From author Matt Hilton on Pulp Publisher:
Like many other mid-list authors I’m fighting a losing battle to get my books onto physical bookshelves these days, and instead of seeing the numbers of my books growing in availability I’m finding that fewer bookshops now carry them than when I was a newbie on the scene a few years ago.
. . . .
But then you have to also look at the way that the chain bookshops have largely turned their backs on supporting the mid-list authors and simply stacking tables with the ‘big names’, the ‘latest fad’ or questionable ‘biographies’ allegedly penned by questionable ‘celebrities’. Even if/when a chain carries books, you’re lucky if they carry a single copy which, when sold, isn’t reordered, so the chance of selling in quantities is now a thing of the past.
I’ve observed shoddy practice at a sales floor level. I once went into a Waterstones store in Birmingham – after travelling hours and hundreds of miles – to sign copy for them. The sales assistant gave me a blank look and then said, ”Oh, we forgot to order them in.” Another time I went in a Scottish Waterstones store to sign stock and introduced myself. The manager said, “Never heard of you, mate.” I then explained my book was (at that time) in their company top ten best sellers, to which he replied, “Oh, they have a different chart in England.” He then ignored me and walked away. On another occasion I went into a WHSmith store to sign stock (a few weeks after the book came out) and discovered that not only were the books on a pallet in the warehouse they were being sent back having never been put out on sale. Most authors will have similar tales to tell, and although such practices are harmful they do tend only to be at a local level, and not massively destructive to a career. But then larger problems persist.
. . . .
In excitable fashion I was telling all my readers ‘The book’s now available!”, only to receive replies from readers in the fashion of “Matt, it’s not in my local shop.” I then encouraged them that they should go in to the shop and order a copy. Only for the reply from the shop to be along the lines of: “Sorry, but our distributor isn’t carrying any copies and there’s no date available for when the book will be in stock.” Was I gutted to learn this? Not half! Thinking that there was a distribution problem from my publisher’s end I contacted them and was told some disturbing news. There was no problem from the publisher’s end just that neither WHSmith nor Waterstones had made any advance orders on the book. Doubly-gutted. When enquiring why, I heard some equally disturbing replies. Waterstones have almost completely withdrawn from selecting full priced mass-market hardbacks, and offer very few central promotions, so it is down to individual buyers in each shop to decide on the books they carry. (In other words they’ll stick to the established big sellers, thank you very much). Although individual stores can take orders, the book isn’t carried in their distribution hub, so therefore it is difficult to source.
. . . .
[Quoting another author] “This happened to (his book), which I think is the best novel I’ve ever written. It was released exactly as Waterstones put a moratorium on new buys so month of release it was almost impossible to find anywhere except for places like Forbidden Planet and indie booksellers. Then when Penguin released (his next book) I got ZERO bookstore distro through Waterstones and Smiths because ‘my last book didn’t sell’ which was the one they didn’t stock because of their bloody lock-down on buying as they were going bust. The reality for me is, when I turn the new novel in to the agent in a couple of months, I’m looking at a pseudonym and hoping a second bite at the cherry works as they’ve completely screwed up any high street value I had.” He went on to say: “Frankly mate, it’s heartbreaking and exhausting. I’ve seen myself go from #2 on Amazon to unfindable in about 26 months… I spent the best part of 20 years building up a reputation for working hard, delivering on time, hitting a level of quality and reliability with editors… and my first bloody book with Penguin didn’t even get STOCKED. What am I supposed to do? I have no answers. So really, it’s like saying the last 20 years don’t count, I’ve got to start again from scratch. When the new novel goes out basically no one will know it’s me…”
. . . .
[Yet another author] told me that his first book came out on both sides of the Atlantic published by a major publishing house. It did well in sales and was even number 1 in the German paperback charts. When his second novel came out, his publisher messed up, and distribution barely occurred. Because book 2 didn’t sell, they decided not to publish his third book and pulled his contract. No fault of his, but his career went down the Swanny. Fighting back, said author then released a book through self-publishing means and it was a medium hit. It gained him enough notice that he was picked up by another agent who sold his next series to a major publisher in the USA for a substantial advance fee. Because the US bought publication rights, then so did Canada, and on the back of it the UK also took the series. Then the initial US editor left the company, and in what almost sounds like a fit of spite the publisher cancelled all the deals on books commissioned by that editor. But that wasn’t the end of it. Because the US was no longer publishing his books, the Canadian publisher decided they wouldn’t bother either, and, yes, the UK publisher soon made the same decision. This author had done absolutely nothing wrong, but was dumped on from a very great height. Bad enough luck for anyone to contend with, except now his name is dirt in the publishing world and nobody will touch him. I reiterate: this author did absolutely nothing wrong, it was bad decisions and bad practices that killed his career and he is now right back to the drawing board to try to resurrect his writing and his name.
Link to the rest at Pulp Publisher and thanks to Catherine for the tip.