On The Matter Of When to Buy Lock In and In What Format

Whenever a new book of mine comes close to a release date, I get emails and social media queries from folks asking me what format they should get the book in and when, in order to give me the most money/exposure/whatever. Which is very sweet. Okay, since you asked, here are some thoughts on the subject.

1. Buy it in whatever format you like, whenever you like. Honestly, you’re the customer. You want it in hardcover? Get it in hardcover. Want it in ebook? Get it in ebook. Want it in audio? Get it in audio. Want to wait until the price goes down? Get it in paperback or in ebook when then paperback comes out. As long as you pay for it, I will also get paid, and in every format I get paid a fair share of the money. The variations of what I get paid in each format are small enough that on an individual level (that’s you), it’s not worth your time to fret about it. So please, buy the book in whatever format pleases you, whenever it pleases you to do so. And thank you.

(Dead broke? Ask for it at your local library, because they buy the book, and I’ll still get paid.)

That said, if you want to be baldly strategic on my behalf about your purchasing and have not already pre-ordered a copy in the format of your choosing and/or feel like picking up another copy to give as a gift/to have for yourself/to use to prop up a wobbly table:

2. Buy the hardcover and buy it in the first week of release. Because that will be useful for the book scaling up the New York Times hardcover best seller list, which remains the gold standard for successful books, and which helps a book get immediate attention. When Redshirts plopped onto the list, I suddenly got lots of interest in the book in the media and in LA, and other opportunities opened up as well. So yes, as a practical matter, having Lock In show up on that list would be groovy for me.

And now, with that said:

3. You should still buy the book in whatever format you like. Because, one, the NYT best seller lists aren’t figured simply by raw sales (the Times uses its own secret sauce of an algorithim to make its calculations which includes sampling from specific bookstores); two, the Times also has ebook and combined print/ebook lists as well, so it all goes into the hopper; three, if I show up on any best seller list, you can be assured Tor and my agents (and I!) will be super-pleased and will promote the fact; four, you’re buying the book for you (or for whomever you’re buying it for, if it’s a gift), not for me. So come on, get it however you want to get it.

And finally, while getting onto the NYT hardcover best seller list would be useful and nice and something that would make it easier to talk about the book to people who have no idea who I am, including some who might adapt it for a screen near you, here’s a fact:

4. There’s more than one way for a book to be successful. Did you know that Old Man’s War has never been anywhere near the NYT best seller lists? Ever? It hasn’t. And yet, to date, it’s my best selling book. That’s because for ten years it’s sold, week in and week out, a solid, consistent number of books that’s nevertheless below the “best seller” threshold. In this case, constant and steady adds up, in sales, in reputation and in terms of being able to make opportunities (other factors, like the Hugo nod it got, helped too).

Nor is OMW the only book about which this can be said — I can reel off lots of classic books, in whatever genre you like, which were never “best sellers” except that they sold for a very long time, keep selling, and have developed reputations from years of readers praising the book to someone else. Meanwhile books that showed up on the official best seller lists one week have dropped off into oblivion the next, never to be seen (or cared about) afterward, the equivalent of one hit wonders on the music charts. There are no guarantees about anything ever.

Which is why I say that you should get the book how you want, when you want to get it. No matter when you get the book, or how you get the book, if you get the book, it’ll make a difference to me, and I will thank you. And while I do appreciate when people want to help me to make any book of mine a success, at the end of the day, what you should be focused on doing, if you are gracious enough to buy a book of mine, is enjoying the book. Leave the rest of it to me and my folks. That’s our job, and we’re pretty good at it so far.

40 Comments on “On The Matter Of When to Buy Lock In and In What Format”

  1. Bought our copy of Lock In this weekend. For the Nook, if you please!

    Looking forward to reading it on vacation soon.

  2. Keep writing these wonderful tales, and we will keep buying them! I am especially interested in increasing your personal wealth by whatever small amount when your sequel to “Human Division” comes out…but “Lock In” will keep me occupied until then!

  3. Now I’m wondering how my doing the easiest thing for me (Clicking “accept” over at the SFBC) counts. Which, as I prefer gets me a HC copy.

  4. John you are missing the perfect chance here to tell us that we should buy multiple copies, by the boxful in preference, for Christmas gifts. Just saying….

  5. Do you know whether or not preorders (ebook or hardcover) count towards first week sales for the best seller list number crunching?

  6. Brenna:

    Yes, they all get lumped into first week sales (mostly — I don’t think audio book sales count toward the NYT lists, for example).

  7. Can’t wait for the audio book. Love your books, and am a big fan of Wil Wheaton’s narration. So a win all around.

  8. The hardcover is also almost infinitely adjustable for wobbly-table-propping-up purposes, simply by opening the book and fiddling with the number of pages under the table leg. Just try to do THAT with your Kindle, Bezos!

  9. I pre-ordered the ebook from Google Play a couple days ago. Should be out manana they say (I think). Anything to put the squeeze on Mordor of the book industry is fine by me.

  10. I pre-ordered Lock In at my local Waterstones, following a debacle where they didn’t order any copies of the latest Charles Stross at any of their branches for three whole counties around.

    They say “Oh, yes, we’ll call you when it arrives!”

    I go in on saturday just passed, and they’ve got it on the shelves for sale. So I bought it and cancelled my pre-order (they had no idea why they had my order in their systems as ‘not yet ready’)

    They only seemed to have it in paperback though; do we not get the hardback version here in England?

  11. Crane:

    I believe Gollancz’s edition is trade paperback, yes.


    The official release date is tomorrow; some bookstores already have it on the shelves.

  12. Crane

    I too have noted the absence of a hardback here in England and I suspect that Gollancz has missed a trick in plonking it out as a fairly expensive soft back; I would have happily paid more for a hardback because I anticipate rereading it, and thus it will need to withstand the fairly terrible things I sometimes do to books.

    In my experience hardbacks survive being dropped in the bath better than other formats…

  13. Did you know that Old Man’s War has never been anywhere near the NYT best seller lists? Ever? It hasn’t. And yet, to date, it’s my best selling book.

    OLD MAN’S WAR has a long tail, Scalzi. It will probably keep selling, since it’s become a genre classic.

    Tammy’s SONG OF THE LIONESS books are still selling thirty years after she wrote them, and her agent once told her she’d sold over a million copies of those four alone. Like OMW, never got anywhere near the bestseller lists….

  14. The hardcover is also almost infinitely adjustable for wobbly-table-propping-up purposes, simply by opening the book and fiddling with the number of pages under the table leg. Just try to do THAT with your Kindle, Bezos!

    That’s why Bezos is secretly working on a wedge-shaped Kindle.

  15. I know this varies… anyone know about how many copies have to be sold to make the bestseller list most of the time? I would guess being number 1 is many times being number 25 (I believe John blogged about this), anyone know what is usually needed to get to #1?

    I bought the audio so it won’t count towards the bestseller list. :( , but I was at the bookstore Saturday and picked up Daniel Abraham’s new book (He is 1/2 of James SA Corey).

    Never used reddit before… but tempted to set up a sub-reddit so we can post picks of you by date to make sure your sticking to your diet. A little peer pressure might help. Going to be tough to do that with this kind of travel schedule. If I do that, your welcome in advance.

  16. My library already has it on order and I’m 4th in line for it, measured in library holds… I think there are a few people here looking forward to it :)

  17. I shall wait for it to arrive in my Hugo voter packet. Do you get paid for each of those too?

  18. Ozzie:

    Not a single penny.


    It really depends on the week. It also, frankly, depends on which list you’re on. You have to sell several thousand copies at least just to have a shot at the general Hardcover list, on average.

  19. “Buy it in whatever format you like …”. Ah! If only life were that simple. I want it in hardback but here in the UK it’s only available in paperback (I might add at the price of a hardback). Is there a reason why Gollancz isn’t publishing a hardback version.

    Steve Docker

  20. True fans of The Scalzi will buy it in every available format and keep them as a collection for the investment potential. Mint sets of all editions will bring a pretty penny when he is no more – and that will ease my grief.

  21. Steven Docker:

    No idea. Perhaps they think more people will buy me in trade paperback in the UK than in hardcover. I assume they know their market.

  22. @timelibe – that is amazing. As is the work you were talking about.

    @Scalzi – I have my google play primed to send me the book the moment it is released. I expect it will be a fun way to spend tomorrow.

  23. Is it more likely to be on the NYT list if bought from Barnes & Noble as opposed to Amazon or iBooks?

  24. Get the book how I want… it’s not that easy!
    Amazon.de offers both a Kindle paperback (Thursday, 9.99) and a Kindle hardback (tomorrow, 8.57). Does this make any sense?

  25. I’ve never seen a display like that for your books here in Dallas, must be a tour stop?

  26. It’s his local independent bookstore, Jay and Mary’s Book Center. They like him a lot, not least because people all over the country order signed Scalzi books from them.

  27. Have you ever read Donald Westlakes’ “The Hook”? It is a crime novel & he was one of the best in the business but the reason I ask is the story involves 2 novelists, one very successful & one faltering. He goes into some detail about the pitfalls of making a living as an author that seem to me to be too detailed & believable to be entirely fiction. I was wondering if you had read it if you cared to comment on those details.

  28. Do you still get paid when I purchase your novels with Audible subscription credits? I purchase no physical books these days, and only 2-3 e-books per year, but I’ve had an Audible sub for a couple years now and have ‘bought’ 30 or so books during that time with my subscription credits. (I oscillate between a gold and platinum subscription as needs dictate.) I do hope the author gets a cut of that trade as well.

  29. @ Cally – why wouldn’t a small town bookstore love the local author who not only stops by on tours but also cramps his hand signing all of the stock? Based on the effort they make, i’m guessing it is a mutually beneficial relationship.

  30. lumi

    And then there’s the possibility that they like each other as well!


    Good luck with the book tour, and take care of your signing hand; you’ll need it to write more books…

  31. Actually, OMW has definitely been seen near the NYTBL. My local library keeps a print out of the list on their circulation desk. :)

  32. Steve Docker: So do what I do to get Pratchett books before they are available in the USA: Buy them from some foreign country. I tend to have to go to the effort of typing in “amazon.co.uk” to get them. Perhaps you’d be able to type in the USA “amazon.com” to get a hardcover edition.
    Or maybe even visit http://jayandmarysbooks.com/ in Troy, Ohio, USA. – I say “Maybe” because I didn’t immediately see anything about shipping, and so of course also saw nothing about international shipping.
    And do have a look at the sidebar up near the top of this page, the one with the picture of a book with a mostly white cover.

  33. Shawn

    You might like to go back and look at my post regarding AmazonUK total cock up on this; I wanted to buy Lock In, and I needed the author himself to find a way to do so: Amazon.com dumps everyone with a foreign origin back in the sweaty palms of their local company.

    Thanks to John, I now know how to extract it from UK Amazon’s claws, but, those without the helpful intervention of the author searching Amazon UK for Lock In paperback will be told that it won’t be on sale until July 2015:


    And if people go to the only other format Amazon UK says exists, hardcover, they will get the message I already quoted but also be urged to let the publisher know that they’d like a Kindle edition.

    Looking on the bright side, at least Amazon’s incompetence is a check on its world domination business plan, but I would prefer that they get their asses into gear when it comes to selling books…

  34. Stevie: I don’t understand.
    I’m in the USA and have bought things from the UK amazon.
    Or maybe I do understand. I use multiple browsers. I have Opera set to not keep _any_ cookies because that makes it easier to deal with my Microsoft accounts: Close the browser and I don’t have to fight with MS about whether I REALLY meant to log out. The websites I’ve visited with that browser know nothing about me after I close it. I can select the user/pass and no fights with the software about who I am being the next time I launch it. That means that when I try to go to amazon.co.uk I get to them. And when I close and relaunch that browser and try for amazon.com I get them.
    BTW, I’ve never needed a book author’s help in buying a book. I would consider that a fatal error.

  35. BTW, St, I’m only finding one instance of the phrase “total cock up” on this page, and that is in the suggestion that I look for that.

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