They Hunger: Reality Bites
By Scott Nicholson
There’s a book of mine still in print that I don’t talk much about.
It’s called They Hunger. Yep, it’s got fangs on the front. My editor encouraged me to “try a vampire novel.” Generally, when your editor suggests something, you pretty much figure it’s an indirect order. If you don’t do it, your manuscript will get a chilly reception and may even get turned down and you’ll have wasted months of writing. And you also hope if you get the editor on your side, that means shiny happy smiles when the editor is going around the publishing house telling everyone about how timely and trendy your book is, such a brilliant idea that it was amazing anyone thought of it.
Idiot me, I could never do anything the normal way. I should have just had some Romeo with fangs walking around feeling guilty for his undead manliness. Instead, I couldn’t even write a “straight vampire.” Not, I didn’t write a gay Romeo, though that would have probably sold better, too. I had to go and invent a hillbilly chupacabra, a long-hidden species that just happens to have some vampiric qualities, at least enough to justify a cover that looks like a vampire novel. (Look, that book was going to have fangs on the cover even if I’d written the sequel to Moby Dick.)
So I made it a thriller, not paranormal romance, with the ticking clock and high stakes and hero/antagonist, just like they teach you in thriller school. And I set it in the remote Appalachian Mountains. Had the FBI agents, a manhunt for a deranged killer, an experimental rafting expedition. A religious overtone (a few of my books have those.)
Oh, there is romance, all right, and even some S-E-X. And I like the whole “Deliverance with fangs” angle, and even played it up as a vampire thriller because vampires didn’t really need any explanation. I think Publisher’s Weekly even called it a “thrilling, romance-free vampire blah blah” or something like that.
It has all the ingredients for a brisk pot-boiler. Everyone who ever read it said it was a no-brainer movie sale. Except my agent at the time. But I am 99 percent certain he never read it.
It may sound like I’m down on the book. I actually like it. And I’ve written a movie script for it, and we’re adapting a graphic novel. Except for those projects I am using my preferred, original title of “The Gorge.” Yeah, a double meaning because of the rafting thing. I’m a genius, right? Only the dumbest genius ever.
I think it’s a tightly plotted book with interesting but not overly complex characters, though I will certainly revise it once it is mine again, because at least one sex scene is purely gratuitous and made no sense in the overall plot situation where it occurs. Of course, I do get to shape the screenplay and comics versions to fit those formats and I can take out some of the flaws. But there’s something else about the book that seems weird.
Sure, my name is on it, and I wrote it, but it’s somebody else’s. It is licensed to Kensington Books, a reputable publisher who paid me an advance and did all the usual respectable things publishers do and don’t do for midlist authors. I really have no complaints at all about the treatment of it. Just more grist for the mill.
But it doesn’t feel like mine because I’m not likely to ever earn back my advance and the rights won’t revert until 2014. I can’t control anything about its fate at this point. I’m losing a good bit of money now by not having that book, and most importantly, I am losing readers, even though it’s the book of mine you’re most likely to find in a bookstore.
They Hunger is the only one of my six novels Kensington made available as an Amazon e-book. It’s usually priced around $5.50 or so, not much different from the paperback. Yeah. Right. Not much different from the paperback.
The publisher clearly doesn’t care about it, if the publisher even remembers it exists, and the book doesn’t even have a product description on its page. Someone just dumped in the PW review and left it at that.
So hardly anyone buys the e-book. It currently ranks somewhere around #150,000, though I’ve only checked it once since back in the spring when I was comparing stats for an “Indie Author vs. Major Publisher” thread I was doing in the Amazon Kindle forum.
I have a pretty good idea of sales rates for a book depending upon its usual ranking. An e-book ranked that high is lucky to be selling a copy a week.
So we are both losing sales. If it were mine, I would drop the price to $2.99 and encourage more readers to try it. I’d make about the same amount of money, maybe a little more at the lower price. (I was one of those “lucky” writers who signed for a 50/50 split of electronic sales, which would have been a good deal if they had ever actually sold some e-books).
But now it almost feels like not only an orphan but the enemy. Competition. People who buy They Hunger could have bought two or more of my own e-books instead. And that is just one of the weird side effects of this entire era. Because I have zero incentive to spend energy, much less money, promoting that book.
(SUBLIMINAL MESSAGE—buy it anyway. The mass-market paperback will one day be a rare collector’s item, and the story is pretty fast and good, and I think I used the line “You got a purty mouth.”)
Even if the book took off and sold out, no way would Kensington order another print run. I’d still never make any more money off of it. And in case you’re thinking I’m a greedy, ungrateful writer, I went to the wall for my publisher, doing hundreds of store signings out of my own pocket, printing up and mailing lots of promotional material, sending out my own review copies, and even buying a few banner ads here and there. I even gave away three of my permanent teeth—yes, real teeth—as a promotional gimmick. Yeah, even though I was only making 8 percent of the cover price.
Today, making 100 percent of net proceeds, it makes sense to advertise, promote, and polish all of my books at once, the way any business would. Emphasis there on “my.”
One day They Hunger will be mine and be out as The Gorge in a low-priced e-book, and it will again be part of my family, maybe even without fangs on the cover. Hopefully with a cover featuring the blockbuster movie poster. And I’ll write up a thrilling, descriptive synopsis for its product pages.
That’s when I will sucker you—er, entice you—into trying it. Maybe non-romantic vampire-creature thrillers will be popular then, and maybe it will be a hit in its reincarnated life. Maybe not, but I will rewrite it to fit whatever I think I’ve learned in the meantime. So either way, I’ll be happier.
They’d probably kick me out of the writer’s union if I was the first author since Gutenberg ever to say, “Hey, don’t buy my book.”
So I won’t say that.
Hey, look! Is that a squirrel? Or is it the The Red Church for only 99 cents?
Scott Nicholson is author of Speed Dating with the Dead, Drummer Boy, and 10 other novels, five story collections, four comics series, and six screenplays. A journalist and freelance editor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, he often uses local legends in his work. This tour is sponsored by Amazon, Kindle Nation Daily, and Dellaster Design.
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