In a Nutshell

by wjw on November 5, 2010

World Fantasy was a terrific convention.  I saw numbers of old friends I rarely meet, and I hope I made some newer, lasting friends.  Because too many of my peers now belong to the early-to-bed, early-to-rise school, I found myself partying with a younger crowd.  (They had better Scotch, anyway.)

It was great to see a dealers’ room choked with books.  There was only one table that wasn’t books, and that was jewelry.  It should have been books.

There’s a sufficiently German influence in Columbus that practically every restaurant I went to made its own sausage.  I went to a traditional family-owned place called Schmidt’s Sausage Haus that should be called Wurst With Everything.  They had several kinds of homemade wurst along with sauer and other forms of kraut, and hot German potato salad and other kinds of potatoes.   It went down very well with a 32-ounce mug of their very own home brewed dark beer.

My other meals stuck to my ribs equally well.  In fact I had the ribs.  I had the Big Heap of Fried Fish.  And I knew that I was in the Midwest when I went to the award banquet and was served a 14-ounce medium-rare New York-cut steak on a heap of mashed potatoes.  (Tough, but flavorful.  Though I am not without appetite, I couldn’t finish it.)

Since WFC is very much a professionals’ convention, with most of the attendees being writers, editors, journalists, artists, and others who have some professional reason for being there, I am pleased to report the news I heard while hanging out among my peers.

  • Science fiction is dead.

  • “Hey!  I just sold this space opera trilogy for mucho bucks!”

  • Steampunk is really cool and is selling like hotcakes.

  • Steampunk sucks!

  • “Hey, I just sold my zombie steampunk novel for mucho bucks!”

  • There’s a complete glut of urban fantasy.  The market can’t possibly support all of this.

  • “Hey, I just sold my urban fantasy for mucho bucks!”

  • My editor won’t return my emails or ph0ne calls.

  • My editor hasn’t bothered to read the book I submitted eighteen months ago.

  • “Hey, my editor just bought someone else’s trilogy for mucho bucks!”

  • Traditional high fantasy is dying.  Only old people read it, and once they die, it’s over.

  • Didn’t the Lord of the Rings movies make, like, a billion dollars or something?

  • “Hey, Game of Thrones is going to be on HBO!”

  • It’s the publishing apocalypse!

  • Ebooks will save us all!

Which goes to show that a publishing apocalypse isn’t an apocalypse at all if it wasn’t your piece of publishing that just got trampled under the hooves of the Four Horsemen.  (Whose names, by the way, are Acquisition, Editorial, Promotion, and Distribution— and actually it only takes one of them trampling you to zero out your career.)

Still, if you’re going to have a publishing apocalypse, World Fantasy is definitely the place to have it.  If the ship is going down, you might as well go down with people that you like.

Phiala November 5, 2010 at 1:19 pm

It was a pleasure to drink with you. (I was part of the late-night drinking crowd on Friday, including the Marlowe discussion.)

I’m the newest of new fiction writers (though neither young nor inexperienced as a writer of nonfiction), and had a wonderful time, met many people, and learned many things. I got to do my first reading, first book signing (both for a zombie anthology), and generally interact with a professional group that I’m working on joining.

I have to say, scientists in my discipline are neither boring nor lightweights, but WFC attendees have them all beat. 🙂

Mark Wise November 6, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Schmidt’s is a well-appointed tourist trap. Good sausage, though.

Your tastebuds would have been happier grazing at the North Market.

wjw November 7, 2010 at 1:44 am

Only once did I get as far afield as the North Market. We’d start heading there, and then we’d get to the brew pub a block from the convention center, and everyone would start chanting, “Let’s eat here!”

Ken Houghton November 12, 2010 at 7:02 pm

“It’s the publishing apocalypse!
Ebooks will save us all!”

Both of those, of course, could be true. Let’s do some quick math, shall we?

Writer A pre-eBooks is expected to sell 15,000 hardcovers (including library) for $25 each. A also is expected to sell 30,000 pbs at $8 each.

Royalties expected: 15,000 * $2.75 (11%) = $41,250 for the hc sales and $14,400 for the pb ones (6% royalty rate assumed). So the advance is $27,825, more or less.

In Scenario B, the write sells the same number of copies, but half of the total sales are as eBooks, which also have 6% royalties.

Royalties expected: HC: $20,625 PB: 7,200. eBooks: 22,500*$10*0.06 = $13,500. So the advance is again half of that: $20,662.50. About a 26% decline for what is presumably the same amount of work.

For an author used to having a HC or even TP sale (TP royalty rate being closer to 6% than 11%, but the list price being higher than $10), eBooks are a poor substitute, and the insistence that the eBook be released simultaneously with the first publication (i.e., the HC or TP) will be a disaster for authors unless the Substitution Effect is much less than seems likely.

Since the recent scuttlebutt is that 9% of all book sales are now eBooks–and neither I nor my source for that knows if that’s units or dollars, so I fear it’s units–it seems unlikely that buyers are expanding so much (or will continue to do so) that the quantity will make up for the dollar losses.

(It gets worse if you assume that eBook buyers are more likely to be the ones who buy HC in the first place, which [given the startup cost of an eReader] seems likely. Going by the rough sales numbers I’m hearing, the Stephen Kings and Janet Evanovichs of the world could be losing about $1MM in royalties per book.)

If people buy eBooks the way they bought CDs to replace albums–I doubt it, but would like to be wrong–there may well be some good short-term effect. Otherwise, eBooks will be great for the pb-original author and not great for anyone else. (Most certainly including publishers, who have to set files so that they are compatible with the multiple formats–just so they can sell fewer higher-margin books.)

wjw November 15, 2010 at 12:01 am

You underestimate the amount of royalties accrued from ebooks— they’re generally in the 25-30% range.

What ebooks pose is a threat to the economies of scale necessarily to produce physical books at reasonable prices. If ebooks eat, say, 25% of mass market paperback sales, then the cost-per-unit of the paperback goes up. What people were afraid of was that once an ordinary book costs $10, people would stop buying them altogether.

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