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Blurb Bankruptcy

People send me books in the hope that I'll say something nice about them in public.

Lots of people do this. I probably get a couple of blurb requests every week, despite going out of my way to be non-user-friendly in that respect.

Unfortunately, I'm a slow reader. I'm especially slow at reading fiction when I'm working on a novel, and as I'm working on a novel most of the time these days I'm embarrassingly poorly read right now. I've managed to read one novel in the past four weeks, and that's typical of my attention span while I'm writing.

That novel is Karl Schroeder's "Ashes of Candesce", which is the fifth and final book in his Virga series, and brings it to a solid conclusion. That series kicks ass, and I'm more than happy to say nice things about it in public.
However, it took me a month to plough through in my spare moments — and it's in a series that would be on my automatic buy-in-hardcover list if Karl wasn't nice enough to feed them to me in manuscript form. As you can see, I'm so far behind on my reading that I can barely keep up with stuff that I badly want to read — let alone random input from editors or authors who want a response in time to put a Charles Stross quote in the publicity material.

So I'm declaring Blurb Bankruptcy. With one exception, if you're waiting for me to read and say something nice about your book, I must offer you my most groveling apologies because if I stopped writing my own novels for long enough to clear the queue there'd be about a one year gap in my own output. I simply can't keep up, and it's time to admit it in public.

(On the other hand, in happier news, the family medical crisis that caused me to drop a bunch of public engagements over the past six months appears to have been resolved. Both family members are recovering, and hopefully I'll be able to resume accepting speaking/convention engagements again in the near future.)

73 Comments

1:

Oh yeah, the Virga series is great.

But is there anyone else here who could not enjoy book 2, despite being as well written and imaginative as the others, simply because Venera Fanning's character was someone they would consider throwing off a bridge in real life?

2:

My blurb will mean less than Charlie's, I realize, but I can tell you that I too read "Ashes of Candesce" in manuscript form and yes, it does kick ass. It takes what you know about Virga, ties it in a Gordian knot, then slices clean through with a very real sense of urgency and desperation. If you think you know Virga, you don't. It's that simple.

3:

Well, I'd like to try the Virga series out, but what's the deal with the price tag for the first in the series?

http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0765354535/ref=tmm_mmp_new_olp_sr?ie=UTF8&condition=new

(I'm hoping you can view the books for sale at the end of this link. The cheap one is $7,469.99 + $3.99 shipping - they don't even throw in free shipping! And yeah, you can also find the hardcover for $.18 used on Amazon, I was just a couple iterations of -mused at the expensive mass market paperback)

4:

Todd, there are SEO fraudsters who (a) scrape all the online bookstores for listings of out-of-print books, (b) re-advertise the product on Amazon at loony-inflated prices (like $7,500 for a Tor hardcover that retailed, undiscounted, at $24 five years ago), and engage in search ranking manipulation to ensure they show up near the top of the results. They then lie in wait for someone idiotic enough to assume the item is a rare limited edition and buy it ... at which point they go to the secondhand/remainder store who have it for $2.50, buy it, and trouser a $7,497.50 profit.

Shorter version: ignore them.

(You can buy the first two Virga books as a trade paperback for under $13.

5:

Oh hell.

There's this pencil manuscript I have here I've just found under the bed (I think our late cats may have been using it as a bed) and I was hoping to have you read it over Easter. See, I'd like a blurb from you before I self-publish it at the end of next month.

6:

Oh, sheesh. Of course its fraud. I should have assumed. I thought maybe that edition was ridiculously cult amongst the very rich.

7:

Todd, I own a mint, first edition hardcover of SNOW CRASH (I bought it new when it came out, not realizing it was destined to be an valuable collector's piece because they only printed about 2000 copies of it). Unsigned, it's worth on the order of a thousand bucks. If I got Neal to sign it, it would be worth more. If I got Neal to sign and personally inscribe it to me, it would probably be worth more than that, if you could find a buyer for such a rare item.

Even so, it wouldn't be worth half what those chancers are asking for a novel which, however good, didn't serve as the launchpad for a NYTimes top 10 bestseller career.

8:

In fact ...

If you see anyone asking $BIGNUM for a Charlie Stross novel, contact me first.

For US $500 I will deliver to you by courier service a signed personally inscribed first edition hardcover (if one exists and I can get my hands on it or have one in stock).

For US $5000 I will come and deliver it myself.

(Offer valid anywhere within 12 hours' flight time from Paris or Amsterdam, my preferred international hubs.)

9:

That's an impressive price.

I note that the rarest item I have - the hardback first edition of Terry Pratchett's Carpet People - is out there for a mere £200.

(A nice markup over the tenner I spent though.)

10:

Not A Question, Charlie ... I'm still thinking .. but ..

Once upon a time I attended an Event Staged by Lindsey Davis s publishers in the Newcastle Upon Tyne Branch of Waterstones ..who had by dint of cut throat competition obtained the Dillons chain and thus were shortly due to close that branch which was to turn into a Fashionable Clothes Store ..which irritated me NO End since I'd once attended a Michael Jackson Event at that store and I own a copy of one of his books inscribed to me as a Saint of Beer ...guess what my First name is Charlie ? .. anyway at that Davis of ' Falco ' fame event i had the misfortune to sit next to someone who dearly wished to KNOW how IT worked and haw to write Historical Mystery Novels for MONEY.

In a not entirely serious sort of way I told her that it was as Easy as She did suppose ..all you had to do is select your Historical Period, chose an Interesting and convincing person to be the Tech and then build a STORY around that, Simple, eh wot? Happily she went on to interrogate other potential readers and when I reached the front of the que for signing ,,a couple of hardbacks and then back to the end of the Que ..at which point SHE knew that I knew the Un-Spoken Rules and drew me forward to whisper ..Had I met this very Strange??? .. yes I had met that Acme of Literary Ambition and, YES, She Did BURN to be " a Paper-Back Writer ... "

Apparently Davis had already deduced this and had also worked out that I was not a Dealer, since I had asked for my early H/B first editions of the Falco series to be inscribed to me by name thus lowering their monetary value in market terms.I knew when Davis 's work took off in the US of A when a Dealer from whom I had bought my first editions .. I had just wanted h/bs and so the Ists were by accident .. suddenly doubled and then tripled the value of my 1st editions of the first few printed HB copies of the Falco novels.

Its never been EASY to be a full time Pro in in Profession of Written Art/Craft-person ship but just lately ..past ten years or so for a variety of reasons it has become a good deal harder ... this my Opinion which is Mine and which I will call My Opinion ..which is mine.This Might just might be due to the pub industries realization that a Harry Potter type discovery Spells Mega Money .... along the lines of GAUDDDS ..IF I had Discovered HER!!!!

Since electronic publication is now so easy and potential pro writers values are so slued by the possibility of Fame people who once lurked modestly in their back bed rooms whilst pursuing the profession of letters over a hot type witter whilst earning their living as, say, a librarian, now invite a potential audience of millions with their ill formed prose about clones of Generic Sparklkly Vapmyres along the line of ..I'm at least as Good as Her! And alas this does rather tie in with the neo publishers wish to Discover the Next BIG Thing .. buy em low sell em high.

Ah well ..I dare say its just my day to be cynical/realistic.

11:

Thats Me at 10 above ...can't think how my Name slipped, but it does suddenly occur to me on the Such Is Fame type topic that I met Jim Blish just before his death in an event in Sunderland and ..did I mention that I have Cities in Flight series signed ? .. in conversation he did mention that, whilst his entire fan correspondence - pre the Internet by a wide margin - for most of his work filled one expandable file he had had to buy a large filling cabinet for the fan mail that he had received for his paperback s and novelization of Star Trek Episodes and was even then buying a second filling cabinet ..as it turned out that only the fist series of the ST universe.

Blish is hardly heard of these days midst the Tidal Wave of Sparkly and Targeted Fantasy ... sic transit glorious some thing or other.

12:

Charlie, I'm very glad to learn that your family members seem to be all right. The world's a tough enough place to lose loved ones on top of everything else. Best of luck to you and yours!

13:

I suppose having people chase after you for reviews is an indication of success.

For US $5000 I will come and deliver it myself.

If my stock options are ever worth millions, I might just take you up on that. (Hey, I'm working at a startup and the VCs are excited, I can fantasise a little)

14:

Your style is ... unmistakable. (And your name was there, you just typed it into the web address box instead.)

15:

Wait - you got a ARC of Ashes of Candesce? Waaahhh!!!
When is it going to be published? Can you tell anything about it?

16:

I just Knew that it was Something beyond my own ignorance.That is to say... I Think There fore I Ham ... Right?

17:

I'm alarmed to say that is marginally tempting.

I'm pleased your family are better. And now it is bed time.

18:

So, I have to ask. What's that one exception?

19:

I think this post would have been better titled "Blurbruptcy."

As to the Amazon Scamazons, never trust an internet bookstore run by hedge-fund managers.

20:

Eh. If there weren't Amazon, they'd do the same thing on Abebooks or whatever; this is caused by some people hoping to profit off others' laziness. You can blame Amazon for many things, but I don't think this is legitimately one of them.

21:

I've noticed a similar phenomenon on stubhub, the sports ticket trading site. You can spend $11 to buy a ticket in the upper deck to watch a regular season game between the Mets and the Brewers (a reasonable sum) or you can spend $77,777 for an identical ticket one row up or behind.

I've assumed it was an SEO thing or maybe a scam along the lines of the $9,999 iphone screensaver, but I really don't get it.

22:

Glad your folks are okay.

23:

Charlie said:

For US $5000 I will come and deliver it myself.

If only I could get a TV production company interested we can make a fortune!

24:

Tangentally, in relation to the part about the one-year-gap -- you do appear to be terribly prolific. You're managing to write this interesting blog while putting out what appears to be a couple books a year. This seems like a lot to me, but the only people whose book release schedule I'm familiar with are bigger names (Stephenson and Gibson -- both NYT bestseller authors -- release novels much less frequently). Is it 'normal' for a sci-fi author to put out ~1.5 novels a year? Can Gibson get away with putting one out every few years because he'll sell a tonne of copies?

25:

The record for literary output is roughly 20 novels a year, over a 40 year career ... on a manual typewriter.

You're right about the reason Gibson can get away with putting out only three books a decade; if you're a bestseller the pressure to produce is off. Those of us who want to make a living at the mid-list coal-face need to do more -- ideally two or more a year.

I'm not as prolific as I look, though. Two of the books I published this decade were originally one -- it got split in two by the publisher -- and one of this year's books is a trunk novel from 1990-94. One of next year's novels is a collaboration, half of it from 2003-05. I'm actually slowing down to about one book a year at present, partly because I can earn a living from one a year and partly because I'm older and slower than I used to be.

26:

At the extreme low-pressure end of the scale, George Martin has yet to finish the book he started three years before Singularity Sky was published.

27:

Has this happened yet?

28:

That would be John Creasy ? Whose Proud Boast it was that he could write three novels in a week and then play golf at the weekend ?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Creasey

It is entirely possible that your youthful and dynamic readership ..which includes me of course, whom am ever so Youth-full and Dynamic ... are unaware that some of Creasys books were easily adaptable into TV series way back in the '70s of the last century and thus are far easiar to find as DVDs than they are as novels in dead tree form.

Mind you you might be referencing Richard Horatio Edgar Wallace who was not quite as prolific ... it's touch and go on that and his stuff did also appear in the popular Movie Media before ever there was that new fangled device 'Television '

Of the two writers conversions to TV I do favor The Gideon series under Creaslys Disguise of J. J. Marric (1955-1976) which is a really good Police Proceedural series that became popular long before Ed Mc Bains 67th Precinct series did appear over there in the US of A. Mind you Wallace's ' The Mind of Mr J.G. Reeder ' has its moments.


Creasly had a razor sharp business mans appreciation of what would sell to the Simple Folk at any given time and this is evidenced by those Mighty Works of Literary Endeavor, " The Toff Goes To Butlins " and also " The Toff Goes Gay " this later means Merry or Cheerful and not wot you're thinking of ... this was in the 1950s you know.

I once had a go at collecting the entire Creasy opus in paperback but gave up at 300 plus when I decided that life was altogether too short for this sort of eccentricity.

29:

You read a novel in four weeks and consider this slow. I don't read them faster myself, and most people don't read. At all.

You're holding yourself to very high standards. And frankly, every writer I talk to tells me that he actually doesn't read much. Which in one way makes sense, and in another seems completely strange.

30:

I seem to recall Michael Moorcock was reputed to have knocked out some of his fantasy novels in such timeframes - a week or so.

31:

I would have guessed he meant Asimov, but Wikipedia suggests their ouevres and lengths of career are of the same order of magnitude.

32:

Anyone know how that panel discussion in Edinburgh went the other day? Better yet, any links to a video of it?

33:

If I send you a blurb, will you write the novel that goes with it?

34:

There is also the delightful Lionel Fanthorpe, notorious in the nicest possible way for the size of his ... oeuvre. 30 novels a year at one point.

Lionel has more than once been a guest at the Discworld Convention - he's a genuinely entertaining person.

35:

Seeing it's you, quite probably. (Although as I have three and a half novels under contract at present it might take a few years to show up.)

36:

These ongoing cryptic comments about the medical crisis and the fact that now *two* family members are involved in said crisis prompt me to ask: are congratulations in order? If so, consider them proffered. I have two medical crises myself and on balance, it's worth it.

37:

Michael, you've read entirely the wrong implications into the statements. No, both crises were illnesses, both have now been treated, and both were unconnected with each other.

I don't expect the imminent patter of tiny feet in the Stross household. Not unless there's KITTENZ!

38:

I don't discuss my relatives' private issues in public, but I just want to say: cancer can fuck off.

39:

Robert Silverberg knocked them out at an astonishing rate in the 50's & 60's some were solid gold classics, but a lot was - if not quite drivel, at least not-of-the-highest quality. (H Beam Piper, contrariwise, couldn't).

Tnanks for the shout-out on Karl Schreoder. I can see why you like his work, may have to try it myself.

40:

Are you sure its not some kind of money laundering/transfer scam?

41:

My mother died from cancer a couple of years ago.
Such a stupid disease - just a bit of molecular programming gone wrong with no halt state.

42:

THANK YOU for recommending the Vigra book!
I was languishing without a science fiction book to read, and then I read your comment about Vigra. I read Ventus and Permanence and didn't like them much, so I hadn't checked out any of Schroeder's other books. I'm glad your comment made me give Virgra a chance. I love it so far :)

43:

Given the amusement I got from of the last story you wrote with Nicollic influence ... yes please!

44:

Enough of the subliminal Viagra ads please...

45:

Oh, that's a shame. I figure the world could probably use more Strosses.

Well, I share your attitude towards cancer. And congestive heart failure. Stroke. Kidney disease. Stupid damn Singularity could come a little quicker, if you ask me; I miss enough of my family members already.

46:

Note that novels tend to be much longer than they used to be.

It used to be that people wrote 50,000 word novels, but Charlie is writing to the current 100,000 word standard. The Hugo definition distinguished novels from other fiction by a word-count of over 40,000 words.

And Pride and Prejudice is a little more than 121,000 words.

On the other hand, there's not much less work in coming up with the plot/story for a short novel.

So, rough guess, one Charlie Stross novel is an investment comparable to 1.5 old-time SF novels.

47:

The real question isn't "How can Gibson get away with this output now?" but "Now did he get away with it when writing Neuromancer, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive?"

48:

Actually, my question about blurbs is "do they actually do much good as a rule?" Other than Charlie, and Baen authors who collaborate (and can usually sell me each other's solo efforts on the back of a good collaboration) I can't think of many authors who'd inspire me to pick up a book by $author2 on the basis of a good blurb by $author1, and I can think of several authors whom I've actively avoided on the basis of "cover blurb by $author3".

49:

Me too. I got into Ken MacLeod thanks to the Ian Banks blurb on The Star Fraction, and into Charles Stross thanks to the Ken MacLeod blurb on Singularity Sky.

50:

(urgh i feel stupid - now i've read the comment i was replying too, i don't mean 'Me too.')

I prefer it if i can decide to buy without reading the back-cover description of a story, as i find they often skew and deflect the impact of reading the story itself.

51:

Silverberg and Asimov's output are close (in volume anyway; I found this for Silverberg, which I suspect are mostly short stories; Asimov authored 500 books according to Wikipedia). I think our gracious host was referring to Enid Blyton.

52:

Quite possibly so - though my first guess (Barbara Cartland) wasn't that far behind.

53:

I wondered about her Pinkness too, then it occurred to me that most of her "works" were dictated to scribes rather than typed.

54:

remember on little britain? when her pinkness had her charac ters talk about the bible...

55:

Charles,

Thanks for mentioning Schroeder's work; I picked up a copy of Sun of Suns today at Powell's based on your mention.

Your suggestions/recommendations are always helpful!

best,
jason

56:

There's something to be said for getting a head start and putting a few ms into safekeeping.

Maybe in a few decades Burroughs-style word salad prose will come back into vogue, and I can publish the massive pastiches I've had my computer generating for the past few years. (Or maybe there will never be a market for books written by machines with no plot and no continuity between sentences)

57:

Glad to hear your family are doing better now. I have been struggling with some health issues in my own family lately and it's horrible. Luckily my own family also seem to be on the mend at last. Big sigh of relief!

58:

Thomas - interesting to hear you say that. I haven't quite got to the stage of avoiding the back cover copy yet, but I am finding it increasingly annoying. I never used to have a problem with it, but these days I quite often find it undermines my reading experience.

I don't know if I've become more sensitive, or if cover copy has become worse recently, but it's infuriating when the cover copy over-emphasises a theme that is only minor in the book, and you keep expecting it to materialise, and then it doesn't. I actually find this most annoying when I'm not looking forward to the aspect that's been bigged up in the cover copy, and I keep dreading something bad happening to the protagonist that barely happens. What's wrong with accurate cover copy?

59:

Scalzi had a very substantial amount of your fun in Minneapolis, and may owe you the excess.
And now I have another item on the list if I win the Lottery: you *will* be at the following Minicon.

60:
What's wrong with accurate cover copy?

Well, it requires thorough reading of the book, for a start; cover copy seems to be filed under marketing, so people who are actually familiar with the text don't get much say in it. (That sounds more snarky about the marketeers than I'd actually intended - my point is that they don't necessarily have time to read every book the company publishes through, while there are actually people who are paid to do that and might be able to write something more accurate for the back cover.)

I suspect (nb: I've never worked in this part of the publishing process) at least some cover copy is made by marketing taking a one-page summary provided by the editorial dept and reducing it to a few sentences. The problem is that this can then introduce assumptions based on the marketers expectations, which have no basis in the actual book.... Sometimes, of course, they just get it wrong, and that isn't a new problem (I have a 1950s Van Vogt somewhere, the description of which on the back has almost exactly nothing in common with the contents of the book. Well, I suppose there are humans in both...).

61:

Cover copy doesn't seem to be filed under marketing; it is marketing!

The job of the book cover -- including illustrations and copy -- is not to describe the book. Nor is it to attract existing fans. Rather, it is to try and tempt a reader who has never bought this author's work before to pick the book up and hold it, because retail psychology tells us that handling the merchandise makes a customer more likely to buy it.

In fact, an accurate description might damage sales by convincing some readers that the book is uninteresting or that, because they know what's between the covers, they no longer need to read the whole thing.

62:
there are SEO fraudsters who (a) scrape all the online bookstores for listings of out-of-print books, (b) re-advertise the product on Amazon at loony-inflated prices (like $7,500 for a Tor hardcover that retailed, undiscounted, at $24 five years ago),...
An interesting read:

http://io9.com/#!5795511/amazons-2369865593-book-about-flies

It's all about automated listing. You can spot the ones with the book, and the ones who resell...

63:

Really bad cover "art" has put me off buying a book (at least in that imprint) on occasion. In at least one case, I waited for and spent more on a UK imprint because the US imprint cover was so 'orrible!

I see your point, but marketting cuts both ways!

64:

Which, if any, of the many, many articles listed from that page were you referring to?

(The damned site uses a twitter-style #! url, meaning you never get a 404, you just end up at the top of the page if the relevant anchor isn't found. It breaks links in so many ways, especially any archival style ones.)

65:

Ah, now that's even odder - entering the URL without the hash-pling gave me a redirection to the same link with the hash-pling, but with the relevant content.

I'll just consider io9 to be partially broken for now.

66:

The original location for the article would appear to be http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=358 (cheers to Tony Finch @fanf for noting that one).

67:

Chrisj @60 and Charlie @61. - Hmm! Thanks for the info. I guess that's why cover copy can sometimes be so generic rather than specific. I shall take it with a bit of a pinch of salt in the future.

68:

I rarely look at covers when I buy books. I'm disabled and buy them online, and usually look for the book after I've heard it's good from someone(s) I trust.

69:

This was pre e-shopping, and volume N+1 of a series, so I knew I wanted the text. It was when I saw the import cover that I (and several others according to the shop owner) decided that we could not live with a piece of "art" that bad.

70:

io9 is a victim of Gawker Media's attempt to entirely redesign their CMS for all their blogs, in an attempt (apparently) to increase advertising revenue by deterring deep linking.

It appears to have backfired spectacularly; word is that site visits are down 50% in the past two months because nobody can find what they're looking for.

See also: the perils of trying to herd the internet.

71:

Ah yes, I can quite understand that.

And I just realised something else - http://io9.com/5795511/ works just fine - the long trailing title bit is there only for context determination.

72:

I think an inaccurate description is more likely to harm sales that way, particularly because the cover copy so frequently descends into cliched generalities (often cliches the author has deliberately avoided or subverted). It's worse with fantasy (where it often boils down to "$hero doesn't want to be a $occupation like $parent; sets off to find adventure" or "$hero finds/inherits $object; $evil_monster attacks them for it", even in cases where this bears no resemblance to the contents of the book) than with SF; possibly that reflects the perception that fantasy readers want comfortable familiarity rather than brave new worlds, but....

(My copy of "Singularity Sky", to take a totally random example, has copy that contains a number of errors about major facets of the story.)

I don't pay much attention to cover copy, these days; word of mouth is a better way of knowing whether I'll like a book, and is much less likely to be flat-out wrong. The problem with that is that word of mouth works less well for a new or little-known author. So I'd rather the cover copy was accurate, which might help me to decide whether a book by someone I've never heard of is likely to interest me without either reading half of it or waiting until someone else has done so.

73:

#73 - I spy spammers, and persistent ones. I think an IP block may be required!!! :mad:

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on April 15, 2011 5:57 PM.

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