Monday, July 02, 2012

What readers may not know about book publishing

I get emails from time to time asking me why I haven't released my books in audio yet. I also get strident emails that complain about things like the font in my books being too small - or that the e-versions of books aren't lendable. In almost every situation, the email-writers angrily inform me that they will *never* buy one of my books again. Reading these hurts.

I answer every email, no matter how furious the writer appears to be. Why? Because I get it. When I'm used to a certain font size, or price point, or availability, and that changes (and not for the better), I get cranky.

I totally get it.

The thing is - and this is what I tell every single person who tells me why they're disappointed in me - is that these decisions aren't mine. The minute I sign a contract to write x amount of books for either the White House Chef or Grace (Manor House) series, I give up certain control. For instance, I have no sayso on my covers. Believe me when I tell you I LOVE them. Every single one. I've been very lucky to see excellent covers for everyone of my Penguin/Berkley books. That's cause for celebration right there.

Look at this one, for instance  ---->
It's got lots of the story, right there. And it's beautiful!

But back to my point: I have no sayso on price, whether it be for a physical book or an ebook. I have no sayso on font size or format either. Right now my books come out as mass market paperbacks and ebooks. They're also (usually) released in large print, mostly to libraries. I've signed the rights to allow Berkley to do this. If some audio company were to approach us because they want to produce any of my books on CD or whatever, I'll start doing a happy dance around the room. But it's not up to me. Boy, do I wish it was!

That brings me to a new problem that one of my good friends is facing. Lorna Barrett (whose real name is Lorraine Bartlett and who writes tons of great books under the Bartlett name, btw), has the sixth book in her wildly popular Booktown Mystery series coming out tomorrow, Tuesday July 3rd. The title is MURDER ON THE HALF SHELF. The cover is below, but I'd like you to take a look at its Amazon link - HERE. What do you notice?

If you said that it's in hardcover, you're right. This is the first book in the series to go into hardcover. Lorraine is nervous about it. Can you blame her? That's a big jump in price and we all know how tough it is to stay within a book budget.

The Booktown Mysteries and Lorraine's other wonderful series, the Victoria Square mysteries (A CRAFTY KILLING is the first there) have tons of readers who wait impatiently for the next installment of the story.

But some people (quite a few in recent weeks, and even more chiming in today) have been writing to Lorraine, complaining bitterly that *she* has betrayed her readers by moving to hardcover. They accuse her of being greedy. Of "hooking" them with her wonderful stories and then raising prices by changing the format to hardcover.

As an author, I can tell you that the one thing that stays uppermost in my mind is keeping my readers happy. While that doesn't mean I always take readers' advice about my characters' romantic choices, I do care deeply that the reading experience isn't ever ruined for them. Lorraine, and all my cozy author friends, feel the same way. What do we want most of all? We want to be read and enjoyed. It's that simple.

Lorraine didn't betray her readers. Far from it. The publisher made the decision to move into hardcover. We can debate whether that was a good decision or not, but the point is moot. Lorraine's books are fabulous and deserve a wider audience. The publisher believes this is the way to achieve that end. We authors don't decide these things and when readers write to accuse, it hurts.

Authors at my level don't make a lot of money. This isn't a complaint. Far from it. My point is that we don't do this because we think we're going to suddenly get rich. LOL That would be nice, but I don't see it happening anytime soon. I'm doing what I love - what I've always wanted to do -  and I wouldn't give up a minute. Not even after the worst writing day. Nope. This is my passion, my love, my enjoyment. I'm lucky - so lucky - to be able to write and have people read my stories. It's bliss.

My point (in this very long post) today is to inform. You may have already known all this about the publishing world, but there are many, many people who don't. Please share this with them. I think it will help us all. I hope it will lead to less negativity. I tend to be Pollyanna-ish, but hey... that's how I'm wired.

And FYI, when a reader brings a problem to my attention (thank you, readers, for alerting me to Nook problems one of my titles), I tell my editor right away.

It's when the problems are deeper - when they involve format, or distribution, or pricing - I have no say whatsoever. You, as a reader, have a much stronger voice.

Please, if you want a book in audio, write to the publisher. Or write to a company that produces audio versions and tell them what stories you want to hear. If your bookstore doesn't carry the titles you want, ask for them. Same at libraries.

If the font is too small or the price is too high, please don't leave a negative review on Amazon or threaten to stop reading an author. He or she will be hurt - both personally and professionally - which is unfair considering those decisions are completely out of his or her control. If you feel strongly enough, write to the publisher. A thousand (polite) voices saying the same thing can make a difference.

Thank you. For reading this lengthy post and, even more, for reading my books. All authors ever want is for you to enjoy the stories we tell. Our characters are real to us, they've become some of our best friends, and there's nothing more satisfying than sharing their lives with you.

I'll go back to writing Grace #4, now...
Thanks for listening.


If you found any of the above interesting and you'd like to read more about what goes on behind the scenes, please read Lucy Burdette's recent Jungle Reds post about "The Care and Feeding of Authors"
as well as Lorraine's article about how readers can help, here.


Jacki said...

I guess because I used to work in a bookstore I am not surprised by what you are saying here. But I am surprised that readers would send unpleasant emails to an author or leave a negative review about it. I was sorry to read that.

Good luck to you!

Rosa StClaire said...

I agree with most of what you wrote. In this day and age, authors have so many choices. The number of sales is what determines if they are right or wrong in their publishing choices. Sadly, there are so many good authors out there who are ignored by agents or publishers who want to play God.
But there are also "good eye" agents and publishers who make up for these ignoramuses who suffer from lack of vision.
Lorraine's books are great to read.They leave readers satisfied. So do Robert Gregory Browne's, Robert Ellis, Robert Dugoni's, Tess Gerritsen's, Deb Baker's books, Kaye George's, Allen E. Ansorge's and some others. Contray to what writers may think, readers don't just read one genre or one type of book. They may want a serious mystery or chick lit or a cozy.They all have that magical key to make readers happy with their choice.

Julie Hyzy said...

Oddly enough, I understand why readers contact the authors. We're available via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. these days. Publishers are still harder to reach. If there's a complaint, it's only natural for people to want to talk to the person they believe has some control over the matter. That's why I wrote this - to help inform. You knew that authors have almost no control over these things (though I'm sure big name authors do), but so many other people don't. I hope to help, in some small way.

Thanks, Jacki!

Julie Hyzy said...

I hear you, Rosa! And I think I've read most of the authors you mention. You're right that readers tastes are limitless and that few people read in just one genre. Isn't that wonderful!

Dru said...

Great post Julie. I've often pointed out to my friends that it's not the author choice, but the publishers.

Marianne Arkins said...

If the font is too small or the price is too high, please don't leave a negative review on Amazon or threaten to stop reading an author. He or she will be hurt - both personally and professionally - which is unfair when those decisions are completely out of his or her control. If you feel strongly enough, write to the publisher. A thousand (polite) voices saying the same thing can make a difference.

Amen. I hope this post is spread far and wide. I shared it on my Facebook page.

lisekimhorton said...

Julie, I think this is a super valuable post & I'll definitely spread the word. However, as a writer myself (though unpubbed), and a member of a large writing community, I have to say that, sadly, the ignorance of how our industry works is not just a problem with readers. It is a serious problem with writers as well - the very people desperate to participate in the industry. An industry about which far too many know far too little.

Linda O. Johnston said...

Love this post, Julie, and, boy, is it ever true!

Anonymous said...

Interesting and good to know. I shared this on my Facebook page. Also, just want to mention that you and your fellow Cozy Chicks do a great job of supporting each other and promoting yourselves and each other on the Internet via blogs and Facebook. All of that makes you more than the person who wrote the book. It makes you someone we get to know and care about as a person. That's powerful. Continued success and luck. Now to see if I can make out the words that prove I'm not a robot.

Leslie Budewitz said...

If a book you're waiting for is coming out in hard cover, check the library -- where both new readers and those who already love a series can find it. (Many libraries don't buy paperbacks because they wear out so fast.)

Julie Hyzy said...

Thanks, Dru, thanks Marianne! I appreciate you sharing!

Lisa - here's hoping, little by little, we can chip away at ignorance and help educate.

Thanks, Linda! I'm sure you've heard many of these complaints, too.

Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth, and for the kind words. The Cozy Chicks, and all of us who write cozies and are friends are happy to help one another. Writing is solitary endeavor and it's so great to reach out and know there's a hand there when you need it. I'm very lucky.

Excellent point, Leslie! Thanks!

Vicki Lane said...

What an excellent post, Julie! Sharing on my FB page also.

Maria said...

Great posts! And great books!!!

Julie Hyzy said...

Thank you, Vicki!

And you too, Maria! Many thanks!

Unknown said...

Hi, Julie: (Rita says hi too)

A typical Julie gentle post. . I agree with everything you've said. This is why we publish with traditional publishers less than we do with our own publishing company. The lack of control over the end product is a major issue and readers know the technology exists to fix these irritants but it seems traditional publishers don't care about the customer. I know this sounds harsh but the evidence seems to confirm my statement. Unfortunately as you quite correctly point out the readers go to the person easiest to contact. I think the solution lies with the contracts.

Since the authors are expected to take the flak then they should have a say in addressing these issues. The publisher won't like this but if they refuse then the author should walk away. These days the author can do better without the traditional publishers in many ways including revenue with a lower price point to the consumer.

A related example is the other day I bought the e-book version of a Stephen King book for $20. An outrageous price for an e-book. I was not a happy camper but I paid it because a friend recommended the book. Sop far I'm enjoying it but if it lets me down I won't be buying any more King books at this price.

Nice post and excellent points.

Julie Hyzy said...

Hey, Russ! Say hi to Rita for me!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts - very enlightening. I have to admit that I enjoy some of the freedoms of epubbing too. It's good to hear from you! I sure miss our group - and I long for a chance to do it all over again!

Shirley said...

Good information to know. I love Lorraine's book and got her newest one today. I couldn't find it at first, had to ask the clerk, they hadn't been put on the shelf yet, but as soon as I got my copy, the clerk did put them out.

Congratulations to all the Cozy Chicks, we love you!

Chèli said...

Unfortunately, my book buying budget is rather small, so I do have to keep an eye out for the bargain prices. But if I love a series, such as Lorna's Booktown series, I'll just have to bug the library to get it. Hardbacks cut too much into the book funds of the year. :-( But stop reading them, NEVER!

Cheli's Shelves

Julie Hyzy said...

Thanks, Shirley! It's always the best idea to ask when books aren't out. A lot of stores are understaffed and they often can't get all the new titles out on release day. I've gone to plenty of chain stores to sign stock and found that the books were still in back. Thanks for asking! Every little bit helps us all!

Cheli - I totally understand that! I cringe at the end of the year when I see how much I've spent on books, but then I think about all the enjoyment I got from those stories and I feel a whole lot better. You're right - NEVER stop reading!

Maryann said...

Hi, Julie
You know I work at B&N and I love to handsell, when I get some of the questions, like "why hardcover?" Or "Why doesn't Julie publish in those big paperbacks?" I make sure my customer knows who makes the rules. Believe it, most understand and purchase the book anyway, or I suggest they order it on their e-reader (hopefully a nook, but whatever works, right?) so they can make the type size and font as comfortable as possible for them. I'm not the only bookseller who does this, and so at least we're doing our bit here in Champaign. I just wish I could answer the one question I get more often than any other: "Why can't my favorite author write faster?" See you a a couple of weeks!

Julie Hyzy said...

Maryann - we truly appreciate all your efforts on our behalf! Booksellers are our best friends and I can't even begin to thank you, and those of you who know the business, for helping guide readers to books they might love. You guys (and librarians) are the best!!

Adrienne said...

Hi Julie. I learned so much from your post. I have already begun to share the information I'm sure very few know or understand. Perhaps you could post this every now and again so new fans would see it as well. Thank you again!
Adrienne in MN.

Julie Hyzy said...

Thank *you* Adrienne!

Yummers! said...

Great post, Julie. I learned a lot! Thanks for takin the time to share with us.

I'm so excited that there is another Ollie mystery in progress. Yeah!!


Julie Hyzy said...

Thanks, Joni!

Carol N Wong said...

Thank you so much for all that information. I hate it when the font is tiny and that often discourages me from reading the books. Wish there was a way to speak directly to the publishers about this. (Small fonts make my eyes cross)!

So awful about that book coming out in hardback! I think we readers need a forum!

The last one situation means that readers will be waiting for libraries to get the books instead of buying them. Sigh

Carol Wong

Tymber Dalton said...

OMG, AMEN!! I have no control over what price point my publisher sets. And the nice thing about ebooks is, you can set the font the way you want. LOL But It frustrates me to no end when readers complain about stuff out of my control. It frustrates me even more trying to stay nice to them when they don't want to hear what I'm saying and stay nasty at me. The things I control, I do. The things I can't, well, email my publisher and tell THEM.

Tymber Dalton

Julie Hyzy said...

Carol - libraries are the best when I can't afford to buy all the titles I want to own. I did pick up Lorraine's (Lorna's) MURDER ON THE HALF SHELF, of course, but there are so many I'd love to own but can't. The nice thing about ereaders is that you can change the font size - and I've found myself doing that more often than not LOL

Tymber - Most readers - even the ones who write angry emails - are understanding when I explain how things work, but you're right. There are some who don't listen and who fight back and tell me that even though I don't have control I should have control. Sometimes I wish I did, but sometimes (as in the case of cover art and titles, for instance) the publisher knows best.