Category Archives: book publishing

Catching Up on Links

Some links on pieces about writing and related matters I had collected but not passed on:


Fonda Lee, who is making waves with her new novel, Jade City (more on my impressions of that book later,) did a good, practical Twitter thread essay on awards versus sales when it comes to marketing buzz.

Tim Pratt did an interesting piece on the process of writing his alien creatures in his SF novel, The Wrong Stars.

John Scalzi did a piece about attempts to tabulate authors’ sales from limited sources and the markets for fiction in general.

Anaea Lay recounts the story of her glamorous author travels to WorldCon in 2017, useful for those who may be doing convention traveling.

Chuck Wendig didn’t particularly like a piece of writing advice someone gave on Twitter and so did a comic riff on it followed by some useful writing advice as a Twitter thread essay.

Ineke Chen-Meyer points out an interesting difference between our fictional characters and the real world.


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The Wholesale Market Collapse

So, I completely misunderstood what a post on someone else’s blog was doing, and did a quick summary of the wholesale market collapse in book publishing in the 1990’s, which is what I thought on passing glance that the post was talking about. Since I am having life stuff and not being very efficient about getting my own blog posts together lately, I figured I might as well repeat it here as possible interest. 🙂 So here it is, a bit cleaned up and adjusted:


In the early 1990’s, there was a big recession in the U.S. and various forms of economic distress elsewhere, (plus the Gulf War in the U.S. messed things up for a few critical months.) It was the first of the big recessions, which occur at the end/beginning of each decade (we’re due for a new one in the next few years.) In the wake of that recession, which hit retail hard in a number of countries including the U.S. and the U.K., non-bookstore vendors for books, magazines and newspapers such as grocery stores, drug stores, department stores, newsstands, music stores, etc. made some changes. They cut drastically the number of items they sold, first off — fewer books (they sold mainly paperbacks.) And they also reduced drastically the number of wholesale vendors supplying them that they ordered from. As Tom Doherty of Tor told me, in the U.S., the wholesale suppliers for books and sundries went from about 600 different companies to 6 large ones within a few years. This devastated most of the magazine market as well and led to the beginning of the end, etc.

Mass market paperbacks are not big moneymakers for publishers because they don’t make enough profit with shipping and printing costs and the price discounts on top of the list price. When unsold mass market paperbacks are being returned, vendors rip off the front covers to return them to the publishers for credit and pulp the rest of the books because that’s cheaper than trying to ship them back for the full refund from the publishers, who pay the shipping costs for returns. So unlike hardcover and trade paperback returns, which are returned as full books, returned mm paperbacks can’t be returned to inventory and resold. What makes mm paperbacks useful is that they can be sold in bulk in wide distribution through the wholesale market, which makes up for the costs. When the wholesale, non-bookstore market radically shrunk in terms of distributors and buys from vendors, it was an enormous loss, especially for sectors of the market that do well in mm paperback, such as genre fiction and self-help. The entire fiction market went into a slump from which many sectors still haven’t fully recovered. (Fantasy was spared more than most because it had a bunch of big books doing well in hardcover in bookstores during the time period and was in the middle of an expansion.)

With the mammoth losses in the wholesale non-bookstore markets, that meant trying to get more mm paperbacks moved into bookstores for sale. And the bookstores didn’t really want them because they don’t make money for them because they don’t sell most of their stock in bulk. Which is why a lot more fiction started coming out first in hardcover and trade paperback than they used to do — to get the bookstores to play ball and make decent margins, as well as to get more reviews and library sales. The bookstores are also fewer in number, so even if they wanted to, they couldn’t make up the loss of market. The big chains were opening up their superstores in the 1990s, so they did take some large numbers of mm paperbacks in bulk, but they also deliberately wiped out a lot of the independent bookstores, so that the overall number of bookstores decreased throughout the 1990’s. That meant even fewer vendors for publishers since the wholesale market didn’t come back and in fact got worse. And the big bookstore chains were owned/bought by corporations that didn’t really care about their success in the weird world of book-selling but instead pressed for constant growth beyond what the stores could do, saddled the big chains with debt they couldn’t keep up with, and milked the chains for cash/stock buybacks by slashing staff, etc. That’s what took out Borders and it’s currently killing Barnes & Noble.

When Amazon lit up the tiny e-book retail market a decade ago, that helped since e-book sales took the place of some of the lost mm paperback sales. But e-books, requiring electronic equipment, Internet hook-up, etc., were always going to be more limited a market, and when Amazon kept trying to keep a monopoly on the whole market — largely successfully — that even more limited the market. So e-books have leveled off in sales, especially as Amazon has less and less interest in them (e-books only make up a tiny part of its sales, like 3% out of the 7% total of their revenue for all their book sales.) Neither e-book sales, nor fishing the best self-pub products for reprint opportunities were going to save book sales fully. The YA and middle grade book expansion — which was largely in hardcover and trade paperback — in the early oughts did boost those sections considerably but that has also leveled off somewhat. A pricing war between WalMart, Target and Amazon — all wholesale accounts — helped things in the U.S. for about a year. Renewed Hollywood interest in adapting books for t.v., streaming and film helped, (that sort of thing had also declined previously in the 1990’s.)

Book sales have improved, a lot of indies have done well, smaller chains that can manage their inventory and store rent or mortgages have done well. The U.K. market is actually a lot healthier than the bigger U.S. one. The industry is basically doing the sort of growth rate that it did before corporations kept pushing for bigger returns in the 1980’s and 1990’s — low, small percent growth, narrow margins. More books are put out now than before and the market got much better globally. But there are fewer vendors, bookstore and non-bookstore, than there were in 1990. The wholesale market is still shrunk, hurting lots of different products. They need more places that sell books and that they can sell to in bulk amounts. And they haven’t figured out a solution to that yet. They can’t go to China for sales like the movies or music. And it doesn’t help that book readers are marketing resistant, especially for fiction, and tend to not buy ancillary merchandise to books, unlike other entertainment and info products. (Piracy doesn’t help either.)


So that’s not a finished essay, obviously, but may provide a bit of helpful information.

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We Will Miss You Ursula Le Guin

So we got the sad news that author Ursula Le Guin passed away at the age of 88.

Le Guin was the only woman and the last of the SF Lions, the authors considered the most monumental, seminal voices in modern SF whose name every fan knew, along with Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury. A thoughtful professor married to a professor who supported her writing, a brilliant speaker and an advocate and inspiration for numerous writers, her impressive body of work from 1962 right up until her death made her an icon. Her major best-selling fiction works like The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, Lavinia, “The Word for World is Forrest,” “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” and “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” are staples of school curriculum and winners of multiple awards, including five Hugos and six Nebulas. They explore remarkably what it means to be human. Her fantasy Earthsea trilogy, written for teens, has become a core text of epic fantasy and coming of age literature. The series won a World Fantasy Award, the prestigious Newberry Honor Award and the National Book Award for Children’s Literature. It was the first of many works Le Guin would write for teens and children.

Le Guin became the leading name in a literary movement of women authors eventually dubbed Feminist SF, which helped open the way for so many women writers in the SFF field, even as she took some sexist heat for exploring such themes in some of her work. She used LGBTQ characters and non-white characters in some of her works and supported authors in both of those demographics in bigger roles in SFF. Beloved by fellow academics, she gently schooled those with misconceptions about SFF literature and dismissed with polished acerbity her own editors and others’ claims that her works or others transcended SFF to be literature instead of simply were literature as SFF. In 2014, she was awarded the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. She was made a Grandmaster of Science Fiction in 2003. The U.S. Library of Congress designated her one of their Living Legends.

Le Guin also wrote non-fiction on writing, SFF literature and her own career, many of which have continued to inspire and influence many fiction writers. Her last publication in 2017 was the collection of non-fiction essays No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, a fitting one to end on perhaps. She represented for so many what was possible, with intelligence, curiosity and a wonderful command of the language. She was known all over the world.

There is a word in our language that, for me, best describes her: nonpareil — someone who has no equal. That was Ursula Le Guin, and we will miss her.


“Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.” — from The Lathe of Heaven

“No, I don’t mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear.” – from The Left Hand of Darkness

“We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”

“I think hard times are coming…We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.”


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Linky Times — Writer Stuff

Various and sundry writer-related links and news today that caught my attention:


An older piece this year from Chuck Wendig’s blog about writing processes and not panicking.

A piece by author Rufi Thorpe about issues women writers often deal with in their lives and careers.

A piece by author Nisi Shawl on writing the Other/other cultures in SFF stories in an effective way.

Various SFF authors talk about the terms fans use about SFF writing that drive them up a wall.

For those who haven’t heard, Tony Award-winning actress Anika Noni Rose has optioned the dramatic rights of Daniel José Older’s best-selling YA series Shadowshaper, as well as the rights earlier to his urban fantasy trilogy Bone Street Rumba. I’m working my way through the Bone Street Rumba series and really like it. Shadowshaper has been a big hit with teens and the second book in the series, Shadowhouse Falls, is just coming out now. Rose has been starring in the t.v. shows Power and The Quad, as well as the movie Everything, Everything, which itself was based on a best-selling YA novel. So here’s hoping she can get something going for Older’s work.

Disney/Star Wars is releasing a prequel graphic novel, Star Wars: Rogue One — Cassian & K-2SO Special #1,  to its prequel film Star Wars: Rogue One, which covers how Rebel agent Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna, first encountered his android partner K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk. Since K-2 has become my favorite robot in the Star Wars universe, I am interested in this particular tie-in, which is now out from Marvel.

HBO is developing a television series based on the World Fantasy Award winning novel Who Fears Death? by Nnedi Okorafor, who is also an executive producer on the show, and they have now hired screen and comics writer/producer Selwyn Seyfu Hinds to co-produce and write the initial scripts. The novel is set in a post-apocalyptic future Nigeria and offers a complex, brutal and vibrant story about myth, identity and destiny with some really interesting magical elements.

And lastly, Neil Gaiman just released a photo of David Tenant and Michael Sheen in character for the adaptation of his and Terry Pratchett’s famous fantasy novel, Good Omens, and they look awesome as the demon and the angel who decide to save the eleven-year-old Anti-Christ and prevent the Christian apocalypse. I’m quite looking forward to seeing it, as the novel is an old favorite of mine.






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Filed under book publishing, Movies/TV, SFFH, SFFH Novels to Check Out

Superheroes R Us

So also in the realm of superheroes, the comics side of Marvel has been watching the collapse of its sales model, while dealing with a cross-over disaster that had a far right leaning writer making Captain America, the Steve Rogers version, into a Nazi/Hydra spy as part of a muddled multiverse idea. The collapse has not been a new thing; it’s been a process going on since the 1980’s that happened to then coincide with the great shrinkage of the wholesale market for magazines, newspapers, paperbacks and comics that took place in the 1990’s and helped pop the collectors’ hyper-valuation bubble in comics issues. Essentially, the big comics companies tried to increase monthly buys by staging big crossover stories that required buying from four to seven series at a time to follow, while comic prices went up, up, up. These crossover stories often made use of multiple universes to shake series up, allowing them to totally reboot characters and past stories with little regard for consistency.

This was certainly one of the reasons that my husband and I stopped really buying comics way back – it was too expensive to do and our child needed food. But the success of graphic novels, including bound omnibuses of monthly comic issues, and the emergence of highly successful live action superhero movies and animated t.v. series and movies from major comics helped keep especially Marvel afloat for a while. Now, though, retail markets are further squeezed and Marvel has made things worse with poorly planned stunt events, constant reboots and number one reissues to try to generate short term sales instead of reliable regular fans. Economic uncertainty in the face of controversial political events has further dampened sales recently.

When Marvel Comics held a retailer summit in late March with the comic stores, one of Marvel’s vice presidents of sales – a white guy – apparently brought up that some comics vendors were saying the diverse comics – the ones not about white guys and white guy led teams – weren’t selling and that maybe this was the reason for Marvel Comics’ poor comics sales showing the previous quarter. This was flagrantly untrue. Many of the “diversity” comics are Marvel’s top sellers and had clearly brought in more readers domestically and globally. And many of their white guy comics had sales in the toilet and were being axed. The race and gender of the leads in the comics neither guaranteed sales nor that sales would tank.

So why would a senior vice president of Marvel, with full access to the real sales figures, float a lie that was so easily disproven about his own company? And which he had to apologize for and take back not long after? Did some comics store vendors actually say this to him? Very probably. But the comics store owners also have access to sales numbers well beyond their own stores. So why would some of them push such an assertion?

Part of it was clearly deflection. Rather than admit that the problem was an unworkable production, pricing and marketing model, or admit that your store has adapted poorly to pushing your products under current market conditions, it’s an easier fix to blame the audience of the medium for being unreasonably bigoted, which then becomes the big talking point.

But as a form of deflection, it’s a poor one. The vice president’s trashing of his own company’s line was a PR nightmare for them. Presumably this same vice president respects and works with POC and white women artists, writers and editors at Marvel. Why would he then disparage what they do, and which helps pay his salary? Especially when he had said last year that women and kids as readers were a key component of Marvel Comics’ success?

In a word, reassurance. Marvel and the comics industry in general has been run by white guys, like most industries, particularly in the marketing and business end of things of course, but also on the creative front. While others were occasionally welcomed in, mostly they were blocked and certainly kept from obtaining leadership positions of influence if they were around. This has created a comfortable cushion of established and protected practice at companies like Marvel.

That’s changing a little bit. As they recognize the need for greater variety to hold on to and expand a global market, Marvel, like other comics companies, has been putting out more titles that offer a slightly wider range of characters and ideas. With that comes a slight increase in the variety of people who work there and create the titles. This allows Marvel in the long term to grow and expand its workforce and its product line – something that can benefit white guys too.

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Filed under book publishing, SFFH, Social Equality, Women

The New World Fantasy Award

The new design for the World Fantasy Award has now been officially announced and it’s gorgeous! Really impressive job by artist Vincent Villafranca.


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Some Writing Related Links

Well the world keeps being a rolling cyclone, don’t it, so in the meantime, some writing-related links:

Author Kameron Hurley explains how the editor-author relationship works and that it’s not a boss-employee relationship.

Author Ann Leckie offers encouragement about the uncertainties of the submission process, even for those authors facing additional obstacles.

Author Jim C. Hines talks about being rejection and how it’s part of all authors’ lives.

Travel writer Geraldine DeRuiter, of The Everywhereist blog, offers Unhelpful Charts for Writers.

And author N.K. Jemisin offered a Tweet thread about Embracing Your Own Voice as a writer.

Author John Scalzi talks about his new novel, The Collapsing Empire and writing life in general in an interview with The Nerd Reactor.

Scalzi also explained how book contracts work to a, I believe they are called Dreaded Elk or something like that, at a signing he did. It’s a good accompaniment to Hurley‘s piece and just funny:




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