguska Event that would follow the body of Christ’s literally earth-shattering impact.
Sadly, no copies of the story are extant (for the reason that despite the intriguing premise, the story sucked), so any claims I might have had to being the first to measure the contemporary size of the body of Christ are circumstantial at best. I’m willing to let someone else take the credit and/or eternal hellfire and damnation.
* Finally, here’s a thought for you: The publicist for Book of the Dumb 2 has scheduled an author’s event for me for the day before Father’s Day. Where at? A local Sam’s Club. Why there? Because that’s where they sell truckload after truckload of the books, that’s why. How do I feel about being an author at a Sam’s Club? I feel fine. I don’t care where my books sell. I just want them to sell. I just hope, being that this is published by the Bathroom Reader people, that they don’t actually position me near the pallets of toilet paper in a blaze of cross-promotional thinking. That’s not too much to ask for.
Hey, that brings to mind a question. How much short fiction do you have out there, and where might we find some of it? (I know you’ve posted a story or two here; just whets my appetite for more.)
Regarding The Best Band Nobody’s Ever Heard, that reminds me of something Brian Eno said about The Velvet Underground: Few people bought their albums, but everyone who did started their own band.
Regarding OS X Tiger: Is Athena in school, yet? Apple offers a significant student discount through their website, available for anybody in K-Graduate School, and as far as I remember, they don’t ask for any proof. Tiger, for example, is $69 with the discount. I saved $400 on my PowerBook. It’s a pretty good deal. If you go to apple.com/store, there’s a link for discounts on the lower left.
On the how-sequels-sell topic, tangentially, someone pointed me recently at Lawrence Watt-Evans’ Ethshar page, where he explains the difficulty he’s had selling Ethshar books and what he’s doing about it. (That is, posting a chapter at a time, and soliciting donations until he reaches a sufficient amount — $100 — to post the next chapter. Two chapters are up so far, and IIRC this was posted last week.)
Just pointing it out as an example of what can happen with sequels (or not-sequel books in the same world), and a good creative response to it. And yes, wondering about your thoughts on it, of course :-)
Aha. I see your preview and post are not exact mirrors. Sorry about the extra line spaces that preview declines to show, so I added by hand. Will remember not to, next time.
I always have a long list of incredible bands/solo artists that few people have ever heard of. (Example – Emily Strand and the Town) The fact of the matter is, that only a tiny percentage of the really, really good music out there ever gets to a significant mass market. The other 99.999% of musicians/songwriters just put out what they can for their local or niche markets and keep plugging away at their day jobs.
Bruce – thanks for the link to Lawrence Watt-Evans’ page. I’m a big fan of his, and it always bugs me that it’s hard to find his stuff in the stores. I’ll be sending him a $10 check when I get home tonight to support the next chapter going online.
better to be positioned by a pallet of TP than in a stall or by the urinal.
Kevin Q – I went to the Apple Store page, and it appears to me that the only eligible purchasers are employees of schools or elected/appointed members of PTA/PTO’s.
Is that the case? Or does Apple offer discounts for school children too?
Just wondering – I’m not of a mind to purchase an Apple for myself, at a discount, under false premises. But I might be willing to indulge my kids in one, if students get discounts.
Gahhh. Pet peeve abuse. ITYMTS, “What it might comprise.” Poor, poor abused word. Poor abused pet peeve.
[rumaging for peeve snacks. sit, boy! Good peeve. *crunch*]
To go through all the comments to date and respond in one entry:
Steve Eley: I’ve written three short stories to date, one of which is on Strange Horizons, and two of which I put up here. That’s it, actually; I’m not much of a short story writer to date, although later this year (after I’m done writing Ghost Brigades), I’d like to do a little more. I may also slip one in to the Subterranean magazine I’m editing depending on various circmstances.
Re: Academic cut rate Tiger: Both Krissy and Athena are in school, so I suppose it would have been possible to sign up, but I’ve already ordered and don’t want to bother. I did give some thought to buying the Mac with an educational discount, but then I found this particular one on eBay and the matter became (excuse the pun) academic.
Nicole, here you go:
It’s not that you’re wrong, however.
The scariest thing about writing a series is hearing that subsequent books tend to sell fewer than the first book. Ian Irvine, in his highly authoritative account of the publishing world, says that a Book 2 that hits 70% of Book 1’s sales is doing well. And he-of-many-trilogies should know.
“With trilogies and longer series, which are the rule in fantasy and some SF, the subsequent books will always sell less than the first. Readers who don’t like the first book won’t buy any more, while those who buy the second book will probably purchase the whole series. In a successful series, sales of the second book will typically be around 70% of the first. If the second book sells only half as many as the first, the series is in trouble. Somewhat lower percentages prevail in the UK and US, where there are a lot more titles available and hence more competition.”
Of course, buried in this bad news is the fact that Book 2 (and onward) sales actually drive further Book 1 sales. That is, people stumble upon Book 2+ then go get Book 1, or hear friends raving about Book 2+ and go buy Book 1 to catch up.
Also, book stores are motivated to keep early books in the series on the shelves as long as new ones are coming out. They know they have more chance selling the new ones if the old ones can still be acquired, and their buyers are reminded of earlier books in the series by seeing new ones in the catalog.
Also there’s the whole hard/mass/trade thing. My own Midnighters 2 is selling faster in hardcover than Mid 1 did, partly because the Mid 1 mass market edition is driving sales of book 2. It’s like the $6.99 mass edition is the gateway drug, or free razor with no blades, or whatever simile won’t get me in trouble. (I had one kid write me and say he bought Midnighters 1 in paperback. Went, COOL, and got Mid 2 in HC, because he couldn’t wait a year. Then he didn’t like the way the two books looked together on his shelf, and bought Mid 1 in HC to match them up. Music to my ears.)
Anyway, for more and clearer: http://www.ian-irvine.com.
Indeed, this is why the Tor’s planning the Trade paperback of OMW right in front of Ghost Brigades hardback: to use the momentum of the first book to push the second.
Of course, I’m trying to have it both ways: Have a sequel that’s not dependent on the first book for its story, but at the same time position it to take advantage of the first book’s sales. We’ll see how it works.
So if sequels don’t sell as well then why are the SciFi sections of the bookstore clogged with the damn things?
I’m guessing that it’s just easier for both authors and publishers.
So if Jesus is always increasing due to communion, is that why they call it celebrating “mass”?
Anyway, the loaves and fishes story might imply that he may not be subject to mass conservation laws, or there was some energy into mass action happening.
“I hope to high holy god that Tor will use the words ‘From the Author of Old Man’s War’ on the cover instead of ‘The Sequel to Old Man’s War.'”
Guess what: no you don’t. Not when your actual sales force says, with reality-based confidence, that the latter will get out significantly more copies.
The Android’s Dream is “From the Author of Old Man’s War.” If you write a Regency romance, it’ll be “From the Author of Old Man’s War.” The Ghost Brigades is “The Sequel to Old Man’s War,” just as Speaker for the Dead was the sequel to Ender’s Game. Publishers think like this because readers think like this. Deal with it.
As for Freedom’s Apprentice, we at Tor are deeply impressed by Bantam’s determined appropriation of our “naked back” trope, over more than one title now. Very reassuring!
If you heard Kelly Clarkson on your drive to Michigan, you’re listening to the wrong radio station.
Thanks for not saying bad things about me.
Huh. I knew that College students got the discounts, and that Apple offered a discount for K-12, and I assumed that the K-12 discount was for students, too. But you’re right, it’s just for faculty, staff, and school board members. Might be time to join the PTA…
I knew I would invoke Patrick with that.
Patrick, my concern is that I don’t want to give people an excuse not to buy the book — I hate picking up an interesting book to see the words “The sequel to [x]” when [x] is nowhere in evidence on the book shelves, and I haven’t read that book. Back onto the shelf goes the original book, and it’s an open question whether I’ll get around to getting it eventually. Yes, if the sequel book requires a reading of its prequel, this is a useful thing to have on the title — I’d be annoyed at buying a book to discover it had a prerequisite — but as Ghost Brigades won’t need this, I wonder about its utility.
If Tor’s sales people say it works, fine; I’m still a new enough author that I won’t (and can’t) throw a hissy fit about it. And I’m happy to be proven wrong, especially when the result is more sales. But I know how I buy books.
For what it’s worth, the La’s album got decent radio play long before the Sixpence None the Richer cover version. So much so that I hunted it down in the used CD store…sampled it, and then promptly put it back. Perhaps my memory is faulty, but the rest of the album sounded nothing like that particular track, and reminded me of nothing so much as a bad country-and-western album.
There are lot of bands out there that are underappreciated or undiscovered, but I only look back at the La’s with dissappointment.
Nothing on the La’s album sounds even remotely like country/western to me, so that’s an intresting take on the album. But different strokes for different folks.
It’s a legitimate concern. Anything tagged as a sequel, or “the new book in the Chronicles of Foobar,” stands a chance of selling only to a subset of the people who bought the original. When this happens repeatedly, we call it Series Death Spiral.
However, this early in the game, your biggest asset is the surprisingly strong sales of the OMW hardcover. The whole point of your publisher’s Winter 2006 Scalzi Strategy–reprinting OMW in trade paper rather than mass-market, and selling The Ghost Brigades in the same season–is to try to get maximum leverage out of that single asset. Hardcovers and trade paperbacks are sold by the same sales people, and they’re sold in seasonal clumps, not month-by-month; January (the OMW trade pb) and March (the TBG hardcover) are in the same season (“Winter 2006”) and will thus be sold together. Being able to say that TBG is directly connected to the so-far-successful OMW is crucial to this play; it means that the arguments we’ll use to get retailers to take a strong position on the OMW trade pb can be instantly re-used on the TBG hardcover, probably in the same sales call.
Believe me, I never would have dreamed this up. To my way of thinking, it’s generally not a good idea to put the previous book’s trade paper edition into the same season as the new book’s hardcover, because it gives retailers an excuse to split the order, taking fewer of each than they would if they were in separate seasons. (Whereas scheduling the new hardcover and the previous book’s mass-market edition close to one another, or even in the same month, is fine, because hardcovers and mass-market books are sold by different sales units and often to different buyers at the retailing end, and meanwhile you can use the same advertising and publicity efforts on both books simultaneously.) So this is very much a case of Tom Doherty, who spent decades as a book salesman and still thinks directly in terms of what will and won’t work at the critical moment of pitching the retailer, being the sort of publisher who’s always looking for a way to zig where everybody else zags.
Tiresome fan blathering to follow:
I have to wonder if your evaluation of Sixpence is based on their entire catalog (including their moodier early work), or only on the fluff that has made it to radio? I maintain that Matt Slocum is a multi-talented genius; albeit one who’s skills are perhaps more appreciable in formats other than the 3-minute radio pop song.
Get Word for Mac (if you haven’t already). It’s not only gorgeous, it works great. It’s much better than Apple’s wordprocessing program.
You’ll probably also need something like MacJanitor. That helps with the slowdown that occurs at times.
And the education discount also applies to higher education students (and faculty, etc).
Speaking of covers and naked backs, my wife once complained that all science fiction books have an attractive woman on the cover.
I set her straight. Not ALL SF books have attractive women on the cover. All the SF books that *I* buy have an attractive woman on the cover.
For some reason that explanation did not pacify her.
As is obvious with OMW, I have since broadened my cover criteria.
Well, there is a woman in the background on the OMW cover.
And she is not unattractive!
However, the artwork for Ghost Brigades (yes, it’s done) features no women of any kind (or men, for that matter). Does this mean it’s outside your realm of purchases, Tripp?
The problem with a big signing at sam’s club … is that you don’t get standard royalties from Sam’s club. you get a reduced rate, because they aren’t buying books at the standard trade price.
They get a deal because they buy in bulk, and if your books don’t sell immediately, they send that huge stack of books right back to the publisher.
Looking forward to meeting you at wiscon!
Normally, you’re correct. However in this case you’re not, since my contract for this has royalties based on units sold rather than the price of the units when they sell. So for me, a signing at Sam’s Club is just as good as a signing anywhere else — and maybe a little better, since the reduced price could move more units.
Indeed, see you at Wiscon!
Ooh, I had no idea that the guy that did the calculating of the size of the body of christ was none other than the famous jwz…Jamie Zawinski, father of Mozilla, back in the day. One of my favorite people.
Patrick: thank you, or whoever, for that particular trope. I love women’s backs.
If it’s a fetish, I don’t know the name.
Where would something like Jeff Buckley’s _Grace_ come into the one-great-album phenomenon?
Isn’t Jeff Buckley more like Tupac for white people? How long do you have to be dead before you stop releasing albums?
However, the artwork for Ghost Brigades (yes, it’s done) features no women of any kind (or men, for that matter). Does this mean it’s outside your realm of purchases, Tripp?
Never fear. I have expanded my activities beyond ogling cover art. Sometimes at my advanced age I even read some of the books.
The La’s is one of those flawless gems of the early 90s, like Concrete Blonde’s Bloodletting, Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes, and of course Nevermind.
Sometimes for a laugh, I imagine the world where 1990 ushed in a new British Invasion, Blur had a career arc like Stone Temple Pilots, and punk sideliners Nirvana released a send-up to the sound years later.
On a side note, if you haven’t heard the eponymous School of Fish album of 1991, find a copy. It’s an underappreciated grunge masterpiece (and I’m sure you have every idea about how rare those three words are to string together).
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