Searching on Amazon.com last week for Remains Silent, a debut thriller by Michael Baden and Linda Kenney released by Knopf on August 16, I found 35 listings under "used and new" copies. The first was for a "Promotional/advanced paperback copy, new & unread," priced at $7.95; others offered competitively priced new hardcovers.
As an author and 20-year publishing veteran, I know where these cheap editions come from. Many are advance reading copies and finished books that publishers ship to reviewers and booksellers before publication. But these complimentary copies often pile up faster than they can be read. They've become a bonanza not just for used booksellers, but also for online retailers who get a cut of third-party sales made on their sites. This glut of advanced copies erodes the value of books before they are even published.
But there's a simple solution: stop dumping books. Does Ralph Lauren send out 10,000 free pairs of jeans to generate buzz? Sending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of copies of a book out into the unknown is lazy, wasteful and unimaginative. A far more efficient way to find receptive reviewers and booksellers is to start with an e-mail solicitation. When I worked in marketing at Barnes & Noble Books, the chain's proprietary publishing imprint, I got excellent responses to our nonfiction titles with a catchy subject line, a brief description of the book and a jacket photo. Reviewers who wanted the books asked for them, and delivered great coverage.
When a reviewer or bookseller bites on a practical nonfiction title, try sending a few sample chapters and a synopsis via e-mail. If book editors can base their decision to publish a work on that much, a promo packet should be enough to convince anyone else to read the entire book. For fiction and memoir, it's hard to get around sending a complete galley, since the best way to judge them is to read them straight through. But bind them on the cheap, so they won't compete with the final product.
If all of this seems like asking too much of your early readers, then at the very least get a grip on your mailing lists. At B&N Books, I received hundreds of advance reading copies of Great Expectations: Your All-in-One Resource for Pregnancy & Childbirth to distribute to reviewers. Finding enough names, let alone the right names, in the hard-to-target medical community was a challenge, further complicated by overused subscription mailing lists and the usual time constraints. But I found that taking the time to create a first-rate marketing list was well worth the money saved on printing and mailing wasted galleys. Reviewers and booksellers may even thank you for stopping the indiscriminate mailings.
Of course, the overabundance of advance copies is only half the problem. Correcting the other half requires renegotiating your contract with your vendors. Publishers must pressure the big chains and Amazon not to allow resale of galleys and review copies on their Web sites until the books are out of print. The big retailers will weigh what they earn in resale against their happy relationship with you. Need some leverage? Try offering their competition the exclusive right to sell one of your hottest books for a limited period.
Cutting out the waste in any business isn't easy. It's up to publishers to make the commitment on every level. But if you don't act on my suggestions, it's no problem for me. I can just hang out a shingle and call myself a book reviewer. I'll greet the postman with a big wet kiss every day as he backs up his truck to my house, and set up sweetheart deals with every retailer I can find. Why not? I won't even have to read the books and they'll keep on coming.