June 29th, 2006

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

RIP Jim Baen

I never submitted anything to him, I don't think I ever met him, but he was a major influence in the publishing world - for all the best reasons. Patrick Nielsen Hayden put it in a nutshell for me on Making Light:

"I didn’t know Jim at all well, and we had many differences of taste and outlook, but he was a publishing genius, radically correct about many of the things that matter. Trust your readers. Your audience is your most effective sales force. Publish what you love."

Mr Baen, you will be missed.
Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

Am I really such a Bad Person?

I've been having an argument over on rasfc about the merits and the morality of wandering into your lcoal bookstore and, if you find your book shelved spine-out, turning it face-out for a potential buyer to see. As I pointed out somewhere in the thread, in my specific case it was my books shelved spine out next to a veritable avalanche of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" series - all five books in the trilogy - most of them in two or three different editions, facing out. I felt no compunction about facing some of those (much thinner) books spine out and turning my own face out as occupying the same space that the original arrangement did. I have nothing against Douglas Adams - I met the man, ferchrissakes, and I like both him and his work - but as evidenced by the books in this one bookstore his books are available in many many places and in many many copies and incarnations, and this particular store had THREE COPIES of my own novel.

A particular character in rasfc tells me that I am an immoral cheat for doing that.

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So. Am I abominable? Do other authors really never do this? Am I alone out there? Am I utterly despicable?

Am I really going around "plastering signs on someone else's lawn"?...

Promotion budgets are notoriously low, unless you happen to be a really big name which publishers KNOW will pull in the moolah - or you happen to be really really lucky and hit the jacpot, for instance Susannah CLarke, who wasn't hurt by the fact that she happened to be endorsed by Neil Gaiman.I'm sure that book 1 of Harry Potter was surreptitiously turned face out a few times... until such time as that became unnecessary because you had a couple of hundred people waiting in line outside the bookstore at midnight in order to grab a copy before it even hit the shelf at all, spine-out of face-out. If you recognise the NAME on the spine, your reaction is, "oh, a new Rowling... a new Gaiman... a new King... a new Bujold... a new Nora ROberts... I better get it". Let's be honest, if you saw your own name on a book spine (and you didn't recognise it as being yours) how likely are you to pull the book out to look at it? WOuldn't you just skim right past it, looking for the next Name you found Familiar?...

So what's wrong with giving yourself a little help, while that Name is still not Familiar Enough, in the hope that by selling another copy or two you're giving yourself the chance to start a word-of-mouth thing happening, that perhaps someone else might return to the bookstore, where your books are back to having their spines facing out, and seeking you out BY NAME?

I fully realise that not all books can be shelved facing out. But I completely subscribe to the idea that it is the books by less-than-familiar names that SHOULD be faced out, because books are, indeed, judged by their covers and if it isn't the familiarity with the author that would make you choose to buy a particular book an interesting cover might. The really big household names simply don't need that particular crutch any more. They could put the front cover of a telephone directory on a new novel by Steven King *and it would still be bought anyway*, whether it faced out or not.

Okay, rant over.

Back to my chapter. By this time next year I'll have at least one other book I might be looking for, face out, on bookstore shelves.