Krill: n. principal food of baleen whales

This morning a reader sent me a note saying, “I read the electronic versions of your books and I have an appeal to make to you: could you tell your publisher that there is no reason to price the e-book version $3 more than the paperback?”

I couldn’t decide if I should laugh or cry.

It would be difficult to underestimate the influence that individual writers have on the industries we feed. Screenwriters, newspaper writers, novelists,  textbook writers… We are krill in our ecosystem: necessary, but at the bottom of the food chain. I’ve often heard screenwriters complain about how nothing would happen in Hollywood without them. Producers and actors and directors would starve. Studios would go under. The economy of California (such as it is) would stagger in their absence. And yet, when the script is finally made, it becomes

A Hugh Fennyman Production


Mr. Henslowe’s Presentation


the Admirall’s Men

in performance of the

excellent and Lamentable Tragedie


Romeo and Juliet

with Mr. Fennyman as the Apothecary

at 3:00 this afternoon.

Not even Shakespeare got any respect — that’s the implication of  Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard’s superb screenplay Shakespeare in Love.

The reality is that an author’s suggestions about things like ebooks prices (or the cast of a movie, for that matter) are of zero interest to the people who make those decisions. The pricing of ebooks is currently central to an enormous legal and economic battle in which publishers, online booksellers, independent bookseller associations, giant chain stores, and the Authors Guild all have teams of lawyers. As a dues-paying member of the Authors Guild, I’ve received a series of long articles detailing what the disagreements are about, and what’s good or bad for writers. I’ve made an honest attempt to understand all this, but it’s like reading an algebra text. My eyes glaze over. I rely on the judgment of my wonderful agent Jane Dystel. She gets me the best contracts possible; I sign whatever she sends me.

People often ask me what I think of ebooks in general. My stock answer has been, “I have friends who love them and friends who loathe them.  I don’t need a tree to die for my prose, so whatever you choose is fine.”

Recently, however, the Authors Guild weighed in on this and from  what I’ve read it appears that publishers always do much better when you buy an ebook, whereas authors do better when you buy a physical book. Publishers need to make money and the industry has been under terrible pressure for a number of years. That said, you’re supporting a lot of American jobs when you buy a physical book.

My ambition is to write books that you will want to hold in your hands and keep on your shelves and reread someday.  And I’ll tell you something you might not know. The initial sales of each book determine the fate of the next one for writers like me, who get contracts for every book separately. In a real sense, when you buy an unused book, you are voting YES on its author’s future in the publishing industry. So, for a lot of reasons, I hope you’ll buy  the hardcover of Doc — early and often!

Remember: Father’s Day is coming. I’m just saying…

7 thoughts on “Krill: n. principal food of baleen whales”

  1. Great post, Mary — gives me more reason to stick with my beloved printed books! See you at the reading May 3rd!

  2. I find myself constantly torn on this subject. I am an avid reader, and *nothing* gives me more pleasure than cracking open a newly purchased book. It is a joy to me.

    However, I am well aware that the human race is straining the resources of our planet and only home, so I also have an e-Book reader and I download books that I don’t love quite as much as others.

    Mary, I will probably never download anything you write; that’s all I can say 🙂

  3. Thanks for the reminder about father’s day. Your books will be perfect: The Sparrow + Children of God for my wacky father in law (not haha wacky but genius wacky), Doc for my father, who likes westerns and looks like he stepped right out of the old west (I’m secretly happy that mustaches are making a comeback as my daddy always had one) and for my quiet step father in law who would simply just love the story.

    As far as real books vs. ebooks go…I was totally against until I got my Kindle. Man, I really like that thing. I enjoy being able to have so many books at my fingertips all at once. The biggest pro I can think of is that we have the kindle app on our ipad so my husband and I can read books together…when I highlight he sees that and visa versa. This is especially awesome when we’re reading non-fiction, such as the one we’re reading now about parenting kids with ADD. For some reason it’s easier to collaborate on book reading this way.

    That being said, I’ve pre-purchased two copies of DOC already but will also get it on my kindle, too. Not only because I’ve been admonished by this wonderful author one time regarding royalties but also because I understand how important these things are a little better now that my husband has albums for sale.

    The funny thing is that digital copies are hardly selling at all, whereas physical copies go like hotcakes at his shows. He gets the benefit of proving his talent on stage whereas people have to go off of your reviews or just take the plunge and buy your book. It’s apples and oranges, I know, but still, both careers are reliant on people wanting to take a part of you home with them. That’s scary.

    I never realized how many middle-men there are between you and your book on the shelf! Thank goodness for good agents, huh?

  4. As a soon-to-be-unemployed bookseller, I have often been yelled at by customers over the price of a hardcover. Since I’m losing my job on Saturday I regret that I never told those customers “I don’t set the prices, they’re printed on the book, and I will see less than a penny of your purchase so please don’t take out your anger on me.”
    I own an e-reader, bought on sale at my closing store, but I’ve yet to use it. I read computer screens all day and when I want to relax at home, I don’t want to do it looking at another screen. There is a great quote about reading actual books in the fabulous kids novel Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

    “If you take a book with you on a journey,…an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it…yes, books are like flypaper–memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.”

    With all the destructive things we humans are doing to our planet, I doubt that print books are the root of the problem. They will be the salvation of humanity, should we ever choose to grow up.

  5. appears that publishers always do much better when you buy an ebook

    that should be a even bigger YES on the author’s future then!

  6. To those who read electronic
    To hold a real book is a tonic
    And Russell’s ahead
    With Doc Sparrow and Thread
    And renders all others colonic

    I call it Father’s Day. I’m just saying…

Leave a Comment