Monday, December 6, 2010

Someone dropped the ball

It happens all the time. You find an author who writes well, who writes books you love ...

And they vanish.

Sometimes they will surface again under a pseudonym, but mostly Jane A. Greatread is gone forever.

What this means is not that Jane stopped writing, or isn't just as good as ever, but that someone in the great chain of publisher - distributor - retail that claims roughly 90% of the cover price of Jane's book for supposedly doing the job properly, dropped the ball.

Jane A. Greatread controls none of this, but her ever selling another book to publisher under her own name depends on Jane's book selling more than her last book on the bookscan numbers. These numbers are available to everyone (publishing, retail, distribution) except Jane, who never gets to see them, but will get a royalty report... 12-18 months too late.

By then, Jane's career as a writer is dead. Publishers won't buy from her, and retailers won't buy from them if they do.

This has just happened to me.

DRAGON'S RING - great cover, and, I have been told, really good book came out in October 2009 -- We'd sold our house, we were trying to pay for the dogs and cats quarantine, and trying to do the myriad other things to emigrate.

I got the royalty statement yesterday (yes, 14 months later, that's publishing). The hardcover sold barely 1000 copies. A MANKIND WITCH - with one of the worst covers in sf/fantasy - sold 3500 copies in hardcover.

Looking at my royalty statement: (figures which are NOT available to retail or other publishers, unlike total sales) the reason was easy to see. Very few copies were shipped -- somewhat less than 1/3 of A MANKIND WITCH. Someone either at Baen, Simon and Schuster (who are supposed to handle marketing and distribution) or a buyer at one of the retail chains made a decision that destroyed any chance the book had of success. Now it probably wasn't Baen -- or at least not Toni Weisskoph -- because she bought the next book. But that's the only person that has an alibi I know of.

Of course I am the one who gets to carry the can. And to the readers who enjoy my books, I vanish.

Only I B'AIN'T DEAD. And I am NOT ready to give in or just start again with a pseudonym.
I have one chance to show that they all screwed up, and keep my books selling and name alive. DRAGON'S RING paperback come out 28 December (the second worst selling release day of the year. Gee, thanks, that helps ;-)) Given the dismal figures for the hardcover... store orders will be abysmal or non-existent. The idiot who dropped the ball last time won't be pushing it, because it will show them up. So: if you enjoy my books, want see more of them, and would like to give the supply chain that has destroyed so many many good books and good authors a poke up the snoot... please order it from a bookstore or Amazon. No, this won't make me rich. I get 64 cents from that sale. But if I can get enough pre-orders, the book will get into stores, and will get a fighting chance.

Right now, it has none.
I've also taken steps to get those Bookscan figures so that I am informed immediately, and not 14 months too late.
And I am pursuing e-books actively, (I have a collection out from Naked Reader Press - where if you buy from the site - I get 60% of the cover price. Otherwise the stories are available on Amazon etc. (and I earn 50% of what you pay) where if anyone drops my ball, it will be me.


  1. Sorry to hear that, but I am very glad indeed you have decided to not roll over and start pushing up writing daisies just yet.

    You can count on me to buy a copy or two (I have a daughter that would love your books if she would stand still long enough to read one, so I can get away with a belated Christmas present there)and I will do what I can to put the word out there.

    Also, it may be not too bad a time of year if you can find a way to get some notice taken, esp on Amazon, as lots of people get Amazon vouchers for Christmas or book tokens from the bigger stores. What you need is some kind of advertising campaign. Get the book to go 'viral'. If there's anything I can do to help, other than buying a copy, let me know.

  2. Is there any way you can give me the ISBN? Last time I ordered a book the bookshop here ordered in a completely different book :D One of the other bookshop here won't even order any in at all, not even if you pay upfront! And, no it's not a small local store but one of the larger national franchises.

  3. I have a bunch of nephews with birthdays coming up...

  4. I'm stunned. Dragon's Ring was one of the best Fantasy novels I have read in years.

  5. Ordered from Amazon. Looking forward to reading it; lots of great reviews on Amazon.

  6. Cheryl - that's a very good point about the gift vouchers. If I had the least idea how to make the book go viral I would.

  7. Antikva - If I had my author copies I could be ABSOLUTELY certain of the ISBN numbers but as I don't... these are taken off Amazon

    ISBN-10: 1439134111
    ISBN-13: 978-1439134115

    Do you mind telling us just which bookshop it that won't order books? I would like to deprive them of my custom, and besides it gives the other bookstores an undeserved bad name if we think it is them.

  8. Blloonatic :-) Just think how much GOOD it will do them. Thanks :-)

  9. Quilly - I must admit I was utterly stunned too. I secretly hoped this one would be my breakout novel - It had what that takes IMO - story, cover... I very definitely expected it to do at least as well as A MANKIND WITCH. I was, I admit, too wrapped up in trying to uproot our lives, and pay for the dogs and cats to do my usual attempts at marketing (which is of course your publisher's job. They tell us our efforts are fairly futile. I have this on record in several places (where I had asked for some backing with my various attempts). Yes, well, it appears that those futile attempts account for 2/3 of their sales ;-)) I let the normal professional channels handle it. It seems they rewarded me for my trust and faith in them. Well, I hope I haven't left it too late, but I will never do that again.

    Yeah, I am very angry about it.

  10. Luneray, thank you. I hope you enjoy it.

  11. Sad to hear about it. Although are you sure whoever was responsible wasn't just embarrassed by the rather graphic nature of the cover. [<evi grin> and <deploy coconut shield>]

    Have preordered a couple of copies from The Book Depository.* [It's the free shipping to Oz that is so attractive. Amazon works out to be about three times as expensive when you take that into account, so I'm spending what I would have on freight on additional copies as surprise christmas gifts for friends. (Yes, both of them).]

    Or if you prefer the hardcover:**

    [* And if anyone wants a 10% off christmas voucher (valid to Dec 15) and has friends that want one try]

    [** Incidentally if someone wants to review the book there, there are currently no reviews. I probably should read it first before I do. <grin>]

  12. Go over to Scalzi's blog and add Dragon's Ring. I would do it, but it says must be creator, and you wrote it.

  13. Whoops -- maybe would be better? Sorry, went too fast.

  14. Dave, the ISBN number off my hardbound Dragon's Ring is:
    13: 978-1-4391-3319-4

    I have *no* idea if the spacing and dashes make any difference.

    I'm heartbroken that Dragon's Ring didn't sell any better! It's fabulous!


  15. It's like the publishing industry has totally lost sight of what their product is. That just boggles the mind.

  16. (Chuckle) Reverence Pavane the embarassment at the graphic cover is a reflection of the mind of the viewer... so they should be rather embarrassed by themselves.

    And the book depository or any outlet is just fine. All the books come from the same place anyway, and I have no real interest in supporting specific retailers who are screwing my fellow Australians.

    Always read a book reviewing... (the consequences of Harriet Klausner can be dire)

  17. Mike -as little as I like promoting myself on someone's Blog, I will do this...

  18. Lin W - thank you for that. I loved the book. No one seems to have rated it bad or mediocre... but the people who OUGHT to push the books, get them to the readers, get reviews,let the readers decide... didn't do their job. Unfortunately it's not them who take the consequences for their actions. I am NOT a demanding author or a prima donna. I did let Baen know (with an e-mail to every person I have an e-mail for) that I was going through a major upheaval emigrating and would have limited computer access, that I would not be available to do all the 'rush do this at the last minute' jobs they always demand, and the promo work I normally do, so could they please help out. It's not like I ask for much, ever. Some of them may have done their bit extra, but someone couldn't make that much effort. Maybe it it was S&S or B&N... but at the end of the day, a good book and my career were left to destruct, without even bothering to tell me what went wrong.

    The answer is now I have to try and fix something that should never have been broken. If I succeed I want to be as independent as possible, because I don't want to try and do this twice.

    And I do not give in without a fight.

  19. Matapam - they've enjoyed an oligopoly on the key to publishing - access to chain retail space for so long, I think they have lost sight of their core functions.

  20. I figure he invited people to put their work up. Do it!

  21. Can I cross post this on OZ-e-books?

    I just found Charlie Stross's posts on the $&%^# state of the publishing world. This would add a nice counterpoint that an author does a great job and gets screwed by the system.....

  22. Went to the indicated web site for your collection, and immediately got distracted whilst perusing the volumes on the front page by The Goth Sex-Kit & Other Stories.* So yes, it my mind is in the sewer, but it's so nice and warm and you have a wonderful view of the gutter, and you met so many interesting people, especially when it rains heavily. <grin>

    [* Imagine my surprise to discover, after clicking the link, that it was actually your story collection that had inadvertedly distracted me. And that it was actually The Goth Sex-Kitten & Other Stories, whose title had been rather unfortunately truncated by a badly designed web-page. <grin>]

  23. Just had to be impressed by the length of time that Naked Reader allows you to download your purchased books...

    "Download until 1.15740740741E+113 days after the first download"

    [For the non-science people, if protons decay (so far we have seen no sign that they do) then this will be longer than the expected lifetime of the universe. If on the other hand, protons don't decay (as is seemingly the case), then I find it disappointing that they offer the downloads for such a short fraction of the time that baryonic matter will continue to exist in this universe. Admittedly it will be dead, cold and undifferentiated baryonic matter by then in either case, but at least your books will be effectively eternal.]

  24. I now of course want to WRITE the Goth-sex kit (which I believe relates to the lubricant qualities of white pancake make-up) And of course I am in favour of allowing downloads In Perpetuum*. I will be watching the equivalent of electronscan avidly.

    * A small town in Ohio, I am misinformed.

  25. I am continually distressed by the failure of local bookstores to put books that I know exist and that I want to buy on their shelves. If I want them badly enough, I'll order them, but I can't afford to order hardcovers that I might find interesting. I need to know I want them and being able to look at them helps a lot with that. I also need to know they exist, which isn't a problem for authors I follow on-line but is a big problem for otherwise. How are people who simply go to the store and browse supposed to buy books if they're not at the store?

    I never saw a hardcover copy of DRAGON'S RING despite regular trips to the bookstore. I will make an effort to hunt down a paperback copy though.

  26. Dave, now you have me wanting you to write the Goth Sex Kit...and yes, I've fixed the front page for -- again. I don't know what it is that causes the tables to shift and cut the titles off and our IT gal isn't around to answer. So I muddled through...still, if Goth Sex Kit gets you more sales ;-)

    As for the length of time we let you download, well, we believe you're buying the book, not just a "license" for it. Now I'm off to buy my pre-order of Dragon's Ring for my son's birthday.

  27. Katrina, that is part of how the compact between authors and publishers is broken: The deal is that publishing gets you retail space in exchange for the fact that retail, distribution and publishing get 85%* to 94% of the cover price. If what they're offering is basically very little more than self-publishing... then they're hurting themselves, authors and readers.

    *Royalty rates PB -6% for new authors, 8% for midlist Hardcovers 10% for the first 5K, 12.5% for next and 15% thereafter.

  28. Amanda that may have some very disappointed buyers :-) And happy advance birthday to your son.

  29. So, I've preordered a copy from the local bookstore, and put up posts on LJ and Facebook (miss you on LJ, by the way). Question - I've got at least one more copy to preorder for a christmas gift, does it make a bigger impact to preorder via amazon or a local bookseller, or does it matter?

  30. Groblek - normally I'd have said "buy independent" but as those figures don't come up on Bookscan, I would have to vote for Amazon. Thank you for all that effort, and I really need to do LJ again - I just as Bilbo said 'feel thin and stretched.'

  31. Amazon it is, then. I find it very strange that those figures don't include orders from the indies, but I can't say I'm surprised at yet another example of how broken the distribution side is. Sigh.