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The new It-boy?
February 5, 2008 8:13 AM   Subscribe

Who's the new darling of the literary world? Charles Bock. Although, some are asking, how the hell did a guy like him get all this high-profile coverage? [Bock previously on MeFi]
posted by mattbucher (80 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
Clearly getting a big rave in The NY Time Mag section got many to read this"amazing" new writer who struggled for so many years etc etc
Is the book good? try reading it first before making judgements. I am half through and find it too early to comment.
posted by Postroad at 8:18 AM on February 5, 2008


His book is ranked #31 on Amazon right now, but only 1 left in stock!!! Ha ha, I really hate their model for ordering from publishers--get preorders, ship them out, list the book as out of stock, wait for more orders, send publisher a PO, get copies & ship them out, list the book as out of stock, wait for more orders, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.
posted by mattbucher at 8:19 AM on February 5, 2008


Somehow I expected more meat on the dirty business of publicising books. I've no idea if Charles Brock is any good or not, but he certainly wouldn't be the first guy to get a whole bunch of coverage because peopel were pushing him. I mean, isn't that basically how it works for everyone?
posted by Artw at 8:20 AM on February 5, 2008


I really hate their model for ordering from publishers--get preorders, ship them out, list the book as out of stock, wait for more orders, send publisher a PO, get copies & ship them out, list the book as out of stock, wait for more orders, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

It's kind of how they manage to, well, be Amazon.
posted by Artw at 8:22 AM on February 5, 2008


try reading it first before making judgements.

"I don't read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists' ideas as well as the critics' thinking. With fiction I can never forget that none of it really happened, that it's all just made up by the author."--Tom Townsend
posted by mattbucher at 8:22 AM on February 5, 2008


Esquire placed it on its list of 100 things you should know about...

LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU TELLING ME WHAT DIDN'T MAKE THE LIST
posted by DU at 8:22 AM on February 5, 2008


I mean, isn't that basically how it works for everyone?

Not really. I mean, every publisher has dozens of debut novels published every year that they pray will be some kind of a breakout success. Maybe one out of a thousand gets the cover of the NY Times book review. In fact, I'd be interested in seeing the list of all the debut novels reviewed on the cover of the NY Times book review and getting a long review in the Magazine.

Menaker's show is cited as the reason why, but I'm not sure that's wholly it.
posted by mattbucher at 8:24 AM on February 5, 2008


Everyone that gets publicised, I meant. I'm well aware that every year a whole bunch of novels get published that just kindf of sit there, not doing much.
posted by Artw at 8:26 AM on February 5, 2008


Bock spent 11 years writing the novel, released last month by Random House. But the story has been brewing since childhood, when he spent nearly every day in his parents’ downtown pawnshops. There he watched desperate people trade in a part of themselves to keep life going a little longer, whether it was gamblers hawking their wedding rings or watches or locals just trying to scrape up money for rent.

I admit I have never written a novel, nor do I think it is an easy thing to do. But seriously, 11 years to write a book? That's 3.5 pages per month.

Here's the first chapter. It's okay, I suppose, but still, some people can write a lot of books with more interesting first chapters in 11 years.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:32 AM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


Although, some are asking

Not really. Some "[a]nonymous readers" of one web site perhaps, but that's pretty much it.
posted by poppo at 8:33 AM on February 5, 2008


Poppo, granted I'm a Galleycat reader, but I think alot of people interested in publishing are curious why they picked that as a cover book, considering that most of the buzz about the book was that it wasn't that great.

At my job, I'm fortunate to be surrounded by many people constantly reading galleys looking for great new books. When someone finds something they love, they'll tell the other employees about it, and then customers. I haven't heard any pro-Beautiful Children buzz yet. It doesn't even look like it was a booksense pick.

The last book I can remember that got the cover for a first time novelist was Special Topics in Calamity Physics which I had heard some positive things about before the review.
posted by drezdn at 8:42 AM on February 5, 2008


Well, he sure likes semi-colons. That - along with the dashes - isn't necessarily a bad thing, mind you; but at the same time, I always perceive flashy punctuation as being a crutch for a writer who has fundamental problems with structure, pace, and flow.

Lord knows that's why I use 'em.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:46 AM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


Tell me he at least puts quote marks around speech. People who think not doing that is clever can fuck the hell off IMHO.
posted by Artw at 8:49 AM on February 5, 2008


It sure has been getting the hype. Has anyone here read it yet? Did you like it?
posted by caddis at 8:51 AM on February 5, 2008


I admit I have never written a novel, nor do I think it is an easy thing to do. But seriously, 11 years to write a book? That's 3.5 pages per month.

Here's the first chapter. It's okay, I suppose, but still, some people can write a lot of books with more interesting first chapters in 11 years. --Pastabagel


I just finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It's a dense, long and imperfect book that I enjoyed immensely. It is also Susanna Clarke's first book and took 10 years to write (6.7 pages a month).
posted by JeremiahBritt at 8:54 AM on February 5, 2008


I'm not refuting your statement, just listing a book that also took a long time, one that I happened to enjoy.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 8:55 AM on February 5, 2008


How much of that 11 years is typing and how much is just-sort-of-thinking-about-it?
posted by Artw at 8:57 AM on February 5, 2008


Maybe he types really slowly. Maybe he was in a supermax prison where they'd only let him use a typewriter one hour a day, and he spent the other 23 hours on no-typing lockdown. Or maybe he didn't, you know, work on it the whole time.
posted by goatdog at 9:04 AM on February 5, 2008


Tell me he at least puts quote marks around speech. People who think not doing that is clever can fuck the hell off IMHO.

Amen, brother. Amen.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:09 AM on February 5, 2008


Here's the first chapter. It's okay, I suppose

Reminds me a little bit of Dennis Lehane.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:10 AM on February 5, 2008


Sounds like it might be a pretty good novel, but the emphasis on biography in the review makes me a little skeptical. What a groovy cat Charles Bock is will come as cold comfort if I drop twenty-thirty bucks on his book and discover that it blows.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:12 AM on February 5, 2008


Tell me he at least puts quote marks around speech. People who think not doing that is clever can fuck the hell off IMHO.

Hemingway, Faulkner, Toni Morrison, etc. Screw them all, amirite?! Also, the French (and other languages) use chevrons around «speech».
posted by mattbucher at 9:13 AM on February 5, 2008


Screw Cormac McCarthy too!
posted by goatdog at 9:16 AM on February 5, 2008


I just finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. It's a dense, long and imperfect book that I enjoyed immensely. It is also Susanna Clarke's first book and took 10 years to write (6.7 pages a month).
posted by JeremiahBritt at 11:54 AM on February 5


That book was awesome, but I had no idea it took that long to write. But it was mired in 19th-century British history which probably required extensive research, and it required a fictitious but very detailed false history to be created as well. If I recall correctly, it contained a lot of footnotes to real and false history (or all false?), leading me to believe that it was extensively researched and planned out, which certainly explains the 10 year timeframe.

I don't see any of that going on here, but again I haven't read the book, so I'll cede the point.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:20 AM on February 5, 2008


I admit I have never written a novel, nor do I think it is an easy thing to do. But seriously, 11 years to write a book? That's 3.5 pages per month.

I started writing a novel once, and managed to crank out something like 20k words in a week. Then it took me a year or so to get to 40k words. And then I pretty much gave up. For one thing, my writing got a lot better, and so my original chapters seemed to suck. So it's not surprising too me.

William Gibson takes a long time to write fairly small books too.

The problem, though, is that even if a book sells you can expect to make $5k on it or so. I always thought it would be fun to crank out cheesy sci-fi and fantasy books at a rate of one per month. Get rich on volume rather then quality. :P
posted by delmoi at 9:28 AM on February 5, 2008


For one thing, my writing got a lot better, and so my original chapters seemed to suck. So it's not surprising too me.

</justsayin'>
posted by DU at 9:31 AM on February 5, 2008


Delmoi - sadly it's not the 1950s, so your plan is unlikely to work.
posted by Artw at 9:32 AM on February 5, 2008


Here's the first chapter. It's okay, I suppose, but still, some people can write a lot of books with more interesting first chapters in 11 years.

Uh, yeah, it really better get a lot better from there. The stuff about the soul-stealing photos and like-a-cracked-tooth-you-can't-help-but-tongue is downright cliche.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2008


Big-breasted dragon chick comics is where the nerd dollar is now. That's a good dollar, you should chase it.
posted by Mister_A at 9:35 AM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Delmoi - sadly it's not the 1950s, so your plan is unlikely to work.
posted by Artw


Yeah but by the same token, looking Mr. Bock I'm struck how some nouveau greaser rockabilly hipster could be described as the new it boy. Perhaps we're ready to embrace bulk pulp sci-fi again. Go for it Delmoi.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:41 AM on February 5, 2008


Delmoi - sadly it's not the 1950s, so your plan is unlikely to work.

What I've heard is that there is a lot more money in sci-fi/fantasy then there is in 'literary' novel writing. But I don't really know.

DU: Better then it had been. And anyway I was talking about how the work sounded, not ensuring the correct form of a homonym. Why, I may have even mixed up effect and affect! (Actually, when showing a very early draft of my story to someone... back in 1999, they pointed out that I'd mixed up 'there' and 'their')
posted by delmoi at 9:41 AM on February 5, 2008


yeah but by the same token, looking Mr. Bock

Without "at" in front of Mr. Bock that sentence makes as much sense as tattoos and greasy hair.
posted by Keith Talent at 9:43 AM on February 5, 2008


Poppo, granted I'm a Galleycat reader, but I think alot of people interested in publishing are curious why they picked that as a cover book, considering that most of the buzz about the book was that it wasn't that great.

Me, I'm not in publishing or literary criticism circles. But the FPP makes a broad statement which is backed weakly (or IMO not at all), hence my comment. Additional comments like yours and others here do however give it traction.
posted by poppo at 9:44 AM on February 5, 2008


Ursula K. Leguin has an interesting article on the publishing industry in this months Harpers (subscription required unfortunately) . I thought this quote was interesting in the context of megapublicity and promotion of specific writers like Bock.
Over the years, books kept in print may earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for their publisher and author. A few steady earners, even though the annual earnings are in what is now dismissively called “the midlist,” can keep publishers in business for years, and even allow them to take a risk or two on new authors. If I were a publisher, I’d rather own J.R.R. Tolkien than J. K. Rowling.

But capitalists count weeks, not years. To get big quick money, the publisher must risk a multimillion-dollar advance on a hot author who’s supposed to provide this week’s bestseller. These millions—often a dead loss—come out of funds that used to go to pay normal advances to reliable midlist authors and the royalties on older books that kept selling. Many midlist authors have been dropped, many reliably selling books remaindered, in order to feed Moloch. Is that any way to run a business?
posted by Staggering Jack at 9:44 AM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


I know people who've made ok money hacking out the franchise novels, usually on work-for-hire basis, but it's never going to make you rich. Frankly I looked at the money for hacking out a paperback, considered the effort involved in doing a decentish job of it and thought "no way".

Outside of the franchise stuff, there's not a lot of money in writing SF, and what there is of it tends to accumulate around the big players. Theres a lot of material out there, and it's selling in increasingly tiny numbers, so banging 'em out wouldn't really work very well - you'd mostly just be increasing your own competition.
posted by Artw at 9:48 AM on February 5, 2008


And it's probably even worse if you have a literary novel. COmplain about the segregation of SF books into their little ghetto corner if you will, at leats theres a subste of people who go specificaly to that corner and browse it for anything new.
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on February 5, 2008


Here's the first chapter. It's okay, I suppose, but still, some people can write a lot of books with more interesting first chapters in 11 years.

There's some really nice description of the videotape, but the development that follows not only contains some clunkers ("Then designer sunglasses would not be able to hide Lorraine's tears") and then reverts to cliche: And at some point fairly early on in this process, Lincoln Ewing would be reminded of the damndest piece of information. A drop of conventional wisdom that, honestly, Lincoln had no clue where he'd picked up. It concerned Native Americans. Supposedly, when photography was invented, they believed each picture from the white man's magic machine removed a piece of the subject's soul.

It's not that hard to write something the provokes feeling when you're dealing with such a charged situation, a child missing. And to default to musing about images of that child in the media is predictable; who hasn't had those thoughts when faced with those sorts of pictures on television or milk cartons or whatever?

So, it's decent writing with some nice adornments, but nothing grabs, really. Of course, there's no sense of how well he handles plot and character; perhaps he does that with greater skill.

And taking a decade to write a novel? Sure. Because he's probably written tens of thousands of pages of drafts before he got it into its final form. It's not a matter of 3 pages of month; it's a matter of a hundred pages of revisions, discarded plot lines, events in a different order, etc.
posted by jokeefe at 9:57 AM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


jokeefe - yikes, that's pretty nasty.
posted by Artw at 10:00 AM on February 5, 2008


Better then it had been. And anyway I was talking about how the work sounded, not ensuring the correct form of a homonym. Why, I may have even mixed up effect and affect! (Actually, when showing a very early draft of my story to someone... back in 1999, they pointed out that I'd mixed up 'there' and 'their')

And "than" vs "then".
posted by DU at 10:02 AM on February 5, 2008


It's not just putting words on pages in the timing for getting a book out. It's working in between at your day job, making re-writes, sending it out and getting critiques...it's a lot of work.

Not that this necessarily justifies Bock's time spent.

It's just that writing a book is so much more than just putting one word after another.

(although, if you have that part down and are fairly disciplined about it, you're much more likely to be published in the first place, from what I understand)
posted by batmonkey at 10:03 AM on February 5, 2008


It was hard word getting through that sample so I won't be reading it... and - missing kid! comic book writer! strippers! tattoos! weirdo names! porn! porn! porn! is just trying far too hard to be instantly cool and edgy.

11 years... hmmm well perhaps he fritters his time away on the internet... is he on metafilter?
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:14 AM on February 5, 2008


It's become slashdot in here (slowly backs away, then runs)
posted by hellslinger at 10:19 AM on February 5, 2008


if we're to believe the New Yorker, it won't be an issue for the masses much longer, as some are predicting the death of serious reading -
http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/atlarge/2007/12/24/071224crat_atlarge_crain
and I've been through the literary fiction wars with my wife novelist Diana Wagman - her first book Skin Deep was published by the well-thought of University Press of Mississippi, and received a great NYTimes Book Review, and nothing happened. second book, Spontaneous, was published by St. Martin's Press and won the PEN/West Award for Best Fiction 2001. nothing happened. now out of print. her third book, Bump, published by Carroll & Graf, who no longer publish books, was well-reviewed by the New York Post. nothing happened. it's a really really hard thing to do, getting any attention, even when the novels are great, all husband-based bias aside.
it seems very similar to any other mass media business. some are chosen to get the big push by the gatekeepers and tastemakers. some stick around and succeed. some fade away. some keep trying for the big spotlight and best seller lists.
posted by TMezz at 10:28 AM on February 5, 2008


I average about three pages per month, but that's only because the typewriter I use for consonants is in the basement and the typewriter I use for vowels is on the third floor. I have thought about moving them closer together but it seems like a lot of bother.
posted by The Loch Ness Monster at 10:30 AM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


I;m pretty certain that for every year that I've been alive someone out there has pronounced the death of serious reading.
posted by Artw at 10:31 AM on February 5, 2008


New Yorker:Death of Reading::Rolling Stone:Rock n Roll is Back!!!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:35 AM on February 5, 2008


Artw, the novel itself was perceived as a low-class entertainment for the unwashed masses when it first appeared in the 19th century.
posted by Mister_A at 10:36 AM on February 5, 2008


Is here one person commenting hee ho has actually read the book?
posted by Postroad at 10:40 AM on February 5, 2008


I hee ho de book Postroad. Hoo de hee?
posted by Mister_A at 10:42 AM on February 5, 2008 [10 favorites]


Ya, the bookstores are full of serious novels just waiting for readers. We could stop writing new novels now, and I'd probably still be unable to finish all the current ones I want to read before I die. Oh well.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:43 AM on February 5, 2008


Hee ho ho ho!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2008


Is here one person commenting hee ho has actually read the book?

I read an excerpt from the first chapter. I'm going to pass for now.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:44 AM on February 5, 2008


There's some really nice description of the videotape

In a recent essay, James Wood explains why novice novelists so often begin with a description of a photograph (in this case a video but I think it still holds true):

You know the style: "My mother is squinting in the fierce sunlight and holding, for some reason, a dead pheasant. She is dressed in old-fashioned lace-up boots, and white gloves. She looks absolutely miserable. My father, however, is in his element, irrepressible as ever, and has on his head that grey velvet trilby from Prague I remember so well from my childhood." The unpractised novelist cleaves to the static, because it is much easier to describe than the mobile: it is getting these people out of the aspic of arrest and mobilised in a scene that is hard.
posted by otio at 10:47 AM on February 5, 2008 [3 favorites]


otio, precisely! I have this problem too with some of my characters, only it's dialogue I'm leaning on. I find myself yelling "stop talking!!!" at the imaginary people on the page. Then I gets my medicines.
posted by Mister_A at 10:51 AM on February 5, 2008


How much of that 11 years is typing and how much is just-sort-of-thinking-about-it?

1 year: typing

4 years: just-sort-of-thinking-about-it

2 years: cultivation of literary network that includes Rick Moody and Jonathan Safran Foer

1 year: identification of publicist to recommend edgy new look

2 years: cultivation of "rocker’s look: black jeans and jacket, concert T-shirt, chains, medallions, ropey bracelets."

1 year: selection of "six tattoos, including two in honor of the book and one that displays the letters of the alphabet circling his left arm, in the place where you might normally expect to see barbed wire."
posted by googly at 10:53 AM on February 5, 2008


I would love to see some credible insight from someone who has actually READ the piece rather than this redundant discourse on how long it took Bock to write it. I mean, seriously, what bearing does that have on its actual worth. This whole thing reminds me of that much-dreaded cursory question that mose visual artist have to endure when showing someone a new completed painting: "Wow...thats gorgeous. How long did that take you!?"
DRECK!
posted by Escapetank at 10:55 AM on February 5, 2008


I always thought it would be fun to crank out cheesy sci-fi and fantasy books at a rate of one per month. Get rich on volume rather then quality.

Nonsense. If you really want to get rich, start a religion. That's where the real money is.
posted by rokusan at 11:01 AM on February 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, to be fair, the post is about the fact that he has gotten tons of attention before the book has even been in wide circulation. Read the NYT Magazine puff piece (and it is a puff piece) for an example. Bock is so edgy! It took him 11 years to write the book! He's got a rocker look and wears concert t-shirts! He grew up in Vegas, for chrissakes! He has famous friends! Did we mention that it took him 11 years to write the book?
posted by googly at 11:02 AM on February 5, 2008


Okay, I submit! It can take a long time to write a book!

And yes, I read the first chapter and the links in the post, and based on that, no, I will not be reading the book.
posted by Pastabagel at 11:03 AM on February 5, 2008


I really hate their model for ordering from publishers--get preorders, ship them out, list the book as out of stock, wait for more orders, send publisher a PO, get copies & ship them out, list the book as out of stock, wait for more orders, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

It's kind of how they manage to, well, be Amazon.



Actually that's not how it works at all. Amazon is pretty good in reordering stock compared to some other sellers. However, no publisher has an unlimited amount of stock for a book and generally Amazon does the 'preorder' thing to substantiate getting a bigger piece of the pie when publishers try to hand out fairly inventory. If there's no stock to order however there's simply no stock.

As for print runs that publishers plan, well those initals number are made up to half a year in advance (to as quickly as 8 weeks previous) so it's a estimation game and a 'hot' title can clear out inventory fast. Remember publishers can't simply print an unlimited amount of units as that's negative dollars they'll have lying around warehouses and taking up space (not to mention dollars to upkeep stock as mint). Usually, the unanticipated 'wait' period customers experience (which is incredibly rare, I'm not sure why you think it is the norm - maybe you simply order low demand or specialized items from small publishing houses) simply go out of stock due to unexpected demand clearing up inventory. That's when a reprint has to be rescheduled and it's a process that as a customer, I doubt you ever have to wait an excessive amount of time for.
posted by eatdonuts at 11:13 AM on February 5, 2008


Wait, this guy wears concert T-shirts! Awesome! DEAF LEOPARD 4 Eva!!
posted by Mister_A at 11:14 AM on February 5, 2008


How many fiction books were written and published by an author acclaimed by many as outstanding? ..."His oeuvre include nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed...

In a lifetime of writing fiction, how many novels did James Joyce write?
posted by Postroad at 11:15 AM on February 5, 2008


"six tattoos, including two in honor of the book and one that displays the letters of the alphabet circling his left arm, in the place where you might normally expect to see barbed wire."

I didn't make it that far in that article... wow, what an utter poser
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 11:17 AM on February 5, 2008


In a lifetime of writing fiction, how many novels did James Joyce write?

None that took him more than 11 years.
posted by Artw at 11:22 AM on February 5, 2008


"six tattoos, including two in honor of the book and one that displays the letters of the alphabet circling his left arm, in the place where you might normally expect to see barbed wire."

...Will they breed him to Cody Diablo?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 11:24 AM on February 5, 2008


(which is incredibly rare, I'm not sure why you think it is the norm - maybe you simply order low demand or specialized items from small publishing houses)

I have worked with Amazon for years (with small, medium-sized, and large publishers) and I'm telling you this is how it works. You have to wait for Amazon to send a PO before you can ship them more books--that down time leads the book to be listed as not in stock or "Only 1 left in stock!!" I mean look at this Bock book? Don't you think someone in RH's sales dept is a little pissed that Bock's book is getting all this publicity and yet Amazon won't keep it in stock? If you work at Amazon and are speaking from insider knowledge, I'd love to hear more.
posted by mattbucher at 11:38 AM on February 5, 2008


In a recent essay, James Wood explains why novice novelists so often begin with a description of a photograph (in this case a video but I think it still holds true):

You know the style: "My mother is squinting in the fierce sunlight and holding, for some reason, a dead pheasant. She is dressed in old-fashioned lace-up boots, and white gloves. She looks absolutely miserable. My father, however, is in his element, irrepressible as ever, and has on his head that grey velvet trilby from Prague I remember so well from my childhood." The unpractised novelist cleaves to the static, because it is much easier to describe than the mobile: it is getting these people out of the aspic of arrest and mobilised in a scene that is hard.


otio, absolutely. Photographs (and videotape) carry an automatic, attached poignancy that we modern humans all recognize and are familiar with. You can coast on that poignancy, that borrowed feeling, for the opening pages, but then-- exactly as happens in the opening page or two of Bock's novel-- trying to gear up into the action, and generating your own emotion from within the piece, proves problematic. His descriptions of the grief demonstrated by the mother (the tears behind designer sunglasses thing) and the father (the cliche musing on the stealing the soul thing) both fall predictably, dully flat. (I like the bit about the father holding the videotape away from the mother; that works.)

I can't help but wonder about the emphasis on Bock's masculinity and edginess; the tattoos and Rawk! t-shirts and so on. The last time I remember reading a piece with that same breathless "real man" tone, it was about James Frey. Is there a sense that women novelists are a dime a dozen, and that unless there's a "hook" of ethnicity or otherwise, they are not "marketable"?

Also, just a quick correction to an editing error in my first post: I should have said "thousands of pages" instead of "tens of thousands".
posted by jokeefe at 12:06 PM on February 5, 2008


You can't judge books by the time it takes to write them. You could make an argument that it took Henry Roth 58 years to follow up Call It Sleep.
posted by Mister_A at 12:17 PM on February 5, 2008


I have worked with Amazon for years (with small, medium-sized, and large publishers) and I'm telling you this is how it works. You have to wait for Amazon to send a PO before you can ship them more books--that down time leads the book to be listed as not in stock or "Only 1 left in stock!!" I mean look at this Bock book? Don't you think someone in RH's sales dept is a little pissed that Bock's book is getting all this publicity and yet Amazon won't keep it in stock? If you work at Amazon and are speaking from insider knowledge, I'd love to hear more.


I work in publishing. Of course we need a PO before shipping units, but generally we get our POs based upon estimated weeks of demand / inventory. Inventory isn't allowed to (or "desired to") run out unless it's a specialty / low demand item or there simply isn't any stock. I wonder if I'm reading you wrong, reading that you're implying Amazon desires stock to run out, but I've never run into any buyer who thinks 'let inventory run out before buying again' - you'll lose sales that way. Indeed, I always find that stores are trying to have a padding of inventory for high demand items because they want to ensure their customers have a quick and pleasant buying experience. They know if customers have to wait, they will go somewhere else... what's more, unless under special promotion, booksellers are almost always allowed to return inventory to publishing houses so having extra inventory of top-line items does not put their dollars at risk.

Of course someone at RH is upset about the inventory, but there is never an unlimited amount of inventory on a title, publishing houses simply do not have the money to do that - even Harry Potter had a limited number of first prints although booksellers were asking for many many more. It's simply too expensive. With books like this, I can tell you any 'wait' listed on Amazon is because they already have pending orders but not yet received inventory on those order. They don't seek to 'penalize their customer' with wait because they want a popular item. For Random House, it's likely a question of there being no more, or very limited inventory at the warehouse because they didn't anticipate the demand and are waiting for a reprint to come in. You do what you can but no body is perfect.
posted by eatdonuts at 1:05 PM on February 5, 2008


How many fiction books were written and published by an author acclaimed by many as outstanding? ..."His oeuvre include nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms. Altogether, about 550 million copies of his works have been printed...

In a lifetime of writing fiction, how many novels did James Joyce write?


Seems that fella was inspired by Balzac's Human Comedy and its 90 novels. "I am not deep," the author once said, "but very wide."
posted by ersatz at 1:22 PM on February 5, 2008


The cream always rises to the top. The book will come out and if a couple people I know can say, yeah, it's alright. Then I'll pick it up.

The selling of the 'Author' makes me vomit. Copiously.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:47 PM on February 5, 2008


Hee ho ho ho!

Hee ho, hee ho, it's off to read I go (I need to finish The Rest Is Noise so I can start in on that damn Schulz biography from last year).
posted by sparkletone at 2:38 PM on February 5, 2008


Also, that website, ye gods. Difficult to navigate, clumsy flash interface with mysterious visual elements, unintuitive (the names of the characters float around the screen, but link you to things like Press and Author's Previous Works rather than information about the character, except for an elliptic quote), liable to blast music at you without warning, and light on content (I've been through a fair amount of it and remain completely uninformed about the novel). And on the first page, under updates? This breathless prose:

February 3, 2008 - Blowing the fuck up! Cover of the NYT Book Review. Not only is it a rave, but it has more sexy pictures! WHEEEEEE!

January 25, 2008 - The NYT Sunday magazine feature is out and has been added to the site. (Check out the rock star photo! Sexxxyy!)

posted by jokeefe at 4:46 PM on February 5, 2008


At the risk of self-linking, I should point out that a lengthy interview with Charles Bock will be appearing on The Bat Segundo Show in a day or two. It should answer many of the questions put forth in this thread.
posted by ed at 5:27 PM on February 5, 2008


It should answer many of the questions put forth in this thread.

I...I don't think there are any questions in this thread.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:24 PM on February 5, 2008


I don't really have much experience on the distribution side, but it seems like Amazon puts Out of Stock, when they don't have it in their warehouse and Ingram is out as well (I can't quite remember why I think Amazon gets inventory from Ingram). There's also the possibility that they're trying to get more copies direct from the publishers to save a little money.

Someone might know this, but I wonder if any publishers limit what Amazon can place for an initial order, as, if the book didn't sell, the publisher could be stuck with a ton of future remainder titles (or pulp).
posted by drezdn at 7:20 PM on February 5, 2008


Ingram is a wholesale distributor, and as such purchase significantly larger amounts of inventory they are more willing to sit on compared to most retailers. Wholesalers also have larger avenues for dispersing that inventory - so while there is a larger possibility of larger returns with wholesalers, you have to think in terms of percentage of what you're pushing out for the customer to obtain. But yeah, many retailers sometimes find getting their inventory serviced (and that implies also a number of needed handling/processes) through wholesalers for a number of reasons.

No publisher that I know of voluntarily limits inventory any account can buy (in terms of units), but you have to remember that most accounts are akin to individuals and their checkbook - all have a certain line of credit unique to their capacities. For example, Major Bookstore Chain A has a larger credit line than Independent Bookstore B. This protects both buyer and sellers from catastrophe. Buyers from being unable to pay their bills and sellers from having large sums defaulted.

Amazon.com, a retailer, is as far as I know (which is very little in terms of particulars to the account) is a very good customer and is only limited in as far as everyone is by inventory dispersal.

Strictly hypothetical and *not* based on reality in any way: if there are 13 million first copies of the amazing Hooper Pooper 8 coming out (which by the way is an ungodly amount of books printed for an initial print run), and each title in the series has an unprecedented 88% sell-through (meaning 88% of all the books pushed out to vendors actually gets sold to customers). Vendors large and small will be scrambling for copies. However, Scoops Publishing has determined that no matter what, they can only afford the initial print run until they start seeing some returns on their inventory, because that’s a huge investment. I expect all vendors to put in purchase orders well exceeding their real sales capacity and as such a publisher has to try and be fair and slice off realistic pieces of the pie to hand out to all based upon previous sales, credit limit, capacity, etc. And it is always in the interest of a publisher to be as fair as possible. No one wants to anger a source of income. Major Retail Chain A might get say 3 million copies while Major Department Store B gets another 3 million, Independent Bookstore C gets 100 copies and online retailer might get 1 million copies, etc. Wholesalers also get big slices of the pie and while retailers begin to sell of their inventory the publisher is left sold out until a reprint comes in (and/or can be afforded) while wholesalers might still be sitting with inventory to sell off to retailers – who then get it to the customer. That’s why some retailers have two avenues of inventory – from publishers and from wholesalers.

During the hypothetical sale (as it is with all sales) and sales rep and respective account are always checking inventory and sales to ensure the highest rate of $ return for all. We have our own kind of best seller lists that help us look at these figures in meaningful ways. That’s why a major account like Amazon.com does not willingly allow a hot title to go out of stock because there is a process there to preempt it when possible. However, that isn’t to say that a book that only sells one copy a month will always be in stock.

Caveat: very small publishing houses may have problems with inventory even on the best of titles. Sometimes it is simply a matter of dollars to make those books and keep them in stock.
posted by eatdonuts at 8:27 PM on February 5, 2008


Well, I've been writing poetry for 16 years, and I've published 2, for a total of 243 words, so that's. . . about 15 words a year.

I can't decide if that's a WIN or a FAIL.

Don't answer that.
posted by flotson at 11:37 PM on February 5, 2008


Random House is making a downloadable pdf of the novel available for free for the next few days.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:41 AM on February 27, 2008


Bock is one of the guests on Episode One of Titlepage (as linked from this mefi post). Just watched his main segment and against all expectations he comes across as not too hateful if more than a little spacey and vague.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:51 AM on March 5, 2008


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