Answering email: Release Weeks & me.

Two people, because of discussions elsewhere on the internet, have sent email asking me questions about release weeks, and how when a reader buys a book affects me, personally. I thought I would take the opportunity to answer them here. But, as usual, before I answer a question, I need to explain the context.

(This might be a little on the long side – and because I want everything to be clear here, if anything I’ve said is confusing in any way, please ask me to clarify).

First: Everything I am saying about release week refers to traditionally published books, in large part because most of it relates to the sale of physical books through traditional outlets. Ebooks figure into the discussion, but not in the same way.

If you haven’t heard the phrase “release week”, you’re not alone. In fact, you’re probably someone who goes into a bookstore, browses, finds a book (or more) that looks interesting, and buys it. The book is either in the store, or it’s not. However.

Every book has an on-sale date. In most cases, this date is “soft”. It is the day by which every bookstore that ordered the title, prior to its release, can be expected to have copies. In order for the book to be on the shelves of stores in CA and also in NY, they need to be picked, packed, loaded onto trucks, and delivered. The location of the warehouses define, in part, which stores will get copies first. Clearly the books do not arrive at the vendors on the same day.

When the books arrive, the bookstore people will receive the books, which are invoiced from the time the books were picked for packing and shipping. They price them, and they put them on the shelves. Is there an On Sale notification? There’s a sticker on the outside of the box. It’s often small, green or yellow. It’s not always at the top of the box. And, in most cases, it is functionally invisible. A large store will receive a hundred boxes, many of which do not have these stickers, but all of which require the same receiving & stickering.

What this means in a practical sense is that the book will begin to appear on bookshelves before its theoretical release day as it arrives in the various stores. There are a (very few) occasions when the bookstores have signed binding legal agreements not to display a book before a certain date (Harry Potter’s later volumes); if you don’t sign, no books. For the most part, though, the books get put on the shelf.

People find them. People buy them.

Why, then, does release week matter to some authors?

The NYT (New York Times) Bestseller lists.

The NYT Bestseller lists are aggregate and weighted surveys of (totally unnamed) bookstores and venues in which books can be purchased. They are reported to be primarily brick-and-mortar outlets. In order to prevent authors from deliberately gaming the system (by, say, ordering 500 copies of their own books through an NYT store), the list is kept private.

They accumulate numbers for each of the fifty-two weeks of the year. Once a week, they tabulate and release their list.

The theory behind release week is this: it’s when the greatest concentration of sales should occur. If you are desperate to make the NYT list in any position, you want all of your initial sales to occur during the same week.

Why would an author want to be on that list so badly?

Let me make a small list.

1. Increased visibility

2. “New York Times Bestseller” appended to your author name forever.

3. Marketing buzz. If you make it onto the list, it means you have reader-momentum.

4. Escalators.

There are additional reasons. Some authors feel that if they don’t crack that list, their career is over. Their books won’t sell to publishers, and they won’t be able to continue to write them.

However: in my very, very humble opinion, if you’re not cracking the top 10 – the print list – it’s insignificant. As a reader, I generally consider “NYT Bestelling author” to be an insubstantial bit of fluff. I don’t pay attention to it because it doesn’t matter to me as a reader.

Obviously, the way I respond as a reader influences my thoughts on the matter as a writer. If something says #1 NYT Bestseller, that’s impressive. (Not that it influences whether or not I want to read the book). Short of that, I don’t pay attention. My husband feels that I am somehow not the typical consumer – but really, I have a lot of books, and it’s one of the few areas in which I do feel I am the typical consumer — inasmuch as any reader is.

So here’s my take. Well, no, let me say instead: Here’s Ilona Andrew’s take.

How does all of this silliness affect the reader? It doesn’t. You shouldn’t have anxiety when you go to a book store or when you preorder. You shouldn’t worry about when to buy the book or how it will affect the author. If you like the book, get it. A sale is a sale and we thank you for it.

So, the plan is, if you find the book early and you want it, buy it. If you see it early – score! You get the book early. Email us if you liked it. We’ll be totally happy for you.

They have a much larger audience than I do, but started out from the same position; they sell well, but they do it because people liked their books and told other people about them.

It’s interesting to note that they hit the NYT list on the week before release week. (I say they rather than she because it’s a husband & wife writing team, not because I am bad at pronouns. Well, okay, I’m sometimes bad with pronouns, but.)

Having said all of this, it’s normal for authors to worry about how a book is selling. This is actually much, much easier to do as time passes, because after a couple of decades, we become more aware of writers we know and love that can’t sell to publishers because of prior low-sales records. Series that we love writing/reading aren’t viable anymore.

In my less sanguine moments, I’m looking into a gloomy future left in the wake of the death of Borders, because Borders did carry my books, and they did carry my backlist. Loss of that shelf-space across the US makes keeping books that have been in-print since their first publication almost impossible; the West novels are too long for the current PoD reprints that are occurring for other mass markets, and they don’t have the sales volume of, say, Patrick Rothfuss. (A volume which I think he deserves because I think his writing is brilliant).

But with the broader acceptance of self-publishing and e-publishing, there are at least options.

Skirmish Summary, part 2 of part 3, and a note about the differences between reading and writing

This is the final part of the summary of the events of The Sun SwordSkirmish Summary 03.b.

There are — as I think Michael pointed out in the previous thread — events that I didn’t mention, in part because it would add enormously to the length of the summary, and if I hit 60k words, it pushes the meaning of the word “summary”. It probably wouldn’t surprise anyone, but it also wouldn’t be finished until next month.

I think the summary contains the backstory necessary to understand what’s happening now in Skirmish, but if there are points that are confusing, this is the post to ask questions in. I will try to answer them as they come up.

I also want to add something here. I did have a spoiler thread for Cast in Ruin discussion. I am happy to have a similar thread for Skirmish discussion, but when people begin to discuss, in depth, the contents of one of my novels, I try to absent myself from the discussion. This isn’t because I’m not interested; it’s because I don’t want to be a damper on the discussions that do arise, and if I weigh in, it frequently has that effect. What we perceive as writers and readers are different.

There are characters that I love that some readers hate. (I think Sendari holds the title as the character that’s caused the most conflict: my editor and several of my friends really loved & empathized with him; my mother and Kate Elliott loathed him). I obviously can’t argue with their reaction. I have my own — but my reaction in no way invalidates reader reaction. I didn’t intend that he be hated. I can’t change him after the fact, and to be honest, wouldn’t. He is, in my mind, who he is.

That’s an obvious example. But when discussions devolve into “what do you think the author intended”, it gets trickier. I can tell you what I intended (or didn’t intend, see: Sendari above), and I can sometimes do that without killing discussion completely, but not often. “Where do you think the author is going” is another example. I can’t really weigh in, because some people hate spoilers of any kind; even if I say “it is never going there”, it will close off those possibilities in a way that will leave some readers disgruntled.

I’m happy to answer questions — but some readers prize the discussion itself, and answering questions often kills that discussion. So: if you want my (non spoiler) answers to questions you have about my books, ask me here or in a blog post that’s not devoted to spoiler discussions, and I will try to answer them in a way that doesn’t step on reader toes.

Final Skirmish Cover

I am hip-deep in revisions – which is better than the chin-deep I was a week ago. When I am writing, and writing is going (relatively) well, I tend to be on-line more; I’ll tweet or I’ll post. When revisions are problematic, they eat my brain, and I tend to disappear. I’m sorry =/.

But mail arrived from DAW which I wanted to share here: the final version of the Skirmish cover. The novel is slated for January 2012 release in hardcover, and I will–when revisions on Peril are done–begin work on a ‘story so far’, something I haven’t done before. I’ll post that somewhere on the site as the date approaches.

Without further comment:

 (Actually, there is further comment, sadly. I can’t adjust the image in WordPress at the moment, so the larger file is cut off no matter what I do. If you click on the picture, however, you’ll see the image in full size. Sorry >.<)

Cast in Ruin is Live – and this is the discussion thread

This is a New Idea (which I stole from Kate Elliott): This is the blog post on which discussions of Cast in Ruin, with spoilers, should take place. If you have questions that I can answer without spoiling future books, I’ll try to answer them here as well.

And now: two things.

First, I have to say that I have no idea what the actual on-sale date of the book is, and have been using Amazon’s, as reported to me by various people. In my mind, it’s an October 2011 title, and in my experience, new titles tend to ship and arrive the month before the publication month. Sometime. (It’s my suspicion that the release week is actually the week in which October 1st lands, because that’s the on-sale date for the ebook.)

September 20th – today! – is the day Amazon listed as release day. Some people’s books have already arrived, and I have even seen picture proof of its external existence.

Second: I know that the internet savvy among you will be aware that some authors are very concerned about when sales occur. They aim for ‘release week’, because they hope that sales during that week will land the book on the NYT lists, as the NYT numbers are compiled weekly.

I am not one of these authors. It’s my (possibly erroneous) belief that the momentum for a book has to be large enough on its own to achieve list status (any list), and also my certainty that many more people read these books than read my various on-line ramblings.

Also: I have two sons. They were once two small sons, and in the case of the elder one, I could not remain on the inside of any store for longer than ten minutes before he melted down. Going to a bookstore was a luxury, and remaining in the bookstore while he started to ratchet up the volume was…not a courtesy to anyone else who happened to be trying to browse. I love books. I want their authors to sell well, and continue to be able to write them. But being practical? I had no idea when the release date/week was, and there was no way, if I saw a book I wanted to read — while bouncing restive baby and praying for another thirty seconds of silence — that I was going to put the book back and come in a week later.

Given this experience, I am happy that people are buying the books at all. I have no idea what the right week even is. I don’t care if you buy the paper book or the ebook; I do ask that you buy a legal copy of some sort, where at all possible, because any other venue doesn’t reach the publisher, and if the numbers aren’t there – publishing being a business – it makes it harder for them to justify continuing to publish the books. Plus, they give me covers I love, and editing.

And while yes, the opportunity or possibility exists to now write the books and put them out on my own, it’s not really possible to get the paper versions down to a reasonable price at their length in PoD; in order to get it into any stores/Amazon at all, a book the length of Cast in Ruin would cost a minimum of 20.95, as opposed to the 14.95 retail Luna charges.

Ebooks are a growing market, it’s true – but as of Cast in Chaos, they’re just over 20% of my readership. Which means, in order to self-publish, I would be walking away from 70% of my readers (I’m assuming that 10% of the paper readers would find the PoD on-line, and buy it there).

Wow, long again. I’m sure this will surprise no one.

ETA (because it is late and I have had no coffee): If circumstances are such that you can’t buy a copy, I understand that; books are luxuries. But in that case, can you find a copy in your local library? Libraries do buy a copy, and the more people that pass through the doors, the greater the likelihood that their funding won’t be nuked to zero in the coming years.

News!

Wendy Good, in the comments to the previous post, asked: How many more Cast books are you currently contracted for with Luna? Will you seek contracts for further Cast books or is that too far reaching of a question? I dare to ask because I don’t want them to end. I know all good things must eventually, but would love some reassurance regarding the next few years, if at all possible. : )

The answer was: The one I’m working on now (which is Cast in Peril).

The answer is now: The one I’m working on now (which is, oddly enough, still Cast in Peril) and three more Cast novels, none of which have titles.

Some of the questions about various elements of possible future books – the Dragon Court – are affected by events in the almost available Cast in Ruin. Which is all I’ll say for the next few months, because anything else is so heavily into spoiler territory I will get hate mail at the very least.

I try very hard, with the Cast novels, to start with a very, very simple statement about the book before I begin writing. Cast in Silence was: Kaylin confronts and finally accepts her past. No, really. Cast in Chaos was: An influx of refugees causes panic and fear in Elantra. No, really. Cast in Fury was: In the aftermath of the panic caused by the tidal wave Kaylin must deal with an artiste — while Marcus Kassan is relieved of his duties on charges of murder.

Cast in Peril was a small paragraph. Some of which I can’t detail, because it follows from Ruin. Cast in Peril is not the book I planned. Which is to say, it is the book I planned, but in planning, I seem to have forgotten that plot takes words, and the more plot there is, the more words there are, and at some point, there are too many words, because clearly I thought I could fit everything into one room. An apt analogy would be furniture: the fridge is now sitting in the hall and the dining room table is the TV stand, and there’s no room for anything but the couch because you can’t get past the table, and for some reason I thought it would all fit in one room.

In this, I absolutely blame Teela; it is entirely her fault. Well, actually, that’s possibly not fair. It is also the fault of another character I can’t name yet.

What I really want to do is post Chapter One of Cast in Peril. And no, of course I won’t, because it will make no sense if you haven’t read Cast in Ruin.

ETA: I think Cast in Peril will make sense to a reader who hasn’t read the previous books, in as much as that’s possible, but readers who have will immediately say: who the heck is (character name redacted)?

I seem to be asking a lot of questions lately

… And here’s another one. In multiple parts. But first, the background. I will try to keep it short. (Yes, and I originally thought the Sun Sword was going to be two books…)

A graphic designer I know is between clients, and she is doing covers for my short stories. If I haven’t mentioned this yet, I intend to bring them all out in ebooks as singles, with the first six being the West stories related to the West novels. (I also intend to bring out the six as a single, unified collection, in both a print-on-demand large format paperback and an ebook. If there is enough demand for it, I will also gather the stories and offer them in print-on-demand collections as well, wordcount permitting.)

I asked for simple, minimal covers that were similar in look so that people who saw them would realize they were short stories, not new novels. I’ll be interested to hear what people think of them when they finally see them.

She’s just finished the first six covers (whereas I, of course, have not finished the formatting of the first story, although I only have the Smashwords .doc to go).

For a variety of reasons, most of the stories were originally published under the West by-line.

My husband and my Australian alpha reader both feel — moderately strongly — that the stories should be numbered; my long-suffering husband also feels that, with the exception of the first six, they should be presented in order of publication. So far so good. (I objected to the numbering initially because it implies – to me – a series, and the stories, with the exception of the two Augustine Painter shorts, are not connected. But…they will, in fact, be numbered, because my objections were mild, and as so often happens in marriage, one compromises if one’s partner’s feelings are stronger.)

The graphic designer has finished covers for stories 1 through 6; she’s ready to keep working. I have to give her the stories, with a length (short or novella), title, and … author name.

I’m not sure what to do about the author name.

(a) I originally thought I would separate them by tone: the high fantasy (or original world fantasy, i.e. the fantasy that doesn’t take place in our world) as Michelle West, and the contemporary fantasy as Michelle Sagara. But I’m not sure what I would do with the SF stories (or the few alternate histories).

(b) And then I thought I would just bring them all out as Michelle Sagara stories. (c) But the first six are definitively Michelle West stories. So maybe I should do them all as Michelle West, since that’s how they’re starting, and since they’ll be numbered.

(d) After this thought, I thought why don’t we just bring them out under the name they were originally published under? Because I have already been threatened with bodily harm for not deciding on one name for the sake of bibliographers (it was an affectionate threat. Mostly).

And then I thought I would maybe go revise Skirmish instead of angsting. (I’m almost finished that revision; there was one tricky part and it was only recently that I figured out how to handle it in a way that didn’t give me ulcers, but I really like that part now. The problem with revision, for me, is that frustration breeds contempt, and if the frustration continues, I lose all confidence in any of the words and start rewriting them in a way that doesn’t actually make them better.)

But…the graphic designer can’t do any of the covers without that information, and if I continue to wibble indecisively, she won’t have time to do them later.

Yes, I am finally getting to the question.

Should I:

(a) attempt to group them using either West or Sagara, which is highly subjective

(b) keep them all under one name as Michelle Sagara

(c) keep them all under one name as Michelle West

(d) use the name under which they were originally published

or

(e) some other option which you will explain in the comments.

The one thing I don’t want to do is bring them all out as Michelle Sagara West.

Cast in Ruin: Cover

I’ve received permission to post this. It’s a cover proof, which means it’s open to some minor revision; there might be some small details that change between this and the final. But I thought people might like to take a look at it.

(ETA: The artist responsible for the cover is Shane Rebenschied)

Cast in Ruin is an October 2011 title.

Cover proof

House Name is in the House, and an answer to the Kindle Question

Volume 03 of House War: House Name

House Name, the third of the House War foundation books, and the final book set in the early years of the den, is now in my house.  I would have posted sooner, but this particular holiday season, we were visited by the very long and very drawn out cold bug (I’d call it a ‘flu, but it seems to have hit all the people who were smart enough to have ‘flu shots as well). When I say ‘we’, I mean everyone but my husband (which would include my visiting sister, my parents, my children’s godparents–everyone). It was not an impressively productive holiday season, but I am now returning to life and to work.

And to email, which is so very, very backed up it would be funny only in a very particular kind of black comedy.

Which brings me to the second important point, which necessitates much, much grovelling. A number of Kindle readers in particular have written here or emailed me asking when House Name will be available on the Kindle. Because of this, I wrote to my publisher to ask. The answer?

Ummm. The answer was: did you sign and send in the amendment to the contract the legal department requires?

The what?

You know those moments of Oh My God horror when the world shifts under your feet and you experience the dreadful sensation of falling in the pit of your stomach, except you’re not actually falling so you won’t hit anything that will end the sensation anytime soon? Yes, this is one of those.

I mentioned the volume of backed-up email. The necessary amendment was in the backlog and I missed it. I didn’t know it was necessary or incoming, but that’s not an excuse, and as an explanation it’s very lacking, but has the single advantage of being true. So I have found it, printed it out, signed it, and overnight mailed it.

But I wanted to apologize and to grovel to everyone who’s been waiting for a Kindle release of this book, because this is entirely the fault of the author: me. It’s not the fault of my publisher, DAW, and it’s nothing that Amazon has any control over either, and I really wanted to make that clear: your disappointment or (justifiable) anger should be aimed at me, because I failed to notice the necessary amendment in time. I can promise you all I will never, ever do this again. (I now have a ‘pay attention to this you idiot’ filter.)

As soon as the amendment reaches the legal department, the Kindle version will go live.

In the meantime, and as an apology, if you email me at Michelle.Sagara@sff.net, I can send a chunk of House Name itself so you can start reading, because I expect the book should be available within the next few days. I think your email is logged when you post here, so you could also post here instead of sending direct email.

House Name sample chapter

Volume 03 of House War: House Name

Aaron asked me earlier – while I was in bunker mode – if I’d put up a sample or teaser chapter for House Name, as it’s due out very soon.

Because I’ve been late and things have been hectic, I’ve only just now managed to do this – but in compensation (yes, sadly, I’ve been needing to use that word a lot recently), I’ve put up the prologue and the first chapter of the book.

It’s on the House War page in the sidebar/bibiliography link up top. It’s only .pdf, at the moment; let me know if that’s a problem for anyone.

State of the Writing, September 2010 edition

Volume 03 of House War: House Name

House War: House Name: This has been finished; the cover was posted downstream. The last of the three books that follow Jewel’s past. It’s scheduled for January of 2011, and it can be preordered from: Indiebound | Amazon | Powell’s | Borders | B & N

Cast in Ruin: This book begins a few days after Cast in Chaos ends.  Kaylin is called in for the etiquette lessons she’s managed to avoid until now — and is also called in to help with an unusual investigation in the fief of Tiamaris, where the relocation of thousands of strangers is not perhaps going entirely smoothly.  Cast in Ruin has been revised and sent to my editor. It will come back with a revision letter, and if it evades that, will come back with line edits, copy-edits, and page proofs. Hopefully it will come with a cover, as well, and when it does, I’ll share.

House War: Skirmish: I’m about 110k words into Skirmish and I desperately want people to read it, or at least the parts of it that were a revelation to me. It isn’t finished yet, but it starts the day after Jewel’s return to the House in the ‘present’ time-line.

Silence of the Grave: A YA novel I wrote a while ago on spec.  I meant to return to it and revise the beginning, but ended up writing all of Cast in Chaos and “Cast in Moonlight” first.  I’m currently (finally) revising the first third of it, and will hopefully be finished in a week, at which point I will start:

Cast in Danger: So far, only background work has been done on this book, and the title is very tentative. I know how it starts, and I know that it involves the Shadow Wolves and the Barrani. I don’t want to say much more because I haven’t actually written any of the book words yet–just the foundation notes and information.

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