Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Growing reading list

What do John Crowley, Nora Roberts, David Baldacci, Janet Evanovich, Mary Higgins Clark, John Grisham, and James Patterson have in common?  If you said they're all authors, you win the "Ding Ding of Obviousness" award.  Yes, they're all authors.  Most (but not all) of them are NYT Best-selling authors.  And all are now residents of my bookshelf.

When I discussed my own reading list a while back, one of the underlying rules of its construction I mentioned is that I'm a damn cheapskate.  I don't mind shelling out $20-$25 for a book so long as I know I'm going to love it, but with every drop in certainty suffered by the condition, my "willing to shell out" price drops by a related amount.  Thus, I've happily bought every Wheel of Time book at full retail price (minus, of course, bookstore discounts as applicable) as well as the latter two Eragon novels, but the first Eragon took a bit of convincing.  Who is this Christopher Paolini? I asked at the time. 

Back to the list at hand, I have to admit that though I've certainly heard all of the names before, I've never actually read any of their works.  Not being familiar with their works, then, I'm not certain I'll love them.  I know it's convoluted logic, but hey, that same $20 will buy me a nice bottle of Chimay that I KNOW I'll love, and there'll be enough change left over to pay for lunch at Mickey D's.  See?  Cheap, I am.

I know, though, that I need to expand my circle of reading if I'm going to improve as an author.  Each of the folks I mentioned before is known as a pretty good author in his or her own right, and of course none of them writes exactly the same as the others.  Makes sense, then, that as an aspiring writer I should take at least part of my instruction by reading several examples of success in the craft.  I get that.  But I'm still a cheapskate, and the bestsellers aren't the cheapest books even on eBay.

Enter Doubleday Book Club.  I was skeptical.  Back in college, way back in the nineteen *mumbledy*-somethings, I joined Columbia House.  I then bought the minimum, would you believe cassette tapes?...and then quit, and then joined again.  Rinse, repeat.  It's a great way to build up a library at prices that will make even the cheapest cheapskate proud, but you have to read the descriptions closely.  For example, I bought a tape by the Kinks, one of my favorite bands back then.  Unfortunately, only the lyrics were in English; it was a live recording where everything else was in Spanish.  The tape of Sha Na Na hits I scored, at roughly the same time, was truly just a tape of Sha Na Na hits...sung by Billy Bob and the Neverbeenheardofsincers.  Buyer beware, and all that stuff.

Forward to today and ah, what the hell.  First of all, these days the "tell us no or we'll send you two items every month that you didn't order, never heard of, and probably don't want" can be done online, thus avoiding the waste of a perfectly good postage stamp.  Also, they promise that if you don't like what you get, you can send it back.  So I ordered from them. It took a couple of weeks, but a shiny (shiny in the new way, not shiny in the shiny way; it's corrugated cardboard, after all) box showed up yesterday.  Now, I've heard that one way the book clubs make money is by abridging the works, thus saving on printing costs.  In other words, they pay somebody to snip out parts of the prose, possibly removing minor characters and plot lines.  Sounds like a lot of work to me, and I don't see how it would save that much money, but I'm not all that savvy on publishing finances.  I checked, though, against the listings on, and all six of the books bear the marks and ISBNs of the original publishers, in addition to matching the original page count pretty closely.  OK, then; original works they are, so maybe I'll keep 'em.

As I look at the pile, though, I can't help but wonder how the authors make any money.  I mean, I got all six books for about ten bucks, and that included shipping.  The number I've been given is that the average hardback sale nets the author just under $2 in royalties, after paying the agent.  There's no way that happened.  Author Sabrina Jeffries, though, cleared it up a little on her page:

To these earnings you can add other sales: foreign rights sales (advances range as widely for these as for the U.S. rights—they can be in the hundreds or they can be in the thousands), audio sales, in-house book club sales (generally accounted at 2.5 percent royalty for Harlequin/Silhouette), and out-of-house book club sales (Book-of-the-Month club, Doubleday, Rhapsody, etc., which offer advances plus royalties). This will probably add a couple of thousand to your earnings, unless you’re doing well, in which case it could add as much as several thousands to it. Of course, some people don’t get other earnings at all.

Apparently, then, those deals are separate from normal publishing deals.  I wonder how large they are, or how large they can be, especially for top-list authors like the ones I've mentioned.  They're surely not gonna be $2 a copy, in any case. 

In any event, it looks like I have many hours of happy reading ahead of me!  


  1. Now don't forget the obvious way to try out new authors on the cheap, the local library. ;)

  2. Indeed, and thank you for the comment, Becca! My problem with that is my memory. I always fail to return the books on time, and it very quickly becomes not cheap. At least when I spend a few bucks on eBay or Doubleday Club, I can take however long I want getting around to reading it. But the local library is a gem in so many ways; it's a great place to just hang out on a hot summer afternoon, too.