Fate of the Jedi: Not So Impressive

I’m nearly finished with my next commentary for the Fangirl Speaks Up series, which will focus on several suggestions for how Del Rey and Lucas Books could turn around their declining sales of Star Wars novels. In the last few days, however, some interesting news items have emerged which I think are worth commenting on while they’re still fresh.

On Monday, the fall 2011 Random House catalog revealed the publicity content for Ascension, the eighth book in the Fate of the Jedi series, which goes on sale August 16. (The seventh book, Conviction, hits shelves on May 24.) This material includes a couple of very revealing morsels.

For starters, consider this statement about the series as a whole:

There are more than 660,000 Fate of the Jedi series books in print.

At first blush this might sound impressive, but the key words are “in print.” Just today I scoped out a store closing sale for a nearby Borders, and there are plenty of FotJ copies still unsold there, even at the 30% discount on paperbacks and 40% on hardcovers. For comparison, the Hunger Games trilogy has over six million copies in print, and last summer the final book sold over 400,000 copies in one week. So these numbers for Star Wars are actually rather poor, compared to the competition.

Take a look at this statement from the promotional material included in the front of the advanced reader copies of the first FotJ book, Outcast:

Fate of the Jedi is a major Star Wars event – following directly in the footsteps of the Legacy of the Force series (1.7 million copies in print)

At its current pace, FotJ would have just under one million copies in print for the nine-book series, which would make for a decline of more than forty percent compared to the equal-length LotF series. I realize book sales are generally declining, but this is a tremendous collapse from one series to the next.

Next, the Ascension promotional page includes this remark:

NEW PACKAGING: While we’re keeping the look of the nine-book series consistent, we’re giving the last three books (starting with Conviction, Summer 2011) a distinctive look to set these final novels apart as a climactic mini-trilogy for readers.

It really says something about the lack of customer enthusiasm when the publisher has to go out of its way to tell the readers, ‘Trust us, these last three books won’t be nearly as boring as the six books you’ve already paid for.’

On Tuesday, Sue Rostoni of Lucas Books made a similar remark in responding to a question on the StarWars.com forums:

[Q:] So, if I may ask… what precipitated said Riptide cover change?
[A:] The sales folks at Random House weren’t sure it was strong enough–not as dynamic as they’d like.

Aside from the ridiculousness that a tighter cover shot could be more dynamic, do Del Rey and Lucas Books really think that cover art is the problem behind their plummeting sales?

And just today, StarWars.com revealed the back cover to Conviction. It features Tenel Ka, an Expanded Universe character previously featured on the cover of Tempest in LotF and the mother of Jacen Solo’s daughter. The image is actually quite beautiful, and marks a stark contrast to the washed-out character portraits on early FotJ books like Outcast and Omen.

Unfortunately, the cover also demonstrates a broader problem with the EU right now. It’s well known that Lucasfilm relies heavily on Leland Chee, the manager of the so-called Holocron, to monitor the details of the myriad facts about the Star Wars universe that constantly crop up in The Clone Wars and the Expanded Universe. Similarly, on Tuesday StarWars.com posted an online update to Del Rey’s nonfiction sourcebook The Essential Atlas, detailing precise sector boundaries in the Mid Rim and updating the online appendix of cartography coordinates for over 4,700 planetary locations. So clearly the Powers That Be are investing great effort in keeping track of the encyclopedic facts of the Star Wars galaxy.

But who’s in charge of making sure that the same level of care is taken with maintaining the consistency of the characterization? Take a look at those two covers images of Tenel Ka. There’s something of a resemblance: same blade color, Hapan braids, similar mouth. There appears to be an attempt to make the character look the same, but it’s really about what happens between the book covers. Will the characters act the same from book to book? 

And as I’ve indicated in prior posts, many of the readers that the Powers That Be have lost, or are struggling to keep – especially many female fans – care a lot more about consistency of characterization than they do about consistency of factual minutiae. Many of the comments in the TFN Fanfiction Resource discussion thread reflect those same concerns.

Yet instead of making efforts to convince fans that better efforts are being made to maintain characterization consistency, Del Rey’s Star Wars Books page on Facebook seems more interested in engaging fans in schoolyard “who would win?” thought experiments. Oddly enough, among EU fans – the ones reading books – Jaina is holding her own against her grandfather Darth Vader. Hopefully, the Powers That Be can read between the lines.

One final thought – If Jaina can kick Vader’s ass, perhaps she’s worthy of a cover some time soon?

Fangirl

Fangirl

Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue.

Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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Fangirl

Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.

11 thoughts on “Fate of the Jedi: Not So Impressive

  • March 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm
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    Ah, but Jaina doesn’t get to kick Vader’s ass. She gets to be grilled by him about her love triangle!! (the one that everyone hated but the authors/editors dragged on for years)

    But hey, new covers are gonna fix everything cause that’s what we buy these books for right? Right??

    *crickets*

    Reply
  • March 16, 2011 at 10:56 pm
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    “One final thought – If Jaina can kick Vader’s ass, perhaps she’s worthy of a cover some time soon?”
    …Er, am I the only one worrying that Tenel Ka appearing on the back cover is a warning sign for a Death Cover, a la Sacrifice or Vortex?

    Reply
    • March 17, 2011 at 9:00 am
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      I’ve pondered that possibility. I don’t think this is a death cover; they can’t afford to kill anyone else.

      Reply
  • April 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm
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    Keep in mind, however, that the numbers are for the FOTJ books currently in print. So we can’t yet compare it to the nine-book LOTF series. Only six of the FOTJ books are out. When the final three have been released will be a good chance to see what drop, if any, has occurred.

    Reply
    • April 21, 2011 at 9:36 pm
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      Yep, fair point. Also in consideration is how many of those books in print get returned and counted against the author’s reserve. Stackpole has blogged extensively about this recently. In theory they want to sell as much as printed as possible, but that’s not likely going to happen. I see a lot of printed copies still on the shelves.

      Reply
  • May 3, 2011 at 2:29 pm
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    Two things to note: Legacy of the Force had only 3 hardcovers, while FOTJ is all hardcovers with subsequent PB releases. At the time of your writing, only the first four FOTJ books had been released in PB (and it’s not clear if the 4th PB release is included in those numbers). I have no idea of the HC/PB breakdown, but if half the readers are waiting for PB release, then the fall off is only 30%. Second, Hunger Games is not the competition. A comparison to Star Trek, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, etc. (I don’t really know what other movies/TV series have book tie-ins.) would be more apt.

    Reply
    • May 3, 2011 at 8:56 pm
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      Have you been to a bookstore lately? Those paperbacks are sitting on the shelves. When the returns come back the numbers could be worse than 40% down, unless the last three books are stellar. Even then I don’t think the PTB are fooling themselves into thinking that a knockout final three books will sell the first six, that’s why it’s being marketed as a “mini-trilogy.” Either way – 30% or 40% – that stinks when you’ve got a hot brand with name recognition on the cover.

      Hunger Games is absolutely relevent because it proved the accepted bookselling mindset wrong. Fantasy futuristic series centered on a female lead shouldn’t sell in the millions. When HttE came out it proved Star Wars could sell units within the broader book market. X-wing books competed with literature standards like Stephen King on the bestsellers list. One of the reasons was the universal and immediate appeal of Star Wars, which is a space opera, as opposed niched into hard core scifi. Star Wars books sales relied on an audience that wasn’t just scifi-centric. Drawing away from the operatic roots of Star Wars in the recent years has diminished the books’ appeal to a broader audience.

      Reply
  • May 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm
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    I don’t know whether or not book sales are in relative decline, but my point was that the format of the book was a significant contributor to the drop-off. For LOTF, you had to spend $42/year to buy each book when released. For FOTJ (and ignoring that book 9 has been pushed to 2012), you’d have to spend $81/year. Additionally, the economy declined significantly prior to the start of FOTJ. Since every Star Wars novel is eventually released in paperback, by staying a year behind, you know that you’d be able to buy them for $24/year. So anyone looking at the situation would expect a drop-off. The question thus is what percentage of the drop-off is related to cost and what percentage is related to the decrease in the quality of the work?

    Without knowing the numbers for each book, it’s hard to say. It may be that there was significant drop-off after book 5 of LOTF, and that the numbers for FOTJ are more in-line with books 6-9 of LOTF. LOTF: Invincible (HC) sold just over 100,000 copies, so that might imply the drop-off was earlier than you think. Your suggestion that there was significant drop-off after the first 2 or 3 books of FOTJ makes sense, and maybe we’re only now seeing that those people aren’t even willing to pick up the series in paperback. Since “books in print” does not equal sales, the situation is somewhat clouded.

    There’s a big difference between a book or series of books that is turned into a movie (Harry Potter, Eragorn, LOTR) and book that is based off of characters from a movie, notably the constraints put on an author of a spin-off. However, this is better addressed where you actually talk about ways to improve the books.

    Reply
    • May 13, 2011 at 12:58 am
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      Is Book 5 a randomly chosen location, or are you thinking of a specific reaction that occurred in the fandom? (Loss of Mara Jade fans?)

      Reply
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