12.14.2006

Take THAT!

Galley Cat reports interesting new strategy for being read when your book isn't selling: give it away.

I'd sure like to look at that guy's contract.

48 comments:

eric said...

I have a novel about a homeless man. In fact, my crapometer hook will be for it. A little along this line I decided that if I ever sell it, I would donate 100% of my take to a charity for the homeless. I don't need the cash so much, it gives something back to the world, and it's good for PR, I have to admit. Also, I know a handleful of very wealthy people (I am not one, but through business I know them well enough) and I'm sure I could get more than a few matching contributions from them to boot.

Yeah, yeah...I'm crazy.

Arthur said...

Yeah, I'm surprised he can legally do that.

Alphabet said...

If my publisher, for a fourth book, with great, great reviews and blurbs, capped my total potential hardback sales at 3,700, I'd be more than disappointed - and why shouldn't he know which major book chain declined to sell him?

Thay guy's website is pretty impressive (verbally if not visually), and from what I can judge, he seems to be a very talented writer of SF (as in, I am now tempted to read his latest, and those of some of the other writers to whom he links). He seems to be keeping his feelings about Tor barely on a leash.

My thought: if this guy can't even get to a place where the public can decide if he's viable or not, what chance do most of us have?

I really hope he makes it, and I think giving the text (not the book) away is a great way to build readership and recognition. The irony is that I probably won't be able to buy the book for myself this weekend, oh well at least Powells have it in stock.

Will his agent be irritated at possible loss of sales, or delighted that Watts now has a chance of not having his career halted by Tor's (arguably flawed, but it is arguable) market judgment?

I am also surprised this hasn't been discussed on Making Light yet. I think this one will run and run.

Anonymous said...

Isn't TOR the same one who published The Davinci Legacy from the guy who's seeking to court Dan Brown?

Anonymous said...

It's weird. The guy's whole career seems to be screwy.

His books get good reviews, fans like him, published in SF magazines with good circulation, and then screwed by a bookstore chain?

It's like he was nailing the aquisitions guy's wife at Barnes and Noble or something.

Bill Peschel said...

"I am also surprised this hasn't been discussed on Making Light yet."

That is surprising, since the owners of Making Light are Tor editors.

There's also a piece about Cory Doctorow who expanded his readership by giving his books away. Unfortunately, I can't find the link anymore.

eric said...

ermmm...handleful? Ahem...handful.

coffee...must drink coffee....

KingM said...

Hey, Peter is a friend of mine. We attend a retreat at Gibraltar Point, Toronto each summer. I read part of Blindsight at GP. It's not an easy read, but Watts is a fantastic writer. It's a shame that they aren't printing and selling more of his books.

December Quinn said...

Alphabet, I suspect this is going to put a halt to his career anyway.

Ted W. Gross said...

I am putting on my jock strap here with a steal cup to boot...cause I fear the Snark kick.
As much as I hate to say this, and I really truly do hate to say this, but there is method to the madness here. He is right. His web stats will go through the roof. But to be honest, what he is attempting to do without POD, is to keep his name in the limelight. It is an unusual way to do it, I grant that, but I am willing to bet, with really a few bucks a day - he can do one hell of a marketing plan.

Maybe this book won't work out, and it is a damn big chance, and it takes big gahongas to do it, but if his purpose is to "market" his name, and keep the PR going, he certainly has started out on the right foot.

I am not saying if this is wise or not. Obviously one can only do that after a period of time and able to judge the true results. But I give him an A+ for working in and out of the industry in a legitimate way (if he is legally able to do what he is doing - and I have no clue if that is true or not).

He has got guts. That is for sure! Whether it is stupidity in the guise of guts...only time will tell. Though I certainly would not reccommend this path for an unpublished author.

Teddy from Cobwebs Of The Mind

Maria said...

Hmm, a new trend? I know of another published author who made one of his books available--it wasn't already published, but the publisher basically wanted only his current series (you know how publishers like to see a focused author and don't like the sidetrips.) So he e-booked it on his website. It's doing very, very well too from what I understand. I read it. I liked it even better than some of his series books. It was darn good.

Anonymous said...

The logic is that numerous people who would otherwise never hear of or see the work will read the download and decide a bound book would be better, then buy it. If this strikes you as insane, just remember it hasn't exactly hurt David Sedaris to have all those NPR readings available as free downloads.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I may be wrong, but it sounds too much like a nice mix of pride and sour grapes. Proud of the book, wants everyone to read it, pissed that not enough people are buying it. If I was his agent, I'd sit him down and say, "What do you think people will do the next time one of your books comes out? Why sould they buy it? They'll wait for you to put it on-line." I'm sure I'll have a hint of a sore loser in me if I experience failure, but I'd never be stupid enough to take it to that length.

Alphabet said...

December,

Do you think so? I don't think something similar has hurt Cory Doctorow's career, and it seems to me that Watt is a very fine writer. I am excited to have ordered his book from Powells, which is one sale he'd otherwise not have had - it's too early to tell, but this looks to me like a potentially great genre career that's been terribly badly handled by his publisher - if they can't sell his book, despite great reviews, an interesting premise, and a good track record, then they don't deserve to have him any longer.

It's funny - writing a book is hard, getting an agent is hard, getting published is hard, getting great and widespread reviews is hard, and even with all that you're not set yet.

Anonymous said...

Here's the link for the Cory Doctorow article.

Karenee said...

I hope this plan profits him. It's not like this has never been done. Baen books has many of their authors' books published for free online. http://www.baen.com/library I've bought many books from Baen because of this free-sample strategy as I only buy books I intend to read many times. The best way to find qualifying literature is to read it first.

S. W. Vaughn said...

Well. This is frightening...

I followed this link, to other links, and yet more links, and put together what I could of the story. From what I can tell, Watts is stuck in that awful third-book spiral I've seen discussed elsewhere. James Macdonald has a post about it somewhere on Absolute Write.

Bookstores order books based on previous sales, numbers only, and not demand or buzz or anything else (except personal visits from sales reps). With each successive book you get on the shelves (and that term, apparently, is used loosely, as physically being "on the shelves" is damned hard) those numbers go down because -- as Watts points out -- no one can find your book, unless the publisher pays the coop fee for those nifty front-of-the-store display stands. If they aren't going into the bookstore looking for your book, chances are they aren't going to find it.

(These explanations yoinked from JA Konrath and various linkage through his blog, he of the self-promote or die fame.)

This being Watts' third book, his print run dropped to 3,700 because of poor bookstore orders on the last title, and those poor orders were the result of not selling out completely with the print run of his first book. A big ol' ripple effect in reverse, a shrinking pond.

Watts isn't demonstrating sour grapes, and he isn't throwing a tantrum -- according to his own comments on the Bookblogger. Rather, he is desperate, because Tor is waffling about a second print run, and if he doesn't get one, chances are his fourth book is doomed.

Basically, he "just wants people to read the damned thing." And, he is standing there watching his career sink in the quicksand of chain bookstore corporate policy, seeking any root he can grab to pull himself out. I can empathize with that.

Watts' editor at Tor is fully aware of what he's doing, too.

Ryan Field said...

Walmart can afford to give away free shit every now and then. Writers can't.

Rob in Denver said...

Great snippet from the Doctorow article:
"Most people who download the book don't end up buying it, but they wouldn’t have bought it in any event, so I haven’t lost any sales, I’ve just won an audience. A tiny minority of downloaders treat the free e-book as a substitute for the printed book--those are the lost sales. But a much larger minority treat the e-book as an enticement to buy the printed book. They're gained sales. As long as gained sales outnumber lost sales, I'm ahead of the game. After all, distributing nearly a million copies of my book has cost me nothing."

Anonymous said...

"Proud of the book, wants everyone to read it, pissed that not enough people are buying it."

I read it as "pissed that his publisher ordered such a small print run that it didn't have the chance to find more readers." I think that's very different, and a much more reasonable thing to be pissed about.

BernardL said...

It may be a long-shot name recognition plan, but one of the thrills of being a writer depends on people reading your books. Her Snarkness mentioned his contract. If I were with Tor books, I'd be a heck of a lot more upset about what he did, than he is about their book promotion. I hope it works out well for all of them, and they sell a bunch. Otherwise, in the future, he may be giving away all his writing. :)

Anonymous said...

I really don't see this as such a bad move. It's not really all that different from having your book in the library. After all, you're trading one sale for thousands of readers there.

I suspect he probably has another book coming, and is willing to sacrifice the remainder of the sales for the first book to benefit the second.

Besides, who likes reading e-books anyway? If I read part of his book and liked it, I'd go and buy it. Or get it from the library anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's funny - writing a book is hard, getting an agent is hard, getting published is hard, getting great and widespread reviews is hard, and even with all that you're not set yet.

This business isn't like other businesses. You can't just follow the rules and know you'll do well. You're never set yet, not really.

KingM said...

It's possible that Peter picked up on the idea from Cory, as the two of them are friends. In any event, that print run was pretty small; it's hard to see his experiment as backfiring too badly, assuming Peter has the okay from his publisher and agent.

Personally, I can see myself reading an excerpt online, but if I were seriously interested in the novel I would always look for an actual book. So I can't see people downloading the book in lieu of reading it.

Tom Rymour said...

I'm going to try free downloads combined with mail order; my chaotic site should be ready for it next year. I read about the Baen experiment on the www, and found it persuasive.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

What do you think would happen if people actually walked into those Brick and Mortar stores and asked the booksellers to ORDER it?

Or is that passe?

Anonymous said...

Why sould they buy it? They'll wait for you to put it on-line."

Maybe some people would, but for most of us staring at a screen for umpteen thousand words is tiresome. If I read the first few chapters of this (which I might do when finals are over) and liked it, I'd order it from Amazon or ask a bookstore to order it for me. And if by some miracle I did decide to read the entire thing on-line for free and liked it, I'd be eager to pick up his next book.

Anyway, I think this is a good idea, even though it may not pay off for him in particular. Any print journalist or music executive will tell you that technology is changing the way we consume information - books have been more or less immune because, again, nobody wants to stare at a screen for that long, but that doesn't mean that new technoloy isn't going to start shaping how we find authors and content we like for books the way it is for everything else.

(Another way to look at it - is ABC insane for putting Grey's Anatomy on-line in its entirety with only minimal commercials? I bet its helped them more than its hurt them.)

BuffySquirrel said...

He's not pissed that the book isn't selling. He's pissed that the book might be selling, except would-be readers are saying they can't find it on the shelf. There's a difference.

Heck, I wandered all around Waterstones #2 at the weekend looking for the copy of Kit Whitfield's Bareback that they swore they had, but which couldn't be found. So that's not a sale, then.

December Quinn said...

Alphabet,

I agree it's a good publicity gambit. I plan to make a few of my books free website downloads when the rights revert.

But that's the point...when the rights revert. As far as I know, most publishing contracts forbid this sort of thing. I know all of mine do (admittedly mine are with small ebook publishers, so I can't say how indicative they are of the industry as a whole). It's stealing, isn't it? From Tor, I mean?

If I was his publisher I'd be irritated. If I was another publisher I'd think twice before signing him. As I said, I could be way off there, this is just my opinion. I certainly don't wish for him to fail at all--I hope this works out well for him. I just think if it was me, I wouldn't have done it.

puzzlehouse said...

I too know Peter -- he's one of my best friends, and I have tried, tried, tried to get him to stop poking everyone at Tor with a sharp pointed stick. As far as I'm concerned -- and I'm not the only one -- all he's doing is destroying his writing career when he does stuff like this. Sure, giving Blindsight away will garner lots of web hits, readers too, but it's not going to endear him to his editor (I know him too) or publisher.

I deeply wish he DID have an agent, because he needs one. He used to be represented by Don Maass, but fired him (see his "Critical Maass" entry on his site ( http://rifters.com/real/newscrawl.htm ). Another mistake, in my opinion.

Peter's hugely talented, but is tough as hell to work with/for. Miss Snark might be up to it. Maybe.

Termagant 2 said...

"He seems to be keeping his feelings about Tor barely on a leash."

Can't think why this would be the case. I'd tend to blame the chain stores and their screwy buying habits. Recently there was a post online about how chain stores can kill a midlist author's career stone dead. Good for Watts, not to go gentle into that bad night.

T2

Anonymous said...

The best way to get your book noticed is to commit some sort of high-profile crime, or create a disturbance that makes the news.
This kind of publicity may have the effect of making your nerves a little "freyed" around the edges....

BuffySquirrel said...

Okay, IANAL, but afaics it's not illegal and it's not stealing, no. It might be breach of contract, but that's a civil matter.

In any case, even if Mr Watts hadn't put his book for free on the internet, Google Books would do so sooner or later anyway--presuming they could find a copy.

HawkOwl said...

I don't know how people here order inventory but where I work, we look at how much we sold of something in the last year, and how many sales orders we have for it now, then we base our next purchase order on that. So I'm not sure why people are having meltdowns over bookstores basing their orders on the author's past sales. Books may not be fungible, but as far as the "I'm not buying this crap" decision, yes they are. Like this: "this is a Danielle Steele book, ergo I'm not buying it." Realistically, everyone who didn't buy Book 1 is equally likely not to buy Book 2, plus a portion of those who bought Book 1 will not buy Book 2 because Book 1 sucked. So why print increasingly large numbers, unless the sales orders you have for it make that necessary?

One might also consider that the people who decide print runs at TOR know more about the publishing business than the uninformed blogosphere, so if they decide not to print more of the book, it's probably because they have no good reason to believe they'd make money by it.

The whole thing seems very Terrible Twos.

Anonymous said...

From what I read of what he was posting on his site and elsewhere, his editor and publishing house was aware of this a month ago and don't have a problem with it.

The bottom line is just like he says it is, with a print run of 3700 and no second run in sight and people unable to buy his books at the bookstores besides, his career tanked before this.

If B&N didn't feel like buying any copies of this one they weren't going to buy the next one anyways, and Tor knew that. From what he said his editor basically told him he was dead in the water and the chain bookstores weren't going to pick up his stuff anymore.

That's going to cut his sales record so low that his next book wouldn't even get published.

KingM said...

Puzzlehouse: Peter's hugely talented, but is tough as hell to work with/for. Miss Snark might be up to it. Maybe.

Hmm, I doubt it. Miss Snark doesn't like difficult writers. In any event, I hope it works for Peter. I like his stuff and think there's an audience for it.

katiesandwich said...

Hmm. I'm not sure what my take is on this. I mean, I don't know if I'd do this, but when you're desperate, you're desperate. Also, I wonder if he knew that using such an unusual tactic could get him mentioned in online writer's circles like this one and get those writers to visit. He may have figured that if the writers who visited liked his work, they'd order his book to give him a helping hand... I don't know; maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. Personally, my first chapter is up on my website, and that's all I plan to ever post. But who knows what will happen?

blissbat said...

Mr. Watts has done this with several (all?) of his other books after they've been on the shelves for awhile. He seems to have done it more quickly with Blindsight because a lot of people who've wanted to read haven't been able to get it. Given that Tor hasn't taken legal action against him after all this time (and all these books), it's pretty clear that it's not a contractual problem.

If anyone thinks that giving away one's own books is "stealing" *despite* a lack of contractual prohibition, I can only roll my eyes.

Kelly Link also made her first short-story collection online after it was published (and had sold reasonably well). Given that she's since become a very well known and well respected writer on the literary side of the fantasy genre, it doesn't seem to have damaged her career. Same with Cory Doctorow, as others have mentioned above.

All that said, I should note that Blindsight is SPECTACULAR. I picked up a copy at Powell's when it came out, and I stayed up all night reading it. I hope to god it wins the Hugo.

One other thing. Buffysquirrel said:

In any case, even if Mr Watts hadn't put his book for free on the internet, Google Books would do so sooner or later anyway--presuming they could find a copy.

Google Books has never proposed to plonk down the entire text of books still in copyright for anyone to read. Amazon's "search inside this book" is much closer to what Google has done thus far, and you can learn about their actual policy here.

puzzlehouse said...

This isn't a case of the "terrible twos," as hawkowl says, or even a problem with Peter's third book, as s.m. vaughn suggests -- Blindsight is Peter's *fifth* book, following his Rifters trilogy.

Yeah, the math sounds funky. The trilogy was supposed to be Starfish, Maelstrom, and Behemoth, but Tor decided (you'll have to read Peter's blog -- I can't remember the details) to split the third book into two. Peter fought long and hard to make sure Tor put "Book 1" on Behemoth: Book 1 B-Max and "Book 2" on Behemoth: Seppuku so readers knew that after they'd bought the "last" book in the trilogy, they had to shell out again for part 2. Tor wanted to just let readers find out when they hit the last page. Thanks, guys. \

I just wonder what Peter's sales would have been like if Tor published books in trade paper rather than insisting on hardcover. Like that isn't a factor in sales.

Who knows? This all may work out in his favor, especially if some other publisher is smart enough to snap him up.

darkhorse said...

Re: the Baen free library. I know it's worked for more than a few readers who've read on line or downloaded the first (or first several) books of a series, then gone out to buy all the new ones AND the ones previously read on-line.

My shelves are proof of it. Before I discovered the Baen website, I had maybe a handful of their books. Now, they get a lot more of my book dollars.

Their promotion of authors, including the free library, was a big part of the reason I submitted to them. Unfortunately, I don't write exactly what they look for. But they did call it 'well-written' in the rejection letter.

Shawn C said...

He's definately an outspoken guy. I read through this blog entry as well as others complaining about the cover for his book and other issues he has had with Tor.

Personally, when you have a professional business relationship with someone I don't think you should be blogging about the ups-and-downs of it. He comes off as a really difficult person to deal with.

All that said, his book looks interesting and I'll probably pick it up from Amazon and some point. So, for what it's worth, he'll be at least +1 sale because of this.

Soni said...

This is definitely a strategy that works for some authors. One of my favorite authors (John Scalzi, this year's Campbell award winner) has garnered a lot of my cash (and, from the sound of his blog community, lots of others' cash as well) by doing this same thing. He posted his first (unpublished) novel online just to say he'd written one and to see what sort of response it would get from readers.

I read it and liked it so much that when he did a limited print run with a small publisher, I literally sat on the edge of his blogfeed waiting for the release date/ordering info to get a hardcover version of a book I'd already read. And then I bought his next book. And his special edition chapbook. And pre-ordered another. And wheedled my local librarians until they were sick of seeing me to get his other books, when I was too broke to buy them myself. (It worked!)

That one free taste hooked this junkie. I've since moved and, still being desperately broke, am wheedling a whole new library staff into buying his newest books coming out (I would be spending my own cash, if it didn't currently conflict with grocery buying, but a sale is a sale whether I lay out the cash myself or coerce my local librarian into doing it for me).

And it's not just my own purchases that my reading of the original free text created, either, since I (like many others) do all I can to tell everyone else about him and get them to buy his books, too, to the point of cruising by the sci-fi section of bookstores to "face out" his books (greater visibility = greater sales), whenever I happen to be in one. It's like a cult, it is.

dancinghorse said...

puzzlehouse: For what it is worth, I have been in Mr. Watts' position, minus the free download, and got out of it by changing bylines. The new byline is getting some pre-pub buzz and one of the things Tor has done is change the hardcover release to trade paper after the chains said, "We'll order twice as many if you release it in tp." Maybe I'm their guinea pig again, I have been before. We'll see what comes of it.

3700 print run and one big chain out of the game is bad news. I'd be looking for alternative ways to get the book out there, too.

The problem is that a critical success is the kiss of death in this market. You have to have the sales to go with it, or you don't sell your next book. Period. If Watts manages to get enough new orders out of this strategy, he'll keep his career alive. If not, he'll have to give his next book away anyway, because no publisher will buy it based on his sales record. That is a crying shame for a writer of this quality, but he's not the first to die on the vine and he won't be the last.

One last note to the general readership: A print run of 3700 means an expectation of sales in the 1500 range. That's rock-bottom. Tor can't keep itself afloat with sales on that level. Publishing is a BUSINESS. Don't ever forget that.

dirty dingus said...

Coincidentally I saw another writing blog recently asking "Why you bought your last book" - http://www.davidlouisedelman.com/blog/index.php/2006/12/11/why-bought-book/. My response was basically that all of them were bought because of Baen and its free library - even the non-Baen books were by Baen authors...

blissbat said...

John Scalzi has a great post about this that discusses other writers such as Charlie Stross who released their books this way after publication and saw increases in sales and buzz (Stross's Accelerando was nominated for the Hugo).

So this isn't necessarily a suicidal strategy, particularly not in Science Fiction.

HawkOwl said...

I just wonder what Peter's sales would have been like if Tor published books in trade paper rather than insisting on hardcover. Like that isn't a factor in sales.

I hope it isn't being suggested that this is TOR screwing the poor downtrodden author over. If that is TOR's policy, and the author or his agent thought it would be detrimental to his book, then the author should not have signed with TOR.

Trish said...

Thanks for posting this; I'm not a writer or editor, but I am an avid reader and I'm really enjoying the book. It is a tough, weird read, but I can't seem to stop either.

I may buy it after Christmas, but I would have ordered it already if it were a mass market. Shame it doesn't seem likely to make it to paperback.

Anonymous said...

This is the literary equivalent of "chumming!"

Haste yee back