A note on historical romance sales in print

Jeannie Lin writes really awesome historical romances. These historical romances  are also set in China. I want to commend her publisher for publishing those books. I’m so glad someone recognized her brilliance, and decided to publish something awesome even if it was out of the standard mold. Jeannie has announced that there will not be a print version of The Jade Temptress because print sales weren’t very good. I’ve seen lots of explanations and finger-pointing–but oddly enough, almost none of it is directed at the most obvious culprits.

So let me list the usual reason why print sales are low. It’s not because there’s not enough buzz about a book; a book can get great online buzz and have extremely meager print sales. (More on that below.) It’s not necessarily because people don’t want to read the book–especially for newish authors, most people don’t know that the book exists.

No. The usual reason that print sales are low is that there are very few print copies of a book in a bookstore. If a major chain takes one copy per store and shoves it on the back shelf, guess what? Sales are 99.99% likely to be terrible, and it doesn’t matter how good the book is. Once that happens, there is almost nothing an author can do to recover. Even if, against all odds, you sell a good portion of your meager print run, no store is going to be impressed by your luke-warm streak of selling 200 copies more than anticipated. They’re going to see a book that sold 700 copies total, and since they’re shrinking shelf space again, by the time your next book comes out, they’ve decided they don’t have room for books that sell under 1,000 copies in their chain. Your print career was finished before your book even hit the shelves.

That’s the reality for most authors who get squeezed out of print, and there are a a lot of historical romance authors who are getting squeezed out of print right now–not just Jeannie. The major bookbuyers are just not giving a lot of new historical romance authors shelf-space.

So I see a lot of blame going on for how this author lost print distribution, but nobody’s mentioned the fact that historical romance shelf-space, in general, is falling precipitously. There are other amazing authors who are having the exact same thing happen to them as we speak.

Now, do I know that this happened with Jeannie? No. As of the writing of this post I have not talked to her about the situation. And that’s because of what I’m going to say next–I didn’t want to talk to her because I wanted to write this next part and say, very clearly, “She had nothing to do with this part at all.” Because she didn’t.

I am not (currently) an author of historical romances set in China. But I wrote books for HQN–historical romances that were set in England, books about a marquess and about a man who was going to inherit a dukedom. Books that had amazing buzz and fantastic reviews in all the trade journals.

I know there’s a narrative out there that suggests I was hugely successful for Harlequin before I walked away to self-publish. The Code of Being Nice about your publisher means that you don’t bitch about stuff in public. You put a good face on things and smile and say, “I’m so happy with how things are going!” I’m about to break that code, a little bit, but I’m going to try to do it nicely.

Every year I was with Harlequin, I felt sick about what was happening to my career. Everything Jeannie described in her post about her print sales happened to me. I felt sick to my stomach, and all I could do was keep swinging as hard as I could and hope that something connected. When I wrote Unveiled, I had a handful of people email me saying that this was my break-out book, the book that was going to put me on the map. I had amazing online buzz.

So what did that look like in print?

The following screenshots are from the royalty periods through June of 2013, but the amounts in the first column are cumulative for all sales.

Unveiled was released in February of 2011. Some people still say it’s the best book I’ve ever written. It was nominated for a RITA, had amazing reviews and a great following.

Here’s a partial snapshot of my royalty statement showing my English language retail print sales. The left-most column is the one we care about. The first line is the number of units that were shipped to stores; the second line, the number of units that were stripped and reported as returned. There are no reserves at this late point in the game, so that leaves that final line, which is the net units sold.

Yep. You read that right. Those are return rates of about 60%, with 9,768 copies sold in print–and this was in a world where Borders existed. (And yes, my royalty statements really do come in that small a type).

Here’s Unclaimed:

You’re seeing that right, too. That’s a 67% return rate, a commensurately smaller print run, and less than 6,000 copies sold.

I give Harlequin all the credit in the world for good intentions. They did a lot of things to build me as an author, and really wanted to do so. But good intentions don’t matter. I could draw a straight line through my print sales with every book, and they were going to hit zero sometime in 2012.

So before we talk about why Jeannie’s next book isn’t getting a print run–please try and keep this in mind. Harlequin sold less than 6,000 US retail print copies of Unclaimed in 2011, after I had hit the New York Times list with Unlocked. 

I know that this post could potentially annoy people at Harlequin, and I hope it doesn’t. They tried to tell me my books were at fault, but…I think I’ve demonstrated that they were wrong about that. People do want to read my books. Lots of people. My print sales did not reflect that. I hope that Harlequin takes this criticism for what it is–not my attempt to say that they suck and I hate them, but that they need to recognize that they have a problem selling historical romance in print. They’re not good at it, and I hope they figure it out before they run more print careers into the ground.

Jeannie’s books mean a lot to me. It almost physically hurts to hear people saying, “This is proof that Chinese-set historicals don’t sell.” When I wrote my English-set historicals and had craptastic print sales, I had the benefit of other authors’ experience to prove that English-set historicals can sell in print. Nobody pinned the hopes of the entire subsubgenre on my shoulders. Using Jeannie’s books as a stand in for an entire sub-genre is really, really unfair to both her and the class of Chinese-set historicals. It’s disturbing to take a book that features non-white people in a non-European setting, to have it perform precisely the same way as books that are written about white people in a European setting, and to then say that this is proof that books about non-white people do not succeed.

Before we say that readers won’t read Chinese-set historicals, we should give Chinese-set historicals a chance. And that chance has to be bigger than one author, writing in a subgenre where the bookbuyers are already wary, publishing with a house that has a less than sterling-record with historical romance.

If you’re reading this, go buy Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace. She is one of the most brilliant new historical authors to come on the scene in recent years–and at some point, I really believe that bat is going to connect for her and her books are going to start flying out of the park.

Edit: I just wanted to add one thing. I refer to “Harlequin” as a monolithic entity, but it’s really one that is made up of people. Not all people in it are alike, and sometimes, when making broad statements, that paints with too broad a brush. I always felt like my editor loved my books and worked with me to make them the best books possible; for what it’s worth, the pushback came from higher up.

54 thoughts on “A note on historical romance sales in print

  1. Courtney, you have such a talent for explaining this crazy industry in a blunt but respectful way. I’m IN this crazy industry and I certainly don’t understand it. BTW–I just grabbed my Nook and bought The Lotus Palace.

  2. Wonderful insight, Courtney. I am not in the industry but an avid reader and now I know a little more. Thank you for that.
    I am going to download Jeannie’s book on my Kindle. 🙂

  3. Consider that Romance is robustly going digital — more than any other genre. Print sales for Romance have been declining with a concomitant rise in the percentage of ebooks sold. We can’t say, for sure, that the decline in print is because sales moved to eBooks. I think it’s part of it, but not all of it.

    I think there’s more. 2-3 years ago, a mass market paperback (MMPB) went from 5.99 or 6.99 to 7.99 and even 8.99 — I think that price is just too high for the readership. On top of that Agency-pricing removed the ability of online booksellers to give MMPB buyers a price break.

    Here’s another thing that’s interesting. Self-publishers proved that a lower eBook price competes very well with an $8.00 eBook.

    We have a split test of sorts. The current Print On Demand environment does not permit self-publishers to compete on price in the print world. There is no choice but to price a POD novel at trade prices — over $12 typically.

    What do we see in print where the most dynamic section of publishing (self-pubbers) cannot compete on price? A moribund market.

    Moving to the issues Courtney addresses specifically, I had a historical romance set primarily in Turkey and print sales were awful. So were eBooks sales. At my level, publisher support was minimal. But the book got a lovely, lovely cover, and ARCS were sent. The book won a bookseller’s best award. It was well reviewed by those who reviewed it. But hardly anyone read it, and my hero and heroine were white.

    I really feel for Jeannie Lin’s situation and wholly agree with Courtney’s assessment. Our culture has too many innate biases–even in romance, white is the default position. With Lin, I’m willing to bet her publishers were thinking: let’s see how a romance in China sells. I’m sure they had high hopes because, after all, the books are GREAT. But that becomes the default framework for all subsequent thinking.

    My book did not do well because it was set mostly in Turkey, it was kind of angsty, and maybe I just can’t sell in angsty historical romance. (Indeed, a subsequent contract was dependent on my agreeing to write in a lighter vein. No Angst!)

    Lin’s book did not do well because the H/H are Chinese.

    You see the difference? None of the reasons for my book’s performance have to do with the color of the protagonists, and there are more reasons offered for failure: Setting and tone. Of course, I admit, I have no idea if anyone at HQN said, what if Lin wrote a more lighthearted book with Chinese protagonists?

    The takeaway for me is this:

    1. MMPB are too expensive and the places where they can be bought are no longer ubiquitous.
    2. Publishing’s move to privilege wholesalers significantly harmed the broader market.
    3. Print is not currently a market where price is an unencumbered point of competition.
    4. Edited to add: We are not a color-blind society. Even people who are fair-minded can fall into the trap of a white-default. That white-default gets a head start even when we think it doesn’t.

  4. True, you can’t read a book you don’t know exists. Thanks for the recommendation.
    BTW, Unveiled was one of the best books I ever read!

  5. Thank you for the explanation. I love your books and have wondered for a while why I was having difficulty finding print editions for newer titles. I loved your previous series and agree they were some of your best work to that date. I am enjoying your new series as well. Particularly the novella that begins the series. Keep writing!

  6. I’m in the UK, and used to buy quite a lot of Mill & Boon/Harlequin. But they repackaged their list a few years ago, and at the same time seemed to lose most of their shelf space. Their redesign made it harder to see (on the shelf at your feet) who the author was – and of course I was buying authors more than series, contrary to their marketing assumptions.

    So, for example, I didn’t see your books in print; I came across them through a recommendation on another blog, but have since bought all your titles as ebooks. I would certainly have bought print editions if I’d come across them: they’re all keepers.

    Maybe print-on-demand will finally come of age, and in the future we’ll be able to order a print edition of our favourite titles, to our specification – just as in the nineteenth century you’d have had a book bound in the way you preferred. Or else publishers, and other manufactureres whose sales are migrating online, will get together to display their books to the public, so we can see what’s on offer. Because I used to love going to London and touring the biggest bookshops for new romance authors from the US – where genres like Regency and contemporary romantic comedy thrived much more than they did here.

  7. Great post, Courtney. I’m wondering if Harlequin’s historical print sales partly reflect the publisher’s willingness to take a chance on unusual books like Lin’s. Perhaps Harlequin needs to change what they’re doing. But my perception is that they are taking some risks, while other pubs are selling well by focusing on the same setting, same cover look, and duke titles + puns. Do we really want Harlequin to follow *that* lead?

    Thank you for posting this information. It’s important to look at these issues instead of keeping them in the dark.

  8. THANK YOU. A million times.

    As a reader, I WANT more historical romance set in different settings about people who are not always white. This year, I’ve been given an opportunity to make it happen (at least in digital) and quite honestly, even though I’ve begged for them, nobody is sending me submissions about non-white characters who don’t live in England.

    Until it breaks out, the trail blazers are going to struggle for what feels like little recompense. Authors, please don’t give up. Publishers, please don’t give up. Readers, please keep reading.

  9. @Grace Burrowes:
    I read print and digital. You will not regret this decision. One piece of advice? Go look at some ereaders on display. There are different types of screens and you will want to pick the one that is most comfortable on you eyes. My mom has a Nook and loves it, but using it is not comfortable for me so I steered towards Kobo’s e-readers. I have another friend who has a Kindle and loves it. Those are the three big names, but there are others out there. TL;DR: Test drive an e-reader before you buy.

  10. As a reader, I can honestly say that I have stopped buying paperback books and switched to ebooks ever since I got my kindle a couple of years ago. The space that I had devoted to books was running and and I love that my ereader allows me to have multiple books with my where ever I am. I agree that the price of mass market books has probably hurt physical book sales. It really couldn’t have come at a worst time with the way the economy has been the last few years.

  11. Thank you, Courtney, for saying in public what I’ve been saying in private for years. This turn of the century is disastrous for midlist paperback books in almost every genre. Yes, print is still 70% of the overall market. I don’t have the statistics, but I’m betting digital is 70% of the midlist market. We have no outlet for paperbacks anymore. Unless publishers figure out some way of putting them back in grocery stores and drugstores where they can be impulse purchases–like they do bestsellers–new authors and midlist authors don’t stand a chance in print.

    I buy my books online now. We all need to learn how to do this if we’re to keep up with new authors and even some of our favorite ones.

  12. Thanks, Courtney, as always, for bringing the numbers and the analysis. In all the talk about “buzz” for Jeannie’s books, that’s the piece missing — people can’t buy books that aren’t there, and it’s pretty obvious that the “word on the street” isn’t translating to print sales. I wonder what the correlation is of print book sales to in-store sales. I mean, you CAN buy print books through online sellers (I did it, back when I still read print), but how many readers do? And (showing my ignorance here), does an online seller like Amazon (clearly the behemoth) only receive a limited number of print copies to sell? When the few copies printed are scattered far and wide, each to languish in obscurity unless a determined reader knows to go looking, it’s no wonder books don’t sell well. Add to that lack of marketing or whatever and you get what happened to you, and Jeannie, and Carolyn, and a lot of midlist authors whose books I adore.

    I like Jeannie’s books a lot. I just finished The Lotus Palace and I will be reading Jade Temptress soon. The romance in TLP was so compelling that I just don’t understand how anyone who likes the genre wouldn’t fall for this book.

  13. @SonomaLass:

    I wonder what the correlation is of print book sales to in-store sales. I mean, you CAN buy print books through online sellers (I did it, back when I still read print), but how many readers do?

    I’m not sure if this answers your question, but here is some data that is vaguely in the shape of the question you asked.

    I’ve sold 1,059 print copies of Unraveled (versus the 5,816 copies of Unclaimed). That book’s available essentially only through Amazon/online booksellers/special ordering. Some of that might be driven by Unclaimed/Unveiled being in stores and people wanting to finish out the series, but I’ve sold 875 copies of The Duchess War in print–and the difference between that and Unraveled is essentially the extra year that the book’s been out. That’s with a $12.99 trade paperback versus a $7.99 paperback.

    So that’s my best guess–that for someone at my level, online distribution is worth about 1,000-ish copies for the first two years.

    And my guess is that that is a reasonable floor–if your publisher can’t sell significantly more than 1,000 tradepaper copies of your book, they’re not getting you crap for print disribution.

  14. Thank you for the illuminative and cogent post, Courtney. I was privileged enough to read The Lotus Palace before its publication and loved it for both its emotional truth and for the evocative depiction of medieval China. Thank you for bringing much needed attention to both Jeannie Lin’s work, and to the troubles of the dwindling print market for historicals. I know it’s a problem that keeps many historical authors up at night (I know it keeps ME up), and increases pressure on authors to write stories that fall within tried and true lines, instead of branching out with newer or (to use Carolyn Jewel’s lovely example) angst-ier ideas, or exploring other cultures. The current climate of writing to the narrowing market does not encourage diversity, which in turn leads to some readers feeling like we only give them the same old same old. (I believe Dear Author wrote an interesting post sometime this past year about how the lack of diversity and the over-reliance on tried-and-true (meaning monied white dukes in England) would be the death of the historical romance genre.) I’m not sure what the answer is, but I hope that Jeannie, and other authors like her, will continue to have the bravery to write the interesting, complex, diverse, angst-y stories they want to write. I know that I will continue to read them.

  15. Courtney, thank you for taking the time to share this information with us. You’re a very talented author, as is Jeannie Linn. As someone who has published stories a bit out of the box – in my case contemporary ‘Hick Lit’ – I appreciate your supporting Jeannie’s book which is not the historical norm, but every bit worth reading.

  16. I have read Jeannie Lin’s Butterfly Swords and thought the story was magnificant! I found The Dragon and the Pearl in a used book store and enjoyed it also. However, I have not seen any more of her stories either in Wal-Mart or used book stores. I guess the only other opportunity lies at Amazon.

    I agree that the print price is too high. I accepted $6.99, scowled at $7.99 and wait for used for anything higher.

    I too have run out of book space (I own over 1500 paperbacks) and am having to purchase for my Kindle Fire books I want to read. Or if I am very lucky find on the digital library sites (Victoria Alexander and Mary Balogh’s booklist is pretty much available there). I also use Fantastic Fiction’s New Books and Coming Soon to let me know what’s coming for me to look for.

    I think I have read everything you have ever written and a couple found their way to my Kindle when there are sales on them. Please keep writing and have faith we your faithful readers will find a way to read your stories.

  17. Thank you Courtney for this eye-opening explanation. I’m just a reader, so these things are new to me. Based upon my immense respect for your talent, I’ll give Jeannie Lin a try (but it will be via Kindle).

  18. Thanks so much for such an interesting and informative article.

    I’m a small indie bookseller of both new and used paperbacks, located in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve noticed that both my new and used historical sales have been falling for the last year or so and for all sorts of different reasons.

    The biggest reasons are 1. recession and 2. eBook readers.
    No matter what the experts tell us we are nowhere near out of the recession yet. People that came and shopped with me weekly or fortnightly, I’m luck if I see once a month now. My prices haven’t gone up and my stock selection is still pretty good.

    The price of mass market paperbacks are a lot higher here as we have shipping and sales tax at the border (15%)to add on to our purchase. They also tax the freight as well so it’s pretty high. We can’t compete with the likes of Book Depository who ship free worldwide. So I’m currently going through the shop and reducing everything permanently by 25-30% in order to look more attractive. My customers do still want new historicals but at used prices so it’s a vicious circle.

    The one good note for writers is if I purchase your book, it’s a firm sale. Because of the distance and freight costs, there’s no way I can send them back if they don’t sell.

    I buy from Baker and Taylor and get the same discount as a US bookstore although they get free shipping due to proximity. If an additional discount was offered to any bookseller that didn’t return books, then maybe it would be more of an incentive to purchase more and books could be discounted more to the reader at a price a lot closer to an eBook. I would imagine that the big chains were paying a lot less than me anyway and returning their remainders and I would certainly take a risk on more titles at their rate!

    Being a bricks and mortar store, I don’t have the ability to sell eBooks and it really upsets my customers when series they are following suddenly stop because the next book is not available in print.

  19. I buy about 99.5% of my books in digital form for practical and financial reasons. If I bought paperbacks instead I would buy about 3 percent (yes!) of what I now buy because ebooks are much cheaper and I can always find them. I own most of Courtney’s and Jeannie’s books. Jeannie is a fabulous writer and what I love most is the fact that her books are set in China (and I’m as white as they come). She is a fantastic author and everyone who read this article should read her books. And the covers are breathtaking. As I write, I’m thinking am I helping authors or not… The fact remains that I probably would not have bought either Jeannie’s or Courtney’s books in paperbacks. I would have bought Grisham’s, Cornwell’s, Kerrelyn Sparks… I honestly don’t know what to think. But in my case, I have bought books from historical authors because they are available in digital form otherwise I would probably not. And it’s all genres that I buy in digital format. Sorry for rambling on and on.

  20. A very good article.You could fool me about shelf space in our store, next to mystery our historical romance sections are the largest in the store lol. That said we are an independent which sometimes makes a difference. Our orders depend on the author and on our in staff romance reader reviews (Me), trade (RT magazine etc) reviews and customer requests. Typically we order 4/5 books on release day for our shelf, and then the order numbers could go up by auto requests. If a book is something that I staff pick, that book is always kept in stock for that impulse buy. I do think that certain publishers do not “sell” or promote newer authors enough. I know that Brenda Joyce ended her “Deadly” series because of Harlequin. They seriously failed to promote one of the best historical romance series ever written. I honestly think Harlequin as we know it is on borrowed time. The only titles that seem to do really well are their series romances and even then it depends on which “brand”, certain brands do much better than others. The only problem I can see with not doing print releases (even if it is just a print on demand) is that you’re also going to lose those readers who don’t read on devices. I by far prefer reading a print book over reading on my device as it’s what I’m most comfortable doing. I love to try difference location/story line books, but there are some I simply won’t read…like a Cowboy or Asian. For me I cannot relate to an Asian story line where as I can to a book set in England or Scotland. As for Cowboys, I simply burned myself out on them. I’m not color blind as I read some African American set historical. I’ve tried several India set romances and again I found myself struggling to connect to location. I would love to try a Russian set historical, or a German based. Even a romance set in the 20’s or 40’s would be nice once in awhile. As a reader it is vital that I connect to whatever I’m reading because if I can’t connect I’ll drop the book and not return to that author. When print books were in their hay day of sales, you had the big box chains with book sellers who could actually suggest a book. Today short of going to an Indie or reading a review, it is very rare to find someone who can push a new to me author. Price right now is a big issue and it is a complaint I hear from both ereaders and print customers. I won’t ever say $8 is too high for a book but when you look at someone who reads 200-300 books a year that becomes an issue. Jeannie Lin’s book sold very well at our store, but it took time for a small buzz to surround it. I don’t think there is a clear cut answer to any of this. Authors are going to lose their readers who refuse to own a device and print customers lose out to authors who follow their hearts and go ebook.

  21. thank you so much for writing
    this post and spreading the word
    about jeannie’s fantastic books. she
    is a friend but i am truly a fan of hers.

    and as one of the few asian american
    authors who has published asian
    fantasy–and trying valiantly to sell more–
    you are exactly right on so many counts.

    frustrating to say the least.

  22. Honestly, your point about shelf space is right on. I was discussing this with a family member the other day–the fact that I think many people don’t necessarily prefer e-books to paper books, it’s just the fact that the accessibility is right there with e-books. My *favorite* author, Patricia McKillip, a prolific and multi-award winning (major awards in the fantasy genre too) writer has been completely shoved out of the shelves at Barnes and Noble–and this is in the mega-store in downtown DC. I couldn’t find her anywhere. She is an incredible writer, not just in fantasy but for any genre. Same with Joanna Bourne: she’s written four books I think in her Spymaster series, she’s an incredible writer, and good luck finding even one of those books on the bookshelf!

  23. @Misty H:

    I’m with Misty in that romance has the most shelf space in my store followed closely by Science Fiction & Fantasy and there’s so much crossover within these genres.
    I actually use the reviews from RT Magazine to help me decide what to buy but these day’s I’m generally sticking to the 4 – 4 1/2 star reviews unless someone has a request in.
    I don’t rely on marketing from publishers unless they have a bold ad somewhere in the RT Magazine or I’m sent bookmarks in with the mag.

  24. Hi Courtney – thank you for posting this information. It’s useful data for authors everywhere. Your comment about drawing a line through your print runs – a line which was leading to zero – makes sense. To offer an additional perspective that supports this downward trajectory, I’ll share my much older print numbers from Harlequin Historicals. I sold my debut book back in 1999, and the print run the following year was about 80K. (However, a large portion of my books were shipped to the direct mailing customers who received their books in the mail, so all those copies of the book never actually got to sit on a bookstore shelf. I was paid 2% royalty on those. My books were priced at 4.99).

    At the time I was hearing that these numbers were down from previous years, so I’m not sure what the average print runs would have been in the early nineties and what portion went to the book clubs vs making it to bookstores.

    My print numbers went down on each subsequent book until I left in 2003 and moved to Avon.

  25. As they say we live in interesting times.
    The advent of the eBook has changed how we read.
    I bought my kindle 4 years ago, and then my iPad 2 years ago…and my access to the reading world has blossomed in fabulous new ways. (A tablet of some sort gives access to a range of formats which I found even better) I
    was always a prolific reader. That has expanded (if that’s even possible–alas one reaches the age when sleep patterns are disrupted, so at 3 or 4 in the morning an hour or so’s reading is welcomed.)
    We travel quite a bit. Now, my husband no longer has to make room for my reading matter in his suitcase. I can carry my complete eBook library with me!
    Not only that, I can access my local library from anywhere in the world and borrow books as well without stepping out into the cold, cold snow!
    I maybe missing something but I thought the point was that Jeannie Lin’s books are not being produced in print, not because of subject matter, but because despite the good reviews, the actual demand for print and thereby the production of print has fallen off.
    However I must admit that recently I had a friend snap shots of me standing by the display of a book I had reviewed. I was excited and I wasn’t even the author! So I can’t even begin to imagine how excited an author might be when their print book hits the shelves. But that is something that is obviously disappearing.
    Re Jeannie Lin’s books, all of which I have read and loved. Access to them via eBooks again makes things simpler for me. I own them all! But then I love historical romances and mysteries set in the Orient. I enjoy Laura Joh Rowland’s San Ichiro series, I really like the Judge Dee series by Van Gulik, and modern investigative thrillers like Ian Hamilton’s Ava Lee series and Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura mystery series.
    I do not buy fiction in print anymore. Even my beloved science fiction and fantasy books are read via eBook. Apart from anything else I don’t have room on my bookshelves. And I won’t throw books that I do have away! I still reread my favourites but now I continue the series by eBook.
    What do I buy in print? Cookery books, art books and some travel guides and maps.
    It does seems to me that self publishing makes sense in this eBook world.
    So maybe a big question is how do publishers and or authors get the word out to the eBook public?
    Once your known and loved we scan our online sellers for notification of your forthcoming titles and I make lists of when they’re available.
    But what if your a fairly new author? I’ve noticed that some authors offer their new works for a short time at a low price which encourages buying and reviewing before they revert to the normal price. One author I follow sent out a message that her new book would be available on Amazon for a low price for 24 hours only.
    My very favourite authors like Stephanie Laurens, Grace Burrowes and Jeri Westerson (medieval mysteries) I preorder. I keep an eye on who they read if that’s made known. I read their blogs or websites from time to time. I subscribe to author’s newsletters. Via twitter I’m picking up more recent information. Thank you Grace Burrowes. I keep an eye on prices. I watch things mentioned in Goodreads newsletter and in groups I belong to.
    I think I discovered both Grace Burrowes and Stephanie Laurens when I saw one of their novels mentioned on Books on the Knob at a low price. I get daily updates from that and another site.
    I hope my small rave hasn’t gone to far off the track.
    How do others decide what to read, or become aware of an author they haven’t read before? How can the reading community help?

  26. Just wanted to say thank you for posting so honestly, and respectfully. Transparency like this is very much needed, and I hope that many others see it can be done respectfully instead of tearing down other publishers/people/ways of doing things.

  27. I took this very strong recommendation straight to my favorite purveyor of instant gratification and bought TLP before even typing this comment. Is this a genre I usually read? No, but I will read anything once, and if I like it, I will seek out more. But probably not in print for this book or any: my house is groaning with the current supply, and the ereader isn’t any heavier.

    @Marie Williams Check with Kobo about becoming a bookstore affiliate. They have a program going in the US where a bookstore that sells a Kobo device gets a cut of all future Kobo sales to that device. If it’s available where you are, you could look like a hero to your current customers and profit from it.

  28. Thanks so much for sharing your numbers and your analysis, Courtney. Sad as the state of traditionally published historical romance is, it feels good to see I wasn’t alone. (Misery loves company, right?) I left Penguin due to falling print runs that seemed hopeless to reverse. For a while there I wondered if maybe I’d made a mistake, but now that ebooks have really taken off, my books are being read by more people than ever–and I couldn’t be happier. 🙂 I’m so grateful that historical romance readers have embraced ebooks.

    Thanks also to all the readers and booksellers here for sharing your feelings about the changing book environment. We authors love hearing your thoughts!

  29. As always, Courtney, thanks for the honest and insightful voicing of something many of us have seen and/or suspected for some time now. I hear readers begging for new, unique, out-of-the-box thing to read, yet I see paper books becoming more and more similar, and fewer. I’m still kind of struggling with this whole chicken-and-egg thing, but I am so glad to see you put the numbers out there and give us opportunity to discuss and to contemplate this. Your candor is refreshing and my reader and my writer selves are happy to realize we are not alone. Thanks!

  30. I had a conversation in Wal-Mart with the person who works for Harlequin in the sense that she actually places the Harlequin books on the shelf. She takes the “old” ones down, rips off the covers and puts cover and book in a box. “When the new ones come out the old ones come down.” She is not allowed to dispose of them in Wal-Mart dumpsters. Is this so they can be counted as returns? It seems like they are appealing to as many customers as there are copies of the “new” book. Then that person returns next month to buy the next “new” one. But, yeah, there are a lot of Wal-Mart’s. But that is your book and potential sale they are removing. Harlequin’s “sales” plan doesn’t seem at all to be about the author. Looking at their formulaic submission guidelines and the number of imprints, it seems kind of shotgun for the author and target for them.

  31. Hi Courtney – Thanks for this wonderful post. I’d heard of Jeannie Lin – I remember Butterfly Swords getting all kinds of buzz – but I hadn’t come across her books lately and I hadn’t thought to go online and look for them. Thanks to your reminder, I just ordered THE LOTUS PALACE. I love discovering new authors and I’m sure I’ll be reading more of her books. I’ve read ALMOST all of your books. I do have an ereader but I still prefer paperbacks, when books are available in book form. I have a lot of books on my Nook, but I miss any books that are Kindle exclusives. I’m sad that so many authors have a rough time bringing their books to the attention of readers, and I feel terrible that fabulous authors are getting paid so little when their books bring me hours of entertainment. Thank you for explaining how this works – I learned a lot!

  32. Excellent post, as usual. I’ve enjoyed Jeannie’s books, not because I saw them on a shelf, but because of the positive reader reviews I’ve seen online. I wish her great success in the future with digital sales. All historical romance authors are struggling with this issue. The only thing I can add about the future of publishing is, no one can say what platform will be used to bring good reading to people, but I’m convinced people will still want to access good reading.

  33. Forget about reading all the publishing industry pundits. Everything you need to know about the future of the publishing industry can be derived from a close reading of eyes.2c’s comment above. I really mean that. She sees the future of publishing more clearly than anyone who speaks at industry conferences like the recently concluded DBW14.

    Want to know why print sales and shelf space are declining? She knows.
    Want to know what will sell in print for the foreseeable future? Look at her list. It’s stuff like that.
    Want to know what works to get readers’ attention? Listen to what she says. And realize that there is still work to do AND readers like her are willing to help. The next big thing in publishing isn’t going to come from the big publishing companies or all the startups hanging around them. It’s going to come from whoever figures out how to help folks like eyes.2c connect with the writers who produce books they want. That ain’t discovery, that’s matchmaking.

  34. Someday, someone with a powerful lawyer significant other is going to finally audit Big Pub and find the ridiculously obvious, blatant thievery that has been going on for a decade now. It is simply not possible for a bestseller acquaintance of mine to sell 24 ebooks in six months, while she sells three times that a DAY with her self-pubs, but that’s what they are claiming and that’s what they are paying her. It is statistically more likely to be hit by lightning while being eaten by a shark.

    The audit is coming. And it won’t be pretty. IMHO.

  35. I posted this to Dear Author but also wanted to post it here from a bookseller’s perspective, especially one who has been involved in a large chain where both your and Jeannie Lin’s books are available for sale… but never stocked in-store.

    Your post is really eye-opening, but not really shocking for me. I worked the holiday season at a large chain bookstore I had worked at three years prior for several years, and the first thing I noticed was that the Romance section had been moved to the very back of the store, had lost the Harlequin endcap of new releases, and the mass-market new releases (that are a paid spot, about 50% romance) had been hidden behind all of the ipads and speakers. Of Historicals, which are my favourites to read, the number had been cut way down and I honestly had a hard time finding any authors I enjoy.

    I asked a couple of managers about it, and they brushed it off as Romance not being that big a genre for the store. Except… I’ve seen the breakdowns at major staff meetings, and it’s been the mover of over 40% of mass markets sold (a whole lot are returned, which is in line with your experience), and something like 30% of all fiction sales (and Fiction is 60% of all store income). That’s an awfully huge slice for something that has only a few shelves devoted to it now! When I brought any of this up I got shrugs and was told it wasn’t a big deal, and I was weird to be defending it as a genre. Anytime I pushed another genre, people would let me put books on display or recommend tabling some new releases, but Romance was always summarily dismissed.

    We had a sad couple of tables for Valentines (yeah January 1st), and when I suggested moving some other authors out there instead of just devoting the entire tables to Fifty Shades of Grey (or Nicholas Sparks, which is never a happy ending) repeated over and over again to move some of the Romance hardcovers and trades, I was told we were just going to return them anyway so not to bother.

    It spoke pretty plainly that the flagship store of the country had zero interest in Romances or the buyers thereof, and seem to expect it to be a self-moving genre — despite both the shrinking shelf space and the lack of interest by staff, which is a full 180 from how the rest of their customer service and genre knowledge is dealt with. When I chatted with people cashing out who were buying romances, they were always surprised when I exclaimed how much I liked an author or a series or wanted to read it instead of just stuffing them face-down into a bag. I had a lovely conversation with a woman who must have been over 80 about the new Mary Balogh, and she said that no one in the store had ever wanted to chat about her with the books she enjoyed. And yet that’s what the staff are supposed to do, find out what customers enjoy, and make recommendations based thereon. The ONLY book resembling a romance that was on display was The Rosie Project, and I hand-sold nearly a hundred copies of it because it was right there on the table, and sold another 80-odd copies of Fangirl to mostly adults. I kept track. I got a letter from the CEO thanking me. But that was somehow attributed to my mind-control selling powers, instead of… people wanting to read about love.

    Sorry for the essay, it was just such an exercise in frustration! I have yet to find a local bookstore that has a romance section at all, except for the thrift stores.

  36. Excellent post! Thank you for sharing! I was a Kensington author and my last series The Cuvier Widows, sold less than 2,000 books and the reason I believe was not because they were bad books, but Kensington got into a fight with their distributor and you couldn’t find the books on the bookshelves. They were nowhere. It’s hard to sell books when the books are not on the shelf for readers to find. That was the end of Kensington career and while at the time, it hurt, now I’m thankful. I’ve changed the covers on the books, changed the series title to The Cuvier Women and they are selling very well on Amazon. I do a better job distributing and selling my books than the publisher did and I’m very proud of that fact.

  37. I’ve noticed that Target never carries the historical Harlequins and that their discounts are now15% instead of 25% on romance paperbacks. Weirdly, my local Kroger has become a much better source for new issues, although you have to move fast because they don’t stock many copies. If ind new books from reviews and especially from comment threads on various romance oriented websites. I bought a kindle paperwhite 18 months ago, and now buy most of my fiction online.

  38. I read both ebooks and print books. I would say overall, I prefer ebooks, but there have been specific books I’ve wanted to buy in print by what I would consider popular authors in historical romance. Unfortunately, when I’ve gone to the store to buy it, they don’t have it. This has happened to me dozens of times. So, I’m to the point now where I just buy them as ebooks and save myself the trouble of searching it out in a store.

  39. This makes me really sad, because I truly dislike reading e-books. As a result I’ve been reading less romance and more of other genres (YA in particular) because the variety available in print seems larger – I hate finding a non 1800s England historical romance only to find it’s e-only, which won’t work for me. I wish more of the e-only books would at least be available as print on demand. I’d happily pay more for a print copy.

  40. Bought it because 1) I only read digital so that works for me, 2) I care about quality books getting a chance to flourish (why does everything need to be so cookie-cutter?), 3) this sucks for the author, 4) I always look for great new writers.

    Thank you for the brilliant post.

  41. I’ve had a $50 Barnes and Noble gift card since Christmas that, as a Kindle user, I couldn’t care less about spending (save that it’s free money and I’m a sucker for things free). Five years ago, I would have been in my local B&N several times a week and that gift card would have vanished in a flash. Now, my thought process is “Well, maybe I can get one of those nice clothbound classics they sell. Or some stationery.” The print books I buy these days are solely for my Keeper Shelf — ones I’ve read as ebooks and loved so much I wanted a physical copy, for my own enjoyment and loaning out to friends. Most of this print shopping is also done online, where I can find the best price. With Amazon Prime and The Book Depository, shipping is free and the prices are usually cheaper than the local or chain bookstores. Even when I do make it to an actual bookstore, I find it almost impossible to just randomly select a new book to try — I’ve come to rely heavily on reviews in selecting what goes in my TBR pile, and without them or a solid recommendation from a trusted source, I’m not willing to spend $8 on a paperback when there are thousands of excellent ebooks for $3.99 or less calling my name. *shrug* My two cents.

    I also bought Jeannie’s book after reading this post, thanks to the instant gratification of having an ereader. That’s something that I’m not able to do with the print version, and honestly, if print had been my only option, I probably would have missed out on what looks like a great book.

  42. Personally, I think it’s wonderful that Historical Authors are taking the plunge/risk and setting stories outside the realms of England/Scotland/Ireland & USA.
    Some of my favourite old reads have been set on/off China – Asian – Indian shores, albeit concerning the silk trade or the Dutch East India company etc. Some had foreign Heroines or Heroes. It was the story I enjoyed.

    I wish Jeannie Lin a world of success.
    Great comments and insights on others experience and views 🙂
    I love your books Courtney, I have several 🙂

  43. Oh I forgot to add, (and someone please tell me if I heard this wrong), when I listened to the fabulous Eloisa James speak at the RWAust on the Gold Coast in 2012, she mentioned that China’s women were steadily buying romance novels & with a country of over 1,360,720,000 people and 48% of them women. That’s a remarkable audience to target and quite a lot of NEW READERS 🙂

  44. Very interesting post Courtney, thank you for speaking out. I’ve been following your blog for a while now although lurking only. I’ll definitely be looking for Jeannie Lin’s books – they sound fascinating, so thanks too for the heads up. When I purchase a book I lean more towards the style of writing / author’s voice and the story line than either the race of the characters or the story setting. Personally I hate the shrinking shelf spaces for books in stores. Browsing bookstores was a favourite pastime of mine – you always found a new author to take home. I cant help wondering what the future holds for books on a whole.

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