Friday, February 22, 2008

Book Buyer Blogs: Buying to Necessity

The Anonymous Book Buyer responds to some reader questions (and assures me she'll respond to more as time allows):

Maybe you can explain your job a little more? Some folks here are assuming you're the bookseller, but is that true? Or is it more like you represent the bookseller? Maybe it depends on the size of the bookseller's business...
Sure. It depends on the size of the store. In a big chain store, most of the buying might be done in a central office by people who never set foot in the shops. And in some very small independents, one person functions as the owner-manager-buyer. And there is every gradation in between. I am an in-store buyer for a very large independent, large enough that we have in-store buyers as well as a separate buying office. It is perfectly correct to call me a bookseller, though I very rarely have time to spend "on the floor" hand-selling to customers, which to me, is the fun stuff.

So what do I do? The buying office meets with reps and picks out all the new stuff that will come into the store. We go through the catalogues page by page, looking up numbers on a computer while the rep tells us details about the books we are looking at. Hopefully the rep has either brought or sent ahead samples, advance copies, etc, so we can get a good idea of what the stuff really is like. Being in a buying session can be a bit tedious or hilarious, depending on the rep, however OUR reps are almost uniformly excellent - they know their product lines inside and out, and they know us, too, so they are very able to advise us on which titles to watch out for.

I also restock books each day from publishers and wholesalers, place special orders for people, place event orders and do publisher and wholesaler returns. Oh, and answer the phone, help people in the store when they need, deal with hundreds of emails and packages and slips of paper that get put on my desk in a week, follow up and place angry phone calls to publishers when such-and-such hasn't arrived, buy consignment books from authors, book some events, work some events, re-do displays when they get messed up, crawl in and out of the store's display window, change the soap in the bathroom... and sometimes I even get to have lunch.
...do you think it is too late for publishers to put their foot down in regards to the power the chains have, both in the US and Canada over which books they will and will not take and why, and even to them having the say in book covers, colours etc? While I realize it would take publishers joining together in a ban on the big chains and millions lost by them, I feel that if the pubs would take such a stand and only supply to the indys for a short time, the big guns would perhaps back down somewhat and make life better for all of us.

I bemoan the fact that chain bookstores wield such tremendous influence. I wish that people would give me that kind of power! (insert maniacal laugh here...) Look at that question of yours again, and you'll see two little words that no publisher would ever want to hear: "millions lost." A general ban, or even censure, of big-box stores by publishers is NEVER gonna happen. And really, why should it? If you ran an ad agency, or a garden center, or any other kind of business, you'd probably give some perks to a million-dollar account that a thousand-dollar account wouldn't get. Them's the breaks. For my own part, I am much more concerned about chains and online retailers being able to drastically undercut our prices -- but that wasn't the question.

There also seems to be great deal of general confusion in the author community about big box stores "refusing to carry" certain titles. There is a big difference between "refusing to carry" a book and just not buying it. I don't buy lots of things, for lots of reasons. Maybe the author has historically bombed in my shop. Maybe it is a genre or type of book that has never done well for me. Maybe the cover is horrifically ugly, or the book itself is cheaply made or merchy. [EA inserts: "merchy" may be defined as "so decked out with non-book extras as to functionally be more toy than book; gimmicky"] The decision to buy or not buy is always based on what will do well in my store, and is never a personal attack on the author. I carry books by political figures that I wouldn't spit on... if the books sell. I hate to be blunt, but I haven't got a lot of room in my store. The books on my shelves aren't for decoration. Think of it this way: each book is renting shelf space. For a paperback, it is about 10 cents a day. For a hardcover, more like 25 cents a day . If they are not "turning" quickly enough to make the nut, I have no room for them. [EA inserts: "to make the nut" see definition 6.]

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

this seems like a good time to say to all you authors and illustrators out there: PLEASE GET YOUR WORK IN ON TIME. otherwise, there will not be sales materials in on time to show to buyers. there is no faster way to kill a book.

deadlines are there for a reason!

Anonymous said...

b-b-but i am making ART. you can't rush ART. are you some kind of philistine? you just don't understaaaaand.

why yes, i do think that my editor sometimes has fantasies of putting me through a laundry mangle and just *wringing* the book out of me.

Anonymous, of course, said...

Here we are with an anonymous art director shaming anonymous authors and illustrators at the blog of an anonymous editor, which today features an anonymous book buyer. Sheesh.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:54. If you want honest and candid information, that's the price. It's exceedingly generous of EA--and wow, what especially straight, useful info from this buyer.

I could write epic poetry in support of the deadline argument--even when the way, way advance dates for materials seem absurd from the outside looking in. But I think the point has been made.

Anon 2:54 said...

Anon 3:04: No value judgement was intended. It's just a striking amount of anonymity, that's all.

working illustrator said...

anonymous said: "this seems like a good time to say to all you authors and illustrators out there: PLEASE GET YOUR WORK IN ON TIME."

And a good time to say to all those editors and art directors: hey, if you'd like your art on time, how 'bout GETTING BACK TO ME ABOUT THE REVISIONS, say more than two hours before the final deadline?

Kindly remember that the author polishing a final draft and the illustrator creating final art are the inheritors of every delay the project has experienced since its inception.

Those delays come as often from the publisher's side as the artist's.

I can't tell you the number of times that my studio schedule, a perfectly-spaced wonder in January was a complete train wreck by August because publishers didn't respond to correspondence, didn't deliver promised notes or delivered them so many months late that what would have been an easy set of revisions before deadline became a screaming yellow nightmare of all-night triage.

The work that comes out of that process? Not so pretty. But my portfolio will be stuck with it and so will your catalog.

I wish more editors and art directors understood that we want to please you. We are trying to please you. But when you edit us in circles, for months on end, by rotating indecisive committees, you create conditions under which it is not possible to please you. You set us up to fail, and fail we do: with late art, with bad art, with art that isn't art, just... homework.

Look, I get that delays happen, emergencies arise, and that corporate dynamics are unavoidable.

I get that you're busy. But guess what?

So am I.

I've got half a dozen clients, all behaving as erratically as you and all thinking that their issues are the only issues and that nothing else on my desk matters.

Sorry to go this much off-topic, but I am way tired of the lazy, flaky artist trope. We have all the same challenges you do and none of the regular pay.

Anonymous said...

So you kill books ! What does that make you ? You know I don't care if I don't get paid for the story. I just want people to the read it and tell me what they think about and yes, I would send my email address along with.

Anonymous said...

A. "If you want honest and candid information, that's the price."

I think that's a sad statement.

B. "Hey, if you'd like your art on time, how 'bout GETTING BACK TO ME ABOUT THE REVISIONS, say more than two hours before the final deadline?"

INDEED. Contracts often give those of us on the creative side like 9 months for revisions. Of course, it can take 8 of those for the editorial notes to be typed up and mailed, apparently, so then the author (or illustrator) is left with 3 weeks to actually MAKE the changes. Like it's a matter of correcting some typos or something, when it may be extensive changes with ripple effects and ramifications. I'm all for meeting deadlines on ALL sides... so let's starting building some deadlines into the editor's side of the equation, okay?

Yeah... sign me anonymous, too, since that last comment would probably tick off my editor -- even though it's true. I guess we're anonymous because it's more important, particularly in kids' books, to be nice than it is to be professional.

Still, thanks for the blog, EA and guest bloggers! (And pro commenters.) Better to know the battle than rush in naive.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:07 said:

"... I'm all for meeting deadlines on ALL sides... so, let's start building some deadline into the editor's side of the equation, okay?..."

I'm an author not an illustrator, but, honestly, thank you for saying this. It is SO true.

Deadlines seemed shockingly difficult for me, not because of the deadline itself, but from the lack of communication. At one point I needed some clarification before making a requested change (and was going to have to rip apart five chapters to accomplish it) and my (then) editor said she'd get back to me the next day. Weeks later the info was still AWOL and my pleading emails unsanswered. Meanwhile, the deadline ticked on...

I kept thinking, doesn't she know I've got to THINK about how I'm going to implement these changes? That it's not a simple matter of "typing" them?

I realized after the fact that she wasn't purposely disrespecting me, but that in this business things often play out in this manner.

(I'm not slamming editors -- I wouldn't be reading EA's blog if I didn't have a lot of admiration for the job they do.)

But how odd, that in a business based in communication (I consider all art forms as an attempt at communication) none of us seem able to communicate effectively.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Working illustrator and anon 2:07:
I absolutely agree, and in the case of the titles I work on (which I realize is no help to you), I absolutely expect designers, illustrators, authors, production, etc to let me know that the delay at point X (whose ever fault the delay was) is going to cause further delays at points Y and Z.
If you have worked with a house that cut into your revision time and yet still held you to the dates in your contract, I would recommend that in future contracts you be sure that if there are due dates for you, then there are due dates for the house as well. That way, if this problem arises, the house will be the first to breach contract, not you.
And don't hesitate to post in places like Verla Kay (anonymously, and without rancor or exaggeration) the fact that X publisher is in the habit of doing this to illustrators. One of your powers is your connectedness to others in the business.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:07 -- okay, to clarify, how about an emphasis on CANDID over honest.

Anonymous said...

EA, with all due respect, unless disregard is evident or all other channels of communication have been exhausted, the public airing of grievances strikes me as dangerous territory, especially when there’s a working relationship in place that should offer many opportunities for understanding and communication before that final step is taken.

I understand how tough it is to wait, and especially to worry that the good work you demand of yourself will be compromised by the sudden imposition of deadlines. My plea is to try to open the lines of communication earlier, both to let your editor/art director know the time you require to do the strong work everyone expects, but also to understand the reasons for what you perceive as a delay. Sure, it might be simple neglect, and that’s really unfortunate. But it could also be the schedules of books and seasons ahead of yours; or that you need more time than most and the editor doesn’t know what you’re expecting/needing (or that it was underplayed initially or that you never expected SO much revision); or catalog copy/TI sheets/ launch/ sales conference/ previews/ ALA, etc.; or someone else’s delay in house; or the person whose book needs to go to copyediting RIGHT NOW who IS late; or simply the time he/she needs to do his/her thoughtful—and also creative—job so that you get the best quality feedback.

It’s a two-way street. Everyone has competing demands on their time from the business of book making/promotion to sick kids. And everyone has a creative job to do that needs time to be done right.

Anonymous said...

Was this Website created just to boil my blood?

An interesting interview with a book buyer is immediately used by someone in the industry to make a condescending crack at authors and illustrators...

...and the subject is one of the sorest imaginable: Deadlines, which as an author I took very seriously and my editor seemed completely unaware of.

A two-way street?
Communicate?

How is one supposed to do these things when questions put to an editor are greeted with silence and long, long delays?

An author finishes off a huge round of revisions and ships it off in a blaze of excitement and the editor doesn't even acknowledge receipt of those revisions!! Not even an email that says "Got it." Nothing!

I'm going to have to stop reading the site, it's bad for my mental health. Someone always seem to pick the things that have caused the most heartache for me and then suggest that they're all my fault.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:20. What did your editor say when you asked him/her about the delay? Assuming you eventually got through.

Anonymous said...

As for insisting on a "due dates" in a contract, all I can say is: Hah! I did insist on due dates for a multi-book project, due dates that were completely ignored by the publisher.

What was I supposed to do? Take them to court?

When there's a power imbalance, it doesn't much matter what's written in the contract. We authors just try to get along.

By the way, my editor on the same project sent me rewrites while I was having surgery and expected me to hop to it. I'd told her for months that I wouldn't be available that particular week. Didn't seem to matter.

I should add that this is just one publisher--some have been considerate and responsive.

Anonymous said...

Thnak you to whoever was the anonymous book buyer - nice interview and information - very appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Can I add a question that I don't THINK was covered (apologies if it was)? Beyond the book itself, the rep's thoughts, and sales history (if any), what influences your buy? How much does a marketing plan, for example, sway your other instincts?

For an author with a history, what (if anything) helps to overcome a lower sales history?

christine tripp said...

Book Buyer, thank you for addressing my question so completely!
I agree with you "anon2:54", it gets damn confusing. I didn't even know there WAS a posting here by an "anonymous art director".

>I absolutely expect designers, illustrators, authors, production, etc to let me know that the delay at point X (whose ever fault the delay was) is going to cause further delays at points Y and Z.<

AE, I do that all the time. I can't really worry about why there are delays on the publishers side, I can only worry about my work ethics and if I never want to miss a deadline, then I have to act and not sit back and wait. When I sense that too much time has past for feedback on roughs, I will start the emails, putting a fire under the AD's butt (poor AD, but I do it in a NICE way and it's just a TINY fire:)
Mind you, this is usually with smaller publishers, that fire coming from me may be viewed by some AD's at the larger houses as more of a "pain in the..." then a fire:)

Anonymous said...

While I realize it would take publishers joining together in a ban on the big chains and millions lost by them, I feel that if the pubs would take such a stand and only supply to the indys for a short time, the big guns would perhaps back down somewhat and make life better for all of us.


Ever heard of collusion, restricting trade and price-fixing? The action you suggest is more than just biting the hands that feeds, it is illegal.

christine tripp said...

>Ever heard of collusion, restricting trade and price-fixing? The action you suggest is more than just biting the hands that feeds, it is illegal.<


My suggestion had nothing to do with pricing. It had everything to do with supplying to the large chains "free" books, books of their choice and for sometimes the oddest reasons, the power they have over the publishers on every level, even to the point of changes to the art (IE: the child's skin on the cover is TOO dark, it won't sell, change it) and their returning books that did not sell, sometimes after almost a year on the shelf and now the worn and damaged books are basically garbage. Money doesn't actually enter into this, other then the publishers wouldn't lose as much of it.
I'm afraid it is the big 2-3 chains (including Canada) that are more guilty of "fixing" then my thoughts and suggestion:)