Quotidian Setbacks

There are days when Steve and I feel as if we’ve entered the real life publishing version of Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci’s movie Big Night.  Have you seen this movie?  It’s the story of two brothers from Abruzzo, Italy, who’ve come to America in the 1950s to open their dream restaurant.  They call it Paradise and open it somewhere on the New Jersey Shore.

The chef of Paradise is Primo (played by the impeccable Tony Shaloub) and the front of the house is run by Secondo (Stanley Tucci at his neurotically mannered best). Primo is a perfectionist. His food is pure art, heavenly creations that put the shoreline’s spaghetti and meatball specialists to shame. Secondo is the carnival barker responsible for running the business and coaxing Americans to give Paradise a try.

The two brothers put everything they have into the restaurant.  They are not quitters. But despite Primo’s transcendent food and Secondo’s front door authenticity, 50’s shoreline sunbathers just want a glass of Chianti out of a fiasco basket and some red sauce poured over macaroni.  They don’t want to take a chance on Paradise’s version of Timballo.

I won’t spoil the rest of the movie for you.  It’s wonderful.

It’s not that Steve doesn’t have people who want to buy his version of Timballo (The War of Art).  They do. We’ve got a restaurant full of people ready to dive in.  The problem is the front of the house—me.

I’m an old school publisher, used to dealing with things like sales meetings, production schedules, bindery shipments, pallet sizes, laydown dates, pages per square inch, long lead magazine solicitations, co-op requests, tour schedules, etc.  Publishing a book the traditional way is a bit like preparing for a marathon—starting slow and steady then picking up the pace as publication day approaches.

As I explained last week, Steve and I decided to publish a new edition of The War of Art ourselves. And I got caught off guard when the previous edition from Warner Books/Grand Central Publishing sold out. The marathoner got tapped to run the 100 meter dash.

Like most old timers, I thought a little elbow grease and a few extra cups of coffee could save the day. It would be simple to put together the appropriate format files for the interior and cover for the book, while also replacing Grand Central’s logo with our new logo in all of the appropriate places on the outside and inside of the book.

I’d also have to change the front matter of the book, and then upload the revised files to our third party vendor. That vendor would produce one copy of the Black Irish edition of The War of Art at a time while Steve and I waited for 20,000 paperbacks from the printing house I’d contracted last December to drop at our Ohio warehouse. And then I could seamlessly transition from the one copy at a time scenario into a consignment/fulfillment relationship at Amazon once our first print run was properly palleted and stocked. No sweat.

[For followers of www.stevenpressfield.com, Steve and I will also offer “Black Irish Fulfillment” at our “not ready for prime time” Black Irish books website. I promise we’re working hard on it. We can be more creative and experimental at our own site. But that’s another post.]

I got straight to work. I contacted our designer friend Timothy Hsu and sent him my old The War of Art files so that he could adapt them and put them into the format that the third party vendor required. I also gave him all of the changes we would have to make.  Timothy called me back ten minutes later to say that the coding and layout of our files (I’d kept them since 2001) had somehow been corrupted.  He’d have to rebuild the files and then he’d be able to make the changes I’d already given him plus I needed to supply him with our new ISBN number, barcode and copyright page.  Oh and we needed to find room for an author photo for the backmatter.

I called Primo (Steve) and told him what I needed to do in order to avert a lag period between the end of Grand Central’s inventory and Black Irish’s order fulfillment. There’s a very real possibility that while I was talking, Steve put me on speakerphone and then stuck his index fingers into his ears and quietly hummed to himself. After all he cooked up the book, making sure it was delivered properly was my job.

When I was done, he said, “Hmmm…I’m sure you’ll handle it…Just make sure there aren’t any typos in the Black Irish edition.”

“Tell you what…I don’t really trust myself enough to go through every one of your perfectly crafted words.  Why don’t I have the printers’ send you review copies overnight before I turn on the switch? That way you can do the typo hunt yourself.”

Steve probably winced, but he knew he’d walked right into this painful task. Through clenched teeth he agreed to turn around his proofread the same day he received the printers’ galleys.  Now he was stuck with the excruciating duty to scrutinize every word of a work he’d written over ten years ago…for the seventy thousandth time…just to make sure that “Angel” wasn’t spelled “Angle.” If you’ve ever had to go back and review work you’d written long ago, you know how difficult it is not to tighten it up here and there. But Steve is a pro. He didn’t tinker, no matter how tempted he may have been.

Because of these very important details, for about three weeks the paperback edition of The War of Art was grossly overpriced. There must be some sort of algorithm that third party sellers can use on Amazon that automatically raises the price on books that are in-between printings.

Then, at last Success!  I loaded the new files. They were accepted. The printer sent Steve the review copy.  Steve had only three corrections.  Timothy and I fixed those problems and then I resubmitted the files for second review.  Whoopee!  They were accepted too and we were off and running.

Last Wednesday, January 11th, 2012, the Black Irish Books edition went on sale at Amazon at the original $12.95 price point.  And independent bookstores and non-Amazon retailers are able to buy copies directly from the third party provider through a special expanded distribution system they offer.

I was so pleased with myself that last week’s What it Takes Column arrogantly suggested that the $60.00 problem would be resolved immediately.

It wasn’t.

When I went to Amazon to check on the Black Irish Edition, I found that when I typed in The War of Art, Grand Central’s out of print edition was the only one I could find.  This is the one that listed the $60.00 paperbacks.  It turns out that the display order of book titles on Amazon is determined by sales volume. The edition that has sold the most number of copies is listed first…even if that edition is no longer in print.

I spoke with Amazon and they agreed that it wasn’t good for their customers not to have the option of buying the brand new Black Irish Books edition when they pulled up the old Grand Central page.  They came up with a great solution and added the Black Irish Option in the Grand Central page with the $12.95 price point.  Plus they highlighted our agreement (we pay for the privilege) to be included in Amazon’s prime free shipping option.

As Primo Pressfield is back in the kitchen cooking up a brand new entrée, I’ll have to do better at the front of the house.  No one ever said “living the dream” is easy.

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  1. sara nichols on January 20, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Hi Shawn,
    I went to my Amazon Kindle library this morning. I’ve purchased at least 8 copies of War of Art over time. I went to “loan” the book to a friend of mine (which previously I was able to do) and it came up with an error page “this page does not exist”. Aren’t you going to allow the book to be loaned? The one time I loaned to a friend, after she read it she purchased it to give to others, so think it helps word of mouth…thanks.

    • Shawn Coyne on January 20, 2012 at 6:15 am

      Hi Sara,
      Yes, we definitely agree with you and have every intention to allow lending. I’ll check into it.

      If you are trying to loan the eBook edition, it should work as we have not changed the eBook distribution system yet (working on that now…this could be the glitch). However, I do know that Amazon has a new program similar to its movie and TV “all you can watch” program for books. This program allows lending etc., but I do believe the author/publisher has to make the ebook exclusively available at amazon to be included, which means that buyers of the Nook or IPad edition will not have access to the eBook. We’re reluctant to exclude people who prefer Nook or Ipad editions as we think choice of retailer is and will be extremely important.

      I think I may have a way around all of this which would be something we can put online when we launch the Black Irish Books website. Sorry for the disappointment. It’s a brave new world and we’re doing our best to navigate it without excluding anyone. Bear with us. We’ll get it figured out.

      In the meantime if you’d like to share the book with your friend shoot me an email at coyne85 at gmail and I can lend her something she’ll be able to read before buying.

  2. Sonja Eaton on January 20, 2012 at 10:36 am

    The last line: No one ever said “living the dream” is easy.
    Amen, brother!

  3. Jeff on January 20, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Another great post, Shawn, but I do have to disagree with one part of it: the whole “grossly overpriced” bit. I don’t know anyone who has read The War of Art who, if they lost their copy or had a friend in need of that message, wouldn’t pay at least $60 for a new copy, if that was the going rate.

    Yeah, $12.95 is a lot better, but I like to think that that price is artificially low, due to your generosity in pricing, and that $60 is a lot closer to the real price. Heck must of us have at least one book we’ve paid hundreds of dollars for, simply because there was no other way to get it and we valued the content. I’m guessing that a continued lack of availability of The War of Art would have probably pushed the going rate to well above $100 dollars, easy. And it wouldn’t have been overpriced at all.

  4. Nancy on January 20, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    Thank you so much for the update and the insider view of publishing. I originally contacted a local book seller to purchase the War of Art at the original $12.95 price and they said they would back order it. They just called me back to say that it was out of print. I should call them back to contact you directly. At this point I am so anxious to get my copy I am buying through amazon. Thanks again for the update.

  5. Joel D Canfield on January 21, 2012 at 8:03 am

    My copy is sitting right there where I can see it, with Finding Flow and How We Decide.

    But I might give it away as a prize to someone I love, right after I get a Black Irish version. Sheesh; is there a better name than Black Irish?

    Makes me want whiskey for breakfast.

  6. ChrisCav on January 22, 2012 at 5:30 am

    You’re not always going to get the 1st round knockout Shawn but I’m thankful for your efforts- slogging it out, going the distance, and getting the decision. Best.

  7. Derek on January 25, 2012 at 9:01 pm

    I have enjoyed your blog posts here greatly. So much in fact that I went ahead and ordered a few of Steve’s books for my Nook — as a retired serviceman, I greatly appreciate his gesture with sending so many copies of The Warrior Ethos to our boys and girls.

    I would like to order the Black Irish edition of The War of Art through B&N but they only have used Warner editions. Have you set it up as an Amazon exclusive or did B&N not want to carry it?

  8. brad on January 26, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Ah that explains why nobody has a copy, I have been trying to get a couple of friends to read it and they tell me can’t find it.

  9. Derek on January 26, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    It turns out Barnes & Noble DOES have it in stock. You have to search for “The War of Art” to find the Black Irish edition: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-war-of-art-shawn-coyne/1108233341?ean=9781936891023&itm=8&usri=the+war+of+art

    It’s even discounted 36% — $8.26 plus tax!

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