Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Genuine Billy, or, How I Was Given a Back-Stage Pass

Since the days of my recent post regarding Cemetery Dance and their new book, Blockade Billy, I have received a number of reactions. One rather noteworthy response included an email from Brian Freeman, the marketing director of Cemetery Dance. He told me that he had read my blog and that he was interested in talking to me, possibly hoping to clear up any misunderstandings that I may have had.

This past Monday, May 17, I had the opportunity to talk with Brian for nearly a half an hour. What follows is a rough translation of the information that I gleaned from our chat. While I did not record the interview, I did take a few notes and this post is a result of a couple of days thinking about that conversation.

I told Brian, that despite my other grievances mentioned in my original blog post, my biggest concern - what I felt was most disingenuous on the part of Cemetery Dance - was the following: I had just ordered a $25 hardcover book, supposedly a first edition, only to find out that just 35 days later a second hardcover edition (priced even lower and with additional material) was being distributed by Scribner, Stephen King’s traditional trade publisher. I felt (feel) that the second edition, so close on the heels of the first, devalued the Cemetery Dance edition and kind of gave lie to the fact that King was “debuting a work through an independent press.”

Brain suggested that he understood my frustration. He told me that when CD’s edition was announced, that to the best of their knowledge, it would have been the only edition of Billy for at least a year. The history of the book began something like this… Richard Chizmar, the founder of Cemetery Dance, has long been fan of baseball and has had the opportunity to spend some time talking to King (also a lifelong fan) about their shared passion for the sport. So when King wrote this baseball themed story, he immediately thought that Richard and CD would be the perfect venue for distribution of the new novella. After negotiations with King and his agent, Chuck Verrill, they came to an arrangement. Cemetery Dance would produce the world’s first edition of Blockade Billy, consisting of 10,000 copies. While this technically is a trade edition, Brian reminded me, it was by far the smallest trade edition for a new King book in 28 years when 10,000 copies of The Gunslinger were initially printed in hardcover.

At the time of the negotiations, it was thought around the various offices that 10,000 copies would be a sufficient number to satisfy consumer demand, Brain told me. After all, CD had printed only 5,000 copies of Secretary of Dreams and it had taken over two years to sell them. What it seems was not taken into account was that Billy was fresh work (as opposed to Secretary) and that it would be priced significantly cheaper – an edition affordable to the average fan. Needless to say, word spread fast and within a week of the announcement of the book, the first printing was well on its way to selling out. The buyers for the major retail chains were turned away; only direct independent orders would be fulfilled at this time. Getting back in touch with Verrill and King, CD arranged to produce a second printing, again of 10,000 books. This time however, these books would be dedicated to library sales, in the hopes to meet customer demand until sometime in the future when a new edition of Billy would be made. As Brian put it, it was anticipated that the libraries would be able to offer a “read-it-before-you-can-buy-it” type of deal, thereby driving people into the libraries for the summer and also keeping King fans happy at the same time.

Insistence for the title still was not satisfied however. The national booksellers had attempted to place nearly 100,000 copies of Blockade Billy on order – a number that was clearly not going to be met through Cemetery Dance’s plans for the edition. When Scribner heard these numbers however, they were very interested in finding a way to meet that demand. Negotiations between Scribner, Cemetery Dance, Verrill and King began again. It was then decided that Scribner would publish its own edition sometime soon to meet that retail demand. At this point Brian pointed out to me that Cemetery Dance did not have a contractual right to an exclusive Billy; their contract was only to produce the unique first edition.

As things continued to unfold, Scribner announced an audio edition for late May. Word of mouth and media outlets continued to spread the news of King’s new book and customer request for the title increased further still. At this point, to fill that demand, Scribner decided they needed to produce their edition from start to finish in less than 60 days. Scribner, having received the book files from CD, would be getting the book into the hands of the booksellers during the height of the baseball season and just in time for Father's Day – a sure win/win in terms of marketing and meeting consumer needs. In order to do this, they would drop production of a dust jacket, keep CD’s jacket art as a print-on cover (known as paper-over-board) and remove all of the interior art from the book. Publishing Billy as a paperback they realized would force them to make a rather slim $12 or $13 book. By bumping it up to a hardcover, they could ask $14.95, add an additional short story and make it into a respectable trade volume.

This is where I come into the tale. Of course, not knowing all the behind the scene drama, I assumed (but did not come out and say as such in my blog) that Cemetery Dance must have had some inkling of this the entire time. How could they not, I thought? It seemed to happen so quickly. It turns out that this was not the case at all. Indeed, I have independently verified 95% of this information though a contact in a major retail chain that had received contact from Scribner regarding how and when their edition would be coming to the stores. Cemetery Dance was very excited to produce the first edition of Billy. Richard and his crew were extremely thrilled to do something unique in King’s history of publishing. When they announced Blockade Billy for sale, I don’t think they intended to sell a less than genuine product to the fans. With each development in the saga however, a little wind seems to have been taken out of Billy’s sails, but there was not much CD could have done differently. As Brian noted, they had no contractual right to Billy’s future and even if they had, why would they go against Scribner’s, Verrill’s and King’s wishes to get the book into as many fans hands as possible? CD has a happy and productive working relationship with all parties involved; no one in their right mind would jeopardize that. They were content to have been allowed the honor of the first trade edition, something no independent publisher of King’s has been allowed to do since Donald M. Grant’s 1982 hardcover of The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (and the sequels).

In conclusion, it might be that my final thoughts on the edition may have been just a bit on the harsh side. That last paragraph was certainly twisting the knife a little deep, in any case. But on the other hand, it is possible that without reaching the conclusion that I did, that I would not have had the opportunity to talk to Brain and learn this fascinating, albeit convoluted story and I would not have been able to pass my information on to you.

1 comment:

Spaceman Spiff said...

Thanks for the skinny!

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