Friday, May 30, 2008

Book and Book Buyer Statistics

From two recent articles, some very interesting figures. Wow, over 400,000 new books available in the U.S. in 2007.

U.S. Title Output for 2007:
Bowker, the global leader in bibliographic information management, today released statistics on U.S. book publishing for 2007, compiled from its Books In Print(r) database. Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2007 increased slightly to 276,649 new titles and editions, up from the 274,416 that were published in 2006.

While traditional book publishing was basically flat last year, there was a staggering rise in the reported number of "On Demand" and short-run books to 134,773, pushing the grand total for projected 2007 U.S. book output to 411,422 books.

Book Buyer Statistics:
(Zogby does marketing research and public polling.)

From Publishers Marketplace: Profiles of a Book Buyer
Zogby International released results from a nationwide online survey of the reading and book-buying habits of over 8,000 representative adults, commissioned by Random House (which will publish a book with Zogby later this year). The overall portrait shows Americans as light readers and book purchasers (half buy fewer than 10 books a year; just 14 percent buy more than 20 a year for themselves) who are highly unlikely to buy an e-reading device (3 percent own one; 4 percent plan to buy); more influenced to buy a book by public radio (15 percent) than Jon Stewart (8 percent) who still rans above Oprah Winfrey (5 percent); light sellers of their books when finished with them (only 3 percent do so) and big online customers (more people buy often online, 43 percent, than anywhere else, including chains, at 32 percent) at Amazon in particular--which 66 percent named as online retailer they frequent (with the failed drawing an insignificant response).

The most-frequently named factor in making someone want to buy a book is suggestions from friends and family (60 percent), followed by book reviews (49 percent). Thirty-one percent of online shoppers "depend on online reviews for recommendations" (it's not clear if these are consumer reviews, though).

In contrast to some previous data, 38 percent of the respondents said that "very often" they go into a bookstore knowing what they're looking for while 43 percent said that's the case "somewhat often." Still, 77 percent said they will at least some times make additional unplanned book purchases when were looking for a specific title. The subject is what draws most browsers first (48 percent).

The single biggest factor in choosing books was the idea of making a special effort to look for other books by an author you have enjoyed, with 89 percent confirming this behavior. (Appealing to fans of a particular author within the book itself was one of the points we made in our BISG speech recently...) Store placement influenced selection 33 percent of the time; 52 percent said they have sometimes judged a book by its cover, and 35 percent have been influenced by an author endorsement.

And in a sensible conundrum, people are reading both less (30 percent said yes) and more (23 percent said yes) in the past year.

Of course that paradox raises an important point in looking at all of the information, interesting as it may be: It measures what people *think* they do, which isn't necessarily the same as what they actually do.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Favorite Fantasy Stories

We were all so busy reading, we almost forgot to post a Thursday 13 ! And then there was a lot of arguing about what is fantasy versus urban fantasy versus paranormal. Nope, couldn't come to any consensus on that, so you may not consider all of these to be fantasy stories.
Favorite Fantasy Stories

1. Almost Human, by Cat Marsters
2. Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop
3. Darkangel Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce
4. Fairy Dust by Tielle St. Clare
5. Kedrigern Chronicles series by John Morressy
6. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
7. Nightseer by Laurel K Hamilton
8. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
9. Tailspin by Denise Rossetti
10. Tales of the Order series by Candace Sams
11. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
12. The Seeker Chronicles by Betsy James
13. Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Commit a Murder

by Raelene Gorlinsky

Do you write mysteries or romantic suspense? How do you do your research? So many details to consider! What type of gun was used, how many bullets does it hold and what type of wound do they make, what is the gun's accuracy and range, how loud is it, where could the murderer have obtained it? Oh, you poisoned the murderee? What poison, how long does it take to kill someone, what are the effects, is it detectable in post-mortem testing, how and where is the poison available... And then after your character is dead, there are all the police and forensic procedures, then the lawyers and courtroom.

And don't think you can fake any of this. Nowadays everyone watches Forensic Files and Court TV and Unsolved Murders and Cold Cases, and a dozen other reality shows about crime. Granted, those shows are for entertainment and aren't always completely accurate, but the ones that report on real cases and investigations are thorough and realistic. So your average person nowadays can know quite a lot about how crimes are committed and investigated. And they will spot flaws and errors in your story.

When it comes to researching all those pesky details for your story crime, a number of authors have recommended the Howdunit series of books from Writer's Digest Books. I have not read them, so I can't personally say how accurate or useful they are, or how up-to-date the information (the first book in the series is from 1990). But judging from the titles and book descriptions, they cover almost everything you'd need to know, and in considerable detail.

Armed and Dangerous: A Writer's Guide to Weapons
Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries
Cause of Death: A Writer's Guide to Death, Murder and Forensic Medicine
Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons
Missing Persons: A Writer's Guide to Finding the Lost, the Abducted and the Escaped
Murder One: A Writer's Guide to Homicide
Private Eyes: A Writer's Guide to Private Investigating
Scene of the Crime: A Writer's Guide to Crime-Scene Investigation
Howdunit Book of Poisons
Howdunit Book of Police Procedures and Investigation
Howdunit: How Crimes are Committed and Solved

And there are many similar nonfiction reference and research books available. Just search Amazon.

In fact, I find it rather worrying -- I don't mind authors reading this stuff, but how do we keep it out of the hands of the potential criminals? ;-)

So what sources (books or other) do you recommend as the most accurate for planning a murder?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Reading While Eating?

by Raelene Gorlinsky

This is from an article about declining profits at chain bookstores, in the e-newsletter Publishers Lunch:

David Schick of Stifel Nicolaus & Co. wrote to clients, "It's fairly obvious the book business is under pressure from surging gas prices, consumer balance sheet repair and reduced traffic to casual dining establishments."

Okay, I get the first - fuel costs are affecting everything. And I think the second reason means we're all feeling the pinch, in debt up to our ears and having to limit our personal spending. But why in the world would eating less frequently at diners or fast food places affect book sales? For me personally, it would have the opposite effect - if I had to choose, I'd give up the Egg McMuffins(r) in order to buy more books.

So, all you imaginative authors and aspiring authors - wanna take a shot at a creative explanation of why "reduced traffic to casual dining establishments" means less profits for bookstores? And are you going to eat out more in order to stimulate book sales?

[Note that I get bonus points for researching and marking that Egg McMuffin is a registered trademark of McDonalds Corporation!]

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Ask the Editors!

We get lots of questions on all aspects of editing, publishing and books in general. We will, of course, be delighted to dazzle you all with our wisdom! So we're going to start a semi-regular "Ask the Editors" column. Just remember that these are *our* opinions based on our own experience and knowledge - there is no collective consciousness or "hive mind" that links all editors everywhere into a single knowledge basis or consensus.

~ No snark, no flames, no generally nasty and accusatory emails.
~ No names - we won't publish yours with the question, and we will convert any specific editor or publisher you mention into generic Editor and Publisher.
~ Pet peeves about publishing or editing are fine, as long as politely expressed and with the intention to request information in order to understand why these things happen.

So send your questions at any time to and watch for our enlightening answers.

A Glimmer of Hope on Returns?

Riggio Says Time Is Right to End Returns

by Jim Milliot -- Publishers Weekly, 5/22/2008 8:24:00 AM

In Barnes & Noble’s first quarter conference call, CEO Steve Riggio gave his firm backing to looking for ways to end the traditional returns practice and predicted that it could be possible to find a solution “in a year or two.” Riggio said B&N has always been open to finding alternate ways to deal with unsold books, calling the current practice “insane” and “expensive.” Changing the returns policy would lower costs for both publishers and B&N, Riggio said. He speculated that the given the current environment, publishers might be more receptive to seriously looking to change the returns model.

Our Favorite Historical Romances

As you can see, our tastes differ wildly.
Favorite Historical Romances
1. anything by Georgette Heyer
2. anything by Lisa Kleypas
3. anything by Arnette Lamb
4. Charming the Prince by Teresa Medeiros
5. The Accidental Bride by Jane Feather
6. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
7. Hummingbird by LaVyrle Spencer
8. The Rake by Mary Jo Putney
9. The Velvet Promise by Jude Deveraux
10. Not Quite A Lady by Loretta Chase
11. Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss
12. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
13. The Tiger’s Woman by Celeste DeBlasis

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mystery or Suspense?

by Nick Conrad

I have had authors ask me many versions of the following question: “I’m writing this suspense/romantic suspense, but it’s not a mystery because the killer is revealed early on. Is that okay?” The short answer, provided that the lack of mystery doesn’t compromise the author’s goals for the story, is yes. This article is the first installment in a short series about the differences between mystery and suspense and how they overlap.

Some publishers and book vendors group “mystery” and “suspense” together because there is frequent overlap of the two. However, “mystery” and “suspense” are not synonyms. Generally speaking, a mystery will contain some elements of suspense, whether it is a hardboiled thriller with lots of gore or a cozy mystery with nary a speck of violence or threat of violence. Stepping away from book genres for a minute, a mystery is an abstract object — a story with a missing piece. Suspense is a feeling that is evoked by an outside factor, be it fear, anticipation or curiosity. So most well-written mysteries will inspire feelings of suspense in various forms. Pick up a book by Edgar Allan Poe, Mary Higgins Clark, or John le CarrĂ©, and you will most likely encounter instances of danger for the protagonist and some kind of life-threatening menace. In a word, one might call these stories “hair-raising”. Meanwhile, there might not be anything particularly life-threatening or hair-raising about Donald J. Sobol’s Encylopedia Brown character trying to figure out who stole the neighbor’s pet frog, but the story still presents a compelling puzzle. Can the reader solve the mystery before Encyclopedia does? It becomes a race against the clock. The crime itself might not evoke fear or anxiety, but solving the puzzle presents a challenge to the reader — the suspense lies in the challenge.

So most mysteries contain some kind of suspense as a rule. But the fundamental part of a book that fits the mystery genre is the actual mystery — the whodunit and how it was done. In a suspense story, on the other hand, the heart of it lies in the feeling the story evokes. A suspense story can contain mystery elements to various degrees, hence the decision of some publishers and vendors to cross-classify; however, the mystery itself is not a requirement for suspense. The root of the suspense, then, is that the reader doesn’t know if the protagonist will “win” — will the killer be caught? Will the protagonist come out of the story alive? Will a satisfactory resolution be reached? A good example of how suspense can work without containing an actual mystery is the subgenre of romantic suspense. The protagonists’ relationship forms in the midst of a dangerous situation they are experiencing together. Often the relationship is intensified by these outside elements, bringing the protagonists closer together because of the emotional intensity of what they are going through. It also ups the ante for those characters’ investment in overcoming the conflict — they not only want to protect themselves and resolve the conflict, but they also have concern for each other’s safety and well-being. The emotional intensity and raised stakes in this instance can make for a whole new level of suspense.

To further explain suspense, we should look to the broader genre that contains it — thriller. The simplest definition of a thriller is a story that places the protagonist in extenuating circumstances, often well outside the realm of normalcy for them. Thrillers are often cross-genre, and many are mysteries. Murder or the threat of murder is almost always involved in some capacity, often framed as a race against time. It makes sense, then, that suspense fits neatly within this greater genre, and that an overlap exists between all three:

So, in a nutshell, mystery and suspense might be two different entities, but they can certainly make excellent bedfellows.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Our Favorite Urban Fantasy Books

Favorite Urban Fantasy

1. Dark Hunter series by Sherrilyn Kenyon

2. Fiend series by Maureen Child

3. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

4. Guardians of Eternity series by Alexandra Ivy

5. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling

6. Memory Zero by Keri Arthur

7. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

8. Personal Demons by Stacia Kane

9. Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman

10. Summon the Keeper by Tanya Huff

11. The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

12. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

13. Women of the Otherworld series by Kelley Armstrong

Friday, May 9, 2008

Returns - part 3: Reserves and Lists

by Raelene Gorlinsky

(See part 1 for the definition of returns and part 2 for shelf life.)
Reminder that I am discussing mainly genre fiction here (in mass market paper or trade paperback). Literary fiction and nonfiction have very different sales and return trends, as does anything in hardcover.

I see the same figures over and over again from many sources. Up to 50% average return rate for new mass market fiction paperbacks. Anything less than 30% returns on a title is considered fantastic. Reread that figure — half of the new paperback genre fiction releases ordered by stores are not sold to consumers, they are returned for credit!

It can take a year or more after publication to calculate a valid return rate. Publishers don’t even seriously consider return figures until minimum six months after the book is released.

There is usually no time limit on when a bookstore can return books. I’ve heard stories of publishers receiving returns three to five years after the publication date. And the whole bookseller process of ordering, stocking, and then pulling, shipping back - and doing all the associated accounting steps at the publisher - just takes a long elapsed time.

Reserves Against Returns

So, you had a new book release. Typical NY print publication involves an initial advance against royalties, and then a royalty accounting every six month. So about nine months after your new book released, you should be getting a royalty statement from your publisher showing the sales figures for the first six months. The figures shown on your statement are the books the bookstores/distributors paid for, less the number they returned for credit. IF royalties earned on actual sales exceeded the advance you received, you would be due those additional royalties. And that also applies to all future royalty periods.

HOWEVER - your publisher knows that it is highly likely that more returns will be coming. If they pay you royalties on all the copies shown as sold in this period, ultimately they would have overpaid you. Using some small round numbers for an example: 1000 copies sold, 200 received back as returns in first six months = 800 sold; but publisher anticipating another 150 returns, for "real" sales of 650. Crediting the author with royalties for 800 copies would mean that next accounting cycle you the author could be "in the red" by the amount of royalties for 150 copies. It's not like the publisher is going to send a collection agent to your door to get that money back; they want to avoid overpaying in the first place.

So check your contract - you will find a clause about "reserves against returns". Basically, it says the publisher can withhold a certain percentage of your royalties for some period of time, in order to balance against anticipated future returns of the book. The contract may not specify the exact percent or time period, it may just say "reasonable" or "based on experience" or something vague like that. What authors have told me is that 25% reserve for up to two years is pretty common.

E-Books and Returns

Note that none of this applies to e-books. E-book sales are direct to consumer, so there are no bulk returns. Therefore WYSIWYG when it comes to your royalty statement. And that's why e-publishers can pay on a monthly or quarterly basis - they don't have to wait months to see how many returns come back from the initial sales before figuring out what your real sales were. And therefore no reserves against returns for e-books.

Best Seller Lists - shipped vs. sold

As should be clear by this discussion, booksellers love the returns system, and publishers (and authors) hate it. But there is one "we don't want to admit it" reason why some publishers have an ulterior motive for not pushing harder to change the system.

There are several high-profile bestseller lists - most well known are New York Times and USA Today. Most of these lists do not reveal their "secret formula" for how they calculate what's a best-seller. For example, Amazon doesn't tell anyone the factors and weighting that go into their hourly sub-sub-genre bestseller lists. But it is known that some lists are based on number of copies of a book shipped, not number of copies sold. (This made sense in the day when immediate and accurate sales numbers were not available quickly enough - if the book went on sale this week, the list calculations want a number for the week.) So if a publisher can report 100,000 copies ordered and shipped to stores, rather than that you shipped 100,000 but sales for the week were 50,000, you've got a better chance of hitting some lists. If the industry agreed to limit or eliminate returns, stores would be ordering far fewer copies to start, which would make your shipped number smaller. (This, of course, mainly affects the big New York publishers - small presses rarely have the numbers to reach an important list.) There are even occasional rumors of a NY publisher shipping more copies than ordered, even though they know those extras will likely come back as returns, just so they can have a higher shipped number and a better chance at a bestseller lists.

And hey, it could become a self-fulfilling prophecy - if readers see the book on a bestseller list, more of them might decide to buy it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Our Favorite SciFi/Futuristic Books

Yep, we read anything and everything - all genres. Just give us books!
Favorite SciFi/Futuristic

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2. An Accidental Goddess by Linnea Sinclair

3. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

4. Dangerous Visions by Harlan Ellison

5. Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany

6. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip Dick

7. Dune by Frank Herbert

8. Change by Ann Maxwell

9. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

10. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

11. Scout's Progress by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

12. The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

13. Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Returns - part 2: Shelf Life

by Raelene Gorlinsky

(See part 1 for the definition of returns.)

Reminder that I am discussing mainly genre fiction here (mass market paper or tradepaperback). Literary fiction and nonfiction have very different sales and return trends, as does anything in hardcover.

Shelf Life

We all know that Harlequin/Silhouette category romance books have a fixed one-month shelf life in bookstores (although available longer through the eHarlequin website). The August Harlequin Blazes are put on the shelf on a set date. Thirty days later, any of those left are removed and the September Blazes are put out. The unsold copies are returned.

But all books, not just category romances, have a shelf life. The typical time period in chain bookstores is one to three months, although this does vary. Stores record when they put out a new book. Several months later, unsold copies are pulled from the shelves (they might keep one copy) and returned to the publisher. Unless the store sold out of the original stock and reordered more copies—that “resets” the shelf date.

Shelf life cutoffs are only sensible—stores have to make space to put out the new releases. Typically, most of the sales occur in the first month or two after release. There are some exceptions. Seasonal or holiday books have a different shelf life. A store may continue to carry the books of a local author. Backlists of mega-authors will always find space on the shelves—you’ll be able to find reprints of older Nora Roberts books anytime. And when a very popular series author comes out with a new release, a store will order lots of the new book and may also make sure they have one copy of each of the previous books in the series. A store may notice how well a certain author’s books do overall, and plan to keep at least some titles around perhaps longer than they normally would. (Independent bookstores are especially good for this.)

But face reality—sales of a specific title will taper off sharply within a very short period after release. After a while, the unsold copies will be returned by the store.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Dreaded Returns - part 1

by Raelene Gorlinsky

If you are not a published author, or you are published in digital, not print, you may not yet be familiar with the publishing industry oddity of “returns”. An outmoded practice that just doesn’t fit in the contemporary business climate, it is a massive waste of paper and time, and a major source of money headaches for publishers and authors.

What are “returns”?

Bookstores and book distributors traditionally over-order the number of books they think they can sell. By a lot—like as much as 50% more in the case of paperback genre fiction. The store doesn’t want to take any chance that they might, gasp, run out of copies and have a customer go elsewhere to buy the book. And there is no “penalty” to them for over-ordering.

After a couple of months (as short as one month for a new mass market genre fiction, typically a couple of months for a trade paperback), the bookseller returns the unsold copies to the publisher for credit. The industry average for returns (paperback fiction) is 30% to 50%; rates below 30% for romance mass market paperbacks are almost unheard of. Mass market paperbacks are “stripped”—the bookseller rips off the cover, discards the book pages, and mails just the cover back as proof. The over-order/return rate on trade paperbacks is often slightly lower than mass market paperbacks, because trades are not stripped; the bookseller must return the full undamaged book. And the bookseller usually has to pay the shipping—sending back hundreds of covers is cheap, shipping trade paperbacks is not, so the bookseller tends to place a more realistic original order.

Some small presses do not accept returns. This can simplify their accounting and tracking and warehousing procedures, but it has a major disadvantage for sales. Many, many book distributors will not carry non-returnable books. And bookstores often won’t order them unless the purchaser pays in advance and is willing to wait six to twelve weeks—not an inducement to a buyer.

Here’s a summary explanation from The Seven Signposts: A Guide to Profitable Publishing by Eric Kampmann:

"Books have been sold on a returnable basis since the 1930’s when some of the major publishers decided to offer accounts an incentive to take greater up front risks. We have been living with the aftermath of this innovation ever since.

"Today, new titles generally experience a 30% to 60% return rate. Books stay on the shelf about 90 days and then come back if they are not moving at sufficient speed. The situation is even worse with mass-market retailers like Walmart and Target.

With backlist titles the story is different. Here, returns will run between 5% and 15% of sales."

Next week, a little more on returns and on the shelf life of books.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Our Favorite Mystery Books

Editors are readers - they love books. If they didn't, they wouldn't be in this job. So ask a group of editors about their favorite books, and it can trigger great discussions. We're pleased to find titles for which several of us share a love, and surprised that what one of us loves another can't stand. Or how we classify books -- are the In Death books by Nora Roberts mysteries or futuristics or even romance (well, my favorite element is definitely the Roarke/Dallas relationship)? So here' s the very diverse list that came out of our "what's your favorite mystery book?" discussions. What are your favorites?
Editors' Favorite Mysteries

1. Heartsick by Chelsea Cain

2. Any old-fashioned mysteries from Agatha Christie

3. The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

4. Lincoln Rhyme series by Jeffery Deaver

5. Man Overboard by Lara Diamond

6. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

7. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie King

8. Lost by Gregory Maguire

9. From Hell by Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell

10. An Unkindness of Ravens by Ruth Rendell

11. In Death series from J.D. Robb

12. Mortal Wounds by Nikki Soarde

13. Eye Witness by Kennedy Vance