My Waterstone’s Adventure

In lieu of work­ing on my next pod­cast — which will appear 7th Jan — I thought I’d fill you in on what happened with Scott Pack, Chief Buyer for Waterstone’s. Constant read­ers (i.e. my dad) will recall that Scott Pack came across an art­icle of mine that bemoaned the dif­fi­culties of get­ting my book into Waterstone’s (among oth­ers). Scott emailed me thusly:

I enjoyed your blog piece.  Perhaps you’d like to send me a copy of your book and I can see if there is any­thing we can do with it.  No guar­an­tees but would be happy to read it.

(Scott has, by the way, giv­en me per­mis­sion to quote from his emails.) Pausing only to spray my tea over my lovely iBook, I sent Scott a copy of Déjà Vu forth­with and sent about being unne­ces­sar­ily grumpy to my girl­friend, star­ing out of win­dows at the rain, and click­ing send/receive on my email applic­a­tion while I hissed, “Reply, damn you, reply!”

Well, Scott did indeed reply, one week later:

I did fin­ish it (and there are lots of books I don’t fin­ish — life’s too short) and enjoyed it. It is a good book that could be a very good, or even fant­ast­ic, book with a bit more work.

He went on say some nice spe­cif­ic things:

* The thrill­er ele­ment would hold its own with most of the books we sell in quant­ity.  The chase scenes have great pace and the air­port scene is par­tic­u­larly good I think.
* The char­ac­ter­isa­tion, often a flaw in this sort of fic­tion, was very strong, espe­cially in the lead char­ac­ters.  They were human, not just plot devices.
* The end­ing and how the last couple of chapters linked everything togeth­er — oxtail soup was a nice touch — left me impressed as I put the book down which is a good place to be.

But he also had some con­struct­ive cri­ti­cisms:

* The vir­tu­al real­ity world was, and for­give the obvi­ous irony, not as real­ist­ic as it needed to be to bring the read­er along.  It is a bit too vague.  I am still not sure exactly what I was deal­ing with.  A read­er more used to sci­fi may have hap­pily accep­ted the concept but a thrill­er read­er may need a bit more sub­stance.
* The first quarter of the book does not have the flow and pace of the rest.  It was fairly ordin­ary and I was wor­ried I’d have to send you a very depress­ing email but it really picked up after a while.
* The jack­et and format.  Lightning Source are great at what they do but there are lim­it­a­tions. To be a real com­mer­cial pro­pos­i­tion this needs to be an ‘A’ format (think Da Vinci Code size) with short­er chapters and a visu­ally impact­ful jack­et.  That would really drive some pace in the read­ing and would attract the sort of read­er who would enjoy this book.

So how am I feel­ing about my Marvellous Waterstone’s adven­ture? Generally pos­it­ive. Scott liked the book, for the most part. He had some cri­ti­cisms — noth­ing I don’t agree with. I’m not the kind of writer who thinks the last thing he wrote is the best thing since sliced bread. On the con­trary, I find the flaws in Déjà Vu bloom in my ima­gin­a­tion the more I think about them.

The com­ment about the phys­ic­al aspects of the book is bang on tar­get. Though Lightning Source (the print­er) have a done a good, pro­fes­sion­al job, the book itself does not sug­gest ‘thrill­er’ in same the way that a smallish, thick­er book with lar­ger text might. I can see how this could make the cas­u­al book-buy­er pause. (The cov­er, incid­ent­ally, was designed, by me, to be visu­ally impact­ful at thumb­nail size, since I con­sidered — accur­ately — that web sales would be the primary sales con­duit.)

Of course, it would have been poptast­ic if Scott had reques­ted, say, five mil­lion cop­ies for spe­cial pro­mo­tions involving an animat­ron­ic Saskia Brandt rais­ing her left eye­brow in a ‘This is all a bit famil­i­ar’ expres­sion. I’ll save that idea for the movie, star­ring — as if you had to ask — the excel­lent German act­ress, Franka Potente.

Has this adven­ture helped me plough through the daft of Flashback (work­ing title), the sequel to Déjà Vu? Well, I’m writ­ing this blog entry instead of describ­ing the last moments of an air crash (don’t ask), but it’s heart­en­ing to know that, at the centre of the Waterstone’s web, there is a chap who (a) is artic­u­late, meas­ured and (I think) largely spot-on in his assess­ment of a story but (b) has a sense of those ele­ments, not just the cov­er, that might stop a read­er pick­ing up the book, and © is happy to lend his brain to a young author (who is, let’s face it, just some bloke what wrote a book).

So, though my deal­ings with Scott are per­haps not rep­res­ent­at­ive of his role towards pub­lish­ing in gen­er­al, I’m cer­tain enough that the opin­ion I advanced earli­er this year (here, for example) — that Mr Pack is someone writers and pub­lish­ers need to worry about — is not truly groun­ded. Scott is fre­quently por­trayed (see this Observer art­icle) as a mogul upon whom pub­lish­ers must lav­ish trinkets and trib­ute. This isn’t con­sist­ent with my little Waterstone’s Adventure. As far as I can tell, there was noth­ing stop­ping me from get­ting my book bought cent­rally by Scott. Well, one thing stopped me. The book did not quite reach stand­ard. This is noth­ing to be wor­ried about, because it is some­thing, as a writer, I have com­plete con­trol over. All I need to do is write bet­ter. I’m very happy with that con­clu­sion, even if writ­ing bet­ter is very dif­fi­cult; it isn’t, at root, unfair. While the pub­lish­ing industry can seem unfair to writers who are start­ing out — and, let’s be hon­est, there are import­ant ways in which it cer­tainly is unfair — there are, if you can get to them, people on the inside who are pre­pared to offer time, wis­dom, and oppor­tun­ity.

That’s not a bad thought for the last post of the year, but here’s a bet­ter one: Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

10 thoughts on “My Waterstone’s Adventure”

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    ~Katey
    p.s. I decided to start post­ing on Blogger, too, which may be easi­er for you to view:
    http://www.thewritinglife2.blogspot.com

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