You Don’t Look So Good

You may have not noticed, but I’m not Jason Cordova. I know this comes as a shock. I mean, we’re both writers, both devastatingly handsome, and he’s almost as brilliant as I am, and while – much like Batman – he and I have rarely been witnessed in the same place at the same time, allow me to confirm that we are indeed separate entities. Also, this is not a plot – nefarious or otherwise – on my part to take over the Friday slot at MGC. I want that stated up front, in no uncertain terms. It’s not like I want more advertising. More articles under my byline. More books sold … bestsellerdom … film options … a burgeoning media empire …


Sorry: I kinda spaced out there, for a moment. The bare facts are Jason has a thing he’s going to do later this month that he wants to write on, so we’re trading slots. Simple as that. Seriously, nothing ulterior or underhanded about it. *cough* That said, he’s going to get into some nuts and bolts about writer-as-business stuff toward which I, for one, am eagerly looking forward.


Get to the point, Dave, I hear you say. That’s right, I heard you mumbling, you in the back. Well, let me fill you in on a little of the back alley RumInt (that’s Rumor Intelligence, for those not in the know: the gouge) that’s floating around my darkened corridors of the Interwebz. Word on the street is that attendance at Book Expo America this week is pretty thin on the ground. One notable attendee with an accounting background suggested an estimate of no more than ten thousand. I’d honestly be surprised if that included vendors, but still. That’s …


Look, nearly two decades ago, BEA had right at 30k attendees, all told, including industry professionals. By 2015, that had slipped to just a bit over 17k. I don’t care who you are, you can’t claim that your industry is healthy when the pre-eminent business gathering – the one where publishers make announcements about upcoming books, and where vendors make purchasing decisions for the year ahead, and where your special events include people of international profile (this year would be an Evening With Hillary Rodham Clinton. I’m crushed that my schedule wouldn’t allow) – has slipped in attendance by that much over not-quite a decade.


If these numbers are legitimate – and I’m taking them right off the pdf of the official BEA fliers they circulate – then tradpub is looking more than a little green around the gills. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the attendance at the major convention is a fair barometer for the general health of an industry. Sit down, tradpub. You aren’t looking so good.


The other half of this is the aggressive – I’d say extortionate – pricing of tradpub ebooks. There’s no reasonable excuse for pricing electrons at the same price as a mass market paperback. No inventory, no printing fees, no additional salaries paid. Everybody works with digital files, and it’s almost push-button simple to format for ebook. (And the too-aggressive pricing of the mmpb, for that matter. Why buy an inferior paper copy of a book when Amazon will sell you the hardcover for not much more? And if you need something for a flight, odds are you’re more interested in an e-copy, anyway.)


Indie is eating tradpub’s lunch, and that’s only going to become more apparent as time goes on. The concern is that while traditional publishers work overtime to prop up shrinking markets (and really, work to ensure those markets shrink even further. I’m looking at you litSF) their tumble into financial insolvency and eventual obscurity is going to make for a rather volatile time for those of us laboring in the word mines.


I don’t really have an answer. I suspect there will be opportunities aplenty for those with the drive to exploit them. Keep writing. Keep publishing. Keep a weather eye out.

25 thoughts on “You Don’t Look So Good

  1. Extortionist e-book pricing, push model of book distribution, criminal abandonment of mid list authors, move along nothing to see here.
    And selecting HRC as a speaker certainly and most openly indicates where the sympathies of the publishing industry lie. One might only hope that she has waived her usual speaking fee in lieu of returning part of the huge advance she received for her last “best seller” to the publisher of that stinker.

    1. HRC? Look up. Unless you see a large flock of Poland Chinas or Durucs grunting happily as they circle overhead, it’s fair to assume she kept her fee.

      And tradpub moving to more reasonable pricing policies on e-books and eliminating political contributions masked as “advances” is no more likely.

  2. Honestly? Aside from Baen, I can’t think of a trad publishing novel I have purchased in the past 4 years. Indie publishing on the other hand in the past two years has been the increase of my reading pleasure.

      1. Classics, usually at Costco.
        Every kid needs a copy of Sun Tzu to take camping in the wilderness where there is no electricity, you know.

    1. Only time I buy trad pub books is when they’re heavily discounted (thanks Book Bub!), and they’re *old* books (i.e., I already own the paperbacks or they’re from decades and decades and decades ago).

      Picked up a few L’Amour books earlier this week, and yesterday snagged a few Mary Roberts Reinhart mysteries ($3.25 for 3 books); got Once and Future King and Master & Commander earlier this month ($2.10 ea).

      But new books? I don’t even bother looking at the trads … they’re the reason I stopped buying books in the late 90s/early 00s.

      1. Same here. Pay full price for a new hardback from one of the Big Five, even if it’s an author I love to bits? Are you out of your frigging mind? I’ll wait, thanks – and hit Half Price Books or buy used off Amazon for a penny and postage.

      1. I also picked up several Patricia Briggs, and Lois Bujold’s books. Except Patty’s latest two – I just couldn’t stomach the ebook prices they were asking, or the hardcover prices. Love her work, not paying $13 for an ebook of $30 for a hardcover.

        Just check Amazon, and see they’re down closed to a price I’ll pay. They’ll likely go on the list, soon, then.

  3. I suspect they long ago stopped trying to plot a course for new readers and started fighting for seats on the life rafts. They realize publishing is in decline, aren’t precisely sure why, but are intent to be one of the last traditional publications standing when it’s all over.

    1. The thing is, publishing is not in decline, just the traditional portion of it. I have access to a listing of all published fiction on a one month delay. I give it a glance every so often and I can say with certainty that the list is considerably larger now than five years ago, and its growth has been a steady increase, but it is essentially a comprehensive listing of all US publications both trad and indie.

  4. Good to know I’m not missing an important conference – again. It’s a pain in the neck to go to those things – I’m saving my tiny bit of energy for the ones which REALLY matter. I’m sure someone will tell me which those are.

  5. Alas, I long ago became addicted to writing and thus have little time for reading SF&F.I buy new hardbacks to reward the authors. I buy some SF other than from Baen, notably Dave Weber has a series going with another publisher.

    Once a month, I go to and list all the sF&F+horror novels (a novel is > 100,000 words, thank you, because I can sort there easily) published by Smashwords. There are other publishers. It is a long, long list, which you can all read for free in the National Fantasy Fan with a free public membership in the National Fantasy Fan Federation.(founded 1941). I could reproduce the list here (770 did not want it, but was polite about saying so) but I would not want to abuse the hospitality of our wonderful hosts, the Mad Geniuses.

  6. My publisher is at BEA. Since she’s small press, this is a big thing for her. I wonder how many of the attendees are skewed more towards the small end.

    1. I’d be fascinated to know that, and also learn the attendee/professional split, as previous BEA years mentioned that.

  7. Do you know how much the tradpub mafia had to pay the TSA to get them to push for no electronics on flights? Just wait, the expected rebound in airport sales is going to start any day now! And the pressure on the internet service providers to start paying taxes on interstate shipment of literary bits is expected to kick in, too. Why, we have not yet begun to conspire!

    1. the excuse as to why is so stupid, they somehow forget it means all those devices will go in checked luggage instead.

      1. Oh, I actually had some clown over on Instapundit tell me that was better because an unpressurized cargo hold would contain the blast…. totally ignoring that most cargo holds are pressurized because most of the things in them (like toiletries in suitcases, or pets in kennels) aren’t rated for the lower air pressure and temperatures that would be found at 30,000 feet.

  8. nearly two decades ago, BEA had right at 30k attendees…
    …slipped in attendance by that much over not-quite a decade.”

    Did we miss something in the middle there?

    In the last nearly two decades there’s a lot that’s changed in trad pub. For starters all the publishers have this thing called the “world wide web”. tl;dr: no-one has to sell in person any more. No-one has to turn up to trade shows. And I’m glad. It’s easier to walk out on a marketing pitch that’s the same as all the other marketing pitch when you’re at the other side of the country and there’s real work on the other monitor.

    Trad publishing’s mostly doing fine. Trad bookselling… that’s coughing up blood thanks to that same www.

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