Monday, 3 August 2009

Going out of print

At the first of this month I reached a new milestone in my writing career--one of my books went out of print. Strangely, it wasn't my earliest book, but rather a book I only wrote three years ago, Moon Handbooks London. The story is a sad one and a warning for aspiring guidebook writers.

Back in 2005 I saw on a jobs board that Avalon Travel Publishing wanted to expand their Moon series, already popular for Asian and South American destinations, into Western Europe. I applied for the London gig and got it. The advance was good, the royalties generous, and I was really over the moon, as it were.

But if something looks too good to be true in your writing career, it probably is. I wrote the book and it was published, but it received no marketing. None. Zilch. Nada. Moon, a newcomer to a near-saturated market, assumed their name recognition would allow them to compete with the likes of Lonely Planet, Frommer's, and Rough Guide. Problem was, Moon Handbooks didn't HAVE any name recognition in Western Europe.
I complained to my editor about the lack of marketing, and her only reply was, "But we featured you on our website!" Now catch me if I'm wrong, but in advertising you go to the customer, right? You can't expect the customer to come to you. When I asked if any review copies went out, I received evasive replies.

It came as no surprise to me that the book had poor sales. When it came time to do the second edition, I got the runaround for the better part of a year before my editor finally told me there would be no second edition. Most of their writers in Western Europe got the same news, as did several longstanding writers in other regions.

It was a tough lesson, but one I learned well. Now I only work for publishers who have strong marketing plans, or at least publish books that don't have a huge amount of direct competitors with better marketing plans. Something to think about before you sign your next contract.

Now the rights to the content have reverted to me. I'll be updating and reusing the contents for various projects. One of the ways to survive midlist purgatory is to know how to turn disappointments into opportunities.

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Looking for more from Sean McLachlan? He also hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog, where he focuses on Civil War and Wild West history.

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