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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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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