Genrenauts: The Absconded Ambassador is here!

Today, Genrenauts continues with The Absconded Ambassador!

The Absconded Ambassador

 

The reader response to Genrenauts has been fantastic so far, so I’m really excited to continue the series. If you haven’t read The Shootout Solution, you’ll definitely want to start there – the series is designed like a serial-episodic TV show – readers will have the best experience starting from the beginning and reading in order.

In The Absconded Ambassador, the team heads to SF world to help salvage an interstellar alliance on the verge of collapse. You’ll get diplomacy, dogfights in a spaceship graveyard, weird alien species, shout-outs to some of my favorite sci-fi TV shows, and more about the mysterious Roman de Jager.

You can get The Absconded Ambassador in three formats:

Ebook: iBooks * Kindle * Kobo * Nook

Paperback: Amazon Barnes & Noble * Powell’s

Audio (coming on March 1st): Audible

Buying in the first week (or pre-ordering), is one of the absolute best ways to support a series you love.

Other great things you can do are to write reviews (Amazon, Goodreads, B&N), and, as always, talking about the book to your friends who like books.

But, you don’t have to take my word that Episode 2 will be good! (You can, if you want. That’s fine, too.) Here are some early reviews to give you other perspectives:

 

“The second episode in Michael R. Underwood’s Genrenauts delivers on the promise of Episode 1, and demonstrates that his special alchemy of Leverage + The Librarians + Quantum Leap + Thursday Next (just my current guess at his secret recipe) has legs — and will hopefully go a long time.”
– Irresponsible Reader

“…it’s a heck of a lot of fun the way Galaxy Quest is: a little goofy, a little serious but not taking itself too seriously, and filled with a fondness for the source material that gives it weight without weighing down the story.”
-Samantha Holloway, New York Journal of Books

As with the previous installment, Mike uses his love of genre to spin a story that would feel right at home in a modern day episode of Star Trek, ramping up quickly, doing it’s thing, and then resolving. And just like later season DS9, we get a set of plot threads that we have to tune in next week to see the progression of.
-Alex von der Linden, Blackfish Reviews

“My Genre-loving friends, get ready… we’re out of the saddle and back in the Saddle, but this time we’ve got alien politics, burgeoning alliances, mystery, and enough fast-paced Pew-Pew action to make me think I was in a golden age rocket ship, and indeed, that’s the point.”
Brad K. Horner

 

And coming on April 6th is “There Will Always Be a Max,” a Genrenauts short story. It will be available for free on Tor.com, and the ebook will be available for $.99.

There Will Always Be a Max cover (by Goñi Montes)

until then, happy reading!

Goals and Resolutions for 2016

2016 is here, and looking at my schedule and list of projects on proposal and in development, this year is looking like a big one.

Books

 

For the year, I’m going to divide things into Resolutions, Goals, and Ambitions. Resolutions are personal principles I’m going to try to keep in mind to help make a happier, more productive year. Goals are achievable actions and projects under my control. Ambitions are Cool Things I would like to see happen this year that require other people’s/company’s buy-in.

 

Resolutions

Here are some principles I’m going to try to keep in mind for the year:

  1. Focus on Joy, and share that joy. Spend more of my free time on things that make me happy. Celebrate colleagues and creators that inspire me – from talking up things I’m enjoying, recommending books and movies and shows and music, and so on. Use my platform to spotlight awesomeness.
  2. Elevate marginalized voices. This means signal-boosting people of color, women, LGBTQIA/QUILTBAG persons, and other people marginalized across various social axes. This lets me put my Privilege Yahtzee to good use and helps me continue to learn how to be a better-informed and more empathetic person.
  3. When I read an opinion about media that I deeply disagree with: just walk away (unless it’s actively bigoted, in which case, I can allow myself to throw down for great justice). This will hopefully keep me from wasting as much time arguing about things on the internet.
  4. Do writing work every weekday and one weekend day wherever possible. Optimally, this means drafting, revising, and/or promotion work. Writer admin (website, accounting, etc.) comes after drafting/revising/promotion. I’ve noticed that I get antsy if I spend too long without working on drafting or revising, so I want to be more consistent in working on that part of writing.
  5. Do what I can to reach out to people in more substantive ways. I love Twitter, but it’s become a very large part of my social life, and I want to mix in more Skype and in-person socializing.

 

Goals

These are mostly writer and career things. I’ll note that these are things totally under my control, rather than things which require other people’s buy in (those are ambitions, they’ll follow below).

  1. Revise Genrenauts Episodes 3-6. (Winter-Spring).
  2. Promote Genrenauts: The Absconded Ambassador.
  3. Publish Genrenauts Episodes 3-6 with Tor.com or myself.
  4. Finish, revise, and submit the Cool Space Opera WIP.
  5. Plot and start writing Genrenauts Season 2.
  6. Proceed with Sekret Project #1.
  7. Finish revising Beacons and pitch it.
  8. Write more Business of Publishing Essays and pitch them to major markets.
  9. Pick one new way to earn readers.
  10. Do it.

A lot of these are penciled in due to the fact that I have three different submissions/proposals active right now, and my plans for 2016 will be largely dependent on what happens with those. I really want to get all of Genrenauts Season 1 out this year, so that’s pretty solid. And Beacons is, I think, pretty close to being ready to take the next step. And the Business of Publishing Essays thing can fit well with many of the other things. But if more than one of those submissions/proposals comes back with a buy/offer, I’ll need to make a lot of writing time for them.

 

Ambitions

  1. Sell a novel to a Big Five SF/F house for wide print & ebook distribution.
  2. Sell a TV option for Genrenauts to a reputable production company/creator.
  3. Sell Beacons and/or get a work-for-hire job writing for a major comics company.
  4. Have one of my works/projects nominated for a major SFF award (either a book or one of the podcasts I work on).

 

The New Year is here, now let’s make it a great one.

Year in Review – 2015

So, it’s the last day of 2015. That calls for some reflection.

Personally, 2015 was a big year for me. First and foremost, I got married to the love of my life, and we were so excited that we held two receptions! It was a ton of work to organize both, but getting to share the joy with family and friends that wouldn’t be able to travel was definitely worth it.

MikeMegWedding-055 (1)

 

 

MikeMegWedding-079 (1)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015 was a busy year in writing as well. I finished Season One of Genrenauts, revised the first three episodes, and developed other projects which are in various stages of secret activity even now.

 

Hexomancy cover

September saw the release of Hexomancy, the fourth Ree Reyes story, wrapping up the first arc of that series. It’s been met very positively by fans, and has me excited to move on to the next part of Ree’s story as soon as possible.

 

The Shootout Solution Final

And then in November, I launched Genrenauts season one, beginning with The Shootout Solution, from Tor.com Publishing. We were able to book Mary Robinette Kowal to perform the audiobook, and I couldn’t be happier. My agent and I partnered with Macmillan Entertainment to manage TV/Film rights for the series, which I think is by far my best shot so far in that field.

I’m very pleased with the series, and excited to continue it in 2016. And I have so many ideas of other things to do with the world – an RPG, comics, a board game, etc.

Work

AR Logo with Lettering

Angry Robot emerged from its Interregnum in March, and has been kicking ass and taking names once more. We had popular, buzz-worthy releases, award nominations, and strong sales. We signed up some incredibly exciting novels by amazing writers, and got the word out about our ongoing, beloved series. And for my own part in the team, I started writing art briefs and working with artists, as well as working on a new Thing that is currently secret but very exciting.

 

 

 

 

Geekdom

This was a big year in Geekdom. Just with Mad Max: Fury Road and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we had two huge, impressive new offerings in genre-defining series, each bringing a breath of fresh air in terms of representation. I’ve spoken a lot about those films, so I don’t feel like I need to go on at great length here.

2015 was also the year I got into Steven Universe and Hamilton, it was the year of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Agent Carter, Supergirl, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and more.

 

I also joined Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans in 2015, and have been talking with Greg Wilson, my other active co-host, about cool things we can do in 2016, which has me very excited.

Favorite Things

Here are a few more things that rocked my world in 2015, just for fun – there’s a theme here:

Blades in the Dark

Blades in the Dark is a dark fantasy cloak & dagger RPG by John Harper, in the design lineage of Apocalypse World, but distinctly its own. It cites Dishonored, the Vlad Taltos books, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and the Thief game series as its major touchstones. BitD was Kickstarted to great effect this year, and the core book is due early 2016. It already has a very active Google+ community, so if an RPG about a group of scoundrels building a criminal empire appeals to you, check it out.

RPG Actual Plays

titansgraveSmall-241x160

Another thing that delighted and surprised me this year was the rise in prominence of streaming tabletop RPGs. From Geek & Sundry’s Critical Role to Actual Play Podcasts like Friends at the Table, produced RPG video like Wil Wheaton’s Titansgrave, and Roll20 Presents games like Apocalypse World, consuming RPGs as entertainment has become far more mainstream, and I love it. As a guy who wrote his M.A. thesis on Tabletop RPGs, one of the things I wrote about was how RPGs’ mass appeal was limited because the performers were also the entirety of the audience. With these streamed and recorded games, we’re seeing more attention for the form as performance, as narrative to be enjoyed by more than just the participants. It’s super-cool, and I can’t wait to see more.

 

Looking ahead

2016 is already shaping up to be a big year for me – The Absconded Amabssador releases in February, I’ve got stories in two anthologies that will be Kickstarting over the course of the year, and I’ll be attending a ton of conventions for Angry Robot and my own writing. Add my current Sekret Projects to that and it’s going to be a doozy. More on 2016 tomorrow.

Until then, thanks to everyone who bought my books, wrote reviews, talked my books up to their friends, hung out with me at conventions, whiled away the hours on Twitter or Facebook, and more. Thanks for everything you’ve done to make 2015 a great year in so many ways, and here’s to making 2016 even better.

Joy of Listening – Nov 2015

I listen to a *lot* of podcasts. The first one I remember is I Should Be Writing, which was my lifeline to the world of SF/F writing during my MA work in Oregon. I picked the habit back up when I was working as a traveling book rep, since my working week often included 20+ hours of driving.

So now that I work from home, I find that I’ve got way more podcasts that I’m interested in than I can make time to listen to them, even listening over breakfast, lunch, dishes, and afternoon walks.

And since misery loves company, I’m going to recommend some podcasts and episodes, so you too can know the joy of having too many wonderful things to listen to:

Ditch Diggers – A Must-listen for working writers, especially in the SF/F prose world. Hosts Mur Lafferty (of I Should Be Writing Fame) and Matt Wallace give you the no-BS look at what it’s like to write for a living. Ditch Diggers is the Business of Writing Podcast I would have started if they hadn’t gotten to it first – I’m very grateful that they did, because they’re doing a great job.

PlayWell – Games for the Greater Chaotic Good with Adam Koebel – I absolutely love the way Adam talks about making game spaces inclusive and using them to help talk people through difficult topics.

Book Riot – The flagship podcast of the Bookish site Book Riot. Lots of news about the publishing world, with a focus on Literary Fiction.

The Roundtable Podcast – Hosted by Dave “Creageous” Robison, The Roundtable Podcast not only does creator interviews, but they also do regular brainstorming sessions, where a guest writer will bring in an idea or in-progress story, and the hosts (including a working professional Guest Host) help take the idea up to the next level. I’ve appeared on the show a few times, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve had on a podcast as a guest.

And of course, you can hear me on The Skiffy and Fanty Show, mostly talking about media, and also now on Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers, and Fans.

So, now I turn the mic. What are some of your favorite podcasts?

The Shootout Solution Promonado Round-up: Week 2

The Shootout Solution is here, and the glorious Promonado, distributing promotion and love and geekdom all across the internet, has reached Category V. You can catch up on last week’s Promonado if you haven’t done so.

First, I celebrated the release itself.

The Shootout Solution Final

 

Serial Box had me over to their blog for an interview.

I sent my mailing list subscribers the password to my development diaries for The Shootout Solution.

Books

Barnes & Noble’s SF/F Blog gave me space to talk about genre-aware stories.

B&N also included the book in its weekly round-up of SF/F releases, repeating the kind review from a couple of months back.

Book Riot Podcast All The Books! Included The Shootout Solution in its longlist of releases. I’m a big Book Riot fan, so this was a treat.

At Tor.com, I talk about Leah as a Stand-up hero, and the three tries it took to get her stand-up routine right.

I gave away some copies on my friend and Speculate Co-host Gregory A. Wilson’s Twitch channel.

I geeked out with the fine folks of the Grim Tidings Podcast.

comics speech bubbles

Stephen Geigen-Miller interviewed me for his Breaking In series.

Library Freaking Journal reviewed The Shootout Solution, prompting joyful flail.

Author Jay Swanson and I talked about genre for writing and marketing on his Creative Mines video podcast.

I rambled about work/writing balance and more with Mahvesh Murad on Midnight in Karachi.

Mary Robinette Kowal gave me space to talk about My Favorite Bit from The Shootout Solution.

And the Audiobook edition came out today – performed by one of the best audiobook performers of our time, Mary Robinette Kowal.

If you haven’t seen them, Tor.com has been posting fun Genrenauts adventure prompts on their YouTube page:

So, that’s the state of the Promonado! Remember, if you buy The Shootout Solution – Genrenauts Episode 1 before November 23rd, you can enter to win a signed galley of Episode 2 – The Absconded Ambassador.

Genrenauts Combined

The New Landscape – Access, Discovery, and Media De-centralization

Several things popped up in rapid succession that got me thinking. The first was this announcement regarding YouTube Red, the new ad-free paid tier of YouTube. The second was the news of a new Star Trek series, to be aired (almost?) exclusively on CBS All Access, a streaming service. And then, just as I was writing this post, Amazon announced Amazon Books – a Bricks & Mortar test store.

So now, I’m going to put on my digital media scholar hat once more and talk about some high-level stuff going on right now. Some pitfalls and pain points I see, as well as opportunities.

YouTube Red has been some time in the making. January of this year, musician Zoë Keating got a lot of shares and chatter with her post “What should I do about YouTube?” on this very topic. I see this move as part of an overall shift in the landscape toward more and more de-centralization of content, where 1st-party streaming systems and subscriptions replace once-agnostic content aggregation-esque systems like YouTube, Hulu, etc.

Here’s YouTube creator Hank Green discussing some of the ins and outs of this move.

I appreciate him spending the time to talk about the positives and negatives, avoiding a hard knee-jerk reaction. I’m worried about the independent creators who had found an equilibrium between Patreon, YouTube, and other venues who now have to pivot and adjust in a big way. It’s the way of life, but any logistical interruption costs creators money, because have to spend spend more of their time on admin and strategy rather than the actual creation.

And then, just hours later, I saw the news about the new Star Trek show, and that it was going to be almost exclusively available on CBS All Access, a paid streaming subscription which currently costs $5.99 a month.

It looks to me (and others, from what I’ve seen), that this is CBS positioning the new show as a Killer App for their streaming service, which I’d not heard of before today (I’m mostly out of the Media Criticism game day-to-day, thanks to having two other careers).

It’s potentially a very smart approach – and one that most of these proliferating paid services are following. HBO, Netflix, Hulu, Kindle Unlimited, all of them are bringing in or commissioning exclusive content to serve as Killer Apps for their individual services.

But here’s the thing about that proliferation – if every service has its own killer apps behind their pay walls, most consumers are very quickly going to max out on the $ they can or choose to pay for these services.

 

Consumer Side

An example – I have a steady, middle-class day job and I have a writing career. I’m married to someone who also has a steady job, and we have no kids. So we have more disposable income than a lot of US families. Between us, we pay for Netflix, Hulu, and High-speed internet. I get my razors on a subscription, I subscribe to a fiction serial (Bookburners), I’ve been an intermittent subscriber to Oyster and Scribd, as well as supporting a half-dozen creators on Patreon and intermittent subscriptions to broadcasters on Twitch.tv. As a household, we’re probably in the top quartile of subscription service users in the US. And I’m very much at the point of ‘Okay, that’s all I can do’ when it comes to subscription services. If I add one at this point, it probably involves dropping another.

And there are *so many* of them these days:

Twitch, YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Crunchyroll, HBO Now, CBS Access, Spotify, Apple Music, Kindle Unlimited, Scribd, Amazon Prime, etc.

And that’s not even counting subscription boxes (L00tCrate, etc.) and subscription services outside of entertainment, like Harry’s, Blue Apron, StitchFix, etc.

Economic recovery in the US is happening, but it’s slow, and it’s accompanied by wage stagnation and income inequality (I can’t speak well to the economic situation elsewhere, so I won’t). So the % of people in the US that can afford numerous subscription services without seriously re-framing their budget is still not too large, from what I can tell. Whether this is part of an overall paradigm shift in how people budget and consume content is a different discussion (there are too many ways this could go – I have to focus).

 

Creator Side

Switching hats now – what does this look like on the creator side of the equation?

I see this proliferation of paid/gated services as a double-edged facet of the overall creative & commercial ecosystem. There are opportunities, but they’re potentially fraught.

Here’s what I see as the dominant progression for a creator trying to make money from their work (visual art, music, prose, comics, video, etc.)

Level 1 – Start small, give stuff away for free, sell some stuff. At Level 1, a creator is almost totally reliant on big systems, for both discovery and fulfillment/delivery. Basically no one knows who they are, so they join larger infrastructures and services to get the word out about their material through algorithmic and organic discovery.

Level 2 – Building Audience & Relationships — At this level, it becomes viable to sell some merch (T-shirts, mugs, stickers, patches, etc. Here, a creator can bring dedicated fans onto a growing mailing list. This level enables direct sales and stronger performance on retail sites, but the creator may still be largely dependent for discovery-enabled growth and a lot of fulfillment/delivery

Level 3 – Big Creators – Here, creators have a dedicated audience large enough they can get a living wage directly from their base, either totally direct or through Patreon/Kickstarter. Maybe they supplement their income speaking/appearance fees etc., being large enough that they are in demand not just as creators, but as entrepreneurs/thought leaders in their field. They may still use large systems, but if they do, they do so from a far stronger position – they are less dependent on any given system, since their base is strong, a base that is specific and mobilized, not platform-dependent.

This system is reductive, and by applying it broadly across media, I lose some nuance. Musicians can tour and get money from in-person appearances and sell merch there – novelists and poets largely cannot. Visual artists can sell commissions at conventions for solid income, writers have less opportunities in such situations. Etc.

Some take the pure indie path and are less reliant on the bigger systems, but then don’t have access to their discovery engine.

As the landscape moves toward more gated content, more push for exclusives as killer apps, more and more places to publish and publicize, creators have to have our eyes wide frakking open as we consider every new platform, every new distributor agreement, every new book deal, and so on.

Because things are moving fast, and these big platforms are only allies for as long as we’re useful to them. ACX changed its payout terms last February, and because ACX was the only real game in their town (self-publishing audiobook service), creators were forced to sign the new terms or walk from that service entirely. It’s the same type of choice YouTube creators have been forced into, though with notable differences (ACX was a flat-out rate cut, YouTube might come with additional payment, but requires more opt-in and cuts off other options). Any creator that relies on a single or small # of services/sites/retailers for a large % of their business is vulnerable to disruption, as Chuck says in the link re: ACX.

Anytime one of these big companies makes a shift, it causes huge ripples, and creators, especially those of us reliant on platforms for fulfillment, discovery, or other services/opportunities they offer have to roll with the changing tides.

In my opinion, creators right now have more to fear from Monopsonies and monopsonic behavior, than monopolies. Since so many creators are currently beholden to retailers and/or content services (writers and Amazon/B&N/Kobo/iTunes/Physical Bookstores, musicians and iTunes/Spotify/Pandora), if a creator wants to retail their work but doesn’t have enough reach/audience on their own, they use a seller/vendor. But if there are few enough vendors in their world, and those limited vendors exhibit monopsonic behavior, the result tends to be a major squeeze on the creators.

Paradoxically, the creators are the only reason the monopsonists can survive – if a majority of creators pulled out of monopsonic vendors, those vendors would collapse. But in the meantime, the lost income, the lost access could easily bankrupt a huge % of the creators pulling away from the monopsonist.

In a healthy market, there are a range of options, and creators can respond to a change of terms they dislike by removing their content from that platform. But for most video creators, removing everything from YouTube stands to present a loss of a huge % of their access and income, just as a prose writer would stand to lose a huge % of their access and income if they decided to not sell through Amazon.

Monopsonic behavior also impacts larger creator groups, like publishers – if one retailer or wholesaler gets too strong, it can create problems. It’s the WalMart problem. Wal-Mart pushes down prices, then makes up their $ in volume and by demanding better terms from their vendors, The vendors (publishers, manufacturers, etc.) then get to choose – pull out of the single-largest physical retailer, or accept the terms. Because individually, Wal-Mart doesn’t need most vendors. They need a plurality or majority, but as long as the selection adds up, individual vendors can come and go.

So when you’re one of those vendors, one of those creators, you end up in a really terrible situation. And that worries me. I want a healthy marketplace, where creators (authors, musicians, etc.) and the publishers/labels/etc that work with them have options, have recourse for if/when terms change in a way that becomes untenable.

The sky is not falling. But I will continue to point out rain clouds when I see them forming. Because then the smart folks can put out buckets and save on the water bill, or pull the lawn furniture inside before the storm breaks.

I’ll stop there before torturing the metaphor any further.

What do you all think about these streaming service moves – YouTube Red, and Star Trek on CBS All Access?

Mike’s latest book is Hexomancy, the fourth Ree Reyes urban fantasy. Geek magic squares off against a quartet of fate witches hell-bent on revenge.

Hexomancy cover

Baltimore Book Festival schedule

Hi all! One of the best things about being a writer in Baltimore is that the city’s book festival every fall. SFWA runs an entire mini-convention throughout the festival, and I’ll be there this weekend (as well as splitting my time with the Baltimore Comic-Con, checking in with my comics friends).

Here’s where you can find me at the book festival:

 

Friday, September 25th

11am – The Revolution Will Be Science Fictional and Fantastic

What to read in SF/F and where to find it! Our panel looks at the latest trends in SF/F and the books people are talking about this year.

Emmie Mears, Cat Rambo, Fran Wilde, Michael R. Underwood

12pm – Comics! Science Fiction! Fantasy!

POW! BAM! See how comics, science fiction, and fantasy inform each other. Are superhero stories fantasy, science fiction, or both? Which non-superhero SF/F comics should you be reading? What’s up with novels about superheroes? From Saga to Ms. Marvel to Kavalier & Clay, our panel will discuss it all.
Bill Campbell, Anne Gray, Cat Rambo, Michael R. Underwood

1pm – Reading Group 1 – Superheroes, SF, and Action!

Sit down and discover your new favorite author! Four writers, one hour.
DH Aire, Tom Doyle, Cat Rambo, Michael R. Underwood

 

Saturday, September 26th

12pm – Dangerous Voices Variety Hour

A fast-paced quiz show in the vein of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me! brought to you by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Win free books and learn things you never knew about your favorite authors.
Tobias S. Buckell, Sarah Pinsker, Michael R. Underwood, Diana Peterfreund

6pm – Meet The Authors Social

Rub elbows with your new favorite science fiction and fantasy authors at this annual event.
All the Attending Authors

 

Here’s a map of the festival:

BBF15_Map - SFWA

The fine folks at Ukazoo will be handling book sales, and I’ll be bringing some swag for my various books, current and upcoming. See you there!

Hexomancy is here!

 

 

 

Hexomancy cover

 

At long last, Hexomancy has arrived!

It’s been over a year since Attack the Geek, the last Ree Reyes story, was released, and now Hexomancy closes out the first story arc of the Ree Reyes universe.

If you’re not familiar with the Ree Reyes stories, check out this series summary I wrote for XOXO After Dark to see if it catches your fancy.

For long-running readers, here’s what you can expect from Hexomancy: More Lucretia, more Drake, more Eastwood and Grognard, but also more of the Rhyming Ladies, and plots from the first three books to come back around for a reckoning. Expect Eastwood’s history to figure in a big way, and as always, there’s more of the patented Ree Reyes series pop-culture references, geeky jokes, and energetic action-adventure storytelling.

I’m really proud of Hexomancy – I think it’s the best novel I’ve written to-date, in terms of pacing, action, characterization, and interpersonal relationships. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Click here for links to ebook retailers to get your copy now.

Until next time, Geek on!

HEXOMANCY on NetGalley

Hello, all!

For the reviewers among you, I’m very excited to share the news that HEXOMANCY is now live on NetGalley, ready for your requests and reading.

Hexomancy cover

I’m very proud of this novel, as it brings together a lot of threads from the three previous Ree Reyes stories, and is the conclusion of the first major arc for the series.

Go forth and happy reading!

The Many Sides of Bundling

Earlier this week, Tor announced that it had partnered with BitLit to offer discounted ebook editions to readers who already own print editions ($2.99 per book).

Books

Angry Robot has had a bundling promotion running for some time, offering free ebooks to customers who buy the physical from one of several bookstore partners, or at conventions.

Bundling has been an on-again, off-again hot-button topic in the publishing world, as readers lobby for getting the ebook edition for free with their physical purchase. A frequent argument I see is that if a reader pays for a book, they feel like they should be able to consume that book in whatever format they want – they’ve bought the content, so format shouldn’t matter.

The production realities in publishing aren’t quite that simple. The final steps in book production diverge between print and ebook – so the  work-hours that make an ebook are different work-hours, with different skills and programs needed, than the work-hours that produce a finished physical book.

 

Don’t get me wrong – I think print + ebook bundling should be universally available. TV and Film companies have already figured this out – in the US at least, consumers can by a DVD, DVD + BluRay, or DVD + BluRay + Digital Download. Sometimes there’s even a 3D BluRay in there. But the different formats are available together. And sometimes the programs involved in the digital download even work (and sometimes they don’t – I’m looking at you Ultraviolet).

To sell a bundled print + ebook edition, here’s what publishers have to do:

1) Partner with BitLit or similar companies, selling companion ebooks at a discounted price to verified print owners (who mark up their physical book to claim the ebook).

2) Create a separate edition (with a separate ISBN) for bundling. That bundling edition would likely cost $1-$5 more than the normal physical edition, just as the DVD + BluRay + Digital Download edition of a film/TV show costs ~$5 more than the DVD + BluRay edition (though digital films/TV shows tend to cost more than individual ebooks). This probably means creating a series of download codes for every book, printing a pull-off-sticker on the inside cover or the like. Printing download codes in plain sight in or on the cover would be incredibly rife for abuse, so some precautions are expected. Marvel comics does this as the default for some comics, offering a free digital download.

2a) As above, but offer universal bundling for no additional cost. That has its own difficulties, as expressed below in Show Me The Money.

3) Publishers broker deals such that every print edition retailer creates a partnership with ebook retailers to enable bundling up-sales at point of sale/checkout. Buy a paperback book, automatically get prompted to buy the ebook at a discounted rate. Amazon has something like this with MatchBook, though only a few publishers have signed on for the program.

 

 

Show Me The Money

Here’s the big question, the one I don’t see asked as often.Who gets paid, and how much?

How does bundling impact how authors are paid?

For this, I’m going to get very hands-on with #s and $. There will even be charts. You have been warned.

Royalties, the amount per sale that writers are paid (against advance or directly) is determined by the specific contract with the publisher. In self-publishing, the terms are not royalties, but instead the creator’s share (as the author-publisher).

But if a physical edition AND ebook edition are being sold at once, how is the royalty calculated? If the ebook is a free add-on, then the author only gets the paperback royalty despite that when looked at from the current paradigm, the book is being sold twice, once in each format.

Part of the trick here is that physical royalties are calculated differently than ebooks. In most contracts, print royalties are calculated off of list price (aka the published price on the cover), 6-8% for Mass Market, 8-10% for Trade Paperback, and ~12% for HC. These rates vary by contract.

Ebook royalties, however, are calculated on net sales, the publisher share of the list price. That’s usually 70% of list price in agency agreements, and usually 50% in Wholesale agreements.

This means that in many cases, authors can get more $ proportionally and in real $s.

Let’s do some comparisons:

For each format, I’ve market the highest royalty for the author in Bold, the 2nd best in Italics, and the third is left in plain text.

Paperback Price ($) Royalty ($) 8% Ebook price ($) Royalty ($) – Agency 70% Royalty ($) – Wholesale 50%
Mass Market (8% Print royalty) 7.99 0.64 6.99 1.22 0.87
Trade Paperback (10% Print Royalty 14.99 1.49 9.99 1.75 1.29
Hardcover (12% Print Royalty) 25.99 3.11 12.99 2.27 1.63

 

So we see that Agency Ebook is the best deal for the author in paperback, but Hardcover tends to pay more than even agency. This is due to the fact that ebook prices scale up as the formats get more expensive, but not at the same rate that print edition prices increase. There’s been major consumer pushback against fiction ebook prices above $10, and especially over $12-13. Ebooks for titles released in Hardcover would need to be priced at $17.99 for the ebook to earn a higher $ royalty than the Hardcover.

N.B. – These price levels are not universal, nor are the royalty rates. Angry Robot prices all ebooks for individual books at $6.99, and Saga Press’ recent release of Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings is priced at $7.99 in ebook, even as the hardcover sells for $27.99.

Price elasticity of demand is a thing, here, and it’s likely that when a book is cheaper than the physical edition, they ebook may sell proportionally more, makin up the per-unit royalty loss with volume sales. Several publishers have tried this approach, and it is the default approach for author-publishers, who tend to set the print $ far higher than the ebook price to show the discount, while usually pricing ebooks at $4.99 and below (sometimes far below). And yet some of these author-publishers have made incredibly good $ selling at those bargain prices, even with a lower author’s share due to vendor agreements (bringing in 35% per sale instead of 70%).

Given that authors tend to receive a better $ royalty for ebook sales when the title’s physical edition is a paperback, how do publishers adjust the sale royalty for a bundled edition?

If the bundling happens with its own edition, how will royalty be calculated – List or Net, and at what rate?

I’d propose that a bundled edition, being sold as a physical book, would probably need to be based off of the print royalty, with a bonus for the ebook, maybe around +5-8% of list.

 

So 8% of list for the MM, but +5% bonus for the ebook, for 13% of list. The reader is effectively paying $2 extra for the ebook, and the author is getting about 2x the royalty as they would on a $7.99 MM.

The result would look like this:

Bundle Edition Price ($) Royalty $
Mass Market + Ebook (13% List) $9.99 $1.30
Trade Paperback + Ebook (15% List) $17.99 $2.70
Hardcover + Ebook (20% List) $29.99 $5.99

 

The royalty gain is higher in Hardcover due to the fact that the promotional price increase of adding $2 is very small in a Hardcover, and publishers margins on a Hardcover are quite good, so I added 8% to the royalty rate instead of 5, especially since Hardcover books are the ones most vulnerable to losing sales to their ebook edition counterpart (due to the larger price difference).

The question then is – would readers pay these rates to get print + ebook as a default? I know I would, as I like to have both editions when I can. you have other thoughts on how to implement a bundling model? Do you want bundled ebooks with physical editions? How would you want them?

Do you have any other thoughts on how to implement a bundling model? Would you want bundled ebooks with physical editions? How would you want them? How much extra is a fair price to get a bundled ebook?