There’s an interesting and (hopefully) good-natured-but-heated thread happening between Robert J. Sawyer, author of Mindscan, and Evo Terra of the Dragon Page.

It started when Sawyer, who runs his own publishing house called Robert J. Sawyer Books, received a manuscript from an author seeking publication. The author sent a follow-up email to Sawyer twice within 3 months – in today’s relatively slow-moving publishing world, that’s asking a lot – indicating a pending decision to go the Print-on-Demand route. Sawyer responded to said author with a rejection:

I’ll also say this: repeatedly forcing an editor to focus his or her thoughts on your work by asking if a determination has been made yet may lead the editor to make decisions prematurely, and there’s only one safe decision to be made that way. Since you want a decision now, here it is: I’m going to pass on your book.

So, best of luck elsewhere. All that said, though, one writer to another, I think going the route of online serialization and POD are mistakes you will regret in the years to come. Online publishing and POD are a waste of time; you’ll have fewer than a hundred readers, I’m willing to wager, in either format. But it’s up to you.

Evo Terra of the Dragon Page took issue with this last part and responded on his blog, citing his experience with his audio-book serializing website, podiobooks:

Serialized online fiction, especially if that serialization takes advantage of RSS distribution, can and often does result in significantly more than one hundred readers. Well-written books (and well narrated, if in audio form) following the RSS paradigm, which delivers new chapters/episodes to subscribers when made available, will, for a significant portion of titles, result in one thousand or more readers/listeners to the work. I’m not making these numbers up, nor am I working from anecdotal evidence. I’ve seen it time and time again, on Podiobooks.com and other spots.

Evo then goes on to cite Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi as examples of the potential success.

The conversation then ping-ponged back to Sawyer who responded with this blog entry:

Now you’re saying, well, let’s ask the two most successful examples of online text distribution how well they’re doing as an indication of whether or not the advice I gave to an unknown, first-time novelist was sound or not — which would be not unlike me saying, “Well, let’s check J.K. Rowling’s numbers to see how a first-time fantasy novelist can expect to do.” :) John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow are exceptions, literally; their experiences have been exceptional, and are not the norm.

And even when Cory does talk about this, we get soft numbers from him; Cory usually cites the number of printings his books have gone into — six for his most-successful one to date, all in trade paperback, which, of the three common book formats [hardcover, mass-market, and trade] has the lowest threshold for economical reprinting, instead of the actual number of copies sold.

He does know that figure; he just doesn’t share it. But it’s on his royalty statements — and royalty statements, in fact, don’t list number of printings (because they’re meaningless, since a printing has no fixed size — a trade paperback reprinting could easily be and often is 1,000 copies), so he’s giving us the public number [anybody can see what the printing number is on a book], and is withholding the private number.

My 2 pennies: This is an enlightening converstaion. Hopefully there’s more to come…

Filed under: Books

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