The World Fantasy Award and Book Sales

The World Fantasy Awards winners were announced yesterday. I only make a note of the occasion since several close friends were nominated (none of whom won) and the accompanying convention is one of the reasons I’m blogging rather than Jeff. It’s not like the awards really mean anything in a real world money sense. There’s a joke/observation in the bookselling community that winning the World Fantasy Award dooms a book to an out of print status and relative obscurity.

Let’s look at the previous winners.

Of the nine books that won the award for best novel, five are still in print. Of those five, I’m discounting the 2005-06 winners since those were published and promoted heavily by mainstream book houses and should remain in prints for many, many years. That means 4 out of possible 7 books are out of print. A little over 50%. Not good.

  • 2006 Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami (in print)
  • 2005 Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke (in print)
  • 2004 Tooth and Claw, Jo Walton (out of print)
  • 2003 The Facts of Life, Graham Joyce (out of print) and Ombria in Shadow, Patricia A. McKillip (in print)
  • 2002 The Other Wind, Ursula K. Le Guin (out of print)
  • 2001 Declare, Tim Powers (in print) and Galveston, Sean Stewart (in print)
  • 2000 Thraxas, Martin Scott (out of print)

Surprisingly as you get further out the numbers remain consistent. 6 out of 11 are out of print. Again, just over 50%.

  • 1999 The Antelope Wife, Louise Erdrich (out of print)
  • 1998 The Physiognomy, Jeffrey Ford (out of print)
  • 1997 Godmother Night, Rachel Pollack (out of print)
  • 1996 The Prestige, Christopher Priest (in print)
  • 1995 Towing Jehovah, James Morrow (in print)
  • 1994 Glimpses, Lewis Shiner (out of print)
  • 1993 Last Call, Tim Powers (out of print)
  • 1992 Boy’s Life, Robert R. McCammon (in print)
  • 1991 Only Begotten Daughter, James Morrow (in print) and Thomas the Rhymer, Ellen Kushner (in print)
  • 1990 Lyonesse: Madouc, Jack Vance (out of print)

8 out of 11 possible books are out of print. A whopping 73%!

  • 1989 Koko, Peter Straub (out of print)
  • 1988 Replay, Ken Grimwood (out of print)
  • 1987 Perfume, Patrick Suskind (in print)
  • 1986 Song of Kali, Dan Simmons (out of print)
  • 1985 Mythago Wood, Robert Holdstock (in print) and Bridge of Birds, Barry Hughart (out of print)
  • 1984 The Dragon Waiting, John M. Ford (out of print)
  • 1983 Nifft the Lean, Michael Shea (out of print)
  • 1982 Little, Big, John Crowley (in print)
  • 1981 The Shadow of the Torturer, Gene Wolfe (out of print)
  • 1980 Watchtower, Elizabeth A. Lynn (out of print)

Surprisingly, only 2 out of the 5 five winners are out of print.

  • 1979 Gloriana, Michael Moorcock (out of print)
  • 1978 Our Lady of Darkness, Fritz Leiber (in print)
  • 1977 Doctor Rat, William Kotzwinkle (in print)
  • 1976 Bid Time Return, Richard Matheson (out of print)
  • 1975 The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, Patricia A. McKillip (in print)

So booksellers are not entirely wrong with some 57% of the award winners currently out of print.

I wondered how this compares to the Hugos during the same period.

There were 7 books awarded the Hugo for Best Novel 2000-2006. All are in print.

1990-1990 Of the 10 books, 3 are out of print.

1980-1989 Of the possible 9 books, 3 are out of print.

1975-1979 4 books. 1 is out of print

Roughly 23% of Hugo Award-winning novels since 1975 are out of print.

Of the genre awards, the Edgar Award for Best Mystery have the biggest impact on an author’s sales. Other key non-genre awards are the Pulitzer, National Book Award, and the Nobel. Basically, all other words including the World Fantasy, Stokers, IHG, etc. look great on the shelf, but have almost no impact on your sales.

As an editor, I was nominated for the 1996 Eisner Award for Best Anthology (Weird Business) and two other books I edited were nominated for awards. The Blueberry Saga: Confederate Gold was nominated for the 1997 Eisner Award for Best Archival Collection. Dead Heat won the the 1996 International Horror Guild (IHG) Award for Best First Novel and was nominated for The 1996 Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. Paul Miles and I were finalist for the WSFA Small Press Award for our story “A Penny A Word”. I was honored by all the nominations, but they have little affect on my career either as a writer or editor.

I wish to extend a congratulations to all the winners and nominees. Though, it may not appear that way, the World Fantasy Awards are among my favorite awards and I have read many of the past winners and nominees. This award often speaks to my personal tastes. Sadly, according to sales, I am definitely in a minority.

(A little note… Print status was determined for US editions only. Also, I am referring primarily to adult books. Young adult and children books behavior similarly but for the addition of the Newberry and Caldecott Awards.)

33 comments on “The World Fantasy Award and Book Sales

  1. BH says:

    Just as a note, Gene Wolfe’s _Shadow of the Torturer_ is still in print and is likely to remain so. The most common edition is an omnibus called “Shadow & Claw” which contains _Shadow_ and _The Claw of the Conciliator_, the first half of the Book of the New Sun. A new British omnibus of all four books in that series is due soon, I believe, entitled _Severian of the Guild_.

  2. Joe Sherry says:

    I’m really surprised that Erdrich’s The Antelope Wife is out of print. Far as I know, most of Erdrich’s catalogue is in print and has been reissued by Harpercollins in those PS editions they’ve got going.

    A quick check of Amazon confirms it. Weird. If her new novel (due this spring) does well, I suspect Antelope Wife might get back in print.

  3. Jwb says:

    Both “Bridge of Birds” (Hughart – 1985) and “The Other Wind” (LeGuin – 2002) are in print in paperback.

  4. Gwenda says:

    Huh. I’m 99 percent certain we own every single book on this list.

  5. Rick Klaw says:

    BH– I was surprised as well but according to Amazon, the book is not available. Even if a book is technically still in print from the publisher, if no one can get a copy, it is technically out of print.

    Joe– That and Shadow of the Torturer were probably my two biggest shocks when I compiled this info.

    Jwb– I stand corrected. My mistake.

    Gwenda– I would hazard to guess that you are far from a typical book buyer. :)

  6. BH says:

    Rick – Barnes & Noble has it. Perhaps Amazon is having supply problems with that publisher? They could also have ceased printing the omnibus in preparation for the _Severian of the Guild_ edition coming stateside… either way, I’d still say it’s in print. :P

  7. Rick Klaw says:

    I’m betting they pulled it out of print for the Severian of the Guild edition and B&N had some copies of the old edition remaining. Either way, it doesn’t really change my argument. As I stated above, I was very surprised that Shadow was out of print.

  8. Shadow & Claw can still be ordered from Tor’s website ( The thing about Amazon is odd, but as often as I haunt the Gene Wolfe shelf space at bookstores looking for that wayward copy of Operation Ares or some other unusual find, I’m pretty sure that right now Amazon is the only place you can go to NOT find it.

    As usual, I’ve read about 1/8 of the stuff on the list of winners and know nothing about most of it, but I’m glad for the stuff I’m familiar with that won. Journey into the Kingdom is a really great story.

  9. James says:

    Shadow & Claw‘s unavailability at Amazon is just a temporary glitch, methinks. It’s available right now from Ingram, the biggest book distributor in the US–I think we just restocked it at the bookstore where I work, in fact.

    Not that this undermines your main point, of course.

  10. Mike Allen says:

    Though I think the point is well made, but (not meaning to add to the growing chorus) Peter Straub’s Koko is very much available — and because of Straub’s status, likely would be regardless of whether it had won the World Fantasy Award.

  11. Rick Klaw says:

    According to both Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Koko is not available.

  12. jeff ford says:

    Rick: I wouldn’t argue with your overall point, but wanted to let you know that as of 08, my Physiognomy trilogy will be back in print from Golden Gryphon. Hope you’re doing well.

  13. Rick Klaw says:

    Jeff: Cool. I look forward to it.

  14. Sooo, basically, what you’re saying is any writer reading this should beware the day s/he’s nominated for the World Fantasy?
    the nomination will be the peal of doom:)

  15. Mark says:

    I wonder if a comparison of the difference between the selection process for Hugos and WFA is some way of an explanation of why this may be the case. Basically, the Hugos are popular books voted for by fans, so you have in essence a popularity contest – which is why maybe Harry Potter won one. So it seems a commercial book will win, and stay in print because it’s already selling; it already has the demand. I’m not sure of the WFA process, but it seems that the less commercial titles win, because it has perhaps a rigorous criteria, which means the popular books won’t really win. It doesn’t have that commercially-conscious driver, rightly so for an award in my opinion.

  16. Blue Tyson says:

    So here’s a question then – are all the nominations from this year still available to buy, or are some gone already? :)

  17. Adding to what Mark said:

    it’s perhaps a little unfortunate, but the Hugos and Nebulas are pretty much popularity contests, as much as quality of the specific works. The more widely read the title, the better the odds for winning.
    So, yeah, awards handed out by the fans in a sense. May not be perfect, but it works and serves a purpose, at the very least it’s a good indication of the popular drive of the day.

    With WFA, using a judging panel, small and obscure titles have a chance to compete based putely on merit (insofar as 5 different people can agree on merit). I do tend to prefer awards being awarded in this fashion, tbh, from a small panel rather than an open fan nomination/ voting drive.

    But both do serve a purpose, and can co-exist fine.

    Perhaps the problem here is more that the World Fantasy awards are not as widely touted as the Hugos or Nebulas?
    Mark said:

    >stay in print because it’s already selling;

    that’s a pretty important point, and it may not even have anything to do with the award/ lack of award.
    The WFA, on the other hand, has an opportunity to actually boost sales of titles that might otherwise fade, provided the awards can generate more exposure and awareness of what they’re doing in commercial sectors.
    So, I don’t know – more agressive after the award marketing maybe?

  18. Jesper Svedberg says:

    Both Grimwood’s Replay and Powers’ Last Call actually show up on

    If you include UK editions the situation also changes somewhat. Especially the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series makes several of the titles available.

  19. >Especially the Gollancz Fantasy Masterworks series makes several of the titles available.

    I love that series. I do wish SF Masterworks would try reprinting someone other than Philip K. Dick, though, especially since most of his books are currently in print (of course I’m not sure of their status in the UK…).

  20. Contrary to what this post asserts, SONG OF KALI is perfectly well in print; our trade paperback is right there on Amazon. ISBN 031286583X, with a front cover that says WINNER OF THE WORLD FANTASY AWARD. Look for yourself.

    That Amazon used-copies-only listing for SHADOW AND CLAW must be a glitch; not only is the book in print, it’s been a consistent backlist seller for us for years and we recently reprinted it for the umpteenth time. I’m glad to have the problem pointed out, and I’ve emailed the appropriate people to get it fixed.

    TOOTH AND CLAW will return to print as an Orb trade paperback in January 2009, with its World Fantasy Award noted on the front cover. I would have got it out earlier, but I made a deliberate decision to focus on Walton’s brilliant sequence of alternate-history political thrillers, FARTHING, HA’PENNY, and next year’s HALF A CROWN. These books have done a good job of lifting Walton’s overall sales and once the whole sequence is published we’ll be able to do a much better job of reviving the extremely deserving TOOTH AND CLAW.

    By the way: I also looked up Richard Matheson’s BID TIME RETURN, and it’s yet another book this post claims is OP which isn’t. Library binding, Buccanneer Books, June 1995, ISBN 0899665144. I don’t want to sound too critical, but given that this post is flat-out wrong about the status two of the four books I actually looked up on Amazon, I have to wonder about the overall methodology.

  21. Rick Klaw says:

    Jesper: hmm… that makes me wonder about Amazon, because I spent some time looking for both books. Replay is one of my all time favorites and was saddened to see it listed as unavailable. Glad I was misinformed.

    Patrick: Being available from Buccanneer is akin to being out of print. There books are very difficult to get and most bookstores are not going to carry their books. A typical customer will not be able to acquire the book. As for Song of Kali, I missed it. Even if you question my methodology, I assert my findings and assertions are still overall correct. The problem with my methodology which I knew when I started is that op is not the only way to measure book sales but since I don’t have access to sales info, it thought it was the best though flawed method to prove my point (I was perhaps a bit hasty in relying just on Amazon for the info). My 20 years of selling these books is perhaps the best measure, but one with only anecdotal evidence. Most customers have never heard of the World Fantasy Award and as Mark and David both pointed out above, the books tend to be more obscure and often difficult to find. I have never had a customer come in with a list of WFA, attempting to collect them all. I have had mane with Hugo, Nebula, and especially Edgar Awards lists. My basic point is that most awards matter very little to the sales of a book and I wish as a whole that fans and writers would stop fixating on them so much. The World Fantasy Convention would still be a great event and my favorite convention without the awards.

  22. BH says:

    I find it interesting that many people haven’t heard of the WFA. Instead of removing the focus on it, though, perhaps the World Fantasy Convention should market it better; I noticed that many of the general fiction blogs I read had absolutely nothing about the awards, when they do carry pieces about the Hugo, Nebula, and Edgar awards. Marketing doesn’t necessarily cost money, either: they should submit stories to the major blog sites (BoingBoing, digg, MetaFilter, and so on). They could also put up a better site for the awards, featuring (for example) excerpts and author interviews. At the moment, it seems like a footnote–but I don’t see a reason it should be completely ditched.

  23. Rick Klaw says:

    I’m not advocating ditching it. As I mentioned in the blog entry, I often like the books that win. I just wish people wouldn’t fixate on awards in general. I’ve known writers who get depressed when they aren’t nominated or don’t win. I’ve also seen fans get angry at each other over what did and didn’t get nominated. Also, people tend to not discuss the non-nominated books. At last year’s Armadillocon, I was on a panel discussing the best books we had read from the prior year. Most of us on the panel were not science fiction readers so we barely mentioned the then-current Hugo nominees, but rather what we enjoyed which tended to be the more obscure pieces, a lot of which were never marketed to an sf audience. One blogger posted how annoyed she was. How could we not talk about the Hugo nominees? From my viewpoint, those get discussed enough. I’d rather hear about the weird, little gems that I might have missed.

  24. Micole says:

    Also still in print (I presume you mean in the US):

    Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind
    Graham Joyce, The Facts of Life
    Louise Erdrich, The Antelope Wife
    Tim Powers, Last Call
    Ken Grimwood, Replay
    Barry Hughart, Bridge of Birds

    I don’t think the point of awards is to keep books in print (though it would be a nice side effect), but if you’re going to measure the effect of awards, surely the baseline ought to be the percentage of all books–or all fantasy, sf, and horror books–published during a particular period and still in print, rather than the percentage of all Hugo Award winners published during a particular period and still in print?

  25. Rick Klaw says:

    Quite possibly, but it’s not like I have access to that information.

    My point is exactly what is happening. A discussion about the awards and their impact on sales, which I have always seen as negligible, and how too much importance is placed on the awards by both fans and writers.

  26. Lane says:

    As someone who relatively recently has tried to find past WFA winners and nominees, I’d have to agree with you Rick. I haven’t had much luck, and the luck I have had mostly relied on used copies from Amazon. Also, some may be in print, but your average reader can’t find them in any local bookstores, unless its a big name like LeGuin or Wolfe, and won’t go through the trouble to hunt them down with other methods.
    Of course, at my local bookstores I usually have the same problem with any non-series sci-fi or fantasy, not just WFA nominees.

  27. Mike Moorcock says:

    Was interested in the World Fantasy statistics. I’d be curious to know where the figures were taken from, though. My own Gloriana is very decidedly in print and has remained so pretty much since publication. However, I suspect that these figures reflect the popularity and sales of fiction in general. Are there any statistics available for comparison ? Prizes exist to promote the name of the organisation or interest presenting them. In my experience, what’s popular at the posher sf conventions — in the hothouse world, if you like, of sf fandom — only occasionally reflects the taste of the general sf/fantasy reading public. I always think of the English music newspaper MELODY MAKER. Originally, it was a professionals’ paper. You bought it to find what jobs were available. The editorial bias was jazz. By 1965 or so MM had been forced to acknowledge that popular music was now rock and roll and thus broaded its readership.
    With the earlier readership people like Django Reinhardt or Les Paul would win Years Best Guitarist. With the later readership the rhythm guitarist of the Bay City Rollers would win Years Best.
    Prizes are promotion and politics — oh, and a certain amount of prestige. And I do think they can sometimes create a reaction against a perfectly decent book which, in the nature of these things, could well have been a compromise choice.

  28. Mike Moorcock says:

    I meant to add that Gollancz’s SF MASTERWORKS series and their FANTASY MASTERWORKS series actually HAVE had people collecting them, just as they collected the Avon Fantasy Reader or the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Even DAW and ACE had their collectors from quite early on. This suggests that the brand of quality is earned by a publisher rather than conferred by an organisation.

  29. Mike Moorcock says:

    Oops. Just read this more thoroughly and clearly much of what I have to say is redundant!
    Malcolm Edwards, who introduced the Masterworks series in the UK, told me that, except for a few, the books in the series which sold best tended to be the most recent and those which sold worst were the ‘classics’ like Eddison and others. I wonder how this compared with the Adult Fantasy series.

  30. Rick Klaw says:

    Mike: Hate to be the bearer of bad news but Gloriana is NOT available in new editions from either Amazon or Barnes & Noble. My information only applied to its US publication status. I purposely did not concern myself with other editions, since in most US bookstores only the American editions are available.

    My statistics originally came from just Amazon, but in hindsight I probably should have used Barnes & Noble as well.

  31. Okay, I take your point about the Buccanneer “library binding” edition of BID TIME RETURN. Similarly, I imagine the large-print edition of THE PHYSIOGNOMY, which Amazon claims to have available, doesn’t make the book realistically “in print.”

    And I understand that by “in print,” you mean “in print in the US”.

    And as we’ve discussed, your listing THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR as OP was due to Amazon’s error, not yours.

    But at the end of the day, your post lists 20 World Fantasy Award-winning novels as “out of print,” of which fully *seven* are in fact listed as in print on Amazon. I pointed out one (SONG OF KALI); Micole pointed out the other six (THE FACTS OF LIFE, THE OTHER WIND, THE ANTELOPE WIFE, LAST CALL, REPLAY, and BRIDGE OF BIRDS).

    All of these books are listed by Amazon as in print in normal editions. Not used copies, not library bindings. In print. You can get them shipped within a few days. I checked myself. I ground through the entire list of winners.

    And, as previously established, THE CLAW OF THE CONCILIATOR is in print as well.

    In other words, it’s not true that 20 out of 36 World Fantasy Award-winning novels are out of print, an alarming 56%. Rather, 12 out of 36 are out of print, a much less remarkable 33%.

    As I said before, I really don’t mean to be all confrontational about it, but your whole post and this entire discussion are based on _spectacularly_ inaccurate data.

    I don’t dispute that most bookstore buyers have never heard of the World Fantasy Award; as a winner myself I can certainly attest that it doesn’t automatically lead to fabulous sales. Mostly I’m just baffled by how you came by your Amazon info. In quite a few of these cases, an out-of-print edition is the first book to show up when you enter the book’s title as a search term, but surely you bothered to click the “other editions” link before concluding that the book was OP? Otherwise you’re not compiling data about what’s in print, you’re just telling us how screwy Amazon’s database is sometimes. Which most of us know already.

  32. Rick Klaw says:


    I know all about the fallacies of Amazon and I’m not quite sure what happened. I’ll grant that the methodology I used would be imperfect even if all my data was 100% accurate. The best barometer would be not what is currently in print, but the actual sales of most of the books. The only reason I even brought the numbers up was that I felt I needed something to back up my anecdotal evidence.

    I speak from personal sales experience that most World Fantasy Award winners do not sell all that well, making, as Lane stated above, WFA winners very difficult to find regardless if they are in print or not. Bridge of Birds may be an amazing novel, but it has sold poorly in every bookstore I have worked in, be it a large chain, a small independent, or a used bookstore. The same sadly applies to Replay, The Physiognomy, Watchtower, Glimpses, Dr. Rat, and many others. Hugo and Nebula Awards for the most part sell better. And I live in a city (Austin) that is well known for its educated and well-read sf fans.

    The sad thing is that the WFA winners tend to be a better quality of books than the far more conservative Hugos and Nebulas (both of which usually bore the hell out of me). The World Fantasy Award winners are more challenging and diverse. Perhaps that is the reason for the lack of knowledge/interest from the general book buying populace.

    Either way, my basic point still stands. Most awards have almost no impact on sales and I wish writers and fans would stop fixating on them so much.

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