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December 14, 2006

You Can Get This Book For Free. You Should Buy It.


Since I've finished "The Sagan Diary" I've taken up reading Peter Watts' Blindsight, which I bought a couple of weeks ago. As noted by others, it's a terrific book, with all the hard SF goodness you'd want, and more besides, and seems a likely contender for various SF awards next year. So, yeah, if you're looking for chunky, mind-busting SF, do try this one on for size.

Watts has recently made Blindsight available online through a Creative Commons license, so you can check out the book before you buy. Or perhaps make that so you can read the book if you can't buy: What I find interesting about it is that he's calling the CC release "an act of desperation more than experimentation." Watts explains his thinking here (with additional thoughts here), but the short form is that according to Watts the book got a small first printing (3,700 copies), isn't being carried wasn't pre-ordered by the bricks and mortar stores of Borders and Barnes & Noble, is hard to find in the specialty book stores, and is on the bubble as toward whether there'll be a second printing of the book or not. By putting the book out in a CC online version, Watts suggests, at least people can find it and read it.

Watts doesn't appear to be particularly optimistic that much can be done to save the book commercially, and doesn't appear to be convinced that releasing the book in a CC version will do too much to change that; at this point he seems resigned to readers rather than book purchasers (he may of course disagree with me on any of these points; I'm going by my interpretation of what he's written). As much as I hope that he converts at least some of the CC readers to purchasers, I have I think his lack of optimism on the score is reasonable. There's lot of anecdotal evidence that releasing books online under a CC license or some other sort of freely sharable scheme has a positive impact on things like sales and author reputation, but at the end of the day it is indeed all still anecdotal, and one can make an argument that some of the most high-profile cases of CC distribution have been by folks who were on the upswing of their careers anyway.

For example, Charlie Stross last year released Accelerando online via a CC license; Charlie will tell you the book sold better than his previous books, and of course, it was also nominated for the Hugo, which ain't chopped liver. Was it because of the CC release bringing in new readers and buyers? Or was it because by the time Accelerando hit the stores, Charlie had become one of the hottest writers in science fiction, with consecutive Best Novel Hugo nominations, brilliant reviews, lots of good press and a healthy and active online presence? I personally think releasing the book online didn't hurt his sales in the least, but I wonder how much it helped sales. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, maybe not at all. There's too much noise in the data to make any sort of concrete determination.

On a larger scale there's also not been enough books released online in a CC-like fashion to have a useful pool of data. So not only is the data noisy, there's not enough of it. And of course, every book has different circumstances. Watts is not releasing Blindsight under the same set of circumstances as Charlie released Accelerando, or Cory Doctorow released Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, or I released Agent to the Stars (which was not released via CC, but which is freely available online). Releasing the book via CC might do great things for Watts' readership, for example, but unless a reasonable percentage of that online readership converts to people buying the work, from a practical matter it might not mean much; at the end of the day publishing is driven by sales. If people don't buy his books, he's going to find it harder to get published the next time around, and then all those new readers-not-buyers are rather less likely to get a new Peter Watts novel to enjoy.

This is the long way around to making what I think is a rather pressing point about something that doesn't get discussed, which is what the responsibility of the reader is to the author. Let's say I download Blindsight, read it, and enjoy it. Do I then have a responsibility to Watts to buy the book? On one hand, absolutely not -- Watts released the work in such a way that I am not obliged to pay him for it, in any way. I don't even have to say "thanks."

On the other hand, out here in the offline world and here and now, authors are paid by how much they sell. Authors get book deals in part through their sale track record. Authors don't generally make ancillary income (lectures, appearance fees, etc) unless the sales are there. If as a reader I enjoyed Watts' work, the best way to show that appreciation -- and somewhat more selfishly, to better the chances I'll have more work to read in the future -- is buy the damn book. This is why, aside from my own enlightened self interest as an author, I've bought all of Cory's work, and Accelerando, and why, had I not already purchased Blindsight, I'd've put in an order for it. I personally see it as a responsibility I have to the creator to support the work in a direct and serious way. I can't make you feel the same way, naturally, but I think it would be nice if you did.

Now, to be sure, there are times and places where a reader can't just rush out to the bookstore and pick up a copy of something -- tight budgets, caught overseas, parents won't allow you access to that devil-loving science fiction or whatever. Fair enough. However, I don't have any of these excuses, and suspect that rather large portion of the CC-loving citizenry of Teh Intartubes doesn't have any of these excuses, either. These folks should vote their approval for a CC-released novel by picking up a physical copy; if they don't want it for themselves they can give it to a friend as a gift, or give it their local library. Either of these will get the word out about the author as well.

In sum: I think you should read Blindsight, because it's damn good. And if you get the Creative Commons version, when you finish it and think to yourself "wow, my brain seems roomier now, thanks to Blindsight's mind-expanding powers," you should head down to the local bookstore and buy it (or special order it), or buy it online. You don't have to, of course. But you should. If you like it, help make it a no-brainer for Tor to fire up a second printing.

Posted by john at December 14, 2006 08:32 PM

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Chang, who gets nothing done... | December 14, 2006 08:57 PM

I downloaded it from the BOingBOing recommendation! I am looking forward to reading it. I am concerned about tainting my own work with anything right now but I am so frigging sick of reading boring stuff I don't care.

John, do you get concerned about your work getting "infected" or "influenced" by others or do you just go ahead, read and damn the consequences?

Shky | December 14, 2006 09:02 PM

I read the post on BoingBoing and went out and bought the book without reading any of it online. I've come to a) trust Cory's recommendations, and b) trust others that have the guts to post their stuff for free.

I read Cory's Down and Out online, then went out and bought the hardcopy, and then bought his next two novels without reading any of them online.

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 09:04 PM


"do you get concerned about your work getting 'infected' or 'influenced' by others or do you just go ahead, read and damn the consequences?"

Inasmuch as in the acknowledgments of The Ghost Brigades I specify what I've stolen and for which authors, no, I'm not particularly concerned. That said, while I'm writing a book I'll generally not read other books that have the same general sorts of things going on.

Shky | December 14, 2006 09:05 PM

Meant "authors" there instead of "others." And that wasn't to say I don't trust authors that don't post their stuff for free online, I just seem to want to support them more. Odd, I know.

Oh, and that's really not to say I don't want to run out and buy your stuff. I would right now if I could find anything other than Old Man's War (which I've already bought and read). But since virtually every bookstore in the city is owned by the same company, and carry basically the same stock, I can't find any of your other books.

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 09:14 PM

Amazon, Shky. It delivers. Or special order, and then they'll have no choice but to give you the book.

Jim Wright | December 14, 2006 09:15 PM

Thanks for the recommendation, John. I've never heard of Peter Watt, but if you're recommending him I'm heading over to Amazon to buy a copy. Not real big on reading books in e-format even on the tablet-PC I use as my primary machine. I'm always on the lookout for somebody new that I enjoy reading, I'm with Chang - I'm friggin' sick of boring crap.

And, Man, that Blindsite cover art totally rocks.

Shky | December 14, 2006 09:20 PM

You're forgetting that one very, very important point, though. I'm ever so lazy. But, clearly, that's what I'll end up doing. For now, though, it's simply easier to just go to the bookstore that's on my way home from work and pick up a book they have in stock. One of these days...

Soren | December 14, 2006 09:25 PM

I"m generally more inclined to buy things I've read for free online simply because if a book is good enough to endure the eye-burning pain of reading it on a computer screen, it's good enough to own in dead tree format.

So far, Blindsight is one of those books. I've got it all queuedup on Amazon and unless it suddenly stops appealing to me (doubtful) I'll have to buy it.

Jim Wright | December 14, 2006 09:29 PM

Done. Just ordered Blindsight from Amazon. I see the Amazon reviews are about 99% 5-star and I like Watt's comments, especially the bit about Amazon's censorware. Off to check out his site. Feel better, John, thanks again for the recommendation.

And, yes, I am aware I misspelled Blindsight in my previous post. Sorry, Mr. Watts, it won't happen again.

Chang, who gets nothing done... | December 14, 2006 09:44 PM

Scalzicce clacketh: Inasmuch as in the acknowledgments of The Ghost Brigades I specify what I've stolen and for which authors, no, I'm not particularly concerned. That said, while I'm writing a book I'll generally not read other books that have the same general sorts of things going on.

Aha... I guess I'm being too strident in trying to avvoid "contamination." I'll shut up about it now. I'll just try to avoid reading anything about firefighting insurgent hermaphordites.

I, too, am a big fan of BoingBoing and it is in fact WHY I am here. I read a rec from Cory and that sent me here and the rest is history. Or not.

Brad Holden | December 14, 2006 09:48 PM

It is weird. My friendly local bookstore carried Watts' first two books, Starfish and Maelstorm but the sequels fell off of the face of the earth. I have heard great things about Blindsight, but the only copy I have seen is on Watts' website. Weird.

I wonder how much of this is a side effect of Behemoth being split in two?

Kristine | December 14, 2006 09:48 PM

Given the buzz I've heard over the past weeks, why is there even a question of a second printing?

Elizabeth | December 14, 2006 09:50 PM

I bought Blindsight and am reading it now. It's great. I was lucky that my local Chapters got in a few copies and I snapped it up right away. I read Charles Stross's Accelerando through his CC release and then went on to buy Iron Sunrise based on my enjoyment of Accelerando.

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 09:50 PM

Kristine, buzz doesn't always equal sales. Also, of course, all the buzz in the world won't help a book people can't find in the bookstores. If B&N and Borders aren't even stocking the book, as Watts suggests they aren't, that's a real kick in the balls for potential sales.

Martin Wagner | December 14, 2006 09:53 PM

I've seen Blindsight at both my local Borders and Barnes.

My bad—Dot Lin sent it to me months back and I've been behind on reviewing it. Need to get on that. (So many books...so little time...)

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 09:56 PM


Whoops -- it appears they didn't pre-order the book. Once the book was out copies might have gotten in the pipeline. I'll go fix the article.

Adam | December 14, 2006 09:56 PM

I'll check out a book if it has a CC license, read a little bit of it to see if I like it - if so, then I'll end up buying the "real deal". There's nothing quite like balancing a book on my ever-growing tummy while reclining on the couch snarfing lard-laced cookies. Just not the same experience with a laptop.

PixelFish | December 14, 2006 10:00 PM

I purchased Blindsight at Borderlands about a month back--I think Elizabeth Bear or somebody else on my LJ f-list recommended it, and I was particularly struck by the recommendation.

So far, the book has been Teh Awesome. I had no problems pimping it before the CC release, but I've been plugging it twice as hard since this was announced.

Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 10:01 PM

The buzz is mighty for this one.

At a con, Eric Flint was up at the table filled with editors and made one of those comments that just made me situp and take notice. He was talking about how Baen made so many of their titles available electronically, without a lot of bells and protection overlay crap and was fairly free with their authors making the text available. Lo, and behold, Baen sells a boat load of books. All the time. Year after year. Two other publishers at the table commented about how they couldn't get the e-publishing thing to work.

It's like a koan. It just sits there and waits for people to recognize its simplicity.

As a side note. Back when Napster was Napster, I bought more music and went to more concerts than I do now.

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 10:09 PM

To be sure, I strongly suspect in the long run making content available to be read is in the interest of the authors. My question is how much it affects a particular work's sales. In the case of some authors, it may not be beneficial for him to pick up long-term readers if the sales of their current work is so low no publisher will buy his work because the author's name has tainted in sales circles. Someone like that doesn't need long-term readers, he need short-term buyers.

doubt | December 14, 2006 10:19 PM

Well, apparently you do have to tell me twice, because it was you and James Nicoll that finally got me to get off my ass and order it (it's been on my short list of books to get for a while now, but until just this minute, I hadn't actually pulled the trigger -- got Accelerando and Spin while I was at it, though).

There are reasons for that, of course, because (1) I just don't buy hardbacks (which is kind of a space issue, although I know it's better for the author when I do, I really much prefer paperbacks, and don't actually even have the space for those) and (2) I haven't actually read a book in a year or three. I know why -- I've been really, really busy putting most of my spare time into learning Japanese (and reading Japanese reference books doesn't count), etc., etc.

Which is why I haven't bought any of the OMW books yet, because I'm waiting for the full set to appear in paperback (I also don't like to read books in a series until I can collect the whole set, if possible). I figure that will happen eventually, and I also figure your career will survive me waiting. So I don't feel particularly bad about it, and I doubt you mind that much.

What I do feel slightly bad about is not reading my ex-housemate's books (Wil McCarthy), since he actually gives me copies when they come out (as well as copies of anything he's gotten published in Japanese, and one that's been published in German, since those are the languages I speak a bit of). I've got no excuse there -- well, except lack of time. Ah, well.

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 10:24 PM


"I figure that will happen eventually, and I also figure your career will survive me waiting. So I don't feel particularly bad about it, and I doubt you mind that much."

So you bought a book I recommended, but you haven't bought my books?

Death! Death to the infidel!

Also, if you wait until the whole set is in paperback, you're going to be waiting until mid-2008. Although OMW will be in mass market paperback in January.

doubt | December 14, 2006 10:30 PM

Waiting until 2008 -- I can live with that -- I'm probably not going to have time to read them UNTIL 2008. I imagine these books will be sitting around for a while as it is. Don't worry, though, you'll get royalties from me yet. Assuming I don't get hit by an asteroid, anyway.

...I'm an infidel? Coolness.

Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 10:36 PM

True enough, it's those sale figures (and what I hear at cons give me pause to actually trying this writing thing) that determine future sales. Gimmicks not withstanding (pen names, genre changes, etc), those numbers are what determine the advance (if any), the print run, marketing, etc. If the last book didn't sell well, the next one is going to have a harder row to hoe. There are always exceptions (Da Vinci was D. Brown's 3rd book I think, the first two didn't go so well, they've since been reprinted), but the rule runs the majority.

So, the truth is, if you like the story, buy the thing. If *you* can't buy it, get your library to buy it (usually just a request form). A successful library purchase program can sell out a first print run. Convince your rich siblings to buy it and give it as a gift. When a publisher has to reprint a book because of orders it gets their attention.

Mdean | December 14, 2006 10:40 PM

I got this book at B&N about a month ago. I read the first 50 pages...it's aight. The 'Jukka' (vampire) character is interesting.

Steve Buchheit | December 14, 2006 10:42 PM

doubt, not all books make it to mass-market paperback these days. Even if they are good.

Kate Nepveu | December 14, 2006 10:43 PM

Doesn't he write wrist-slittingly depressing stuff, or at least wasn't _Starfish_ such a book?

John Scalzi | December 14, 2006 10:56 PM

Didn't read Starfish, so I can't say. This one is not notably perky, no.

Chris Gerrib | December 14, 2006 11:09 PM

OK, Scalzi, you talked me into it. I ordered it from That Brazilian River, even though the prologue (which I read online) didn't grab me that well.

I used it as an excuse to order Cherie Priest's debut - since I read her blog, I thought I'd give Southern Fried Gothic a shot. (Gotta get the free shipping from TBR).

zhwj | December 14, 2006 11:15 PM

I recall you mentioning that before you released Old Man's War in digital form to the military, you had some back and forth with Tor. I'd imagine that a publisher would be more likely to balk at simply slapping a CC license on a recently-released novel. In all of the announcements about Blindsight's free release, I hadn't read anything about Watts' dealings with his publisher before, so thanks for linking to those "additional thoughts".

I do wonder, though, what would happen if an author released a free version of his work without the consent of his publisher. If it wasn't successful at raising his profile, would he then have effectively terminated his career?

doubt | December 14, 2006 11:31 PM

Steve: I'm aware of that. And well, I tend not to buy them if they don't -- but then, I tend not to buy 99% of all books published, anyway. I probably buy but a small fraction of the books that are "good," but I still buy far more books than I read.

I made an exception for this case, though. If I want to get a book badly enough, I'll make exceptions now and then -- if (to take a relevant example) John's books somehow looked like they wouldn't ever make it to paperback, I'd most likely make an exception for them, too, because I do want to read them when I get a chance someday.

KevinQ | December 14, 2006 11:47 PM

Not previously mentioned here is Kelly Link's release of Stranger Things Happen in CC form. Her electronic release has gotten her at least 3 book purchases: I downloaded it and read it on a trip to Europe, and raved about it to my Significant Other, who picked up trade paperback copies of STH and Magic for Beginners for me, and then I picked up a copy of STH for a hard-to-shop-for cousin the other day.

I definitely think that a CC release is a good way to raise the profile of a writer in the lower-to-mid popularity block.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 14, 2006 11:52 PM

"I recall you mentioning that before you released Old Man's War in digital form to the military, you had some back and forth with Tor."

As I recall the "back and forth" went something like this:

SCALZI: I'd like to make an e-text of Old Man's War freely available to serving US military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.

TOR: Okay.

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 12:00 AM

Indeed, Patrick's recollection is almost exactly correct. It pretty much went that way when I asked to offer an e-text of The Ghost Brigades, too. I'm not entirely sure where the idea that I had to bargain with Tor on this one comes from.

Michele | December 15, 2006 12:08 AM

They have 3 copies in my local bricks and mortar store. I'm gonna pick up a copy.

Tim Keating | December 15, 2006 12:26 AM

Well, if his first run is only 3700 copies, and there's a question as to whether there will even be a second run, releasing the book under CC can hardly hurt, can it?

I will tell you what this will do for him: someone downloading and reading this book (but not paying for it) could well be compelled to pick up his next book as soon as it's commercially available. Granted, that doesn't help pay the light bill today, but it's essentially the same principle as releasing the paperback a year after the hardcover. Er, once removed, I guess.

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 12:30 AM

Tim Keating:

"I will tell you what this will do for him: someone downloading and reading this book (but not paying for it) could well be compelled to pick up his next book as soon as it's commercially available."

But as I said earlier, if this book doesn't sell in adequate numbers, it's entirely possible there won't be a "next book." One's sales figures follow one around, and some authors' names are compromised enough through low previous sales that it can have a real impact on whether they can sell another book at all.

Janice in GA | December 15, 2006 12:31 AM

A "me too" post.

I'm reading Blindsight too, and liking it a LOT. I bought and read Maelstrom, but couldn't find Starfish locally, so I was really glad to see he had it online also.

Some other authors I've read online first and subsequently bought their books: Charles Stross, Jim Munroe, Cory Doctorow. Electronic versions work really well for me, because most of my reading these days is done on my Palm.

hugh57 | December 15, 2006 12:32 AM

Just ordered Blindsight from Amazon, based on your recommendation, John. If I don't like it, I'll blame you, rather than Watts. ;)

Leah Bobet | December 15, 2006 12:37 AM

Just want to add my recommendation to the pile: it's an excellent book, and asks questions hard SF should be asking -- the simple ones that I can't figure why we haven't yet. *g*

The bookstore wherein I work -- Bakka-Phoenix Books, Canada's oldest specialty science fiction bookstore yadda yadda -- has about eight signed copies left in the store. If people are really having trouble getting their hands on the book, I'm happy to mail them. :)

zhwj | December 15, 2006 12:50 AM

Hmm. Appears I conflated that announcement ("asked and agreed") with another post on Tor e-books and hammering out details. Thanks for the correction.

William Lexner | December 15, 2006 06:57 AM

I'm quite convinced that when Blindsight wins the Hugo next year, and it certainly ought to, that will be a huge boost for Watts' sales.

Books like Neuromancer came on the scene with a yawn, too. But when fandom gets behind something of such obvious stellar quality, it can't help but take off.

Unfortunately, word-of-mouth, with regards to dense hard SF, sometimes moves with glacier-like rapidity.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 15, 2006 07:10 AM

"Books like Neuromancer came on the scene with a yawn, too. But when fandom gets behind something of such obvious stellar quality, it can't help but take off."

Actually, Neuromancer sold fine long before it won its Hugo.

It's hard to say whether the other assertion is correct. In a general sense, Hugo awards and other manifestations of core-audience enthusiasm surely help sell books. In particular cases, the size of that uptick can sometimes be rather modest.

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 07:27 AM


"Just ordered Blindsight from Amazon, based on your recommendation, John. If I don't like it, I'll blame you, rather than Watts. ;)"

Heh. Well, fair enough.

Blindisght's Amazon ranking at the moment is in the 4k area, up from the 16k area when I went to sleep, so your order is making a positive effect, Hugh.

John | December 15, 2006 07:56 AM

Well, I'm halfway through Blindsight. VERY cool. His scifi is so smart, it makes me feel stupid.

You can get Starfish and Maelstrom online here:

And here's the Blindsight site:

On the topic of releasing stuff free... I often read an entire book online. Usually, if I liked it enough to read the whole thing, I end up buying it. I'm a POSESSOR of books. I need to have them, on the off chance that I may wake up at 3 am and decide to re-read them (never happens, but shhh, it's MY compulsion). I've definitely made use of the Baen Free Library and through it have found older works by some of my favorite authors that have fallen off the radar. And now they grace my bookshelves. So, for me, releasing it free= increased sales for the authors. Plus, it gives me a link so I can share with my friends, turn them on to the author/work. Not always, but often enough, this= increased sales for the author as well.

Oh, and my copy of TAD arrived yesterday, so I'll be diving into it soon, too!

Mark Tiedemann | December 15, 2006 08:53 AM

My sympathies to Mr. Watts. Small press has a disadvantage in getting reviews, not least because major reviewers generally (not always, but generally) won't bother with trade paperback, and since that is usually the only format small press can afford to run...

I've considered putting material on-line for free, but I'm not sure how much my psyche could take if people ignored the stuff even then.

"It's free!"

"That's nice. When is Dan Brown's next book coming out?"

Clarkesworld | December 15, 2006 08:55 AM

I've been recommending Blindsight to anyone that will listen. I think it's Peter's best work and the best book I've read this year. I'll be shocked if it doesn't win a major award.

ajay | December 15, 2006 08:59 AM

Data point: I suspect it could work well for short stories. I read a couple of Charles Stross short stories online and as a result bought "The Atrocity Archives" in hardcopy. But if it had been available online, I doubt I would have read it there... I read enough on screen for work that I don't much like doing it for long periods for relaxation.

Mark Tiedemann | December 15, 2006 08:59 AM

Ah, but I see that Mr. Watts' book is hardcover and from TOR no less. This bodes better for him than he might think, but with so much out there it can be...difficult...

For the record, I buy almost everything I read, except research books from the library. It's not ethics so much as my reading habits. If I'm pressed by any kind of deadline to read a book (like taking it back to the library) I won't read it. Often I won't read a book for months after I bought it. But I want it there!

This is a costly habit, not just in dollars but in space. I'm having to make some hard decisions now about pruning my library.

But I find I cannot read a piece of fiction on-line. Aesthetics. Go fig. So if I'm going to read something, it has to be on paper, between two covers, and mt copy.

Eddie | December 15, 2006 09:42 AM

After checking out the online version I got on down to Book People in Austin where I was able to find a corporeal world copy of Watts' Blindsight.

I'm about halfway through and am happy to say it is quite worthy. Great flawed protagonist.Unique POV.

It's truly a shame about the publishing/distribuion "issues".Not being a writer myself I have only been vaguely aware of these huge problems that big box retail bookstores wreak on you guys.

Just wanted to make a plug for the local independent bookseller.(Barnes & Noble,although seductively located closer to my house and next door to Starbuck's, did not have it.Guess that comes as no surprise.)

Book People is hanging in there although Whole Foods move out of their center has obviously cut down their foot traffic.The empty WF space finally got leased so maybe that situation will improve.

I need to throw more dollars their way. I just tend to be subverted by convenience like most people I guesss.

Dave Sanford | December 15, 2006 09:58 AM

OK - I received City of Pearl (Traviss), Jennifer Morgue (Stross), Android's Dream (I forget the author's name), and Draw One in the Dark (Hoyt), so I have been reading these posts and John's interviews and buying accordingly.

That said - the deep issues related to intellectual property, creative commons and DRM are not being addressed by this thread. I prefer to read books using dead tree versions, most people do for convenience. Intellectual property and it's distribution and sources of income for producers vs. the industry for the media - are going to change radically in the near term, and before long someone is going to create a reader that is better than a book (smaller, allows font size to be adjusted to reader, scrolls text easier, etc.). Many software developers would rather produce for creative commons - because otherwise their work is paid for by salary and never attributed to them, musicians lose more than software developers - but they are more likely to make as much or more from concerts than music sales in many cases - so if free music can build their income.... authors have the worst deal in this spectrum of original creators. This is a gross simplification.

Add this to a range of industries that have varying degrees of good or bad industries in terms of treating the original creators well, treating the public well - and allowing intellectual property to pass into the public domain in a timely manner. In general people would like the original creators to be compensated well, and the book publishing industry hasn't created an RIAA to produce malware and trojans and sue users inappropriately and in the end not treating original creators that well. Electronic books will come and this conversation is key to creating the social contract that must be consistant with the actual contracts between authors, publishers and readers.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 15, 2006 10:18 AM

It's truly a shame about the publishing / distribution "issues". Not being a writer myself I have only been vaguely aware of these huge problems that big box retail bookstores wreak on you guys.

Just wanted to make a plug for the local independent bookseller.

Good independent booksellers are a fine thing. Unfortunately, the vast majority of independent booksellers in the United States don't like science fiction, don't understand it, and don't respect it. The idea that the chains are the Great Problem of SF book publishing is backwards. For all their downside (it's never healthy to have so much power concentrated in so few hands), for the last fifteen to twenty years the national bookstore chains have been SF book publishing's salvation.

MikeB | December 15, 2006 11:24 AM

I may read a book on a screen once and will admit that I do so just to see if I am going to like it but there really is no substitute for words on slices of dead trees. I'm browsing Blindsight this morning and will almost definitely be ordering the print version today. Ain't nothing quite like the real thing . . .

Tor | December 15, 2006 11:38 AM

Regarding Watts' writing, I've been eagerly reading his stuff since Starfish came out, as well as the material on the Rifters' site. Of the short stories, I particularly like Bulk Food, btw.

I downloaded, (and printed) Blindsight while at work, because I couldn't wait to get down to B&N, and I would have been pissed if I went there and they didn't have it, and then had to go home, Blindsightless.

I am enjoying it tremendously, and it is mind expanding in the same manner (but a very different way) as Charles Stross. It's a hard sf first contact novel, and very well written. However, now that it is available, I must recommmend Starfish even more. That book blew my mind, in the same way Snow Crash, Accelerando and Enders Game did.

And it is dark. Accelerando was deep, but at the same time it was almost light and cheerful (Neko, Hello Kitty Bondage Tape, Court outfits in the Ring Imperium, etc.) Starfish and Blindsight are dark. Not depressing (at least to me) but certainly they expose the darker side of human nature, and in the process, revel in it.

If you like Elizabeth Bear and Charles Stross, and can imagine blending the two, you might get Peter Watts, if you tossed in some (more?) advanced biology degrees.

And I will be buying Blindsight from a bookstore as well. What if the net went down, or an EMP exploded overhead? I'm not going to take access to Rifters.com for granted...

Ron Phillips | December 15, 2006 12:06 PM

Anecdotal as it may be, I found myself buying books that where provided freely or under creative commons. I haven't read a full novel/book online, but enough to know whether I want to buy it.

I discovered David Wellington's Monster Books via his site, and I have to say I'm looking forward to every release of his print books. As an aside, he used the CC release to garner him the 4 book deal that publishes the final edits of the freely provided books.

I've thought about doing this myself in the new year. Still on the ropes. Readers and community are most important to me at this stage, but I do want to get to the level I can become published.

cofax | December 15, 2006 01:28 PM

Another data point: Martha Wells recently put a revised version of an early novel, The Element of Fire, on her website (http://www.marthawells.com/), free for download. It had been out of print for a long time. I understand that the novel has since been slated for a new edition (not sure which publisher). For what it works, free books apparently do result in more sales.

Chuk | December 15, 2006 01:34 PM

I had to quit reading Starfish because the characters were just too creepy, but I didn't have that problem with Blindsight -- just finished it yesterday on my PDA. I'll have to wait for the paperback to buy it (financial reasons), but I work at some libraries and have suggested it as a purchase.

Don't know if the paper version has it, but the annotations and references were great fun, too -- I'm interested in neurology already, and I really liked how he blended that in with the story.

Jeff | December 15, 2006 01:55 PM


The Rifters series (including Starfish) is very dark stuff. I don't about wrist-slitting, but Watts certainly doesn't pull any punches and is ready to let his characters' actions play out to some horrifying consequences. It makes for captivating reading.

If you want to get a taste of Starfish, you can read the short story "A Niche" also found on his site under a CC license. It later became the opening of Starfish.

Kate Nepveu | December 15, 2006 02:03 PM

cofax: Alas, _The Element of Fire_ is being self-pubbed through Lulu.

(I say "alas" because it's an absolutely awesome book and I want it to be in bookstores.)

John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 03:58 PM

Noting for archival purposes: Currently Blindsight is at about 1,800 in the Amazon rankings, so maybe we're doing some good around here.

Tim Keating | December 15, 2006 04:38 PM

Scalzi: "But as I said earlier, if this book doesn't sell in adequate numbers, it's entirely possible there won't be a "next book." One's sales figures follow one around, and some authors' names are compromised enough through low previous sales that it can have a real impact on whether they can sell another book at all."

This is something I have a hard time believing. Granted, you are an insider and I am not, but everything credible I have heard about the publishing industry suggests:

1. There are not enough *good* writers to go around.

2. Some of the people responsible for buying fiction can recognize good writing when they see it.

3. Presumably, those are the people in the best position to understand that sometimes, good books don't sell for reasons completely out of the control of the people involved in the process.

4. If you've managed to finish a MS *and* sell it, it suggests you've learned something about how to complete a salable novel . . . presumably a quality a publisher will find desirable in an author.

All of which lead me to be dubious of the notion that poor sales of one book could tank someone's entire career. Then again, that could be me being naive . . . or maybe it's just too depressing to contemplate.

(OTOH, I can certainly think of plenty of authors whose careers I *wish* had died a horrible death after one book.)


Bill Schafer | December 15, 2006 04:38 PM

Well, it's an offshoot, but BLINDSIGHT led me to Amazon Peter's short story collection, which, so far, is excellent.


John Scalzi | December 15, 2006 04:49 PM

Tim Keating:

"This is something I have a hard time believing."

Believe it.

One poorly-selling book usually won't do you in -- although it might, if you've gotten a large advance and the book stiffs. However, if a writer has had a couple three poorly-selling books in a row, it becomes a problem. Bookselling is a business, and business doesn't tolerate items that don't sell.

None of the points you make, Tim, have anything to do with anything when it comes to sales. You can be the greatest writer on the face of the earth, but if you're not meeting sales expectations, and you're not meeting them time after time, you're going to find it difficult to sell your work.

Richard Daniels | December 15, 2006 05:17 PM

Finished "Blindsight"! last week, most enjoyable.
Did anyone else think how easily that would become a very watchable movie?

Mike Houser | December 15, 2006 05:52 PM

I really appreciate it when authors make the text of their books available like this. About a year ago I switched to reading e-book versions whenever possible. Most of those I've acquired by "creative means" after buying the physical book (I just can't help buying books in bookstores). I'll give Blindsight a go and if I remotely like it I will buy a physical copy and spread around the good word.

Martyn Taylor | December 15, 2006 05:55 PM

I recall Charlie Stross being very enthusiastic about e-publishing at Interaction, but then Charlie is enthusiastic about everything (and always was)

I haven't made much use of it yet, although I hope to change it. However, it seems to me that, for the most part, it is books that put bread on our favourites' tables and help to ensure more of our delights. Download away, but but the book as well.

Chang who love eat brainz! | December 15, 2006 06:22 PM

I'm digging the pdf of it. And I put it on the APB for Xmas list. hopefully it will help the man out so he can write more bummingly good characters.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden | December 15, 2006 10:46 PM

"Charlie is enthusiastic about everything (and always was)"

This is, of course, bullshit.

Lisa | December 15, 2006 11:07 PM

I'm trying to read it online, but I really prefer a good old fashioned book I can hold. So I checked out the Omaha Public Library and they actually have a copy so I can try it before I buy it.

I've had to cut back on my book purchases because my basement is starting to look like a library. Don't worry, OMW, GB, and AD are all down there having read & reread OMW and GB. I'm reading AD now and loving it.

green_knight | December 16, 2006 06:36 AM

I might sit down to read it properly, and I might not - but what struck me was that it is not a book with great kerb appeal - the casual bookstore browser, when faced with second person POV and extremely dense prose is pretty likely to put it back down on the shelf.

From that point of view, a smallish print run and not ordering it for your big chain make perfect sense. Yes, it might be a great book in line for awards and appealing to a specialised audience - but I don't think there's a conspiracy involved at all.

PaintedJaguar | December 16, 2006 09:33 AM

"when faced with second person POV"

Gah! And I was just getting interested, too. Call me a philistine, but I can't be bothered to read books that are written in second person. Life is too short and there are too many good books to read (or re-read). I feel the same way about some other stylistic devices that make me too conscious of words on a page rather than the movie in my head that good fiction creates.

By the way, this doesn't mean I don't apppreciate well crafted prose, just that as a reader, rather than a potential author, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about the particular bag of tricks an author uses. I'm more interested in the "flavour" of a book than in the ingredients of the recipe, and most of the time I can accurately judge that by just glancing over a few pages. Like tasting soup.

Yeah, I know there are some very well received stories out there in second person. Too bad for me, but there it is.

John Scalzi | December 16, 2006 10:23 AM

The books is not entirely in second person. It's also in first person as well. Watts employs a lot of different perspectives in the book.

Chang, who gets nothing done... | December 16, 2006 12:17 PM

Ooh, Lisa, good idea! Why didn't I think of going to the library for it?

And they have it!

And it's reserved for me! Wahoo!

Harvey | December 16, 2006 09:49 PM

I'm so glad you like this book, I just took it back to my local library who had a copy in the new fiction area and I thought the coner art was totally interesting and si I read the cover tease and knew that I would like it.
Although it has some "hard science" behind it, the concepts that Watts uses and the concepts that you use John are both attention getting and, for someone like me, who knows that these concepts one day may become a reality, give me faith in the survival of the human race.

Alton | December 16, 2006 10:19 PM

Cory Doctorow has written stories about gift economies, but I don't know of any writer who's taking seriously the concept. Hundreds and thousands of years ago, you didn't pay for stories in advance with money, but when the wandering minstrel came by, you fed him and housed him, and got the stories for free. The most famous of these are probably Homer and Blondel (you should look up the story of Blondel and Richard the Lionheart).

Amazon has built a gifting system for electronic storytellers with their Honor System. Eileen Gunn used it on her Infinite Matrix webzine, but I don't know of any writer who uses it directly. It would give those like Watts who are adventurous enough to step outside the dead-tree system a way to receive some real dollars for their courage.

Brian | February 9, 2007 09:54 PM

One should also note that Watts has set up a PayPal donation link on his site, for those who wish to pay the author directly, without having to acquire a unneeded lump of dead-tree matter.

It's on his Backlist page, under the Niblet Memorial Kibble Fund.

I hope more authors take this path - I'd buy Ghost Brigades and The Jennifer Morgue from Stross _right_now_ if I could get them electronically. I don't have space for the physical versions, and I read everything on my Treo these days.

Hint to authors - when you have people wanting to pay you for your work, the answer is 'Yes!'

This page: http://www.scalzi.com/whatever/004052.html
says that OMW and GB are coming out as ebooks in March. Unfortunately, that was March of last year. I assume the publisher dropped the ball?

OMW is already available electronically from the wretched hives of scum and villainy. I read it there and then bought the dead-tree edition as there was no other way to recompense the author. But if I hadn't been able to get it in that format, then I probably wouldn't have gotten around to reading it! So that's a direct sale from a free ebook edition, albeit an illegal one.

I don't know how much influence authors can have over their publishers, but getting an ebook out there is going to get you readers you wouldn't otherwise have, and each one is a potential purchaser and advertiser.

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