This week I’m taking a short break from the “Writing Your Book” series to post about something else. Originally, this was going to be a simple self-promotion post. I have a book coming out this week — the mass market paperback release of The Horsemen’s Gambit, book II in my Blood of the Southlands trilogy. The third and final volume in the series, The Dark-Eyes’ War, will be released in hardcover in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be publicizing that in a future post.
The hardcover/paperback progression is not uncommon in publishing, though it is becoming rarer in this economic climate (more and more books are coming out as paperback originals or as trade paperbacks — the larger format paperbacks often used for more mainstream literary releases). Here’s how the hardcover/paperback progression works. The hardcover edition of The Horsemen’s Gambit came out last year around this time (January ’09). Tor didn’t print a whole lot of copies of the hardcover — the print run was somewhere between 5,000 and 7,000 copies. But for the first year the publisher pushed this edition of the book. The hardcovers sell for around $25.00 to $28.00 a copy, of which the author gets about a 10% royalty. Usually a book in this format will be purchased by hard-core fans, collectors, and libraries; more casual readers tend to wait for the less expensive paperback edition. Obviously, big-name authors will see far larger print runs and will sell far more copies of their hardcovers (think J.K. Rowling) but for a midlist author like me, that 6,000 copy print run is not all that unusual. And given the high price point and the relatively generous royalty rate, this first year is a good time for authors to earn out their advances.
At this point, in February 2010, The Horsemen’s Gambit has been out for a year, and hardcover sales have largely tailed off. But the hardcover version of the next book in the series is about to come out, and so in order to a) renew interest in the series, and b) spur sales of the new hardcover, Tor is now reissuing the book in what we call mass market (also known as small format) paperback. The price point now is $7.99 and I get an 8% royalty. That’s far less royalty money per sale. On the other hand, the print run is four or five times larger than it was for the hardcover; let’s say 20,000 to 25,000 copies. Collectors are less likely to buy a paperback, but casual fans are far more likely to. These are the people who might have read something of mine before but who don’t wait on pins and needles for every David B. Coe release. Or maybe they’ve never even heard of me, but they see the book in a store and love the cover art. Or maybe they simply make it a policy never to buy hardcovers because those initial releases are too expensive.
Promoting a re-release is not always as exciting as promoting a brand new hardcover, but it is at least as important, since the paperback edition will reach far more readers. Plus, sales of the paperback can often feed sales of the subsequent hardcover by boosting interest in the series. In other words, someone who reads The Horsemen’s Gambit might like it so much that they simply can’t wait another year for The Dark-Eyes’ War to come out in paperback. So they buy the new hardcover. For these reasons, I’m doing all I can to drum up interest in the books. I’m blogging about the release in several places, and promoting both books on my website. And, in fact, if you’re interested in trying to win a free, signed copy of the hardcover edition of The Dark-Eyes’ War, please visit the contests page on my website.
But because things in the publishing business are never as simple as they ought to be, my promotional efforts this time around have been complicated by something beyond my control. Amazon.com and MacMillan Publishing, the parent company of Tor Books, are at war right now, and so Amazon is not selling any MacMillan books directly. You can still access the book pages for MacMillan releases on Amazon.com, but there is no “buy” or “preorder” button. You can only order the books through a third party. Why have they done this? What is the MacMillan-Amazon war about? Good questions. On one level, it all seems rather silly: They are fighting over price points for e-books. Amazon wants all e-books sold at $9.99 and they are insisting on a percentage structure that is not terribly generous to the publishers or authors. MacMillan wants to be able to charge more per book (too much, probably) but they also want a more generous percentage of return, more in line with what they will be getting back on sales from Apple’s newly announced iBook Store.
At a deeper level, the conflict is entirely about control of the e-book market. Amazon has had a stranglehold on that market thus far, but with the release of the (unfortunately named) iPad that’s going to change. And so MacMillan is standing up to the 700 pound gorilla in the room, and Amazon’s response has been o pull the books off their cyber-shelves. I’m sure there’s plenty of blame to go around in this fight, but the fact remains that my fellow MacMillan authors (like Misty) and I are suffering because of it. So are consumers who want to buy MacMillan books from Amazon.
Perhaps the lesson here is that authors only have so much control over the sales performance of our books. I could promote this book night and day for the next two weeks, but the fact of the matter is that if Amazon isn’t selling them directly, my numbers will be down, which will impact my next contract, not to mention my royalty statements. The other lesson is that the market is changing. Amazon is willing to deprive itself of short term sales of physical books because they understand that ebooks are the future of the industry. THAT’S the market they want to control. Which means that in a few years the hardcover/paperback model I outline above might well be obsolete.David B. Coe http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net