Monday, May 19, 2008

A stalking cat and the dilemma of publishers, booksellers, and authors

My cat, at age 17, has become a stalker. He's always been affectionate and used to get on my desk and rub on my arm until he got a little love, but now he stalks. He sits on the end of the desk and stares intently at my dinner while I'm eating--as though willing the food to jump off the plate and to him. Tonight I locked him out of the study and enjoyed my supper in peace. When I'm in the kitchen he stares at me accusingly. He skulks around under the kitchen cabinets, looking for crumbs. The whole thing is he's hungry. His teeth are so rotten that he can no longer eat the dry food I used to leave out all the time. Now he eats the special kidney-diet canned food from the vet--read expensive there. Now I would give this aging friend all the food he wants--he deserves it at his ripe old age--but he wants fresh food every time. It's a delicate balance to give him enough but not too much--if it's left in his dish, even for an hour or two, he scorns it. My Scottish genes are too strong. I'm not going to throw out a perfectly good hunk of expensive food. So we're at war. I've won the early morning battle, I think by kicking visciously when he started to stalk me in the bed. Now he waits until the dog gets me up, and his dish is always cleaned of every little bit. So I know he can do it. Meantime, I alternate between feeling angry and guilty.
The Sisters in Crime blog is very informative and educational, and it's gotten me to thinking it's hard for both publishers and authors. Something I read last night made me think it's not wise to publish with the first independent small press that shows an interest--just when I was thinking okay, if a press likes my mystery and will do a decent job, I just want to see it in print. Agents don't want to look at you after you do that, and bookstores likely won't carry your book because it's probably nonreturnable. Ah, returns, there's the rub.
Bookselling is the only business I know where retailers can return unsold stock. My son Jamie is in the toy business, and the man who mentored him in that business, married to a publisher, used to rant, "Returnable! That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Once something is sold, it's sold." But it isn't. Returns are a long-standing tradition in publishing, and since "big chain" stores rely on them, we're not likely to get it to change. But the blog mentor today, a bookseller, pointed out that if a publisher tries to push a book on non-returnable terms, he reads that as a signal that the publisher doesn't have real faith in his title. But for publishers, returns are a nightmare, especially in January or February and midsummer when stores clean out their shelves to prepare for a new season.
And what does this mean to an author? Well, a publisher may be reluctant to take on a new author, envisioning cartons of returns. And if you publish with a small, independent press, your book will probably be sold nonreturnable and bookstores won't be anxious to carry it because who knows if they can sell it
Writing the book is the least of the problems, but it's where I'm stuck. I have one mystery ready to go, featuring a real estate agent who renovates old houses. It's out right now to one agent and one indie publisher. Should I work on the sequel? Should I start a new book--maybe I could achieve more depth, and it seems logical with my background and interests that I write about cooking--but there are so many mysteries about cookiing, what can I do to make mine stand out. A dilemma.
I'm reading a lot of fiction right now.

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