June 19th, 2009


Alice Price-Healy: six months and still puffing.

Today is Alice's six-month birthday. (She was born on December 19th, 2008.) Today is the day where she officially makes the switch from "my kitten is N weeks old" to "my kitten is N months old," which is always monumental, and a little bit sad. Her baby days are coming to an end. Bring on the slightly psychopathic teenage years!

...only probably not, because Alice remains incredibly mellow, for all that she's the feline equivalent of a college basketball player. She's long, lean, and equipped with miles and miles and miles of tail. Also, puffy. Very, very puffy. Her adult coat is coming in nicely, and while she requires a lot more brushing than she did when she was a tinycat, she's absolutely gorgeous. I'm thrilled.

Alice is my first non-Siamese since Sarah Jane died in 2002, and Sarah Jane was a primarily outside cat. Learning the body language and cues of a new breed has been interesting for the both of us. It helps that Alice and Lilly are both such sweet cats, which means they just sort of sit back and wait for the translation difficulties to be resolved whenever they arise. (They mostly have to do with Who Gets Mommy Right Now. The answer has turned out to be "both of us." It's a good thing I have a lot of lap, or I'd be in some pretty serious trouble.)

In honor of Alice's half-birthday, I'm going to be doing a fuzzy-kitty photo post this weekend, and spent about half an hour last night calmly cropping and re-sizing pictures. I feel faintly guilty; since I didn't have a digital camera when Lilly was a kitten, I already have more pictures of Alice than I have of Lil. Not that Lilly cares particularly. If I want to point the flashy thing at the kitten, she's all for it.

Also in honor of Alice's half-birthday, I did not take my plush octopus away from her when she valiantly killed it and pranced off, trilling, with one tentacle clasped proudly in her mouth. The plush octopus is still almost as big as she is. This won't last.

My cats are weird, but I love them. Happy half-birthday, puffy girl!

The mathematics of the midlist.

Okay, so here's the thing:

At my DucKon reading, I was making jokes about "the thirty-five dollar retirement plan"—IE, "if everyone I know bought that many copies of my books, I'd be a lot closer to no longer needing a day job." While this really was a joke—I intend to be working in an office environment for a while yet, since I like having health insurance and paying for cable—there was also an aspect of seriousness to it. The midlist is in trouble, and has been in trouble for quite some time.

What's the midlist?

Well, to quote Wikipedia (source of all knowledge): "Midlist is a term in the publishing industry which refers to books which are not bestsellers but are strong enough to economically justify their publication (and likely, further purchases of future books from the same author). The vast majority of total titles published are midlist titles, though they represent a much smaller fraction of total book sales, which are dominated by bestsellers and other very popular titles."

Most genre authors are publishing "in the midlist." This has always been the case, and it's not a bad thing—my favorite author may be considered a blockbuster sort of a guy (Stephen King), but the majority of the authors I adore are solidly midlist, and have been for the length of their careers. I am honored to know that my books will be in the midlist, at least until my mother gets her way and convinces the entire West Coast to buy them. (If I don't type that, she'll hit me.)

So why is the midlist in trouble? A lot of reasons. Some of them have to do with marketing, some have to do with the business models of the larger chain bookstores, some have to do with the fact that people are reading less, and some have to do with the big books becoming bigger than they've ever been before. When most people only read one book a year, if that book was written by Nora Roberts instead of Jeri Smith-Ready, it matters.

Where's the math?

This will seem like a tangent, but bear with me: I was asked recently whether I had a problem with used bookstores and libraries, since the author only gets paid once. I do not have a problem with either of these things. I'd be a hypocrit if I had a problem with used bookstores, since every used bookstore owner in the East Bay knows me by name, and libraries are proof that humanity is worthy of existence. Plus, libraries do provide reporting, and they track what's popular, stocking additional copies of the things that people really want to read. Used bookstores are a form of recycling. I've always seen them as running on a sort of karma, since you only get what you really want if you're dedicated, lucky, and persistent. I have good used bookstore karma. I work very hard to maintain it.

That being said, especially with the authors in the midlist, numbers really matter. Let's say I got a ten dollar advance for Rosemary and Rue (for the sake of keeping the numbers simple). Now, I get 6% of the cover price of the first 150,000 units sold, and 8% of anything after that, since presumably once my publisher has sold that many, they really want to keep me happy. I think we figured out that this was roughly forty-eight cents a book, at current mass-market cover price. Let's call it fifty cents, because again, math is hard. It's like a word problem:

Seanan is paid a ten dollar advance for her new book. Her publisher credits her fifty cents for every copy they sell. After they have made more money than the amount of her advance, they will start paying her that money as royalties. How many copies must Seanan's book sell before she can pay the grocery bill? How many copies must Seanan's book sell before her publisher will buy the next one?

With these highly simplified numbers, the answer is easy: clearly, I need to sell twenty books to earn out my advance, and when the twenty-first book sells, woo-hoo, I can buy a can of generic soda! (Well, not really. Remember that my agent gets seven cents out of that fifty, to pay her commission. So really, there will be no celebratory soda until the twenty-second book flies off the shelf.) The trouble is that real advances, even small ones, tend to be larger than ten dollars, which means I need to sell a lot more copies before my publisher will be a happy camper.

How many copies need to sell before they want to keep publishing me? That math is truly beyond my ken, for which I am glad, as I like to sleep at night. But that is why I keep telling people where they can buy my books, and why, my passionate love of used bookstores aside, I recommend buying the books of currently-publishing midlist authors new whenever you can manage to swing it. Those little fifty-cent-per-book transactions add up, and it's the final number that really matters.

Math is hard. Where's my damn strawberry ice cream?

Mel says high-quality vampires make summer better.

You may or may not remember my delighted review of Evernight [Amazon]|[Mysterious Galaxies] by Claudia Gray. What's more, you may not remember my enthusiastic recommendation of the sequel, Stargazer [Amazon]|[Mysterious Galaxies]. That's okay, because I remember these things, and I'm always more than happy to remind you. I try to be generous that way.

I got bored and was left unsupervised with art supplies. This is never safe for the people around me. What's more, I was left with art supplies, the desire to make a book advertisement, and the capacity to compose cheesy lyrics. Be afraid! And so I give you...

The Evernight Alma Mater.

Dear Evernight, so tall and proud
And spookily you stand
Like something from a horror film
That lays waste to the land.

Your looming windows watch the night
Like blind and angry eyes,
Your judgment falls on each of us
As from your steps we rise.

Dear Evernight, with pride we come
To learn what you impart,
We pray that you will let us live,
Though you don't have a heart—

Your uniforms are well-designed
To make the bloodstains blend,
And what we learn to shatter here
We also learn to mend.

Dear Evernight, your hallowed halls
Will teach us how to thrive,
And those of us who graduate
Are lucky to survive!

...it sort of scares the cats when I sing it in the shower.