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December 29, 2005

Another Sighting; Also, Amazon Author Blogs

A second bookstore sighting of the trade paperback of Old Man's War, taken on the 26th (i.e., the day before the official release) by my pal Emily, who now gets the official signed chapbook reward. Good on ya, Emily! Incidentally, now that the OMW trade paperback is officially out, the "spot it in the stores" contest is done, although if you still want to send me sightings, I don't mind; I like seeing the book out in the world. Just, you know, don't go out of your way to do it.

A few people have asked me what I think about the Amazon's new "author blogs" initiative, in which the online bookseller gives book authors a little space to blather on about life, the universe and everything. This should answer that question. I don't have much intention of actively posting at the Amazon site, but as a way of letting people there find their way here, I'm all for it. And for those authors who don't already have active sites and/or blogs, I imagine it can be a useful way to get their faces out there.

Now, this is not to say that I don't see the potential for drawbacks. For one thing, I can see how other booksellers, online and off, might be non-plussed to see authors merrily blogging away on a competitor's site. For another thing, the clock is now ticking on the first author to use their Amazon Blog to flame someone who posted a negative Amazon review; this is one of those "not if but when" things, because I can't imagine a universe in which it doesn't happen sooner than later, particularly if the author in question is relatively new to the world of online communication and hasn't had his or her ego tempered in the fires of an online flame war. It should be interesting, at the very least.

If an author were to ask me whether they should develop their own site or just use the Amazon site, I would tell them that overall it's better to develop their own site -- there's more control in presentation and it avoids any potential conflicts with other booksellers, and there are any number of blog solutions that are dead easy to use (LiveJournal, Blogger and (of course) AOL Journals being the prime examples). But I also think by and large any online presence is better than none, so if authors don't want to bother with the time and effort it takes to create a site or learn how to use the freestanding blogging solutions, an Amazon blog is better than nothing. Just watch out about responding to negative Amazon reviews. On that path lies madness.

Posted by john at December 29, 2005 02:01 PM

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John | December 29, 2005 04:43 PM

Authors should realize that responding angrily to negative reviews in general is a mistake, wherever they may appear. Laughing at negative reviews is by far the better approach.

Orange Mike Lowrey | December 29, 2005 05:01 PM

Don't forget that many of us (and not just booksellers) hate Amazon with a passion, for the same reasons we hate other category-killers like Borders, Microsoft, Wal-Mart and the like; and maintaining a presence with them may tar you with the brush of their evil.

John Scalzi | December 29, 2005 05:12 PM

Eh. I don't think having a post there that says "Hi! Here's a link to my actual site!" taints me too much. Can't speak for other authors, of course. Also, there's the fact that (presuming my information is still correct) the majority of OMW's sales have come through Amazon, so I'm not personally inclined to think that ill of them. Naturally, your mileage may vary.

Ron | December 29, 2005 05:25 PM

Yeah, whatever beefs I had with them pretty much dried up when they declared Stewardess! one of the top ten pop culture books of the year. But that's not why I defended the Amazon author blogs on Galleycat:


I did it because I'm just really tired of the whole "sell out" meme.

Chris S. | December 29, 2005 06:02 PM

I've only seen one author-response to a review that didn't make the author look bad. It went something like: "Contrary to (the reviewer')statement, I was not wearing a Tom Wolfe white suit. I was wearing an F. Scott Fitzgerald white suit. I hope that clears things up".

Made me laugh, anyway.

Martin Wagner | December 29, 2005 06:34 PM

This whole subject of authors reacting badly to bad reviews makes me think of Anne Rice's public Amazon meltdown in response to readers who slagged her last vampire book. Give authors a blog on which to post such material, and we could be in for even more such amusement in the future.

The only angry reaction I've had to one of my reviews came from Baen writer Michael Z. Williamson, who taunted me (in response to my review of his book Freehold) in an e-mail — in all caps, yet — about the book's "EIGHTY-SEVEN PERCENT SELL THROUGH!" He then went on to brag that Baen was actually going to quote my review on his next book, which they did, and which I found very bizarre. I wrote back to say I was sorry that Baen was so dissatisfied with 87% sell-through figures that they were forced to pull quotes from negative reviews in order to promote the next book, and that I hoped it would do 97%. Not sure if that's the response he was after, nor did I particularly care. Funny, though.

Andrew Cory | December 29, 2005 09:47 PM

I handsold one of your books today. Do I win anything for that?

John Scalzi | December 29, 2005 09:55 PM

My eternal thanks.

Andrew Cory | December 29, 2005 11:17 PM

So much for book Payola...

Tim | December 29, 2005 11:50 PM

At the risk of exposing my glaring ignorance, what does a percentage of sell-through indicate?

John Scalzi | December 30, 2005 12:16 AM

It's not glaring ignorance, Tim, since unless you're in the publishing industry there's no reason to know or care what it means.

Very simply, "Sell through" is the percentage of the print run of your book which actually sells (within a certain point in time). Having a high sell-through rate is generally good, because it means your publisher isn't left with an overstock of your book (which then ends up on a remainder table somewhere). The reality of it is more complicated (of course), but that's the basic gist of it.

Martin Wagner | December 30, 2005 12:29 AM

My bad. Sometimes I forget when I write for a non-jargon-savvy audience. Sorry.

Jim | December 30, 2005 11:44 AM

Heh you have made me curious John, where is your review of Freehold? I checked on Amazon and didn't spot it.

Mari | December 30, 2005 04:02 PM

I don't think I could blog on Amazon with a straight conscious.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 30, 2005 09:41 PM

Lord, give me the strength to resist the slow pitches.

Tim | December 31, 2005 05:03 AM

As a comparison, do you know the sell-through percentage of Bill Clinton's "My Life"? That has to be the most over-hyped, over-stocked, and over-remaindered book in recent history at my local Borders bookstore. They had those things going cheap for months.

Tim | December 31, 2005 05:16 AM


I've read reviews of the "Ghost Brigades" on Instapundit and other blogs. Are early prints available of this? or is this a reflection of publishing "inside baseball"?

I read OMW twice before I bought it and sent it to you. I've read it twice since. I really want to get my next fix. Is GB available in the wild somewhere?

Since then, I started reading "Agent to the Stars". The line, "We look like snot and we smell like dead fish", almost killed me by laughter. You were nearly guilty of manslaughter.

Tim | December 31, 2005 05:29 AM


I'm sorry for failing to acknowlegde your answer.

Thank you for the explanation.

John Scalzi | December 31, 2005 11:27 AM


"The Ghost Brigades" version that Glenn and other reviewers received are "Advance Reader Copies" -- uncorrected versions given out ahead of time so reveiwers can time their reviews with the release of the book or earlier if appropriate. These early versions are the text, but it's also got all spelling, continutity and copy edit flubs that are (hopefully) knocked out of the final release. So reading these versions means forgiving when someone's name changes from sentence to sentence, or when "there" is spelled "their."

ARCs are not meant to be sold to the general public (because they're not actually the finished book), but they surface on eBay from time to time; indeed there's a Ghost Brigades ARC available on eBay right this very minute. If you absolutely can't live another minute without reading it, I wouldn't hold it against you if you bid for it, but I can think of three good reasons to wait until February. One, this ARC is particularly unedited (due to my lateness in turning in the manuscript). Two, this ARC will already cost you more than the finished hardcover will cost you at Amazon. Three, I don't get royalties on ARCs.

Glad you're enjoying "Agent"!

Jeff Porten | December 31, 2005 05:14 PM

Okay, I fail the author IQ test. Where does one sign up for this?

John Scalzi | December 31, 2005 06:36 PM



Deb | March 5, 2006 06:33 AM

What beautiful photos. It makes me remember why I live in a state where it snows. Thanks!