Because People Ask: Book Acquisition Details

A quick FAQ about all the books I get:

How many books a week do you get sent?

Recently, between 10 and 25 a week.

Why do you get books at all?

Because of the Big Idea feature here, and also because of the “Just Arrived” entries, and also because the site has 40,000+ readers daily and most of them are interested in books, so publicists and publishers think it’s worth the time and effort and postage to send me their stuff. I don’t mind. I like books.

What kind of books do you get?

Mostly science fiction and fantasy (which is no surprise, really), but increasingly I’m also getting, other genres of fiction (YA, romance, lit fic) and some non-fiction as well. I’m happy to get a wide range because, you know. My reading habits are diverse.

Do you read everything you get?

No, and the reason why should be obvious by noting the volume of material I get sent. I don’t have time to read every single thing plus do my own writing. I would say I read one or two books a week fully and flip through a few more casually, usually the Big Idea-featured books that I haven’t already read. I wouldn’t mind being able to read more, but I think people would get annoyed at me, because then my own output would drop to zero.

What do you do with the books you get?

I keep some, and others I give away, either to friends or (after an appropriate amount of time, when it won’t have an impact on initial sales) to the local library, which often uses them for fundraising sales.

Do you sell books or ARCs on eBay or elsewhere?

No. I don’t need the money and I don’t think publishers really want me to sell them anyway.

Why don’t you give away the books you get to your loyal readers?

Because experience teaches me I am terrible at fulfillment on contests; nowadays I do giveaways here only if someone else is responsible for getting the book to a reader (I except the occasional charity auction I do from that, since I’m weirdly more motivated to mail things if money goes to a good cause).

If I come to your house, will you give me books?

No, I’ll set the dog on you and/or use you for archery practice.

Heh. You’re joking, right?

Yeah, not really. Random visits to the house = not cool.

I’m a publisher/publicist/editor/author. Can I send you a book too?

Sure. My publicity guidelines are here.

44 Comments on “Because People Ask: Book Acquisition Details”

  1. So you just get free books for no real reason except publicity? I WANT YOUR JOB. >.>

  2. “I don’t mind. I like books.”

    I get the feeling the cats don’t mind either. That looks like quite a playground. Lots of high places, although it seems Hugh has the advantage.

    Are you going to review the J. C. Penney catalog? (Grin)

  3. So, how many times have one of your cats inadvertently set off a book avalanche?

  4. cats +inadvertently? I don’t think so- that’s just what they want you to think. “Oops, I just happened to accidentally knock the roast chicken off the counter while checking the smoke alarm.”

  5. Nicole – It’s not impossible to get free books. It requires a popular blog. Create one that gets as many genre friendly readers as John gets, and you’ll probably get plenty of free books.

  6. I often give away my ARCs and review copies to my readers once I’m done with them. They love it, I get the goodwill, and the author gets more buzz for their work. It’s all win.

  7. to answer the cat/book question, this is from Ghlaghghee’s twitter feed. and i normally don’t use caps but a little bird mentioned that failing to capitalize the first letter of the name of her glorious, shimmering and radiant perfection is, well, heresy. :D

    Sometimes I dream of tall stacks of books that could fall over and squish the Tormentor. And sometimes I just walk around his office. 7:21 PM Mar 4th

  8. Are random visits ok if you don’t see us? 8)

    Most people don’t even notice me driving up and taking pictures of their houses when I’m working (occupancy inspections for mortgage companies).

  9. People you don’t know really ask if they can drop by and get free stuff?

    Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I guess – but I can’t see how anyone could think that such a request might be appropriate.

  10. But John… We’ve met before. I was in your house. Remember? Call me. Take the phone and dial my number.


    ME, LIVE:
    Ha ha ha ha ha ha


    This will make some sort of sense if you’ve seen David Lynch’s output from the mid-1990s; if you haven’t, you’ll probably think I’m even more insane than I already am.

  11. If people just spent me books, I don’t think I’d ever need to leave the house

  12. If you want that “set the dog on you” threat to carry more weight, you might want to post a picture of said animal in a state other than sleep or general relaxation.

  13. “The irony: This isn’t actually my job.”

    with 40,000+ readers I am sure this site helps the sales of your other work.

  14. Ed:

    Trust me, if you come to the door and she doesn’t know who you are, you see another side of the dog.


    In fact I’ve had a hunting bow since I was 12. I don’t generally hunt with it, but I’m a decent shot with it.


    There’s no doubt the site’s beneficial to me. It’s just not a job.

  15. John Scalzi: “Yeah, not really. Random visits to the house = not cool”

    But it wouldn’t be random; it’d be quite deliberate and deterministic.

  16. I’m still stuck on the part where people don’t know not to show up at bloggers’ homes or places of business (Nathan Bransford the agent had a creepy guy in sunglasses a little while ago).

    Though it occurs to me that if I still lived in your general neck of the woods, I might ask which library so that I could patronize their book sales, so maybe I’m a little bit creepy too.

    But I stay the **** off other people’s lawns.

  17. John,

    I just have to say that this picture of your office is even cooler and more impressive (in a how-do-you-get-to-your-desk sort of way) than the last one. Those piles of books are beautiful.

  18. Pat Rothfuss wrote in his blog that he got his address unlisted when crazy fans started showing up at his home.

    Unless the author is single and its a very attractive female fan, it would freak me out.

  19. Archery would be an interesting hobby, but if I tried it around here I’d skewer one of the neighbor kids, some of whom don’t deserve that.

  20. Archery is a great hobby. I wish I still had the time and a place to practice.

    For any of you thinking you might avoid John’s arrows, just remember that even many beginners can hit an archery target with one or two shots, and that’s with a cheap Walmart bow. And you and that target have about the same surface area from the front. ;)

    I wonder what tips John would be using.

  21. Have people/fans/stalkers in fact shown up at your house hoping that you could hang out/sign books/provide a DNA sample? Or are you just trying to keep anyone from thinking this is a swell idea?

    In 1993, I was cruising through Colorado Springs and stopped in front of Heinlein’s old house, just to take a snapshot from the street, and the lady came out – confronted us – and invited us in for a tour. A slightly different reaction than the one apparently on offer from you.

  22. Doug: Sounds about right. This reminds me of an episode of The Big Bang Theory I saw recently, where Stan Lee gets to call the cops on one of the characters after giving very frustrated speech. I bet Stan loved that part of it. :)

    @28: Different people have different wants in life. I imagine the safety of John’s family and the desire to be left in peace are big factors in his choice. I dare say Heinlein would not have been entirely happy for you to show up at his house while he was still alive.

  23. @30: Is there something in my post that suggests I question our host’s preference here? I’m merely mortified that he even needs to provide a word of warning but oddly curious if someone has ever actually done this.

  24. Ha-ha. Looking at your photo, I’ve been in your situation before. It’s really fun to get boxes of free ARCs… at first. Then it becomes overwhelming. And then you watch, “Who Wants to Clean House” on the cable channel Style network, and go through the pain of giving it away. Now I no longer have a job that gives me ARCs, and I have a Kindle…. but now my house is filled with my boys’ Legos. Sigh. Entropy. No wonder clutter books have such titles as: Conquering Clutter; How to Conquer Clutter; Clutter’s Last Stand; Clutter Busting, etc.

  25. I wonder what tips John would be using.

    I’m guessing Atom Broadheads for their superior penetration qualities. But it’s just a guess.

  26. “Trust me, if you come to the door and she doesn’t know who you are, you see another side of the dog.”

    Oh, I don’t doubt that at all, I just thought it was a funny contrast with the typical photos of her you tend to post.

    Have there ever been any actual unwelcome incidents, or was it just creepy e-mails/comments that made you want to make things crystal clear?

    I remember reading various accounts (in stories from SF/fan history) of people showing up out of the blue on the doorsteps of big authors of their day, and thinking “man, I could never even *think* of just dropping in on someone who has no idea who I am like that.”

  27. I am not always happy about fundraising sales in libraries. I often donate good books which I’ve read to my local library because I want to share them with other people and I want many people to read (or at least have access to it) and I understand that the Library can not buy all books.
    I do not want a book to be sold just to one person so the one person will read it (hopefully or it may just be buried in his/her bookshelf)

  28. Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but
    I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this website?

    I’m getting sick and tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be fantastic if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  29. @Andrei in 41 … Most libraries will not lend advance reader copies because publishers don’t want them to do so, and tell them so. Publishers do not get paid (nor do authors) for advance copies. Libraries are already a source of unhappiness for that subset of publishers who Do Not Get the apparent contradiction: “you will sell more if you make them available longer/and through free lending. It’s a form of advertising and building a fan base.”

    With the big-box bookstores having pretty much gutted the industry with their short-sighted methods(1) it seems that publishers in general have become a cowardly and superstitious lot. But in this case they’re right: an ARC is not the same finished, polished item as the publication copy.

    — rant below, flinch if you don’t want to read it. —

    Publishers as a whole already run at very poor margins as it is, and keep hiring business managers who haven’t heard of the idea of ‘long tail profits’ or ‘building a base’ and now tend to think of books as generic commodities.
    Which is why we get so many books that are pretty much the same as every other book and why the Big Ideas posts here are so useful – pointing out what’s different.

    (1): B&N and Borders and WalMart and Target all use (or used) a similar bookkeeping method to allocate limited shelf space for books. They take new authors who have good reviews and allocate about six or seven slots on a bookcase for their new work, and they do end-cap and tabletop marketing of them as well. When the sales results are calculated, they set the next allocation for that author based on the amount of space that would be appropriate for the sales out of the bookcase. Sometimes this includes end-cap and tabletop sales and sometimes not. This means the first book gets great sales, the second book MAY get good sales, the third or fourth book probably not so much, and so on until they won’t order them. This forces a diminishing sales curve on authors, and as a result most popular fiction writers having had a six year career – though Amazon’s kind of blown a hole in that model with e-books, and something more normal seems to be emerging again.

    There are of course writers who do NOT have this problem, because they do so astonishingly well that they are guaranteed sales in larger numbers. Those writers may take as long as ten or fifteen years before their allocated space vanishes – and this time, because publishers seem increasingly unlikely to put out new editions.

  30. Funny you need to point out to people not to show up unannounced … well depressing actually. I do not stop by close friends houses unannounced. I will stop by family unannounced, but then they are obligated to let me in.

  31. Yeah. ARCs in the library, no good. We got a letter threatening legal action from the publisher of a local author… an author who signed one of her ARCs and donated it to us.

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