Do Franchises Need Traditional Publishing Houses?
Harry Potter fans might be a little disappointed that the upcoming Pottermore website isn’t going to mean more books featuring their favorite characters, but I bet other franchises are watching carefully. With the news that the ebook versions of the seven existing volumes will be available exclusively through Rowling’s new venture, Harry Potter becomes the first major franchise to take the big step away from the traditional publishing houses to self-publish. According to Wired.com, the risk is the potential for more pirating; the reward is that Rowling gets 100% of the profits.
With the upcoming changes in the editorial leadership at Lucas Books, I’ve been wondering if Lucasfilm might be considering the same bold leap away from Del Rey. In the past, franchises typically contracted with the publishers for their expertise in marketing, relationships with booksellers, and editing. In today’s environment, it’s difficult to see how they’re getting their money’s worth.
Star Wars has a well-oiled marketing system in place, which is already releasing updates for upcoming books and comics through their official website and Twitter. This week, for example, the official Star Wars site released another excerpt from the upcoming eighth book in the flagship Fate of the Jedi series, consisting of the book’s second chapter; previously, they had placed Chapter One from Christie Golden’s Ascension at the end of Aaron Allston’s Conviction. The Del Rey staff on Facebook also released a short mini-excerpt on Facebook a few weeks ago and another one this week, but there’s no reason Lucas Books couldn’t have posted those sorts of little teasers themselves. Regardless, I’m glad to see more affirmative attempts to sell these books because I’ve been critical of the lack of enthusiasm in marketing this series on several occasions. I’ve also blogged previously that excerpt selection can make or break the current book sales and the next book’s sales.
With the surge in ebooks and the release of the Star Wars backlist on June 28th, it may become evident to Lucasfilm that relationships with booksellers aren’t as critical as they once were, either. So that essentially leaves editorial savvy as the value-added provided by the publishing houses. And the latest Ascension excerpt just goes to show exactly what kind of value Del Rey isn’t providing on that front.
If you want to remain spoiler free for Fate of the Jedi: Ascension, then skip the rest of this blog. You’ve been warned. Don’t ready any further.
The second chapter, like the first, revolves around the Lost Tribe of the Sith. I see the logic in using consecutive chapters for the two excerpts, but there is also something to be said for showing the diversity of the characters involved in the novel. There are fans who really like the Lost Tribe; in fact, someone in charge must be convinced that Sith who have been marooned on the inescapable planet of Kesh are really interesting, because we’ve gotten a whole set of free ebooks about just them.
These two chapters reveal a lot of problems involving characterization, plot, and storytelling style compared to what we expect from Star Wars, but I don’t want to belabor all that here. Let’s take a look at one short paragraph and that will make my point for today easily enough:
The Khai family was nowhere near the wealthiest on Kesh, but they had done well enough. Vestara would have inherited everything upon her parents’ death, and would have become a wealthy and powerful woman. The estate would have made her wealthy; her innate ability and shrewdness would have taken her very far in Sith society.
If the privilege of having skilled editors help craft its franchise’s material is the primary benefit of working with a traditional publishing house, then where were the editors on this book? Three uses of the adjective “wealthy” in as many sentences is just poor form.
Of course, things like this slipping by here and there is understandable – but a whole lot of these things slipped by in the last entry from Christie Golden. In fact, Allies’ shortfall editorially was acknowledged, although in a somewhat roundabout way, by Del Rey’s editor Shelly Shapiro at the FotJ panel at Celebration V. To be fair, I’m not going to place all the blame on the editors; recent books from other Star Wars authors, including Troy Denning, Aaron Allston, and Timothy Zahn, haven’t proven this lacking in the prose department, and Christie Golden markets herself individually on her own website as an editor-for-hire.
Still, the excerpts from Ascension inevitably raise the question, what is Lucasfilm paying Del Rey for? They don’t need them for marketing or to sell ebooks, and the editing speaks for itself. How long, then, until Lucasfilm does the math and calculates that maybe Lucas Books is all they need?
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