Friday, April 25, 2008

The Awful Revelation

If you are like most authors who have books with traditional publishers, you don't give a passing thought about whether your book is remaining in print or not. The actual decision is out of your control and in the hands of your publisher. It's one of the aspects of the book business which is rarely discussed yet typically one person within the publishing house can make a decision which removes your book from print. Per the typical book contract, the author is to be notified of this decision and permitted to buy the remaining stock for the book at a steep discount. Throughout my years in publishing, I've found the majority of publishers (large and small) handle this part of the process in a poor manner. They don't inform the author and someone else in the publishing house sells that remaining stock to a discount book distributor as a remainder. The author is left without the ability to purchase these additional books because "no books are available." When this experience happens to you, it becomes an awful revelation.

It happened again this past week with one of my books. Because of the public nature of these posts, I'm not going to tell you the specific book or publisher. It is a book that had earned back it's advance and was earning a modest royalty that I received on a quarterly basis. From my other entries about The Writing Life, you understand that makes this particular title fall among 10% of nonfiction books which earn back their advance. Yes, on the other side of that statistic, 90% of nonfiction books never earn back their advance. In my view, this book was profitable for the publisher and on a good course as a solid backlist book.

Because of my Amazon profile (something every book author should create), I noticed this particular title was back ordered and only used copies of the book were available. I checked my files and I had not received a royalty statement from my literary agent in a few months. Initially the agent's assistant didn't think the book was out of print because they received a December 2007 royalty statement.

Yet when the agent's assistant checked with the editor (who was someone different than I worked with on the book creation years ago--typical), she learned the book had gone one of print in April 2007 and at that time the author (and agent) should have received notification. I never received the notification--nor did my agent (because he has a system to get me this information on a consistent basis). A year after the decision, I learn about the fate of this book. The remaining stock for the book is long gone when you receive this type of news. There is nothing else that the author can do about it.

Each time I've had this experience, I take a moment and reflect on the challenges of getting the book published in the first place. I consider the hours of work to create the words in the book, then go through the various stages of the book production process and finally (one of the key elements) the on-going promotion work for the book. The revelation also reveals the lack of communication between the publishing house and the author. It's a very helpless situation with no good resolution (at least for the author).

Many of the details of life are outside of your personal control. It's true in the book business as well. I believe in the life-changing power of the printed page to transform lives. Why? Because it happened in my own life and you can read about it in Two Words That Changed My Life. Notice the way people are used in this story but also the way a book, Jesus, The Revolutionary, was influential in the transformation.

Some of you may be wondering why your Writing Tip Of The Day isn't working (thousands of websites) and why some other parts of my online pages are not visible. Homestead.com which hosts millions of websites went down a day or so ago--and I got some sort of technical mumbo jumbo about the reason but reassurance that it will all be back up and running by this evening.

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5 Comment:

At 11:48 AM, Blogger Kristi Holl Left a note...

Terry, I'm really sorry that happened to you. I know how it feels--it's happened to me for about half my OOP books, maybe more. In this day and age of instant email contact, there's really no excuse for authors not being informed. Do these remaindered books get sold by the publisher for more money than the author would be required to pay for them? That's the only reason I can think of that we don't get notified anymore.

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Bonnie Calhoun Left a note...

So sorry to hear about the death of your book. sheesh...it's almost cruel on their part to chuck you when you were making money at it.

Would this be one of those strategic opportunities where self-publishing could be an advantage? I know Amazon has their own sort of POD printing now.

At 7:44 AM, Blogger Jo Left a note...

Oh how sorry I am for you! That must have been so frustrating...
Your blog is absolutely wonderful and I'm so glad to have found you. I'll be back and probably have questions of my own before too long, but just had to thank you for taking the time to share your own personal experiences with fellow writers, and teach us what you can!
- Jo

At 11:27 AM, Blogger ChrisB Left a note...

"Per the typical book contract"

So how about some oft published authors start taking legal action for breech of contract until this situation improves?

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...


I don't think "legal action" does anything in these cases except destroy your hard-earned relationship with the publishers. I plan to be around in this community for a long-time.

If you are involved in publishing, you will quickly learn that it's a relatively small number of people--who talk with each other often. I do not want to burn bridges and legal action only serves to isolate you. I would not recommend it.



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