In my last blog I predicted that, although the print fate of the X-wings novels written by Michael Stackpole seemed in doubt, we wouldn’t be seeing them go out of bookstores. Yesterday, Stackpole gave fans an update on his blog based on direct communication to him by an unnamed Random House editor, who wanted to assure the author and his fans that the X-wing series would not be going out of print. From the blog:
The editor said that they consider the X-wing books a crucial part of the line and are committed to keeping the books in print.
Today, Stackpole provided additional insight into the workings of how authors get paid by traditional publishing houses. In just three blogs, the veteran writer has given fans a great glimpse behind the curtain. Just like in the Emerald City, what’s there to see isn’t very reassuring if you’re a book enthusiast.
Coming from a corporate background, the spreadsheet of juiced numbers and fuzzy indicators isn’t surprising to me. In many industries, corporate decision-making has become entirely focused on quarterly and yearly numbers to the detriment of long-term business development. Stackpole’s insights only further confirm the impression that up until the rise of e-publishing, the publishing houses called all the shots, and exploited that power at the authors’ expense. Take the issue of who should be on the hook for returns of excess inventory sent to bookstores. Who’s in the better position to anticipate that: the author, who’s busy working on the next book, or the publisher, who has the expertise, staff, and data to handle sales and marketing? Fortunately, the major shifts in the publishing industry are poised to break that kind of corporate heavy-handed leverage. Authors are gaining a lot more ability to hold the ball.
In the case of the X-wing series, though, everything remains stacked against the author even as the market began shifting. Stackpole gets paid only for actual books sold, yet working in the franchise, he’s extremely limited in the types of self-promotion he can use. (And that’s not even getting into the issue of how late to the game Star Wars has been at getting its backlist into ebooks.) For instance, for his own novel, Stackpole could utilize any number of tools to get readers to pick up a book. He could post a three-chapter excerpt on his own website. He could go to a book signing, hold a discussion on the book, then post it online. He could do as many interviews with fansites as he wanted, or run contests for sneak peeks or early copies. Readers familiar with the Star Wars EU know that some of those possibilities are restricted, if not flat-out prohibited, by the franchise environment or its non-disclosure agreement, and that the best salespitch by the publisher – word of mouth and fan enthusiasm generated by outstanding additions to Star Wars books – just isn’t happening at this point.
In my review of Vortex, I pointed to an exceptional moment featuring the character Booster Terrik, made popular in Stackpole’s books, and suggested that this great use of a minor EU character might springboard readers back to the older Star Wars classics. Yet Del Rey or Lucas Books seem unable to capitalize on the fantastic possibilities afforded by existing characters such as the smuggler-turned-mostly-respectable-Star-Destroyer-owner/captain. Why limit Booster’s appearance to a random cameo, instead of an opportunity to get newer readers excited about your backlist?
Putting Allston back on a solo book is probably one of the best Rogue-worthy tactical moves Del Rey has made in a long time. (Too bad they probably won’t double down with Stackpole. They should be begging him to come back for his storytelling abilities and his understanding of the industry.) Allston is an exceptional character builder, but he also knows how to maximize the great existing EU characters as well, as showcased in the Enemy Lines duology in the New Jedi Order. Yet apparently – and not for a lack of trying, if you pay attention to the groundwork he laid in Outcast – he’s been held back from doing that in Fate of the Jedi. Capitalizing on the Fel family badassery by finally bringing Jagged and the rest of the clan into the SkySolo fold not only would sell the current books written about the newly emerging Imperial dynasty, but also would revive interest in all the great backstory, including Stackpole’s Dark Tide duology, the Force Heretic trilogy, and the X-wing cast featuring Wedge Antilles, hero of the Rebellion and brother to the Fel family matriarch, Syal Antilles. (The fanficcers have known this for a long time.)
It’s one of the easiest (and simplest) marketing tools available: getting readers invested in one character by way of another. Imperials turned Rebels and vice versa, which is basically the core of the X-wing series. Characters that people can care about, as opposed to an interminable cast of Sith.
In the meantime, go buy a Stackpole book and keep up the fuss about the X-wing series. It’s important that fans tell the franchise what they do want as much as what they don’t. The Cantina will continue our tradition of giving away X-wing series books to our contest winners. It’s the least we can do for two of our favorite authors.
Author’s note: After posting this blog I ran across a NY Times article on the author of the Hunger Games series, I thought Collins feedback on her newfound fortune as a popular writer were relevent to the discussion. From the article –
As for the change in her own family’s fortunes, she said that she has been slow to feel it, because of how payments are structured in publishing.