Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Amazon Gives Bookscan to Authors

Well, that's interesting. But before you go thinking this will answer all your questions and make your life perfect, let's remember what we know about Bookscan, ok?


B. A. Binns said...

At first the news felt good, then I realized it means very little to me or my book. My major buyers are in the educational and library community andwould not be reported to Bookscan.

LindaBudz said...

Oh, yay! You're back! And back with a vengeance! I'd almost given up hope....

emay said...

So why won't our publishers give us more accurate information? In real time instead of six to ten months later?

emay said...

p.s. I didn't mean that rhetorically--I think a lot of us would be very interested if you had a chance to address that question at some point.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Emay, that would require either a secure website where authors could look up sales data (which would require constant staffing as well as a great deal of start-up programming) OR a number of dedicated people to look up sales figures upon request (and they would have to be dedicated to that job. Between the number of titles we have and the vast curiosity of authors to know whether this wednesday was better than last wednesday, it would be a full-time job for several people).

The alternative, that publishers have unsurprisingly opted for, is to do neither and spend their money on stuff like acquisitions and marketing and salaries and heat. As curious as authors arre about this information, how does keeping you that well informed serve the publisher, or, indeed, the book?

emay said...

Hmm . . . sounds like I don't understand how publishers get THEIR information. I guess I didn't think it would be so hard for editors to share what they know with their authors about how their books are doing.

I think this is just one example of how authors are often puzzled by the lack of communication from publishers. Another would be our not knowing anything about the production schedule and our part in it. It seems as if there could be some kind of form letter that goes out, explaining what we should expect (e.g. which stages of sketches, proofs, etc. we will be allowed to see and what types of changes we'll be allowed to make). Instead we sit around wondering until a surprise package shows up, or doesn't.

I get the feeling editors don't realize how truly in the dark we are. And while we try to understand how busy and overworked our editors are, I'm not sure they ever find time to imagine how it feels to have our careers in the hands of distant strangers who rarely share with us even the most basic info about the fate of our life's work.

Editorial Anonymous said...

It's not HARD for editors to share how a book is doing with the author. It's the work of a few minutes. But multiply that by all the authors we've ever worked with, and the follow-up questions they'd have sometimes, and answering those questions would seriously become all we ever had time for.

I agree that there should be more information available to authors about the process (this blog is part of my efforts toward that end).

But we send royalty statements with sales data every six months. That is not what I would call "rarely".

And experience has shown that it's not as simple as passing out a standardized guide to publishing. Books vary a great deal in the way their timeline plays out, and in how much the author is involved.

And we work with many different types of people, with different learning and communication styles. The guide to publishing that would work for you and for your book wouldn't work for other authors and other books--indeed, it would cause MORE confusion and cost us more time in explanation with some authors.

Because publishing is such an unpredictable and human process, the only real way for each author to feel they know what's going on at every stage is for them to be able to talk to their editor whenever they like-- the way you can talk to a doctor whenever something's bothering you.

This works for doctors because they can charge you (or your health plan) for the time your questions take. Editors cannot. If authors were willing to pay editors for their time every time they have a question about their books' health, we could work something out.

Failing that, we just have to try to keep you as informed as we can, while making all the other work we do the higher priority. Because it's that work that's paying the publishing house for our time.

I don't mean to sound unsympathetic. I would dearly love to make sure all my authors are as informed and happy as possible. My authors' happiness means a lot to me. The stark fact of the industry, though, is that I will never have the huge amount of time for that that it would require.

emay said...

Well, maybe the problem is that authors are seen as outsiders and nonessential to the process. Imagine if you had to do your job under the same conditions. The designer just doesn't have time to tell you that the sketches have come in, so you don't get any input. The printer can't see any reason why you should check proofs, since it would go so much more smoothly without editors pointing out picky errors. The publisher has a whole publishing company to run and certainly can't find time to tell you which of your books are doing well and which are not.

The reality is that just being in the office means being privy to lots of crucial information that the author, who is at the core of the whole thing and has the most at stake, doesn't know anything about. What a strange way to run an industry!

I'm sorry if I sound like a total jerk. I hugely appreciate your taking the time to answer my question at such length--not to mention taking the time to write this blog. But when I see some of the publishing disasters that come from authors and illustrators being left out of the process (example: a picture book printed with the completely wrong palette because the illustrator didn't get to see the proofs), it kills me. We are all so terrified of offending our editors that we rarely dare to ask what's going on, and certainly never complain. And as a result, editors think there's no problem. But there is.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Well, if you mean that your editor isn't involving you in the publication of your book, then you're working with the wrong people. In the same way that the designer should certainly let me know the sketches have arrived, your editor should be letting you know that the copyedits have come in, and should be sharing the proofs with the artist. Those are both important steps in our respective roles in the process. If that's what you're talking about, you are preaching to the choir.

You don't sound like a jerk. (Let me tell you, some authors are NOT shy about questions AND complaints.) But how your books are doing, more frequently than the information you get every six months in your royalty statements? I don't understand how that information would make a significant difference to how the book does. Whereas supplying that information would make a HUGE difference to how effectively we'd be able to do our jobs.

emay said...

I guess you're right. Maybe I shouldn't lump that in with all the other types of noncommunication.


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