by Eric Flint
“Tempus fugit” is a Latin phrase that officially translates as “time flies.” What it really is, though, is a hoity-toity way of saying “old farts forget stuff.”
The old fart in this instance being me—and what I forgot was that my novel 1632 was published exactly twenty years ago.
Using the term “exactly” with some poetic license. The book was indeed published in February of 2000, but I’m pretty sure it was published earlier than the 18th day of the month. So I’m fudging a little.
By any reasonable measure of the term “success,” 1632 was a successful novel. To begin with, it was successful on its own terms. It sold—this is taken directly from my royalty reports so there’s no fudging at all—7,458 copies in hardcover, which was very good at the time for hardcover sales. Better still, it also had a 69% sell-through. For those of you not familiar with publishing lingo, “sell-through” means the percentage of books printed and shipped that are actually sold. The industry average is around 50%, so 69% is very good,
That was the initial hardcover print run. Since then, Baen Books has done a special edition leather-bound hardcover edition ($36.00 a copy BUT CHEAP AT THE PRICE) that has sold 765 copies at a 77% sell-through.
Furthermore, the novel is still in print after twenty years, and has sold over 140,000 copies in paperback with a 88% sell-through, which is like incredibly, spectacularly good. A publishing house which has a book that maintains an 88% sell-through over two decades has essentially been able to legally print money for all that time.
And—I love this fact because I sneer at so-called “electronic piracy”—keep in mind that 1632 has been available electronically FOR FREE for about the last eighteen years and… still just keeps selling and selling. Every year I get royalty payments for the book somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000.
But the novel doesn’t stand on its own terms—and hasn’t for many years now. Since February of 2000, 1632 has become the basis for a long-running series. (That sounds better than “has spawned.” I mean, it’s a book, not a salmon.)
As of this date—February 19, 2020, now recorded for posterity—1632 has been followed by:
23 novels published by Baen Books of which I am either the author or a co-author. And there are two more coming later this year: 1636: The Atlantic Encounter in August and 1637: No Peace Beyond the Line in November.
6 volumes published by Baen Books of other authors. (1635: The Tangled Web by Virginia DeMarce; 1636: Seas of Fortune by Iver Cooper; 1636: The Chronicles of Dr. Gribbleflotz by Kerryn Offord and Rick Boatright; 1635: The Wars For the Rhine by Anette Pedersen, and 1636: The Flight of the Nightingale by David Carrico. And there will be another one coming sometime next year, 1636: Calabar’s War, by Charles Gannon and Robert Waters.
12 anthologies published by Baen Books of short fictions set in the series, eight of which are collections of stories from the magazine Grantville Gazette and four of which are the Ring of Fire volume collections of original fiction. And there are two more in the works: Grantville Gazette IX and an anthology of stories set in the New World.
24 volumes published by Ring of Fire Press, set in the Ring of Fire universe (for which, yes, the publishing house is named). Most of these are novels, the rest are collections of stories except for one anthology of fact articles. These have been written by more than two dozen authors (of which I am not one of them, by the way).
And, last but not least, the electronic magazine the Grantville Gazette, which has been published on a professional basis since May of 2007—going on thirteen years now. What I mean by “on a professional basis” is that it maintains a regular publication schedule which it has never missed once, pays its authors professional rates as established by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), and pays everyone else involved in producing it—the editors, art director, etc.—less than I wish I could afford but more than most F&SF magazines pay their own equivalents.
Most people outside the inner circles of the F&SF publishing world don’t grasp just how unusual this magazine is. To begin, very few such magazines over the decades have ever been able to maintain an unbroken production schedule lasting for thirteen years. Astounding/Analog has managed to do it, as has The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Galaxy, If, Weird, Amazing and Fantastic never managed to do it, although they were able to for several years at a stretch. Most such magazine have never come close.
Furthermore, the Grantville Gazette is the only professional magazine in the history of fantasy and science fiction—or any other genre, so far as I know—that has been able to maintain itself based entirely on a literary property. The few other magazines devoted to a series that have had such a long and successful run have all been based on mass-audience media properties.
I’ve lost track of how many authors have been involved in the Ring of Fire universe, and how many words have been written in the series. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 authors, and we’re now well beyond 10,000,000 words—of which at least 5,000,000 have been produced in paper as well as electronic format. To put that in perspective, that’s more than twenty times as long as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and sixteen times as long as Tolstoy’s War and Peace. And—wait for it! wait for it!—it’s now much longer than the Bible. (Which comes in at 783,137 words, in the King James edition.)
There are now at least two million copies of the 1632 series books in print. And—this is where grubby scribblers chortle with glee—the royalties earned by the authors have just gone over the $2,000,000 mark. Yay for us!
And, finally—best of all, as far as I’m concerned—there’s still no end in sight. Print sales of the Ring of Fire series peaked about ten years ago, but electronic sales have filled that space quite nicely. No novel in the series published by Baen Books has earned (or will earn, in the case of recent titles) less than $40,000 in royalties, most of them earn quite a bit more than that, and half a dozen have so far made it over the $100,000 mark. (There will be more. The Ring of Fire series has what’s called a long, fat tail when it comes to sales.) Those earnings far exceed the average for science fiction titles.
The sales of Ring of Fire Press titles are quite a bit lower, of course. There’s a bit difference between what a small press can do with purely electronic and print-on-demand sales compared to a major publisher like Baen Books. Still, as of now fifteen authors publishing 1632 series volumes through Ring of Fire Press have earned at least $3,000 in royalties—and their books keep selling. To put that in perspectives, nowadays even major publishers don’t pay their new authors an advance much if any bigger than that, and most books don’t earn out their advance. All fifteen of these authors’ books are still chugging along.
And there are more coming. Another five authors have earned somewhere between $1,000 and $2,500 in royalties from Ring of Fire Press—and their books keep selling as well.
So, stick around. There are two more novels coming out this year from Baen Books and at least two more from Ring of Fire Press. In 2021, there will be at least two more novels—more likely, three—and at least one anthology.
I’d say “we’re just getting started,” but that’d be pretty ridiculous. What I can say for sure is that we’ll be continuing the Ring of Fire series into the foreseeable future.
Yes, I know I’m bragging. I figure I get to do that after two full decades.
Still, I shouldn’t do it, so I shall flagellate myself all the way to the bank. With a suitable implement, of course. Authors are to shame what cats are to self-sacrifice. Whips are right out, much less chains and barbed wire. I’m thinking about a shoestring; maybe a wet noodle.