Let’s get one thing straight about my feelings around Alexander Cole.
It’s nothing personal.
I’m sure he’s a very nice bloke deep down. At least I hope so.
But boy, he drives me nuts. Because I don’t want to be him. I was basically forced into being Alexander Cole.
Because the modern bookselling industry has become the slave of a marketing tool.
It’s called BookScan.
If you are about to be print published for the first time, you might want to look away now. This could get ugly. But if you insist on reading on – well, I prefer you heard this first from a friend.
I have a three book contract in the UK. Just before the first book was about to be published in London, everyone I knew left; the publisher who bought it, the publishing director who championed it, the publicity director who loved it, and the two editors who fought to get it on their list.
It was all part of an internal power play. But who cares? Fact was, they were all gone in the month leading up to publication. Guess what happened to the book?
Yep. It flat lined.
To illustrate just how bad things were: a friend, who lives in the UK, emailed me and said they had tried to buy a copy but couldn’t find it anywhere. In desperation he rang my publishers direct and the receptionist told him she had never heard of Colin Falconer or of a book called SILK ROAD.
Even after so long in the publishing industry, I felt embarrassed. Humiliated. Appalled. Bewildered.
(And SILK ROAD was a good book. Rave reviews. I published it recently in the US with the fabulous COOLGUS and it’s selling brilliantly with over 50 reviews at a 4.6 star average. Not too shabby. What does that say about BookScan?)
My second book subsequently sank without trace in UK bookstores, (if you can sink any lower than invisibility), because SILK ROAD hadn’t sold.
So when I handed over COLOSSUS, I held out little hope.
But suddenly everyone inside the company started raving about it, then my agent sold it to one of the big 6 in New York – as well as translation rights in Spain and Italy – before it had finished the proof edit. This is one great book, they all said.
But you can’t do it as Colin Falconer, because SILK ROAD didn’t sell very well. The booksellers will see the figures on BookScan and only order a handful of copies.
But, I said. But, but, but …
But SILK ROAD wasn’t my fault. You didn’t do what you said you were going to do. You told me there would be a 50k print run. You promised me all this marketing, then almost the entire company walked out at the critical stage. I was orphaned. Your bad, not mine.
Sorry about that, they said. But booksellers really don’t care. They only care about BookScan.
But what about my huge backlist?
Sorry, they said. You’ve been out of the game for a while now. You’re only as good as your last game.
So but me not buts: there was no choice. In the UK I have just published COLOSSUS as Alexander Cole. To please the booksellers. To please BookScan.
This scenario happens every day. I am not Robinson Crusoe, there’s a lot of other authors who have suffered this same fate.
If booksellers and traditional publishers are struggling with their sales, can I suggest it’s perhaps not the fault of Amazon, or Netflix, or Facebook, or Grand Theft Auto V.
Could it possibly be the fault of an inappropriate and inflexible system invented by bean counters with no understanding of the industry they are trying to calibrate?
Could there be an inherent flaw in this system in that it does not allow that authors improve while only measuring the tastes of returning customers – not the countless customers who have turned away from brick and mortar bookstores, perhaps because of the very systems they use to count them?
Tell me if I’m wrong. Please tell me if I’m wrong. Because I’m perplexed.
As Bob Mayer says: the reader is God. We must listen to readers. But if we use systems like BookScan to do it, then print publishing could get in big trouble.
Oh wait a minute – it already is.
So if you live in the UK or Australia and you have ever read and liked a Colin Falconer book – please give Alexander Cole’s COLOSSUS a quick … scan. It looks like this.
Meanwhile I must stop saying nasty things about Alexander Cole. He’s probably okay once you get to know him, and I don’t want him to sue me.
I just hope for his sake that Book Scan likes him more than they do me.