Saturday, August 25, 2007

When Bad Things Happen to Good Writers, Part Two

Our second tale involves a writer done dirty by a bookstore. That’s right, a bookstore. You know, one of those huge bookstore chains that can make or break a writer. We won’t say which one.

First, a bit of backstory: Our writer—we’ll call her Honey—is the author of (among other things) two historical mysteries. Her mysteries were originally published several years ago in hardcover for an unusually large advance. Unfortunately, the books didn’t come close to earning out that advance and, rather than print the third book in the series, the publisher dropped Honey. Not all that uncommon, you say, and she did have those two fat advances to assuage her grief. But wait—it gets worse.

Flash forward a few years to the summer of 2007. Honey’s publisher has decided to reissue Honey’s historical mysteries in trade paperback with a planned release in the fall. Now this is a Very Lucky Break, almost unheard of in the industry. And then something even better happens—a Mega Bookstore Chain contacts Honey’s publisher and suggests they release her first book early, in August, to coincide with the release of the latest Jane Austen flick. You see, the MBC has a grandiose plan to feature Honey’s book on a table in the front of all their stores under a big sign that says, “If you like Jane Austen, you’ll love these books,” and they put in a nice big order for Honey’s trade paperback. With visions of high sales dancing in her head, Honey also begins nourishing hopes that her publisher will, finally, pick up the third book in her historical mystery series. Every author’s dream, right? Wrong.

Two weeks before Honey’s book comes out, the MBC decides—for reasons unknown—to scrap their plans for the Jane Austen table and they cancel their big orders for Honey’s books. But by this time, 10,000 copies of the book have already been printed and over 1/3 of those were destined for the MBC. Guess what this does to Honey’s “Numbers”?

What do these two very real stories have in common? Both feature writers tantalized by a chance at success only to be crushingly disappointed and let down in the end by people they trusted. This happens in the publishing industry so much, it’s scary. I suppose the lesson here is an old one—It ain’t over till the fat lady sings, or Don’t count your chickens before they hatch—you know the drill. But it doesn’t hurt to repeat the warning.

Writer beware.

6 comments:

Chap O'Keefe said...

Yes . . . beware, but I don't think anyone -- as a writer -- can do much about the cases like those you have detailed.

You have to try to put the discouragement behind you and push on with another book. This was the old, old "cure" that the often-unpracticed experts used to suggest in the days when publishers' editors did actually read submissions and send out rejection slips.

It underlines that if you're not enjoying doing your writing, or if it makes major problems for you -- financial, relationships, etc -- you need to try writing something different, or another occupation altogether.

Very sad.

Shauna Roberts said...

Scary stuff. Thanks for posting these two stories.

Steve Malley said...

Well spoken, Chap.

It's a sad fact of business, even businesses of art, that major suppliers/vendors/customers often see it as their given right to use their sheer size to bully the weak. The financial pages of full of such stories. Few of them have a happy ending.

Cautionary, indeed.

Lisa said...

These kinds of stories illustrate vividly the old advice that if you can imagine yourself doing anything else, you should do it. Unfair things happen in all areas of business with devastating results. Companies go under, the guy that hired you suddenly gets fired and you're out the door too, layoffs happen -- but only in the arts is a person so decidedly on his/her own when it happens. I suppose if there's any lesson to be learned it's that everyone always needs a Plan B.

Charles Gramlich said...

And I thought I wrote horror stories. Sad.

liz fenwick said...

Sobering.