Trudi Canavan

bestselling author of The Black Magician Trilogy

Trudi's Blog

Which Brings Me To…

My last post could have been a monster, if I’d tried to tackle all the issues relating to eBooks, piracy and the future of books and authors. I was responding to two things, Robert’s post and the two old blokes I met at a party. Robert’s post was in response to the idea that ‘one of the core conceits behind the notion of “hot new models,” namely that authors will find some way other than royalties from books actually sold to make their livings, and that these opportunities will abound’ (an elephant stamp to everyone who read the post!) Now, I don’t think that authors will have to say goodbye to royalties and start charging $30 a pop for autographs (and you can’t sign an eBook), as is the accepted practise in other industries. But I saw in Robert’s post many points that agreed with my own fear that the quality of books is going to head downward, and I brought up the Two Old Pirates (arrrrh!) to lead into the same idea about book quality.

I was curious to see what reaction I’d get from commenters. So now here are a few answers and thoughts in response to them.

Are Books Too Expensive in Australia?
Maybe. But I am not surprised that they are more expensive. Firstly, we’re a small market off the beaten track, and transporting smaller amounts of anything usually costs more. Secondly, the rising costs of paper and fuel have probably made books more costly (and sometimes the exchange rate makes Aussie books look a lot more expensive than os books than they really are). Thirdly, I’ll go back to the quality issue. When I first received the US edition of The Magicians’ Guild I was surprised at how much smaller it was and how awful the paper was. I set it on display and within two weeks the paper had turned a tea-brown colour. The UK paperbacks are much thicker, the paper is nice and they only go a teensy bit discoloured after some years. The Australian edition is close to the UK one, though they don’t hold up quite as well.

Do you want your books to turn brown? Do you care if they fall apart? Maybe you don’t, but if you do, you might not get much choice if book prices are forced downward. You could try ordering online – but how will you be able to tell how good the paper and binding is until it arrives?

Libraries, Second-Hand Books & Lending Books to Friends – Is Piracy Any Different?
Libraries, the second-hand market and sharing books are things have been in place for years – centuries, even – and authors and publishing has survived despite them. Ebook piracy is new, and despite all the ‘we/I don’t think it’ll have any effect’ claims I hear from readers and optimists all the time, nobody really knows what the effect will be. We’re all guessing.

In Australia we have a system called ELR and PLR that compensate authors a little for having their books in libraries. I don’t know if this exists elsewhere. I have never resented the library system, second-hand bookshops or people borrowing books from friends and family. In fact, I’m all for it. You see, like many authors, there was a time when I earned very little money. Even when I was writing my fifth or sixth book I was earning less than the minimum wage. Borrowing or buying second-hand was the only way I could support my reading hobby, though I always supported authors I knew or really liked by buying new books – from the independent booksellers who supported me.

The low quality of the US books bothers me because they won’t last as long, and that’s wasteful. Personally, I’d rather books were more expensive and shared than cheaper and thrown away, even if that meant I’d earn less in the long run.

The main difference between a library, second-hand or borrowed-from-a-friend book and a pirated book that the former was bought at least once. And piracy just doesn’t have the same warm and fuzzy, community spirit thing going as sharing does. One involves taking, the other involves giving.

I’m very intrigued by the response of the booksellers. Surely eBooks are a threat to your industry, since you are the ‘middlemen’ they will eliminate? Still, I don’t think paper books will ever be completely replaced by electronic – well, until the day paper’s scarcity makes it too expensive, and I reckon a paper substitute will be found before that happens.

How much is a book worth?
This is the thorny issue, isn’t it? People assume that if you get rid of printing and transportation costs, books should be a lot cheaper. But most people don’t know what’s involved in making a book, let alone how much each stage costs. That’s a subject for another post – probably by someone who knows more about the numbers than I do. However, printing for most books is done by low paid workers, and with electronic books you replace them with higher paid tech workers, new technology and the costs of trying to thwart piracy.

And then there’s another added cost. In every product you buy in a shop, a certain amount is added to the price to compensate for theft. Even with paper books, theft is amazingly prevalent. The same will have to apply with electronic books. If piracy is easier with eBooks, then it’ll happen more often and the price has to go up even more.

To Sum Up
As I said in the last post, I’m neither an optimist or a pessimist. I don’t believe doomsday predictions that say publishing and books will die. I don’t think there’ll be no effect at all. I think the market will decide. If it costs more to produce a book than it can be sold for, then either the price will rise or the production costs will be cut. These days customers have the expectation that they have a right to demand ever lower prices, without ever considering that this might come back to bite them.

Ultimately, you get what you pay for.

The Future of Books and Authors

Like many authors and people interested in the future of books and publishing, I have been reading a lot of articles and blog posts about eBooks, piracy and such lately. I’m the sort who prefers good sturdy statistical facts and predictions grounded in reality by people familiar with the industry, over wishful thinking and doomsday predictions.

I think this post by Robert J. Sawyer hits the nail on the head, so to speak:

Are the days of the full-time novelist numbered?

And particularly how he sums up:

Maybe we will all indeed still be smiling as writing sf shifts from a career to a hobby. Still, lengthy, ambitious, complex works — works that take years of full-time effort to produce such as, say, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, or, if I may be so bold, my own WWW trilogy of Wake, Watch, and Wonder — aren’t things that could have been produced in any kind of reasonable time by squeezing in an hour’s writing each day over one’s lunch break while working a nine-to-five job.

On the weekend I had an interesting conversation with a couple of old blokes at a party, one who proudly declared that he downloaded torrents of all the books he reads and never pays for them (Old Guy #1), the other who downloads most, but still buys his favourites because he loves the feel and smell of books (Old Guy #2).

As Paul pointed out later, how long would Old Guy #2 last if he did the same thing in restaurants, only paying for the meals he really liked? But what amused me most was that he went on to declare that publishing companies don’t support new writers (untrue, but I won’t go into that now). This from the person who only buys the best books, never considering that he may be supporting a lesser proportion of new writers – because writers get better with practise.

Old Guy #1 was more interesting in that his excuse for pirating books was that ‘publishing companies are exploiting us all – which is why books are so expensive’ (again, untrue and not where I want to go in this post). Even more interesting was that he gave no evidence of it, and dismissed everything thing he was told to the contrary. You can’t argue with people like Old Guy #1, but you can, if you’re evil like me, prod and study them for your own nefarious purposes. I know there are plenty of people like him out there. (Heck, I reckon there’s a little bit of a pirate in nearly everyone. While I don’t download anything – not even tv shows – I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the only way I’m going to get to see some tv shows not available here in Australia is if I borrow a downloaded copy from a friend, and then I’ll buy it if it’s ever made available on dvd.)

What I’d like to see, is for people to buy electronic books for a price that pays everyone involved a reasonable amount.

Like Old Guy #2, I like the physical experience of good old fashioned paper and glue books, but there has always been a guilt factor involved with issues around logging, toxic waste produced in making paper, carbon miles in transportation, and low-paid workers. Electronic books could be a solution. Not a perfect one – there are still those pesky devices with their ecological issues, and exploited workers. A change for the better would be great.

But I don’t see that happening. It’s too easy to pirate eBooks, too hard to stop it, and problems with availability in different regions will make it feel justified as it has with tv shows. What I think is this: people care as much about the makers of books as they do about the makers of clothing. Some people may care, perhaps a few act by buying ‘fair trade’ goods, but most won’t so long as they pay less – and feel justified in doing so. Clothing these days is cheap and doesn’t last long. I suspect books will go the same way – the quality will suffer.

Why do I believe this? Firstly, writing books takes a long time – it takes me about a year full-time to write one. Getting good at it takes even longer. In his book about success, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explores the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to become truly good at something. That’s 3 hours a day, 333 days a year for ten years. (I chose a 3 hour writing day because most writers don’t make enough money to write full time.) Also consider that most writer’s careers start later in life, when they have families and house mortgages to support – and in the fantasy field they are often ‘new’ writers with great potential to be ‘great writers’. You get really good at writing a lot faster if you don’t have to write, as Robert says, ‘by squeezing in an hour’s writing each day over one’s lunch break while working a nine-to-five job’.

Secondly, in my experience, writers of good books are nearly always really smart, talented people. Smart enough to know when writing books has become too much of a bad deal to be worth doing as anything more than a hobby. Talented enough that they have other skills they can turn into careers – profitable careers. Basically, they’ll find something else to do.

Lastly, the above also applies to editors. IMHO, if you’ve ever pirated a book, you’ve lost any right to complain about typos and errors in them, in any format. Ever. Editors are the unsung heros of publishing.

If books do go the way of clothing, it could be that really good books will go the way of good quality clothing – produced by high end publishers and priced way out of the reach of the average reader. But that may be stretching the analogy too far.

Final Giveaway – Turkish editions

This week I’m having my last giveaway, and the books that are up for grabs are Turkish editions of the Black Magician Trilogy:

I have two sets of to give away. Leave a comment saying you’d like a set. I’ll email you to get your address, then sign the books and send them off. It will take around three months for the books to get to you. Please, don’t comment if you don’t speak/read Turkish! I want these books to go to people who will have the enjoyment of reading them.

And no, I don’t have any other books in other languages, including English, to give away at the moment!

(And as before, if you leave a comment just saying you like my books, I’ll assume you meant to leave it in the guestbook.)

Published Or Not Interview

From left to right: Chris, me, Michael and Jan.

I had a lovely time at 3CR today. Chris Ritter interviewed me first, and we could easily have filled the whole half hour. But then I’d have missed out on hearing Jan talking with Michael Wagner about his new book for teens – which sounds like a great, funny book.

To listen to a podcast of the show, follow the link to the station’s website and click on the Podcasts link on the left. Then look for the show ‘Published or Not’. If the episode isn’t up yet, it should be soon.

Radio Interview on 3CR

A quick post, because I have vertigo today and typing isn’t helping…

Tomorrow I’ll be on the radio! Jan Goldsmith will be interviewing me on her show ‘Published Or Not’, on Melbourne’s 3CR at 11:30 am.

Another Giveaway – Czech editions

Once again, I’m giving away foreign editions in order to make room on my bookshelves. This time they’re Czech editions:

I have three sets of The Black Magician Trilogy with bonus copy of Priestess of the White (first book of the Age of the Five trilogy) to give away.

All you have to do is be one of the first three people to leave a comment saying you’d like a set. I’ll email you to get your address. Based on the last batch I sent off, it will take around three months for the books to get to you. (I’m sending them sea mail, because air mail costs about the same as the books do!)

Please, don’t comment if you don’t speak/read Czech! I want these books to go to people who will have the enjoyment of reading them.

(Also, if you leave a comment just saying you like my books, I’ll assume you meant to leave it in the guestbook. This does happen quite a bit.)

German Edition of The Ambassador’s Mission

Look what turned up yesterday: a shiny new copy of The Ambassador’s Mission – in German. I love the cover!

Thanks to everyone who requested a set of Polish editions, and sorry to those who missed out. I have the books all wrapped up and sitting by the front door, waiting to be taken to the post office.

It’s always lovely to give books to people, and I have a lot of excess copies of foreign editions of my books (I always keep one), so I might be doing a few more giveaways in the next few weeks, depending on how hectic thing get as the deadline for The Rogue approaches. Only next time I’ll get someone else to do all the packaging up. (Hi Paul!)

Polish Editions Giveaway

Recently a little box of books arrived for me containing a copy each of the Polish editions of the Age of the Five, as well as the audio edition of The Magicians’ Guild.

Now, getting these to fit on the bookcase isn’t easy, as I have a lot of author copies taking up space. So I figured the best way to make room was to have a giveaway. This is whats up for grabs:

Giveaway One:

Giveaway Two and Three:

So, that’s three sets of four books. One containing the Black Magician Trilogy and The Magicians’ Apprentice. Two containing the Black Magician Trilogy and Priestess of the White.

What do you have to do to have one of these sets of books? Nothing except to leave your name in the comments. If you would prefer one set over another, let me know, but otherwise the sets go to the first people to comment. I’ll get in contact with you to get your address, then I’ll sign all the books and send them to you.

It’s that easy!

The books have all been claimed. Thank you to everyone who commented!

Victoria Gardens A&R Signing

A big thank you to the staff at Victoria Gardens Angus & Robertson, especially to Terry who organised the event (and for posing with me for the photo!). They were very friendly and were all prepared with a table, huge display and even a mike to announce the signing.

Thanks, too, to all the people who stopped to say hello, buy a book and have their books signed. I enjoyed a lovely chat with all of you. And thanks to Janet for coming back to keep me company toward the end and while I was signing the rest of the stock.

I signed plenty, too! So if you’re after a freshly signed copy of one of my books, Victoria Gardens Angus & Robertson (Victoria, Australia) is the place to go. (There weren’t many of The Magician’s Apprentice, though, so if that’s the one you’re after it would be a good idea to ring and reserve a copy.)

Signing at Angus & Robertson

Mad deadline chasing season is upon me. I have three months to finish The Rogue, which means I’ll be focused mainly on writing (although I’ll be taking breaks to allow my back to recover) for that time. I’ve made only a couple of exceptions to the ‘nothing but writing’ rule…

This coming Saturday (the 5th) I’ll be signing books at the Victoria Gardens Angus & Robertson store from 12 noon to 1:30 pm. Here’s the address:

Shop F11 Victoria Gardens Shopping Centre
Cnr Burnley & Victoria Streets
Richmond, 3121
Victoria, Australia
Phone: 03 9421 8817

And yes, it’s the shopping centre with IKEA. I might have to try the swedish meatballs everyone raves so much about.