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In 2004 two of my works Purple Haze and El Levante were published by BeWrite Books in a paperback anthology of 22 stories by 21 writers entitled The Creature in the Rose – Tales from the Dark Side of Love.
Despite my two stories taking up 52 pages of a book consisting of 308 pages (almost 17%) I foolishly signed a contract entitling me to only 2.1% of writers’ royalties. On the other hand, I didn’t expect a lot from it whichever way it went, I was only to happy to get published without it costing me a cent.
My expectations were more than fulfilled when I received absolutely nothing whatsoever after the first quarterly account showing my share amounted to less than £2. By the time the contract expired I was briefly informed printing would cease and my royalties amounted to £2.08, courtesy of Alex Marr of BeWrite. And that was it. No thank you very much for all your efforts. Almost as though it was entirely my fault. Taking into account I live in Spain, where the currency is the euro, it would have cost me more than it was worth in bank charges to receive the paltry sum. These little things were all accepted with a pinch of salt, a sprinkling of cynicism and a dose of mild disbelief. What could I know without receiving an actual count of the number of books sold?
Despite the scholarly image respected newspapers and the literary world like to project of themselves, they are both cut-throat and ruthless. Writers are constantly being cheated out of royalties and extra fees from sales of copyright material to third parties or ‘research agencies’. Even their own agents sometimes cheat them. New conditions to contracts are added after the event. Few writers have the time or money to follow up when their copyright has been breached, especially as it happens on a worldwide basis now the internet has made it so much easier. More often than not, they remain unaware.
The screenshot at the top of the page was taken this morning (9th June 2014) from the Amazon site at 11.07 Spanish time. It purports to reflect the current second-hand market values for copies of The Creature in the Rose. Like all other market values, these are supposed to reflect market variations on a constantly changing basis according to demand, condition and availability. The problem is, without oversight, they are wide open to criminal distortion.
Though Amazon sell books they have in stock, they also act as a third party in handling books from dealers throughout the world. Yet there is something very odd about the The Creature in the Rose page for second-hand books. I was stirred into action today simply because to look at the information one could easily be led to believe a book dealer is using the services of Amazon to advertise a second-hand copy of the book described as ‘Used – Good’ at the extraordinary price of £999.00. Perhaps that is the case.
Now, I know something about collectable first edition books in hardback and in paperback, having bought and sold them, mainly as a collector, once upon a time. Even many highly-collectable, first edition, hardbacks complete with dust-wrappers in excellent condition by well-known authors do not reach such high prices. Much as I would like to pretend my work deserves it, The Creature in the Rose fits none of those categories. Anthologies of short stories by groups of unknown authors in paperback, which cannot realistically be classified as first editions, are almost never in demand by collectors. Correction, they are never in demand by collectors.
Yet it isn’t the first time The Creature in the Rose has been advertised for a grossly inflated price, although I don’t remember it going as high as almost £1,000. As far as I can see there is nothing extraordinary about this particular copy, or either of the other two copies advertised on the same page. It certainly isn’t signed by all of the authors, I know that, because I only ever signed two copies, and I know exactly where they are. One of them belongs to my partner, the artist Angelica Westerhoff, and is on our bookshelf, the other belongs to Don Meredith, author of Varieties of Darkness, his amazing journey following the fictional footsteps of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. For which, I might add, I illustrated the maps, costing much labour at little return, and which is almost certainly in his bookcase, if he hasn’t burned it.
Among other bits of recogntion for his life of writing, Don was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Letters for his collection of literary observations Where the Tigers Were. But that isn’t the only part of the mystery. It just complicates it and makes me sound more important than I am.
If we go to the first page on Amazon’s entry for The Creature in the Rose, incredible as it may seem, ‘new’ versions of the book are being offered at £9.80, almost £1 less than the cheapest ‘Used – Like New’ copy on the secondhand page. Of course, as The Creature in the Rose has been out of print since 2009, according to BeWrite – the first and only publisher – and as there never was such a thing as a first edition, in the generally accepted meaning of the term, it has hardly any secondhand, and certainly no added collectable, value at all. In legal terms, neither can the books be accurately described as new, unless the vendor has proof they have been received directly from the printer and are in their original wrapping. Even then, it would be pushing it.
In former times, unsold books that had been on shelves for five years or more would be placed in bins to be sold at heavy discounts. The term used was ‘remaindered’ as they were regarded as unsold stock taking up space. They would never be described as ‘new’. It makes a mockery of the term. Despite the fact the internet has changed things with sales of books, as far as book shelf space and overbuying are concerned, in the public perception a new book is one that hasn’t been published before, just as a new record, or new film, is perceived to be a newly made and newly released, record or film. In the same way Amazon cannot describe a copy of an original unread copy of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield, however perfect the condition, as ‘new’, it can’t describe a book first published ten years ago as new. The correct term for a perfect example is ‘as new’. I wouldn’t describe my stories contained in The Creature in the Rose as my ‘new’ stories and I resent Amazon selling them as such. It is a misrepresentation of my work.
Contemporary collectable books are almost exclusively first editions, A true first edition of a book is limited by its very nature, as no publisher prints many more copies of a book than is hoped can sell to make a reasonable profit on the entire run. Therein lies the value, if the book proves much more popular than the publisher anticipated, and demand leads to a second impression, the very first impression of the first edition becomes collectable, as it is a comparative rarity, the operative word being comparative.
But this leads to a second questionable activity in the murky world of books. Goods purchased buy a customer in the normal way become his property. If he finds no fault with them, and doesn’t return them, he cannot sell them as new, even if they are are unused and the packaging appears not to have been opened and neither can anyone else on his behalf. Like any other goods, in legal terms they can only be claimed to be unopened or unused, as the manufacturer – or publisher – can no longer offer the guarrantee, or assurances, the purchaser of new goods is entitled to expect. Let the buyer beware, in other words. So, I might be forgiven for wondering where all those ‘new’ copies are coming from, given that no copies of The Creature in the Rose can have been printed legally since BeWrite’s option on my copyright expired in 2009.
Nevertheless, not only does Amazon imply it has five ‘new’ copies left in stock, but it says it has more on the way. The last time I looked at their page was almost a year ago, that time they had only 3 in stock ‘with more on the way’. It seems extremely odd anyone should continually have a supply of new copies, as The Creature in the Rose was part of the growing market in POD (print on demand) when it was released. In other words no new copies were printed unless there were specific orders for them. As it was dropped from BeWrite’s list almost five years ago, it’s extremely unlikely for there to be any remaining brand new copies anywhere in the world, and certainly not in any great number. Yet it seems there are brand new copies available almost everywhere in the world, as can be checked on Google, and in growing numbers, if you believe the information on these pages, and many other similar pages of book dealers from round the world. Clicking onto every mention The Creature in the Rose you will see how many dealers offer the book, and that was just after a brief flick through Google. Something doesn’t smell right. A cynic might conclude, book dealers and publishers are selling books cheap because they are not paying the authors, and international companies are helping them do it.
On the surface, it would seem like another conspiracy story. But with new printing technology, fewer storage and transport costs, global booksellers can exploit the dishonesty of small publishers geared to modern low-cost technology. A book that may have only sold a couple of hundred copies in its own nation in the past, might sell thousands throughout the world today, particularly the English-speaking world. Publishing is cheaper than it’s ever been. Not all publishers have to go to the huge expense and risk of paying a print company for runs of thousands of copies of books in order to satisfy an expected, but not entirely predictable demand, generated by the writer’s popularity, advertising and PR, often costing millions. Today a publisher can have hundreds of writers publishing thousands of books in smaller quantites for a much lower price, lessening his risk considerably, and without having to advertise at all.
Like casino gambling on the stock market, the risk of this type of publishing has diminished to almost nil. Publish and be damned, has become publish and be blessed. And all without moving from a desk. But publishers can go one step farther, as the bankers and other global organisations have done, he can make sure he keeps most of the profits for himself by not paying his workers adequate reward, or at all, in the knowledge they won’t have the means to pursue him.
I would be very interested in hearing of other writer’s stories of suspect activity in the publishing world. I have the strong feeling there are many. Sorry, but I don’t mean tales of self-publishing in this, as I consider most self-publishing to be rather like your plumber coming round to fix your toilet and paying you for the privilege. I am vain enough to have my stories printed without a fee or advance, but not vain enough to pay for the subsequent humiliation of owning vast piles of them.
Meanwhile, if anyone is interested in a ‘Used – Good’ condition copy of The Creature in the Rose – Tales from the Dark Side of Love, which has been signed by the author of two of the stories Purple Haze and El Levante, and therefore qualifies as one of only two copies signed by Bryan Hemming in the world, it’s sitting in front of me, and is available for the first person willing to pay £10,000 for it.
I might add it also contains a dedication to Angelica Westerhoff, the portrait artist, who once met Peter Blake, designer of the sleeve for the groundbreaking Beatles’ album Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in a New York club. Now that’s something to tell your friends about.
As a late addition to this, while there a few companies going under the name bookdepot in the UK only one comes up when you click onto the name within the Amazon site. It appears Amazon are trying to hype up their own stuff and are prepared to go to any lengths to do it. I regard this type of practice as an insult to me and writers in general. You want to make money stooping this type of low tactic, Amazon, that’s your business. But, though it may be nothing to big boys like you, don’t try to con people using my name by quoting such prices. It’s a hard enough life putting crumbs on my plate without you pecking at them. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves.
30th July 2014 I’d like just like to add that Bibliophia, the site BeWrite advised their members to move to, after closing their own writers’ forum, has removed all of my work, without giving me notice, since the publication of this article. Some of that work may have been lost forever. This article doesn’t mention Bibliophilia at any point. And I have no information that links BeWrite to Bibliophilia beyond the information I am publishing today. Readers can draw their own conclusions. I know I am.
Copyright © 2014 Bryan Hemming
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