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Geeks With Books
by Rick Klaw

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Stupid Publisher Tricks

For years, David Letterman featured the not-so-brightest of the animal kingdom. Periodically, people and their pets would appear on the show with such tricks as chasing imaginary gophers or turning off the television during certain shows. In that vein, I present a new periodic feature: Stupid Publisher Tricks.

During my tenure as a book buyer and an editor, I experienced several of these "tricks." Here are but a few.

The Ass End of November Country The October Country

Nothing irritates a book buyer more than a publisher missing an obvious promotion opportunity. Last summer, Del Rey announced plans to re-issue Ray Bradbury's classic The October Country in a handsome trade paperback edition complete with a new introduction by Bradbury. The October Country is one of the best short story collections ever produced and worthy of a fine new edition. There was one little thing wrong with it. (Isn't there always?) The marketing geniuses at Del Rey decided to release this new edition of The October Country in November! Late in November! I understand that there is little money for promotion of a 46-year-old book. So every possible tie-in should be exploited, especially one as natural as this.

This line of reasoning led a co-worker to wonder if some stories had been added and they were going to rename it The Ass End of November Country. That was the only logic we could find to explain why a nearly 50-year-old book would come out a month later than it should.

"We forgot."

Missing natural tie-ins is not the only stupid publisher trick. Michael Moorcock tells an entertaining story about The Sword & The Stallion, the third book of the second Corum trilogy. In the U.K., Quartet published the first two volumes to the trilogy in 1973. Sales were brisk and everything pointed toward the third book continuing the trend. Except that it didn't.

Surprisingly, the first and second titles continued to sell very well but none of the third title sold. Zero, zippo, zilch. They couldn't figure it out. This went on for months. Six months to be exact before someone looked into it. What they discovered was astonishing.

THEY FORGOT TO PRINT THE BOOK. Yes, you read that right. Not only did they forget, but no one even noticed for six months. I'm not sure exactly how that happened, but I'd like to think that some dope (a person and/or the herb) was involved.

"Wrong department."

Science fiction publishers are far from the only perpetrators. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly referred to as the DSM-IV- TR (IV for the version number and TR for Text Revision), is a required text for psychology majors. Since this is a university town, most Austin bookstores carry it and Book People is no different.

When the latest edition was announced, we ordered it through a commission sales rep (A commission rep will often offer selections from 40 or so publishers.) Months later, customers started looking for the recently released revision. (A little aside here: Bookstores order new books about six months before they actually hit the shelves.) Book People never received the books. The American Psychiatric Press, publishers of this particular book, claimed we never ordered the book. So we called the sales rep.

What he discovered was certainly disturbing enough to make me wonder about the sanity of the Psychiatric Press. Apparently, the orders were sent to the order department. The order department's 800 number is listed in the APP catalog and, since no other instructions are given, the rep assumed that is where the orders should go. Well you know what they say about assuming.

According to the Press, orders are really supposed to go to the marketing department who then directs the order department what to ship. Am I the only one who finds this absurd? Perhaps we were the rats in the maze and the DSM-IV-TR was the cheese? Whatever the reason, we didn't have the book and lost sales, all because of a publisher's stupidity.

"D'oh!" The October Country

This is the part were I confess to the egg on my face. As many of you know, I was the managing editor and co-founder of the dearly departed MOJO Press. It was with MOJO that I committed a stupid publisher trick.

Ben Ostrander, MOJO Publisher and other founder, and I were high off our critical success of our second title Weird Business. That's the only way I can explain what happened with our third title, The Tell-Tale Heart. This graphic novel featured an assortment of classic Edgar Allan Poe tales as envisioned by artist Bill Fountain. It was a wonderful collaboration, thanks to Bill's creepy art style and scholarly mind,. (To Bill's credit, he never once complained about working with Ed.) Bill offered a vision of Poe's works unlike any seen before as typified with female narrator for "The Tell-Tale Heart."

We did everything right. We sent out review copies. (The book ended up with jacket quotes from horror luminaries Steve Bissette and Joe R. Lansdale.) We scheduled Bill for store and convention appearances. We positioned The Tell-Tale Heart and Bill Fountain to take the publishing world by storm.

I remember the day the books arrived from Montreal. (Like a lot of publishers, we had our books printed in Canada.) It's always exciting the first time you see the finished product. When they first emerge from a box, freshly printed books have an amazing smell, and this one was no different. Happily, we noticed that the printer aced the color covers and the interior printing looked good. And then we noticed the fatal flaw... our stupid publisher trick... WE FORGOT TO PUT THE TITLE ON THE SPINE! This is a grievous mistake since most bookstores don't order enough for a face-out. Once the book was shelved spine out, it would be lost. And lost it was. Sadly, this wonderful book never really caught on. I'm sure the lack of title on the spine had something to do with it. Thankfully both Bill Fountain (Bill went in a different direction becoming an accomplished music reviewer and award-winning educator) and Edgar Allan Poe survived our stupidity.

SPT's happen all the time and I'm hoping y'all will share a few with me. My plans are to produce another column with some of your submissions.

A few more notes before I go on my merry way. Many thanks to everyone who emailed me support and comfort after I lost my job. I get the point. You want Geeks With Books to continue. I'll do my best.

On the job front, things are looking up. I recently started working at Half Price Books, the largest used bookstore chain in the U.S. I'm also doing some freelance editing and small press consulting. Even though things are better, I am still on the look out for more freelance work, so don't hesitate to send any leads my way.

Thanks for reading and don't forget your honey on Valentine's Day.

Copyright © 2002 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw is also the fiction editor for RevolutionSF. A former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experienced most aspects of the book business. He will be a guest at the first ever ConDFW in Richardson, Texas on Feb. 23-24. Drop by and say howdy!

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