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fiercely unfavorable reviews, when these have only given sufficient space to the material, and have presented some analysis and description of it. While reviews are important, and without them success is very difficult, it is also easy to overestimate their direct influence on sales. It occasionally happens that a work which attracts very considerable and favorable attention from the reviewers, fails to find favor with the general public; and the young author who has, after the appearance of some pleasant notice, hurried up to the publisher's office to inquire how soon a new edition will be required, is met by a discouraging report. Such a result is usually due to the fact that the reviewers, while writing for, and on behalf of, the reading public, do not themselves form a fair representation of the average opinion of such public. They will naturally emphasize that which has a personal interest for themselves, and this may very easily be material which, for one reason or another, happens to be out of the range of the interests of the public at large.
The suggestion sometimes comes to the publisher that the author can, through his personal acquaintance, influence favorable reviews in this or that quarter, but it is a suggestion to which, as the publisher's experience tells him, he can attach little weight, as he knows that the journals whose opinions are of any value, conduct their literary columns without reference to personal influences, and in fact often arrange to secure their reviews from different specialists outside of their own office.
The number of copies of a new book which can to advantage be distributed for review, varies of course according to the character and costliness of the work, the number printed, etc., etc. Of a novel, from 150 to 250 copies are usually used in this way; of a work of standard literature, from 100 to 200 ; and of a work of special character, a much smaller number.
There has been of late a very large increase throughout the country of journals in which competent and able reviews appear, an increase out of proportion to the growth of booksellers and of book-buyers, but however excellent its reviews may be, it does not usually pay a publisher to add a journal to his list, unless the town where it is published contains at least one active bookseller who can be depended upon to fill orders for the books reviewed.
When after all preliminary difficulties have been overcome, his book is at last fairly published, the author not unnaturally expects that copies of it will at once appear on the counters of all the book-stores throughout the country. In this expectation he is likely to be more or less disappointed, and the complaint that “ friends have inquired for a book in this place or that, and have not found it,” is one of the most frequent that comes to the publisher.
It is not always easy to make clear, at least in connection with a first book, why it is that publishing machinery does not and cannot provide for any such general distribution in advance of the public demand. The first edition of a first book does not usually consist of more than 1,000 copies, and of these from 150 to 200 copies are required for the press. But such general distribution of copies among the leading book-stores (even if there were no other reasons rendering it impracticable) would require not 1,000 but from 5,000 to 10,000 copies, a larger edition than either the publisher or the author (if the venture be his) is usually willing to risk with a first enterprise.
If, however, some such number of copies were sent out, and one half of them (a large proportion) found buyers, the extra cost of manufacturing the copies not sold and the expense of the freight on these when returned, would considerably more than absorb the profits on the sales, so that with quite a considerable sale, the net result of the transaction might
be a considerable loss. It is, however, also the case that the better class of booksellers object to receiving unsolicited consignments of untried books, and when such consignments come to hand they are very likely to put them to one side, or sometimes even to promptly express them back to the publisher at his cost. They reason that the space on their counters represents a considerable outlay for rent, and that they prefer to use their own judgment as to how such space shall be occupied, and to select for it such stock as may be most likely to prove remunerative. And if they have in their stores a certain amount of stock that belongs to them and other stock that they have the privilege of returning, it is naturally to their interest to give their special attention to the former, even to the extent of putting the latter to one side altogether.
In consideration of this class of objections on the part of the booksellers, and also of the fact that if a house is in the habit of making consignments of its books, it finds much greater difficulty in securing any orders for them, the leading publishers have practically given up the custom of making consignments, although they occasionally find it advisable to concede to regular customers the privilege of returning for exchange unsold stock. The leading booksellers usually place with the publishers standing orders for specimen copies of new books as published, and from these specimen copies, in connection with such demand as may arise through the notices of the press-copies sent with them, they make up their orders for such further supplies as they judge will be required. Such orders are, however, accompanied by lists of certain classes of books which are not to be sent ; one dealer, for instance, wanting no religious works, another no fiction, a third no works on special scientific subjects, and nearly all ruling out from such advance orders poetry by new authors. The book does not, therefore, as the author often imagines, come into demand because it is in the book-stores, but gets into the book-stores because it has come into demand.
An author frequently suggests that if the publisher will only take pains to place his book on the railroad stands, it will certainly find sale. This, also, is, however, something that depends, in the first place, upon the book. The business of selling books on the railroads is in the hands of a few large companies; that of the roads running out of New York, for instance, being controlled by three concerns. The space on the stands is limited and is considered valuable, and the salesmen who sell books through the trains earn good wages. The managers are therefore naturally unwilling that their space and the time of their men be devoted to any books that are not what they call“ sure things.” They do not want to try any experiments, but plan to give attention only to works that have already“ made a sensation.” When a book has made a mark, it is well to talk to the railroad men about it, but not before.
The principal sales of the railroad dealers are for books in paper covers, and copies of these, if not sold promptly, easily become, through exposure on the stands and the handling on the trains, shopworn and unsalable. A large part of the loss on the unsold and damaged books must, as as a rule, be borne by the publishers, and it is important therefore for them that only such works be placed on the railroads as are reasonably sure of finding prompt and remunerative sale.
A very large proportion of the sale of paper-bound books must be effected through the railroads and news companies; and as an edition of considerable size is required to place a book at all effectively in these special channels, it is not, as a rule, considered advisable to use paper covers for first editions of first books, or for any books which cannot be depended upon to secure a wide popular demand.
The author may be disposed, after going over this summary of the methods of bringing a book before the public, to conclude that, after all, his success will depend upon the character of his work, and that if his book must, so to speak, sell itself, the publisher's co-operation in the undertaking amounts to nothing. Leaving, for the moment, out of the question the all-important cases in which the co-operation of the publisher includes the providing of the capital required for the undertaking, we will point out some other considerations which make such co-operation important, --considerations which any author who has attempted to place a book before a public with the aid only of a printer, or through an authors' association, will be ready to appreciate.
In the first place, the imprint of any reputable publishing house is of essential service in securing for a book early attention, which would otherwise come to it either not at all or very slowly. Publishing imprints differ of course in value, not merely in connection with the general reputation of the several firms, but also on the ground of their special association with different classes of literature-scientific, denominational, sensational, etc., etc.
Secondly, the association on a publisher's catalogue of the work of a new author with the writings of authors whose volumes are in steady demand, is of no little importance. We have before referred to the large number of copies of catalogues and book-lists which are continually being distributed by publishers. The book-buyer who sends for a catalogue containing the works of the well-known authors, A, B, and C, finds in it also the titles of books of the new writers, X, Y, and Z, and thus has the opportunity presented to him of interesting himself also in these last.
A third and most indispensable service rendered by the publisher, is in supplying the machinery through which, if a book is called for, it can be supplied. As before explained,