Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

Audio and other formats

Production has started on the audio version of BLACK RUN. It’s in the eminently capable hands of Audible, and I’ll be announcing the narrator shortly. It’s a very long book even by my standards – about 18% longer than GOING GREY – so if you’re one of those people who listens while you drive, you’d better start route planning for Land’s End to John O’Groats now. It isn’t abridged. Abridgement is the handiwork of Beelzebub as far as I’m concerned, so you’ll be getting the full-tar version.

Would-be writers often ask me how long a book should be, and I always say the ideal length is as long as you need to tell the story. Having dished out that sage advice, I then spent too long trying to cut BLACK RUN to an arbitrary length for no good reason before taking my own advice, putting the proverbial blue pencil aside, and letting it be whatever it wanted to be. The only physical constraint on the length of a book, apart from the reader’s patience, is manufacturing. You’re going to run into binding problems eventually. Digital books can run as long as they need to, though. So in some ways, the choice of available formats can shape the book’s content.

In traditional publishing, authors don’t usually have control over formats, sometimes with results that do neither the writer nor the customer any favours. (See the FAQ on abridged audio books.) Nobody would take a painting and strip out most of the colour to make it cheaper or more convenient to reproduce as a print, so why do it to a book? You lose too much in the reduction. It’s de-enriched, no matter how well done the abridgement is. The author has decided those words need to be there for a reason. Any that aren’t required are taken out at the editing stage, not on publication. If there are too many, that’s the reader’s verdict to pass: but anything that’s abridged is essentially a different work.

I know many indie authors don’t bother with physical editions and only publish digitally, where most of their sales are. It’s certainly less hassle. But as long as offering dead tree versions doesn’t make me run at a loss, I’ll always provide at least a paperback edition. Real books are good to handle, dress a shelf well, and look way better gift-wrapped than a digital download. There’ll always be a market for them. For those of you who’ve asked me for hardcover editions, I’m now looking again at the feasibility. When I last checked it out, my work was generally over the page limit for short print runs even before I started worrying about the retail price. But the industry’s changing all the time, and it now looks like there’s a chance a hardcover might be practical.

It’s not going to be cheap, because we indies don’t have the purchasing power and big print runs of a multi-billion dollar publishing house, but if you’re paying $22 for a trade paperback then you’ve already bitten the bullet and paid a premium for a physical format. That $22, by the way, will be within a few cents of the absolute minmum I can sell a TPB for – CreateSpace sets the minimum price, presumably to maintain the free-upfront service. Other printer-distributors have different business models based on authors paying for set-up and/ or buying stock, which means you could make a real loss. At the moment I’m working through different companies’ costings, which vary more than I’d imagined. I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

In the meantime, I’m working on the next couple of books – SACRIFICIAL RED, and a new universe – and a comic series. More on that later.