Monday, September 13, 2010

What's going on with the book? A Pius Man, Doubleday, and the Market

We interrupt this series of DragonCon reports for a news update.......


So, what's going on with A Pius Man and Doubleday, you ask?

Some time ago, I mentioned that A Pius Man was under review with one of the larger distributors of books in America; these are the people who put Dan Brown on the map with a little book about art history and word puzzles. After I mentioned that it was under review, most of you probably noticed that it was never mentioned Ever Again.

I figured that some of you may be wondering what the heck is going on.

The very short version. I had a strong advocate in one editor, who fully supported the book. He liked it, despite some admittedly stupid copy-editing errors on my part (which have since been tended to). Basically, he would support the book no matter what superficial things were wrong with it. This was THE book for him. He would back it all the way....

Then he was fired....

No, there isn't a cause and effect relationship.

Here's the problem...

To start with, the publishing industry is, in essence, owned by about five people. One company is owned by another, and another.

In this case, Doubleday is owned by Random House.

For those of you who don't keep track of economic news as obsessively as I do, a little review.

Around November of 2008, Random House had a minor bloodbath. Employees were slashed in the ten-thousand range. Some blamed the economy, some blamed the rise of electronic media (e-books, Kindles, Nooks, Crannies, etc) and traditional media's “failure” to compensate. Some blamed Random House itself for “wild expansion” during a five year period where the price of hardcovers (their bread and butter) went up as cheap e-books came out by the bushel. (Footnote: NY Times, November, 2008... look it up if you don't believe me)

And it's NOT just Random House that has been hit upside the head by this economy. Books are wounded in general: look at how Barnes & Noble is fairing if you want a good example. Last year, it looked like the clock had started to run out on Star Trek novels; “to be continued” and multi-book series were frozen, because the publisher wasn't going to lay money on how things were going to look three years down the road. Not only that, but in the 2008-2009 year, they had gone through five editors on the Star Trek novels alone. When you consider that Star Trek novels used to come out once a month, and sometimes more, it says something that they questioned the profitability of a long standing franchise. (Footnote, DragonCon, 2009.)

And there are solutions, of course. The Random House Slaughter was followed by massive hiring. Publishers have to cut costs while, AT THE SAME TIME, keep up their output. In the larger houses, this means they still have to put out a hundred books a month. So they have to hire people to replace everyone they had just let go. Personnel who can be hired at lower cost who can do the same job.

However, in a bad economy, personnel hired because they were less expensive can always be replaced by personnel who are even cheaper. (I dislike referring to people as "cheap," but my mental thesaurus isn't firing on full thrusters right now, and “even less expensive” didn't seem right).

My supporter was one of the “cheaper” employees. However, in the current atmosphere (10% or 17% unemployment, depending on how you jostle the numbers), there is no shortage of warm bodies to hire, and it's possible to find employees who are even cheaper still.  And since the rule right now is “Last in, first out,” my supporter wanted a trump card. A property that he could bring into the company, and would guarantee his position... Guess what book he wanted to use.
However, if you have ever played a card game that use trump cards, there is only one major rule. You have to have a sense of timing about when you use the trump cards, otherwise, you don't get anything by using them.

And, of course, speaking of timing, my own timing was also perfect. I finally landed an agent five months into this particular situation (word to the wise: if you have a choice between trying for a Post-Graduation degree in liberal arts, or shooting at your true goal IN the arts, ditch the degree).

Right now, the status of A Pius Man is simple: we're back at square one. I'm going to copy-edit the entire manuscript, again, and then, we start anew.

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