Time Management & Efficiency
by Jarold Imes
Black publishers: we have a problem!
Here's the scenario. A highly anticipated book is scheduled to be released in April. Because of a certain author's previously successful books and large following, there are a lot of expectations for this new release. The fans, knowing the book is supposed to come out in April, begin pre-paying and ordering the book in February. April comes and no book. About two weeks into April, we're told the book will be released in May. May comes and there is no book… and so does June. The fans are pissed when the end of July gets here and only people in a certain part of the country have the book when others are still waiting for their copy that may not come until September. The fans feel left out and deceived because they ordered the book in February and damn near six months later, they are just getting a book or in some parts of the country, still don't have the book…WTF?!
Can we say bad customer service? Not only is the answer a roaring and resounding YES, but a lot of it is the publisher's fault. If this was a one time problem, then we can dust it to the side and say "shit happens" and go on to the next problem. The issue here is that it is a re-occurring problem with more than one title and at more than one company that has the potential to cause validation issues for all black owned publishing houses. Disgruntled and upset fans will stop pre-paying and just wait until the book gets to the book store. Black book stores will continue to feel the rift as they are forced to refund money for books that should have been here a month or two ago. Authors are left to deal with upset fans and have to explain why the books they paid for are not here.
No offense to the offending publishers but it is not the author's job or responsibility to explain why the books aren't published yet. And how do you expect them to honor contracts that require them to market a book when their book is not out yet? Then we wonder why the authors are pissed with their publishers.
Part of the problem is that some of these publishers will wait until the book is at the printer or just came back from the printer to register their titles' ISBN. Amazon.com may go for that but this model does not currently work for Borders, Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart and other large scale book retailers. These stores that many of us now frequent for lack of a black owned book store or a good black owned book store in our area, often want to know three to six months in advance of a publication so they can make sure they can adequately stock thousands of stores in North America and beyond. This puts the customer in a bind because as the fan base of street lit spread out from N.Y., N.J., Philly and D.C., the fewer options everyone else has to get books.
In a lot of cities in the south (with the exception of ATL, maybe), it is not feasible for anyone to set up a bookstand and vend in the streets. If it's not the city ordinances, it is the culture and way business is done here that makes it impossible. This would be a feeble argument if I were the only person here, but the fact is, I'm not the only person in the south that buys and markets these books and this is an area where urban/street fiction continues to grow.
I understand the logistics of the publisher wanting to make the first dollar on a book; wanting to make sure other black vendors get the hot titles first. As a publisher and a capitalist, I'm all for that. However, the evolution of street fiction is following the same fruition of rap music in the late '80s and early '90s. As more and more traditional publishers start picking up "street" authors, the higher the expectations that these major corporate venues place on their competitors (i.e., the independent black owned companies) to step their game up and upgrade as Beyonce would say. The difference between us and the earlier rap pioneers is that we understood business and learned quickly what we didn't know and enough of them didn't and are just learning now what they should have known a decade or two ago.
Point is, we have got to make our customers happy. They put our authors on the bestsellers lists (which in turn helps these authors sell more books and gives them bragging rights). They take a chance on a new author because our logo is the biggest thing on the cover after the author's name. And most importantly, they keep the elect few of us from working boring nine to five jobs elsewhere and allow us to do what we really love. It takes two hours for a significant number of our customers to earn the money for the book they've waited months for. We, the black publishers should make more of an effort to make sure that the release date is the date ALL of our customers are getting the books, not just an un-kept promise to our authors and consumers.
Jarold Imes is a contributing writer for The Urban Book Source and author of Hold on Be Strong; he is the creator of online soap opera: Hold on Be Strong (www.holdonbestrong.com), send emails to:email@example.com
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