Realtalk about the ebook-to-print jump.

/Realtalk about the ebook-to-print jump.

yellingintothevoid replied to your post “I’m back! (Belated post-NYCC ramblings.)”

To be honest, I kinda want to never become a Real Published Author ™ if I’m expected to do the whole con thing. Terrifying. Also, are there plans for actual physical purchasable editions of your books? ‘Cause I much prefer books over e-books.

“Expected” is a strong word, given that I volunteered to do it! And everyone was really lovely about everything: the people from PRH who made it all happen and held my noob hand through the process; the wonderful people who came to the signing; and the more experienced authors who offered advice and talked to me when I was the stranger in the room. It’s much easier than going to a con as a “non-professional” attendee in that regard, IMO, since there’s a bigger support network of people who really want to make everything run smoothly for you.

So it’s not that bad. Really, all I had to do was show up on time and smile and be polite. I think I mostly managed, heh.

Re. physical copies of the Wyrd books (Liesmith and Stormbringer); I get asked this a bit so, for reference, this is the Publishing Real Talk 101 time.

Basically, being able to get physical copies of the series printed hinges on exactly one thing, and that one thing is whether or not physical bookstores in the US will agree to stock the books on their shelves. (Note that, for the rest of this post, I’m talking about the US industry. Things work a little differently elsewhere, with the emphasis on “a little”. Most of this still applies in broad strokes, no matter where you are.)

That’s it. That’s the trick. Not just for me, but for every other traditionally published author out there. There’s a whole lot of history and backstory behind why this is the case (it’s the returns system), but the tl;dr is that the market for physical books–specifically, what kinds of physical books you can buy in a physical bookstore–is dictated not by what books publishers print, but what books the buyers for the big retailers will buy.

Here’s where we get to the ugly reality, because the ugly reality is that buyers for physical bookstores aren’t really interested in adult urban fantasy with queer PoC male leads. It sucks, but it’s true. Bookstores have finite shelf space, and they’re commercial entities who need to make money to survive. Making money means selling books, which means stocking books they know will sell. What books do retailers know will sell? Well, go to a bookstore and count what’s there: grimdark pseudo-medieval European epic fantasies; conservative military sci-fi; near-future sci-fi with plucky geekbro male leads; heterosexual female-lead paranormal romance. You get the idea. Write inside those constraints, and yeah, it’s very likely you’ll get a print run from your publisher, because it’s likely you’ll be picked up by a store buyer as something “new” in a niche they know sells. Write outside one of those, and, well. Things get harder, unless you have some kind of other hook in (e.g. you’re already famous from some other platform and thus come with a built-in audience).

Under those circumstances, the chances of Liesmith ever seeing a print release is pretty much nil.

So this answer isn’t entirely depressing, the next obvious question is so what’s to be done about it?

Well, easy: if you want more diverse titles to start getting print runs in physical stores, you have to start buying those titles from physical stores. And yes, I mean the ebooks. Which yes, you can do: here’s Liesmith at Barnes & Noble, for example. (No, Amazon doesn’t count for this, because, a) Amazon’s relationship to publishers is different to the traditional physical stores, and b) Amazon doesn’t share its sales data. So Amazon might know a niche is booming, but that doesn’t mean anyone else does… including the publishers. Amazon is the room’s elephant in the ebook space, but if you want to see things in print, you have to play the brick-and-mortar game.)

That’s really the only secret. If and when physical stores see a jump in demand for a particular book or a particular subgenre (i.e. diverse spec fic), then their buyers go to the publisher sales reps and ask the “what else do you have like this?” question. That’s when the sales reps bring out their back catalogue. And if the buyers see a title that’s ebook only, and want it for their physical stores, they’ll say so to the publisher, and that, dear readers, is how one breaks into the print market. I think a lot of people outside the industry think the ebook-to-print boundary is done on total sales volume (i.e. sell 100,000 ebooks, get a free print deal!), but it’s not. Total ebook sales can influence the end result, but the reality is it’s all on the buyers and what they think they can move from their shelves. Which is why both, a) you don’t see even some very popular subgenres in physical stores, and b) some ebook-only deals get expanded to print even without a sales history if a store rep shows interest.

Incidentally, none of this is a secret within the industry. We just tend, for whatever reason, not to talk about it too much to actual readers. Well, now I am. And now you know.

Tl;dr, if you want to see books with diverse leads stocked in physical bookstores (including mine!), you need to buy those books (and ebooks) from physical bookstores.

2018-04-27T13:50:20+00:0030th October, 2015|Tags: liesmith, publishing, replies, stormbringer, we need diverse books, wyrdverse|
1 ♥  yellingintothevoid


  1. yellingintothevoid 30th October, 2015 at 1:56 am

    Ah, well, volunteering is different, lol. And thanks for the info on the print publishing world. I did think it was dependent on sales volume, so TIL. Though I feel you on the whole lack of diversity thing.

    • Alis 30th October, 2015 at 3:47 pm

      Volunteering was how I got the NYCC tickets in the first place! So I guess it all works out in the end, heh.

      And yeah. The publishing industry, particularly how it relates to the sales arm, can be… pretty esoteric. But the bottom line is that, at least as far as the Big 5 commercial world goes, it’s basically this big tug-of-war between the publishers, Amazon (mostly in the digital space), and bookstores (in the print space). The former two are what gets most of the press, but the latter is a lot more powerful than most people realise, I think. Particularly in the US market.

      And yeah, the industry as a whole is very, very risk-averse (where “risk” means “anything that’s not similar to an existing bestseller”). The publishers and editors get a lot of the blame for the lack of diversity in industry product, but in my experience, a lot really are trying and doing their best to diversify. But they’re doing that in a hyper-conservative, over-saturated market. It’s tough, in other words.

      I think it’s also worth noting that careers in publishing tend to be made in decades, not years. So even authors who do start out as young genre rebels tend to have had their, um, “less mainstream” edges knocked off by the time they get to household name status. And it’s not even necessarily because they toned down their work or their politics, so much as it is that the social mores around them shifted. Think someone like Heinlein, for example, whose work is still often described as “radical”, even though it’s actually pretty tame, or even conservative/regressive, by modern standards. Ditto with writers like Neil Gaiman and Ursula K. Le Guin, who I often see get called out as being “insufficiently progressive progressives”. (Though Le Guin tends to update her personal politics quite explicitly every decade or so, and even writes essays picking apart the themes of her own old works. Which is something a lot of her detractors seem to miss, but eh. What can you do?)

      Couple that with the overbearing whiteness (and maleness and straightness and et cetera) of publishing, and… yeah. Thus is the industry. If I had a magic wand to wave to fix it, I would. Hell, so would a lot of people, TBH.

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