Buy my book

This post is brought to you by the phrase, “…but don’t start here. . .” 

A discussion began on Facebook re: reader reviews, honesty, why books do — or don’t — get published, and how writers earn money.  I reacted emotionally to the continued beat of, “It’s a good book, but you can’t start here,” and I said I would try to explain why that was.  Follows the explanation.

For those who may be alarmed by some of the comments made below:  you are in no immediate danger of losing Liad.  We have five Liaden books under contract as I write this.

The discussion has run a little long, but I hope you’ll stick with me.

Let’s do this thing.


As most people reading here know, Steve Miller and Sharon Lee (that’s me) have been mostly writing in a big, sprawling space opera universe that they built all by their onesies back in the mid-1980s (in the last century; when what portable phones there were weighed more than a beagle, and the overwhelming majority of civilians had landlines (we won’t go into party lines, your head would explode); impact printers walked the earth, dispensing text from 9 to 24 pins; 300-baud was considered Quite the Thing, modem-wise; and you could smoke cigarettes anydamnwhere you pleased and be thought So Cool).

Lee and Miller’s first book, establishing that sprawling space opera geography, which later became known as the Liaden Universe® — was written in 1984 and published in 1988.  It was titled Agent of Change.  Yesterday, July 5, the 19th novel in the Liaden Universe® was released.  It is titled Alliance of Equals.

We repeatedly make the case that the Liaden Universe® novels are not a series, which is to say, they are not necessarily sequential, though some are, and form mini-series within the whole tapestry.  The books tend to follow the doings of a particular set of Liadens called Clan Korval, with a penchant for trouble.  Just to keep you on your toes — sometimes we write about characters and situations that are not about Clan Korval.  For a complete explanation of our books and universe and how the books fit together, see this page.

In the 28 years since the first book was published, the Universe has gained many readers, and fans. This is Good and Wonderful.  We are grateful to the readers and fans of the Liaden Universe® who twice brought our career back from the dead, and allowed us to continue writing in our universe.

Now, back in the day, after we had died the first time, there were only three books in the Universe:  Agent of Change, Conflict of Honors, Carpe Diem.  Readers and fans encouraged other readers by telling them to start with Agent of Change and continue.  This was reasonable; the Whole Liaden Universe® at that time was contained in three +/- 100,000 word novels.  Any reader worth their salt could polish them off over a weekend.

Came our first resurrection, which saw the reprinting of the first three novels, and the publication of ten new novels.  Long-time readers, whose mass market paperbacks of the first three Liaden novels had long since been read to pieces, snatched  up the reprints and pushed them to their friends, who may have missed them the first time around.  The subsequent novels continued the pattern.

Then we died again, not for very long this time, and we continued to write in our big sprawly space opera universe.  As I said, the 19th novel just came out; there are three novels’ worth of short stories published in three collections, and there may eventually be a fourth, since we can’t seem to break ourselves of the habit of writing short stories.

Now — leaping back in time to 1988, 1989. . .the reason that there was no fourth Liaden book in 1990, was that the first three books did not have numbers.  This means, nobody bought our books.  Which was — according to those very numbers, which the publisher shared with us — true by the standards of the mass market standards of the time.

Imagine our surprise, then, when we learned, after the internet finally arrived in Maine and those readers and fans of the first three books found us — a lot more people — a whole lot more people — had read our books than had bought them.

How was this possible?  Well, the folks who had bought the books lent them to their friends, of course, just like anybody does, when they find a book they like a lot.

As one person told me, when we were still in our first, decade-long death:  “Everybody knew there would be more Liaden books, because they were so much fun!  We were really sad when there weren’t any more.”


Which brings us to the title of this post.

Buy my books.

There is a reason why authors say, “Buy my books,” and not necessarily, “Read my books.”  It’s a low, unworthy, venal reason, that ought to have no place in the House of Art, but here it is —

Authors get paid when somebody buys their book.  It’s a simple transaction:  You buy a book, we get our percent, and we go away.  Afterward, you can read that book a million times and we don’t earn one cent more.  Unless, of course, you buy another copy of the book for some reason, or recommend it to a like-minded friend, who then buys their own copy.

But, wait!  There’s more.

Publishers are not satisfied if readers buy one book out of 19.  Publishers are very zen creatures, living in the moment.  It’s nice if the backlist sells, but that’s free money, in a sense.  What they need to keep an eye on is how this book sells. And if it doesn’t sell well, and is seen, perhaps, to be one of several in a row that have not sold well (where “well” is a moving target decided by the publisher), then. . . Understand, that the House guards the House’s profit, as is only meet.  If a series does less-well enough, and it’s no longer profitable for the House — the House kills the series.

No, really; it does happen.  Be honest — have you not, yourself, been enchanted by the first two books of a trilogy, and been seriously annoyed — at the author — when the third book is never published?  Sometimes, yes, this is the author’s fault, but not always.  I would go so far as to say, not usually.

So, real harm is done — not just to the authors, but to readers of particular series, or universes — if the chorus upon every new book hitting the shelves is. . .but don’t start here.

To bring this back to the personal — Steve and I are not idiots.  We have written portal books into the Liaden Universe®; we layer backstory into every book — both to remind existing readers of various details, and to clue new readers in.  It is possible for a new reader to read the 19th book (for instance), and follow the story.  Even, possibly, we hope, enjoy the story.  No, they will not know everything and everyone from all the rest of the previous stories, but I put it to you —

When you first read Agent of Change, or whichever Liaden book you did read first — did you know every single bit of backstory?  All of Val Con’s relatives?  The place of Korval in the trade culture of the universe?  Did that stop you from enjoying the story?  Or did you want to know more?

Now, I understand that people want to be truthful; they don’t want to mislead other readers.  That’s honorable, and I salute you.

Some readers will, indeed, be put off if they aren’t given all the backstory at once.  I’m certain people stopped reading Agent of Change, ‘way back last century because we didn’t explain enough up front.  Why am I certain?  Because people have said as much to me, or around me.  And that’s OK; we don’t all like to read the same thing; we all have different comfort levels and different things that we want from our pleasure reading.

But, I think you’re shortchanging the intelligence, resilience, and story-sense of a whole bunch of potential readers by actively discouraging them to try the Liaden Universe®, at whatever point they care to enter.  I think that they deserve the chance to try, and see what happens.

I will tell you that I — we get to see the royalty statements, after all.  We get the checks, and we can look back and see what the check for last year’s book was, and how many sold in the first period — I have seen a worrisome (to me; I worry; it’s my job). . .downturn in the first reported sales of Dragon in Exile, which is possibly the first Liaden novel to have a concerted. . .but don’t start here! campaign brought against it by readers and reviewers.

Now, there are many other reasons for a book to experience low(er) sales.  We may have written a lousy book.  The title might have turned readers off.  The cover art might not have spoken to folks who would potentially enjoy the story.  The economy sucked and book-buying budgets went down the drain.  There are lots of reasons why some books do less-well than others.

But, the reality is: if people don’t buy our books, if readers are discouraged from buying the new book — we’re dead again, as authors.

For those of you who remember landlines and party lines. . .The tradition we and the Liaden Universe® come from is that of Andre Norton, whose many novels took place in a full-realized universe.  Has anyone seen a review of an Andre Norton book that included. . .but don’t start here?

Robert Heinlein came to the realization that a “universe” was a desirable thing very late in his career, and his attempts to cobble up his work into a cohesive universe was not, imho, very successful, but!  Do people write reviews of Heinlein novels that include. . .but don’t start here?  (Leaving aside those folks who think you shouldn’t read Heinlein at all.)

. . .I’ve been mulling over the reviews garnered by some of our colleagues.  Lois Bujold is probably doing the closest to what we’re trying to do in the Liaden Universe®, in writing novels as they occur — which is to say “out of order.”  And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a review of one of her books that said. . .but don’t start here.  There are many, many, many authors writing multi-books series — and remember, the Liaden Universe® is not a trad series — and I don’t see. . .but don’t start here.

Steve and I are, I think, doing something unique in the field, and we’ve been doing it for 28 years.  It’s hard to be unique in publishing, because unique is difficult to explain, and because unique doesn’t fit into the cozy little sub-genres the bookstores invented to make business easy on themselves.  And, if you do something for 28 years, you tend to be trivialized by. . .people who Form Opinions based on Their Opinions.  Oh, that’s Lee and Miller doing That Thing that they do. Bodice rippers in space.  Too bad they don’t have any original ideas. . .

So. . .you who are readers of — who are friends of — Liad. . .by all means write reviews, and share your honest opinion of our work with other readers.  Especially share your opinion of the newest Liaden adventure, along with, perhaps, one of two of your personal favorites.  If you liked the book, say so.  If you didn’t like the book, say so.

But, please, don’t tell people not to read our newest book.

Thanks for listening.



29 thoughts on “Buy my book”

  1. Time to go buy more books, my shelves have some depletions from giving away copies again.

    But…people do indeed suggest new readers not start with certain of Lois’ books. Memory is one…I think, even Herself has suggested that it isn’t the best place to start.

  2. Yes, buy books! I don’t know how many duplicate copies I have bought of books I like – the hard cover ones for me (now signed editions, keep your cotton-picking hand off of them, son), soft cover to lend (result of not getting books back, because the new reader kept them). Read them in any order and enjoy!

  3. I found Liad at the library. I checked out Liaden books over and over again. One day, I discovered that the library no longer had my favorite Liaden books. I decided that I just needed to buy them because I read them so much. But wait. What do you mean they are out of print? WHAT? I scrambled to find them. By the time I had gathered most of them, I found out that they were being re-released. Whew! And better yet, NEW ones were coming! Ever since then, I BUY your books. There are few authors that I actually buy. But you are among the ones that I do. I don’t have space nor budget for anything more.

    Funny you should mention Bujold. I believe I picked the worst book to begin with her. I’m sure that fans loved A Civil Campaign when it came out. It is smack dab in the middle of all things Miles. That is where I started and I almost didn’t make it through the beginning. By the end I was hooked and really enjoyed filling in the back story with subsequent books. I agree with you that reading “in order” isn’t necessarily necessary.

    I’m glad you two have enjoyed resurrections and hope that you experience continued success. I plan to do my part!

  4. Buy bound book for shelf, ebook for unexpected waits, audiobook for traveling, knitting and gardening company, the chapbooks, the old collections, the new collections – under no circumstances find yourself without Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

    I started Liad with Agent of Change, discovered through a discussion on Elizabeth Moon’s Paks blog. However, I started the Vorkosigan series with the wedding novella in a collection, and went out to find the rest; surely the LAST place anyone would have suggested as a beginning to that series and yet I was hooked. I also own them in all formats. And the Paks series.

  5. I’m trying to think if I have ever said ‘don’t start here’. Probably. Some authors tell one story over several books, and it really does make a difference. But that’s not true with your Liaden novels. The two of you seem to manage to tell several stories in one book.
    I came late to the books. I’m pretty sure I read Agent of Change first, but after that, I read them as I could find them. I think I have four or five in paperback, and then all of them in e-book. And I will keep buying them. If the day should come when Subterranean wants to put out collectors editions..well, I just might have to cut down other expenses.
    I’m just about to put up my Goodreads review

  6. I started with Local Custom and Mouse & Dragon and then all the rest in an attempt at chronological order. I started with Library books and I now own all of them some in eBook and paper form. I love your books and always recommend others to read them. I think almost all of them can be the first one read. Keep up the good work and I wish you and Steve to live long and prosper.

  7. I hadn’t read any of your books when you were guests at Philcon, but I bought one there and now have bought … Just about all of them. Thank you for hours of enjoyment.

  8. I’ve not yet posted any reader reviews as such, although I AM guilty of suggesting certain volumes as “best entry points” (always emphasizing that it’s only my own opinion). What I do instead is recommend The Universe series, any and all of them, to beginning ambitious writers I encounter in several FB groups as being “post-graduate courses in plotting and in character development.” I hope that some of them are following such recommendations, and boosting your numbers.

    I remember only too well the day that A-W told my agent they were not interested in doing a second edition of my final (non-fiction) work; the first printing still had copies in the warehouse. However it’s STILL in print and selling a few copies every year, and few computer books published in 1995 share that distinction.

    As you say, numbers are everything!

  9. I think I found Conflict of Honors at my favorite used book store and liked the feel of the story so much that I purposely went searching for more. I found Agent of Change, then Crystal Soldier. I’ve been buying them new ever since.

  10. Hello Sharon,
    What a good blog post this is! I am sure I have told people–fellow readers/friends in conversation–this is the best place to start on a series, but I am sure I have never done so for Liaden books, certainly not in a public forum like Amazon or Goodreads and all. It is *hard* when you are confronted with a big series–now where do I start? How will I know if I will like it? What if I read the only good book and then hate the rest? What if I read the only one that I would not like and miss all the rest because I gave up? By luck, I started with Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! and was hooked. If I had started with Colour of Magic I would have quit. I was told over and over to read Bujold, and I happened to have an omnibus edition and read Cetaganda, which I later read was a terrible place to start. But I liked it and have them all now in hardcover. I was then looking for more stuff like that, read in several places to read Liaden books, and decided to get a cheap old beat up book club edition of Partners in Necessity. I read Agent of Change, loved it, and never looked back. Every new book I have bought as they came out in Baen hardcovers. The important thing is to find out if you *like* the author’s writing, then worry about getting them all straight. If you are lucky and find a series you like or love, you can re-read in any order you please once you have them all. As for reviewing books– I am terrible. I liked it. It was ok. I did not like it. And who the hell cares what this reader (me) thinks anyway, so I do not review books and would surely not diss anyone’s hard work–the book– in public. I leave that for professional reviewers and the fans. So yeah, buy the new Liaden books please! ( I am still waiting for my copy from the Uncle, hope to get it for this weekend if I am lucky. Weekends are good times to read newest book in a favorite series. Especially when it is so hot and humid, sit inside in a/c comfort and quiet and read.) And thanks for the many many hours of pleasure your books have given me, and I am sure thousands of others. Your fan, Dave

  11. I think I may have started this brahuah when I said that it is hard to write a review of Alliance of Equals, and you asked me “Why?”. I gave a detailed answer, which was echoed by others. It is unfortunate if you thought that a review. It was the one I did not want to write.

    I’ll admit that I was thinking along the lines of “Don’t start here”, so I’m glad you posted this. Now I am thinking along the lines of “Padi Yos’galan is apprentice trader on starship Dutiful Passage, determined to succeed, but she has a dark secret that could destroy all around her…”

  12. Do you know how eARC and ebook bundle sales figure on the score cards of the Powers That Be? Or is it just the dead trees that count?

  13. I stumbled on ghost ship in the library attracted by the cover, read it twice before it was due back. There was enough there to make me rapidly go and buy all stories I could get my hands on, firstly the novels as books and second the short stories on Kindle (to ensure if we every lose the miracle of electric power I can still read them). Did I know all the back story and character from Ghost ship? not at all, but the story was well written and was enough for me to want to find out about the rest. I think dragon in exile would be the same so let’s hope the reviewers don’t do it again.

  14. Baen uses An Equation for the bundles. I’m sure that, at some point, someone explained the Equation to me, but it’s lost in the mists. Earc royalties are earned at the same rate as ebook royalties — for Baen 25% of “cover”.

  15. Yay for 25% of “cover”; I do hope it counts in the “numbers” too, since I have been buying the earcs a lot (who, me? impatient?)

  16. Just curious, but what’s the royalty % on an Audible book look like?

  17. Honestly? I have no idea. Best I can figure, the audio sales are lumped in a catch-all category on the accounts.

  18. I too was wondering if the Earc sales affect the numbers when the hardcover is released.

  19. I’m the kind of reckless reader who pauses, finger on the page, to skip ahead and skim a few paragraphs in the epilogue or last chapter. Sometimes I just can’t stand the suspense. This drives people who know me absolutely nuts.

    They will instead guard their ignorance jealously, as a treasured thing. Spoiler threads exist expressly for this reason, yet today’s spoiler is destined to be tomorrow’s basic backstory, and therein lies the rub for new universe explorers.

    The new releases build upon information that the rest of us discovered at the end of nail-biting adventures. Whoa, Pat Rin conquered his way to being Road Boss on Surebleak in pursuit of vengeance? Clan Korval blew up a piece of Liaden in a strike again enemies then relocated, Tree and all, to Surebleak? Taking these events as read might take away from the thrill of uncertainty that is a driving source of suspense in back list books. The universe is sufficiently large that one might be forgiven for adopting the mentality of a long-loop trader, even knowing that sales *right now* will affect the viability of future exploration.

    The clever authors provide various portals into the universe, however: you truly don’t need to read everything before picking up the shiny new release. And, it is not hard to catch up on three or four already-published books during the time between new releases.

    So chop, chop, binge readers. If you squeal like a ninny when you see a spoiler dart out and scuttle across the page, calmly pull up a map of the universe books, proceed to the portal that interests you most, then plunk down your money for the latest release.

    Because ultimately, and here’s the really compelling argument, somebody has to pay for the cat food. You like the cat pictures? Those coons are counting on you.

  20. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Because I don’t think this is the best place to start. But I realized that I started with “Fledgling” and that worked out just fine. Read all the Theo books, then went back and bought all the others because I wanted the back story too. I have edited GoodReads review and will fix Amazon as soon as I post this comment.
    (hangs head in shame)
    In penance I will buy the real ebook from Baen to get rid of “Master Trader” in the ARC and heaven knows how many other corrections that I never even noticed when I was reading it in great gulps.

  21. Thank you, Sharon. You have gracefully ( as always ) reminded me of what my first experience with the Liaden Universe was. I had forgotten the joy of realizing the open-ended nature of what I was reading ( Agent of Change) . How gleefully I searched and found stories from before and after my first.
    I have edited my review of Alliance on accordingly.

  22. I started with Carpe Diem way back when the original publisher had already killed off the series. It wasn’t until I discovered one day while browsing the aisles at Uncle Hugo’s that Merlin (I think?) published the first Omnibus that I was able to read Agent of Change and Conflict of Honors. Of course, by then Merlin was in the process of falling off the map. I was very excited when I discovered that Baen had picked up the series, re-released all of them electronically (my copy of the first Merlin Omnibus disappeared during a move and I never did find it), and was contracting for more. I finished reading Alliance of Equals the same evening it was released. I’ve now (a few days later) read it through several times, and have already marked my calendar for May 2017. I’ve bought everything in the Korval universe through Baen, which marks the second time I’ve bought Agent of Change and Conflict of Honors, and the third time I’ve bought Carpe Diem (still I think my all-time favorite in the series, followed closely by Plan B and I Dare).

    Clearly, starting with a perhaps suboptimal book in the sequence can still result in a strong desire to read everything in the Korval universe… 🙂

  23. Stumbled across Mouse and Dragon on the shelf at my Barnes & Noble. Loved the writing and was intrigued, not put off, by all the things I wondered about. Now I read the eARCs and have all the hardcovers as well as the Kindle/Audible combinations.

  24. I was curious about how Audible royalties compare to pressed pulp books and ebooks, so did a little research (my understanding being that ebook royalties are much higher than traditional books?).
    Anyway, Audible claims that their royalties are about 25% of retail if the author sells their audio book via a non-exclusive contract and 40% if they have an exclusive deal with Audible.

  25. Good to know. Of course, we didn’t sell the rights, Baen did, so whatever they get we get…half? I think half.

  26. I am a loyal reader of all things Lee and Miller. I have read and reread everything that both or either has written – in hard back, paperback and ebooks. I wait anxiously for new releases, read them avidly, then go back and read the Liaden Universe again. I support them on Patreon. Long live Lee and Miller.

  27. I started with Necessity’s Child, because it specifically states that it’s a standalone within a larger universe. I wanted to try a work from a new author and I was looking for a one book read to enjoy.

    I then went off and looked up the “correct” place to start later, when I wanted a longer series. And I’ve now enjoyed a great many of the other books.

    If Alliance of Equals had been among the choices instead two years ago, I may well have passed based on the Amazon blurb. It has “new novel in the […] series” in the first sentence (my copy of the ebook says “series” as well). Which at the time would have been a bookmark and move on. If I were coming at it now with no knowledge of the books (and the desire to read a series), this would send me straight to the reading order and then probably Agent of Change.

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