The State of a Genre Title, 2015
Posted on August 10, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 97 Comments
Eighteen months ago, as Redshirts moved from its hardcover era into trade paperback, I did an examination of its sales to the point, across all its formats, and chatted about what its sales meant, or didn’t mean, and what we could learn from the numbers. Last week, Lock In, my most recent novel (until tomorrow), transitioned from hardcover to mass market paperback, and I thought it would be interesting and possibly useful to do something similar with it. So I asked for numbers from my publishers. Here they are, up to July 31, 2015. The numbers are rounded to the nearest 100.
For those who choose not to whip out their calculators, that’s total sales of 87,500 copies in Lock In’s hardcover sales era, in hardcover, eBook and audiobook. Note the hardcover/eBook sales do not include the UK edition of Lock In, published by Gollancz, nor any foreign language editions. These are North American edition sales (Audible owns world English rights for its version, and so the audio numbers may include sales outside North America). Note also that the audiobook numbers are sales, not downloads, important because Lock In had two versions, and the pre-orders included both versions.
So, thoughts on these numbers.
1. 87.5k is a pretty healthy number for sales here. If you want to do a comparison to Redshirts, the total sales numbers are up (Redshirts sold 79.2k in its hardcover era), although Redshirts‘ time in hardcover was shorter, so in all it may be a wash. The distribution of sales is also a reminder that all sales channels matter — if I were to lose access to bookstore distribution, for example, I’d lose roughly a quarter of my total sales for this sales pass. If I weren’t doing audio, in this particular case (I’ll discuss this more a couple of points down), I would have lost nearly half.
This continues to be my major concern with digital-only self-publishing, incidentally: there’s money being left on the table if you can’t address all these sales channels. Most self-publishers (or micro publishers) don’t have access to bookstores, nearly all of which continue to operate on a “returns” basis. This is not about the ability to create a physical copy of a book; at this point that can easily be done with print-on-demand options. It’s about having the book already on the shelves, attractively packaged and ready to buy, when the customer walks into the store. If you don’t have that, you’ve largely lost out in that sales avenue. Likewise audio if you’re not there.
At this point in my career, I’m a four-quadrant author, which means that at the end of the day my income as a novelist comes out of four areas: print, eBook, audio, and foreign sales. For any one book or project, one of these might be significantly out of proportion to others, in terms of sales. But over the length of time, they’ve all tended to even out as backlist sales kick in and other factors come into play. At this time, and I expect still for a while to come, the best way to address all these markets effectively and consistently is to partner with publishers.
This doesn’t mean people can’t and don’t make money addressing only one or two of these quadrants — people do, and good for them. But I tend to think diversity in marketplace access allows both the ability to hedge when one sales channel underperforms, and allows for the happy possibility of overperformance in one of those quadrants adding to the bottom line — for example, several years ago The Android’s Dream outperformed in foreign sales (it was a hit in Germany, where it won the Kurd Laßwitz award), or The Human Division electronic sales (when you add in the sales of individual episodes) swamping the sales in every other quadrant, or, in this case, Lock In’s audiobook sales being a substantial sales driver for the novel.
Which is to say a writing career is not at all unlike a stock portfolio — diversify for long-term success.
2. So obviously the audiobook is a major factor Lock In’s total hardcover-era sales — 46% of total sales through the end of July 2015. As a point of comparison, Redshirts‘ audio sales during the hardcover era were 21% of total sales. So what explains the surge in sales, both in raw numbers and as a percentage? My guesses:
a) Audible creating a marketing event around Lock In having two versions, each with its own celebrity narrator (Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson);
b) Audible gaining the ability to pre-order titles and offering both versions of Lock In to people who pre-ordered;
c) Strong, consistent sales of my work in audio growing the overall audience for my work in that sales channel — an audience which has overlap with, but is not exactly the same as, my print and digital audiences;
d) General, overall growth in the audiobook segment of publishing, led by Audible, who is the segment’s market leader.
Also, you know. The book’s pretty good, and Wil and Amber’s narrations were just great. Which helped.
Add it all together and you get a solid hit for Audible, as my audiobook publisher, and for me as the writer. Most writers would be happy to get 41,000 copies their work sold overall in their book’s hardcover era; to have those come out of audio, in a nearly 1:1 ratio with print publisher sales, is I suspect unheard of.
What does this tell us (anecdotally) about audio? One, that genre work can sell very well indeed in the segment, which should be immensely heartening to authors in genre; two, that audio as a segment is growing and it makes sense to get into it if you can; three, that audio has its own audience, with its own sets of desires and expectations, and that’s something you’ll want to factor in as you create you work. At this point I absolutely give consideration to how my work sounds as well as reads — I’m starting to use substantially fewer dialogue tags (“he said,” “she said”), as an example.
This also goes to my argument of why working with established publishers can continue to have its advantages for writers. Audible (in my case, other major audio publishers in the case of other authors) has the wherewithal to get the best narrators, an entire marketing and PR staff and the ability to push a title in the space, in a manner and with the wide-band strength that it would be very difficult for me, as an individual, to do. They do it well, which is a thing, and they also do it better than I would, which is another, separate thing. I benefit, and reach an audience I wouldn’t otherwise, through their competence and expertise. Which is why I’m glad to be working with them.
Which suggests this is a fine place to bring this up: Last Friday I signed a multi-year, multi-book contract with Audible, who will be the audiobook publisher for the books that are to be published by Tor over the next decade. I’m going to skip over the fiddly details of that contract right now, except to say that I’m very very happy with it, and also very happy to be working with Audible for the next decade. Like Tor, they are simply the best at what they do, and I like working with the best.
3. On the subject of Tor, how do I feel about the performance of Lock In, in the print and eBook editions? Short version: I am delighted with how the book did. Note well that the book is in many ways a departure from my standard science fictional remit, which is action-oriented space opera; even Redshirts has lasers and aliens and spaceships and explosions. Lock In: No lasers or aliens or spaceships. Relatively few explosions. Instead: a near-contemporary cop thriller with a gender-ambiguous lead and a heavy dip into issues of disability and social dynamics. And Tor’s marketing and PR helps it sell 46K copies in hardcover-era print, land on the NYT, USA Today, LA Times and Bookscan bestseller lists, get optioned for TV and earn a sequel? Hell, yeah, Tor rocked this one pretty hard.
I mean, I helped, too. Don’t get me wrong. But essentially I threw Tor a curve ball and asked them to hit it. They drilled it, and in the process both helped introduce me to some new readers, which is great, and to expand the parameters of my writing career, which is even better. Lock In was in many ways a case study of what it means to be John Scalzi, author. Now we’re sure that my name can sell more than just action-oriented space opera, and that Tor is good at selling me, not just a certain flavor of book by me. That knowledge is part of why Tor and I both decided that a long-term contract was in our mutual self-interest.
These numbers (along with the audiobook numbers) are also solid number to bring to the table when someone argues that science fiction “should” be about, or that the science fiction that really sells is [insert sub-genre of science fiction here]. I mean, guys: I sold nearly 90,000 copies, at a premium price, of a book that, again, has a gender-ambiguous lead and a heavy dip into issues of disability and social dynamics. Why? Well, because the book was fun, too, which doesn’t hurt. But also because the audience for science fiction and fantasy today is both diverse, in who it is, and diverse, in what it is happy to read.
This makes me happy as a writer. I love space opera, and trust me, you’ll be getting more of that from me — the 2016 novel from Tor, in fact, is currently scheduled to be a big ol’ epic space opera-y kind of thing — but I like the idea that I can write other things and that (with an assist from my publisher in marketing and PR) my readers will come along for those rides, too. It will keep my writer brain happy to mix things up. It also makes me happy as a reader, since it means that we have some more anecdotal proof that science fiction and fantasy doesn’t “have” to be one niche or another to sell. It can all sell. You just have to know how to sell it. Tor knows how to do that.
4. As a bit of inside pool, these numbers are again a reminder that Bookscan, the service that tracks book sales, is at this point a bit of rubbish when it comes to tracking sales across multiple formats and media. As of August 2nd, Bookscan has recorded 11,175 sales of Lock In, a number that is barely half of actual physical hardcover sales and a ridiculously small 12.7% of the book’s total sales.
Bookscan’s reporting of my sales is so wildly inaccurate, in fact, that it’s concerning to me as an author, because bookstores make orders based on its numbers. The general rule of thumb is that Bookscan captures roughly two-thirds to three-quarters of physical print sales, but in my case it doesn’t, and I have to suspect the same is also true of a number of genre authors, and not just science fiction or fantasy genre authors.
So, if you’re a bookseller: Hey! I sell pretty well! Stock all my books! Thanks. Genre authors: Check your actual sales alongside your Bookscan numbers. You may be surprised at what’s not there. And, finally, Bookscan: Please get your shit together if you’re going to continue to tout yourself as a reasonably accurate gauge of sales. Thanks.
(Also, and as an aside, the unreliability of Bookscan’s numbers mean that if you’re using them to snark on an author, you run a high risk of looking really very foolish. This comment goes out to all the Sad/Rabid Puppy partisans, who at the height of their silliness, waved around Lock In’s Bookscan numbers as evidence the book had failed and both Tor and I were in a panic about it, when in fact both Tor and I felt pretty damn good. We knew the actual number of units sold, and that Bookscan was capturing less than a quarter of Tor’s actual sales of the book.)
5. The really good news for Lock In? Everyone, including me, figures that its natural sales home will be in paperback. We’ll find out over the next couple of years if it’s true. In the meantime, these hardcover-era sales are give the paperback a healthy push out of the gate. Good luck to it.
would it be possible to share how much you make per book per quadrant? If my question isn’t clear: book sells in store for $15, John see $x of that sale, book store sees Y, publishers sees Z.
Not trying to get into your personal business so I understand if the question needs to be ignored. I’m just generally curious how much of a book cost goes back to the author, versus the other players involved. What
It seems like there has been a longer delay before releasing the audiobook for _End_of_All_Things_ than there was between the print and audio releases of your other recent books. Any particular reason for that? Is it related to the working out of this contract?
As noted in the 2013 iteration of the piece, they’re all within hailing distance of each other, royaltywise.
Mark J. Reed:
I’m pretty sure the audio of TEoAT is being released tomorrow, along with the hardcover.
First, as a primarily Audiobook consumer of books, very glad to hear the info on the new contract. Excellent.
I was pleasantly surprised at how much of the sales were audiobooks. It deserved it, played well as audiobook and great narration, but still was surprised.
I think an analysis like this is not only strong evidence that Bookscan should begin looking at Audible and other audio pubs for their numbers, but also that lists like the NYT should as well, if they don’t already. Audible has done a great job at taking the audiobook format out of the “End of tape, please insert side A of tape twelve,” era that we lived with for so long.
I prefer Scalzi in print, but there are some authors whose series I listen to exclusively in audio because Audible makes sure there is continuity in the voice acting.
Just GOOD. Great to see that sales are so healthy. Anyone would think that books are not dead.
That is one very real datapoint that Bookscan is very bad at showing how well a book is actually selling. Are there many more, from many more authors, either in the SF/F genre or across multiple genres?
It seems that might be a useful project for someone like SFWA to take on. While this is provable data in this one case, if SFWA could document that across a very large swath of genre authors that Bookscan is seriously understating sales, then you can show that “Hey, yes, Bookscan say X, but Bookscan is provably wrong there.” Even better is if it turn out that Bookscan is always showing only about 12-15% of the sales, because then you get to say “You can multiply Bookscan by 8 and get the actual number!”
Note: I am not volunteering for anything, or accepting a contract tender for anything, but if this a real issue, I’d think an author advocacy organization would be all over something like this if it could be affecting sales. Because money.
Whups! Knew the audiobook hit tomorrow since I preordered it, but for some reason had it in my head that the print edition has been out for a few months already. Sorry for the stupid question!
The Bookscan “rule of thumb” is basically what Bookscan itself almost-kinda-claims. They say they measure seventy-eighty percent of the bookselling universe, but that doesn’t mean very much when some books do very well in the thirty percent not measured—how many copies of Lock-In sold at conventions, at non-reporting specialty shops like Borderlands Books, etc. (And this doesn’t even include libraries, where a book like yours would do extremely well. Worldcat shows me that the book appears in over 1000 library systems, which can mean 2-25 copies per system depending on the number of branches a system has and enthusiasm for your work.) In mass market, which still has a few hooks left in grocery stores and gas stations, and which Bookscan is blind to, the variance is even higher.
Bookscan is handy for bookstores though; it’s not like corporate bookbuyers don’t know how Bookscan works and fails to work. 17K on Bookscan actually smells like a minor hit to people who know how to read Bookscan. The issue I’ve seen is people who don’t know how to read Bookscan—fans, writers, assorted online morons—trying to understand the numbers.
“I’m starting to use substantially fewer dialogue tags (“he said,” “she said”), as an example.”
So glad to hear this. I actually couldn’t deal with the otherwise wonderfully narrated Redshirts simply because the opening chapter was 50% “He said.” “She said.” “He said.” “She said.”
At first I thought it was part of the joke. I ended up powering through about halfway, but I’m terrible at audiobooks in general so I ended up just buying the ebook.
Out of curiosity, would you be willing to post an updated pie chart for Redshirts‘ sales to date, which includes the paperback segment, to see how the other segments performed after the PB version came out? (if not, no problem)
Mark J. Reed:
Not a stupid question, actually — we released the book episodically as eBooks in June. So you weren’t wrong about the book being out there, just in pieces. Audible decided not to release episodically; it doesn’t work as well for their business model.
I’m quite surprised at the proportion of audio book sales. I’m successfully self-publishing backlist novels and shorts as ebooks and POD paperbacks, but obviously I need to be looking at audio as the next step on the ladder.
I never did get that “it’s not science fiction” thing that a few people were pushing. Lock In isn’t space opera as you point out. It is a story that uses science and tech to comment on humanity, It’s a good story that gives one something to think on and has some original ideas. That works for me!
Oh and we’re gonna get more? Good news. I’ll look forward to that.
“And this doesn’t even include libraries, where a book like yours would do extremely well. ”
Ooooh, and here I always thought Bookscan captured those sales, although now if I think about it it makes sense that they don’t. And yes. Libraries have been very good to me.
I don’t disagree that there are people well versed in Bookscanamancy; it would be nice, as a practical matter, if there were less guesswork involved.
I want to be clear I think as proportion of sales, Lock In’s audio is unrepresentative in terms of how my books generally perform in audio (and how books in general perform in that space). But yes, audio is a very real and very profitable quadrant of my overall sales, and I suspect will be for other authors as well.
Cool stuff! I’ve been digging looking at sales numbers for games through Steamspy and it’s sad that it’s rare to hear about how much a book has sold.
A couple of things worth noting at least for me, since I’m very new at most of this.
First, this is the only sales numbers I have ever seen. What I find interesting about it is that audio is about half. That surprised me. I wonder how much something like Amazon’s discount that they give for the ebook if you get the audiobook too, accounted for this number.
Second, how much of a percentage of all of this does softcover generally make up once it has been out awhile?
Interesting numbers. Thanks for providing them and the interesting discussion.
A couple of questions on your hardback sales.
Bookstores have a long time in which to return titles so how do you decide what is a real sale?
What proportion of the hardback sales were by Amazon, which is another way of asking how important are brick and mortar stores as distinct from having a load of printed copies in Amazon’s warehouses?
You refer to sales at premium prices. I’ve not been following US prices but does this mean you sold that many e-books at more than the supposed $10 “barrier”? In the UK we never got the hardback so I guess kindle prices may have been lower: at least the current £5.99 price is less than my personal £6.50 e-book limit.
Don’t know what John’s contract says, but I can give you the pretty-standard numbers for non-superstar trade non-fiction. Hardcover royalty: 10% of cover price for the first 5,000, 12.5% for the next 5K and 15% thereafter. Paperback 7.5% of cover. (Note: these royalties stay constant as a percentage of the listed price no matter what the book sells for on Amazon or whatever, until it’s remaindered — “deeply discounted” in contract jargon.)
One thing: the royalty percentage only starts to mean new money to an author if and when the advance earns out, which is to say when the book’s royalties accumulate to the point that the advance is paid off. So if you have a $50,000 advance (pretty good!) and a $25 cover price, it will take a hardcover sale of right around 16,000 to earn out. I’m not sure if audio and ebook royalties are entirely standard yet (my own electronic royalties have changed a lot over the last couple of books) but I’ll say they’re pretty reliably less than hardcover (at 15% certainly) and a good bit more than trade paper.
What this means in practice, of course, is that productive authors with a solid and growing audience like John with sustained hard work — over decades — can make a good living. But that it remains hard to reach that point. But everyone reading this knows that, I’m guessing.
+1 anecdote on all sales channels mattering: Metatropolis did very, very well as an audiobook- sold well, got a lot of attention, etc… and it’s sitting on my shelf as a hardback. I’ve never listened to it- I greatly prefer to read instead of listen, so I waited until it came out on paper. As evidenced by the graph above, there are clearly people who have opposite preferences.
So: eBooks aren’t going to kill paper books off, and audiobooks aren’t going to kill the other two- there are always people who prefer one format strongly enough to wait for a release in that format.
The HC numbers are in line with number printed so there’s unlikely to be significant returns at this point. Don’t know the Amazon %. And yes, Lock In was at the $11.99 eBook price point or above for most of its hardcover-era run.
I’d have to look but generally the large mover of my sales is backlist, i.e., paperback.
This was a great article in terms of setting some context for what defines a successful book. I think the unusual (two-reader) presentation, matching your gender-ambiguous MC, did help boost audio sales, but I know more people who are moving to audio books, and your work in particular lends itself to audio (as opposed to, say, Henry James or someone). Your style is clean and intentionally simple (not “dumbed down”), and has a very “aural” quality already, so it’s a good match for reading aloud.
I appreciate you taking the time to do this and discuss the real world of publishing. And can we coin a phrase like “realpolitik” for “real world publishing?”
Puppies gotta poop on the rug, Scalzi.
@Matt Hughes – Scalzi did point out in the post proper that Lock In is a special case, partly due to Audible going to town with the gender-ambiguous narrator by having both male and female readers, and that the audiobook numbers for Redshirts (in the linked post up top) were at the same point in time a far lower percentage of sales (closer to 1/5th rather than a half). Even so – more sales is always good, as is an extra outlet for your work so people who wouldn’t come across it otherwise can do so now….
Thanks for posting numbers, John. Informative, helpful, and reassuring–it’s a date threefer!
I usually do my audio books on CD rather than download. Is a CD release part of your audible contract?
I really enjoy when John posts the sales numbers for a book AND explains them. He’s one of the few authors that do this, and the others appear to be his friends or acquaintances. This information not only helps new authors better understand the income potential of writing, but the long term growth needed towards a balanced income portfolio to actually make a decent living.
Twenty years ago, a publisher had to ship about 50K copies of a hardcover to make the NYT bestseller list (unless it was a freak week where all the Big Names, e.g. Stephen King, had a book coming out at the same time). But of course those were all printed books.
Nice to see that the numbers aren’t terribly different now (looking at your print and e-sales; I don’t think audio books have supplanted a lot of print sales, but rather expanded sales channels to new consumers).
Golly, could it be that big publishing is, in fact, NOT DYING?
I’m a long-time Audible customer and have really enjoyed the audio versions of your books. I’ve also been thrilled to see how successfully Audible has entered into the production side of the business over the years. Just curious. Does producing the audio book through Audible limit your sales channels for the audio version? I assume they’re able to get along with others like iTunes and sell through those channels, but would love to hear how your experience has been.
No, I believe my audio works are available in iTunes. The one sales channel I know of difficulty with is the one servicing libraries. I suspect that will get resolved eventually.
The CD versions are licensed out by Audible, usually to Brilliance Audio, who is, I believe, a subsidiary.
Interesting comments on having a publisher. I just started to listen to audio books which I have never did in the past partly because I thought the cost was prohibitive. I initially gave it a try because Amazon sometimes gives you the opportunity to purchase the audio version as well as the eBook. I was thinking I’d listen to the audio version while doing chores and also actually read the book. I ended up consuming quite a few books as audio only experiences and it has increase the number of books I consume substantially
Very, very nice! BOTH for you and for folks looking for real-world data on this subject.
One point to emphasize: when you are in business, a good, general rule of thumb is: you never want to have just one customer, and you never want to have just one supplier.
Now of course John’s recent multi-year/multi-million deal with TOR might seem to run contrary to that, but that is misleading. He’s got TV & film options over in another corner and I’m sure that his agent/attorney were careful to leave him wiggle room for other projects, such as comics, or games, or….
I just wanted to mention this as many micro-publishers often seem to operate as if they are not “in business” and John’s info makes it abundantly clear why the adage is so important and applies to writing as with everything else (excepting monolithic government contractors, but that’s a different story).
I’m pleased and impressed that you’re taking into account how a book sounds, and learning from market feedback on something as personal as writing style (e.g., dialogue tags). That speaks to a level of “continuous improvement” and I daresay humility that is rare among professionals who have Made It…as much in literature as in any other profession. To me that says more about your future prospects than your long-term contract does!
You have a large backlist. How many total paperback sales do you do in a year?
This nonsense with quoting bookscan to make authors look worse goes both ways. Last year larry correia responded to a post quoting bookscan numbers to make it look like ne is a back list author. Lefties do this too. John may not do it, but other people do it. I wonder if larry will link to this the next. Time someone does this to him to add credibility to his argument.
Patrick (my editor) says I do five-figure backlist sales monthly, which seems correct to me, so, uh, six figures? I don’t know what my audio backlist sales look like but I suspect they’re pretty healthy as well.
I would not be at all surprised if Larry Correia does very well in backlist.
Is there a good alternative to Bookscan out there? Are booksellers aware that it is so inaccurate? Hate to see a author knocked out of distribution because of lousy information!
My bibliophile father has gone blind over the past 15 years, and Audible has become the way that we can connect over books. He keeps telling me to download Old Man’s War and read it, since I liked Redshirts so much. Thank you for continuing to make sure your books are available on audible. I know people like my father are a small portion of the market, but it means a great deal to me to know he can count on continuing instalments of both Space Operas and other science fictiony stuff.
Lock In was my introduction to your novels, picked it up in e-book format. Definitely reaches a wider audience as I’m not a MilSF fan, so while I’d been reading and enjoying Whatever for a couple of years, I hadn’t bought any of your books because I thought they were all MilSF. (As an aside, I’m very much looking forward to the Urban Fantasy novella you have coming out). Just this weekend I picked up both copies of Lock In on Audible; listening to Wil Wheaton’s verson now; Amber’s next. Will be interesting to see how different the experience is between the two recordings.
This makes me sad. I guess I’m old fashioned, I still believe books are meant to be read. haha
No reason to be sad. You can still read the books!
Just a couple comments after my, “Congratulations, John!” Since I’m an author myself, a couple things struck me right away, which you more or less commented on. One, you move a lot of copies. Go you. Two, audiobooks. What the hell? Honestly, go you, but WTH? And three, for authors whoh are interesting in moving to other publishers or up, or whatever, BookScan’s inaccuracies are very frustrating, because you know many acquisition editors will look to BookScan to get a sense of what your sales from previous books were and them being basically worthless is not helpful.
But hey, go you.
I’m thirding the relief at your comment about the dialogue tags. I prefer your books in audio* but my husband and I had a whole conversation about our annoyance at the many dialogue tags, and how they probably work really well when you skim over them but get so repetitive spoken aloud.
*The weird thing is, Scalzi’s are the only books where I prefer audio to print. I think it has to do with the pacing, which is fast enough, and the strong writing voice, which is engaging.
I am a five quadrant author, though my brain only has three hemispheres.
As a long-time Audible listener to your books, I’m also voicing my “thank-you” for the reduction of “he said/she said”. I don’t know why, but your books are one of the very few ones where the repetition of “he said/she said” stands out. Definitely not enough for me to turn the app off, but it is a continual minor audible sandpaper that sometimes slightly distracted from the story.
Editors and publishers are well aware of the deficiencies of Bookscan, As are the more savvy agents. No one depends on it as the sole source of evaluating whether or not to make an acquisition.
I’ve never gotten into audiobooks. I love the printed (or displayed) word. My reading speed is pretty high. I don’t get down the page nearly as quickly when I’m reading something to my father as when I’m just reading silently. So it comes as something of a shock to learn that an author might write the book a little differently with a view to its eventually being recorded.
Just in case you wondered, most of my new purchases are e-books. I can’t remember the last time I bought a hardcopy. These little screens are just too easy to carry around.
I’m starting out as an amateur author (i.e., posting my scribbles on line for fellow writers/readers of my niche genre), and I’m wrestling with how to manage dialog without constant “he said” / “the sheepdog replied” stuff. So far, I’ve been mainly just putting each speaker’s words in a separate paragraph, and hoping that if there are only two speaker mentioned, readers will figure out that they alternate.
Is there a better way?
What do you do?
BTW, how do the readers for your audio edition distinguish between speakers? Altered voice? (I don’t read/listen to audio books, so I’m not familiar with the conventions.)
I mostly buy paperbacks. How big a chunk of your income/sale numbers is paperbacks?
I noticed that on Amazon if you buy the Kindle version of Lock In, you can add the Audible version for $4.95. Can you tell if offering the Audible version at such a steep discount is driving the high percentage of Audible sales?
Interesting numbers, but I would suggest that for real perspective, similar types of data from other SF genre authors would give a more complete picture of how it’s doing. And probably from several publishing houses. Evaluating sales of just one author, even over several types of media and several instances (i.e. books), it’s still a single line of data. . .
But hey, I’m a data geek. . . .
Another listener who is very very thankful that you’re reducing dialog tags. Wheaton is actually pretty skilled at ‘reading through’ them. (It helps that he’s a speedy and very fluent reader.) But for many narrators, particularly those with more precise diction (e.g. Ms. Benson), they just kill pacing and become very noticeable, making the book annoying to listen to.
Audio is growing now because it’s become easy and relatively cheap. You can shop on and download to your phone, there’s no CD switching, and you can listen anywhere, anytime — while commuting, doing dishes, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, whatever. And Audible’s subscription rates, particularly for the Platinum plan, about match e-book pricing (~$12), instead of costing twice the hardcover list like they used to.
One reason to share information is to encourage the sharing of information by others.
Couldn’t say. Maybe? Don’t think it affects my royalties.
For the purposes of this entry, none. In real life, it’s a substantial chunk.
@AMM Every audiobook narrator uses different voices to distinguish characters. (In the rare cases that they don’t the book is hard to parse as a listener.) Some narrators are more subtle than others, but I’d rate the ability to do this well as the primary trait necessary to be a good narrator. (I would have rated reading speed higher, but Audible allows you to speed up narration without affecting pitch, which I use on nearly everyone, Wil Wheaton and John Lee excepted.)
“He said/she said” is a particular stylistic choice that has to do with not embellishing dialog with other descriptors (“He exclaimed/She querulously opined”) — letting the words spoken by the characters stand on their own. I find that what’s common in most fiction these days is to describe what the character is doing either before or after the spoken dialog, and just alternate during conversation without dialog tags. If the conversation is long, an action to help re-orient the reader can help:
Izzy leaned down to better smell the lavender blossoms. “Aren’t they beautiful? I find their scent intoxicating.”
“Honestly, I never even noticed they were there.” I was preoccupied with scraping the mud from my shoes. “And I’m not sure intoxication is a state one should seek from the shrubbery.”
@John and other Authors: When you get your royalty check, don’t you get a detailed itemization of where the royalties come from? It doesn’t sound like you do. How do you know the publisher is being honest with the royalties if they don’t provide you exactly what you are selling and what you earned. Same with audible. Maybe I am weird, but I am not the trusting type… I would want some form of detailed summary of
Book Name Sold Royalty per Sale Total:
Anything else… not sure what else gets broken out.
I would think its tough for a publisher to get this month to month because there are returns, etc… but royalties only come every 6 months right? What do you guys get with your royalty checks? How do you know its accurate if you don’t get itemized details?
It’s an interesting difference between genres, too. I write in romance, where hardcovers, though they exist, are a much smaller part of things–none of my books has ever had one. I’ve got mass market, trade PB, and ebook; I don’t have the figures to hand, but I think ebook is by far a larger part of my sales than the others.
Which isn’t a giant surprise to me. Most of my new purchases are ebooks, for the following reasons:
1) I don’t do sustained audio–not enough time or enough to do with my hands. (I also don’t really drive a lot.)
2) The only place to buy physical books near me is a train station kiosk with a limited selection; otherwise, it’s a whole trip, at which point I might as well go to the library and save myself the money.
3) Life in a rapidly-shifting series of small or shared apartments has made me generally wary about acquiring physical stuff.
4) Most importantly, perhaps, the day job gives me a lot more flak if I’m sitting here reading a paperback at 3 PM on a Monday. ;P
Guess: I do get detailed information, and look at it when it arrives for obvious discrepancies, of which there are usually none. Then it gets filed and slips out of short-term memory.
@isabelcooper : Why are there so few hardcovers in romance? Why does the romance market expect paperback only?
“And I’m not sure intoxication is a state one should seek from the shrubbery.” — cf today’s NPR story “Was the Bard Baked” — riffing from sonnets and debunking by Prof. James Shapiro, since the South African Journal of Science claimed cannibis resin found in pipes buried in Shakespeare’s garden. Shapiro noted the significance of what the bard did NOT do — after rehearsing plays all morning and afternoon, putting on the plays, when the actors went out to imbibe adult beverages, the very hard-working author (arguably the FIRST English Language author making a full-time living from his writing — went home and worked hard at writing another play. And imagine: at least 35 plays without a shot of double expresso…
Guess: Why are there so few hardcovers in romance?
isabelcooper will probably have a more informed answer, but I suspect it has something to do with the history of romance as a genre–for decades, the vast majority of romances were published by paperback-only publishers, i.e., Harlequin. It was (and probably still is) a paperback-driven market, with most of the hardcovers likely being books that the publishers believe will garner library sales.
@Guess, I am not IsabelCooper but I strongly suspect her answer is going to be similar to thereason that Scribd recently cut down on its romance offerings for its subscription service.
Romance novel readers are often really dedicated and rapid readers, which is a problem for subscription services (who pay authors based on each person who reads their book) and is also a problem for those looking to release romance novels at a higher price point.(since romance novel readers buy more books they can be more price conscious when it comes to individual purchases and often wait for specials on higher priced items).
Having said that, a dedicated bulk buying audience is definitely not a bad thing to have.
@ matthughes419434748: I greatly enjoy your stories in F&SF, and I think your authorly voice would translate very well to audio.
Not that I read that way now, but my mother went blind from macular degeneration so I’m thinking maybe I should start getting familiar with the medium before I have to depend on it.
ya know, post such as this is the kind of interesting insight I like to read. Thanks for sharing the information and opinions. While I do not figure into the lock-in success as all simply because it is not the type of book (sci-fi genre basically) that floats my boat I am happy to hear it has been so successful. In particular I am excited to see that audible played a big part because as a major audible customer it means there might be possibilities in the future for audible to take a chance in creating versions of lesser know writers or even older titles that came out before audiobooks really caught on. I have even noticed that my most recent purchase there from a up and coming author was produced by audible studios. Not sure if that is a new phenomenon or standard thing I only just noticed.
Either way, audible is by far where I get most of my sci-fi because I consume it during my commute. The only negative with it, same as many e-books, is the DRM which I have technology to remove all that. No, I do not share it with anyone, just do not want to be ‘locked-in’ ;-)
Congratulations John. Good for you. The Audio book sales took me by surprise. I had no idea it was this big a market. I’m assuming it is something to listen to while going to sleep or driving, or both.
I’m confused about your comment about a paper back version of Lock-in just coming out now. We bought a large format paperback from GOLLANCZ (UK) about 3 months ago.
We prefer paperback (especially the larger format) over hard cover because my wife’s hands get tired holding up the heavier book. So we nearly always wait until the paper back if available before ordering a copy.
What other people say–at least as far as I know. Admittedly, I haven’t looked into it much, but that makes sense.
Certainly the hardcovers that I have seen tend to be from the big names: Nora Roberts, Amanda Quick, etc., and also from more generalized publishing houses.
Maybe this is addressed elsewhere (didn’t see it), but what is that faint image in your green reply box? Is it a face? Seems like I can only see it if I am not looking directly at it.
your post made me finally figure it out. Looks to me like part of the Scalzi pic used at the top of the page, horizontally flipped. But on my machine, it’s cut off so you can only see an ear and a bit of his hairline (modern art!). But for some time now I’d been thinking it was a stain on my screen, but finally ruled that possibility out, since it was only on this site.
Now I can relax! Thanks.
I second the sentiment that your work would be great in audio form, particularly the Hengis Hapthorn material.
Having just seen (two weeks ago, in a Vienna bookstore) a trade paperback German edition of Lock In, I was curious about the breakdown of foreign sales. I assume most foreign editions are traditional print, broadly speaking.
Holy crap. I knew you sold lots of audiobooks, but I’m kind of shocked (and very pleased) by how high a percentage of audiobooks made up your sales. I manage to read about three times as many books a year thanks to audiobooks, so I’m very happy to see that format is performing so well for you. Thanks for sharing all this.
John, when you say:
“At this time, and I expect still for a while to come, the best way to address all these markets effectively and consistently is to partner with publishers.”
…am I missing something, or do you just mean to reinforce the value of publishers? Because you make it sound so obvious and easy, when for aspiring authors it’s still really difficult to actually _get_ a partnership with publishers, no?
Nathan Lowell. I started “Quarter Share” in ebook, and finished “Owner’s Share” in audio (for varied reasons.) I think he’s the first author I was aware of in both formats. I’ve found them somewhat interchangeable.
I certainly didn’t mean to imply that getting a deal with an established publisher is easy. I am saying that if you can get a deal with them, it does continue to offer advantages that are harder to come by with self-publishing.
Reblogged this on On Books and Writing and commented:
John Scalzi breaks down the sales numbers for one of his books. Makes for very interesting reading.
@Scalzi: cheers! I suspected as much but wasn’t sure, maybe you’d previously blogged about ways to make that easier or something like that.
Thanks for posting this, it’s great to get more insight into the world I’m about to venture into myself. I caught you at Borderlands last year and it helped drive me to actually get started with real writing rather than preparing & outlining story ideas only. I’m sad to miss you at Borderlands this month (will be at a conference)!
A barely noticed point about this s post, hidden among the general excellence of it: this is the first time, John, AFAIK, that you revealed the “secret” of Lock In without warning that it’s a secret better not known on first reading :)
That is a whole lotta audiobooks. I suspect the percentages are wildly different for other authors and genres. Wonder what it does best and worst in?
I fundamentally don’t get how anyone could say “Lock In” isn’t SF. It’s in the future. People are using fancy brain implants and massive computing systems to go around in customized robot bodies. This is not “literary, realistic” fiction, nor fantasy, nor romance, nor (all other genres save mystery/thriller). It’s completely SF.
I’m still a print person. It’s sooo much faster than audio, and sticks to my brain better. Said brain tends to wander off and lose track of the story in audio unless it’s the rare full cast with sound effects — could have been all those years with audio as background to studying and homework. And driving? Fuggetabout it — I need all my concentration so that idiots in giant metal boxes don’t hurt me.
I’d think a writer could write for print and then a narrator could easily just leave out the “he said” “she said” bits. It may be slightly annoying in audio, but leaving those tags out often makes READING said book impossible. You have to go back to the last “X said” and then count alternately for the whole page.
(Particularly when all the characters speak similarly, like when they all do a good line in snappy patter, John. ahem.)
So please don’t omit all the dialogue tags in the printed version! It’s probably going to last longer than the audio ones anyway, i.e. into Athena’s grandkids’ time. I’m sticking with those until such time as even the gigantic e-reader font doesn’t work for my eyeballs. Hang in there, retinas!
I think all we need to know about Bookscan is that it’s owned by Nielsen, which means it’s probably as accurate as the TV ratings. So there ya go. Do Ye Incontinent Canines extrapolate from those?
@David Hajicek: me too. The copy I read (borrowed from a friend) was a trade paperback from Gollancz that had made its way here and was a few months old by the time I got it. So it didn’t come out in hardcover at all in the UK? Is it now going to MMPB world-wide? Inqiuring minds etc.
Lock In datum: I preordered the Audible version(s), fully intended to enjoy the work in that format. And then Scalzi had to go and schedule himself for a book signing in Austin, which I certainly wasn’t going to miss, and I ended up with a signed, personalized hardcover that I read over the ensuing hours. (The inscription doesn’t really make sense out of context, but it related to the greeting John offered me when it was my turn in line. And it’s very funny.)
And, conveniently, there will be large gathering of SF Genre authors Real Soon Now.
Good timing, that….
John, you may remember Gibson’s as the bookstore in NH where you were recorded doing the Kermit Flail last year. We also gave you a killer apple pie.
Two things about Bookscan: 1) we report to it; 2) we don’t use it when we decide how to buy frontlist, at least not very diligently. Of more use to us are our own sales figures on backlist, and the numbers we can see on Edelweiss (a widely adopted program among the indies) that come from the community of national and regional independent bookstores. Many of us upload our sales results to Edelweiss, and over the past few years it’s helped us develop a very rigorous picture of what’s happening among our peers. We might be more likely to use Bookscan when a book has hit and we’re trying to gauge its momentum.
Cheers! Good luck tomorrow! We mentioned the new book in our newsletter today.
I just wanted to add my anecdote to this, I am dyslexic and so while I love stories I basically didn’t read novels until something magical happened a couple of years back.
I got my hands on a couple of Seanan McGuire audio books, since then I have probably read a hundred new books, I preordered lock-in and was very happy to read a book about disability and adjustment on my audio book player, the item which has allowed me to engage with the wonderful world which was inaccessible till recently.
Thankyou for your audible deal. It makes your writing accessible to more people than you may imagine.
I process royalties gifts from an author who bequeathed them to us. Now I’m going to have to reexamine the statements and see if they make more sense to me, given the context of the above. Very informative!
“As a long-time Audible listener to your books, I’m also voicing my “thank-you” for the reduction of “he said/she said”. I don’t know why, but your books are one of the very few ones where the repetition of “he said/she said” stands out. ”
It certainly does with “Lock In” particularly at the front where the dialog is alternating short sentences. If John is reducing that my thanks as well. Amber breaks character when she lapses into “she said”.
That said, I am really enjoying the audio by Amber. I think I made the right choice between Amber and Wil – with the help of my Goodreads group.
Bookscan is essentially a scam. The Nielsen folk came in and said, hey we can give you market research sales info just like t.v. ratings because books can’t be that different, right? They claimed that they could get 2/3rds or half of sales figures, but they can’t, not even close. There are way too many vendors selling books and Amazon is none too forthcoming about sales figures when they don’t have to be. The returns system on print means that sales information there is constantly in flux and though Bookscan is supposed to catch net sales, I doubt sincerely they follow sales on titles long enough to catch back sellers who sell a lot over a long time period.
Barnes & Noble, Borders, etc. wanted an easy way to turn orders into a formula. Instead, it’s created any number of disasters and forced a number of authors to invent new pseudonyms not to fool the booksellers themselves but to fool their computers into classifying them as debuting authors. Sometimes the booksellers themselves suggest it as a way of fooling the Bookscan computers. The sooner they stop handing money over to such a stupid system, the better.
I think we’ve reached the stage where we have some kind of trust relationship: I trust you to deliver a good story (because you do) and you can trust me to buy them when you do. Lasers, aliens and spaceships are optional. But still welcome.
This is really interesting, thanks. Especially when you realise that those numbers represent less than 0.3% of the total US population having bought the book so far. OK, so you can discount the majority of children from being potential customers for an adult novel and there will always be people who don’t like the genre/style/author, but even so that’s a tiny percentage of such a huge market.
It would be interesting to see how a real runaway bestseller compares with a top movie or TV show ratings.
Sweet numbers, and I’m glad Lock-In is doing so well. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of space opera, and the more I hear about Lock-In, the more I suspect it will end up being one of my favorite Scalzi titles.
On a tangential side note, I’ll be glad to hear fewer dialogue tags. Visually, they’re easy to skim over, but when you must hear each and every one, as in audio format, they do get tedious. And as a visually impaired reader who now must hear every word, I’m delighted that you’re addressing that. Thank you!
Thank you for reducing the dialogue tags. I like the idea of very slightly abridging the book for the audio version (crossing out some tags). It’s the same book for anyone who isn’t following the printed text while reading….
Also, I wonder how many individuals purchase more than one format. I typically buy both Kindle ebook and Audible versions, because I like both. I don’t buy print books often anymore.
the republican debate last Thursday had 24million viewers (which is huge for a cable news program) – 10%+ of the adult population in USA. . “All In The Family” consistently had ratings in the low 30s ( somewhere around 30 million viewers) and was the top rated program on television for 5 years (71-76). Now (many more channels + streaming) the top rated shows have LOWER ratings 12-14 is a HIT
Movies – whole other conversation (usually measured in revenue vs. number of tickets ) and our host, I am sure, is much more knowledgeable than I on this score, but Avengers- Age of Ultron has sold approximately 56 million tickets in USA and Canada- and is considered a blockbuster/hit
The three books I have of yours (agent to the stars, redshirts, locked in), I got as audiobooks on audible when they were on sale.
Your books are particularly suited to audiobooks in that they are a) not too long, and b) plot-oriented. I mostly listen to audiobooks when I am working out or going to sleep at night, so I need something that is engaging and not too hard to follow. When I first started listening to audiobooks, I thought it would be a way to catch up on all the classics I’ve missed. Then I tried to listen to Ulysses and the trial and dante’s inferno, and realized they don’t work for me as listens. I enjoy reading them, but they require too much attention. In the same way “Joan of Arc” or “The 400 Blows” probably wouldn’t be great to watch while you are on the elliptical at the gym.
I also need something that isn’t too long. I love reading 800+ epic fantasy novels, but I’m never going to listen to a Sanderson or RR Martin book. I’m good for about 20 hours and then I get really sick of a book. 10-15 is more in my wheelhouse.
It’s interesting you took out the “he/she saids.” That is something that works when reading but is distracting when listening. It’s text you don’t actually read, you just reference to know whose doing what. Same with descriptions of, say, emails going back and forth – they work in book format, but they don’t work when a narrator is reading them out.
Please repost this again in 18 months with updated numbers. 1) So that we can see where paperback books fit in. 2) So we can see if the breakdown between the different media changes with time. & 3) So we can determine what the slow down (if any) in sales is by comparing opening number to later numbers. This is interesting. Thanks.
Bookscan is also kind of variable bad for different kinds of books.
Mine, for instance.
I write comic books, which have a direct, non Bookscanned market of their own. And the part that is Bookscanned can be variable.
So in the case of my books, I don’t have much bookstore penetration, and the net effect of this is that Bookscan captures maaaaybe ten percent of my actual sales.
The bestseller lists that actually are available for comics don’t actually encompass my sales very well either – like John, my backlist actually sells consistently and well, but most of that doesn’t show up on any sort of list.
I’ve sold, for instance, 20,000 copies of my first trade paperback (good, for comics) in English, but it’s only ever appeared on the top 300 sales the first two months it was out. And not anywhere near the top.
Likewise, my latest trade was out in April, and has sold 5,000 copies through last month, which is actually the fastest sales I’ve ever had on one my creator owned trades, but this isn’t really reflected in the sales charts available to the public.
Which is all to say: if you’re not the author or the publisher, you have no idea how well someone is doing. Both in comics and in books.
Thanks for posting this, it was a really interesting analysis! I wouldn’t have thought to wonder about this stuff, but my inner number nerd loves the statistics and reasons behind them. And, of course, I’m thrilled to hear things are going well for my favorite scifi author (you’re tied for overall favorite with Mr. Rothfuss.)
The reality of Bookscan, and other bestseller lists, is the subscriber. It’s free for booksellers to subscribe, but the trouble is getting ALL booksellers to sign up. The numbers are based on actual sales from the subscriber, not orders. These reports should only be used to see where a book rates compared to other books. If more stores reported, the numbers would be more accurate to your actual sales from the publisher.
Also, bookstores choose what books to buy weeks or months before Bookscan receives sales reports. If a store uses Bookscan to place orders after a book comes out, they will miss the boat on initial sales. Since that’s the best sales opportunity, they’re losing business. The report is helpful on reorders, but most booksellers I know, measure reorders based on sales and experience.
I preordered your latest, and hoped to get a special exception to sell it early at Shore Leave. Since you weren’t at Shore Leave, that didn’t work (dammit). I will have it for release day, and will probably have a healthy reorder in time for Capclave in a couple of months. Off-site venues are a big plus for a lot of independents.
Thanks for posting this, it is fun to see behind the curtain! Would you ever consider doing a similar post on a backlist book? Maybe take Old Man’s War and run through the various channels in the post hardcover period:
– Foreign Sales
– Movie Options
– eBook (with the $2.99 get addicted to Scalzi price on Amazon)
This is all well and good for you, who are at or near the top of the heap. That’s well deserved, but not relevant to the issue.
I know several mid-list authors who would scream with joy to get their books issued in hardcover and issued as simultaneously released audiobooks. Your having this conversation with, say, Jim Butcher, or Brandon Sanderson would be fun to watch or listen to. However, for the average writer just getting any shelf space at all is iffy, let alone the featured display you get. The rest of your income channels are only dreams. For the non 1% of authors, self-pub may be more viable.
Messer Michael Mckee; one author’s joy is surely not meant to be rain on another’s parade, eh? A simple ‘congrats’ to OGH and then suitable encouragement back to the several mid-list authors you are privileged to know. With work, talent (and yes, a fair share of luck), you may be lauding your friends online soon.
It’s always interesting to get these admonishments to bestselling authors that make it sound as if they simply emerged automatically on the “top of the heap” in their careers, like Athena sprung from the head of Zeus. That sort of thing happens very rarely, and even when it does, it’s usually only after years of the author trying to break into the market with a story.
In reality, Scalzi was a mid-list author for years. He self-published his first novels, including Old Man’s War, which Tor bought for reprint. Tor brought it out in a limited hardcover edition, mainly to get it into libraries and reviews, something not unusual for mid-list and debuting authors, and then it found its more regular home in paperback editions. Building up those variety of channels took years and a number of books before Scalzi moved from successful mid-list to category bestseller and then major bestseller.
Likewise, Jim C. Hines toiled in obscurity for quite a few years, self-published works, and had his first definitive novel pub, the first goblin novel, come out in mass market paperback with DAW. He was a mid-list author for years, publishing several series building up an audience and international sales, and only moving to a real hardcover publication with Libromancer. He is not in the top 1% of authors yet, though he’s doing well enough to attempt to write full time.
But let’s pretend that they’re up there on Mount Olympus and can have no idea of the toiling authors who were just like themselves ten years ago, that they haven’t learned a damn thing about being lesser known authors while building up their businesses. And that when they go out of their way to share fairly personal information about their careers, they are not doing so to help authors prepare for building up their own careers, for understanding how the businesses practices work, and how to handle things when they get more complicated. Or we could acknowledge that an author who has managed to get a partner publisher, even a smaller one, might find this info slightly helpful to keep in mind as they deal with the industry.
Those authors who can’t or don’t want to find a partner publisher to invest in their work, cover the production costs and put them out in multiple mediums are indeed more limited in the type of channels they can exploit. They are primarily doing electronic publishing, primarily with Amazon who holds a near monopoly over self-pub e-books, audio editions if they can afford them, and various forms of P.O.D. and print which are harder to get into bookstore venues. But that is several potential channels right there. And the self-pub market is rapidly changing, more venues opening up, new ways to finagle it. And the same for those working with publishers. A mid-lister, for instance, has many more opportunities to get foreign rights sales for print than they used to have in the eighties and nineties, for instance.
So seeing the breakdown of a successful work gives some useful information for authors figuring out what they can try or what they are dealing with. The fact that Scalzi has a huge audio sales block, for instance, is really interesting. Audio has been, since the 1980’s, a viable, vibrant but small niche market. It helps sales and publishers like to keep the rights, but it wasn’t seen as the main income driver, even when audio branched into several sub-forms with the much easier and cheaper download streaming method. That Scalzi does so well with audio — which led Audible to do a big deal with him — is an indication that the growth in audio may be even bigger than expected and that audio is maybe going to become a more important part of both partner published and self-published authors. Or at least it may be a viable channel to try to pursue for a lot of authors.
RE: Fewer Dialogue Tags
Thank you, thank you , thank you!!!!
I wanted to gouge my ears out when listening to the Redshirts audiobook because the snappy back and forth dialogue that worked on the page where the eye just glosses over the ten million ‘he said’ ‘she said”s where only a couple words were spoken and characters interrupted each other frequently were obtrusive and grating when spoken in Wil Wheaton’s fairly placid tone which completely destroyed the pacing of those conversations. I’m sure that a top-notch narrator could have made it work but Wil is a solid, middle of the road, narrator whose main draw is his name recognition and ability to pull in non-core fans