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Peter Watts’ Saga of Selling Books: Will Trying Something New Work?

Last Sunday, I suggested that all midlist authors should give their books away in order to increase their audience. Peter Watts has decided to do this, not due to me or anything I said, but probably due to influence Cory Doctorow and others in the sci fi community. Dr. Watts appears to be an author in search of readership.

He calls the release of his latest book, Blindsighted, in ebook format under a Creative Commons license, as an act of desperation to gain a large enough share of the market to stay in the business of writing. The numbers haven’t worked out in his favor yet.

Well, on the one hand, this whole Creative Commons thing has certainly spiked my profile amongst the bloggers. On the other, immediately after putting Blindsight online, my Amazon numbers fell off a cliff.

The book was put up on the web just recently so I am not sure when you can say the experiment failed. I also think that its not likely Watts will see any measurable effect until the paperback release (if there is a paperback release). I do wonder if the business model isn’t part of what is harming the sci fi/fantasy midlisters like Dr. Watts and Holly Lisle. Why put those books out in hardcover first? If it was a paperback, I may be enticed to buy the book just for support of the give away but my hardcover purchases are tightly controlled.

Dr. Watts refers to the release as a Hail Mary, a last ditch effort to gain readership. Dr. Watts was very disappointed in his distribution and shared that his first print run was 3,700. Small independents were having a difficult time ordering the book and one major chain refused to preorder. He sounds a bit frustrated with his publisher and suggests that they aren’t always good at living up to their promises. Echoes of another author we know and love.

Watts stated that a book “lives or dies in the first two months of sales” I can believe that. The next month rolls around and I am looking at new releases, not the releases I passed over the month before. In fact, I am grateful that my store and bookseller face out all the new releases so I can immediately spot them and don’t have to slog through all the old, dated books on the shelf. I know this sounds terrible, but its my buying habits and I am sure its the buying habits of hundreds of readers out there. Of course, when I realize that I’ve missed out on a good book and I run to the bookstore and find it isn’t there, I curse everyone.

I think the “free now, pay later model” may be better off than “free after the paper release.” Getting the book out early may generate word of mouth that lead to pre-orders and first month sales. MJ Rose revealed part of Borders new market information gathering scheme. I received this email too, as part of the Borders Rewards Program I think. Right now, Borders has you vote on covers, buying habits, etc. David Rothman suggests that if enough readers online love the book, perhaps those chains will be induced to preorder it as well, which I do think is the idea of “free now, pay later.”

Dr. Watts’ book, Blindsight, has great reviews at amazon by readers and professionals alike.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

5 Comments

  1. Meljean
    Dec 17, 2006 @ 03:54:15

    Oh man, this makes me sad. I’ve heard incredible things about the book — have it on my TBR, but couldn’t find it in the stores when I went to look and read a couple of pages. Now I know why, I guess.

    After reading the excerpt, though (I made myself stop after chapter 2) I’m definitely ordering from Amazon. He’d have had a sale anyway from me, but now I won’t be waiting for paperback.

  2. Robin
    Dec 17, 2006 @ 12:42:25

    I do wonder if the business model isn’t part of what is harming the sci fi/fantasy midlisters like Dr. Wells and Holly Lisle. Why put those books out in hardcover first? If it was a paperback, I may be enticed to buy the book just for support of the give away but my hardcover purchases are tightly controlled.

    This is one of the reasons I think placing the blame on bookstores doesn’t make sense to me. The publisher, IMO, has the highest duty of loyalty to the author in this chain, because they have control over so many of the aspects of how, when, where, and with what support a book is produced for public consumption. IMO publishers are the original point at which the “value” — commercial, artistic, etc. — is set, because publication in and of itself is no longer a mark of endorsement. I don’t think authors and literary agents and bookstores and the like should not *participate* in the promotional process, but I get the feeling that for most authors, publishers are taking on the role of mere factories and not agencies. And yet, unlike factories, publishers take a certain ownership interest in the author’s work, which seems to me like the best of both worlds for the publisher and the worst of all worlds for the rest of us, including authors.

  3. Dear Author.Com | Free Book Alert! Free Book Alert! Free, I said!
    Feb 18, 2007 @ 04:06:02

    [...] plenty of talk about whether giving away books can translate into paperbook sales. Cory Doctorow is a believer. I [...]

  4. Dear Author.Com | Does Free Equal Worthless?
    Apr 17, 2007 @ 04:02:31

    [...] him selling his very expensive cow to a NY Publisher. There are other examples: Due to poor sales, Peter Watts convinced Tor to allow him to give his book away. On March 29, Watts’ free book, [...]

  5. nick
    Jun 27, 2007 @ 18:05:49

    STARFISH is the best book i ever read. i dont really like maelstrom. i love blindsight tho.

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