Verse 9: Nebulous
Yes, my book won the Nebula award.
Still it ended in remainders,
ripped and torn by perfect strangers,
but my book won the Nebula award.
First, let me make it clear that none of my books has ever won a Nebula award. I did have a Star Wars novel I worked with the amazing Michael Reaves “above the fold” on the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists, my debut novel was nominated as a Locus Best First Novel, and several of my stories have been finalists for various awards, including the Nebula. But I have never won such an award. (sigh)
However, I have friends and colleagues whose novels have won the Nebula and, as the verse says, it’s no guarantee that your book will always have a place in bookstores.
Why? Because of the way bookstores work. Let’s say Hot New Author’s debut novel (Hot New Novel) comes out and the big chain bookstores purchase five copies for each store. The book is on the Nebula ballot because Hot New Novel is read by Hot New Author’s fellow SFWA members (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) who loved it to pieces. The first three chapters of the book goes into freebie swag bags at conventions. Fans like it. The publisher notes in ads that it is a Nebula nominee.
Do the bookstores order more? Nope. They have five copies.
H.N. Author’s book wins the Neb and the publisher uses this in their ads. The average reader may not have a clue what the Nebula Award is, but real SF fans do, so it sells more books.
The five copies of the book disappear from the shelves. Some people—say even hundreds of them—special order the book. Some buy on Amazon, of course.
Back to the bookstores—which, Amazon notwithstanding, are still driving the publishing industry. They order more copies. They order three.
“What?” you say—only three? But wouldn’t they order more? Nope, not unless the book is special ordered and then they will only order enough to cover orders because they don’t want to have that inventory taking up space that could be added to the several shelves of books written by Big Established Megaseller.
So those books sell out. So the store orders more. They order . . . one.
It sells. And maybe there are more special orders, but often—and we have no way of knowing how often—the would-be purchaser of the book simply gives up and spends their book money on something else. I admit, I used to do that sometimes myself. There are lots of books I started out to buy at Barnes and Noble that—when I couldn’t find them—got put on the back burner while I bought something else. (I no longer do this, by the way. I special order the book or get it elsewhere if I have to.)
Often, when I remember that I wanted this book by H.N. Author I go back to the store, I am only able to find Book Two in their series (Hot New Series). But I haven’t read Book One yet! Oh, darn. I don’t want to buy Book Two first. Maybe I’ll order Book One. But wait, here’s this other book I wanted. I’ll buy that one. (I don’t allow myself to do this anymore either—I buy Book Two, if necessary or get both from Amazon.)
The next thing I know, the Nebula-award-winning book by H.N. Author is no longer available except in used bookstores (there are few close to where I live) or online . . . used. The big bookstore has “remaindered” any books they had left (ripped off the covers and sent them back to the publisher to be destroyed—an act of heinous barbarity that I can barely stomach) and that author’s career is severely impacted.
Now, understand that when I walk into Barnes and Noble and go the SF section, there are still always copies of Star Wars: Shadow Games and Star Wars: The Last Jedi on the shelves because Star Wars, people! But of my previous works, alas, none.
But back to our tale of woe. H.N. Author may come out with a new book, but it will be regarded with jaundiced eye by the bookstores because they had to remainder books Two and Three in his award-winning series.
This knowledge about how book publishing, marketing and selling works has changed the way I buy books. I may try an introductory book from the library or buy it for sale on Amazon, but if I like the author I will always buy new thereafter. I don’t buy the books of mid-list or new authors used—ever. If I like an author, I tell people, because too many good writers have been virtually lost to the reading public because of the way publishing works.
Personally, I can put an even more dire spin on this: my collaborator and the originator of the Magic Time series, Marc Scott Zicree, had the singular experience of having his trilogy go in a bidding war between two major publishers, having the project orphaned when the publisher was sold and his editor let go, then having the new publisher reluctant to promote the books. The net result was that the first two books (Magic Time and Magic Time: Angelfire) were out of print before the third one (Magic Time: Ghostlands) was published. Marc managed to get the publisher to reprint the first book, but not the second (which was written by me) even though several pivotal characters in book three (which was on the LA Times Bestseller list) were introduced in Book Two.
The moral of the tale is that even dynamite reviews, awards, and bestseller lists cannot guarantee that a book or a writer will be successful in the long run.
Which is why my sad song of publishing pratfalls ends with this verse:
So put that bimbo on the cover of my book.
Put a bimbo on the cover of my book.
I don’t care what gets drawn ?if you’ll just leave the cover on.
(Don’t remainder me!)
So put that bimbo, dragon, castle, rocket, vampire, elf or magic locket–
please put a bimbo on the cover of my book!