The X-wing Books are Out of Print
Usually when an envelope arrives from your publisher during royalty time, it’s a happy event. This time, not so much. A quick glance at the statements revealed that Bantam Spectra chose, during the second half of 2010, to let my Star Wars™ X-wing novels go out of print.
Getting the news that such a decision had been made that way is kind of like learning your dog has been killed by seeing his squished body in the road in front of your house. Not really a good feeling.
Publishers make such decisions for economic reasons. Clearly they didn’t think enough copies were selling to justify reprints—though other books of mine selling roughly 20% of what the X-wing books do each month are still in print. (Or maybe are on their way out, too? I don’t know.) Publishing is a business, so it doesn’t matter to the beancounters that the X-wing books are the ones that many fans cite as being among their favorites, or that a lot of fans credit with having gotten them started on reading Star Wars™ novels. It doesn’t matter to them that readers have read the books multiple times, or have purchased multiple copies because they’ve worn the other ones out. And it doesn’t matter to them that a lot of young readers—their future customers—have come to reading through the X-wing novels. (I guess they assume that novels about sparkly vampires and emo girls will turn 12 year old boys on to reading… go figure.)
It’s funny that I learn this now. Just last Saturday I gave a talk before a local chapter of the American Association of University Women. It was at their Author’s Luncheon where they raised a lot of money to give scholarships to women going to college. I’d been asked to speak, in part, about my Star Wars novels. It gave me a chance to relive some of the memories; like getting a 7 AM call from my agent saying, “Bantam just offered you four Star Wars novels, I said, ‘Yes.'”
Writing the Star Wars™ books—especially the X-wings—was an incredible amount of fun. The folks at Lucasfilm were incredibly generous with me. They literally let me get away with things I’d not have let me get away with were I running the show. And they were very supportive behind the scenes when contracts and writer politics and publishing all got tangled up at one point and a lot of other writers were very angry with me. They continue to be great and supportive—even though my last Star Wars™ novel came out in 1999, I was invited to the Sneak Peek showing of the Clone Wars™ Season Three opener here in Phoenix. That sort of courtesy and care is rare in business, and bespeaks an incredible amount of class.
Star Wars™ books let me build a friendship with one of my best friends in the business: Timothy Zahn. The hours we spent on the phone passing ideas back and forth when writing books, or collaborating on short stories, were a lot of fun. And the trips and conventions we’ve done are just magic. And being able to bring Aaron Allston into the fold with his X-wing books was incredibly gratifying. I’d known Aaron for years, and when Tom Dupree suggested he could take over for me while I wrote I, Jedi, my response was a very enthused, “Oh, hell yeah!” And Aaron, God love him, hit it out of the park and has just kept going.
The number of people who have told me, down through the years, that Corran is one of their most favorite EU characters is astounding and humbling. I remember, when I got started, I read Tim’s novels. I thought to myself, “These books are the high water mark. This is what I have to aim for.” Talon Karrde and Mara Jade were iconic. I hoped maybe one of my characters might be mentioned as a good utility infielder backing up such an allstar lineup, but to have him voted onto the team, I mean, wow.
And to have had some of my characters made into action figures: double-wow.
And seeing folks designing and wearing costumes for characters or squadons I created… I can’t even begin to explain how cool that is.
I think the thing that saddens me the most is that I had young readers who picked up an X-wing novel and reported that it was the first novel they’d ever read “all by myself.” The X-wing books were not only portals to Star Wars™, but to reading itself. New kids coming up aren’t going to have that chance. Likewise, the soldiers, sailors and airmen (and women) who snagged those books as an escape when the mission ends or the shooting stops won’t have that haven anymore.
When folks only look at the numbers, when they only see people as vehicles for transporting credit cards to stores, they lose sight of humanity and the importance of story to all of us. We need story to help us cope. I remember a young man writing about the fact that he was away at college and had a steady girlfriend back home, but on campus a girl was coming on to him. He said he was really tempted to go with the girl on campus, but then he remembered what Corran Horn did in I, Jedi. Because of that, because of Corran’s example, he remained faithful. I certainly never expected something like that to happen when I was writing I, Jedi, but that it did points to the power of stories that some folks only see as numbers in a spread sheet.
Since I mentioned the X-wing situation on Twitter, a few folks have asked whether or not the books will be reprinted or made available as ebooks. I don’t know on either count. I did mention, however, that if Lucasfilm decides to follow in the footsteps of the Ian Fleming estate and publish ebook editions independently, I’d be more than happy to offer my expertise in setting up an ebook publishing program.
Some other very kind people have asked what the X-wing book status means for me financially. I really appreciate the concern, but I’m doing just fine. My last paper novel, At The Queen’s Command, blew out the doors at Night Shade Books, earning out its advance in the first six weeks of sales. In addition to that, sales of my digital original novel, In Hero Years… I’m Dead, have been unbelievably robust. Digital sales for the Kindle and epub versions of the book have further convinced me that the digital revolution is over and won; and now we’re in that phase of rebuilding publishing in a way that benefits authors and readers alike. (And if you’ve not seen In Hero Years… I’m Dead, you can click either of the above links to snag a copy, or this link to go to the first of three sample chapters.)
I really want to say thank you to all of you who have expressed, over the years; in person and through notes or comments, how much the X-wing books meant to you. Especially gratifying are the parents who’d shared them with their children and grandchildren. Sharing the love of reading is likely the greatest gift we can give another person (that doesn’t include tissue typing and matching). That my books have been a part of that; that you have enjoyed and trusted my work enough to share it with your friends and families, is incredible. I am at a loss for words to explain how deeply this touches me.