Last Chance to See Déjà Vu

Tabula rasa is a term very famil­i­ar to a psy­cho­logy gradu­ate like me, and doubt­less famil­i­ar to any­one who has bumped into Aristotle or Locke. It’s appro­pri­ate for the New Year, of course: blank slate. This year, I’ll be mak­ing a fresh start with Déjà Vu.

Let me explain. Déjà Vu is pub­lished using a tech­no­logy called Print on Demand, where a copy of the book is prin­ted at the point a customer’s order is received. This con­trasts with the tra­di­tion­al mod­el asso­ci­ated with pub­lish­ing: a run of books is prin­ted in the first instance, held in stock, and handed out as required.

By and large, book­shops like Waterstone’s do not dis­play POD titles on their shelves because POD pub­lish­ers tend to be small, and this means they can’t bear the (frankly dra­coni­an) dis­counts deman­ded. A com­pany like Waterstone’s wants a large cut of the Recommended Retail Price; they want money from the pub­lish­er to pay for pro­mo­tion (i.e. dis­play­ing it sens­ibly); and they want the pub­lish­er to accept the fin­an­cial risk of unsold stock. This is why pub­lish­ing is a big boy’s game. (To be fair, some small book­shops, like Mostly Books — who cur­rently stock Déjà Vu — will sell POD books.)

Still read­ing? There’s more.

The dis­trib­ut­or behind the pub­lish­er of Déjà Vu has decided that it no longer wishes to dis­trib­ute books that are POD. Why? Aggravation. Waterstone’s staff, for example, will often claim that POD books — with an ISBN, a British Library copy, etc. — do not exist. They will per­sist in this beha­viour even when a POD book is waved in front of their eyes. So my book’s dis­trib­ut­or would be for­giv­en for adapt­ing its busi­ness mod­el to that of the big retail chains.

What impact does this have for Déjà Vu? Well, Déjà Vu will go out of print at the end of January. From that point, you will no longer be able to order a copy from Amazon. Waterstone’s staff will actu­ally be cor­rect when they claim it does not exist.

I was a little sur­prised by the news. My pub­lish­er shares some of its fin­an­cial machinery with anoth­er pub­lish­er, and though this OOP (out of print) shenanigans was known early last year, news didn’t fil­ter to me until late December.

My advice would be that, if you want a copy of the book, get your order in before the end of January. For those who remain des­per­ate after that, I will have a per­son­al stock of cop­ies, but since I have to buy them from my pub­lish­er, I prob­ably can’t afford to stock more than fif­teen or so (and most of them I’ll have to ear­mark for small book­shops who had the balls to stock my book on the basis of its reviews, rather than the bank bal­ance of my pub­lish­er).

What next for Déjà Vu? In truth, I don’t know. Because the book has gone OOP (in smoke, lad :-), the con­tract with my pub­lish­er is voided. This leaves me with a book that (i) has been pro­fes­sion­ally edited, (ii) has been crit­ic­ally acclaimed in nation­al pub­lic­a­tions like The Guardian and SFX, (iii) exists in an even bet­ter second edi­tion and (iv) is com­ple­men­ted by a sequel that, I believe, takes things up to a whole new level.

A straight­for­ward job to place it with anoth­er pub­lish­er, then? Well, not really. It’s quite dif­fi­cult to con­tact someone in a pos­i­tion to adopt a book that has already been pub­lished. I’m guess­ing that this is because the ‘front door’ sub­mis­sions pro­cess is geared towards slush. Time and again, a nice cov­er­ing later that con­tains reviews and a pre­cis of the sequel seem to go unanswered because they don’t fit the stand­ard form of a manu­script sub­mis­sion (I can’t be sure about this, of course, because pub­lish­ers either don’t reply or send you a little post­card with a pre-prin­ted response).

Surely I can slip it in through the back door, then, using my net­work of spies? This too is dif­fi­cult. In the middle of last year, best-selling author Ken MacLeod, who had read Déjà Vu, con­tac­ted an edit­or with­in A Well-Known Sciffy Publisher and did the whole, “There’s this guy called Hocking who…” Bubbling over with grat­it­ude, I sent off my book with a cov­er­ing let­ter — beau­ti­fully prin­ted, no typos — that out­lined my second book (Flashback) and…nothing happened. A month later, I called up the edit­or and spoke to his sec­ret­ary. Apparently, it was extremely oddball beha­viour on my part to send a book when every­body knows (I ima­gined the sec­ret­ary rolling her eyes) that edit­ors can only cope with double-spaced text. I men­tioned that this hadn’t been made clear me. She dir­ec­ted me to the author sub­mis­sion guidelines, and sug­ges­ted I stick to them to the let­ter. I did, and heard noth­ing back.

Anyway, like I said, tab­ula rasa. Quite pos­sibly I’ll find a home for the second edi­tion of Déjà Vu, and those who own a first edi­tion can rejoice in the fact that it will go for twice the amount on eBay in a few year’s time…particularly if its author hap­pens to be brows­ing.

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Author: Ian Hocking

Writer and psychologist.

14 thoughts on “Last Chance to See Déjà Vu”

  1. Wow. What a kick in the old chops.

    Unfortunately I think pub­lish­ing as a whole is mov­ing more and more towards get­ting one or two big, chunky titles on the mar­ket and spend­ing a pack­et on them, rather than pub­lish­ing a broad­er selec­tion of titles. It makes it tough­er and tough­er to get your foot in the door.

    With the Guardian and SFX review, plus the pre­vi­ous back­ing of a pub­lish­er, I’m sure you could find some­body else to back Deja Vu. I mean, those are amaz­ing cre­den­tials.

  2. Thanks for your com­ment, star­geez­er. Self pub­lish­ing is def­in­itely a pos­sib­il­ity. It’s dif­fi­cult to get ser­i­ous reviews down that route, but of course I’ve already got the reviews, so it wouldn’t be a dis­aster to park the book with Lulu. Something to think about…

  3. Thanks, Roland. I think, alas, that reviews don’t sell books in the way they should; I think agents/publishers would be more inter­ested in 2000/3000 cop­ies sold than what people actu­ally think of the book…

  4. Yes, I was think­ing that self pub­lish­ing wouldn’t be so bad. It’s already been pub­lished by a real pub­lish­er, if you will. So you don’t need so much to estab­lish cred­ib­il­ity as to just keep it avail­able to people look­ing for it on Amazon. Or so my gut feel­ing says.

  5. As an ex Ottakar’s (briefly Waterstone’s) book­shop man­ager, (POD titles used to be access­ible on the shop­floor using the inter­net, but I don’t think it’s as straight­for­ward now), some of the sales-indu­cing tac­tics that you may well have tried already, but that were often suc­cess­ful.…

    con­tact Local Radio sta­tions and offer cop­ies as prizes for com­pet­i­tions
    same with loc­al news­pa­pers, espe­cially as there is a major film out with the same title — lovely cheesy tie-in!

    ask around book­shops for those that pro­duce monthly news­let­ters (we used to do a 24 pager that focused on and recom­men­ded whatever we chose, dis­trib­ute a few hun­dred from the counter each month, and sales of fetaured books Always rose for the news­let­ter peri­od, and some stayed high­er long term.)

    find SF book­groups, or reg­u­lar book­groups, send them a read­ing copy and ask them if they would like to con­sider Deja Vu for a read­ing choice one month — great for word of mouth sales after­wards

    for SF con­tact Steve Robinson, man­ager of W in Sunderland and SF supremo and ask if he would try a read­ing copy
    or try George Walkley at Orbit — blog on Georgewalkley.com, or on MySpace
    my name won’t get you any­where! at all! but it will explain how you came to them (Shelly Naughton from Oban)

    all small time aven­ues, (oo, have you spoken to your loc­al Forbidden Planet man­ager?), but with qual­ity reviews and acclaim, might help to keep it tick­ing over, spread word of mouth for the time being.

  6. Sorry to hear about this, Ian. Have you heard of wild­side press in the states? (www.wildsidepress.com) — they pub­lish sci­fi and used to have a delib­er­ate policy of invit­ing sub­mis­sions from pub­lished writers whose books had gone out of print.

    The ed-in-chief is John Gregory Betancourt. Here’s the address:

    wildside@wildsidepress.com
    WildSidePress
    9710 Traville Gateway Dr, #234
    Rockville
    MD

    You prob­ably know all about them already.

    Oh and thank you for the very gen­er­ous plug above! You’re a gent!

    Roger.

  7. I prin­ted some cop­ies of Adventure Eddy through Lulu, just so I could give them to friends or scibble in them myself (easi­er than star­ing at a screen.)

    They pro­duce very nice look­ing books, but Deja vu might get swal­lowed up by all of the oth­er self pub­lished books avail­able there, 90% of which are prob­ably unmit­ig­ated, uned­ited crap.

    You’d need to spend A LOT of energy mar­ket­ing the book. Misty’s got some good sug­ges­tions where and how to do it. If you need any radio con­tacts, let me know.

    I think most of us agree that Deja Vu’s of suf­fi­cient qual­ity to be pub­lished tra­di­tion­ally, though. I think you should only look into Lulu and self pub­lish­ing once every single aven­ue has been exhausted. It’ll be a schlep, but I’m con­fid­ent that Deja Vu will be avail­able in Waterstones some day soon.

  8. Misty, thanks for your com­ment. That’s a lot of use­ful info (yes, I’ve done one or two things on the list, but the SF book group idea sounds good). Thanks for your sup­port!

  9. That’s a good idea, Roger, thanks. I’ve sent them an email. So far, I’ve been a bit reluct­ant to approach US pub­lish­ers and agents because I don’t know where to start, and just send­ing quer­ies to UK agents seems to take enough time. We’ll see what they say…thanks again.

  10. Rolski, I too thought of using Lulu to pro­duce a few read­ers’ cop­ies. I might do it in future. True, any book pub­lished by Lulu will have it’s work cut out, so I’ll stick to tra­di­tion­al pub­lish­ers for the time being (and only go with that option if I get des­per­ate). Thanks for the offer of radio con­tacts — I might well need them!

  11. This is in no way a com­ment on your book, which I haven’t read, but may go some way towards explain­ing the reti­cence around POD.

    As a former book­seller, I can tell you that many POD pub­lish­ers (though prob­ably not yours) provide books that are so unspeak­ably ugly and badly made, but also massively expens­ive and slow to pro­duce, that order­ing them for cus­tom­ers invari­ably res­ults in the cus­tom­er throw­ing a fit when the book arrives and refus­ing to buy it. And becuse the books are POD, they can­not be returned, and there­fore the shop loses a bundle on the order. As a res­ult, many shops have a policy of not order­ing any POD titles. However, as cus­tom­ers will insist that they do want to book, and this insist­ance bears no rela­tion to their will­ing­ness to actu­ally buy it when it arrives, it is often easi­er to just not men­tion the POD edi­tion and, yes, pre­tend that it doesn’t exist.

    A decent self-pub­lish­er may prove a bet­ter option.

  12. Thanks for your com­ment, Marie. I guess my feel­ing — as an author — is that I’m the little guy and the book­seller (Waterstone’s in this instance, since inde­pend­ent book­sellers seem to go case-by-case) could do more. I guess it’s a like a super­mar­ket. Sure, Sainsbury’s have a good range of food, but you won’t find any loc­al pro­duce because only behemoths can accept the terms that Sainsbury’s imposes. This is good for the con­sumer in some ways, of course, but it threatens the devel­op­ment of those try­ing to start out.

    It might be true that the major­ity of POD books are unspeak­ably ugly, but the big chains only need to have the flex­ib­il­ity to include those they want to — i.e. a book like mine with (if you’ll for­give the immod­esty) a pos­it­ive review from The Guardian. But the book­shop man­agers have no con­trol over their stock because they’re scared about cop­ies tak­ing up shelf space… I explained how non­sensic­al this was to my loc­al man­ager on account of the army of book-read­ing friends who wanted to buy cop­ies, but his hands were tied by head office, so no cop­ies at all were stocked loc­ally. The res­ult? Upwards of 100 cop­ies went through the tills at Amazon. Nobody was happy about that. The Waterstone’s lost the rev­en­ue, my friends had to wait for their cop­ies, and I had to explain ad nauseam the fin­an­cial reas­ons why Waterstone’s was unable to even acknow­ledge the exist­ence of a UK pub­lished book.

    A friend of mine did insist that the book ‘exis­ted’ to a Waterstone’s rep, and suc­ceeded, after a time, to actu­ally have them two or three ordered. She arranged to come back in a couple of weeks. The books arrived earli­er than expec­ted, and I — yes, me, the author — got a phone call from a pan­icked staff mem­ber com­plain­ing that a cus­tom­er had ordered my book and not picked it up! Bonkers or what? What does that have to do with me?

    I under­stand that book­shops have to work eco­nom­ic­ally, but the whole epis­ode sug­gests that these chains (not inde­pend­ents, who actu­ally seem to use reviews and their opin­ions when order­ing stock) sell ‘books’ in a very pecu­li­ar use of the word: a object that the cre­at­or pays them hand­somely to stock and pro­mote, can be returned to the cre­at­or if it not sold with­in a giv­en time, and is presen­ted to read­ers only if the pub­lish­er has a bank bal­ance suf­fi­cient to pro­duce hun­dreds of cop­ies sim­ul­tan­eously.

    Sorry, Marie. I’ve totally gone off on one. It’s prob­ably time for my after­noon. Obviously my com­ments were sparked off by yours — I’m not really tak­ing issue with the fin­an­cial motiv­a­tion behind large-scale book­selling. Sure, a profit has to be made. But I can’t help but think this kind of think­ing is why we’ll see the end of book­chains like Waterstone’s in their cur­rent form. This morn­ing I needed a book about Buenos Aires in the 1940s. Got it on Amazon in about four clicks. The prob­ab­il­ity it would be stocked by the loc­al Waterstone’s, which has just giv­en up the top half of its first floor to a cof­fee shop? Zip.

    Hot milk is call­ing me…

    Oh, I’ve just real­ised you’re ‘strug­gling author’. I like your blog!

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