Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Do I Do Now? The Darker Side of An Author

The art of writing...the joy of words...of putting them together...the satisfaction of typing the final page of a manuscript...the excitement of being publisher...the pride of holding the first copy of the book that you wrote in your hand...

It's all bullshit.

Wait. No. Scratch that...

It's only all bullshit when what comes afterwards turns to poo and sullies all those positive feelings that a writer and author should feel on the journey towards becoming a published author. 

When my novel was published in 2010 through the wonderful ireadiwrite Publishing house, I was - as you can imagine - understandably ecstatic. It was the culmination of a life long dream to become a published author and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity Michelle Halket and the team in Vancouver gave.

When it became apparent that my novel would be going into print, we discussed how we would get the book down to Australia and we were able to set up quite a good mechanism for achieving that. I set up my own distribution company, Hambledown Road Imprints, and I became the distribution executive for the Asia/Pacific region. 

This is just a fancy way of saying that I took up the responsibility of pounding the pavement, taking my book to book stores as far and as wide as I could to garner interest, form relationships and, ultimately, get the book on to the shelves. This is the ultimate prestige for an author - one that we spend most of our life dreaming of.  

But, make no mistake, this was hard work. 

I had to become a salesman, become articulate in-so-far as learning the language of the book trade as well as develop a professional 'persona' that would allow me to 'sell' my book. I had to become an astute business person in order to strike agreements and arrange promotional events. I also had to set up a business operation that would allow me to track stock, keep in touch with book stores who had agreed to take on my novel, prepare invoices and send them out as the sales reports came in. 

Initially, I enjoyed all this very much and I felt that I was making much of this new enterprise. I was, in my view, yielding success. 

Along the way, however, I began to encounter a darker side to the whole business of selling books. 

I would send invoices out to stores based on their sales reports back to me and ask for a 30 day turn around which, to my mind and my observations of business operations, seemed entirely appropriate. I'd set up reminders on my calendar in order to remind myself when invoices were due to be paid and I ticked them off one by one as transactions were completed. 

I recounted an experience last year in a previous blog post where a particular store I had struck an agreement with avoided paying an significant account after several friendly reminders, a couple of phone calls from myself and a visit in person to the store. They threw up all sorts of excuses to me as to why they hadn't paid the account on time and engaged in serial avoidance in order to delay the account even further. 

That experience degenerated into my having to threaten legal action, if the store did not pay the account within 7 days and I had to terminate my relationship with that store. That whole experience heralded my entry into the darker side. I lost a lot of sleep over it. It affected my relationships with my family and it soured all of those good feelings I described at the top of the page. 

I am now experiencing similar difficulties with two more stores who, as I write this, have not paid accounts I sent out to them in May this year. We are now at the end of July. Letters I've sent are not being responded to, emails I send go unanswered, phone calls I make are either blown off or given the "I'll get back to you on that" 

I don't understand how it is that these book stores - in fact any business - can operate like this. The two book stores are stores that I have previously held in high regard. I have visited them many times over the years and I've bought books from them. They have good reputations. I approached these book stores on that basis because they are stores I wanted to see my book in. 

They are fucking with me and I know they are fucking with me. 

There are certain mannerisms that you can pick up in phone conversations that scream obfuscation. Non committal answers to simple questions like - "When can I expect you to pay the account sir?", "Will you confirm you've received the account by telephone with me?"

My bullshit-ometer has turned way up to 10 now and my tolerance for these people is stretching to breaking point. It is also spoiling my pride in being a published author. 

But it is also making one other thing clear to me. 

Throughout this year, news services have run with stories of the collapse of big book stores like Borders both in America and Australia. This has been blamed in part on the rise of on line retailers like Amazon and the advent of the ebook. I think it has more to do with the failure of supposedly sound corporate entities and their shitful business practices. I know this from experience. I struggled for nearly a year to receive payment from the parent company of Borders Australia who again, sold a significant number of my novel from their shelves. As a lone Australian author and CEO of a start-up book distribution house, there was little hope of me extracting monies from them any sooner than I eventually did. Again, the experience left me frustrated and discouraged.

But it has also lead me to question the need for me to continue forming the kinds of bricks and mortar relationships with entities that are, from my vantage point, in trouble. If book stores enter into formal arrangements with authors that include signed documentary agreements and then they fail to live up to the spirit of those original agreements, then what the fuck am I doing with my time? I think my future as an author will ultimately be determined in a greater marketplace anyway - where the most important relationship will be that between the author and the reader directly. Frankly, the middleman sucks. 

There is no real moral to this story. I think I've given you an insight for you to determine your own moral here. 

I would just say that if you are in business, the one piece of advice I would impart to you as a fellow businessman...

Pay your fucking bills.



  1. Hmm. I'm sorry to hear about your problems with the bookstores, but this is really the darker side of marketing books, not of being an author. To be honest, I'd be amazed if they'd all paid up their May accounts before the end of July! You won't get such a fast turn-around from a publisher. If I invoiced a publisher on 1st May, the bill would be paid, earliest, 2nd July. That's the meaning of 30 days nett (ie 30 days after the end of the month in which the invoice is sent). It is not uncommon for them to pay after two or three months, and some pay up to nine months late (or even more) despite much nagging. That's for advances/fees. Royalties come at least three months after the end of the royalty period. I know it's hard, but once you're over the first few months, the flow is steady.

  2. I can't quite accept that logic. These arrangements have basically been a books on consignment arrangement whereby the store stocks my book for an agreed period, I check in with them regularly ie. once a month, they report their sales to me and I send out an account based on copies sold with terms of 30 days from the date of the invoice.

    What could be simpler?? If I don't pay an account for a product or service, then there are consequences for non payment. Certain book stores seem to operate in a parallell universe where those rules don't apply. It's wrong and they should be called out on it.

  3. I think you're right to be irritated, Dean. I've thought about trying to get some local stores to stock my book, but ultimately, I think I'm better off scheduling events at those stores and selling the books myself, on site, for cash, where the cash goes from the reader's hand to mine.

    In all honesty, you probably are better off foregoing the brick and mortar bookstore route. In my personal experience, I've had no trouble being paid on time by CreateSpace (the company that prints my paperbacks) and all the e-book distributers.

    Nobody needs this kind of annoyance in their lives, you know? Stick to online, and just do events around town. I've got a speaking event tomorrow in which I will sell my book. I always have great success selling books after speaking about my experience with writing.

  4. It sucks that such a lack of integrity is just accepted as the norm in the book marketing world. I guess I'm just a naive teenager but it seems ridiculous.

  5. @Anne - I'm intrigued to know how you went about setting up those speaking engagements. I've done several book signings in the past where they were attached book stores so they took a cut of the sales. If I could do something where I can cut out the middle man, I would jump right in with it for sure.

    @Crimsai - the very fact that you've stopped here, read and considered my post tells me that you are in no way naive at all. I hope that you can take something away from this post that will help you when it comes time to promote your own book.

    I'm in no way denigrating all book stores because some of them have been fantastic, but there are some tough realities about selling books that don't allow for warm and fuzzy feelings. You have to develop a tough business side to yourself - without compromising on your integrity.

  6. That's just another reason to go strictly electronic through Kindle/Nook/Smashwords. Dealing with bookstores in this tenuous economy is a nightmare.

    Hope things improve for you, Dean.

  7. Update 8/2/11 - cheque received from one out of two stores today. Persistence pays off!