Recently I told an author I had no copies left of one of her books and had no plans to reprint. I felt a little guilty. She shrugged and smiled, as if to say ‘It was fun, and now it’s over.’ Was she just being kind?
Ars longa, vita brevis – but really most art is pretty brevis too. Some of the books published by CBe are no longer available because I’ve let them go out of print: Erik Houston, The White Room; Jack Robinson, Days and Nights in W12; Elise Valmorbida, The TV President; Jack Robinson, Recessional; Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking; Nancy Gaffield, Tokaido Road; Beverley Bie Brahic, White Sheets; Fergus Allen, New and Selected Poems. Most will have an afterlife of sorts on Abebooks. (There are also a few titles which you’ll be told are out of print if you try to order them from a bookshop, but I still have a few copies left at home so they are available from the website.)
Some other titles originally published by CBe are no longer on the list because they were taken over by other, bigger publishers: Jennie Walker, 24 for 3; Christopher Reid, The Song of Lunch; May-Lan Tan, Things to Make and Break; Will Eaves, Murmur. And some dropped off because the publishing license I’d paid for was for only a limited period of time or a limited print run: David Markson, This Is Not a Novel; Agota Kristof, The Notebook and 2 Novels, also The Illiterate. But I’ve stumped up again for the Kristofs, which are now back. I need to sell some copies.
When stock is down to just a handful of copies, how do I decide whether to reprint or not? It’s not a scientific process, how could it be. (Nor is deciding on the size of an initial print run: I close my eyes and think of a number. Nor is deciding which books to publish in the first place.) It’s partly about whether I have any expectation of selling more than one or two copies in the next year, and partly about money (in short print runs, each book costs more to print), and partly about whether I think a particular title is a core part of the list. Francis Ponge, Unfinished Ode to Mud, trans. BB Brahic, first published in 2008, will be staying in print. Last year I reprinted Andrzej Bursa, Killing Auntie and other work, trans. Wiesiek Powaga.
Copies of a reprint of Dan O’Brien’s War Reporter (Fenton Aldeburgh Prize, 2013; Forward-prize shortlisted) are now in. I’ve put the cover price up from £8.99 to £10.99. On the other hand, if you order War Reporter from the website in the next week or so I’ll add in O’Brien’s New Life (in which he continues his engagement with the reporter Paul Watson) for free. ‘Out of the War Zone: A Conversation between Paul Watson and Dan O’Brien’ was published on the LARB website two days ago.
Tuesday 10 May 2022
I took this photo yesterday morning – rubbish collection day in Acton: it spoke to me – and posted it on Twitter, saying I’m useless at selling books. I mentioned reviews of a particular title (but not naming it, and including no link). Then I went out. I came home to orders for 30 books from the website and three more Season Ticket subscriptions. And an offer of some free publicity in the Falkland Islands.
I get some things right, some things wrong. Sometimes what I think I’m doing right turns out to be wrong, and vice versa, and this is normal. Selling, like most things, is not an exact science. Science is not an exact science. Many of the books I publish (and read) are not obvious ‘bestsellers’, but that doesn’t excuse me from trying to get the books to as many readers as I can, and I should be doing better. The wonder is, CBe is still puttering along after 15 years. Meanwhile, thank you very much indeed to everyone who has bought even a single book.
The Season Ticket deal, by the way: 10 books of your own choice for £70, post free (UK only). Available from the website home page. It knocks all similar offers from other publishers into a cocked hat.