Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Books and stuff

I received an e-mail Friday from the good people at KeyPorter Books telling me Chapters-Indigo had ordered another 5,000 copies of my book True Canadian Stories of the Great Lakes. My love-hate thing with Chapters is back in love mode.
Therein lies an interesting story. I wrote a book, Ninety Fathoms Down, for Dundurn, a small publisher in Toronto that treats newcomers quite well. Tony Hawke, the publisher I worked with, is a gem. His wife Leidevey edited the book ruthlessly. She, too, won my heart. Marion, my wife, did the maps. Ninety Fathoms Down came out at Christmas, 1995, when my wife and I were two months away from welcoming our first kid. We were broke, Dundurn had no money for a book tour, and the book was left on its own. Which it did, selling out its 2500-copy print run, despite a $20 cover price for what was, effectively, a big paperback.
Life went on. I wrote some more books and stuff.
Then, in 2003, the people at the University of Michigan Press told KeyPorter they'd be interested in a Great Lakes history book. That generated Many a Midnight Ship in 2004. And about the same time, Chapters-Indigo asked KeyPorter for a deal for a mass printing of an adapted, full-length version of Ninety Fathoms Down. Dundurn graciously signed all the rights back to me and I signed an advance and royalty deal with KeyPorter, which produced the book under the Prospero imprint.
Now, after getting through all the back story, here's the part that's interesting. The "new" book, True Canadian Stories of the Great Lakes, lists for $9.99. It's part of a series of books that include Max Haines' crime stories and some war history. People think this is a good deal and have bought a lot of these books. Yet True Canadian Stories is not a remaindered book. When a book is remaindered, the author gets no money and the publisher usually doesn't recoup the cost of printing. The bookseller makes a few bucks, but the object of the exercise is to get rid of overstocked books and get customers in the door of the big book dealers and ramainder palaces like Toronto's World's Biggest Bookstore.
TCSGL makes money for Chapters. It makes money for KeyPorter. It makes money for me. Not enough to change my life, but no one makes a living in this country solely by writing books. No one.
Today, I went into Coles on Sparks Street. In the window, they had a display of my old book on the Parliament Buildings, which is remaindered. I walked past them knowing I'd make nothing more from them. I bought David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1776 in paperback for $21 plus GST. I finally get to read this book, which I couldn't afford when it came out as a hardcover three or four years ago.
I can guarantee you 1776's paperback print run is far larger than the cumulative 10,000 for TCSGL. Yet it's more than double the price. So when you feel like your being screwed when you buy a paperback, you are. And if you think people would buy and read more Canadian books and books in general if the prices weren't so high, I can tell you from experience they will -- by at least a factor of five.

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