What happens to unsold books

by M.J. Hearle

I received a letter from my publisher last week. Usually these letters are cause for excitement – royalty statements and what-not. Not this one, though. It was informing me that all the unsold copies of my books, Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light, were being pulped unless I wished to purchase them back from the publisher at a reduced rate. Looking at the book figures quoted in the letter it seems I sold about eight-five percent of my first run of Winter’s Shadow. That’s a big win in today’s publishing climate. I sold a considerably lower percent of Winter’s Light. I have a few theories as to ‘why?’ but that can wait for a later post. 

First of all, I’d like to assure you dear reader that this is not a pity post. I am not seeking consolation or sympathy. I have had far too much good luck to feel hard done by. As most struggling writers know getting published at all is something of a miracle. Plus, the many beautiful emails I’ve received from fans of the book series are more than enough to keep me from getting maudlin. So no, this is absolutely not a pity post. Instead, I hope it merely serves as a sobering insight into the current publishing climate.

Winter’s Shadow was in bookstores for two years. Winter’s Light has been out for just one. During that time it has not found a big enough audience for my publisher to risk keeping it on the shelves longer. In the past, books were given more time to build an audience. However, with big chains like Borders closing and shelf-space in independent stores limited, it seems publishers and (more to the point booksellers) simply can’t afford to give titles that much of a chance anymore. They either sell or they don’t and if they don’t then they’re pulped to make way for new books. It’s as simple, and as sad, as that.

And I understand the fiscal sense behind this model. People are buying less books so publishers and booksellers have to be ruthless in their business decisions. Why throw your support behind a sequel to a book that wasn’t financially successful to begin when you can gamble on something new? Something that might be the next Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games or – god forbid – Fifty Shades of Grey.

So, where does that leave the Winter series? After all, readers will know that Winter’s Light ends on something of a cliffhanger. Rest assured, I will be writing a third book which, if everything goes according to plan, should be ready midway next year. Whether it is published conventionally remains to be seen. If I can’t find a publisher I may float it as an ebook or publish it myself. Whatever happens the book will exist and it will be available. If nowhere else, then on this very site. That should hopefully comfort those concerned readers out there who were fearful I was going to leave poor Winter and Blake’s story unfinished.

In the meantime, I have my novella Claudette in the Shadows, coming out as an ebook later this year through MOMENTUM. The story isn’t so much a prequel to Winter’s Shadow as it is a character study of Claudette Duchamp, Blake’s troubled sister. There’s lots of magic and mystery and a healthy dash of romance as well. I’m very proud of it and can’t wait to see what the fans think.

I’m also nearly halfway through LUNE and it’s shaping up to be something special. I’ve shown what I’ve written to a few folk I trust and the feedback has been universally positive. Whatever I’m doing seems to be working. Hopefully, I can keep it up.

As for all those copies of Winter’s Shadow and Winter’s Light waiting to be pulped? I’ve decided I’m going to buy them back. Every single book. I just can’t bear the thought of them being destroyed. The plan is I’ll sell the recovered books on this site at a reduced rate. On the surface, this might not seem like a fiscally responsible decision but I feel like if you’re gonna gamble it might as well be on yourself. I’m gaining new readers every week. At least some of them might be curious about picking up the first two Winter books. Especially, after Claudette in the Shadows and the final Winter novel are released.

I don’t look at writing as a career. I look at it as a journey. I’m just at the beginning now and I have no idea where this twisting path will lead. Let’s find out together.