Tuesday, 17 November 2009


Interesting post by Matt on his blog.


Ann Weisgarber said...

Interesting comments, Matt.

A book sale is a book sale even at a bargain price and even though the only person making money is the bookseller. I'm grateful if anyone is reading my book. And you never know when that bargain book might fall into the hands of a reader who will like it enough to encourage others to read it.

So what is the shelf life of a novel? Six months? A year? Ten? Or the minute sales flatten? Some books take time to catch on, but do publishers have the money to invest in a slow mover? MNW takes a chance every time it publishes the work of an unknown writer. After that, readers have the final vote.

David Isaak said...

Sometimes a book sells only long after it was first published. This is especially clear in the case of authors who hand in a bestseller, and then see earlier books take off.

An extreme example of this is John Grisham, whose first book, "A Time to Kill" had a 5,000-copy printing, and only sold those because the author bought up all the copies that would have been remaindered and hawked them by hand to anyone who would listen. (Contrary to legend, he didn't self-publish that novel.)

Once he made the big time with "The Firm" and "The Pelican Brief", the book was re-issued. I think it has considerably more depth and human interest than his later books, but the point is that it only ever moved once his career took off.

There are many examples of this sort of thing. Authors' backlists are enhanced by their later careers. What has changed in publishing is that publishers used to take more time to grow an author, at which point the asset value of the backlist increased tremendously.

But with more people writing and less people reading (I sometimes think there are more people writing than reading!), the odds shift. If you don't get instant success, then why not bet on a different horse?

In any case, anything that gets the book into the hands of more readers increases chances of "success." And even if financial success proves elusive, getting the book in tothe hands of a reader was our goal originally, right?

Discount me. Please.

Faye L. Booth said...

I'm rather fond of discount bookshops, and not just because they often have a great stock of local history books by tiny indie publishers that you don't find anywhere else. The way I see it, they provide a final opportunity for remaindered stock and the like to be sold, and better sold than pulped - as people have already said, if someone reads and likes it, you've got yourself another reader who will look out for more of your releases.

I've never seen any of my books in a discount shop yet, but the only story I've heard about one being found was rather nice, because in a neat little twist, it was my agent who happened upon a lone copy of the hardback of Mirrors in a cut-price place in Skipton. As that edition was sold out and is now damn near impossible to find anywhere else, he nabbed it, so I know it got a nice home.

Matt Curran said...

Like Faye says, better sold than pulped. I abhor waste and it's good to see remaindered stock finding its way into a reader's hands. I picked up a signed copy of China Mieville’s Iron Council from a remainder shop in Bakewell for four quid. Goldsboro Books’ David Headley told me it was worth at least ten times that. Bargain.

Matt Curran said...

I agree, the shelf life thing is quite Byzantine, and I don't understand it one bit really. But I suppose it's also a little worrying that shelf-life is all down to a publisher's patience. As David says, there are more writers than readers and patience is tied into the balance sheet too closely it seems these days.
It makes me wonder whether or not books with a bestselling pedigree are getting a fair enough chance (there were quite a few in this shop, not just MNW titles, which had been recently published and remaindered within 12 months of publication).

Hopefully more writers can do the John Grisham thing... though I honestly wouldn't know what to do with a couple of thousand books. Build a small house out of them I suppose.

Tim Stretton said...

Once a title's out in paperback, I'd be surprised to see the hardback anywhere other than a discount shop.

And as someone who sold 50-100 copies of my self-published stuff, I'd be delighted to learn that anyone, anywhere is reading anything I've written. If they've only paid a quid for it, good luck to them!

Matt Curran said...

From June next year, all MFW Curran titles will be remaindered, so this is an immediate concern for me. I've come to an agreement with Macmillan to revert the rights back to me in June 2010 to give the remaining stock a chance to be sold. After that, once the rights return to me, Macmillan have no other choice but to remainder unsold copies or face pulping. I won't get a penny for any remainder copies sold, but as I said in the blog post, it's not something I'm terribly worried about as long as those books find their way onto bookshelves eventually.

And besides, there's an opportunity to go back to the first book, a book written over eight years and during a very early part of my career, to tighten up the writing. There are some glaring flaws in The Secret War that irritate the hell out of me. If I get the chance to revise the first book before it goes out to print again I'll be a very happy author indeed and could stand to see the original paperbacks going out even for free.

David Isaak said...

Well, you might ask Macmillan how much they want for the remainders. Storing up a couple hundred copies might not be a bad idea--if they even have that many left. Keep them inside your sofa.

Lawrence Block has made a nice little side business out of buying up copies of his books and then selling them to collectors years later.

First editions of that Grisham book go for $2,200 or so...

Deborah Swift said...

As a not-quite published writer, I am happy if people get the chance to read my book, whether they have paid full price for it or not. And it seems to me that as a bibliophile I can never resist bargain books - and would be happy if my book was picked up there by someone who wants to read it. As you say, the remainder book shops are full of good stuff.Better read by someone than not at all.