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The purpose of all these rambling comments has been to share my take on various things I've seen. It is, of course, subjective; it is filtered through a narrow sensibility. It is not meant to imply expertise on my part, because there's still a lot I don't know, and things change constantly, so knowing anything is an ongoing process.

A couple of trailing comments that I couldn't jam in elsewhere, and then back to the question of my current ignorance.

1. On Hold. This is an accounting category that no one speaks about. Let me speak about it briefly, as I mentioned it in regard to large bookstore chains/accounts. An invoice is, as I mentioned net 30 days. It means the bookstore has 30 days to pay it. I particulary loathe sales embargos in which a book is shipped two weeks before the bookstore is allowed to shelve it, but the invoice dates from the shipping, and not the sell-date. Digression.

A chain does NOT pay its bills in 30 days. Ever. In the old days, it didn't pay in 60 days, either; 90 days was about the expected pay date. Three months after the books were received, by which point, the returns had been done, and a credit applied to the account. At the moment, I believe 120 days is not uncommon. For big stores. That's in bold, although I didn't.

An independent store, however, has between 30 and 60 days to pay, period. Because the publisher's list doesn't depend on the bookstore, it being small no matter what its volume sales are, if the invoice is not paid in that period, the store is put On Hold. Which simply means that the distributor will not ship any books to the store until the bill for that period is paid. I understand why the chains aren't put on hold -- because the publishers have some faith that eventually the large company will pay those bills. When they don't, whole companies can sink without a trace.

When Chapters went under, it was in part due to the internet black hole, and in much larger part due to the fact that it had decided to start its own distribution network. Publishers who hadn't been paid in 6 months still shipped books to Chapters, and in the end, they didn't get paid. At least one major distributor/publisher in Canada went under due to that. Chapters was bought by Indigo. Things have sort of stabilized. But the chains still get their books, even though they take much longer to pay, and they charge placement fees, etc. It's an irritating world, at times. Otoh, it's much more likely that a small store will close shop owing that money.

2. Advice to writers: If you're going to miss a deadline, make sure you miss it with plenty of notice. Plenty of notice. Why? Your editor probably already has ulcers in progress, but with notice, she can pull the book from the schedule far enough in advance that it won't actually have been presented to sales reps, put in catalogues, etc.

If you're a midlist author with middling sales, having a book presented to bookstores -- and sold -- when in the end it won't be available is one thing. Most stores probably won't notice (unless they're specialty stores). If you're a midlist author whose sales are good and who has buzz or momentum, this is very bad. Because the sales reps present your book, and it fails to come in. You ask your reps where the book is. They tell you it's been pushed back. (where back means ahead, as in by many months). They don't like to do this; it makes them feel slightly stupid. Do this again? They feel stupider. Do it again? They don't even want to mention your book. They don't want to sell it. Yes, I'm thinking of a specific author. No, I don't think it's his fault; he certainly makes clear on his web page that the book isn't finished. But it doesn't matter whose fault it is: It's embarrassing to offer a book four times and have it fail to arrive. The squirming is visible.

David Eddings also caused the reps to have ulcers when he started to alternate between books in two series. It annoyed the hell out of buyers, and the buyers then harried -- guess who? -- the sales force. You really, really want these people on your side. Or at least neutral.

This is where art and business collide in a messy way. No one has complained about the quality of the Martin books when they finally get a chance to read them. Truly. No one (at least in our store). But it's also true that frontlist drives backlist, and that the longer the period between books, the slower the backlist moves. You lose momentum, and some clout, in that fashion. But I honestly feel that it's better for an author to write the book they feel is the best book they can, because a slap-dash book will also lose readers.

It's one thing to be late. People will write the publisher and demand to know where the book is. People will write, saying they know the book is finished, and they want it now, when the book isn't finished. But this doesn't affect the reps; it annoys the poor editors who have to deal with the email, but no promises have otherwise been made to the bookstores, and therefore, no bookstores have promised their customers that a book will be out by a certain date. No one likes to look like an idiot, and blame is part of the human condition. Best to have that blame, where it exists, fall on the author when it is the author's to bear: the excuse that a good book needs as much time as it needs is usually met with resignation or even agreement.

3. The most annoying bit of publisher insanity I've encountered.

At a Worldcon, there was a panel in which several editors were speaking as their publisher's representatives. It was a bookselling panel, and a number of booksellers were therefore in the audience. At one point, an editor asked the booksellers in the audience what they would find most helpful as an aid to selling the books that were being published.

I said (I'm not terribly shy with opinions) that the most useful thing they could do would be to keep the first (and subsequent) book in a series in print until the series had been finished. And one of the editors looked at me, put her hands on her hips (which was silly, given that she was seated) and said, "Are you saying that people won't buy a second novel in a series if they can't find the first one? Because I don't buy that."

Hello? Is anyone home?

Yes, I understand there are reasons why it's difficult to keep a series that isn't selling as well as beancounters would like in print, and I've enumerated a number of them. But, damn it, don't ask if you don't want an answer.

On the other hand, her response so offended the rest of the booksellers in the audience that they responded before I could (which, if you know me, is saying something), and a woman seated behind me said, "I'm not a bookseller, but as a reader, I certainly won't pick up a second book in a series if I can't find the first one." She was C.S. Friedman. It was just after her first novel had come out, and I adored it, so I was happy on two levels: one, that she was giving a reader perspective and two, that I could gibber at her like a brain-turned-to-mush fan.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 13th, 2004 07:56 pm (UTC)
Sorry for this tirade on your LJ ... but you're so right!

No apologies necessary <g>.

There were many things she could have said. Like, "We'd love to but the beancounters won't let us unless we want to sacrifice something else" (which has the advantage, in general, of being true). Or "Thanks, we'll do our best." Or, "Do we do that?" (Which has the advantage of being amusing).

I'm not quite sure why the response, which is why I think it was a momentary fit of insanity.
Aug. 18th, 2004 10:10 am (UTC)
I have a spare _The Price of the Stars_; it's not in very good condition but it's free if you want it.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 18th, 2004 10:39 am (UTC)
Go ahead and e-mail, and chocolates are lovely but not necessary. =>
Aug. 12th, 2004 10:33 pm (UTC)
This is of course just preaching to the choir and reiterating the obvious, but I have to say that I certainly wouldn't buy a second/third/fourth book in a series unless I could get the first one. In fact, whenever a book attracts my attention the first thing I do is check to see if it's part of a series, and what volume it might be. Then I look for book number One. No matter how interesting I found book number Four, the original attractor, I will actually put it back on the shelf with a determination to return for it only if I like book number One.

In fact, sometimes I go even further. I'll check to see if the author has any other books or series published, and occasionally will choose to start with their first book published, if I can find it.

So yes, I too have to wonder if anyone was home. I mean, this issue seems to me only logical, if you have even only a passing familiarity with reading in this genre. I mean, ok, yes there's a possibility that if my curiosity is really piqued and I absolutely cannot find the first novel in the series, I might go with a later volume just to test the water and see if it's worth it to special order or otherwise track down the previous volumes - but to tell you the truth I can't actually remember a time when I've done this. And I can't imagine that I'm alone in this at all. :)
Aug. 13th, 2004 06:41 am (UTC)
The editors didn't get that idea? Too many times I've purchased a book only to discover that it's the third or fourth book in a series and there are tons of references to past events that make no sense to someone starting out with that book. I hate to think of how many times those books were abandoned. So, I now check and, if I can't buy the earlier books, I don't buy any of them. Usually, I forget all about that intriguing third book in the series and never buy any of them. At least, should my feeble memory latch onto the author's name, the Internet makes it so much easier to track down out-of-print books or missing books in a series, but there's just something about a brand new book with its shiny cover and pristine pages that's very special.

I probably should introduce myself as I've just recently added your journal to my flist. Your posts on writing and bookstores have been fascinating and, as those are two my very favorite things, how could I resist your journal?
Aug. 13th, 2004 07:59 pm (UTC)
I probably should introduce myself as I've just recently added your journal to my flist. Your posts on writing and bookstores have been fascinating and, as those are two my very favorite things, how could I resist your journal?

Welcome! I blame the posts in general on the very little encouragment I require to blather and my husband, who insisted that in this case, the effort to Shut Up was not actually going to be useful <g>.

Aug. 13th, 2004 09:20 am (UTC)
I'm going to de-lurk, been reading your journal for a couple days, and have been a fan for a while.

I work in a bookstore also, so I hear plenty of complaints from customers when they find that X-book in X-series is out of print, but the others aren't. I, myself, as a reader would not pick up a book that's part of a series, without getting the first one first, no matter how intriguing I think the blurb is, or the cover.

It had taken me several weeks before I finally did pick up The Broken Crown, because the other books that were available in The Sun Sword series at the time were missing from the shelf. I decided to take the chance anyway, (I desparately wanted to know -who that gorgeous woman was on the cover-) and promptly fell in love. I scoured the bookstores in my area for the others, and I'm proud to say I've got the whole set ^.^

But I do agree, the first book in a series should remain in print, it's a big hassle otherwise, and a pity that (some) editors don't understand this.
Aug. 13th, 2004 08:03 pm (UTC)
I work in a bookstore also, so I hear plenty of complaints from customers when they find that X-book in X-series is out of print, but the others aren't. I, myself, as a reader would not pick up a book that's part of a series, without getting the first one first, no matter how intriguing I think the blurb is, or the cover.

It's the complaints that engender, well, the complaints <wry g>. I do like bookstore work; I love putting people together with books that I think they'll like. Sometimes it's easy to hit 100%; sometimes it's a long, slow process to hit 80%.

Which store?

Umm, and thank you for the kind words about my novels. DAW is good about keeping a series in print until the last book is out, which is one of the reasons I love them. One of many.

Aug. 13th, 2004 01:45 pm (UTC)
I find it somehow ironic that:

1) Readers like series much more than standalone books (collect them all!)
2) Readers will not start reading a series except at the beginning (I wouldn't, either)
3) Publishers hate having to keep an entire series in print.

There ain't no winning. :)
Aug. 13th, 2004 08:08 pm (UTC)
3) Publishers hate having to keep an entire series in print.

This one isn't completely accurate, although it used to feel that way <rueful g>; if the series is selling at a certain level, the entire series is always in print. It's the books that don't meet a certain sales level that lapse -- and if they're part of a series, it kills the sales of the later books by default, limiting the pool of readers to only those who did pick up the first book, and not in large enough numbers. Not all of those will then continue with the series.

However, if it's a question of warehousing, accounting, etc., then that's what it is -- I would have vastly preferred that to be said up front, though.
Aug. 13th, 2004 03:13 pm (UTC)
In F&SF, I find that I really need to read the entire series in order. The books in the series either don't stand on their own or have too many references that aren't explained. I will not read a Fantasy or Science Fiction series out of order.

In historical mystery series (my passion for the past few years), I find that series do not have to be read in order. It is usually best to read the first book first, but as long as you don't skip too many books, it's not necessary to read every book in order. And there are a few historical mystery series where I've started with the second or even third novel.

But definitely, the publishers would get more money from me if all the books were in print... because if I liked one book, I'll probably buy the rest.
Aug. 19th, 2004 08:12 am (UTC)
Publishers can be really depressing sometimes :/

I don't think I've _ever_ bought a sequel without the previous book/s being available, and there's only one instance I can think of where I bought a sequel first (and that was Lestat, following strong advice).
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )