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.