The Publishing Biz

Famous Authors

I was in an airport bookstore the other day and saw this:

Famous Authors

It struck me as funny. First of all, I didn’t realize that “Famous” was a genre. Second of all… Well, isn’t the whole point of being famous that people know who you are? And that they would be looking for your books anyway, no matter where they’re shelved? Is it necessary to break out the “famous authors” into their own category? I mean, really — would a buyer look over the shelves and think, “Oh, I want to buy the new book by [FAMOUS AUTHOR] but how will I ever find it on that shelf with all of the non-famous people!”

Of course, the benefit of this system is that if you’re an author wondering if you’re famous or not, you can just look on this shelf and find out. Which is nice.

Superman’s Co-creator Has His Day

See here for details. (Free registration required.)

The short ‘n’ sweet: A court has validated the termination of copyright that Jerry Siegel’s heirs filed ten years ago, granting them half the copyright to the Superman story published in Action Comics #1. Since that’s the first appearance of Superman ever, that gives them half the rights to everything that proceeded from it, including recompense for stories published in the last ten years or so.

In a few years, Superman’s other co-creator’s heirs — those of Joe Shuster — will be able to do the same and claim their half.

Meaning that DC parent company Time-Warner needs to cut a deal in order to keep the character in any usable format.

Some people are decrying the “greedy” behavior of the heirs, but no one seems concerned with the greedy behavior of the company and its lawyers, who dragged this out for ten years when a deal could have been cut from the get-go.

Anyway, it’s nice to see a case where justice delayed is NOT justice denied. DC will work out a deal, Superman will continue to fly, Siegel and Shuster’s heirs will get a nice piece of change, and the world will keep turning.

What if Libraries Didn’t Exist?

Over at Freakonomics (excellent book, BTW), Stephen J. Dubner asks that musical, magical question: “If public libraries didn’t exist, would it be possible to create them in today’s market?”

Dubner theorizes that today’s lockjaw-like grip on intellectual property rights would make it difficult for a free lending system like the one we’ve come to know and love to develop. Publishers (and authors, probably) would balk at the idea of selling a single copy of their work, only to have it loaned out ad infinitum. (Well, OK — not ad infinitum. But I don’t know the Latin for “a whole hell of a lot.”)

Dubner does allow that some sort of system would rise up — possibly revolving around a licensing fee — but it wouldn’t be the one we’re all used to. I wonder if we would evolve a system similar to that in the UK, whereby authors are paid a royalty each time their books circulate to a new library patron.

I’ve never known an author to extol the opinion that libraries are bad for business, but I have overheard such conversations. Fortunately, every single author I know is a huge fan and big booster of our public libraries. Dubner very even-handedly lays out reasons why authors and publishers shouldn’t like libraries, but also lists reasons why we should.

But he forgets one important one: Libraries are archives. They are repositories of knowledge, culture, and art. Authors should be honored to have their books on the shelves of public libraries. It is one more indication that the culture respects our work. And, perhaps more importantly, it says that we have made some contribution to the betterment of our society through the practice of our art.

In short: It ain’t all about money.

When Rejection Gets Ridiculous

Go check out Robin’s site for a great anecdote about rejection.

What really amuses me about this story, though, is what you don’t know: Robin was kind enough to tell me the name of the editor in question and I realized that I gave that same editor a Fanboy manuscript back in May 2004…and still have never heard back!

Fortunately for me, it doesn’t matter any more. But I admit I am tickled by the thought that — at some point in the future — I may get my own enormously, ridiculously delayed rejection from this editor…a year or more afterthe manuscript in question was acquired and published!

Oh, the writing life!

Royalties

Well, I feel like a real writer now — I’ve received my first royalty statement! (And no, I won’t be reprinting it here. Sheesh!)

It’s sort of a strange feeling. For months now, friends, aquaintances, and even random strangers have been asking me, “So, how many copies have they sold?” To which I have shrugged and said, “Beats me.” Because that’s the truth. It’s not like I get phone calls from my publisher every day, shouting out, “Five copies just sold in a Barnes & Noble in Skokie! And a thirteen-year-old girl just bought a copy in Modesto!”

It’s a strange truism of this writing life, I’ve noticed, that the author is the last person to know anything. I was the last person to find out I had a two-book deal. I’m the last person to know how many copies my book has sold so far. When the time comes, I’ll be the last person to know that a movie deal has been hammered out.

I’m actually fine with all of that. It means I can focus on writing, which is the way I want it to be.

But what’s really weird is that even though I have this statement, I still don’t really know how many copies of my book have been sold!

Because first of all, this statement is up through September 30, 2006. My book’s official publication date was October 2, 2006. Which means that this statement takes into account those copies sold to stores before the book was available — there’s no way for me to know what sold after that point.

Second of all, this shows books sold to stores, not books sold by stores. So it’s possible that every copy on this statement is still sitting on a bookshelf in a store somewhere. (Probably not, but play along, OK?) Just as it’s possible that every copy on this statement sold to an eager reader. (Again, probably not, but again, play along.)

Third of all, stores can return books. For all I know, there are huge boxes of my book being shipped back to Houghton Mifflin as I type this.

So as cool as it is to have some numbers, I still can’t really answer the question, “How many copies have they sold?” At best, I can say, “Well, as of September 30 of last year, bookstores ordered X number of copies, some percentage of which have been sold to readers, another percentage of which may or may not be returned. And more copies may or may not have been reordered since and may or may not continue to be reordered in the future.”

Which, I admit, is still better than “Beats me.”