A Collector's Plea from Awful Books

This is my attempt to document exactly what, as a book collector, I would like small and large press companies to do when soliciting and producing limited editions. Some of this I touch upon in my various Grumblings. Others issues will be making their first appearance here. I implore, beg, and cajole these companies to adhere to the following "advice". I realize some of this will NOT be popular, especially from an owner perspective, but I'm including them anyway. Into the breach!

1. Be honest with your solicitation with full disclosure.

This is probably my biggest source of frustration when initially looking at an ad. If you're going to produce a lettered or some other ultra-terrific-fantabulous edition beyond that of the numbered, say so in the ad! Don't hide the fact. Even if this edition won't necessarily be for general sale, let collectors know that an "ultimate" edition WILL be produced. It's called being honest with your client base. Look at it like this - if you were to walk into an eye clinic for LASIK, had the correction done, and then later found out that an even better procedure could've been performed by the same office or group, but you weren't informed beforehand, wouldn't you be a little steamed? Even if this procedure was three times as expensive and only offered incrementally improved results, wouldn't you like to've known of the option? In short, don't be cute and coy with your customers.

2. Be honest with your solicitation with full disclosure - part 2.

Related to the above, if you are going to manufacture an ultra-terrific-fantabulous edition, let buyers know what sets it apart from the more plentiful numbered run. If the numbered is cloth and the lettered is leather, say so. If the lettered will come with additional illustrations, a traycase, special endpapers, embedded bookmarks, inlays, onlays, and frontispieces, say so! Let people know EXACTLY what they'll be receiving by forking over orders more the price of the numbered edition.

3. Give people their money's worth.

This is my #1 pet peeve after a sale is concluded and the book is in-hand. Awful Books was originally started due to my grave disappointment over a certain SubPress title. If you're going to slap a $400 MSRP sticker on a book, then give people $400 worth of production values! This business of charging collectors a premium simply because an author has inscribed a letter instead of a number has to stop. You can't (ethically) price the numbered edition at Y and the lettered at 5*Y and justify the hike by only adding a few enhancing elements. While you may get away with this during the initial phase of your business life, people will eventually get wise to your practice and take their credit cards elsewhere (as they should).

4. Lettered editions should be completely separate productions from the numbered.

See above. Don't throw a numbered book into a prefab traycase, inscribe a letter, charge four or five times as much, and call it a day. Lettered editions should be the absolute pinnacle of any edition's print run. As such, they SHOULD be expensive, but they should also be completely different animals using only the finest of materials and chock full of value-enhancing elements. If you can't do this, then DON'T produce a lettered run! Don't prey on the hopes, dreams, and bank accounts of your customer base. It's not nice.

5. Pour production money into the book, not separate doodads.

This will undoubtedly get me into trouble with some collectors, but I'd really rather you eschew doing things like chapbooks when the money could instead be used to enhance what I'm paying for - the book. I realize chapbooks and other darlings of the small press scene are cute and have their place (at times), but the text appearing in those chapbooks could instead be bound into the main book. Concentrate on making the book everything it can be. Don't dilute it by breaking money off for tangential productions.

6. Give reasonable release dates.

I realize chaos happens. I really do. God knows I've experienced my own share of unexpected occurrences in my life. However, when you're selling to the public, you have a greater imperative to be at least somewhat accurate with your release dates. Don't say a book is going to be out in the first quarter when it really won't appear until the fourth. If you haven't a clue when a book will see daylight, don't mislead your customers by making guesstimates on the solicitation. We have to budget, too.

7. Don't force people to prepay the full MSRP.

Look, I realize a company needs capital to begin planning for a book's ultimate production. But you (meaning the small press owner) have to realize that you can't hold peoples money hostage, especially for expensive editions. This practice of raking in loads of cash for unproduced books is terrific for the company, but a small disaster for the end-consumer, which is the person you SHOULD be striving to satisfy. I'm willing to meet you on the fiscal bridge, but only part-way. A 25% deposit, to me, seems entirely reasonable. Anything beyond that starts to smell like week-old jock straps.

8. Give non-subscribers a chance.

If, for whatever reason, your customer base that holds first-refusal rights doesn't 100% commit to purchasing a book's print run in a given timeframe, open it up for non-subscribers. Unless there're some extraordinary circumstances, there's no sense in hanging onto a book if the intended subscriber can't or won't buy it. After a month or two, let someone else have a shot at it.

9. Don't be clever with lettered serializations.

There're only 26 letters in the English alphabet. Twenty-six. Not fifteen or fifty-two. Twenty-six. A to Z. There is no CC or QQ "letter". Twenty-six. Ergo, please only produce 26 lettered units. There's a reason why these things are called LIMITED editions. Not everyone is going to get one and nor should they. This is part of the collecting game. I know you could probably sell a thousand letters from the newest King bestseller, but please, don't do it.

10. Put a cork in it.

There's a nasty habit for some publishers to futz around with a seemingly endless array of editions for a given book. Look, dazzle us with quantum jumps in production values, not baby increments. At MOST, be content with offering three editions and make each "upgrade" worth it. This webmaster would actually greatly prefer you only offer two - numbered and lettered. Or even just one. But this business of doing four and five "states" is getting old and tiresome. There're already too many companies in the wild for collectors to keep up with. Trying to track the production shenanigans of just one publisher is just too much.

11. Preserve solicitation information, even when a book is long-ago sold out.

Perhaps a small pet peeve, but an irritation nonetheless, is when a publisher deletes ads for sold-out titles. Or partially pulls them by striking pricing information (this is especially grating). If I'm trying to do research on a particular book, I SHOULD be able to refer back to the originating press and not have to rely on possibly incorrect second-hand sources. Just keep the ad online and relatively untouched. That's all I ask.

12. Remain professional, even in the face of scathing criticism.

If you price a book in the hundreds of dollars but don't deliver the goods, don't be surprised or upset if you're confronted with some pretty harsh words. You are selling a product. It is up to YOU, as the head of the company, to ensure said product meets not just yours, but also your customers' expectations. Be judicious and weigh your decisions carefully. Was it really a good idea to do this or not do that? Even if you are ecstatic with the end product, your customers may not. Grow some layers of skin and handle even the most vitriolic of feedback in a calm, rational, and professional manner. If you can't do that, then you shouldn't be in the business of selling stuff to the public.


That's about it for now, though I'm sure I'll be adding to this as Awful Books progresses and matures. If you think I've missed something or am totally bonkers about one of the above points, drop me a line at "a d m i n AT a w f u l b o o k s DOT c o m".