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Etiquette Guide

This is a beautiful example of why authors should not respond to reviews. Go read, and read as many of the comments as you can cope with.

It's also an example of the perils of self-publishing: we are blind to our own grammatical foibles and spelling errors, and a mechanical grammar or spelling checker won't spot everything. But it's mostly of use as a lesson to aspiring writers on the subject of how not to interact with your readers. And maybe as a new reference point for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

(I've got a personal policy about reviews: I don't respond to them unless one of two conditions apply: there is a citeable error of fact — they spelled my name wrong, or something equally clearly incorrect — or the reviewer directly invited a response to a question. And in the latter case, I try never to comment on, let alone impugn, a reader's reading of my work. Once the words are on the page they're not mine any more, and I have no control over how a given reader will interpret them.)

119 Comments

1:

Oh...dear. Definitely agree on the Dunning-Kruger effect here, especially went it got to the part where she says "my writing is fine and my first book is great!". Massive turn off for me to ever read any of her work

2:

Well, sometimes authors's comments on the reviews of their books lead to some funny situations. Recently I Was very surprised because of the comment under my review of Jeff VanderMeer's "Finch" signed "Jeff VanderMeer". I Was surprised because I didn't expect Jeff to read something about his work which is written in Polish. so I supposed it was just some prank. surprisingly, after my e-mail it become clear that it REALLY was Jeff, who Was interested in reception of his work in Poland because of his visit here. But, I have to admit, that even after reading my review slightle deformed by google transator, he still was able to refer quite specifacally to some of the points of my review written for Fantasta.pl.

That's a pity You are not interested in polish reviews of Your work, because I recently reviewed polish edition of "Glasshouse". And I really enjoyed it:)

3:

To take an extract from a little way in:

Besides if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission if they want it stuck up on the internet via e-mail. That debate is high among authors.

Your the target not me!
Now get this review off here!

This is possibly all you need to read. The author is telling the writer of the blog to remove his review of her work from his blog, and yet her demand itself is badly ungrammatical and itself demonstrates some of the problems that he pointed out with her writing in his review.

4:

Ouch! Car crash internet at it's worst - it's horrible, but I just couldn't stop reading.

I want to point out her awful errors, but feel that would be like kicking a puppy when it's already been run-over.

A friend of my wife's is self-publishing on Amazon, and I feel that it is just a hobby for her; but having seen her work, and knowing how she approaches the writing process, she way more professional than this unfortunate amateur.

5:

The words "hiding to nothing" spring to mind. Her comments on the review had me shaking my head, and certainly don't do anything to endear her to prospective readers (granted, I'm not interested in romance novels, but I reckon that's a safe bet.)

The best approach, I think, was summarised in "Singin' in the Rain": "Dignity. Always dignity." Your policy, Charlie, is definitely sane, cautious, and wise. Not that you need validation from the peanut gallery... :)

6:

Must say that I fell off my chair with mirth. Especially at the second "fuck off". Made my morning!

(Although I do take your point .....)

7:

...and read as many of the comments as you can cope with.

Very well put. This is one horrifying train wreck indeed.

8:

"if you want to throw crap at authors you should first ask their permission" - er, no. Can't think of a better example of Doing It Wrong.

9:

I think "Half Man Half Biscuit" had this situation covered.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVPc5CweaNo

10:

It's not that I'm not interested so much as that I don't read Polish, don't know any Polish SF fans, and nobody sends me any URLs I can feed to Google translate!

(I don't even get comped any copies of my Polish translations to stick on the bookshelf.)

11:

I guess we've finally been privy to your cruel vein, although I have to admit it's kind of hard to look the other way with morbid fascination. The girl probably is a teenager on blow, so I'll cut her some slack on approving of herself a little too earnestly. She shall overcome: I just adore Roslin's epiphany on BSG: "If you're my subconscious, I've gotta say, you're a little full of myself."

Dave@#9: I loved the "Half Man Half Biscuit" take on criticism.

12:

That's a bad series of replies. I remember an old nature film in which a monkey played with a python ...

13:

Apparently, she's in her 50s, so she doesn't even have the teenager excuse.

14:

Yikes. Train wreck-o-rama.

Of course, it's a Darwin Awards-type moment: the more she flails around all fulla wrath and spelling mistakes, the more effectively she removes herself from the indie author gene pool.

15:

It's not arbitrary cruelty.

This blog has a very mixed readership, including quite a number of writers, both professional and aspiring, and I figure it's important to remind people every so often about the presence of landmines in the field.

Best to learn from someone else's unfortunate example, in other words.

(As Feòrag notes, the author in question is older than I am -- presumably old enough to know better. This kind of behaviour isn't unique to amateurs either ...

16:
Once the words are on the page they're not mine any more, and I have no control over how a given reader will interpret them.

This, I believe, is the single most important lesson aspiring authors NEED to learn. It is, also, for some, probably the most difficult to grok.

17:

Ah, the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Thanks Charlie, now I have a recognized syndrome to explain the insane series of comments that have proliferated since news sites have apparently adopted a no-editor policy. :)

18:

I think that Seaman is going to leave a stain on her career...

19:

Really? MAG (Your Polish publisher) didn't send You any copy? Wow, that's weird. Especially that from the point of view of a person writing reviews of of their books they're very solid. So I'm a bit surprised.

If You are anyhow interested in some reviews of your books, here's my review of "Glasshouse" form Fantasta.pl

http://rybieudka.blogspot.com/2011/03/szklany-dom-charles-stross.html

But, believe me, google translate makes strange things to the meaning of what I have written. Really strange things;)

20:

It's not just MAG -- most foreign publishers don't bother sending the author any copies :(

My British and American publishers deluge me in author copies, as a matter of course.

The non anglophone publishers, however, are another matter. They usually pay on time, and they will often send a couple or three copies to my literary agent, but about half the time they don't bother. I visit my agent in NYC about once a year and swipe a copy of anything I see on their sample shelf that I don't have one of. (Which is why I have recently acquired Chinese copies of "Singularity Sky" and "Iron Sunrise".) But some of them don't even bother sending stuff to my agent -- I only got to see Russian editions because a Ukrainian fan of mine took a couple to a convention in Belgium that I was at, for example, and the Romanian and Bulgarian editions are mysteries to me.

There are weird exceptions. I have more Estonian copies of "Accelerando" than I know what to do with, and quite a lot of French spares.

21:

>This kind of behaviour isn't unique to amateurs either ...

Here's an excellent example: The huge dust-up between Anne Rice and Amazon.com reviewers in 2004.

See: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA458094.html

22:

>This kind of behaviour isn't unique to amateurs either ...

And here's a stunning example: The huge dust-up between Anne Rice and Amazon.com reviewers in 2004, regarding her novel Blood Canticle.

See: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA458094.html

23:

The best author response I've seen to a very negative review - "it broke all my aesthetic rules for literature" - was "All of them? I'm impressed." The author even made one or two sales out of that response.

Though I haven't been able to find it again. Made on Usenet a long time ago.

24:

Oh my bleeding eyes...

"When it comes to much needed love and Owen the next door neighbor is the only man in their lives, in reality, only one can have him, but it may appear everyone's in denial as each live out a fantasy with deep and somewhat strange psychological consequences in this gripping short story as they deal in their own way to let go of the guilt of a tragic family accident."

One of the Amazon reviewers was kind enough to select the single sentence above to showcase the new talent.

Emergency services are now on the scene and the train wreck is being dealt with. With regard to the writing ten thousand hours of practise might do wonders but the public lack of grace and manners is probably irredeemable.

25:

Ahh just kidding! It's not Jacqueline Howett....

Thomas said...
I wouldn't even click on her link to satisfy my suspicion that she's under the age of 7 - didn't want to give her the traffic :)

26:

As I recall, Iain Banks put some of the nastiest reviews of The Wasp Factory on the rear cover of the paperback.

27:

I have a hard time believing that it was the author herself that posted those comments - they are so over the top, including spelling and grammatical errors which, in the book, led to a questionable review in the first place. The author's best play at this point (whether she wrote the comments or not, and ethics aside) would be to post a comment about how her profile was hacked and her sworn enemy actually was the one writing the colorful comments under her moniker.

28:

Not a hope, her whole website is full of the same sort of material.

29:

Theophylact@26: As I recall, Iain Banks put some of the nastiest reviews of The Wasp Factory on the rear cover of the paperback.

Oh yes. One of the best was from the Irish Times or some other Irish paper which went along the lines of "the general public should be grateful that only we reviewers are required to read such filth". One of the last hurrahs of the old "Banned in Eire!!" meme I've always felt.

30:

From the comments: "Jacqueline Howett is the new Rebecca Black."


Alain de Botton's response to a review by Caleb Crain in the NYTimes:

I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude.

Fierce!

31:

When I googled self-publishing a link titled “narcissistic personality disorder” appeared at right. LOL.

32:

The Sun is shining, the day is bright, my step is quick and light . . . it's a day made for kicking puppies!

That being said, it's remotely possible that the writer is attempting a technique beyond her ability to execute. She may have seen some stream-of-conscious material that she admires, maybe even stuff like Joyce or Pynchon. And she figures, how hard can it be ;-)

Yeah, that sort of thing always looks easy and understandable and even "artistic" when it's done by somebody who knows what they're doing. If you're a newbie? Maybe not so much.

It's like what a lot of people (like my family) say about Picasso - look at those pathetic childlike scribbles! You call that Art? My second-grader can draw better pictures than that! What they don't realize is that yes, Picasso really had the talent to competently execute work in the style of the traditional masters, and he'd established that early on. Those so-called "childish scribblings" were the masterwork of a genius . . . if you can see it.

So to run the full tragedy as comedy riff, what if she looks at passages out of "Ulysses" and honestly can't see the difference between that and what she's writing? Ouch!

33:

I'm not sure I have much of anything profound to add to this matter but that thread of comments in question certainly broke the land speed record for going ugly.

34:
Once the words are on the page they're not mine any more, and I have no control over how a given reader will interpret them.

If more authors could understand and accept this then the world would be a fractionally less stupid place. Charlie remains possibly the most scarily sane one I've ever come across.

That being said, it's remotely possible that the writer is attempting a technique beyond her ability to execute.

Yes, that would be "coherent sentences".

35:

I've just spent ten minutes reading her blog; my inner copy-editor is now having a quiet little breakdown from being unable to use a pencil on a monitor screen.
She sells her books?????

36:

Ah, the original thread was linked by a facebook friend today...it was pretty amusing, until she (putatively) started responding with just two words, then it hockey-sticked into AWESOME!

Also: choosing to name your great work of literature, "The Greek Seaman," is, unless you're seeking to appeal to the gay male porn/erotica aficionado, a BAD IDEA.

37:

At first I thought that Ms Howett was a sock puppet. It had to be a joke, made up by two guys with time to spare. I thought that no single person could combine such bad sentences with self promotion and the delusion of being an author.

Then, I read her bio on her own blog page and I realized that although she was born in England her mother tongue was Greek. I thought about the phenomenon of self-publishing and the fact that, in the past, Amazon has put up for sale some incredibly worthless "books", encouraging scribblers to put out their first drafts out there, for commercial sale.

So, after being entertaining this train wreck suddenly became sad.

38:

Oh (boy|girl), that's just truly sad, then.

39:

"I have more Estonian copies of "Accelerando" than I know what to do with"

Stack 'em up and staple on some carpet for the cats?

Hollow out to store various fun objects, like flasks, letter openers, pens, and USB drives?

Level the coffee table?

Heck:
1. Hollow out a thumb drive sized hole in Estonian copy of "Accelerando"
2. Fill a thumb drive with the most mind numbing holiday snaps you can get
3. Steganographically encode bad lolcats onto said snaps, stick drive into book
4. Leave such books lying around in various world class airports
5. ...
6. Profit!

40:

Apparently, Authorsden.com is where they keep the feral authors.

41:

Wait for some crisis in Estonia, then auction off the copies of Accelerando for charity, perhaps?

I'd argue that you do own the words on your page, but not the words on my head.

But that's a quibble, really.

Personally, I'm sure the publishers would love to claim ownership of the words in my head as well, but fortunately, they can't do that yet.

42:
And in the latter case, I try never to comment on, let alone impugn, a reader's reading of my work. Once the words are on the page they're not mine any more, and I have no control over how a given reader will interpret them

Had that happen to me once - A few years ago I wrote a (largely positive) review of an album by the Scottish singer Fish - and he took issue with my reading of one of his lyrics. I still stand by what I originally wrote.

43:

Lulu.com offers a service which Ms. Howett would more profitably have employed than her chosen strategy: print your rejection letters [bad reviews would also work] on toilet paper, and put them behind you.

http://www.lulu.com/tp

44:

Too bad I did not know this back in 2009. The delivery of a Polish copy of Accelerando to a certain Edinburgh pub could certainly have been arranged.

45:

Back in 1996, when most of us were still on usenet, we were constantly invaded by V*nn* B*nt* and her agent/boyfriend who insisted her book was wonderful. Here's a review by Doyle and/or Macdonald who are both authors.

46:

Wow.

I want that woman in the same POW camp as me. When she gets in a hole she knows how to keep digging. She will have tunnelled us all to freedom before the guards had finished day one roll call.

47:

Personally I think all authors, even long-time authors, suffer from the Dunning–Kruger effect. Success requires us to kick our egos to the curb whenever we give up our work for critiquing. I imagine it's equally important after publication.

48:

Charles, if you want any Bulgarian copies of your books, I'll be glad to help if I can.

49:
From the comments: "J(..) H(...)[1] is the new Rebecca Black."

Hm, anybody know how to read this? Somehow I think about a friend who was compared to a young Bob Dylan[2] after torturing his guitar and vocal chords...

[1] Name omitted to protect the guilty.
[2] To explain the joke, many texts about the issue say
young Bob had some carreer problems because he was not
that good a singer.

51:

I was starting to have some sympathy for the poorly socially adapted "author" at the bottom of the pile-up before I saw the following in her Bio:

"The changing scenery in London, from the late seventies to the mid eighties with the novelty of Arabs, giving out easy money, while they became educated, had followed by the left over stench in the air of the Iran war....made her flee to North Wales"

And from the intro to a poem:

"I wrote this poem. 'Sands of time,' to my entry into America, when I seemingly fled Old England in 1988, at the beginning of the first Arab invasion, not long after the Arabs became educated."

I tried to parse those comments as somehow tongue-in-cheek and failed; all sympathy quickly evapourated.

52:

I've done a piece - http://bit.ly/pr-tips-for-ebook-authors - that might be useful for some who are thinking of writing and expect the world to fall at their feet.

I feel for the woman - I've had bad reviews - but the way she responded was just incredibly wrong.

53:

There's a phrase I recall seeing, in those long-ago pre-internet days, which quite a few writers used, in some form. "...and I thought, I can write better than that."

Of course, few of us are expected to write anything more than short pieces, as part of schoolwork. The structure is simple, we are encouraged to regurgitate standard facts, and penalised for mistakes in spelling and syntax.

We're not really taught about telling a story, though I suppose there would be some change once the students escape the "everybody has to do it" world of GCSE English.

Arranging for self-publishing now is trivially easy. Just export a pdf from Open Office, and send it to one of the numerous print-on-demand services. Or send it out as an ebook. I'm not quite that brash: I have stories on a website which actually has an editor. It's maybe a comparable standard to the fan-fic of thirty years ago, where people had to go to the trouble of typing up copies, and didn't want to bother with total rubbish.

What I'm pretty sure of, in the case of this particular load of crap, is that, yes, I can write better than that. I can write a heck of a lot better than that.

But I'm not Charlie.

I'm not sure I can tell a story, or sustain the quality of writing over 100,000 words, and then there's the problem of selling it. Maybe one of the problems of the current world of writing fiction is that a novel has to be so much longer, and not every story needs to be so long. Yes, there's any number of magazines which print shorter fiction--in Britain there is The People's Friend--and if you can write the right sort of fiction, there does seem to be a path into the modern novel.

And the stuff I've written isn't even half as fashionable as SF.

It beats watching the football on the TV.


54:

Personally I think all authors, even long-time authors, suffer from the Dunning–Kruger effect. Success requires us to kick our egos to the curb whenever we give up our work for critiquing. I imagine it's equally important after publication.

I don't think that's true of all authors. Based on stuff I see in forwards, afterwords, memoirs, etc. it looks to me like a lot of authors have the opposite problem, "imposter syndrome". They are convinced that they are awful hacks producing trash and don't understand why people keep buying it.

A much less common subset of these seem to end up being contemptuous of their own readers for liking their books. But I digress.

55:

There was a similar but different incident on the US NPR show "Fresh Air" a few years ago. Bill O'Reilly was on the show and being interviewed by the host Terry Gross.

Here's what the NPR ombubsman had to say about the incident:
http://www.npr.org/yourturn/ombudsman/2003/031015.html

I actually was listening to the show and I also found TG's approach bizarre. And even though I consider myself conservative I'm NOT a fan of BO.

TG got into hole digging and should have known better.

56:

The comment thread at Big Al's reminds me of when NPR's This American Life did the show on fiascos. I couldn't get the sound of Ravel's Bolero out of my head. (I'm talking about the Peter Pan piece by Jack Hitt. If you can find an audio clip, listen to it. It's a classic.)

57:

I don't know much about self-publishing, but it certainly seems possible to get your work read by others. I've seen authors on shelfari ask for readers.

but a fan giving feedback is obviously no copy-editor. I wonder if we'll see freelance copyeditors put up their shingle. Seems like there are plenty of english majors on summer break who could've fixed the sorts of problems the reviewer found..

58:

And then there are the ones that oscillate between the two extremes, at times in the Marvin the robot territory, at times nearly hypomanic. But than, I'd be interested in psychological evaluations of writers, artists, musicians, scientists and sysops, for that matter...

59:

To judge by the extracts I've read, I don't think you'd even have to be an English-major to make a fair stab at improving the written quality of Ms Howett's work. My degree was in artificial intelligence and I reckon I could make a fair stab at it (I am, on the other hand, perfectly prepared to believe she may be a much better story teller than I could ever be. The original review is not as harsh as I'd thought it might be when I first heard this story, and suggests she needs to find a copy-editor rather than throw in the towel altogether. And I may be able to write in coherent, grammatical sentences - unless I'm falling victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect myself - but having written four awful unpublished novels, I know I'm no story-teller)

60:

Copy-editing fiction properly is not just a matter of having an Eng. Lit. degree and a copy of Strunk & White or the Chicago Manual of Style. This is especially true of some sub-genres, notably SF. I'm very lucky in that Ace and Golden Gryphon gave me excellent copy editors (and my Golden Gryphon editor is now copy editing the Laundry novels for Ace) ... but I've heard some appalling horror stories about what happens when someone who fundamentally misapprehends the job gets a taste of power.

61:

Ms Howett, in my opinion, is not ready for a copy editor. What she needs is a book doctor, or some remedial lessons in grammar and usage. Not to mention public relations.

This does not mean that she's beyond help. (Far from it -- having read the clunking clangers that Dan Brown puts out, it's obvious that one doesn't need to be a good stylist, or even good at characterisation, theme, and plot development, in order to find a market. Ditto J. K. Rowling, whose writing is undeniably popular but not necessarily good.) But as long as she manages to convince herself that she is right and everyone else is wrong, she's chaining her ankle to the ACME Corp. 5 ton weight out of a Road Runner cartoon.

62:

Grammar is to language what marching is to dancing. If it's too orderly it's no fun anymore.

I actually enjoy reading decent writing that left it's gramatical quirks in and even the occasional error. The blogger shouldn't have got hung up on errors which were largely the result writing down how people actually do talk and indeed write (on the internet in particular). Slang, colloqialisms, common mistakes all work as a real-world reference, they kind of anchor the written work to the real world in which it was written.

63:

The blogger shouldn't have got hung up on errors which were largely the result writing down how people actually do talk and indeed write (on the internet in particular). Slang, colloqialisms, common mistakes all work as a real-world reference, they kind of anchor the written work to the real world in which it was written.

From what excerpts I've seen on the blog I don't think that's what she's tried to do; if she did, that is a very hard thing to do either correctly, well, and especially both; not the same as stream of consciousness either, which usually keeps to the rules of grammar of written language - it's a braindump on the level of story, not of semantics.
Banks' Feersum Endjinn goes in that direction (and includes the syntax level, though on the premise of the protagonist's dyslexia - I wouldn't have wanted to be his editor).
If you can read German, there is an Austrian writer (sorry, no English Wikipedia entry) who also manages to pull this off quite well to some extent (without mangling syntax), but then he studied German and linguistics, so he probably knows what he's doing...

64:

The Peter Pan fiasco is the first segment in this episode:

http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/61/fiasco

65:

Argh!

I find that reading writing with egregious grammatical errors in is a bumpy experience. Your comment is a case in point - when you leave out words (such as the 'of' that you did), the one part of my brain that is predicting the next part of the sentence and the other part that is actually reading it get slightly out of phase with each other. There is a momentary mental effort to get them back together.

It's not a large effort, true, but the writer should recognise their audience - if the total effort for them to use understandable phrasing is less than that required for the entirety of their audience to understand a less-understandable-but-easier-to-write phrasing, then the writer should make the effort. For a one-to-one communication, it's going to be a different balance than for a broadcast one such as a novel. And if the writer is a dyslexic or from someone unfluent in the language, then the writing side it entails more effort than otherwise, and the balance may shift.

(And I note that the latest edition of the Chicago Manual of Style now disallows 'their/they/them' as I've just used them.)

Certainly, there are places where individual quirks can appear, and even be enjoyed. But you've probably got to be able to write well before you can afford to let yourself do this. There is little sign that the writer in question can.

66:

i 4 1 think she is being infarely critisized? She are a grate riter!

67:

@60 but those copy-editors had to have started somewhere right?

Now that self-publishing isn't just a scam to milk money from aspiring authors I think there probably is some room for it to become semi-pro. Though it might be more interesting for novella-length nonfiction.

68:

Charlie, any tales you can share about copy editors that misunderstand and get that taste of power you mention?

69:

Ah, yes, I had something say about Dunning-Kruger a while ago; excellent Errol Morris columns, too.

Howett went viral everywhere by this morning. Salon billed it as The e-book that launched a thousand flame wars.

My observation on Langford's FB link was "Look at it this way: it often takes obsessive persistence to break into mass market publishing.

And some people are, um, consistent."

70:

What exactly happens to the author's Word RTF file when uploaded to Kindle Direct Publishing? Does the DMR engine mess up spellcheck or something, change words? Like then and than? Or are authors actually uploading uncopyedited versions of their books to Kindle Direct? And complaining about it later . . .

71:

Because I've read 100s (1000s?) of criticisms from Kindle users. I know this one ebook in particular, priced at $8.39 and rife with errors. Her Amazon comments are loaded with complaints. The paperback is priced 40 cents lower at $7.99, which makes no sense to me.

72:

Okay ...

Firstly, ebooks get into amazon either from the author, or from a mainstream publisher. The former probably doesn't think to hire a copy editor or proof readers, is word-blind to their own quirks, so the ebook is messy. As to the latter ...

There are two routes for a mainstream publisher's ebook to get into amazon.

One is for amazon to take the book, scan and OCR it, and serve it up in the bletcherous mess known as a Topaz file. Thankfully they're doing less of that these days.

The other is for amazon to take an epub file delivered by the publisher and automatically convert it into a mobi format file.

Note that amazon do not proofread kindle ebooks after automatic conversion. Worse, some/most of the said mainstream publishers don't proofread the epub files that are generated automatically from Adobe InDesign. So if they've typeset the paper book using soft hyphens, and the DTP operator isn't entirely au fait with creating epub files, you can end up with an ebook in which wo-rds have lots of spur-ious soft hyphens which are sometimes turned into hard hyphens by amazon's automatic conversion process. Or in which the typesetter has done something fancy with the paragraph style for the first paragraph of a section (to render the first line in SMALL CAPS, for example), and the conversion has horked up the first TEN CHARACters only in full-sized caps, or something equally brain-dead.

Finally there's the pricing anomaly.

Amazon insist that Kindle is a publishing platform not a bookstore, and they're licensing the rights to republish the ebook -- which means they get to set the price they sell for and pay a royalty on the revenues. Amazon-the-dead-tree-bookseller meanwhile buys dead-tree books at whatever discount they can extort from the publisher, which can be as much as 70% in some cases, and splits some of that discount with their customers. (Normally the split would be between retailer and wholesaler, but Amazon subsumes both.)

What probably happened in the $8.39 ebook/$7.99 paperback is that Amazon is selling an ebook that they licensed for Kindle at the time of hardcover publication. Then the publisher releases the paperback. And the Kindle folks haven't yet noticed that there's a new, cheaper edition and cut the ebook price accordingly.

73:

Apart for the landmines of copy-editing and proof-reading, what are your thoughts about the success that some indie writers are enjoying right now? Authors like that Amanda Hocking and John Locke?
Just in case you missed some of them, even if I know you keep a close eye on interesting articles on internet:
http://www.novelr.com/2011/02/27/rich-indie-writer
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2011/03/guest-post-by-john-locke.html
I know that your current situation suits you quite well, and likely you would not want to jeopardize it with experimentations, but if you were to start from scratch now, do you think that the scenario they're speaking about would apply so well to your brand of SF as it seems to do to urban fantasy, thrillers and paranormal romance?

74:

It's quite simple: Hocking and Locke are outliers.

There are always outliers in this game -- like the other creative fields, the distribution of income (and success) follows an exponential curve rather than a bell curve. See also Terry Pratchett or J. K. Rowling.

That's because the only marketing tool that really works in fiction is word of mouth. This is because we only have a finite number of hours in the day to read, so we tend to follow recommendations from trusted sources -- "read this author, she's good". Success breeds more success by getting your name out in front of new readers who tell all their friends.

I'm quite sure that Hocking et al got where they were just the same way PTerry or Jenny got there -- by many years of hard work.

Trying to apply "their model" to "my brand of SF" doesn't make any more sense than, say, trying to apply Neil Gaiman's "model" to my type of writing. Their success isn't contingent on the business model, it's contingent on the combination of the business model and the person applying it.

75:

My point was more about the price detail. In the Locke interview, he does underline the fact that since he dropped the price of one of his novel from 2.99 to 0.99 he saw a 20x increase in sales, practically hitting one of those psychological sweet-points that open the product to a wider audience.

On the other hand, he's writing thriller/mysteries, a genre that have an intrinsic wide audience, with a large component of not very discerning readers, and so it's more open to casual buyers.

Now, it is self-evident that a book of a popular genre will sell more of a niche genre, apart for random fluctuations, but do you consider possible, for what you know about the hard-SF audience of people, that there's a sufficient pool of it to meet a similar sweet-spot somewhere?
For example, even if I like you a lot, still I consider buying your books in hard-cover a bit too expensive (I still bought a couple of them, the others all in paperback), given my reading rhythm and the necessity of sustaining it. Also, sometimes I pass on trying some other authors I do not yet know for the same reason.

So, when I asked about their business model, I meant asking if, in your judgment obviously, you think that the SF market would benefit from that same dynamic of really low prices.
From one point of view, SF readership is narrower and a bigger share of it is composed of people that read a lot and is willing to spend whatever necessary for their beloved authors works, on the other hand, most of them are voracious readers that would take advantage of lower prices to buy even more books even from authors they would normally consider less important, and so a niche author would likely take advantage more fully of his potential audience.

Also, from time to time, some SF author occasionally enter the wider non-SF readership audience interest, like it did happen for the Yilane books of Harry Harrison (although that was more of a consequence of an organized marketing campaign, so I don't know really in which side of the argument it would fall).

76:

Two points.

1. SF is an intrinsically small market -- around 2.5% of fiction sales. (Make it 5% if you include the SF subfield of genre romance.) Economies of scale (cut the price and make it up on volume) probably aren't viable.

2. Of the cover price of a book, roughly 66% goes to the retail distribution chain -- or to Amazon (before they discount 33% for the customer and pocket the other 33%). About 15% represent production costs (ink on paper), 10% goes to the author as their share of the profits, and 9% represents the publisher's profit.

Ebooks should be slightly cheaper -- no need to order about a ton of paper and ship it around the country -- and if we could reboot the whole legal paperwork side of the contract we could probably make the price points a lot more flexible. But if I split from my publisher, I then have to foot a chunk of the production bill myself -- copy editing and typesetting and proofreading aren't free and I still need them, as Howett demonstrates! -- even if I can wave a magic wand and distribute the books for free.

But let's suppose I do that. After paying myself and my production people, I then put the book in the Kindle store and on Apple's eBooks. (I can't reach B&N's Nook because B&N don't operate in the UK. And I refuse to do business with Sony, as a point of principle: I want those fuckers to curl up and die.) But anyway ... Kindle pays me at most 70% of the cover price. Apple take a 30% cut, too. Great, you think! Charlie can sell a book for $5, pay Amazon or Apple $1.5, and has $3.5 in profit compared to the $0.50 he'd get for a $8 mass market paperback.

... Except, I don't. Because -- ignore Amazon's propaganda to the contrary: their figures are intrinsically skewed because they've got 80% of the ebook market stitched up -- mass market paperbacks still out-sell ebooks by around 5:1. So I've gone from, say, making $15,000 on 30,000 mass market paperbacks to making $21,000 on 6,000 ebooks. But that includes the production costs, which at, say, 50% of what a publisher would pay (because I scrimp and save) run to around $7500. So I end up with $13,500 in profits, or in other words a pay cut.

But worse. That $5 ebook doesn't hold a candle up to what I get from a hardcover sale: around $2.50, rising to $4.00 if the book sells like hot cakes. The hardcover run of 6000 books pays a $15,000 profit, just as much as the mass market paperback run of 30,000 books. And the hardback first edition buyers aren't fungible: they're often also folks who will buy a paperback as a reading copy. They're serious fans who are also collectors of the cultural artifact that is a hardcover first edition. I'm going to lose a good chunk of them by doing the ebook thing.

Worse. My reduced readership means reduced word of mouth draw. Fewer people read ebooks, so there are fewer people pushing my work, so marketing turns to sludge. I can drive it up again by cutting the cost, but the price elasticity of demand of fiction is very hard to establish: I might end up giving away a year's hard work to raise an extra $1000 in sales. (Or I might discover I'm the next Hocking. How lucky does this punk feel right now?)

Finally, there's an opportunity cost. Time spent dicking around managing the publication workflow -- time I spend being Charlie Stross, Publisher -- is time I do not spend being Charlie Stross, Author.

There are some bits I'm leaving out, of course. Like, oh, how I'm married to a typesetter/proofreader, and have a friendly copy editor or two on tap, and have a high volume website and know how to bolt together an ecommerce system that could deliver ebooks as downloads paid for via Paypal or similar. Subject to the accounting nightmare (I shudder to think how much time it would take to explain a home-brew e-publishing website to HMRC if they ever audit me -- and they like to audit freelancers from time to time to see if they're holding anything back) I could go there, if I felt like sacrificing six months' working time and gambling a chunk of my savings on my ability to make it work.

Who knows? I might get lucky. But I am in my late forties, in sub-optimal health, have family members with health concerns as well, and am not enthusiastic about pioneering a new business model in the middle of a savage recession.

77:

Note: I may dip a toe in the water of direct e-publishing at some point in the next year or two. But if so, it'll be with an original novella -- something that amounts to 1-2 months of work -- so that if it's a flop I haven't wasted half a year to a year on a novel that bombs.

78:

Hocking said she has had nothing but trouble with freelance editors, but stopped short of blaming them. The same can probably be said about the top twenty self-published ebooks, being that Hocking is the best-selling author among them as shown here http://www.novelr.com/2011/02/27/rich-indie-writer.

So, if you're self-publishing an ebook with Kindle Direct Published, you'd be best to hire the following freelancers?
1) editor, the editor subtracting the copyediting out perhaps
2) graphic designer for interior, one experienced with Kindle formatting
3) editor, again, passing along the generated epub file and gunning through it
Probably best to come to some InDesign-to-epub agreement beforehand.
3) graphic designer, front cover and/or wraparound

I wonder if the DTP operators work harder for traditional publishers than self-publishers? And I wonder when Kindle is going to get its act together and come up with come kind of creative solution? I just can't see this wild west typesetting trend continuing.

79:

I wonder if the DTP operators work harder for traditional publishers than self-publishers?

My traditional publishers don't employ DTP operators -- typesetting is outsourced. They don't own printing presses either -- it's all outsourced. They don't have salaried copy editors or proofreaders -- it's outsourced (at the individual freelancer level, not to a bureau). What they keep in-house is book design, cover design, blurb writing, and marketing/sales. Plus commissioning editor, of course -- although these days that job seems to be about 70-80% management and 20-30% editing.

80:

Some people should never be allowed near a keyboard, and that link is a beautiful example of one of them Charlie. Thanks for the much needed laughs!

Incidentally, I would accept a "that is not what I meant by $passage" rebuttal of a detailed review comment, if it came from the author. If I said "$novel both sucks and blows" that is my opinion and I'm as entitled to that opinion as I am to the opinion that "The Laundry is the best series of spy thrillers I've ever read" (I know they're not just spy thrillers thank you.)

81:

Anyone who visits a high street bookstore looking for a science fiction novel (at least that’s not written by one of a select few famous authors) is likely to leave disappointed, just a tiny section for scifi and fantasy – typically. It’s not quite as reflective online but the 2.5% figure for sf you quoted, Charley, seems about right.

So it’s hugely difficult for an SF author to break into the mainstream market. Of course it doesn’t help to get the basics wrong – the grammar and spelling, and really there’s not much of an excuse for typos. Yet i’ve made some mistakes that have left me incredulous at my own carelessness (after the standard spellcheck). Somehow they just seem to slip through the net. So proofreading with the text enlarged helps. But what many self-published/indie authors seem to overlook is THE TEXT FORMATTING, making it so it’s not presented in size 9 with thirty words per line! OK so I might be exaggerating a little, but it’s no wonder they overlooked the errors!

82:

Sorry Charlie, think i just illustrated my point by spelling your name wrong.

83:

Asimov's is putting out a digital anthology that will be only available on Kindle. Sheila specifically talks about how the ebook is made and transferred. (That's June's editorial.)

84:

Charlie I was wondering if you have read Joe Konraths blog, as the numbers he talks about are interesting to say the least. They point to authors other than Hocking making good coin who are not outliers. The latest big deal was author Barry Eisler turning down $500k from a traditional publishing deal because he thinks he will make more from doing it himself.

This seems to be about more that just a few authors who simply got 'lucky'.

85:

If you can get a $500K two book offer from a traditional publisher then you are probably able to spend the $100K it will cost you to do the ebook thing properly -- contract professional editing and book design folks to do their thing, pay proofreaders, retain a marketing agency to promote the launch, and so on.

At that point, what you've got is a bestselling author who is setting up a highly specialized boutique publisher of their own, with one product -- in order to take the publisher's share of the profits as well as the author's. Magic it ain't, but it does require a certain degree of business expertise and I'll be interested to see if Eisler makes a bigger profit this way than by doing it the old fashioned way.

86:

I can't imagine any freelance editor in the self-publishing business (and working on the fringes of the traditional publishers) having the chops to take on Charlie's GLASSHOUSE. I just picked up a used copy in Itaewon, South Korea, my hardcover back home in Canada. This is one of my favorite SF novels. I think such books take an equally talented editor to whip it into an SF classic. The world of self-publishing is growing, certainly, but it's years, decades if ever, away from being able to publish such titles from ACE and TOR et al. And if some new author did manage to unload something like GLASSHOUSE onto the marketplace, the author would be scooped up by an editor before the first 5,000 copies were sold. The traditional publishing houses could bankrupt such PODs as LuLu and CreateSpace by branching into the self-publishing market themselves. They'd snatch up the top 100 self-published writers and . . . that would be that. I know Harper attempted something like that a few years back . . . not sure whatever became of it, though.

87:

Joe: What makes you think that the top 100 self-published authors don't go out and get contracts with publishing houses? Charles is one of the people who have described in detail how the publishing houses provide real benefits to authors.

I expect that if someone was making lots of sales from Lulu or similar then they could walk in to any publishing house, show the self-publishing stats along with a manuscript and get a good result.

Surely the purpose of POD is to cater to the long tail of people who will never sell many copies. In a free market the long tail involves a much larger volume than the small number of very popular items.

The term "vanity press" is used as abuse. But if someone is happy to write a book and then sell 100 copies to friends and relatives then it's good for everyone and profitable for Lulu. But such people will never be of any interest to serious legitimate publishing companies.

88:

Probably the best explanation on either thread to this whole disaster. You're right, if Howett wants to write, she should probably start with straightforward narrative prose. Easy to say now - start at the beginning.

89:

Errr . . I meant "the best explanation OF this whole disaster". I guess I have a little more sympathy for Howett now. Blame it on my iPhone.

90:

The father of a friend thought Christian romance books were necessary (I don't know why he thought there weren't already lots) so he wrote one with a Christian mermaid and self-published. He couldn't figure out why it didn't sell other than to family.

91:

I'm just saying, the traditional publishing houses have the firepower to kick POD publisher “back to the stone age." But it'd have to be one decisive blow, pluck 90-100% of their top-selling POD authors and step away from the capsizing behemoth. The aftershocks will reverberate for years.
But this won't happen, obviously.
Instead, the old boars will sit atop their ivory statues in New York until the bitter end, lost in playback, old memories from the golden age of science fiction. Some probably taking the time to polish their old Hugos from the 70s. It's like the slow-cooking frog in the pot analogy.
In the next decade, a few giant ebook publishers will rise against the traditional publishers. These new ebook giants will have an armada of the finest editors and graphic designers and marketing people etc. These professionals will work under similar conditions to the current editors at the big traditional houses, meaning they'll come to enjoy their job security. They'll lament, in short tearful Hugo-polishing bursts, but bow to the self-replicating POD machines in Lower Manhattan in the end.

92:

I'm just saying, the traditional publishing houses have the firepower to kick POD publisher “back to the stone age." But it'd have to be one decisive blow, pluck 90-100% of their top-selling POD authors and step away from the capsizing behemoth.

Not gonna happen.

Firstly, the "traditional publishing houses" are large corporations with lots of people working inside them who don't always agree on what time of day to do lunch, much less hole up in boardrooms to plot Total World Domination.

Secondly, doing what you suggest would cost Serious Money (hint: the most successful POD authors are making enough money that the "traditional publishing houses" would have to offer each of them a buttload to attract them across to the Dark Side).

Thirdly, there'll be a new crop of decent POD authors along in a year or three.

Fourthly: POD isn't a threat to existing businesses; ebooks are. POD is horrendously expensive compared to the economies of scale delivered by conventional printing and distribution -- it costs roughly five to ten times as much to manufacture a physical book via print-on-demand, so although it short-circuits the distribution chain it doesn't deliver extra profit. ebooks, on the other hand, potentially short-circuit the distribution chain and increase the profit margin (especially if you cut lots of corners in production).

The real root of the problem lies in the disappearance of the slushpile at most publishing houses. Back in the 1980s if you sent your MS to a publisher you could expect a rejection slip (or, rarely, a letter offering you a contract) within three months. Today, those publishers who still read unsolicited MSs take three years to reply, in some cases -- and most publishers slammed the door years ago and now only take submissions from literary agents, who are expected to do the first-pass filtering thing on their behalf.

Part of the reason the slushpiles disappeared is money: it takes employee eyeball-time to scan an MS and see if it's worth taking seriously, and downward pressure on staffing costs takes its toll of peripheral activities first. (Another, weirder part of the problem is the toxic intersection of care in the community and word processors. Many schizophrenics also suffer from hypergraphia -- an uncontrollable urge to write, talk, and communicate -- and word processors made this easier. A very large chunk of any publishers' slushpile these days consists of word salad served up by folks who really need better medication control.)

But you're dead wrong about "the old boars will sit atop their ivory statues in New York until the bitter end, lost in playback". They're rushing around the deck, manning the pumps, hunting desperately for a route out of the iceberg field. A large chunk of the problem is legacy code -- legal code in this case, consisting of the thousands of contracts for back-list titles that were written before ebooks were on the horizon and which make no provision for them. Even current contracts aren't ideal from an ebook publishing perspective because lawyers are conservative: a lawyer who drafts a contract that doesn't follow established form is inviting an expensive court case.

93:

Charlie: In regard to 'the most successful POD authors are making enough money that the "traditional publishing houses" would have to offer each of them a buttload to attract them across to the Dark Side', could you please explain how that fits with your previous discussions of the advantages that publishing houses offer?

Are the POD authors already doing their own editing? Are they hiring editors that do a good enough job at a low price? Are they selling to people who don't care about typos?

As for the "intersection of care in the community and word processors", I guess that there are many worse things that people can do with their time than write books no-one will read. It's also better that they write books than blog comments, with a book a large volume of text can be rejected at one go. ;)

Joe: You still seem to be neglecting the long tail. There is real money to be made on books that only sell to friends and relatives of the author. There are also books which are good by objective criteria that just won't sell well, for example I've considered publishing quick reference guides to some software I've written on Lulu - such books would sell a few thousand copies if I'm lucky because there aren't many people in the world who need them.

94:

I'm astounded at how slow to the draw the SFF publishing houses have been with the ebook revolution. I mean, you'd think they would have been the first of the genre houses to not only accept it but invest heavily in it, and go boldly go where no man has gone before. The legacy code should have been worked through years ago, the publishers simply adding additional clauses to pre-existing contracts. i.e. authors make 30% of ebook sales for the first 100,000 copies, 50% over 500,000 copies. And that's it. Done. Move forward through the A-gates. Instead they're mired in multinational corporate bureaucracy, lawyers feeding at the Cornucopia trough, writers left feeling discombobulated.
I spent the last week reading through the first chapters of the top 20 self-published ebooks listed on an earlier posting. They're of such mind-bobbling low writing/copywriting/editing/proofreading quality that I found myself zombified. It's relatively easy to self-publish 2-3 "novels" a year if said "novels" are nothing more than glorified 50K rough (like high school English rough) drafts.
Comparing traditionally published and self-published novels is like comparing the aurora borealis to the medicinal marijuana smoke inside a gravity bong. One is an awe-inspiringly beautiful, the collision of charged particles in the ionosphere analogous to the synaptic bursts of energy in brainstorms, a classic SF novel analogous to a Magellanic cloud; the other a cloud of toxic gases and carcinogenic tars that causes temporary toxic psychosis. I'd prefer to gaze at the stars and their galaxies through my unfiltered eyes, thank you very much.

95:

Russel: income in publishing follows a power law, not a normal distribution. Same in pop music or cinema; there are a few mega-stars, a couple of dozen medium-scale "names", and then everyone else. I don't know what precise techniques the few really successful self-published fiction authors are using that distinguishes them from the mass of unsuccessful ones; all I know is that the probability that a given author will be successful is higher if they're published via the traditional press (although it's still dismally low).

The value of writing as a therapeutic hobby shouldn't be underestimated. But, like playing a musical instrument, in most cases it's something that should be kept to ones' self. (It takes an awful lot of practice at any art form before you become good enough that it's worth performing in public.)

Finally: if you've written some software that a couple of thousand people use, then -- assuming the usual sell-through rate -- you might make a couple of dozen sales of a book. Sell-through for shareware is traditionally around the 1-4% mark, and the same goes for similar discretionary spending ("click this paypal link to donate if you enjoyed my novel!"). Now, if your name was Larry Wall and you'd just invented Perl, then it would be worth publishing the book!

96:

Joe, Baen did exactly what you're proposing, back in 1997-98. They jumped into the ebook field with both feet, enthusiastically. I gather ebook sales volume is now pushing close to hardcover numbers ... albeit at about 25% of the cover price.

Why don't the big guys follow suit? Let me give you an example:

I know for a fact that the top people at Tor -- who owned 33% of Baen (a private company) -- were enthusiastic about, and wanted to join, the Baen webscription operation.

Unfortunately, back in the late 90s a distributor went bust, bouncing a multi-million dollar check that Tor were relying on to pay their printing bills the next week. Tom Doherty bit the bullet and sold out to St Martin's Press, on condition that they ran Tor as a hands-off business unit under Tom's direction.

All was fine until St Martin's Press were in turn acquired by Von Holtzbrinck, owners of, among other publishers, the Macmillan group. At this point, Tor was one of the bottom-tier subsidiaries of a multi-billion euro publishing multinational. And corporate standards, dictated from the centre, were promulgated.

Tor fired up a trial of selling ebooks via the Webscription front-end (no DRM, direct download, any format the customer wants, price <= paperback price) in 2006. Less than 48 hours later someone at executive level in Germany noticed, shat a cow, and yanked the brake handle hard.

Because ...

Holtzbrinck was trying to centralize a lot of business processes to save money: printing, distribution, corporate IT, you name it. They planned to set up a centralized ebook production and distribution centre (with centralized DRM fingerprinting) and Tor's rogue start-up was a threat to the internal project. The no-DRM policy was, shall we say, not only a major violation of corporate policy: if it succeeded, it threatened to undermine the official ebook strategy. And that couldn't be allowed to happen.

And so, we have the illusion of stasis. Actually, it's not stasis: there's a lot of action below the waterline, and a lot of people who know exactly what they need to be doing ... stymied by the fact that, within a large multinational, nothing gets done without a metric shitload of business meetings, like unto an extended Dilbert cartoon sequence on Valium.

97:

Many schizophrenics also suffer from hypergraphia -- an uncontrollable urge to write, talk, and communicate -- and word processors made this easier.

Well, that explains a lot of thing, but then, I'm not schizo, at least my shrink told me so; the MPh might mean I'm in for becoming a phenocopy, though...

BTW, has anybody ever tried using neuropsychologically informed text analysis as a pre-pass filter?

There was some analysis trying to show when Agatha Christie succombed to the literal brain eater,

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/03/agatha-christie-alzheimers-research

and AFAIK somebody tried to find if the Voynich was glossolallia by statistical analysis, though I've found only this one, which is more along the lines if it's a hoax:

http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/content~db=all?content=10.1080/01611190601133539

Concerning schizophrenia, there is some literature here

http://www.ai.uga.edu/caspr/

and one article that specifically deals with this is

http://www.ai.uga.edu/caspr/2006-02-he.pdf

The problem might be authors imitating said schizo style, maybe as an unreliable narrator device, maybe for, er, artistic reasons, I look your way, Thomas Pynchon. That might be especially the case if the author is phamacologically enhancing the imitation, Pynchon said something about LSD, and there is some research about ketamine being quite, err, useful, but maybe more in the contest of research on antipsychotics:

http://www.ai.uga.edu/caspr/Covington-Riedel-2007-shortened-for-distribution.pdf

And then there is always the possibility of Vonnegut or Lowell sending in a manuscript in a state of psychosis[1].

[1] Yeah, I know, Vonnegut said he was unipolar, but differenting uni- and bipolar is non-trivial, and his son was bipolar.

98:

I'm somewhat sympathetic, having self published a unique book (TechnoMage) on the use of technology in magick (with a "k" so I don't do children's parties). It means I had to do absolutely everything, from the photos and artwork for the cover to the blurb on the back, and getting my own ISBN. Despite having read the fucking thing until I was sick of it I still have a few typos left. I have some samples from each chapter on my website if anyone is interested. I am hoping it will pay my council tax for the next few years. OTOH, it has had some very good reviews, most notably from Dave Lee (one of the founders of the IOT and Chaos Magick). Only one spelling flame, from traditionalist Ian Read who despises US spelling. I had to apologize because I had written so much using the OpenOffice US default dictionary I could not be arsed to change it at the end.

99:

Charlie Stross: "...all I know is that the probability that a given author will be successful is higher if they're published via the traditional press (although it's still dismally low)"

Depends on the genre. With my book I expect lifetime sales of around 2000 copies worldwide, because it is such a specialist topic. Depending on distribution channels that translates into between £5k-£20k. Is that successful? I don't know. I never intended it to generate vast income, or even enough for me to give up my day job. It should, however, pay my council tax as well as "make my name" withing my dubious peer group.

My next offering I intend to be more populist and will be going the eBook route, with pricing around $3

100:

dirk bruere,
This is Charlie's soapbox. This ain't no pimp thread. Why are you trying to sell your self-published whatever-it-is here? Your comments should be deleted.

101:

And there is no way in hell that you're going to sell 2000 copies of that book in a lifetime. Maybe, if the economy picks up, you'll sell 35-50 copies to friends and relatives in the next few years. Why should anyone take you serious as an author? If your book cover and interior layout (in Word, no doubt) are a reflection of the content, then you really should consider offering it as a free PDF on some blog somewhere. Maybe you'll get a 100 downloads. Then write another book, have it copyedited, edited, proofread, then contract out the cover art, design, and interior layout to reputable graphic artists, and offer it as a 99 cent ebook through Kindle Publishing Direct. But trying to sell such a book for 30 Pounds is just foolhardy. Like Charlie wrote, the Dunning-Kruger effect. Look it up . . .

102:

Joe: Let me be the judge of that.

(I'm finding his comments informative. When they turn the corner into spam I'll start moderating them. OK?)

103:

Thanks for finding my comments informative and not wiping me from the Strossosphere!
Anyway, a question.
Given that the % royalties are so much higher in self publishing are you not tempted to go that route occasionally now you have a made a name for yourself, at least in eBooks? [Ignoring for the moment any contractual stuff that may tie you down]

104:

I've already answered that question in the comments above.

105:

"...and I thought, I can write better than that."
Which is what I thought, and it might be true.
But not in the case of the first half million words I have written. It takes practice.

106:

"And the hardback first edition buyers aren't fungible: they're often also folks who will buy a paperback as a reading copy. They're serious fans who are also collectors of the cultural artifact that is a hardcover first edition."
That's interesting. I have always viewed hardbacks from my favourite authors as annoying foibles that merely delayed me getting the paperback. Never considered the rationale from the other side. For me though, hardbacks are out although I might do one or two for myself via Lulu. My genre is what might be termed non-fiction at a push, being of the occult. I suspect the only hardbacks I would be able to sell at a big markup would require Lulu's human skin binding services, which they do not advertise.

107:

Was anyone else reminded of Greg Egan's reaction to Adam Roberts' review of "Incandescence"?

http://gregegan.customer.netspace.net.au/INCANDESCENCE/Z/Hatchet.html

108:

Stross and Egan are my two favourite authors.
However, I have to say that the impression I get (which may be false) is that Egan is rather humourless and takes himself too seriously.

109:

On the one hand, Egan's response to Roberts was ill-advised.

On the other hand, I can see exactly why he did it. I only know Roberts through his reviews and writing: going by his reviews, he's a nasty piece of work with a taste for gratuitous cruelty (and he doesn't understand science fiction half as well as he thinks he does, because he doesn't understand science).

110:

** SPAM ALERT **

Alden Pursifull @110

111:

Thanks, Alan. Spam nuked.

112:

First I've seen in a while - either the spammers have not been trying, or the moderation team has been very on the ball.

(No, wait, there was one a day or two ago where I couldn't decide, but it got moderated out.)

113:

And there is no way in hell that you're going to sell 2000 copies of that book in a lifetime. Maybe, if the economy picks up, you'll sell 35-50 copies to friends and relatives in the next few years. ... But trying to sell such a book for 30 Pounds is just foolhardy. Like Charlie wrote, the Dunning-Kruger effect. Look it up . . .

So far from just my website and a couple of bookshops in London I am selling around 25-30 per month. I have yet to be fully listed on Amazon.

114:

dirk bruere,
You're not selling 25-35 books a month to strangers. Maybe in your imaginings. $37 for your self-published "book", when a Stross novel sells for $7.98? Are you mad? Or, maybe you are me, Joe. Joe and Dirk carrying on a pseudo argument as a means of unloading more books. Hmm . . .

115:

Joe: this is your yellow card. You're being aggressive and rude: stop it, or I'll ban you from posting here.

Book pricing is highly dependent on the sales channel, the shelf category, and the target market. I know of books that sell gangbusters with a shelf price in the £50-500 range -- not common in general fiction, but then, general fiction is a small subset of the publishing industry as a whole. (And I have, ahem, sold rather large numbers of a novella for $35 -- through a suitable sales channel. The rules that apply to shelf space in Barnes and Noble do not apply in specialist markets.)

116:

An example of a publisher that sells minority interest work is Colin Smythe - here is the forthcoming publications list. The prices vary, but many go well above the $37 that caused such disbelief.

And those books sell. Not many, and that's why they cost so much - you need volume to be able to bring prices down.

117:

I priced my book at the level of a specialist subject textbook. Go into Amazon and check out software titles eg C++ Primer Plus (5th Edition) by Prata - $37.
My subject is Techno-shamanism ie the use of technology and belief systems to alter consciousness. Click on my name and check the contents. It is not a light read for fun but quite a few people into (say) Chaos Magick find it very interesting. On my page I point to a review by Dave Lee, one of its founders. See what my potential audience thinks. I was even inspired by the Laundry series to include a section on Computational Demonology, and how it might work (Bible Code + quantum noise).

118:

BTW, Charlie (Charles? Mr Stross? - how do you prefer to be called?) I am a Usenet veteran so have a rather thick skin. And probably a rather undiplomatic style when it comes to arguing (which I enjoy). So, if I do at some point cause offence it is probably unintended. OTOH, if I do intend to offend it should be pretty obvious...

119:

That seems fair, given that IMO it's very much written as a serious work. It's not a serious work I wish to own a copy of, but I read a fair few of them on various topics for work or hobbies.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on March 29, 2011 9:30 AM.

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