Monday, 30 March 2015

This year, next year, some time, never?

This is a cry from the heart from a frustrated librarian. (I don't think there are any easy answers to any of this!)

Dear publishers,

1.  Please don't announce your titles too early. (I'm not really sure how early is too early!)
Some publishers seem to announce titles a very long way ahead of the proposed date of publication. I'm guessing this is in part a way of marking out the territory (look, we have someone working on this subject, so don't you aspiring authors/competing academics start getting ideas about writing about it!) Perhaps sometimes all the intentions are good, but the author just can't quite make the leap from proposal to actual book.

2. If you do announce a title knowing it is far from seeing the light of day, please don't give fictitious dates of publication, and raise false expectations.
Do publishers do this in order to gauge interest? Does the publication of a title perhaps even depend on advance orders?
I do very much hope the latter is not the case, as many libraries these days (both academic and others) are not able to keep orders indefinitely in their systems: the money has to be spent within a given period of time, or it is lost to the library (and, in the case of public libraries, may then cause a reduction in next year's budget - this was the case even in good times! The library would be blamed for not having spent its allowed budget, and this could be used as evidence that it did not need so much). It would be a shame if publishers were using orders to judge the potential interest in a title. In fact, the whole exercise would become pointless: ghost books which do not exist which might be going to exist if enough people buy them, but people trying to buy them can't because they don't (yet) exist, so the people trying to buy them have to find something else to buy instead, and then the books will never exist ...

3. Sometimes, of course, things don't go according to plan. If the author is going to miss a deadline - perhaps more than one - just be realistic! If it's an interesting subject, we still want it - but we really don't want to have to keep checking publication dates, perhaps deleting and reinstating orders, or have to persuade eager readers that the book they have been told was being published in the autumn does not yet exist.

On that subject,
Dear academics,

1. It would be very very nice if you could keep your publication information up to date, and not make it sound as if your latest work is about to appear, when you must know that that is not going to happen very soon.

2. If you want to put the latest title of a fellow academic on a reading list, please make sure it does actually exist in the real world and not only in a future - or possible - one.
There are quite a few "ghost" academic publications out there, some of which are asked for fairly often - but they were only ever a gleam in the author's eye and never saw the light of day. The most difficult to disprove are the ones which somehow seem to have acquired an ISBN somewhere along the way - and not always a valid one! A library of all the books which were announced but never appeared perhaps exists in a parallel universe somewhere, and there are some interesting titles in it, but sadly we have to operate in a real world in which we have to satisfy our customers', and our accountants', expectations.

I'm told that we have recently received details of a proposed publication with a date of 2035, and that this is definitely not a typo. Other than indicating that a project is under way, this is not really very helpful from an administrative point of view!

A little realism from publishers - and academics - and perhaps authors? - would help enormously, and it would in no way affect sales: it would save a lot of wasted effort, and sometimes money, and make for better customer relations all round - unfortunately libraries are sometimes caught in the middle between the reader and the publisher. After all, we all know that deadlines are not cast in stone, especially in publishing!

"I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by". - Douglas Adams, The salmon of doubt.