Charlie Stross analyses the Amazon Macmillan fight

I linked on my LiveJournal to a short draft of this yesterday, but Charlie has now posted the expanded version of Amazon, Macmillan: an outsider’s guide to the fight. This is really worth your time to read, if you want to understand what’s been going on in the lead-up to this weekend’s uproar, and why Amazon is *not* working in the long-term best interest of readers.

Charlie also has a link round-up of other useful posts on the Amazon Macmillan stare-down.l

January 2010 book log

So, the books read in January:

1) EC Tubb — Veruchia (reviewed Jan 14)
2) Joseph Green — Star Probe (DNF, logged Jan 22)
3) Ellen Kushner, editor — Basilisk (logged Jan 22)
4) Dorothy Sayers — Five Red Herrings (logged Jan 22)
5) PD James — The Private Patient (logged Jan 30)
6) Terry Pratchett — Thud! (logged Jan 31)

Good start to the year, with a little over one book per week actually finished.

Amazonfail #3

Just in case you haven’t seen it — Amazonfail #3 is in progress.

http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/012148.html
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/01/30/a-quick-note-on-ebook-pricing/
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2010/01/30/its-all-about-timing/

My view on this is fairly similar to Charlie’s. However, I simply stopped adding links rather than pulling all my links last time round, and was willing to forgive when they fixed the last one. The reason for that is that Amazon, for all its faults, was even throughout the LGBTfail willing to sell anyone pretty much anything, so long as they could actually track it down in the catalogue.

It’s different now. They’ve deleted an entire publisher from their catalogue. Not made it hard to find them, but pulled the entries altogether. And that takes away my reason to put up with assorted nonsense over the years, which was that Amazon was a lifeline for a lot of minorities, because it really would send you anything legal to buy, in a nice friendly brown box.

I won’t have time to sort out my website and blogs until I get home in a couple of weeks, but my Amazon links are going bye-bye.

Book log: PD James — The Private Patient

The most recent book in the Dalgliesh series, and there are hints in the text that it may be the last — unsurprising given the age of the author. I don’t think it’s the best in the series, but enjoyed it a great deal. I’m inclined to leave my own review until after I’ve read the preceding book in the series, as by chance I’ve acquired this one first. I’d agree with this and other reviews at LibraryThing.

LibraryThing entry.

Book log – Ellen Kushner, editor — Basilisk

Intended to do a full review, but still too sore from the fall. Here’s what I’d already written. Note — contents include Alan Garner’s short “Feel Free”, which covers some of the same themes as “Red Shift”, and the Earthsea short “The Word of Unbinding”

Ellen Kushner, editor — Basilisk

Anthology of fantasy short stories, first published in 1980. Going by the copyright page, this is a mix of reprints and new stories, originally published from 1956 to 1980. There’s a good mix of styles here. A couple of the pieces didn’t work for me, but this anthology had a very high hit rate for me.

Book log: Joseph Green — The Star Probe

Astronomers discover alien space probe heading towards Earth. Fanatical environmentalists who have already killed off most of the space programme decide they have to stop any attempt to make contact with the probe, lest the people be seduced into wasting time and money on space research and high technology, when they could be fixing the problems on Earth. Wealthy space entrepreneur Henson, owner of the only private enterprise in space, sees the opportunity the probe presents, and is determined to bring the benefits to mankind.

This one was a Did Not Finish for me within the first five pages, and the next five didn’t rescue it. I was just too irritated by the apparent attitude that all environmentalists are violent fanatics who are anti-technology. I can certainly find Green Puritans annoying, but this seemed to be presenting the extreme fringe as the norm. Now it’s more than possible that I’m grossly misjudging the book and will find that it does address this further on; and I say that mindful of a “bailed after the first chapter” review I read recently that demonstrated exactly that problem. In fact, a quick glance at the last couple of pages suggests that it’s a lot less black and white by the end. But I have a TBR mountain that’s going to take me a couple of years to get through, and no particular reason to give this book another 25 pages to get my attention (unlike a couple of other books with similar annoyances which I’ve read). This one’s going in the Oxfam box, unless the next book by this author in the TBR mountain gives me a reason to retrieve it.

[Later: checking on LibraryThing, I find that I liked the author’s short story in New Writings in SF 10, and the tone of that one suggests that the annoying tone of this one is an opening gambit. The book gets a reprieve, but I’ll read it some other time when I’m feeling more receptive.]

LibraryThing entry

Book review: EC Tubb — Veruchia

This is the eighth book in a long series, but works well as a standalone. I’d never previously read any of the Dumarest Saga, but found that any necessary backstory was woven into the book, and that the story in this book was complete in itself.

Earl Dumarest is a wanderer trying to find his way home. As a child he stowed away on a ship, and in his efforts to survive found himself travelling further and further, until he found himself ina region of the galaxy where Earth’s location is not only lost, but considered a myth. In this novel, in trying to avoid trouble on his trail he finds himself almost penniless on a new planet, with the fastest way to earn enough money for a ticket out being the Games. Once harmless sport, the violent and often deadly modern Games are a symptom of the way the planet’s current Owner is taking the planet into a new age of barbarism.

Dumarest wins his game — and a large bet for one of the two potential heirs of the Owner, a few hours before the owner dies. As the younger of two otherwise equal claimants, Veruchia is likely to lose to her cousin, a man who will take their planet even further down the path of barbarism. But Veruchia may have another line of claim, and now she has the money to search for the proof in the short time before the Council makes a final decision. If she can survive the assassination attempts by her rival…

One of veruchia’s friends sees that Dumarest would make an ideal bodyguard for her. But Dumarest has more incentive than just money to take the job. The lost records of the first landing on the planet could give them both the information they need to change their lives. And so they work together against the clock, and against what may be a common enemy.

This is great pulpy fun, solidly written and with enough description to evoke a world without any padding of the word count. It’s a fairly short novel, and a quick read, but the right length for the story. And glory be, the backstory for the series gives this book extra depth, but it really is written so that you don’t need to read anything else in the series.

That latter point is going to be of interest to some of the people who read my blog — because if you read it as a standalone, you can treat it as a cross-genre romance with a Happy For Now ending. (It’s a long-running series and Dumarest always eventually moves on to protect his loved ones from his enemies, so if you want to read Veruchia as a romance rather than as sf, you really should treat it as a standalone.)

LibraryThing entry
at Amazon UK
at Amazon US

number-crunching

Just putting my December royalty figures into the spread sheet — the statement arrived just before Christmas but this is the first chance I’ve had to do more than glance at it. Time to throw out a few numbers that might be of interest.

My best-selling book is still Dolphin Dreams, which has now reached 2151 copies sold since it went on sale. Yes, very much small press numbers, but not bad going for a small press book. For the curious, around a thousand of those came from direct sales from the publisher’s website before it went made available through the distributors, and about 3/4 of the total number since release is from direct sales. For distributor sales, Fictionwise has around double the numbers going through All Romance eBooks.

Second best is the first Lord and Master book, which has sold 1829 copies. Again, around 3/4 through the publisher website, but this time three times as many from Fictionwise as from ARe.

That’s the general pattern on my books — major share is through Loose Id, with the largest chunk of distributor sales coming through Fictionwise, but a significant fraction of distributor sales through ARe, and a tiny trickle through others. (My ebook titles aren’t on Amazon, so I have nothing to report one way or the other there.) That’s one author, through one publisher; other authors report different experiences.

The second Lord and Master book has now sold 1020 copies, almost as many as the first book had after the same number of months on release. That’s pretty pleasing for a sequel, as it suggests that a lot of people liked the first one.

Promises To Keep is the oldest of my titles which are still in print at Loose Id, having been released for Halloween 2004. Yes, more than five years ago, not long after Loose Id opened. It still sells half a dozen copies a month — not a great deal of money, but rather gratifying nevertheless that people are still interested in buying an old backlist title.

A couple of points to note here: a) my books typically sell 500-1500 copies in the initial 2 year contract, b) that’s a two year contract taking only the rights the publisher has a reasonable chance of using, not a life-of-copyright contract grabbing all rights, c) I get a detailed monthly royalty statement, on time, that breaks down exactly which titles sold through which venues, and how much money I got for each venue and title. Now, obviously I’d like to be in mass market paperback and looking at numbers with another zero or two on the end — but even in the small press market, there are good and bad publishers. Anyone with a zero fewer on the end of their sales numbers should be asking themselves if there are better options. Ditto if your publisher claims that it’s too difficult to provide detailed royalty statements so that you know what they owe you. As for life-of-copyright, that’s not automatically bad, but they had better be offering something worthwhile in return.

But… even someone who can sell ebooks consistently at that level can have the occasional “sink without trace” title. I’ve got one that barely scraped past 200 after two years. I have an idea as to why, but no hard evidence. There are no guarantees in this game, just ways to improve the odds in your favour.

Back to work on the accounts. One of the joys of wandering from country to country is that one ends up having to file tax returns in more than one of them, and they have different rules. Blech…

{Note: all numbers in this assume me not cocking up entering the data into 1-2-3…)