HOW SHOULD AN AUTHOR LOOK ON USED BOOK SALES?

I ran across this blog by the author Kristen Lamb:

PAY THE WRITER

…while reading this article by Rachel Kramer Bussel in Salon magazine:

Don’t feel guilty

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me or who has read any of the essays I’ve written in the past on copyright laws and online piracy that I generally agree with Bussel’s stance and disagree with Lamb’s. But there are some issues involved that Bussel doesn’t address which I think are actually more important than the ones she does. Another way to put it is that I don’t think she goes far enough. The essence of her argument is that the situation is more complicated than Lamb presents it as being, and is not an either/or situation. While it is true that a book sold in a used book store may represent an immediate loss to an author, it can be made up for in the long run by exposing more people to that author.

Bussel is right, but she doesn’t take it far enough. In truth, it is an “either/or” situation, just as Lamb says. The problem is that Lamb has the whole relationship standing on its head. She sees used book sales—I would presume she feels the same way about people reading a book checked out of a library or borrowed from a friend—as an infliction of harm on authors because it deprives them of income. But the reality is the exact opposite. The correct way to view the relationship between sales which bring direct income to authors and sales which don’t, is that without the latter the former would dry up to a trickle within a rather short time.

I will spend the rest of this essay supporting that thesis. But let me begin by establishing my bona fides on the subject.

These are two-fold. First, I am and have been since 1999 a successful full-time fiction author. I have published almost fifty novels—all of which are still in print, by the way—and over two dozen pieces of short fiction. I have also edited about the same number of anthologies of short fiction, which also bring me income both as an editor and (in some of the anthologies) as an author. And I also derive income from publishing the electronic magazine, the Grantville Gazette.

Secondly, I am one of the founders and ongoing instructors of Superstars Writing Seminars. (http://superstarswriting.com/) This annual three-day seminar is the most prominent and important seminar on the business of being a writer in the United States, and has now been in operation since 2010. I am the instructor who gives the opening talk, which is an overview of publishing as a business.
The central and most critical aspect of publishing as a business, seen from the vantage point of an author, is that the market involved—call it the book market, if you will—is possibly the most opaque sales market in existence. It’s certainly one of the top ten most opaque markets.

What do I mean by an “opaque” market? It’s a market most of which is invisible to its customers. Hidden, in this case, not by subterfuge but by sheer volume of product. The characteristic that all entertainment industries share, and which makes all of them very opaque, is that each individual product has to be unique. Every book has to be different from every other book. Every song from every other song, every movie from every other movie—and every painting or sculpture or art photo from every other one of that type.
That is very unlike most markets. If you take the automobile market for comparison, there are not all that many auto manufacturers and each of them produces a relatively small number of products—perhaps a dozen models; not more than two dozen. So anyone seeking to buy an automobile can research the entire market fairly quickly and fairly easily.

In contrast, every year in the English language somewhere in the vicinity of one and a half million new titles are produced in the book market. Even if you narrow the market down to a specific genre, the scale still dwarfs that of most markets. To use my own genre as an example, the number of new titles in fantasy and science fiction coming out in the English language every month exceeds the number of automobile models coming out in an entire year.

Walking into a bookstore to look for a new book you might be interested in buying is analogous to walking onto the lot of an automobile dealer and being presented, not with many slightly different versions of a few models, but with thousands of models—or tens of thousands, in the case of big superstores.

Nobody can keep up with this scale of production. Not even professional book reviewers can do it, much less the average reader. It’s like being caught in the middle of a blizzard, except the individual particles are sales products instead of snowflakes. That’s what makes the book market so opaque.

The inevitable response of customers is to be very conservative in their buying habits. Some book-buyers (thankfully for new writers) are more adventurous than others, granted. But it’s still the case that the vast majority of books purchased are books written by authors with whom the reader is already familiar. That’s especially true in the fiction market, where there are many fewer “signposts” than there are in the non-fiction market. What I mean by signposts is that someone interested in reading about, say, the history of New England in the 19th century can do a search using those words and if they turn up a book titled The History of New England, 1812-1905 they’re off to the races. There’s no guarantee that book will be one that they like when they read it, but at least they’ve gotten a start. There are very few such signposts in fiction writing.

And that’s the whole problem with Lamb’s approach to the subject. She fails to consider the question: How does anyone know about your book in the first place?

The answer to that question is complex. I make a habit of asking people who tell me they’ve read and liked one of my books how they ran across it. It’s not surprising that people who’ve already read something of mine and liked it would go out and buy another book of mine. But what got them to start reading my work in the first place?

The answers I get are always different, in detail. No two readers come to the same author in exactly the same way. But there is one very broad general pattern: With some exceptions—but they are a definite minority—readers first encounter me by getting their hands on a book of mine for which they did not pay me a thin dime. More precisely, from the sale of which—or acquisition of which, rather, because often there was no sale of any kind—I derived no income at all.

Probably the most common acquisition of this type is that a friend or relative recommended and lent the book to them. The other two most common are checking one of my books out of a library or buying it at a used book store. Another one—growing all the time in importance—is that I make a number of my books available for free online in electronic editions. If you’re not familiar with the Baen Free Library where I’ve posted many of my titles, go to Baen Books’ web site (http://www.baen.com/), select “Read Baen” from the top menu and then select “Free Library.”

I once had a conversation on this subject with Gene Wolfe, a prominent and long-time F&SF author. I told Gene that I estimated that for every book of an author sold in a form which brought direct income to him or her, another half-dozen people read that book in a form that brought him or her no income at all.

Gene thought I was being too conservative—or optimistic, take your pick. “Eric, I always figure that I need about ten or twelve people to read a book of mine before I see any money from one sale.”

He may well be right. If I was going to revise my own estimate that the ratio of freebie-to-moneymaking book acquisitions is six-to-one, I’d certainly revise it upward in Gene’s direction, not downward. But regardless of what the exact ratio might be—we’ll never know, of course—what is absolutely clear to anyone willing to look at the subject in a calm, cold-blooded, practical manner, is that in order for an author to make a living from the sale of his or her books in a form that brings income, those relatively small number of income-deriving book sales have to be surrounded by a huge penumbra of book acquisitions which bring no direct income at all.

And that’s only half of it. Because the other reality of an author’s existence, in terms of income, is that every author is constantly hemorrhaging readers. To put it in another and perhaps less gruesome way, every author’s fans are always drifting away from them.
I’m a little astonished at how many professional authors fail to grasp this harsh reality. Many of them seem to think that their “fan base” is something relatively fixed; established; stable.

But it is none of those things. The reason should be obvious. No author can write as fast as his or her fans can read. Sooner or later, even if a reader likes everything that you write—and very few readers do—they will run through your entire corpus of work and move on.
To be sure, some of them will stay lifelong fans and keep buying your books as they get produced. But many, and probably the majority, won’t. After a while, they will drift away from you. There don’t have to be any hard feelings involved. There usually aren’t. What’s involved is simply the familiar been there; done that phenomenon.

To make a living as a full time writer, or even to derive a significant income from writing, an author has to constantly recreate their readership base. The process is dynamic, not static. And the main way an author does so is by having that huge penumbra of free books—“free,” at least, from the author’s standpoint—surrounding the much smaller number of books which get sold in a way that brings direct income.

That’s why Lamb’s view of the matter is so skewed. She’s right that it’s an either/or situation, but she doesn’t understand that the relationship between “either” and “or” is a necessary and beneficial one.

The way she sees it is this: Either someone buys one of my books in a way that brings me income or I don’t get any income at all.

The way I see is this: Either my little world of income-deriving books is surrounded by a nice thick atmosphere of freebies or nobody reads or buys any books at all.
Grousing about this reality is just silly. It’s the nature of the entertainment business, period. Always has been, always will be. There is a direct relationship between all the different forms in which a given author’s work is distributed. Here it is:

If you sell a lot of books you will get a good income AND
A lot of your books will get passed from one person to another without you seeing a dime from it AND
A lot of your books will end up in used book stores AND
A lot of your books will get checked out of libraries—for which you will only derive income from the library’s initial purchase, not the later borrowings AND
A lot of your books will get remaindered AND
A lot of your books will get electronically pirated AND
A lot of your books will be returned unread with the covers of the mass market paperbacks torn off AND
I go could on. And on. Trust me.

I always go into used book stores when I run across them, to do two things.

First, I look to see if any of my books are on the shelves. I am pleased when they are; displeased when they are not. I would also be displeased if I saw a lot of my books on the shelves, especially covered with dust, but that’s never happened.
Secondly, I ask the owner of the book store about my pattern of sales. They’re always friendly for the simple reason that I’m always friendly—I start by telling them that I’m pleased to see they’re selling me or a little disturbed that they’re not. And for years now I’ve always gotten the same set of answer: “Your books sell well. They don’t stay on the shelves so we’re always willing to acquire more when someone brings them in. The only reason we don’t have any of your books right now is because we sold everything we had.”
That’s what you want to hear, as an author.

I support used book stores. I liked used book stores. I like to see my books on sale in used book stores.

Just not too many of them. And none of them collecting dust.

But that’s up to me to prevent, by writing books that please a lot of readers. All that used book stores do is help me get those readers.

About Eric Flint

Author and Editor
This entry was posted in Information. Bookmark the permalink.

71 Responses to HOW SHOULD AN AUTHOR LOOK ON USED BOOK SALES?

  1. John Cowan says:

    No author can write as fast as his or her fans can read.

    Well, usually. Lord Kames, an 18C Scottish judge, once asked the lawyer James Burnett (later and better known as Lord Monboddo) if he had read Kames’s latest book, The Elements of Criticism. “No, my Lord”, said Burnett. “You write a great deal faster than I am able to read.”

  2. Stewart says:

    Eric —
    I would agree with you. I was introduced to your books by reading David Weber’s books. I was introduced to Weber’s books by picking up a copy of “Flag in Exile” in the library at Camp Shields SeaBee Base while on deployment in 1996.
    I have contributed to your income several times since and am currently reading “Parcel of Rogues”.
    Lending libraries and used book stores tend to whet the reader’s appetite and generate greater later sales.

    — Stewart

  3. You might be amused to know that I quoted your “Salvos Against Big Brothers” on this issue when I wrote my own response to Lamb’s post.

  4. carlton mckenney says:

    Eric,

    You left out one other way to get introduced to a reader. Be published by a publisher that the reader trusts to put out good stuff. That’s how I ran into you. You were published by Jim Baen. I haven’t liked everything they have published but the odds are good enough that i will cough up $$$ when I see the imprint, any of them.

  5. Bob Zonis says:

    Eric,
    I found your books on Baen’s Free Library, and I was hooked.

    I read Lamb’s article, and here’s my objection – I haven’t got much money to spend on books. So, my buying a new book is subsidized by being able to sell it used – and without that subsidy, I’d be able to buy fewer new books – which would mean even less money for writers. And because I can’t re-sell or give away ebooks, I tend to avoid buying them.

    Writers, like musicians, are just going to need to figure out how to co-exist with piracy, libraries, used book stores, and sharing. None of them are going away any time soon.

    I’m personally fond of Lee and Miller’s idea of paid serialization – but I’m not sure how that would scale up.

    • Gregg Eshelman says:

      Paid serialization appears to be doing well for many authors on Amazon. Look for free science fiction and you’ll find a large number of series, most of which the first book is free with subsequent books at a low price.

      Many of those “books” are closer to short novel or novella length, but the total cost for the complete book is still less than from publishers that only package the whole book as one piece.

      Even closer to paid serialization was the first series of “Far From Home” by Tony Healey. It was put out chapter by chapter then collected as one volume. Series 2 and 3 were done the same way but in fewer, longer parts.

      Think of it as serializing a novel in a magazine, without the rest of the magazine.

      • Johnny says:

        Not too different in function than the snippets on Baen’s main site, then. Get about 1/4 of a full length novel and decide if it’s worth the time. That has turned me on to more new authors than anything else; I consume far more Baen published books than anything else – which is a feat, considering how many fewer books Baen publishes than, say, Tor – just because I can test them out.

  6. Mad Yank says:

    Eric –

    I found you when a friend suggested I read 1632, after I suggested he read David Weber’s Honor Harrington series – and we were both off to the races! Then I found your contributions to the Honorverse as well as everything Grantville, and I also encountered John Ringo’s little insertions (been to Prague lately?) and that led me into the Aldenata and the Kildar series. Fortunately, I can afford to buy mine as eBooks, but I also appreciate hardcovers when I can get them as well.

    • Louise says:

      President Obama did not make them poor. However, our ex-President Bush and his adstaimirntion made a lot of people poor with their tickle down economics. BTW, yeah, the President is a nice looking president to look at isn't he.

  7. Mark says:

    It was David Weber’s Honor Harrington series that lead me to your Grantville series.

    There are actually two other method’s to keep readers involved that I am aware of in real life:
    1) A chapter from Ilona Andrew’s Clean Sweep series is written and posted to their website each week where everyone can read it for free. At the end of the book the author reviews the entire book, edits it and sends it to Amazon as one single book for sale. I have followed them through two books and am eagerly looking forward to book 3;
    2) In more of a snippet format but it is in smaller and more random pieces than you do Web Spencer is issuing her new Wolves of Boston book (new series?) using Facebook to send out to her fans. Wonderful!

  8. Daryl Saal says:

    I first came across your Belisarius series at the library, then from that discovered your associates – Weber – Stirling – Ringo – Turtledove – Anderson – Butcher – Martin – Drake – lots of others.
    With this list of authors I can generally get a new favourite author to read after each book. I do remember getting an Honorverse, an Emberverse and a 1632 book from my supplier on the one day; that nearly caused a mental breakdown.
    Of all these talented people your values and world view align most closely with mine so you must be right, however the most important aspect of any author is storytelling and all I listed have that in spades (as do you naturally).

  9. Marcus Tempey says:

    Dear Eric:
    I got to this post via your newsletter, which I got to from your Facebook post, which I got to after you kindly accepted my Friend request, which I submitted after reading every one of your “Belisarius” and “1632” works, which I got to by stumbling across Baen’s Books years ago. And you’re right: “non-income” sales HAVE formed much of my book purchases, but by no means all. Many times, I’ve been constrained by poverty to make do with a used copy, when I couldn’t afford a new one–or, if pursuing a series, copies. I regret not providing you with “income” purchases at every turn–but I do what I can.

  10. Bret Hooper says:

    @Eric: I believe you have missed mentioning another entré to an author’s work: Some years ago I found a new paperback of David Weber’s On Basilisk Station specially ½-priced, and bought it. And that purchase produced a cascade effect: David Weber having become my favorite living SF author, I saw 1633 in a local bookstore and bought it. The cover material told me it was a sequel to 1632, so I bought that, read it, and Eric Flint supplanted David Weber as my favorite living SF author. I bought and read 1634: The Bavarian Crisis and Virginia DeMarce became one of my favorite living SF authors. Other favorite authors you have caused me to discover include Karen Bergstralh, Rick Boatright, Walt Boyes, José Clavell, David Carrico, Iver Cooper, Kevin & Karen Evans, Paula Goodlett, Gorg Huff, Douglas W. Jones, Kim Mackey, Kerryn Offord, Herbert & William Sakalaucks, and Garrett W. Vance, and probably a few others I can’t think of right at the moment.

    So add ½- price specials and the cascade effect to your list.

  11. Pingback: Eric Flint explains why used-book stores are invaluable to authors - TeleRead

  12. LT Maull says:

    Without the Free Library, I would never given Baen and David Weber $200 for the rest of the Honor Harrington Series. Oh, Sir Eric? could you maybe tell David to step it up.

    You too, you magnificent Pinko Commie.

    Your favorite factory owner.

    • Stewart says:

      And I was being nice. I didn’t even bring up that Eric’s mentoring of other writers was bordering on capitalism when they get published. ….

      — Stewart

      • Eric Flint says:

        Jim Baen once said to me that he was surprised at how well I’d managed my career as a freelance writer — I hadn’t made a single big mistake, he said — given that I was handicapped by the socialist twaddle rattling around in my head. “To the contrary!” was my response. Socialists actually make quite good entrepreneurs when and if they turn their minds that way, as a rule. It’s because I’m never caught off guard when capitalism lives down to my expectations.

        To his credit, Jim thought that was pretty funny.

        • Terranovan says:

          I don’t know, I’ve heard some pretty scathing things about Intourist (Soviet-run tourism agency). :-) Mostly “recruiting for Communism by showcasing the worst tendencies of capitalism”, to paraphrase Robert A. Heinlein. The article was titled “Inside Intourist” , and a Google search says it’s in “Expanded Universe”. Of course, he and I could be wrong…
          I’m just intending to join in the humor, though.

          • C. S. P. Schofield says:

            The dfference between individual Socialists or even voluntary groups of same striking out to make money and a government doing the same is simple. Socialism on the level a Nation State must work on is inevitably a Bureaucracy. A bureaucracy forms when the human desire to cover ass overwhelms the rarer (but often real) human desire to cooperate.

            I suppose a sufficiently small State could be Socialist without succumbing to bureaucratic calcification, but to date no examples seem to have arisen.

  13. Pingback: How Should an Author Look on Used Book Sales? | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  14. Ryan Petty says:

    This is an awesome blog post and it’s my introduction to you.

    I was bothered by the reasoning in the Kristen Lamb piece when it first came out, but couldn’t fully articulate what you have now said so well.

    I’d be “for” used and antiquarian bookstores, even if they were diametrically opposed to my small business interests as a writer… (which they are not) which is only to say how much to I enjoy and benefit from them.

    Science fiction and fantasy are mostly unexplored worlds for me, so my promise to you is to at least try one of your books. I’ll look for it first at King’s Books near my home in Tacoma, Washington.

    Thanks!

  15. Keith West says:

    Hi, Eric.

    I began reading your work because I heard good things about your books (and you) from K. D. Wentworth and a few other people I knew and trusted.

  16. Sean says:

    I discovered you through David Drake and the Belisarius books. STill one of my all time favorite series. Although for favorite books of yours…gotta be The Philosophical Strangler.

    You know…another way people used to get put on to authors to discover them was the booksellers on the floor and behind the cash registers of the retail bookshops. The people who worked the stores up through the 90’s were, voracious readers all. At least the ones I knew and I knew a lot of them because I used to be one. However that was with the smaller format stores like the now long defunct B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. Heck I grew up in those stores. I was in one or the other, or both almost every single weekend growing up. I ended up working in one during their final years in my adult hood. You don’t really get that as much with the big box places like Borders, or Barnes and Nobles or Books a Million. It may be because I know how the stores work and know the layouts of the stores I haunt well enough, and because I used to be a bookseller that I don’t bother really talking with the people on the floor, and that colors my thinking. *shrug* However you don’t really get the floor people coming up to you anymore asking if you need help or more importantly stopping to talk favorite authors and suggestions anymore. There used to be that kind of interaction between customers and you don’t get that as much anymore either. I get more of the fellow customer interaction in the used bookstores more than at B&N.

    Meh I went off rambling again. Short of it being…word of mouth from reviews, store employees, librarians. fellow book lovers etc, and just trying new stuff because it looks interesting has always been how people found authors. That hasn’t changed much, I just think we’ve lost some of the humanity and mingling and making new friends of it some. What with ebooks and the internet. Things become…more impersonal on ‘da intarwebz’.

    • Nathan says:

      B. Dalton and Waldenbooks weren’t exactly paragons of virtue when it came to personal interaction and hand-selling, either — they were both large chains, and that sort of corporate structure can’t reliably provide that level of service. Some stores had managers who were passionate about books and hired staff with a similar attitude, but many didn’t. Ultimately, they went under because Borders and Barnes & Noble came in with exactly the same business model, but in a larger-format store that could hold more titles.

      The only places you can reliably get good personal service in the book business are independent bookstores. Used bookstores are almost invariably independent, but there are also plenty of independent bookstores that only sell new books, and many of them are thriving for exactly the reason you cite: Amazon removes the communal aspects of reading. (B&N’s supermarket-style approach isn’t much better, but at least human interaction is possible.)

      So, for those of you who haven’t yet escaped the soul-sucking algorithmic isolationism of Amazon, check out IndieBound to find your local independent bookseller. You might also have to look elsewhere — not all of them are ABA members — but it’s a good place to start.

  17. Oddly enough, I found you through a blog that posts unusual or amusing covers and invites readers to come up with a caption for it. They had posted the cover to 1632 and there were a lot of Dukes of Hazzard references

    Some of the comments simply said that it was a good read. I’ve been hooked ever since. Even though they were satirizing your cover art, I bet you picked up a few devoted fans from it.

  18. Pingback: Pixel Scroll 1/18/16 The 770 Horsemen of the Apocalypse | File 770

  19. Cyrus McEnnis says:

    Unlike some here, I think I first ran across your writing thanks to your essays – I think they used to be published on the Baen ebook website, but I can’t seem to locate them there now. I read your take on electronic publishing, which made a great deal of sense to me and mirrored my experience with the matter, and from there hit your books in the Baen Free Library. Some I liked, some I found mediocre, but a few I absolutely loved. And I bought some, and others I found on the promotional CD-ROMs that Baen used to include in some of their releases, and I could tell whether I’d like a book from snippets as well as other, more traditional methods.

    I think I first went to the Baen website on the recommendation of a poster of an internet forum who said “If you want to buy ebooks for a reasonable price and on a reasonable schedule, where they treat you like adults, then head to Baen”. I now monitor the releases there and while I don’t buy everything that comes through I definitely pick up quite a number of books based off the chapters provided as a teaser. Ryk E. Spoor for one came to my attention that way.

    So yeah. As long as a publisher makes it easy for me to get hold of titles, I seem to have a great deal of loyalty towards them. And the E-ARC concept from Baen helps even more: I’m more than willing to pay 3 times as much for a book if it means getting an unproofed copy months before I’d otherwise see it. I’d love to see the Baen model spread with more publishers handling e-book sales directly rather than through Amazon, but I’m well aware I’m a fairly edge consumer in this regard.

  20. gahrie says:

    You also have to factor in multiple purchases from devoted fans. I am constantly replacing worn out copies of books with new ones, often repurchased from the publisher.

    For example I have bought all of the leatherbound editions that Baen has produced so far, and I already owned at least 75% of them in at least one other format.

  21. Mike says:

    As best I can recall, the first thing I read with your name on the cover was one of the Belisarius books. I’ve been a fan of David Drake since I was in college, because a roommate of mine was reading Hammer’s Slammers and I thought the cover looked interesting.

    The first look at Belisarious was probably a free sample. It wasn’t the first book of the series, I remember that. I know I never bought a Belisarius book — I checked them all out from the library.

    I do have several of your books on the shelves that I have paid for though. 1632. All the Schmitz books you edited. Maybe some more — I would have to go check to be sure.

    I frequent my library a lot. I usually only buy books after re-reading them several times and still feeling like I want to be able to re-read them again on the spur of the moment any time I feel like it. And that still leaves me with way too many books to fit on my shelves.

  22. Pingback: Some thoughts, some promo | madgeniusclub

  23. Philip Sevetson says:

    Eric,

    I can’t remember whether I first started reading your stuff because Webscriptions put out 1632 (and the puff for it was _really_ good, and so were the snippets in the Bar, again IIRC), or whether I started reading 1632 because I really liked your posts in the Bar — what was that, about five iterations and crashes ago? Fifteen years, now?

    Whatever, it’s been fun all these years reading your fic and your rants. Take care, and keep writing.

  24. Jeff Ehlers says:

    In my case, it’s a little complicated. You see, I actually bought the first book of yours that I read, 1632. But I kept passing over it – for months, possibly longer – because I was ambivalent about picking up a book by an author that I’d never read. What broke that deadlock was that I finally looked at 1633, saw David Weber’s name on there along with yours, and since I’d never read a book by David Weber that I disliked, I decided to give it a try.

    Of course, since the first book of David Weber’s that I’d read, Heirs to Empire, was actually sitting on my little brother’s bookshelf while he was out doing military service… Same goes for most books I’ve bought. I have occasionally bought a new book because it looked interesting, but for the most part, I only buy a book if I can be reasonably sure I’m going to like it, whether it’s reading someone else’s copy, checking it out in a library, reading it (or parts of it) in the bookstore, and lately, reading copies online.

  25. Pingback: Secondhand Stories | HUNTING MONSTERS

  26. My acquaintance with SF and F was from the library – McCaffrey and Norton and branched out. Being from NZ the major bookstore has (still) concentrated on UK published authors so I was rather hamstrung until I discovered a specialty SF etc store – picked up LM Bujold’s “Shards of Honor” with excerpt of an Honor Harrington novel and later reread that excerpt and went looking for David Weber. The internet helped with chat rooms and as I read and if nothing else available reread, I usually bought (mostly paperbacks) so I didn’t have to wait. Belisarius was the first of your series to take my attention and those I did get either through Jim Baen’s CDs or the public library. Most of the others have also been library accessed, except the “Heirs of Alexandria” – as EARCs and the Torch section of Honorverse. I get most of my paid books online now – they are usually quite large volumes so 1 laptop is such a spacesaver! And not much heavier these days. Thank you, Eric for your books and your site and can you please give Dave Freer a push with his next contribution to “Heirs”?

    • Eric Flint says:

      Um… I am forced to confess here that Dave Freer is not the one who needs a push for the next contribution to the Heirs of Alexandria.

      (clears throat)

      I am. Dave turned over his part of the manuscript to me quite some time ago. Unfortunately, I am so jammed up with work — and Baen has my publication schedule filled for the next year — that I’ve had that manuscript on the back burner. I hope to finish it once I finish my next 1632 series novel, 1636: THE OTTOMAN ONSLAUGHT, which I will be starting to write very soon.

      • David Philips says:

        Sad Face…

        Darn. I’m gonna love Ottoman but I bet I’m gonna love Heirs sequel more…lessen you screw up….

        Love

        David

      • Joe Arnaud says:

        Just keep em coming :) thanks for your effort and your essays Thought if you ever have the time another Rats, Bats and Vats book that would be great :)

      • Thanks for the kind words Casey. I love couponing and saving money so I am hoping that what I do will help others that are interested. I’m glad you have benefitted from my blog and hopefully you’ll find that through these savings your ends will be a little easier to meet. Let me know if you ever need anything! Thanks for following!

  27. David Philips says:

    The main reason l move beyond a good (say, eg, Baen-type) author has not been been-there-done-that impatience. It’s been too many snarky gratuitous political comments. (If you have a political point to make, tell the damn story, I say, and leave the asides to Shakespeare.)

    • Daryl says:

      I disagree with virtually everything political that John Ringo puts in his books, but he is a brilliant story teller so I just let it wash over me.
      Life’s too short to miss a good read because of my own prejudices.

      • Johnny says:

        It’s not the political asides I mind so much as the shoehorned-in pop culture references that are often totally at odds with the tone of the book.

        • Nevaeh says:

          Información Bic.0orasacom&#823t;Valora en Bitacoras.com: Arnold Tsang es un artista conceptual e ilustrador de origen Chino bastante conocido en el mundo del comic y la ilustración. Entre sus trabajos, esta la participación en el juego de vídeo de Capcom, Fighting Evolution e……

  28. Joe Arnaud says:

    I think my own reading habits are a good case study of your point. I started reading David weber because of a book from the library, I got a copy of the Baen free CD Ashes of victory, which got me to visit the Baen website and the Free library, the free library got me into a load of authors and used to reading ebooks. That got me purchasing Baen Ebooks. So the ‘free’ book from the library, the CD and the Free Libray got me spending lots of money on books I wouldn’t even have seen let alone purchased. Because they’re not typically on the shelves of English bookstores.

  29. Deb says:

    I too am a victim of the “Hey, little girl, the first book is free” Baen Free Library and now I’ve moved on to the crack of eARCs.

    • Joseph Arnaud says:

      ahh eARC…..

      My Commonsense : “The book will be out, in a final version that will cost less”

      The rest of my psyche: “Silence you FOOL they must be ours!

      • Jeff Ehlers says:

        In my case, it’s flipped around; the rest of my psyche generally comes down hard on the parts that want to read the book early no matter what. But I’ve cultivated a lot of patience when it comes to waiting for books to come out.

        About the only time I ever bought an eARC is with the third book in the Hell’s Gate series, and that only because there was such a delay before it was written.

  30. Adam says:

    I would have to say that I found your books from reading David Weber’s books. I had read up to the current book in the honorverse and saw the ring of fire and tried that out and liked it.

    Don’t forget that collaborations also introduce readers to new authors.

    This is a well written esay that explained things from the authors’ point of view.

    Over the years, In high school I borrowed a lot from the libraries. When I got a job, I could start affording paperbacks. Now that I have a good job, I buy hardbacks when they come out and goto the used bookstores to replace my paperbacks with their hardback version.

    Looking at things from a reader perspective, copyright is an artificial monopoly that is a necessary evil so that authors have an incentive to get good at writing and to provide more quality works to enjoy. If we did not have it, we would be stuck with amateurs and books that were written on commission. When we hear about an author that is whining about every “lost” sale, we think that that person is being greedy.

    This essay also extends past books and into other forms of IP like TV shows, and it is always a relief when those companies see fanfiction and handmade crafts as the cost of keeping their IP thriving through the hiatuses in seasons so they can make a ton of money on licensed material. Cause it is even more true that we can watch TV shows faster than they are made.

  31. Larry A. Kiser says:

    Hi Eric;
    Found you by your editing James H. Schmitz stories. Saw 1632 in Walmart & dithered for months before buying it because I needed a book that I had not read several times to take on vacation. I then bought everything I could find Grantville and finally found Webscriptions. I have bought other authors’ books that I found thru your books & GG. I also have quit buying David Weber’s Safehold series after about the seventh hardback because each book seems like 1000 pages that should take 100-150 pages AND I can not track of who is who because each character has at least three names. (I still look for his other books.) I started out with library books and went to used books due to being very poor in my younger years. I now use mostly an e-reader because My fingers have trouble turning real book pages. As I was reading your article I was thinking about another reply that you wrote to some idiot that said you owed him the cost of a book that he bought & didn’t like. You mentioned that the author gets only cents of the dollars a book costs. I would like to keep my favorite authors writing and would like to know the best way to do that. I get most of my books from Baen and Amazon these days. At Amazon I order a lot of the free books and then buy the rest of that series IF I enjoy the free one such as Rookie Privateer (Privateer Tales) by Jamie McFarlane and some mystery stories. (webscriptions used to be my home page, now it is http://www.baen.com so that I can find the latest & greatest.) Please let me know if I made any gaffs in this writing.

  32. Pingback: Just a little (link) love: rare unicorn edition | A Gai Shan Life

  33. Lyttenstadt says:

    The problem is much more serious than used book sales. I’m going to ruin whatever good mood anyone has here by saying that, IMO, we are not too far from a day, when we will see books burned and libraries demolished 451 Fahrenheit style, but not because someone would be too offended by the Uncle Tom’s cabin (or the Tom Sawyer’s adventures… or by everything) but because of the greed.

    Kristen Lamb’s article caused in me only a gut wrenching, sinking feel of dread – because I had little trouble imagining her “ideal world” where no such “crimes” would be possible. For the people like her (I can’t say “authors” – “literature businesspersons” seems more accurate) in the long run, the book as a physical embodiment of the “commodity” they are selling becomes part of the problem, not its solution.

    I’d also like to share my own story, how I “discovered” Eric Flint. IIRC, I was just freshman in the Uni when a friend of mine here introduced me to the Belisarius series. He loaned me a book to check it out. I read it and I liked what I read. That’s how I first learned about both Eric Flint and David Drake. This friend of mine was a huge fan of such historical SF and he already had all Belisarius books published at the moment (i.e. all 5 of them). I asked my friend to borrow the rest of the series, while offering in exchange several books of my own – Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons, works by A. Perez-Reverte, Umberto Eco and books by many other authors.

    In the ideal world according to Kristen Lamb and her much more greedy proponents me, my friend, our friends and family would end up in uranium-mining prison camp for our “crime”. Do it for yourself and count just what amount of money we “stole” from the authors of these works and from the honest, poor folks at big publishing houses. I’m going to make it even worse for myself now. I didn’t actually “own” those Hyperion Cantos – they were bought by my 2 elder brothers, who then allocated to our common, family library. They just read them and put on the shelf. Granted, I asked their permission about borrowing the books and they said that’s okay. I even suggested for them to read the Belisarius volumes I constantly brought back – but they were not interested. The Flanders Panel that I still have with me was a birthday gift from my then GF – meaning that I didn’t pay for it. And all those Belisarius books that I borrowed from my friend? He didn’t pay for them either – his indulgent parents bought them for him because they were rich(er than mine) and indulgent.

    Imagine the level of our folly and the gravity of our crime, dear readers? We were guilty of depriving the authors and the companies from their potential, hypothetical income. We were committing something akin to “thought crimes”. Probably, I should find hard time sleeping soundly, as if I’ve done nothing from. For the people like Kristen Lamb and her supporters, I’m a criminal. I must curse and blame myself, to feel guilty – who was taught to feel guilty and assume that he will go straight to Hell for “stealing” a property – i.e. by freeing living, thinking human person.

    So, yes, I’m rather pessimistic, and don’t dismiss such threats coming from the radical advocates of the copy rights lightly. Right now something akin to the UltraWord system, described in J. Fforde’s The well of Lost Plots seems with every day passing less like satire and more like something bound to happened any moment now.

  34. Pat H says:

    I had read and liked a few Baen books that I found in my local public library (not any of yours) so you were new to me when I signed up to the Baen Universe Club instead of just subscribing to the magazine. As a result, Baen sent me a bunch of e-books, including some of yours. Well, I was hooked, and even though I have fallen behind, I still eagerly buy pretty much anything you write. I know I will read it someday. This year may be that someday, as I have dedicated 2016 to catching up. Well, mostly at least, because you darn authors keep writing all those wonderful books.

  35. Bret Hooper says:

    @Eric Flint:
    . Above, you wrote “First, I look to see if any of my books are on the shelves. I am pleased when they are; displeased when they are not.”
    Back when I was able to walk without pain, and for more than a few feet, I used to visit the local used bookstores, and I sometimes found some of your books therein, but they never seemed to be on the shelves very long. (I confess I was one of the reasons for that; I have given friends I don’t know how many copies of 1632.)
    . So you shouldn’t necessarily be “displeased when they are not.” Do you really prefer that your books stay on the shelves of used bookstores instead of being sold quickly?
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . * * *
    . Most of your books I have bought new, hardcover. I have also bought most of them used for one reason or another.
    . The one series of yours that I don’t intend to buy is sequels of The Philosophical Strangler, which I bought and read, but didn’t much care for; it was too much on the fantasy side for me.

  36. Kristen Lamb says:

    First of all, I have NO problem with used bookstores, and I am getting tired of people saying that I do. But I get it. I wrote the blog when I had pneumonia, so it wasn’t one of the clearest posts I have written.

    In the blog post, though, I said that I buy from used bookstores. A LOT actually. That feel free to support them, but also educate readers you do not get paid because this is not their world or industry so they have a limited view of our business.

    Many regular people still believe we are getting multi-million dollar advances.

    I was once standing in line with a woman who had an armload of newer used books and we got to talking. I took the moment to say, “Hey, if you find an author you love among those, please write a review at least because the author makes no money off that sale. Or better yet, buy your next one new.”

    She had NO idea authors made nothing from those sales. She hadn’t taken time to consider it was a secondary market.

    This is actually very common. After that article, I got all kinds of e-mails and comments from readers who believed they were being great fans and had no concept the writer wasn’t being paid off their purchases.

    We writers are up against a new monster we have never faced and if writers keep acting like we are in the same business world as 1990? We are going to die. In 1990, secondary markets were great. Why? If a reader discovered an author she loved at a used bookstore or a garage sale? She had to BUY it new or get on a six-month waiting list at the library (which PAYS for books, btw).

    We didn’t live in a world with unlimited free entertainment 24 hours a day. There wasn’t the staggering amount of competition for a reader’s time.

    Additionally, we did not live in a culture that is expecting more and more for free. Emily White had a music collection of over 11,000 songs and admitted to only ever buying 15 CDs. We have generations growing up accustomed to file-sharing and free downloads. Couple this with writers giving too many books away for free and we have created a nightmare.

    I get e-mails all the time from authors who used to make a good living, but can no longer sustain. How fans have become so spoiled with free stuff, they can no longer make a living. How “exposure” has come to be the new currency and we are supposed to be happy with that.

    Huffington Post sold for $300 MILLION dollars all using free labor from writers. They have poisoned the industry so much that now other venues are paying with Exposure Dollars.

    The article was not against used bookstores at all. It was against ONE particular article that chose to bash Amazon and digital to promote the used bookstore. That wasn’t only unnecessary, it was harmful to us as professionals.

    Had the article never bashed Amazon and digital? Had the article not “fudged” the facts about how writers benefit from used sales?

    I could have cared less.

    The article was also falsely stating that e-book sales are in decline. Paper sales are up for traditionally published books, but only because their pricing for e-books is ridiculously high. But in general, e-book sales are still climbing when one accounts for self-published and indie authors. The Martian (self-published) has sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

    The article was also making very dangerous parallels. Museums and cultural centers get private donations, host fund-raisers and also have tax breaks. We writers are not given any of those advantages. We pay an insane amount in taxes because we are viewed by the IRS as a business…not a cultural center.

    All this post was meant to point out is that we writers are a business. Don’t promote articles that reader-shame people who love e-books and love Amazon because that is bad business. When we promote articles that bash our best revenue stream? That is dumb.

    It’s like a real estate agent promoting articles about how For Sale By Owner is AWESOME…then wondering why he is making no money.

    Writers constantly complain about the lack of income, then promote articles that hamstring their sales. All I was doing was trying to get writers to think more like business people. Sure, car manufacturers benefit from used sales, but if they never sell a new car? They go under. Someone somewhere has to buy new.

    Anyone who felt I was shaming them for buying used? This is from my blog, “And if we ARE going to promote used bookstores (which IS fine) then by GOD educate readers and ask for the sale. Let them know that you will not be paid off that sale and to please also buy a full-price version if they like your book.”

    We need to stop acting like it is dirty to want to make a living.

    • Jeff Ehlers says:

      I understand where you’re coming from, but that genie has long since gotten out of the bottle, and it’s going to be next to impossible to stuff it back inside. You may well have a point that writers need to adapt to the world as it now exists, but that means you need to make it easy for people to get access to books – as easy, if not easier, than getting them for ‘free’ via online download. And I’ll be honest here, telling people, “if you like it used, buy it new so I get some money too” isn’t likely to make enough of a difference.

      Let me give an example. Viz Media was releasing a paper magazine of translated Japanese manga called Shonen Jump on a monthly basis. The problem is, since it was a monthly publication, while the chapters were produced weekly, they simply couldn’t keep people interested. It was simply easier for the fans of those series to get the fan-translated versions which were released shortly after the originals were published in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump, than to wait for the monthly publication. So it ended up going under.

      However, the people who ran the English Shonen Jump came up with a very smart idea to replace it; instead of releasing a monthly paper magazine, they convinced Shueisha to let them make Shonen Jump Alpha, an online version of the magazine, released weekly and simultaneously with the Japanese magazine. You could buy a year’s worth for something like $25, or you could buy each issue separately.

      As a result, they’re beating the pirates at their own game; it worked well enough that once the first year had passed, they were able to make it permanent rather than a trial run. Sure, there are still a lot of people who’d prefer to get it for ‘free’, but they made it enough easier for people who want to buy it that they can compete.

      If you really want authors to succeed in the 21st century, where they have to compete with essentially free entertainment, you have to come up with something better than telling people to buy new copies of the books if they like them. You’ll see some money off of that, for sure, but not a lot. Certainly not enough to really support an author.

    • Tired says:

      Sorry Kristen but disagree with you on people expecting freebies. Most will take a sample and if they are broke, more than one, when they are authenticated and author (or musician etc) approved. I first ran into Eric from a second hand bookstore, went to baen (and hallelujah, I was so shitty arse broke at the time, I celebrated he was giving away a couple of books in the Baen ebookstore). Times improved for me financially shortly afterwards and I didn’t just pay for the new ones, I went back and bought the ones before as well (except the one from the second hand bookstore that started me off)

      I have never ever ripped a book off the internet (I know people who do and without fail, they never do get the book they thought they were getting – always ‘edited’ ‘adds inserted into the text etc. I don’t know anyone who actually spends money on books who tried this more than once or twice. Should authors get paid???? Hell yes!!! The truth is I hadn’t heard of you at all before Eric put up this post and he’s obviously trying to bump you up so you CAN earn a living. I know women are supposed to be gracious and not angry and all that shit but you came across as a bit whiny in your comment above and also morally superior to the people you want to be buying your books. I am a total bibliophile and lend books, recommend books, buy books etc and have a library of over 5,000 which (at nearly 50) I have culled several times.

      These days I get the likes of Stephen King (or eg U2 – not that I’m a fan) out of the library and spend money on new upcoming authors (actually, I’ve always done that) I don’t recommend online as I don’t know anyone online who actually buys books, I do it IRL with people I know who will spend the money (except for longstanding online friends on different continents etc). I think the problem I have with your comment above is you seem to think that everyone is out to rip you off or expects you to work for free. I understand the idea of people expecting you to work for free and how screwed that is (they do that to me too and I work in a commercial legal environment).

      I’m a bit bewildered how you meant to come across. But you haven’t sold me on buying one of your books (which if you hadn’t said anything and Eric had just endorsed you, I probably would have). You seem to think that book buyers don’t understand how authors make their money. I disagree. Maybe you have been trying to market your books in places where people won’t understand or wouldn’t buy your work anyway. I personally don’t know anyone (including engineers I work with who haven’t read a fiction work in 20 years) who would expect an author to work for free.

      I will check your catalogue out and ask my local library to order in a copy. You’ll get the sale and more readers than if I bought your book(s) directly (and my local library DO order on my recommendation). Please, please please think about how you talk to potential readers. In this comment (and I can accept you are totally frustrated and over everything) you are coming across as being morally superior to anyone who might read your book and everyone else in the whole world as well. Not sure that is a winning sales strategy. Like it or not (and I totally agree with you, you should not be ashamed or feel dirty to expect money from your work) the unfortunate and obvious next step to that is not alienating you potential audience / buyers. It sucks I know. but if you want to make money from whatever you do, you actually need to keep people onside

      I wish you well and WILL order in at my local library who have an amazing SF/SFF collection.

  37. Phil Palmer says:

    Eric,

    Since you ask. I first became aware of your books semi-otically, in amongst other recommendations from a source whose tastes I knew differed from mine. He recommended trying them out from the library. But the library has a habit of selling off “old” books, so generally it is missing the beginnings of series.

    I also absorbed some information about you which made me warmer to you – namely that you are a socialist and something of an expert on Keith Laumer.

    Then came Puppies and I found I had a need to read some Eric Flint and I purchased the first four 1632 novels. That was probably too many, but the title of The Galileo Affair was intriguing. I doubt that anyone wants a repeat of the Puppy fiasco, but setting up a “need to read” – a movie tie-in, say or a reappraisal of an author’s work – is sometimes the trigger for purchasing. I am currently “needing to read” the strategy fiction that derives in part from the Romance Of Three Kingdoms.

  38. Eric says:

    I would add to the preceding discussion a new development, analogous to discounts/sales at book stores: The Amazon deal of the day or other promotion. For three bucks (often lower), a book isnt such a disappointment if it’s not that great. I’m farm more willing to buy on speculation for discounted titles.

  39. Rick says:

    Eric,

    I am surprised in this day of computers and e-books that publishers are not putting together more tools that would make their quality authors more visible and their piece of the market less opaque. For example Baen could make an author tree where one could select and author and get the list of all authors with whom they have co-written down multiple layers. I have found a number of authors that I have enjoyed, including yourself, in that fashion. But there is not an easy tool to get a definitive list even for Baen.

    Another case is the lack of a tool to display all books and series in sequence of the story.

    In this day of Amazon intermixing very poor quality books into the mix with good books in large numbers the need for publishers to produce tools to help people find their high quality authors is even more in need.

    • Terranovan says:

      I think that baenebooks.com can allow you to view all works by a selected author, and Wikipedia will have a full listing of an author’s works if they have a page for the author at all (assuming you’re willing to trust to an occasionally unreliable source).

      • Rick says:

        You can get the information if you go searching for it. The point is that it would take about 10 minutes to put together a SQL query in a database to construct a co-author relationship matrix for a given publisher.

        They should be making tools like that and make them easily available. Not continue to make any kind of linkages obscure that have to be dug out.

  40. Matthew says:

    As a loving and inveterate patron of used book stores, Ms. Lamb has definitely gotten my goat.

    I will be sure never to buy her work in the future.

  41. Pingback: Links roundup (“Posting again after a crummy winter” edition) – James Schellenberg

  42. Bob says:

    Will there be more stories in the anaconda series?

  43. Dominic says:

    @Eric,

    I’ve bought a ton of your books, as well as other baen books, because of the free library. It’s what got me started.

    I’m glad you brought up the important fact that a “consumer” only has a limited bandwidth for content. We can only read/watch so much, so when we decide to commit to something, we need to know that it’s worth it. This is why the free library is such a good thing and why used book stores are a good thing. They lower the barrier of entry enough to make it worth going on a fishing expedition to find good content. Nothing is worse than dropping $10+ on a book that sucks, however if you’ve only spent like $2 for it, you’re a lot more willing to experiment.

    Imagine if other mediums of commerce were like art/entertainment. Instead of going to grocery store and knowing you were buying a can of beans you only had a vague descriptor of the contents of what you were buying. No one would ever drop high dollar to see if something was worth trying.

  44. Alsadius says:

    Also, let’s not forget the economic incentive. Used bookstores make it cheaper to buy authors you’re unsure of, because if it’s a dud with you, you can sell it and recoup some of your money. The fact that resale is possible increases the value of new-sale products, because it gives you extra options instead of you needing to keep the product its whole life.

  45. Ola Munteanu says:

    Whether a used bookstore a library a torrent or even a functional return policy it is my belief that only bad authors/badly writen books suffer from what such persons/books would probably categorize as overexposure.. Shine a light on the XXXX and ofcourse said XXXX will suffer. (economically in this case)

    If it was not for both used bookstores and lately torrent sites and even full price bookstores with sensible return policys I would probably not be Reading any books at all. I would definetly not out of the blue be paying full price for any book for a to me unknown author of whom I have no knowledge.
    Used bookstores and booktorrent sites provide me the reader/purchaser the only imo currently acceptable form of quality testing format available.

    If it was not for a certain used bookstore I would never have found out about Eric Flint, and thus interested enough to download one of those terrible “pirate” torrents.
    I have now for many years been an avid fan of his work and I purchase every one of his 163X series as fast as they get released in audio. I was actually checking this his site for any announced release dates of upcoming books in said series so thats what I am going to do now.

    Thank You Eric for all your great books, they give relief from a most dreary existence..

  46. Frank says:

    Dear eric, I found your reaction to the blog on your home page. The comment by
    Jeff Ehlers got me thinking back to last year, when i wanted to buy a new book by David Weber.
    I found it on “I think” Amazon typed in that rediculous long string of numbers on my creditcard and got the notice that i wasn’t elligable to buy because my card was not issued in the good old US of A (i’m from the Netherlands). I later found it “for free” somewhere on the internet.
    So Jeff Ehlers comment does ring very true in my case
    I thought about, maybe a donation button on the website, but I think that would backfire. People could buy off their guilty concience that way.

    In getting back to the Original topick. All of the aforementioned methods have worked in my case, so keep using them.

  47. Tim O'Reilly says:

    I don’t recall just how I came across the first of Eric’s works, likely he co-authored with Webber, or perhaps it was the other way around. I used to be rather prolific with my reading and when my current author(s) didn’t have something new, I’d browse the bookstore’s shelves. But that was years ago and I’m only recently getting back into some serious reading … and Eric is very correct, the first story or two of his that my daughter will read she will not have to pay for, after that however … well I’m sure that Eric will have yet another fan.

  48. Hayden says:

    Any argument about used book sales could also apply to used houses/land.

    I would love to see Kristen Lamb face when she attempts to sell her house only for the police to show up and arrest her for piracy, just imagine it before a judge.

    “Kristen Lamb, I hereby find you guilty of piracy with malice and intent to defraud society and intentionally cause harm to others. Others who’s very existence depends on construction of new houses too support families and loved ones.”

Leave a Reply to Nevaeh Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *