Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Course of True Publishing Never Doth Run Smooth

For those of you in the real world, the inner machinations of publishing are most likely not on your radar. For those who work in the field, the oddities can be extremely annoying and distracting. Such has been the case lately as my publisher (Dragon Moon Press) struggles to get my books to my readers.

Peace of cake, you say? In an ideal world it would be. You roam into your favorite bookstore, order a copy of my book and viola!, in about a week the tome is in your hands. What you don't see is how book orders are fulfilled. Your bookstore (let's call it Al's Books) does not contact my publisher directly. They go through a book wholesaler or distributor (the distinction between the two is minor) who collects all the orders for Sojourn for a week and then forwards them on to Dragon Moon Press. DMP boxes up the order and ships it to one of a number warehouses located around the country. Those warehouses break out the books according to the order and ship them to the appropriate bookstore in bulk lots. So not only would Al's Books receive a copy of my book, he'll also get a DiVinci Code, a How to Train Your Ferret Not to Bite Your Toes and Why Acid Rain is Good For You. The wholesaler/distributor is the ultimate middleman and gets a cut of the $$ for such services. The benefit to Al's Books is that he doesn't have to order directly from a squillion different publishers and all the books are on one bill. So far so good, providing all the above steps are in place.

The whole system comes to a grinding halt if the wholesaler doesn't show the book as in stock at their warehouse. The longer this shows on their database, the bookstores' own databases may flag the book as Not Available or worse yet, Out of Print even though books are piling up at the publisher. Such has been the case with my book. There are copies available. They're selling briskly on Amazon. But our wholesaler has shown the book as not in stock since the moment it was published. Why, you ask? Wouldn't it make sense to show a copy or two lying around their warehouse to stimulate orders? Ah, this is where it gets weird.

The wholesaler will not stock books unless there is demand. That's their bottom line. However, to generate demand it would be ideal that at least ONE copy of the book be shown as "In Stock". No books in stock, less likely it will be in demand. 'round and round we go. No demand. No stock. A self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, the book is not shown as available on B& (and other online retailers) because--you got it-- it's not in stock at my wholesaler. (Amazon stocks seperately). This not a new problem for me; I fought this mindset when I was self-pubbed. Fortunately, there are only a couple of DMP titles with this stocking issue. Unfortunately, one of them is mine.

So folks have been trudging into their local bookstore to order my book only to be told "Sorry, not available." Despite the awesome reviews, all the work my publicist and my publisher have been putting into make the book a success, it all hinges on the policies of the 'gatekeeper'. Until we crack that open and get 'through put', Sojourn will continue to fight an uphill battle. We continue to offer the book at other venues, but a goodly number of folks want to order at a bookstore. I respect that. I just wish my wholesaler understood that, as well.

I'm eagerly awaiting the day when you can walk into your local bookstore, peruse a sample tome, punch a code into a printing machine and it prints your book while you wait. (Yes, such technology exists. They're working out the bugs.) The upside? No middleman, less environmental damage for returned/pulped books, and no hassles for the reader. You get the book you want when you want it. The downside? I'm still working on that one (other than a lot of wholesalers' employees out of a job).

So we will continue our jousting with the monolith that is our wholesaler. I have faith my publisher will prevail, though I deeply regret the lost time and lost sales. However, once the book is in stock, we'll have to watch the levels very carefully. If it goes out of stock, we may have to start the whole process over again.

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