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?
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