When a piece that is assigned to a writer doesn’t make into print for some reason, the expression is that it’s been “killed.”
That didn’t happen to AM I BORING MY DOG, which went to press right on schedule less than two years ago. Maybe it sounds overly dramatic, but I nevertheless took the news — surprising, inadvertent — that my book is no longer in print as a kind of death.
I’ll explain what happened as I take you through the stages of grief that I’ve been experiencing — sometimes in rapid succession — since I learned about this occurrence last week. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who first identified the grief stages, named only five — and guilt is not among them.
I therefore adapted the concept to my needs.
Stage 1: Shock and Denial
It all started when I discovered a lovely blog called Doggerel: A Year of Learning About Dogs. The blogger, Abby, writes:
One year from now, once we move out of our apartment, I will finally be able to get a dog….During this year of waiting for a puppy to call my own, I will be a student of the canine world. I’m reading books and blogs about dogs.
I thought that, since AIBMD is all about getting a first dog, it would be a great fit for this project. I contacted Abby, asked her if she wanted a review copy and, getting an enthusiastic affirmative response, asked the publicist for Alpha/Penguin to send one along.
I got back a note: “Unfortunately the book is out of print and they don’t have any available.”
That’s the shock part.
The denial part is literal. A week before this event occurred, my pal Debbie Jacobs of FearfulDogs.com posted on Facebook: “Nice seeing your book featured in the Dogwise newsletter!” So I went over to Dogwise, and saw a listing that said:
Am I Boring My Dog…and 99 Other Things Every Dog Wishes You Knew by Edie Jarolim. A mixture of useful and silly facts about dogs. Now out of print, limited to stock on hand.
I irately commented to Debbie that the listing was wrong on both counts. The book is not a mixture of useful and silly facts about dogs, I grumbled. And it’s not out of print.
Well, I got one out of two right.
Stage 2: Pain and Guilt
When I found out that my book was indeed out of print, I felt like I’d been punched in the gut. I cried.
I love that book. I say this in all modesty. Sometimes I read things that I wrote and cringe. Other times I am less critical, knowing I did the best I could within the limitations of an assignment. But this book was mine from conception to copy-edit. I sometimes leaf through it and think, “Who wrote that? It’s really good.” And I worry that I can never do as well again.
In some ways, this feels far worse than having my book stolen. At least someone felt it was worth ripping off. Ceasing publication, in contrast, just says, “Not worth the storage space.”
My guilt is two-fold, the first part more honorable — if no less irrational — than the second.
First there’s the part of me that feels I didn’t do enough for my book. If only I had been a better blogger, a better spokeswoman and marketer for it, my book might still be alive.
Then there’s the part that thinks I’ve been struck by instant karma. A day before I got the news about the book, I had a major bout of schadenfreude, reveling in the fact that a woman who had made my life a living hell when I worked at the local newspaper had been laid off. Mind you, she wasn’t just awful to me during my stint at the paper; she continuing to torment me afterward, even keeping my book from being reviewed in the newspaper (I know this because the reviewer sent me a message to that effect).
A lot of smarter, nicer people were laid off from the newspaper before my nemesis was. I’m not sorry her turn finally came. I’m just sorry my book had to suffer for it, cosmically speaking.
Stage 3. Anger
This is probably my default emotion at this point and, again, it’s multifaceted.
Anger over unfairness to my book
It’s not as though my book was misunderstood, as I feared it might be when I first sent it out into the world. The reviews were everything I could have hoped for. Why, then, was the poor thing cut off in its prime? Was it really taking up too much space in the warehouse?
Anger over unfairness to me
It’s bad enough that this happened. It’s worse that the publisher never told me. I mean, really, WTF?
I wrote a press release about my blog having been nominated for a Petties award — funny but informational book, funny but informational blog, great tie in — and sent it to the publicist to be distributed, which it was. Would I have spent my time and efforts on this had I known that my book was no longer in print? I feel like an idiot. And that makes me angry.
Stage 4. Bargaining
This doesn’t quite apply except in a literal sense: I am buying as many copies of the book as I can from Amazon at bargain prices: They cost as little as $1.08. But I am not trying to make any deals with the universe.
Stage 5. Depression
I’m prone to it anyway. Having a book killed is debilitating.
Stage 6. Acceptance
This is not an entirely accurate representation of what I’m experiencing when I’m not zigzagging through the other grief stages; it sounds way too passive. The fact is, I’ve gone beyond acceptance to embracing — nay, rejoicing in — the fact that I hope to get my copyright back and will therefore be able to publish the book myself. I will update it, incorporating all I learned during the time that I’ve been blogging. I will change the cover — guess whose picture will be on it? — and the name so that there will no longer be any confusion between the book and the blog.
I will know exactly how many copies I sell, and to whom. And I will reap the rewards of my labor, not some book killers.
Stage 7. Revenge
This is not one of the stages of grief according to Kubler-Ross — or anyone else. But there is a saying that the best revenge is living well. It’s usually applied to divorce, but why not extend it to loss in general?
And being screwed over by book publishers in particular.
Here’s my plan.
I put out a new version of my book by Christmas. It will not only have a new name and cover image, but it will sport a large badge saying “The Petties, Winner, Funniest Blog/Blogger 2011,” which will help it to become a best seller, making my former publisher very regretful.
Hey, I can dream.
If you want to help make that revenge dream come true — in the name of screwed over authors and, really, screwed over people everywhere — you know what you can do.
I just had word from the publisher that the book is not dead but in a coma: It’s not out of print, as I had been told, but moved into the dread “print on demand” category, which is the worst of both worlds — difficult to get hold of but, because still alive, not available for copyright transfer.
Shoot me now (see Stage 5.)
20 thoughts on “Publisher to Book: Drop Dead”
Outrageous they dare to treat you that way. This publisher seems not to understand it is the author that creates the real value they live – leach – from. As an author you almost have to do everything yourself, including marketing, PR, etc. And then thank the publisher by the grace of the almighty for pressing a print button?
Great you are going to proof them wrong and re-publish your book!
Dumb. Dumber. Publisher.
Thanks, Leo. Well, now (see Update) it seems they proved me wrong, after all, since I might have a problem getting copyright back…
It’s a vicious book market out there. Buy ’em all up on Amazon and resell them yourself. Make sure you have a good copyright lawyer to get the copyright back.
And keep writing. That’s the best revenge.
As you can see from my update, it’s a bit iffy now about the copyright, since the book is not officially dead.
You’re right about the writing. It’s just tough, when you’re feeling grim.
I loved that book, Edie! I’m very upset that you had to find out about it being out of stock from a customer… and getting no info as to why they pulled it from publication. That really sucks. I do hope you can sell the book with updated info and the cover you suggested. It’s too good of a book to be out of print.
Thanks so much, Hilary. I’m afraid what I found out this morning after I posted this blog makes things worse: The book’s not dead but on life support, so I can’t even start over with it: The publisher wrote “the sales rate has fallen enough that we have moved it into our Print-on-Demand system, so there is no inventory for you to purchase.” That means people will have to wait if they want to buy it — but that I can’t get copyright back. Worst of both worlds.
Here’s a question. I’m not savvy with all the techie stuff, but how about making your book available to download onto something like a Kindle? A lot of people use them now and download is instant, so there is no wait time.
It’s already available on Kindle via the publisher. Another reason that I can’t get my copyright back…
Edie, I’m so sorry for your frustration. But I hope you’re proud of yourself for turning an unpleasant experience into such a witty rejoinder. It’s worthy of being awarded a prize for Funniest Dog Blog (and yes, I just voted).
Lately I’ve noticed a popular formula in conventional publishing. Our library has a slew of books titled things like “How the (Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Atheists, lesbians, Libertarians, pick one) are Ruining the World and What You Can Do About It.”
The cash cow seems to be poorly written books that exploit the fear of the moment, make a big splash, and then go out of print as no one cares about them in two weeks.
In that world, you should wear it as a badge of honor that you’ve written something clever, intelligent, and informative that has been disrespected by mainstream publishing.
I know. It doesn’t help, does it?
It does help — honest — to get comments like yours. I started blogging to sell books but I found kindred spirits along the way and that’s soul (if not bank account!) sustaining. Thank you for your support. And I’m glad you thought this was witty– as opposed, say, to bitter and self-pitying….
Publishers are fast becoming dinosaurs and it’s because they don’t offer authors much of anything, unless you’re Steven King, Dean Koontz, etc. Maybe the lawyer who represented you in the contract will know if there’s a fix for this mess. I agree with others here, the best revenge is to write a few more books!
And I believe that even Steven King self-published a book recently. Which makes sense. The publishers are still making a big profit off him, and he doesn’t need them for publicity at this point. Well, it’ll all shake out, eventually. A lot of writers are just getting caught in the cross-fire.
Yes, writing… so tired though…
Edie, I’m sorry to hear about how the publishers are screwing you over! (Although I have to admire your wit and humor for addressing it in such a great way in this post, I’m still sorry you’re having to deal with this problem at all!) I hope that people who want your book will either be willing to wait for the printing or will just download it on the Kindle (though then they do miss out on all of those fun illustrations, but your witty prose will more than make up for it). Reading your book would definitely be worth the wait.
Thanks, AJ — what a nice thing to say, on all counts! You know the way to a writer’s heart (unless I’m writing about food, in which case it’s the usual route…).
Edie, I have a word for your publisher but since I’m a “decent girl” (lady sounds too old), I will not type it, but be advised it’s a very dirty, hateful word and I’m sure you catch my drift! I will now be rushing over to Amazon to buy your book, as I have been meaning to do ever since I found your blog while looking up Canine Cognitive Disorder. I love your writing, and Frankie’s pictures! You ROCK!
That is very sweet of you Shawna–and for your good karma, you are getting a bargain. The book costs only $1.08 or $1.09 — plus $3.99 postage.
I hope you enjoy it. Frankie thanks you, too.
I am sorry to hear about the issue with your publisher. It is common that publisher and author relationship may experience difficult situations at times. But I agree. The best revenge is that you continue writing. Don’t give up on the things that matter to you. I can see that writing is your passion, so continue doing what you are doing.
Oh Edie! I am so sorry! I did not see this post until now. I cannot imagine how awful it feels to first find out that your book is out a print and then when you make a decision to turn lemons into lemonade you find out you can’t! Ugh!
I have always wanted to be an author, but you really did it. I admire you so much for taking a leap and writing one. I know it’s no consultation, but you should be so proud of doing something many people dream of doing but never do. 🙂
Yeah, it’s put me into a kind of tailspin but I hope I’ll figure a way out of it soon. As for your wanting to write a book — it’s never too late. I didn’t get started as a writer until I moved out to Tucson, even though that’s what I had wanted to do for most of my adult life. You’re blogging — which gives you a jump on that ambition.