Thursday, 6 May 2010

Ponderings from the fluffy navel...continued.

A Catch 22 scenario that is the bane of most authors' lives is the fact that most bookstores - including supermakets - will concentrate on the big established names' latest books, rather than give shelf space to new authors who are trying to establish themselves. Therefore it's very difficult indeed to establish a new name, because quite frankly most casual readers won't know that you exist.

I'm very fortunate in that I have a couple of huge publishing houses supporting and pushing me as a 'new author', but even then it isn't plain sailing. I have to stop and wonder what chance new books from many thousands of writers stand in getting any shelf space whatsoever.

And if they're lucky to have their book picked up by a bookshop...

Here's a quandry:

Book shop receives stock
Book shop puts stock on sale
Stock sells out
Book shop doesn't re-order replacement stock
Stock therefore doesn't sell (because it isn't on the shelves)
Book doesn't make it into the big sellers
No sales last week, so book shop will replace it with something that did sell
No sales this week either
Book drops out of sight
Next book doesn't get ordered as first didn't sell.
No sales.
What chance does an author have of establishing him/herself?

Thankfully this isn't a scenario I've suffered from and my books are still on sale - but I've seen it happen on a smaller scale.

Here's what happened when my first book came out in hardback:

I approached a manager of a chain store and offered to sign their stock of my books for them. At the time I was number 12 in the Sunday Times hardback charts. The manager gladly accepted, but on checking found their order was late and therefore no books were available to sign. The manager asked if I could come back the following week, which I dutifully did, but the books still weren't there. Another ten days went by and I went in again. There was a box of forty books waiting for me. Oh, goody, I thought, only for the manager's hand to go up. 'Oh, hold on...Where are you in the charts now?' On checking, my book - due to none being in the shops for customers to purchase - had dropped back to the low forties. The manager said, 'In that case we can't put them out on the shelf because we only stock up to the number 40. Err, don't bother signing any in case we have to send them back...but would you mind signing one I've bought for my brother?'

I wonder how many other authors have faced a similar dillemma, and how many author's careers have gone up in a puff of smoke due to similar situations.

Here's a sum for you.

A: An author's book is published at 1,000 copies. 900 of them get sold and 100 sent back to the publisher as unsold returns.
B: Another author's book is published at 100,000 copies. 80,000 get sold and 20,000 sent back to the publisher as unsold returns.

Who is the succesful author?

The answer BELIEVE IT OR NOT is A.

Author A sold 90 per cent of the books with only a meagre 100 returns
Author B 'only' sold 80 per cent of their books and the publisher was 'stuck' with 20,000 remainder copies.

Sound ridiculous?
It is, but that's the way statistics are reported.

Therefore, Author A is more viable and their next book is pushed harder. Author B is a liability, and theirs isn't.

Again, thankfully, I'm not speaking from personal experience, but know someone who this happened to.

Here's another scenario:
Huge book store chain says, 'We aren't supporting (insert author's name here) until we see how they do with sales....Maybe if they do all right, we'll start supporting them after their third or fourth book.


Basically, it's a frustrating situation, when all you want to do is sell books, entertain your readers and perhaps make a little bit of a living out of it.

Are you sure you still want to be a published author?



Because the benefits outweight the maudlin times ten-fold.

As writers it isn't about becoming mega-stars, but actually writing something that you think other people would like to read.

There's nothing like the feeling of seeing your 'by line' on a book cover, and having the knowledge that other people are reading and enjoying your work. Those two simple points outweigh all the frutrations mentioned above. Pretty much, they're out of your hands, so just do what you do best.



Lee Hughes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sue H said...


Really encouraging (not), Matt - but a lesson in reality!

I suppose in some cases it's a question of having someone in the media picking up your book so the spotlight falls on the author for a while (as in the Richad and Judy 'effect') - that starts the ball rolling in a big way.

...but we can all dream.....and navel-gaze, I guess!

Matt Hilton said...

Did that come across as depressing...oops.

Just telling it as I've found it - like I promised to do.

But you're right. It's about getting into the public consciousness - hence my next post ;-)

Matt Hilton said...

Sue, you got me thinking.

I set off with this blog in order to inform people of the process of having a book accepted by a publisher up to the point of publication and beyond. Along the way, I wanted to be honest and tell the truth about how it is, that is: relate the ups and downs...but somewhere along the way I've gone from an 'aspiring' to an 'established' author and it has made me re-evaluate my 'role' here.

You made me realise that I should be an inspiration, and chuffing on about marketing etc - which is pretty much out of mine and the publishers' hands anyway - is maybe best kept for somewhere else. I've slapped myself resoundingly.

Nevertheless, I've said what I said, and will leave it as is - because some may find it interesting that there are different hats to wear as a published author; one of them a publicity seeking missile - with a short addendum at the end.


David Barber said...

I found it really interesting Matt. To see both sides of the coin, so to speak, is an eye-opener. And yes, at the end of it all, I will still work to be a published writer. :-)

Matt Hilton said...

Cheers, david,
glad you found it informative.

I went into the publishing game with rose coloured spectacles firmly wedged on the bridge of my nose - knowing nothing of the process or of the reality that authors must face when their books are out there.

I've mentioned before that writing is a solitary game - it is - but only so far as the writing of the book is concerned. To be truly successful in the 'game' you must be able to promote yourself and to become somewhat of a show person.

Sue struck a true cord when saying she believes that you need to be picked up by a media person - when you consider which authors you see on TV, hear on radio, or see in magazines and newspapers, it tends to be the same ones over and over again.

It's almost as if, until you've conquered the other media channels, you're not a 'real' star.

Its probably why certain 'celebrities' sell more books than real writers do.

But, hey, that's the way it is...and we can overcome.

keep on keeping on

Glaznost said...

Wow, i, too now feel thoroughly depressed! I'll still keep on keeping on though, as i am determined to get published and be a success. Otherwise i've wasted all that obsession, and that would be a bad thing! I'd have to get obsessed with something else, like stalking or knitting or something, and that wouldn't be half so much fun!

Matt Hilton said...

Dead right. Never stop.

The book selling market's very shoddy at the moment, but things will swing in the right direction again soon. I'm optimistic.

Sue H said...

Being realistic, guys, we know what the challenge is. But it doesn't mean it's impossible - just that it takes a lot of hard work and determination to never give up!

And it's up to each one to seek whatever outlet and promotion gives them an advantage.

If we had more book programmes on TV/radio (not dreary lit. ones) and greater promotion of READING in the first place, then there might be more openings for new authors. How we actually achieve that is tricky.

Perhaps we need to be irritating the media until it takes notice!!

Just one thing - never give up!!!

(and as Dory used to say in 'Finding Nemo' - "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...")

Col Bury said...

Interesting post, Matt.
Having chatted to a few author's (including your-good-self) I was aware of this and being a stubborn *swear word* I'll be relentlessly pursuing the dream.

Matt Hilton said...

Sue and Col,
dead right.

It's all about never giving up.

Cue the 'Rocky' theme, and I'm away to run up my stairs.

David said...

Interesting observations Matt.

I am sure things are just as twisted Down Under (I’m in Oz), but at least they give new author’s a little bit more of a chance, by NOT releasing their books in Hardback to begin with. This, to some, may seem like a slap in the face, but ultimately it keeps the price of a new book affordable – and then a reader is more willing to try out a new author. A new hardback retails around AU$50 (unless your Dan Brown or JK Rowling who can sell mass quantities at discounted prices). So the price for a hardback is pretty steep, and the average punter is not going to shell out for something they don’t know if they’ll enjoy.

As you’re no doubt aware Matt, your Joe Hunter books have been released as trade paperbacks in Australia – keeping them to a reasonable AU$24 to AU$32 – depending on retailer. And they are available almost everywhere. That way you're in with a chance.

But an author needs to be backed by a decent marketing campaign. Joe Hunter has been well served in this part of the world. But comparing say Dead Mens Dust (the first book) to other debut thriller writers; JJ Cooper’s The Interrogator disappeared off shelves after a week or two never to be seen again, and Jeremy Duns’ Free Agent never hit the shelves at all (he was listed on the S&S Australia website, but that was a copy imported in from England – this may change with the paperback editions) – so essentially he received no support Down Under (despite excellent reviews around the world).

So there you have it – three debut thriller writers and three different reactions to their almost seems like a dice-game.

Matt Hilton said...

Hi David, and thanks for the heads-up on how things are down under. I don't hear too much about how things are going with the books outside of the UK - it's a different team who looks after my international sales, so to hear that my books are everywhere in Australia is a real buzz. I like that very much :)

I only hear figures supplied to my UK editor based on Bookscan in the UK. Even this is flawed, as not all shops are on Bookscan, so there could be many copies being sold and I wouldn't know about it for many months (that is if they don't get sent back as unsold). The idea of the trade paperbacks is a very good one for establishing a new author, and I'm very thankful that my publisher has done this. As well as Oz and NZ, they go out to Canada, Ireland, Singapore, Hong Kong etc, but again, I don't get any idea of how many of these have sold until about a year later. So, it's great to hear that you have seen them on the shelves (I hope they're also selling ;))
I think the USA market is similar to Australia's in that not many people buy hardback books - just the collectors and libraries - so even though DMD has been out for over a year in the US, it's only now that the paperback has come out that I'm beginning to see feedback from US readers.

Thanks for the post David, and I'm sure all the other readers here will find it fascinating (and encouraging).

Shame about JJ Cooper's The Interrogator and Jeremy Dunn's Free Agent not getting that much exposure in Oz - both the guys deserve huge success.