Weirdness in Publishing

on Sep 11 in Writing by

There are many idiosyncrasies in the publishing industry. For example, a company will announce an initial printing of a certain number of copies. This is sort of like a White House spokesman leaking a policy or a name that the President is considering endorsing in order to gauge the reaction, while retaining the ability to reverse himself. When the publisher announces it is printing 50,000 copies, as Ecco did my book, that simply says to sales reps and bookstores that the publisher has relatively high expectations for the book, and that perhaps there may be a strong push behind it. Rarely does the initial printing actually match the announced initial printing. Mine was 16,500. Not a bad number, I’m told.

Similarly, the pub date is usually sometime after the date the books ship and arrive in stores. I’m not sure exactly why this happens, only that my book started showing up around August 23rd, although its official pub date was September 1, which is when my mother and father, probably the first consumers in the country to exchange cash for it.

There is a publishing industry practice that is so bad it must cause the executive who agreed to it fifty or more years ago to roll over in his grave every time it is explained to a novice. A book that is sold doesn’t count as a sale until a sufficient amount of time has elapsed between the purchase and the possibility of the reader returning it, which is another way of saying that books are consigned to retailers and to consumers for a period of time during which they may give them as gifts, read them and then return them to the publisher for full credit. A bookstore never has to eat returns — ultimately, publishers will take anything back, within I guess a reasonable period of time.

Another weird thing is the number of used copies that show up on Amazon for dirt cheap, before it is even theoretically possible for anyone to buy it, read it and give it to a reseller. In the case of my book, as soon it was offered for sale, a dozen used copies advance reader’s editions and hardbacks showed up on the Internet. Review copies, my former neighbor/novelist tells me. A problem, a friend of mine in publishing says. Advanced readers editions are not the same as the hardback in that the sentences haven’t been scoured by copy-editors and proofreaders.

The days leading up to publication are strange and interesting. You try to stay focused on writing, but it’s impossible not to consider the event you’ve waited for. Every few days, I hear from my publicist who tells me about a phone interview, or a radio show, or possibly a TV appearance that said publicity person has scrambled and followed up fastidiously to arrange. Before release, anything is possible.

One Comment

  • Don–
    Congratulations on the publication of your book. I look forward to reading it–which will be over the Christmas holdidays because I’m in the midst of teaching and trying to find my way through a chaotic semester. Storms. New students at mid-semester from Tulane. The sick feelings of losing a city.

    Anyway–I read with a smile each posting about your book and just read your blog about the weirdness of publishing. There is so much switch and bait in the “biz”, no? I felt pretty good about the handling of my book–who would know that the two towers would come down as my first book came out–and who can complain in the face of that? My puny, wimpy–“Oh god, my book has been buried in the rubble of civilization!” But that actually didn’t happen completely and it is still in print, though every six months or so my agent has to do battle about that. And sometimes I want to leave, leave the book behind but feel as I sense you do–that somehow you owe it to the book to do those interviews etc. This is all to say that I’m happy for you, relate to all you said in the blog, want to read you, and that next word from me will, I’m sure, be fan mail.

    Best–Marsha Recknagel