Departments 3: Operations, Rights, and Contracts

by Richard Grossinger on March 14, 2010

Chapter Fifteen
Departments 3: Operations, Rights, and Contracts

4. Inventory/Operations

A. Customer Service

Even the tiniest of presses has an “operations department” because as long one has actual printed books, one has logistics and inventory.  But for most presses, as it was with us throughout the entirety of the seventies, eighties, nineties, and some of the aughts, “operations”goes unnamed and unobserved as such.  It is more or less subsumed under commonsense order-taking, book-counting, book-packing, and a rudimentary physical inventory counting for tax purposes.  Ultimately “operations” is commonsense writ large.

When there is no stratification, there are no discrete positions or a flow chart to define and track “operations” as a separate concept.  Everything in a small publishing house is pretty much as it seems on the surface: either editorial/production or customer service, and customer service makes up a good deal of “operations,” ranging from phone and mail correspondence to invoicing and carting boxes to the post office.

When our business was in our home, part-time North Atlantic employees helped me do “customer service” and “warehouse management,”  hence “operations” by default.  The 1992 staff was constructed in part to continue this activity in an office and warehouse setting, but the editorial and promotional aspects got out of hand and became not only the cart leading the horse but a cart without a horse.  We had no operations.

The staffs that we assembled through the mid-nineties, however, had a heavy “customer service” component as, in fact, most staff members handled hybrid jobs, combining customer service with some medley of proof-reading, royalty management, designer and printer interface, and spot publicity.  Customer service was pretty much NAB’s single “entry level” steppingstone for any other job; it was where newcomers learned the nuts and bolts of the business and the titles.

Most of our early employees also took turns managing the storefront as if a bookstore, helping live customers, overseeing and accounting its sales while they served as receptionists (phone and door).

Even Lindy and I continued to do customer service and aid storefront customers until well past 2000.  We also both had order pads on our desks and, before the voicemail system’s robot voice and data-tape took over, whenever no one else picked up a ringing line, we grabbed the call and, if it was an order, took down the specifics while answering questions about discounts, shipping, title specifications, etc.—the basic song-and-dance.  Likewise, if everyone else was busy, we went down to help a storefront customer.  That’s how I found that one employee as a shopper and also how I first contacted a few authors and leads to other authors.  Joy Manné, you may remember, arrived as a storefront regular.

Our two successive storefronts on Fourth Street were at one time a very active part of our business, mainly for selling damaged returns, so clerking was a big part of the job.  These credible-looking bookstores with their shelves and face-out displays were, in essence, a North Atlantic factory outlet and, although we didn’t sell nearly the quantity of new books that we did of shopworns, we maintained a pretty full library of all our titles there for browsing by subject matter.  It was alsoi used by staff doing research as well as by customers.  We took in around $2000-$3000 a month, as individuals, stores, and traveling remainder dealers discovered that they could buy our books in volume at a pittance.  For big orders we simply went to the warehouse.

When we closed the storefront and moved to just offices, we disappointed a lot of regular customers.

In the old days Lindy and I also religiously employed the gambit of selling an extra book or two on the same subject or in the same general area to phone or live customer, hopefully without being overly crass or offensive—an initiative that we encouraged in all customer-service staff such that we tended to judge how committed (as opposed to bored and on autopilot) a new employee was by how much enthusiasm he or she put into engaging a buyer in our list and how often they successfully accreted orders.

A little embarrassing in retrospect—but small presses survive book by book, sale by sale, plus that’s why you keep a scoreboard—you need hits and runs to score.  It’s no fun otherwise; there’s no game to keep you engaged.  In less than a decade since that innocent era, everything has morphed radically.

We finally installed an automatic in-house phone-answering system in the early 2000s.  The customer-service person then merely had to collect the messages and fill the orders, and no one else was involved in the process.

For five or six years we entertained a parade of more or less sincere entry-level, customer-service employees, most of whom tired of the work and low-on-the-totem-pole position and pay within months.  I cannot even remember most of their names, except for the ones who advanced into other jobs.

Erin was the longest-standing and most successful customer-service manager.  Her reign ran from roughly 2002 into 2005.  She specified and enlarged the job such that it came to include inventory management and stock transfers instead of just order-fulfillment and handling the storefront.  This was the start of an actual “operations” position, though she  became overly possessive and fastidious, as she cavalierly moved pallets between warehouses at costs of hundreds of dollars in order to fill twenty-dollar-range orders.

She might bring a pallet from Durkee Drayage in Richmond to our own warehouse, take two cases off it, and then return it—a $400 bill for 50 books, two of which had actually been ordered  Her responsiveness to customer needs was admirable, but it went beyond the practicalities of business or even commonsense.

Erin was followed by Drew Cavanaugh who converted the position into a direct path into sales and marketing, which is more common among larger companies that provide avenues for employee advancement.  Famous billionaires have started as stocking boys or receptionists and then worked slowly up the corporate ladder.

I don’t mean to stick Drew with that entrepreneurial onus—but he learned the North Atlantic list and how the company operated from his work with customers and inventory, and he liked the books enough that he wanted to hang around.  Then he followed the natural path toward the area with the most untapped potential, as we prepared for our move to Random House Distribution.  For that reason Drew—who BTW reminds me a little of a countercultural version of John Waters[1] and whose mother was a high-school friend of our art director Paula Morrison in Klamath Falls—graduated promptly from customer service to Mark Ouimet’s sales-and-marketing assistant and then to Random House liaison and cataloguer.

That vacated the customer-service position, sp a number of pratfalls—incorrectly filled orders in the form of wrong  books or books and cartons sent to the wrong address—followed Drew before we recruited Aaron Luckett from the warehouse, where he had worked for five prior years.  Aaron handled the “festivities” through the labor-intensive stages of closing our Fourth Street facility and moving to our present midtown-Berkeley site sans a warehouse or bookstore.

These days we no longer even take phone orders except for those from our own authors and copublishers.  We no longer have a storefront either at Martin Luther King and Blake, though we still have a receptionist and order-taker, Karen Windham, at the front door, as the role of receptionist remains an adjunct to customer service.  Karen is our liaison with authors, copublishers, and the very few  customers we have left outside Random House.  Random House Distribution gets all the other sales and ships all the books, but Karen must manage our inventory there, transfer stock when necessary, and place author and copublisher orders with Random House for fulfillment.

The transformation of our company from a full-service publisher that unquestioningly included an in-house bookstore and customer-sales base into a more conventionally closed publishing office was the outcome of a number of strategic considerations gathering at a tipping point.

First of all, our lease with our previous landlord, the Haws water-fountain manufacturing company,[2] was coming due within a year just as PGW declared insolvency and also as we were in the process of moving our distribution service to Random House, so we had to decide whether to stay in the Haws Building.

Haws was pressing us for an answer, and they wanted us either to continue to take the whole gigantic space or move out.  Thus, the backup option of remaining in our present offices but relinquishing the associated warehouses was not available and, in any case, it would have been awkward at best having another company suddenly surrounding us in the adjacent space.  In retrospect, I think Haws regrets not letting us stay in the office while giving up the warehouse because the entire space was still unrented two years after our departure.  They may regret it, but I think we were gone in any case.

Renting the entire Haws warehouse along with the company’s former offices at Fourth Street had been an add-on and an afterthought six years prior, only negotiated after we had agreed to an office rental with a small amount of warehouse.  Previously, separate companies had rented Haws’ office and warehouse spaces, respectively; even our immediate predecessor Amoeba Records rented only a tiny bit of adjunct warehouse.  Yet over the six years of our occupancy the Haws Company in Sparks had grew addicted to having one party in both and didn’t want to split the facilities again.  They misread the market.

At the same time, Random House’s contract was explicitly restrictive by comparison to PGW’s as to the categories of customers and sorts of places to which we were allowed to sell books: pretty much only our own authors and copublishers, overseas English-speaking markets, some consumers,[3] and the odd account that was so far out of the book trade that Random House didn’t fancy claiming it.  Furthermore, the contract had real intention behind it as well as legal teeth in it.

Weighing these factors and others, including the virulent bankruptcy at the time, as I will discuss in Chapter Twenty, Mark, Lindy, and I made the collective decision in early 2007 to turn over our entire fulfillment and website shopping cart to Random House as well and let them handle even those sales that we generated and billed, negotiating a rate for those services separate of our distribution rubrics.  We basically forced all customers to go to Random House, not because we liked doing it or believe it was aesthetically and generically the right thing but because it had become too expensive to continue to do in-house, especially under the exigencies of the bankruptcy.

That was a practical solution to an otherwise-insoluble problem, as there was no longer an economic basis—sufficient sales activity and territory—for us to continue to maintain inventory at a local storage facility; that is, given the Random House contract and its restrictions, let alone pay the staff to pack and ship books.  There just weren’t going to be enough customers to whom we were even allowed to ship books.  Yet, with everything else going on, the meaning of that crossroads crept up on us, with its major implications for our expiring lease and the staff employed to do warehousing and customer service (three people).

Likewise, Mark Ouimet was re-analyzing the storefront at levels that we hadn’t considered in the past—for instance, how much of the earnings there were eaten up by the cost of PGW shipping back their giant pallets of mixed hurt returns[4] across the country; then sorting and shelving the individual books; staffing the storefront with someone to interact with customers (and alert us to inappropriate visitors and deter theft); and book-keep all this activity.  Furthermore, we were encouraging many customers to buy our damaged books for a dollar or two rather than new ones at less of a discount or even full price.  The storefront by itself was not a $3000 cash cow; it was a a treadmill and a mirage.  Alone it was not a reason to maintain a warehouse.   $3000 a month didn’t even pay the customer-service salary once you took into account the unit cost of the books sold for $3000.  Most months that cost was even greater than the revenue because of the preponderance of shopworns.  The fact that they were already “lost inventory” did not alter the cost-benefit ratio enough, in Mark’s mind, to salvage the storefront concept.

Lindy and I searched exploratorily throughout Berkeley, Oakland, Emeryville, and El Cerrito, even as we had done unsuccessfully before discovering Haws right down the street six years earlier. We wanted to see what our other leasing options might be, and, though we looked at somewhere between fifteen and twenty properties, only one even remotely fit our needs.  Most of the other spaces were super-modern and new, expensive digs for digital-era computer businesses; or they were in terrible neighborhoods; or they were in downtown Oakland with no parking; or they were too small, too large, too scuzzy.

The single viable one, though, was perfect, right in the center of town, a few blocks from Berkeley High and City Hall.  The building had been created originally by a publishing company too, Key Curriculum Press, an educational mathematics house.  After they sold their publishing operation to Elsevier, the owners kept the building, renting it first to Ramparts, the legendary left-wing magazine, and then, for over a decade, to Satellite Housing, a service for senior citizens.  At the time that Lindy and I came by, Satellite Housing was moving out, and the couple who had founded Key Curriculum were looking for new tenants.  We were an ideal match, plus they offered to renovate the interior and paint the outside for us, way beyond our requirements or any requests we made, and they have been equally generous and attentive landlords ever since, spending lots of their own money on us and keeping the rent lower than first negotiated, because of the present difficult economic times.

Our great locale, however, is a bit edgy, as it is where streams of youth from Berkeley High collide with streams from inner-city Oakland along the Martin Luther King (MLK) thoroughfare at Blake Street.[5] In fact, Doug Reil keeps a little whiteboard on his wall and from where he sits on the second floor before his giant picture window facing north—his reality HDTV on Berkeley as he dubs it—he logs accidents, shootings, and arrests when he views them: the usual method of four lines and then a crossing bar for five.

We no longer have surplus parking, one of the singular perks of the Haws Building’s set-up as a former factory—so the eight places in our lot provide a continual game of musical chairs at the beginning of the day and then all morning and afternoon long, as people come and go.  One usable parking space blocks two others, so the person in that one has to be prepared to move his or her car on a moment’s notice if anyone blocked has to get away because of a babysitter or doctor’s appointment.

When an employee (L and me included) finds the lot full, it is out into the neighborhood, exploring among the various restricted signs and two-hour parking to find a space.  The further away one goes down Blake from the office (or onto a cross street), the more likely he or she is to get a spot good for the whole day.

There are two other spaces in our lot, but one is marked blue for handicapped and the adjacent one is striped for logistic contingency to a handicapped space.  Because we have no handicapped employees, the two spaces lie fallow each day as a concession to the law.  There is no way to get them changed back to regular parking short of a Supreme Court decision, as I discovered when discussing the matter with the landlord and working my way through the legendary Berkeley bureaucracy.  No one was even sure of the actual law, so no one wanted to take the legal risk.  It turns out that there are disabled-people activists who will make your life miserable if they discover you have repatriated a space once marked blue.  Though we have no disabled employees, there are still many ways that a determined protagonist can back us into a legal corner vis a vis our requirement to retain those spaces.  And it is not an option to use them ourselves on private property because the police will come into our lot and ticket there, as a few employees have found out.  I gave up on my attempt to get them changed.

Aaron was the last customer-service person to handle our storefront and also to take customer orders by phone.  Then we joined Random House Distribution, closed the warehouse, and moved to MLK and Blake.  Likewise, he was the first customer-service person to redefine the job in terms of “operations”: inventory, general data management, and interface with authors and copublishers.  He essentially develoiped a new position that was inherently “operations” in the classic sense rather than being just customer service or, more properly, a hybrid between the two.

When Aaron elected to go back to college at UCBerkeley in 2008 to study Mediaeval English, we hired Karen Windham to take his place.  Though she had once worked at PGW, she had no history with North Atlantic at our former locale.  Thus she inherited the “operations” version of the job that Aaron had created, becoming a data-management and inventory overseer—a systems person more than a clerk, serving primarily as our intelligence node between North Atlantic operations in Berkeley and Random House operations in New York, Maryland, and Indiana, meaning also between all of those sites and our authors, copublishers, and international distributors around the world (we still had Australia-New Zealand and South Africa when she started).  Thus customer service and operations finally fused into levels of each other.

I asked Karen to describe herself for my press history, and what I got back was: “an Old School punk rocker who loves books, dogs, tattoos, music, and Sea Monkeys; a proud member of the BOB (Bremen-Oakland-Bath) family, a priestess of the Church of the SubGenius, and a home brewer extraordinaire.”

B. Operations and Organization

When Mark Ouimet came to work for us in 2004 after spending nearly a decade at an operations-oriented giant, PGW, he immediately identified our operations issues (as described earlier) and began to address them: the structure of our staff and its departments, hierarchical organization and lines of report (who to whom, and how many per manager), as well as company-wide oversight of print runs and inventory (fluctuating stock levels) and the overall dynamic relation of cash-in to cash-out.

Before Mark, thresholds and needs called attention to themselves by the squeaky-wheel principle without any systematic oversight or management.  Mark put simple structures and systems in place and, in addition, had financial reports run on a regular basis (as noted in the previous chapter) so that reasoned decisions could be made about such things as list size, staff size, and budgets for sales-and-marketing and travel.

When Mark left suddenly and unexpectedly, we were able to set aside his top-flight sales-and-marketing duties for the time being; after all, we were coming out of the PGW bankruptcy and about to switch to Random House, so both publicity and sales and marketing were backburner, and our books tended to sell themselves anyway, so sales and marketing could wait.

But with the incomplete logistics of a premature move impending, “operations” became our first priority for a new hire.  Almost immediately we were looking to fill Mark’s position with “another” operations manager rather than another sales-and-marketing executive—for Mark’s organizational work had become more irreplaceable than what he was hired to do: sales.  Someone had to take up the task of maintaining the structure and integrity of our systems in the emerging chaos of inventory reconstitution and management during the move, as described in Chapter Twenty.  That was a major reason why we hired Douglas Reil to take Mark’s place: he had a long, successful operations career at PGW (and David Wilk’s Inland Book Company before that).

Sales and marketing and organizational structure are really inseparable, as a surprisingly large part of Mark’s job involved studying and staying on top of inventory, logistics, organizational structure, salaries, and “reports.”  His departure left a gaping hole in specific elements of  ourdaily functioning, especially in matters pertaining to the move: keeping computer systems current, interfacing with Random House, restoring stock levels depleted during our lame-duck bankruptcy situation, moving and accounting inventory, and planning for orphan titles left unsold in the sudden demise of PGW.  Orphans were books trapped in no man’s land between the sales departments of two companies, one (PGW) having announced the books and having all the orders but unable to fill them because of Chapter Eleven and the other (Random House) sanctioned and willing to sell them but lacking the orders.

It is diagnostic that, for the two weeks between his giving notice and his actual departure, Mark chose to spend most of his days poring over inventory reports from multiple warehouses in order to set print-run priorities and schedules, as we were way behind in reprinting backlist.  This was not only because of the PGW bankruptcy but from a prior agenda not to manufacture stock merely to ship into PGW and then move almost immediately, at a stiff cost, to Random House.  As PGW finally disgorged our pallets into Random House trucks out of their Indianapolis warehouse, Mark was trying to figure out what was physically there (as opposed to what were mere computer figments) and  then what actually got to Random, hence what was missing or sold out and needed to be reprinted and restocked.  The pallets arriving in Maryland invariably held far fewer units then PGW’s physical inventory showed, for reasons of massive incompetence, some of it post-bankruptcy, most of it cumulative for decades.  Mark intended to leave behind a prioritized chart of what was likely to run out soonest and at the highest rates of movement.  He wanted to make sure that we would attend to what he judged as the most pressing needs first.  In truth hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of books disappeared at PGW and, when discovered, left a huge sudden hole in North Atlantic’s equity.

C. Inventory

These days Random House’s faster rate of sale of more diverse titles across our list combined with their excess-stock thresholds mean that we need to manage our inventory carefully on an ongoing basis in order to amass fewer dead units in the Maryland warehouse.  That means reprinting more titles more quickly and calculating runs more accurately.  No matter how hard you try not to overprint books, it is, as noted in the previous chapter, like tiptoeing on an oil-coated deck after a rain—you get yourself going too fast, take one or another step awkwardly, and end up tumbling.  In the book world, the “oil” is sales that stop on a dime or, even worse, suddenly turn around and begin regurgitating books back to the warehouse.  During our first year with Random House, we prematurely reprinted both the Spanish version of Healing with Whole Foods and The Anti-Estrogenic Diet, as we simultaneously piled up a huge backlist of out-of-stock titles that overwhelmed Minda and our whole production operation.  It was very hard to get a hold of so many moving parts, like a thousand.

Doug now handles inventory and print runs with oversight from Karen on overstock levels and from both her and me on delegation of that overstock, and he interfaces with Minda on low stock per getting printing estimates and setting reprint schedules.  Meanwhile Drew is in charge of the loading of our books into the Random House system, designating relevant ones as out-of-print when necessary, and tracking sales monthly.  In that role he bridges operations to sales and marketing insofar as operations is a cog in the matrix of shifting numbers that we must continuously manage and organize to have books to sell.

Handling the stock of out-of-print and damaged items thereafter has become Doug’s and my combined job, as we remainder or pulp many books at a scale unthinkable in the PGW era.  We also send many to Ed Mondazzi as I shall describe below.  The fact is, Random House is more of a bottom-line business than PGW ever was, plus the book industry itself has become more precarious and pragmatic—so pallets of ancient books can no longer gather dust and grime quietly and unobtrusively in the corners of warehouses while the distribution company leases more and more space.  Everything and its footprint must be accounted for and valued, and in a digital era, “information” is regularly destroyed and recreated, even if that involves a huge waste of human resources and raw materials and leaves a correspondingly big carbon footprint.

Remember, books are already pretty much virtual products for us these days.  Files are transmitted from our freelance designers via Paula straight to printers, and then the finished, bound units ship from those printers to the Random House warehouses.  Random House Distribution sells them and transmits a data-stream of numbers into Acumen for us to pinball into statements and reports.  Without a warehouse we do not even have the look and smell of a book zoo anymore.  Not only is there no printing press, now there are no pallets of books.  “Operations” is thus a matter of herding and sorting abstractions into usable and functional data-fields.

When you reach our rough present size—over 600 active titles in print, another 300 inactive, and sixty to ninety new ones every year—managing inventory becomes the central, crucial issue at the core of the entire business.  The books themselves represent an ungodly portion of the business’ equity, in some ways more than the licenses under which we publish them and the cash they generate.  The licenses become books, which become cash, which is used to pay bills and staff and publish more books.  The books are the concrete unit of revenue transformation.

Without our own warehouse, our storage and management options have been reduced to a few—but these are still complex and multivariate (to use a favored academic term from my graduate archaeology: requiring analysis on more than one level at once).  We can’t just let the units pile up willy-nilly anywhere.  Aside from the fact that the messier the house, the easier it is to lose things, Random House (or any distributor these days) will not allow us to sprawl over their costly and precious warehouse space without paying for that privilege by the golden square foot.

During the early years our ever-present inventory crisis was continually shifted from one venue to another.  As our list grew, we moved from the covered swimming pool at Woolsey to Eighth Street, then to the old Ten Speed facility on Seventh Street, then to our share of the Haws Building with its Quonset-hut attachment on Fourth Street.[6]

Moving to Random House, as noted, entailed getting out of the warehouse business altogether, but that left us with no place to put our pallets of surplus books except Random House.  Unless we wanted overstock and hurt returns pulped automatically by then we needed to find a way to get them out of their warehouse, sorted, and made accessible for various uses: review copies, donations, remainder sales, etc.

D. Overstock and Hurt Books

Well, not quite no place….  We still could store some quantities of very old overstock that never went to Random House along with our press archive at Durkee Drayage in Richmond, a few miles away, as we had done for years.  In truth, there was little distinction between old Ios plus literary books of archival value and the archive itself, so we do maintain a bunch of pallets at Durkee, renting space monthly.

And then we have another, unusual option in East Windsor, Connecticut: Ed Mondazzi’s Book and Crystal Emporium.

A few years earlier, at the suggestion of our Maine friend Richard Handel, we made contact with a daffy and ingenious colleague of his, a charming guy with his own unique business model.  Ed Mondazzi, retired bandleader from the local Windsor high school, and his wife Sonya, a lover of metaphysical and spiritual artifacts (and kitsch), run their own warehouse packed with miscellaneous items that arrive from a mind-boggling diversity of sources and situations.  A few tobacco fields east of the Hartford-Springfield airport, Bradley Field, the Emporium is staffed to a large degree by local youth and incipient miscreants.  There they collect all sorts of New Age overstock and distressed goods, hardly just books.

Initially, while still on Fourth Street, we sold Ed some of our damaged books and overstock, while we kept a small percentage of primo decommissioned books for our own storefront.  We dealt most of the rest of them to various companies in the U.S. and, ideally, England (Gareth Knight at Speaking Tree in Glastonbury), getting them out of our major market that way.  Nowadays, in the spirit of Amazon and eBay, there is only a global market, accessible to one and all online, and books that cross the Atlantic en masse by boat fly back to North America as they are needed, one by one.

I met the magical Mr. Knight by chance on Lindy’s and my 1998 trip to England as described in my travel journal at the time:

“Across the street and down a ways is a strikingly interesting used esoteric bookstore, Speaking Tree, near where Lindy wants to shop, so she goes in the clothing thrift store, and I peek into the bookstore.  Even as I enter, the proprietor, a man named Gareth, is talking to two other people about how to get some more shopworn and overstock American books, right there out loud, as if he were expecting my visit, or this being Merlin’s country, summoning me.  After a while, I cease my passive browsing and pipe up.  Almost at once, as if well prepared, he blends with my intention, buoyant with a dozen ideas and possibilities about shipping full pallets of our titles over here.  Within five minutes we are talking quantities and discount rate and agreeing on just everything.”

Speaking Tree thereafter became our best “hurt book” customer; that is, until the books began finding their way back into the U.S.  But there were other, even more salient limiting factors.  Gareth wanted only our New Age and holistic-health titles, and only the best of those, but we were being overwhelmed at Fourth Street by everything else, especially failed novels and sci fi.  It was beyond our capacity to handle all the gaylords of unsorted hurts that kept arriving—tens of thousands of books a year—which then had to be shelved by title and creatively dealt with before we ran out of space for the next onslaught.

Ed offered to short-circuit the whole system.  He would buy everything direct from PGW unsorted and manage it.  “If you want anything back, guys, just ask,” Ed said.  “It’s on me.”

So our Mondazzi engagement graduated to “all hurt pallets,” and this was not only convenient but became an absolute necessity after we no longer had our own storefront in Berkeley through which to sell them, let alone a warehouse to which to relegate them.  Mondazzi’s was one of the reasons we were able to close our warehouse and move from Haws and one of the reasons we chose to do so.

Ed, who understands “the deal” as well Donald Trump but also reflects seriously upon business ethics and essential fairness more than most merchandisers and spiritual practitioners, pays a very low price for these shrouds but offers the following services in return: he arranges pick-up and covers the freight out of Random House (PGW before that), does all the sorting and warehousing, and—the bonus—will return any books to us that we want (or ship them elsewhere if we procure a sale) for free!  How many?  There is no set or max number.  He will ship one and all as long as we are reasonable in our requests—and thus far, without complaint, we have gotten everything that we asked for and asked for everything that we wanted.  We are charged only the freight to Berkeley, even though Ed paid for all the prior shipping, sorting, and warehousing of these books.  What a guy!

Because of his “sellback” provision, we were encouraged to send Ed all our hurt shrouds even before we closed our storefront and despite the fact that hurt books were our main revenue generator there.  That is, Ed always sent back whatever we requested, and we didn’t have to pay cross-continental freight or sort stock for the whole unsorted shrouds in order to cull the few titles we wanted.

Ed’s instincts on this kind of thing are, as noted, precise and exquisite, both as regards fair balance between partners and mutually beneficial methods of getting his value out of the books—a tricky edge for most people to dance on.  By taking everything, he gets access to everything.  By offering anything back, he removes us (or any other attractive customer) as a competitor.  Then he sells our stock in venues that do not compete in a major way with new copies of theame books: at regional trade shows, New Age and professional fairs, and trunk sales (i.e., leasing an empty storefront for a month at a time, say in Northampton, Mass., just down the interstate).  He offers stupendous, jaw-dropping deals and also gives away cartloads of books, generating magnetic excitement around himself left and right like a beneficent and wise Gildersleeve.  “What am I going to do with a warehouse full of books anyway?” he asks.  “Eat them?  I might as well start giving them away.  It clears the space for new ones and starts the fish biting.  They’re great bait at shows.  He who is giving away freebies is king.”

He mostly doesn’t shill our books online but, when he does, he carefully manages their availability and price so that the market is never flooded, and he always stays a dollar above the next lowest price, thus serves as a sort of Internet rheostat.

Mondazzi’s Crystal and Book Emporium is filled with abundant salt lamps, jewelry, crystals, pendulums, incense, CDs, and the like, so it has a “head shop” feel and smell, though that’s more Sonya’s influence.  Ed is gadgets, motors, logistics, pallet footprints, freight rates and loopholes, etc.  In fact, he specializes in loopholes in all systems.  If there is a loop and a hole anywhere among the domains that he scans, he will find the system and the opportunity.  He loves objects, prices, swaps, and moving things around, all manner of things.  It almost doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it has electrons and a quantum weight.  He doesn’t read the books at all.  That’s not the point of them for him.  They are merely nodes in what he is exploring and assaying: the catacombs of the global bargain basement.

While being generous and decent to a fault, Ed also has Michael Jordan’s killer instinct.  He has developed a nose for the lowest price, especially the last droplet that can be squeezed out of distressed merchandise.  I won’t forget the time that he bought tens of thousands of scented candles from a factory because their machines got the dye slightly off-color.  Then he enraged his competitors at New Age shows for years by selling them for about twenty percent of the next highest price.  No one could even detect the color error; his candles looked the same as everyone else’s, only they were a whole lot cheaper.  No one could guess how he got them because they didn’t look like discards, and of course he didn’t tell.

He once bought something short of a trillion tiny round wooden boxes for less than a penny each from India, figuring he could name them something and get an average of a nickel back.  Lindy suggested a tooth holder for kids under the pillow.  “Now that’s a great idea!” he declared and headed straight for the computer to implement it.  Ed tends to put ideas into swift and immediate action.  He doesn’t risk testing his own attention span.

Ed always pays for dinner when we visit, usually in Northampton (a half hour or so away in his van), but sometimes in Windsor at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant that is maybe a little high on the sweeteners but otherwise bearable and saves most of an hour’s driving.  His punch line, either before or when the check comes, is always that Sam is paying for dinner, meaning our former employee who made off with a couple of hundred thousand dollars of NAB’s money in less than two years by a combination of clever manipulation of a bonus and a wrongful-termination lawsuit (see Chapter Eighteen).  Sam self-published two books with us during his sojourn and, when Ed sells the hurts to the guy (who’s smart enough to know where to come for the best price); then he puts the money in a kitty for our annual dinner because, as he says, Sam owes us more than him.  And he never liked the guy anyway when he worked for us—“I always thought he was a scam artist and a miser,” Ed declares, “and you know what, he has proved himself to be that over the years, always niggling and complaining, a real small-timer”—so he enjoys the theater of having “him” take us out to dinner, the invisible and unsuspecting host.

Ed is truly a larger-than-life figure.  He teases us by asking when our daughter is going to make a movie of his life and, although that’s crazy and just a joke, in another way it’s not crazy.  To follow him for six months with a camera and make a documentary is a project crying out for some quirky ambitious film-maker like the Maysles Brothers, and it would probably win an award.  You see, Ed also wants to be President and wouldn’t be half bad—way better than a few we’ve had recently.  He has solutions for everything, and I mean everything, from Mexican immigration to the public schools to the Middle East to Wall Street to poverty, and his notions are always provocative, unique, and practical.

Yet I can’t get him to make a book of wild and brilliant business strategies and Rube Goldberg schemes because he is virtual walking Attention Deficit Disorder.  He shoots out these pearls like a Buddha: how to get cheap airline tickets, how to rent cars for next to nothing, how to get free gadgets (and the best unknown gimmicks and household products), how to achieve general prosperity and health and plenty of free time for all.  ADD was hardly a disqualification for being King of America during the Bush era.

While we were at his house one night after Sam “took” us to dinner, Ed went outdoors to smoke his pipe and decided to wash our car, check the fluids, add a half a quart of oil, clean the air filter, and put a special slick coating (that he swore by) on the windshield.  His narcissism may drive one crazy, but when he does something like that, Lindy praises him to the skies.

“Oh, Lindy, stop.  I’m not a good guy.  I just needed something to do while smoking my pipe.  I get bored when I’m not useful.  And Sonya won’t let me smoke inside.”

Yeah, right!   Every trip he gives us books, crystals, salt lamps, jewelry, pendulums, an extra food cooler, “Take it, whatever you want; get it out of here before I drown in the stuff!”

Even with Ed, we have to deal with the unforgiving replenishment of overstock by the world at large.  If you print books at all, some of them are going to end up back in your lap in too great quantity to be warehoused cost-effectively.  Random House supervises the distributed-press stock levels in their warehouse by an algorithm that weights various factors such as length of time since pub date, monthly rate of movement, overall quantity, and quantity per pallet to arrive at an allowable number per title.  Anything more is storage not active inventory and must pay its rent.

To give you an idea of how an inventory equation works for a press like ours, here are our present multiple options on overstock at Random House as of 2008:

1. Pulp the overstock (and a little more to avoid falling back too soon into technical overstock again from continued reduced rate of movement).  The downside is that, if you need more books eventually, you will have to reprint them at a more significant and significantly irritating cost (since you had to destroy them).

You should pulp only if you are pretty sure you won’t need the books ever or that the warehousing cost will be greater than the reprinting costs (a factor of both how long they will need to be warehoused at how much of an overstock price before sale and what the printing costs will be by then based on the size of the book and its estimated print run).

2. Leave the overstock and pay any warehousing or overstock fee.  This is viable if one feels that the book will soon, or relatively soon, drop out of overstock by its rate of sale, or is too expensive per unit to reprint (color printing, largeness of size, and/or hardcover), or will cost more to move and move back than just to store.

A subset of this: leave the overstock and convince the author or copublisher to pay the fee or a portion of it.  This is a good way to postpone a decision for a year and not have to pay overstock, even on a nonselling book…as long as someone wants to pay the fee.  When we do this, we charge the fee on an annual rather than the monthly basis on which it is charged to us, so it makes the decision more of a commitment for the author and also gets the monthly book-keeping out of our hair.

3. Move to Mondazzi.  The advantage is that he will store them for free and try to sell off the overstock as well, thus reduce the number (though there is always more coming).  The downside is that it costs serious money to move books from Maryland to Connecticut and then more to ship them back if they are needed later, so it merely muddies and postpones the calculation of whether the books are needed or not, and how soon.

There is another level to this: if a book is selling so poorly over an extended period of time that it seems it will forever cost more to warehouse than it will generate in sales, yet for some reason one doesn’t want to destroy the stock yet, it can be moved to Mondazzi, and we can keep it available (though technically out of print at Random House) by directing any future orders to Mondazzi’s website.  Thus, there are a host of North Atlantic titles that are technically out of print but still available.  Such bastardized designations are probably part of the wave of the future in an Internet market.

4. Sell to the author or copublisher at a very low price plus freight.  This is a perfect solution, and usually the deal can include the option to for us to buy it back if it starts selling again.  (We have done a lot of this, including many unexpected buybacks.  Books do suddenly and unexpectedly rise from the dead.)

One has to be infinitely creative in a business like this.  An interesting subset of this strategy is, if the author wants the books but either doesn’t want to pay for them or can’t afford them, then let the author have them for free and warehouse them and pay only the freight.  The deal can then go: if he or she sells them or otherwise uses them, they pay a low fee at them.  If we want them back, we pay the freight back.  If we don’t even need them back, they’re his to keep.  All aspects solved!

I actually think this is one of the more elegant solutions to the situation, even though an author may be affronted or overwhelmed (or some combination of both) by having suddenly to take a lot of books and pay for them (or even not pay for them)—but, on the other hand, neither of us wants them to be pulped or remaindered.  This way the author gets the use of them, pays as he or she needs them, and keeps them for free if they are never needed.  Win-win-win.

It should be noted that sale or transfer to the author must be an all-or-nothing deal.  They can’t just take the quantity they want for free or at the very low price because then we are still in overstock while paying for the rest.  A partial solution here is not a solution at all.

5. Sell the books for pennies on the dollar to a firm that buys remainders, either directly or through Random.  This is a great idea, as it brings in money and gets rid of extra books, except for two not insignificant caveats.

One, very few books are attractive to the handful of remainder dealers that are still in business in the post-Amazon era, and, two, remaindered books, even if striped or otherwise mutilated to distinguish them, can find their way deviously back into sales channels and get returned for full credit.  Unscrupulous individuals and bookstores have been known to do this systematically and have occasionally been caught redhanded.  One San Francisco bookstore made a habit of buying overstock and then finding ways to slip it back into sales channels as a full-price return.  When they got caught eventually, they played “Who? Me?”

And even if remaindered books don’t morph illegally into new books, they comprise a huge inventory to compete in the online market with the new books of the same titles indefinitely.  It is probably better to remainder only books that you are putting out of print.

The multiple and complex risks and downsides of any of the above options in an equally complex and turbulently changing marketplace are precisely why many larger publishers finally conclude that it is more advantageous and a better strategy just to pulp unneeded stock and eat the cost of the printing.  What that does, in effect, is push up the unit cost of all the remaining books, which, though onerous and unforgiving in its math (see the previous chapter), might paradoxically take less out of the bottom line than any of the other options.

In any case, we are in a new era of digital publishing and distribution, the reevaluation of the true equity and overhead cost of paper-and-glue merchandise, and the global marketplace.

E. Chargebacks

I will address one other strategic issue here, a peripheral matter vis a vis operations but part of the “business book” aspect of this blog:  Lots of penny-ante items in operations are meant to be quasi-precise measures of some abstract activity, but they can and probably should be weighed against and compared to the alternative of a more general application of a gross formula to capture it.  I prefer the latter, and I will explain the issue, difficult to follow abstractly, by example:

PGW developed a series of charges during the late nineties and aughts that they bridged under the rubric of Freight Noncompliance.  If a pallet arrived at their warehouse without a packing slip, stacked incorrectly, or driven to the dock with no appointment, etc., the office sent their equivalent of a ticket, dinging us $25.[7] I found this process aggravating and needlessly provocative as well as time-consuming to book-keep.  People hate finding tickets on their car, hate it much more, relatively speaking, than they cost.

If, in addition, the book dinged was copublished, we needed to charge half of the fee back to the copublisher.  Even if it wasn’t copublished, the item still had to be book-kept, so it cost almost as much in employee time as in the chargeback.  We also had to deal with the offending trucker and/or printer to make sure that it didn’t happen again (if indeed it even did in the first place).  That should have been straightforward, but just about every time that we checked, the party involved in the violation asserted that they were fully aware of PGW rules and did not, in fact, breach them.  So we found ourselves arguing with accountants in Berkeley about an event that happened in Reno at which neither of us was present, each of us citing as our evidence someone else’s account.  Inefficient is the least of it.

To get rid of this unpleasant sort of exchange, I made a suggestion to PGW: allow presses six or eight noncompliance events with no charge and then begin charging $100 or $150 per incident.  That way, presses not really committing acts of noncompliance but victims of errors are not dinged and the real culprits pay considerably more.  It could be, at worst, revenue-neutral for PGW.

An alternative was a flat yearly fee for delivery of books.

But neither was adopted or even really considered, despite many conversations and disputes over noncompliance charges, and this item remained a bone of contention between us and the PGW staff till the end.

I also hate restocking fees.  I consider them the publishing equivalent of a regressive tax.  Basically a distributor charges a publisher a fractional fee for reshelving returned books.  The practice hypothetically allows the distributor to make money on overselling books because, when the oversold books are returned, the cash register rings.  There should be no incentive for a distributor to intentionally sell more books than the market can bear, even a slight one.

But there are additional problems with restocking fees.  The number dinged is a loose charge that must, like noncompliance fees, be posted to individual titles and, if those titles are copublished or distributed, split with a partner.  This creates a massive amount of book-keeping work in which each transaction costs more in employee payroll and benefits than the amount of the transaction.  I would always convert something like this into a blanket charge.

Overstock charges at cents per book or dollars per pallet yield the same dilemma.  One ends up having to book-keep large numbers of very tiny items every month.  The cost of book-keeping is greater than the money involved.

There are likewise alternative options for this.   For instance, a distributor can set a baseline under which all overstock is gratis and then triple or quadruple the fee above that baseline in order to excuse minor offenders and nail those with the most overstock with greater costs so that the change is revenue neutral.  One can also try charging everyone a flat restocking or warehousing fee to cover the expenses but eliminate the book-keeping.

As a rule, we are always willing to pay more money to eliminate book-keeping for penny-ante charges—but most organizations with which we deal tend, for some reason, to favor items like statistical shortage, microfiche, freight-pass-through, noncompliance, restocking, overstock charges, and the like.  I guess it is because they have computer systems that handle them, and the revenue gleaned by a keystroke or two more than pays for the system.

5. Rights

A. Definition

Rights are an aspect of publishing that is sometimes overlooked because it sits outside of the explicit book-creation cycle: the production of hard book templates and machine print runs of concrete products to be sold like boxes of cereal to accounts and customers.

In the rights business, one sells leases and contracts to reuse intellectual property instead.

By the same token the beauty of “rights” is that there are no printing bills and no distribution system to maintain. There are no “costs of goods sold” or inventoriable books.  Rights represent potentially unlimited revenue without keyboarding, design, manufacturing, or space-consuming products.  And in the digital marketplace, rights have become a representation of the true and generic form of all information: as a book is little more than a Guttenberg-era way to package and transmit knowledge, and language is one piece of software.

In the long run, rights will become more important than the transient hardware of printed words because of the many different digital formats in which they can be re-manifested, displayed, and marketed.  And these formats have no ordinary shelf life, stocking cost, or rate of decay.

B. Rights History at North Atlantic

Sarah Serafimidis is our foreign-rights manager and her department’s sole staff (except when Drew functions as her assistant).  She does the whole shebang, initiating and nurturing contacts with foreign agents and publishers, attending the Frankfurt and London book fairs every year, and doing the necessary paperwork to fill continual queries for books and vet rights contracts.  It is a job she has grown into.

After working in a cardiologist’s office in Seattle, Sarah was hired by us in 2002 upon her return to the Bay Area and started out in a position combining a number and range of different activities, as was our wont with new employees in the era before Mark Ouimet’s organization into departments.  She managed customer service, project-edited two to three titles a season, served as substitute contracts administrator during Susan Bump’s maternity leave, handled permissions requests, filled out Library of Congress forms in order to apply for Cataloguing in Publication “library cards” to print on the copyright pages of or books (so-called CIPs), and assisted Lindy on foreign rights.

After taking her own maternity leave and weighing different possible futures for her future, she finally elected to come back to work for us but needed a position.  Though we liked her a great deal as an employee, we didn’t have the same configuration of jobs for her.  The only clear-cut role that was open then was foreign-rights manager, as the guy handling that area had just left to live abroad.

Despite minimal prior managerial experience with foreign rights, Sarah was game to try taking over and also redefining and expanding the department.  Over eight subsequent years she has taught herself the entire job and become a master of the profession.  She got the basic outline from working with Lindy and then by direct hands-on teaching from Mark.  She picked up some informal training from other rights managers in the Bay Area.  But she learned mainly from experience.  She made herself into a “rights” expert.

Sarah brings many of the qualities essential to the task: deep knowledge of our entire list and the range of titles available in a given niche (like craniosacral therapy or Western esoterica), skill at organizing information, a basic likeable-ness and sweetness such that people want to discuss and do business with her amid the hustle-bustle and smoke of trade fairs, a good sense of numbers and of scales of appropriate fees, enough feistiness to haggle and take umbrage if shortchanged, the ability to read and write and revise contracts (as a former contracts administrator), and a reserve of patience and tolerance for international travel and its frustrations.  (See “2006 Europe Trip” on this website for a description of Sarah, Mark, Lindy, and me at the Frankfurt Book Fair.)

Her tasks include handling correspondence with foreign publishers and agents, filling reading-copy requests, preparing new contracts, checking on old and unfinished contracts, and making sure that statements and payments were still being received on existing rights deals.

Sometimes it does work to match an employee whom you like opportunistically but randomly with a job that needs doing.  Sarah was educated and sophisticated enough to learn the routines, structures, and protocols, and Mark Ouimet was a perfect mentor, having negotiated many contracts abroad for PGW.  Mark started off by accompanying Sarah to international trade shows that he had previously attended many times as a PGW executive.

Managing passive rights activity while actively pursuing foreign partners, ideally ones that remain loyal over the years, is the crux of the rights job.  Before Sarah, three young men, each with a literary and international bent, filled the job; that is, more or less, but mostly less: erstwhile Antonio Cuevas, mellow Harry Um, and eccentric Chris Pitts.  For each of them, though, foreign rights were just one portfolio at NAB within a typically calico potpourri of roles and responsibilities, and usually the one neglected.  Beyond what just came to us passively, during their tenures we sold very few rights.

We tried sending Antonio to Frankfurt once—a knight on a mission he had fervently sought and that he pleaded with us to budget.  We did so, even though it was a luxury at that stage of our development.  Overwhelmed, even dazzled, he came back with tall tales but with no contacts or activity.

Only by creating a formal job for Sarah, making it full-time, non-optional, and serious, and then having her travel with Mark to fairs the first few times to learn the ropes enabled us finally to get a full-service rights department off the ground.

Though Sarah could well use an assistant, we still barely break even on the whole arrangement.  The litany of costs includes her salary, fees for fairs, plane tickets, lodging, and postage for review copies (although the new option of emailing PDFs has been a godsend).  Remember too, half of most rights sales goes to the authors and, where there are copublishers, half of the remaining half goes to them, so it takes over $250,000 in sales to expense a department costing $100,000 a year.

We persist at this activity, however, because selling rights is a critical part of the overall publishing business and becoming more critical in a still-dawning digital and virtual era.  There is no other route than to build a money-losing enterprise into a neutral and then a profitable one by the usual gradual process.

C. Foreign Rights

For us, the bulk of our rights income comes from the sales of books written in English to publishers that intend to translate that English into other languages.  In a sense, we sell our “book information block” in an English grid, and the foreign publisher, after purchasing rights to it and, in most instances, paying a small advance against future royalties, is responsible for creating a sememic grid in its own language.  Essentially we are paid for our English intellectual property, leasing permission for it to be reconstituted and sold in another tongue and/or another territory.  Less often we buy English rights from other languages by exactly the same model in reverse.

A potential foreign-rights sale exists for almost every book that we publish in every language, from Dutch to Hindi, from Korean to Icelandic, from Serbo-Croatian to Hebrew as well as the more obvious Chinese, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Portuguese.  There can be separate Spanish and French rights for different territories, continents, or countries.  France and Quebec represent unique territories as do Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador and Spain, Portugal and Brazil.  There can be Ukrainian as well as Russian rights.  There are Albanian rights, Romanian rights, and occasionally even rights in native African and American Indian languages, though these are rarely enacted (and not yet by us).

The territory is limitless.  If a civilization were discovered on Mars or under the North Pole, there would be Martian and Polar rights, the latter distinct from Antarctic rights.

Make a grid in the form of spreadsheet.  List all your titles horizontally, and then list all the printed languages of the universe in a long vertical column.  The crisscrossing lines form boxes and, though you will only color in only a few of them with sales over the years (like hitting targets in the old paper game of Battleship), the entire spreadsheet is your arena because you do not know which boxes are hiding potential sales activity or are spoors to multiple buys (the big five-grid targets in Battleship).

Who would have thought that we would sell Bulgarian rights to an obscure karate book called Three Golden Pearls on a String or get an offer for Kuwaiti rights to fifty titles in one shot?

[By the way it is worth advising editors of anthologies to purchase or otherwise acquire World rights to the pieces they collect, as this allows the American publisher to sell foreign editions of the book.  The rights, of course, need not (and usually cannot) be purchased for the material in any other form than the unaltered anthology republished in another language and/or territory—no serializations of course.  The editor of the material only means to sell reuse of his or her work in a single venue anyway.]

One can also resell the basic English rights that we hold, most commonly in other English-speaking territories like England, New Zealand, Australia, or South Africa; or Worldwide; or to another American press while keeping foreign and/or hardcover rights.  But we rarely sell English rights abroad, preferring to sell actual books through a distributor in each territory, and we never willingly sell off the English rights to our books to American publishers, but we have been occasionally forced to do in order to resolve a crisis, as in the instance of Andrew Harvey cited in Chapter Seventeen.

Though we have zero interest in reselling the English rights to our strongest titles to so-called more commercial houses, that has not stopped mainstream publishers from inquiring regularly over the years and, in one hundred percent of the cases thus far, offering us absurdly low sums, perhaps no more than we can make in a month or two of ordinary sales on the book by ourselves.  This reflects the dated illusion that somehow traditional New York publishing is seductive enough that people will throw aside all self-interest and financial diligence in the haste to get the imprimatur of a prestigious press on their baby.

It makes absolutely no business sense but—more commonly fifteen years ago than now (as the business template of publishing is changing rapidly)—we used to get such offers from publishers like Holt, Simon and Schuster, Harper, etc.  There was this persistent underlying belief system that somehow they were king of the game and the ordinary rules of the road didn’t apply to them.  Many big commercial publishers over the years have sought In Search of the Warrior Spirit, Healing with Whole Foods, and others of our top books, but they have made only trivial offers—$5000 for a title on which we were clearing $100,000 or $200,000 in a year—and money that we would also by contract have to split 50/50 with the author—in other words ten days worth of advance income for the lion’s share of all the future earnings of our book.  I became so frustrated with this practice that I began routinely counter-offering at five or ten million dollars; no one ever responded after that.  And, guess what—that turned out to be about the right price anyway.

By the way, despite all of the above, I will add here that, although selling rights has a more typical treasure-hunt, yard-sale thrill to it, buying rights is usually the better game for American publishers, as the U.S. market is almost always the larger one by far.  Much more money can be made buying rights to almost any successful title and reselling it in English in North America (or just the U.S.) than selling U.S. rights to France, Germany, Japan, Brazil, etc.  The difference can be between six figures and four figures.  That is why our purchase of the Dalai Lama’s Essential Teachings from Albin Michel in Paris brought in more collective revenue than the sale of fifty titles to various countries.  Yes, we paid for the translation and the production and printing of the book in English, but those were dwarfed by the sheer volume of our sales in the various markets.

A side note to this: beware the common seven-year lease (or other numeric denomination) that foreign publishers favor these days.  Some American publishers read right past or through the clause that says that the whole damn contract is only for a set period of time, after which everything goes back to zero and you start from Go.  You have to buy the rights all over again.

You could translate (for maybe $10,000) and create a bestseller out of a foreign book and then have your rights run out in seven years.  At that point, by contract, the foreign publisher could take the title back from you and resell it to any other publisher for whatever price the market fetched, a market based for the most part on your labor and successful introduction of the title into the U.S and/or other English speaking countries.  To protect yourself from this indignity, have a clause in the foreign publisher’s contract (if they must limited the term at all) that requires the rights automatically to renew if you sell a minimal quantity (like 100 books) per year.

D. Other Subrights

Subrights also include audiobooks, DVDs, dramatic performances, nondramatic performances, movies, first serial rights (before publication), and second serial rights (after the book is out).  As noted, one can sell the UK or Australian or South African English rights in whole or in abridged form for foreign English editions, and either permanently or temporarily in a given market.

Book clubs were pretty much obliterated by and its imitators, but for a long time they were a very desirable rights target—this despite the fact that publisher and author together traditionally got only a pittance of the revenue on these sales, usually about 10% of the cover price to then split between them.  People were still very anxious to sell these rights because their promotional value trumped by many times the piddling royalty.  Thus a book club could get away with such a one-sided deal.

Book clubs also either bought unneeded overstock, taking it off the publisher’s hands, or paid for production and did their own edition, so it was extra revenue without product cost (in addition to its discharge of major, glossy, mainstream advertising).  Knowing that they were promoting a book in mass media for the publisher, book clubs paid down accordingly.  Water tends to find its own level, and money is commerce’s water.

There are also rights for the sales of partial material such as the insertion of our licensed text beyond fair use in other books, products (CD covers, theatrical pieces, etc.) and, most notably, rights from copy centers for including of a portion of a book in a course reader.

Before the courts stepped in and stopped the out-of-control copying of materials for academic readers, professors in cahoots with Xerox-style marts lifted whatever they desired, regardless of copyright.  Now faculty members either write the publisher directly and pay a fee or fork over a standard sum for the publisher via the Copyright Clearance Center.  Or at least the honest ones do.  We receive regular tiny amounts for these readers ($6.20, $11.90, etc.), to be split with the author and annotated on the royalty report.

The same is true of authors who use big blocks material from our books.  They must get permission and pay for anything substantial.  Though we waive most fees as fair use (since we expect the same to be done by other presses for us) unless artwork or poetry is used, many authors are scrupulous to a fault and want to pay something for quoted material just to be legally safe.  We get a lot of these $25 or $50 token fees

Domestic sub-rights may include magazine articles that the author has already written or may write based on his or her book or containing direct excerpts from the work.  If we want to sell first (prepublication) serial rights to a work, the author must give us a completed manuscript at least six months before publication date.  Magazines do not entertain first serial unless they have a significant period of exclusivity.

Digital rights have become a key item to specify clearly in book contracts because of major impending changes in the book industry, for instance regarding something as basic as the format of the book itself (paper and ink or electronic).  E-books are relatively new, and no one knows how popular they will become and how much of the market they may capture.  With Amazon’s Kindle and equivalent high-quality reading devices, the e-book domain is making perhaps its third or fourth try to become accepted.  Low reader quality and the familiarity and ease of the printed book format capsized earlier ambitious “can’t fail” forays into the technology.  As one industry observer remarked, “If e-books had come first and then someone developed mass-printed, bound fasciles of pages, these would have been considered a major advance.”  But time is on the side of digital formats, and it is the wave of the future.  The invariable relationships among dwindling forest resources, global warming, the cost of fuel, the heavy weight of conventional books, and a youth culture more and more oriented to reading screens will eventually tip the balance.  This has been the case dramatically in 2010 and 2011 with e-books taking over twenty to thirty percent of the whole market, a sea change that seems to have happened in a heartbeat, literally a shift of wind after a caesura. has sold more Kindle devices annually than its bestselling books.  And Kindle is only one of limitless applications of formats to content.  Many other formats and devices are being developed and will continue to be developed, and multimedia and download packages involving sound, video, hyperlinks, searchable files and features, and other modalities are bound to debut and flourish in the coming years.  The future of the book, as it has been euphemistically proposed, is up for grabs and much philosophized about in the media.

If the various digital formats do not send books to the same graveyard as records and VHS tapes, it will nonetheless tilt the market toward digital versions.

Interestingly one can also sell rights for one’s books in what looks like virtually the same market.  Special editions of popular and semi-popular books may be republished after a purchase of limited rights by companies like Michael J. Fine, which is, among other things, a packager for Barnes & Noble.  These editions are then shelved in, say, Barnes stores at a much lower price than the established editions.  Amazingly, people continue to buy the original versions also, even at the higher price.  And here is an even bigger surprise: far more rather than fewer of the old version sell when a low-priced special edition is shelved elsewhere in the store.  Noise synergizes more noise.

There is probably no limit to the range of rights that creative entrepreneurs can think up: song rights, balloon rights, psychic rights, dream rights, but hopefully not telepathic rights.  At least the corporate constabulary hasn’t figure that out yet.

We have been offered old-fashioned Parker Brothers board-style game rights for Ecocity Berkeley and Walter the Farting Dog, but the former never materialized, and the authors forbade the latter.  The computer-game rights to the Slovenian novel Alamut, copublished by us with Scala, were sold by the original French publisher of the book to a big-time software company, and the result was the game “Assassin’s Creed.”

E. Rights Violations

Another task of the rights manager is to police wrongful and uncontracted use of our materials.  In this role Sarah has to handle occasional complaints from authors and copublishers who are generally the ones first to hear of violations of their works.  She then does research and follow-up, writing our own version of noncompliance letters.  The most common abuses have been websites selling PDFs of our books and foreign book pirates putting out photo-offset editions that show up in regions where we haven’t sold rights.

India is a favorite site for pirated English-speaking works in cheap local editions, and there is little one can do but yell.  Any attempt to shut down a pirated Indian edition of your title, even one being sold down the street at the local Himalayan shop right under your nose, quickly becomes a comedy routine from a Bollywood movie: “Yeah, boss, we take those away….”  They hang up the phone and remark to a secretary, “There’s obviously a market.  Ship more.”  It is not immoral, merely amoral—the universe is a Vedic illusion anyway; civilizations come, civilizations go—no problem.

These days (2010-2011) it can pretty much be taken for granted that free downloads are available of every book, at least every successful book, and there is little that can be done about it.  Many of these originate in China with the tacit approval of the Chinese government.  They use their technology to scan these books in English and then make them available on multiple websites for a fee.  One can write, even have an attorney write to these sites, and they almost always take down the illegal document.  But it exists plenty of other places, and for every site from which it is removed, the pirates are several steps ahead of the game, creating new sites and formats.

As with the Donald Fine editions, it doesn’t seem to matter, or to affect sales to enough of a degree to cause a freak-out or a concerted international effort to halt it.  I know some publishers who pay in the range of $10,000 to $15,000 a year to firms to police the Internet for them.  These companies check for pirated books and write the offenders, getting them removed.  Whether this is cost-effective or not, no one knows.  We have never thought that we could make back the cost in increased sales.  In some ways, Google’s “search inside the book” feature is the litmus test.  Though many authors and copublishers strenuously object to making even parts of their books available for free online, especially when clever Internet uses can trick the system into disgorging pretty much the whole book over multiple forays, we have always found that the Google feature enhanced sales, at least by any reasonably reliable measure.  On those titles that we removed from Google by author demand, we found that sales immediately dropped.  This response to Google’s free content has been consistent enough (both ways) that we have had to conclude that free material does not impede but instead enhances sales.  In fact, there are authors who give away thousands, even tens of thousands, of e-books of titles in an attempt to enhance sales.  In addition, there are now various “copyright commons” means of releasing material for free use within certain pretty much unenforceable boundaries.  The intent of this is mostly political—to make reading materials available in the planetary commons, especially impoverished areas of the Third and Fourth World.  But publishers and self-publishing authors have come to see it as a marketing tool as well.  By the mere fact of being in the “commons,” books tend to sell better in the regular marketplace.

Conversely, Sarah is our first line of defense and investigation when someone out there in the world claims that we have violated their rights.  I have two recent stories about such incidents:

In 2007 we published Happy Days, Healthy Living, a combination memoir and nutrition guide by Catherine Silvers, who earned TV sitcom fame as Jenny Piccolo; she is also legendary comedian Phil Silvers’ daughter.  Her book was directed to us by both Gabriel Cousens and David Wolfe.

Then one day a guy from an obscure food company contacted Sarah, claiming to have trademarked a name that she used for one of her recipes, Texas Chainsaw Chili, saying that we were in violation of his license.  He was not satisfied, as most sincere business-people would have been, with a promise to remove the name from future editions.  He knew who Ms. Silvers was and, although the book was a meager seller and the recipe title was a miniscule part of the book (and dubiously trademarkable in the context of such a hypothetical and incidental offense), he wanted dough, lots of dough.  He subsequently peppered her, me, and various of our staff-people with emails and voicemails that grew more and more vociferous and dire in the consequences they proposed.  It was a classic shakedown.  Cathy’s lawyer told me, “In Hollywood these kind of guys are part of our daily life.”

So we took to ignoring him.  After months of shrill missives, he finally bowed out with the following odd email:

“Words cannot express the disappointment in the complete lack of professionalism displayed by your author, and by extension, your organization, in this very simple legal matter…. My calls to Ms. Silvers go   unanswered for the most part; when she does answer she immediately hangs up on me like a frightened middle-school girl getting a call at home from the school Principal.  Hiding and avoidance is a terrific strategy, I guess, but it certainly reflects poorly on the business and people associated with it.

“Folks, I am done chasing people.  I seek dialogue and closure here; it’s not that difficult.  I need to hear from someone by phone on Wednesday of this week.  If my simple request goes unanswered, I will pursue a strategy of formal complaint to all related professional organizations associated with the parties involved here.  I will start with the AAP, the Association of American Publishers, since it begins with ‘AA.’  I’ll work my down up the alphabet from there.”

Hopefully he’s reached the R’s by now.  R for Ripoff.  B, buddy, was for Blackmail.  (Also note his language: it has that generic “spam” quality and tone.)

Likewise, the photographer who popped up fifteen years after his image was purchased for the cover of a minor bodywork book copublished with Feldenkrais Resources.  The camera man charged that he had never been paid for his work.  In the those fifteen years the book had been published, sold poorly, gone out of print years prior, and the author had died through suicide by pistol.  We had long ago archived all records regarding the book (Skiing with the Whole Body) in cartons stored at Durkee Drayage.  When I told this photographer the history and situation, he asked for $350 to forget the whole thing.  I thought that was unreasonable, as the odds were ninety-nine out of a hundred that we had already paid him.  We always paid photo and other art permissions.  He likely had forgotten.  Perhaps even the author or copublisher paid for the rights.  There was no way that we would have gotten, let alone used, a professional image without a proper chain of custody and fees.

He barely heard me.  Instead he warned that, when he got his lawyer involved, he never came away with less than $10,000.  He even gave me a URL to look up his fabled lawsuit success.  I decided not to scare myself.

About eight hundred books had gone through our office since the one at issue, and I was supposed to remember how we got the photo and who we made out the check to?  Years after the statute of limitations.

I explained to the photo guy that I wasn’t able to track exactly how we came by the image: “We can’t ask the author because sadly he killed himself.”

His response: “Well, good for him.  Like that’s my problem?”

I hung up.

6. Contracts (and More Venting)

A. Contracts Manager

Drawing up contracts for seventy or eighty new titles a year is a tedious, detailed-oriented job, yet Susan Bumps has carried it out for almost a decade.  An excellent writer out of Mills College’s MFA program, she started with North Atlantic in the mid-nineties and, as per the era, filled a number of very different positions.  She took orders; then arranged and oversaw jobs for printers; she even acquired and edited books before specializing in  contracts.  After a maternity leave, she wanted to return but preferred a set of tasks that she could do from home and on a part-time basis.  Educated to some degree by her previous job in a lawyer’s office, she made a recommendation that she write contracts full-time and become our specialist.  To my surprise, despite her broad intellectual scope and artistic bent, she has never wavered since and remains the sole contracts manager to this day (Sarah is her understudy and fills in occasionally, especially with foreign publishers from whom we are buying rights).

In the beginning I went over almost all of Susan’s contracts with her in detail; now I trust her to do them completely, as she’s been through the fire drill near a thousand times.  I took to handling only the odd and unique contracts or those in which the author or copublisher makes demands we cannot accept.  By 2011 Doug was filling that role, and I had dropped back to just a consultant.

In 2009 Susan, Doug, our attorney Steve Rood, and other staff got involved in rethinking and rewriting all our contact templates, both to soften them and to make them conform to the realities of publishing as they had changed.  Just as in thoure early years, we had drifted into offering a contract that we were not precisely honoring and could not in fact enforce, especially in its secondary domains like the calculation of editing costs or the timing and calculation of some domains copublishing earnings.  But, before going on, I should revisit our prior history of contract writing.

B. The Evolution of Our Contract.

In the early years of North Atlantic, I developed a very informal, friendly twelve-page contract, more or less out of my own Sierra Club document for The Night Sky; it was the template most handy at the time and far less legalistic than my earlier Doubleday contracts.  I then used the Sierra Club contract for every book and, when relevant, I added a separate section summarizing our copublishing model and based roughly on the NAB/HES informal agreement, bringing the copub version to about sixteen pages.  And informal it was, and is….

It is remarkable BTW that, with a copub template at hand, HES and we continued to copublish books for decades, up to twenty-plus titles without a formal contract, based solely on trust and oral understanding, continually revising our game plan in terms of mutual percentages, fees, and checks and balances whenever one party felt that it had gotten out of balance.  Dana Ullman may have presented other challenges, but in terms of working together equitably, he was a paragon of virtue, flexibility, and peace-lovingness.  In truth, all contracts need this sort of mutually well-intentioned environment because words alone cannot enforce actions or guarantee deeds.  The law really operates in the parties’ actions toward each other, not in the document because, as I will show, no one can afford to go to court to enforce the paper.  It is a misnomer to think that contracts or rules or shouting accomplish anything at our scale.  It is only people and their good will, ethics, and actions.  The contracts are merely mnemonic devices and references points.

For distribution agreements, I used a simple two-page-long memorandum-type document, as no rights or ownership were involved.

These hand-made contracts worked well for years, or didn’t, depending on your viewpoint.  That is, I wrote one for every new title, plugging in the information for royalties and other fluctuating items as appropriate—and then the ensuing relationships were conducted much like the one with HES—on an informal basis of dialogue and trust.  It’s not as though anyone ever went to look at the contract except to jog his or her memory on a point of fact.  We didn’t have adversarial relationships or, more accurately, I talked my way out of some and found a livable stasis for others.

Moreover, as with Dana and even with written contracts, every time our situation changed materially, we and our partners altered our way of doing business, regardless of the terms—and astonishingly no one complained.  For instance, when computers transformed our way of calculating royalties, we came up with new formulas and equations to approximate what the author would have gotten anyway.  People universally accepted that.

When we decided to add overhead and warehousing to the copublishing model and thus put it in contracts for new copublishers, we also charged these items unilaterally and contractually ex post facto to existing copublishers, informing them with a note explaining our position.  Just as astonishingly they acquiesced, either tacitly by silence upon receiving the first altered royalty statement and explanatory note or with some version of “right on, great job guys.”  These were the pastoral days of publishing, and they lasted into the mid-nineties before getting blown away in a series of fusillades.  Yet even these days (2011) when market circumstances cause us to have to recommend a universal change in terms, the vast majority of authors and copubisher graciously agree with our position.

In the early years, though, it was possible to operate pretty uch on oral agreements, barter, and good faith.  I am nostalgic for those days.  The trajectory of American business seems to be toward stratification, incorporation, and partisan legal definitions—“no holds barred,” “take no prisoners”: the language of obligation—otherwise you’re a wuss.  Just look at party politics these days for a comparable point of reference.

The main subtext to recognize about contracts in general is that they are not stone tablets of what must happen but guidelines for how to work together.  They should be accurate and reflective of the relationship that is expected by both parties, but they cannot be fine-tuned at the level of particle physics.  It is foolish to belabor every word and nuance and try to re-tailor generic and boilerplate clauses, as some authors, copublishers, and even agents do.  Like Zeno’s paradox, it is an unattainable goal.  Publishing someone’s book (and being published) requires concurrence and cooperation all along the way beyond (and even sometimes despite) the contract.  Again, the contract is not really the crossroads; the relationship itself is.

Despite words in a legal document, the two parties have to get along and work in concert through a complicated, open-ended process.  It costs a small fortune to go to court.  Figure $50,000 for a minor matter and $100,000 or more for anything medium-size.  So we are not going to consider defending our contract in court, nor is an ordinary author or copublisher likely to try to resolve a challenge of interpretation there.  Lawyers can posture back and forth all they want, and they do almost from habit or maybe recreationally, but when the time comes for drawing guns or compromising, either cooler heads prevail or you must transition to a game of chicken to see who backs down first, and someone does, although they rarely admit that’s what they just did.

That is why the contract is almost never a document of final decision; it is a memory chip or crystal ball (however you see it) to consult when a point becomes muddy, a way to interrogate what original intents were and, in the case of a significant disagreement, to see which side the language favors, by a lot or a little, if either party should want to use it as a battering ram in its favor, e.g. as leverage to threaten to litigate or armor to preempt such a threat.

The old nuclear language of MAD—Mutually Assured Destruction—is not inappropriate to characterize a publishing dispute headed for a judge or jury.  Yet it was exactly that sort of MAD that got us to change our affable document.

The maiden fusillade lobbed our way was by Andrew Harvey and led to the debacle described in Chapter Seventeen.  At the time, our attorney Steve Rood felt naked with the “Sierra Club” template but, worse, he realized that it made us a target for future “Andrew Harveys.”  Because of its chatty, imprecise language and almost apologetic tone for taking any prerogatives at all, a malign partner could find ample holes whereby to subvert its intention against us and manufacture grounds, illegitimate but legal, for charging breach of contract and demanding his or her rights back or creating equivalent havoc.  This, from our side of the court, is what Mr. Harvey and his skein of attorneys attempted to do.  Our contract provided a mere fig leaf of protection, almost like having no contract at all.

Steve wrote the diametric opposite sort of document: a typical nineties contract, hard-ass, publisher-friendly, covering almost every plausible exigency (plus some implausible ones), most of which would probably never happen (such as theft of material in a book by someone else or a decision on our part to reject a manuscript for which we had paid an advance).  This is typical of publishing-industry contracts, maybe all business contracts.

The new contract did not change our basic generous terms in favor of authors.  Our royalties and escalators were still ionospheric by industry standards.  Our copublishing rates were indisputably beneficial to our partners.  And both authors and copublishers got their own books from us at higher discounts than from just about any other publisher.

What changed was simply the legal protection within the contract—reducing authors’ and copublishers’ sanctions over the publishing process and also making it almost impossible for an author frivolously or deviously to charge breach.  We gained the freedom to make books as we saw fit rather than subject to partners’ spontaneous weirdnesses and whims.  Steve’s new contract also tightened and more clearly defined the basis for liability and mutual obligations when legal action became necessary.  I repeat: the numbers didn’t change, only the legal housing and the tone.

Still Steve’s template seemed to me heavy-handed, aggressive, even insulting, and I was almost embarrassed to send it out.  An average prospective author might read this contract and feel dissed or attacked because it was written to keep dunces and criminals out of our lair.  He or she might then think: ‘I’m not that asshole.  Why should I sign this.  It’s almost like an accusation.’  But, the trouble is, we never know who’s going to be ‘that asshole.’

I once got to see, by accident, a confidential email from a martial-arts author of ours advising a friend who was perspective author, “Don’t be put off by the North Atlantic contract…they all read like a Nazi Agreement with the Devil….”  Perhaps martial artists do not generally look at modern legal documents but confine their aggressions to more honorable forms of combat.  But this so-called “Nazi Agreement with the Devil” is mild compared to most contemporary contracts.

Whenever I thought an author might be particularly sensitive or put off, I took to improvising softer versions.  I also ventured a series of cover letters summarizing, in some combination, the following sentiments:

Our relatively tough-minded boilerplate reflects not our values and imperatives but the environment in which we operate.  Our contracts may sound combative, and they are certainly more hard-edged than we would like.  That is the result of having to operate in a world that occasionally plays hardball with us.  Modern publishing is carried out in a more legalistic and litigation-oriented environment.  When a relationship sours, lawyers tend to be summoned sooner than in the past.  Interpersonal discourse, negotiation, and compromise are no longer as esteemed as they used to be.

Our lawyer is a wonderful man; he represents many nonprofits and Buddhist organizations; he contributes large amounts of pro bono time to the poor and disenfranchised; he is a poet, and his wife is a Talmudic scholar.  Nonetheless, he has written the kind of contract that gets written these days given the litigious nature of our society and the desire of people to play the popular game ‘my lawyer can beat up your lawyer.’  He would prefer not to get beaten up.

He feels that his boilerplate is the best way to avoid grief and litigation in the present business climate.  His time is expensive (as is the time of all lawyers), and he has already had to get us out of a few jams that could have been avoided with a more discrete and unambiguously worded contract.  The tone here is not meant tobe aggressive; it is more a case of trying to pound words into place with a hammer of definitiveness and clarity.

Less than one author in a hundred presents a problem, but we cannot have a strong contract just for our difficult authors because we don’t know ahead of time who that’s going to be.  Adversarial interactions are impossible to diagnose in advance.  After all, two highly regarded spiritual authors, separated in time by more than twenty years, accepted advances from us and then tried to sell the same book to another publisher.  That’s pretty definitive for the rules of the current road.

We publish mostly people of integrity who write thoughtful, well-intentioned, and compassionate books with matching intentions.  However, we don’t and can’t know all our authors personally.

Our contract reflects protective measures against the more egregious crimes of the past rather than a reasonable expectation of what will happen in our relationship with you.

Thanks for your cooperation and understanding.

People differed as to their response to Steve’s new contract.  The vast majority of authors and copublishers just signed it.  When an author freaked out or went ballistic, we reminded him or her that what we sent was just a boilerplate that could be modified.  We invited them to take their own shot at it.  The prospective author then usually cooled it and sometimes made a list of recommendations.

A very small number, maybe two or three overall out of four hundred authors, absolutely refused to deal with us at all after reading our contract.  They decided that we were bad dudes simply for having written it.  One was for a collection of Turkish Sufi poetry and one was for a primer on Buddhist meditation—not the kinds of authors you would think would be so unforgiving, but, on the other hand, these are the kinds of authors who might tend to see things moralistically or in literal black and white.

Most of our books do not arrive through agents, but a fair number of authors seek other forms legal aid before offering their signature.  Almost all the publishing agents and lawyers that received Steve Rood’s new document didn’t blink; they were used to its kind of language.  A few were touchy around nuances of liability and defense of the book against piracy, etc., and they wanted to get language more balanced in terms of mutual obligations and responsibilities.

The biggest categorical problems came from two sorts of protagonists.  The worst far and away was “the lawyer who is a family member or friend, or friend of a friend, or friend of a family member—but he does not do publishing law.”  Such lawyers on occasion ripped our contract apart, even the boilerplate sections, as they tried to reinvent the wheel (and the whole publishing industry along with it).  A corporate lawyer looks over the cranky collections of small-time quibbles that pass for publishing contracts and then acts as though we are all selling Hummers and Bud Lite.

These are situations about which we have to say: “Either drop the attorney or drop us.”

Sometimes the lawyer himself may back off and admit, “Sorry.  You can’t blame me for trying.  I’m only trying to help my niece [or fill in the category].  This is the way it’s done where I work.”  Or something equally modest and charming.  Then we go ahead.

Or they hold to their guns, and we drop the book.  We dropped a Cambodian cookbook, a book on the American raid on Fallujah, a book on aloe vera, and a book on electrosmog for reasons of author/agent demands that were seemed unwise or truly unfulfillable to us.

The second worst problem is lawyers for authors’ guilds, nonprofit arts organizations, and social advocacy groups.  They turn us into Random House, or generic corporate America, presuming that, whatever our contract says, we are somehow cheating the author.  Negotiations with these people generally deteriorate as in the first case—only they are rarely ever modestly and charmingly restored.  As I learned when I taught at Goddard College, the left-wing world is as bad as the right-wing world in matters of ideological intransigence and recreational polarization.

One author to whom we gave our only grant ever to help with her book (not an advance that had to be earned back but a true grant) had her left-wing feminist lawyer read our contract, supposedly just to check it; then a year of negotiations passed without a signature.  No matter how many changes Susan made, dozens more new ones came back from the lawyer in a revised version.  And this went on and on, month after month, as we sank thousands of dollars into developing a complex book with musical transcriptions.  It was the hardest contract ever to negotiate from among hundreds and hundreds, and for the one book on which we were being totally philanthropic.  Talk about Murphy!

The project had minimal financial potential and probably wouldn’t break even, and we were doing the author an obvious favor by putting it out—pure pro bono publishing.  Yet she kept talking about the fact that the contract had to be relevant fifty years from now, that Random House might find away to steal her texts, and so on and so on.  She wanted control over all Random House distribution.  She wanted to keep foreign and digital rights.  And most of all, she did not want to allow our arbitration clause, insisting on retaining the right to litigate.  There were other, small items, too numerous and petty to recount.  And there was never one read and annotation of the contract, as noted; it was each time a new read and a new litany of objections each time.  All of this occurred after we had given her a grant to do her project.

Finally I told her that she was conducting contract negotiations more suitable to an executive at AIG negotiating a bonus than a nonprofit author under a grant; that she was also blowing off the gift of the grant, which paid her more than she would ever earn from the book; that she was turning a molehill into a mountain, and endangering the whole project and our relationship.  I asked her why, if we wanted to cheat her, we gave her a grant in the first place.  Her response to one email and one voicemail message along those lines was to quit the entire project in a snit, withdrawing her book, which, by then, was ready to go to the printer, accusing me of “threats and personal attacks, which is unacceptable.”

Piques and aggravations, but hardly threats and personal attacks.

I would add to my earlier Law of Spiritual Publishing (see Chapter Six), a law of ideologically left-wing authors and attorneys: they are never wrong; they always have the moral high ground; any disagreement with them is disrespectful and insulting; to accuse them of unethical or ungenerous behavior is justification for a nuclear response; they stand with the people and goodness always, even when they act like bullies and bosses; they will never yield an inch on their basic constitutional rights; they have served humanity already and sacrificed enough, so now everything is due them, even more, ever more—nothing requires their gratefulness, remember they have already served.  And did I forget?  No I didn’t—they are always right.

I wrote back:

The problem that has roused me to the level of, not threats and personal attacks god knows, but maybe exasperation, dismay, and hurt from being treated in what seems a shabby and dismissive way by your agent has caused me to write emails that basically say, “Please pay attention.  Please don’t let this get any worse.”  You seem to take that as aggression rather than pain and as an instigation to in fact make it get as “worse” as possible.

I don’t mean to insult or badger you, but this contract issue has dawdled for months and months unattended and unresolved while we sank money and time into your book.  Your lawyer has made, at most, cursory attempts to resolve it.  She has never dug in and said, “What can I do to make this work?”  Neither you nor she has never made us feel that we were regarded as honorable trustworthy people, and that sort of lapse is really unusual in our world.  That is all it would have taken.  We have probably completed 60 or 70 contracts in the time that this single one has been in the works, and no one on your end has cared enough, it seems, to bring it to closure despite the fact we have worked on your book in continued good faith and in the expectation that you would honor that good faith, which you now say you won’t.

I don’t think that backing out solves anything.  It just increases the wound and pain on both sides and seems in fact to express exactly the opposite spirit of your songs, your lives, and your work.  Who said that someone doesn’t have the right to let you know if you are hurting them?  Your reaction is to punish me for crying out in pain and hurt and making it seem that you are the ones being threatened and attacked?  I don’t get it.

Maybe stated differently, what you got from me is not “threats and personal attacks” but a reaction of someone who feels that he and his colleagues have been condescended to and dismissed.  I could care less about whether we have a contract or not, since we all know the terms, no significant amount of money is going to be made, and no one is going to sue anyone.  The contract was a formality, a symbolic document that honorable people should have been able to accomplish.  I don’t understand letting trivialities in it get out of hand to this degree.  It is like turning a fistfight into nuclear war.  When you and I last talked on the phone, uncomfortably but respectfully and happily, you indicated that you would get right on it.  Another month or so passed, and I assumed that it had all been done, didn’t even think about it again; I trusted you.

Then what we got from you was not at all what I asked you for and thought we agreed to, e.g., a compromise, but simply a restatement of the same (and new) demands, all of them regarding stuff that was never going to happen: particularly e-books and lawsuits.

This email from me went on, but you get the idea.  We had violated our own key rule: never put money into a project without a contract (see below).  Now we had to negotiate with an impossible author and her attorney to get some sort of resolution over the fate and cost of the material we had developed.  We had operated on blind trust with no suspicion of the betrayal coming, perhaps because of the grant.

Near endgame, I wrote this author and said, in effect, Look it’s not worth this fuss.  We’ll sign whatever contract you want and be done with it.  We’ll send your book to press; you keep the right to litigate and all the other rights you want.  We’ll do it without a contract if you want.  It’s a philanthropic project.

But by then she was so insulted that I had called her on her behavior that wouldn’t even talk to me.  Through her lawyer, now chastened and saddened by the whole affair, she blamed me for the incident and for her not publishing with North Atlantic.  She said that I revealed “the shadow side” of North Atlantic Books even though I was the one who discovered her and her work, contacted her originally, suggested turning her music into a book, gave her a small grant followed by a large one.  I also supported her work and career in innumerable other ways that I can’t describe without revealing her identity.

Here is some of what I wrote in a last futile attempt to salvage the relationship (some repetition from my prior email left as is):

It is too quick a jump to go from an unpleasant but relatively minor argument to blowing up the entire relationship and the accompanying project without taking at least some time and care to figure out how we got to this point, whether we really want to be here, and what we can do to reconcile.  If people value each other, they value keeping friendship and collaboration if possible.  I certainly feel that way and would make major concessions to do so.
You have to take my word for this or we are nowhere: my email and voicemail reaction to you represented neither anger nor intimidation.  It was a reaction to being hurt.  It was saying, maybe not well and maybe without necessary reflection, “I feel betrayed by friend.”  Add in some frustration.  If I could have gotten a hold of you, I am sure I would have spoken differently and more sincerely.  What you got was pique.  It was not substantial or enduring.
If you were in my situation and could view the contract process from my perspective, I think you would see: these sorts of things don’t happen in our world.  Even with the most legalistic and hard-ass agents and lawyers for some of our most famous and professional authors, we have always had cordial and productive negotiations.

In the roughly fifteen years since we changed our contract to require arbitration and mediation and eliminate litigation, we have completed probably in the range of 500 contracts, and no one has ever even mentioned, to my memory anyway, restoring the right to litigate.

I single out this item, not because I think it has material significance but because of its symbolism, both to me personally and to those who work at our nonprofit.  Whatever else your amendment says—and I take you at your word that it has value and emotional as well as professional significance to you—it says, “I want to retain the right to sue you.”  That nuance and subtext can’t be made to go away, nor can its psychological effect.  If authors, attorneys, and agents had routinely or even occasionally asked to restore the right to sue at this scale of business, it would be different.  But this was a first for us.

Again, I am not talking at all about the actual right to sue, from either of our standpoints, as a legal imperative; I am simply talking about the emotional meaning of the request and the importance, from our standpoint, that it has for us.  I understand that you did not mean it personally, but it finally does feel personal—because of who we all are in this and because of the unusualness of the request.  I ask myself: if this is such an important right, why did no one else ever ask for it?  I always assumed that it was because lawsuits are so expensive and debilitating that everyone was relieved to have them out of the game.  Just to go to court on a minor matter costs somewhere between twenty and a hundred times the amount of money generated by most books.

This also comes up in the context of our not being able to complete a contract with each other over months of time and hours of work despite the fact that at least three whole other thirty-title seasons have been negotiated and contracted in that time, most of the contracts signed within two weeks of being sent.

It is also in the context of Susan not having reliable and productive communication with your attorney.
I wrote you and left messages as I did solely because I wanted to communicate how I was feeling, not because I wanted to affront or intimidate you.  The letters and messages were emotional, not strategic.  I have already been over most of this territory thoroughly, so I won’t keep rehashing it.  All I really want is for you to see this situation, for a moment, from our side.  We are not badly-intentioned or threatening people.  I believe that you like and trust me and everyone you have dealt with at North Atlantic.

Is it not possible—could you not consider for a moment—that on our end what has been coming from your attorney has felt like condescension and antipathy?  It has seemed, again rightly or wrongly, as though she has cared more about winning debating points and defeating us than getting a fair contract, preserving our relationship, or protecting a project and a collaboration that is dear to all of us.

Again, I am not saying that this is true. I am only saying that, one, this kind of deterioriated dialogue with an author’s attorney is highly unusual if not unique for us, even though we have dealt with some powerful, even notorious industry attorneys, and, two, it has the effect of undermining confidence and transforming feelings.

Wherever this discussion and relationship go, I think that you should take this unintended artifact into account.  I have already done a lot of soul-searching myself, yesterday and today, and I will not do my job the same way ever again.

I take it on faith that we are all people who care about the quality of communication, nonviolence of word and deed, and fairness and human respect in the deepest sense of both of those.  The fact that we have these ideals and have recently failed them speaks to both our blind spots and opportunities for personal growth.

I don’t feel that the matters over which we are ostensibly arguing have a value even remotely close to that of the argument.  The argument has taken on a life and a meaning of its own.

On my end I am willing to concede the points and sign a contract postponing or eliminating electronic rights and giving you the right to litigate. I am sure that everyone else at the press will agree.

Neither of these is anywhere close to as important as what they are jeopardizing or the possibility of destroying our relationship.

Despite all this pleading and over-efforting on my part—no dice.  We moved on to negotiating an exit strategy with her attorney.

Given this episode and some others in the last few years, I have come to realize that this is a certain genre of partner: they are never wrong (even when they know they are wrong); everything they want is non-negotiable; anytime that you bring matters down to the key points of disagreement, they deflect the conversation into something else, or turn it around so as to make themselves the injured party.  Whether it is neuroticism, arrogance, compulsive bully, sociopathy, or unchecked narcissism, it is clear that there is no breaking through it.  And here is the key: every time that you express your mere point of view, as neutrally and considerately as possible they react as though the mere mention of your viewpoint is a threat, an insult, an impertinence, or an intrusion, often with lots of drama.  You can never get them down to something as explicit as, for instance in one case, “This contract gives you a delivery-date deadline of December 31, 2009, and we are well past that so we need to discuss the  situations that have changed since then.”  The response was along the lines of something highly personal as well as pointing to some other, far more minor detail of the contract, or of another contract, as if there were automatic ethical equivalence.  The goal is never to talk about the actual situation, and it works.  After all, isn’t this the m.o. of the Republican Party in the United States?  Or the Israeli government?

Our mid -nineties Guidelines for Authors booklet provided the following overview of our role as legal partner in publishing books:

a. Philosophy: We are not in the business of trying to make unfair amounts of money from your book.  In fact, as noted, North Atlantic is a nonprofit corporation and is not in the business of making money at all.  We do, however, need to generate enough revenue to cover our overhead and run our business.  We require a contract that allows us sufficient margin on the sales of your book.  As publishers go, we are quite generous to authors, but we need to recoup our expenses and pay our bills.

Please do not presume that the contract is economically biased in our direction and make changes from that assumption.  Remember, on most sales we (as publisher) receive only a third of the cover price and must cover production and printing, freight and postage, salaries and overhead, damaged books, and royalties.  The margin in publishing is usually two dollars per sale.  If you think that your royalty should be higher, please look not at the cover price but the actual amount we receive from selling your book.  We cannot pay you more than it costs us to produce, warehouse, and distribute it.

b. Negotiation: Our intention is that our contract not be unfair; if you sign the contract as we have written it, we feel you will be well served.  However, we don’t want to impose our viewpoints and language on you imperiously or arbitrarily.  Although an effort has been made on our part to write a balanced contract, its emphasis is necessarily on protecting us from abuses and lawsuits.  You should read over it carefully and make those changes that you need in order to feel comfortable with it.  If an item either does not apply to your situation or is unlikely ever to be invoked, we would appreciate your leaving it rather than crossing it out, as it’s a lot of work to re-do or customize contracts.  The contract is a frame of reference for all imaginable exigencies, not a daily set of instructions for working together.

c. Legal Aid: You are encouraged to show the contract to a legal advisor or lawyer of your choice to make sure that it protects you.  There are, however, a few provisos on our part.

If you hire a lawyer or have a legal friend read the contract for you, please be forewarned that we cannot accept a contract in which most items are crossed out or rewritten.

It has been our experience that some lawyers routinely presume their role in the negotiating process is to make a barrage of new demands in behalf of the author and then compromise from there.  Do not be surprised if this happens, and do not be surprised if we do not accept any of the demands.  We have worked hard with our lawyer and other publishers’ models to keep our contracts current and standard to the industry.  There are plenty of publishers with whom one can negotiate high stakes through lawyers.  Having spent years working successfully with authors according to our contract, we feel that it has been road-tested and is equitable as it stands.  We do not want to expend resources working through complex sets of idiosyncratic contractual minutiae.  We will back off projects that entail this kind of labor before we will get involved in labyrinthine negotiations.

Again, this is not to discourage authors who feel they need legal help interpreting the contract or adjustments to suit their actual situations.  We understand that you may want to write your own protections into the contract.  However, we will not accept a completely rewritten contract.  If a lawyer starts taking apart many of our clauses and substituting his own, you should be forewarned that you are wasting your time and money.

C. A Signed Contract is a Necessity

A key thing to remember is not to start the process of publishing unless you have a signed document in a metal piece of office furniture.  Once you begin spending money, you are in a one-down negotiating position, for, if a prospective author or copublisher unexpectedly balks at some issue or, either ingenuously or disingenuously, inserts an unacceptable demand, you are in big trouble—you have two choices, both of them bad: negotiate under the gun or be willing to forfeit the money already spent and bail.  That is what happened in the instance cited above.

Because of the long lead times and tight schedules in publishing, there is a tendency for all presses, large commercial ones especially, to announce titles for which a contract has not yet been signed or an ostensibly signed contract has not yet been received—this despite the fact that their own off-site lawyers would have conniptions if they knew.  The “gentleman’s understanding” is considered kosher as long as there is good reason to believe that there are no material roadblocks or curves lurking and receipt of a flesh-and-blood contract is imminent.

The entire publishing industry rests on informal confirmations of good faith so, when someone promises that they are going to sign a contract—as is or as altered—publishers have every reason to believe them.  To delay by a whole season a book that is ready and only over a generic presumption of bad will is not a reasonable alternative.

Despite this protocol, we have had numerous instances in which a potential author has promised a signed contract, so we have gone ahead and spent money to announce his or her book, only to get burned.  Two cases stand out because they are good forensic evidence that, no matter how supposedly honorable people appear to be, no one is a saint, even the Dalai Lama, and anything can happen.

1. A local author who had produced and self-published a successful book on the city of Berkeley decided that North Atlantic could raise the sales level by taking it over, and he said that he was also tired of distributing it.  We worked long and hard for months with him on a multi-tiered contract, mostly acceding to his desires and requests insofar as he was providing a commercial title already dancing in the marketplace.  For instance, we agreed to buy out all his inventory, even though we couldn’t distribute it through PGW, as we needed to do an edition with our own ISBN.  The revised contract was heavily one-sided in the author’s behalf.

Nonetheless we were coming up against a seasonal deadline without an actual signature on papyrus.  At that point, the guy agreed to sign but still wanted to show the thing to his brother-in-law lawyer.  He promised that it was a routine check for minor tweaks and errors and that we were in full agreement on all and anything substantial.

Because of past bad experiences, I was unwilling to announce his book or pay for a cover comp for the PGW catalogue without a signed contract, so I suggested delaying by a season.  He was massively unhappy with that and asked what the other alternatives were, since he did want that brother-in-law read.  I warned him (as per above) that lawyers not knowledgeable about the publishing business tend to make mincemeat out of book contracts.  But unfortunately (for us) I gave him an out: I said that we would announce his book without a signed contract as long as he agreed to reimburse us for any expenses incurred in the unlikely instance that we were unable subsequently to agree on a contract.

In front of five staff members he declared aloud that there was no way that was going to happen.  Finally, under insistent badgering for the magic words, he swore on his honor to cover our ass.

Well, he showed this author-favorable document to his supposedly congenial brother-in-law, and the guy undid four months of careful back-and-forth work in a day by writing a whole new contract, this one ludicrously biased in behalf of the author.  He probably felt he had to do something to prove his acumen and loyalty, and he was showing off his wares at our expense.

Faced with a major contradiction between what he had already agreed to and what his brother-in-law proposed, the author elected to defend his family member and, seemingly irrationally, insisted on using the entire new document—so we decided to back out on the book.

Then I asked him for reimbursement of $500 for preparation of the fact sheet and cover comp.

He refused.

When I reminded him of his public agreement, he claimed he never made such a promise.  When I produced witnesses, he snapped, “Then who’s going to pay my attorney’s fees?”

For messing up his deal, this brother-in-law charged him as well?

Of course he never reimbursed us and, whenever I cross paths with him around town, he looks away.  He also just missed me on my bike one day a few years ago in his contractor’s truck, but I doubt that it was intentional.  I don’t think he saw me, either time.

2. Two Italian authors of a Thai yoga book came to talk to me and Sarah multiple times at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2006, super-anxious to have us pick up the English version of their workbook.  After we went around on the project for a while, a month or two later we decided to accept it.  They were ecstatic.

However, when the time came for announcing the book and switching on the production-expense meter, we still didn’t have a signed contract.  We gave them two options—sign and send the contract now or we move the book to the next season.  Horrified at the notion that the book would have to idle for an additional four months, the main author Enrico swore that he would mail it the next day, so we went ahead and announced the book, incurring close to $1000 in expenses this time.

The contract never arrived but, given the history of circumstances around the book, no one thought anything of it.  The title proceeded through our system for ten days until suddenly we got an email telling us that the authors, apologies galore, had decided to give it to another publisher.  This was a real stunner.

Furious enough to be shaking as I typed, I immediately emailed Enrico back, declaring that that was not acceptable because they had given their word that not only had they signed the contract but put it in the mail.  We had proceeded solely on that basis.   In fact, I reminded him that we did this not for us but out of consideration for him, given his haste and insistence to avoid any delay.  It was blatantly unethical, I said, to give the book to another publisher under those circumstances.

Here was Enrico’s story: they had signed our contract and put it in an envelope to mail.  But the Italian postal system went on strike that very day, so they had to wait.  Before the strike ended, they received an offer from a publisher that they thought was more appropriate, so they accepted it.

I emailed him back, telling him that they had in effect already signed our contract and that their email telling us it was in the mail was legally binding and, though of course we would not go to court over it, I expected them to do the right thing and inform the other publisher that they already had a contract.  Or, if not, they should reimburse us $1000 or whatever portion thereof seemed fair to them.

At about that point a language barrier that didn’t wasn’t previously evident developed.  This guy said all sorts of things.  He apologized profusely again.  He asked me whether I didn’t think it was important that the right publisher published his book.  He said that he had not fully understood my emails because they were in English and he did not realize that he was responsible for any expenses.  He said that he was a mere bodyworker and did not understand business.  He offered us his next book instead.

I wrote him that it had nothing to do with business; it was a matter of ethics.  He responded that he was sending me a case of fine Italian wine.  I didn’t ask for that, don’t drink, and, besides, it never came.  Then he offered this statement of remorse (sic):

“We think that our request to have the book published in 2007 can be easyly understood.  We just couldn’t wait to see it published.  We are not that naive not to understand that a restaurant could be damaged from such behaviour, but naive enough not to understand that you could be damaged from us just because, for a few days, you assumed the book would be defenitely published.  As we wrote you before, we wouldn’t act the way we did if we imagined so many problems from your side. That is the ethical part from our side. We were not aware of the kind of problems you could come across.  If we knew them we would have proceeded with you.”

These are all indications of how people think and rationalize their viewpoints, so…always get a signed contract before starting work on a book.

D. Contractual Demands

Among the less reasonable requests that have come from an author or, more often, an author’s attorney over the years are:

•A clause that reverts the rights if we don’t sell at least 10,000 books (or some absurd number) a year, sometimes with a financial penalty as well.

•A requirement that we print certain favorite images of the author’s in color even though it is not a color book or a requirement that we buy or commission expensive artwork or rights.

•Control over the cover.  Authors have wanted to put all sorts of bizarro stuff on their covers, mostly for reasons of vanity or perverse attachment to an image.  One author commissioned a painting of himself for his cover; another insisted on waves for calm; another wanted to put in the contract that we use a painting by an old girlfriend because he promised her something like that thirty years ago.

•Full revenues on subrights.  A frequently attractive compromise to this request is to split the subrights nonexclusively such that the author gets one hundred percent on his or her sales and both parties get fifty percent on our sales.  This is useful when the author has a means of selling rights.  The author or copublisher has to stay in touch with our rights department in this instance because we would not want to risk both parties selling to publishers in the same language.

•A guarantee that we will promote the book.  This is unenforceable, and who can say what is a reasonable amount of promotion anyway?

•The right to cancel the agreement for any reason and without consequences at any time.  It is amazing how often this one is tossed in the hopper as if it were nothing to ask for and the author were whistling “Three Blind Mice.”

•Unwillingness to sign a warranty that the author is actually the author of the book or take responsibility for the text or its legal consequences.

•An unfair and unworkable restriction of territory, i.e., allowing the author to sell the book himself to trade accounts.

•Lots and lots of free books.

It is penny-ante to squeeze a tiny advantage out of every available opportunity, knock every number around a bit and kick the tires over and over in the author’s favor—not a promising way to launch a healthy relationship.  It makes more sense to focus on substantial issues having to do with royalties and editing costs or, if the person wants more books, to negotiate steep discounts for large lots to be purchased or to set up a system for getting highly discounted books from us on a regular basis.

For instance, one option is to offer additional copies at unit cost, as long as these are requested before printing so that they can be added to the end of a print run.  This can help both parties because unit cost is always higher than printing or overrun cost.  A small profit is made on the books while the issue is defused.

We use the number “ten” for free copies to authors because it has traditional standing in the publishing world.  Sticking to it maintains a benchmark from author to author, project to project.

The number of free books for any author is a relatively minor issue, fiscally and structurally, in the contract.  At a certain point the precise digit becomes arbitrary, so it is frustratingly time-consuming to have to weigh the relative legitimacy of various author insertions ranging from twenty to five hundred free books.  By what just measure do we decide such a thing?  Even if we wanted to be reasonable and fair, where do we draw the line in a way that doesn’t just reward and encourage dissident demands for ever larger numbers of free books from anyone?

We have tried to stick to ten so as not to reward being a squeaky wheel at the expense of those who don’t squeak and thus get only the baseline amount.  Why should people who simply don’t think to ask for more books or are gracious enough not to belabor the point get fewer free ones?

If an author needs free copies of a book for specific accountable promotions, then we can always negotiate a means for handling that outside the framework of the contract.

•An absurdly high advance like $50,000 or, correspondingly, a royalty of fifty percent or more without copublishing.

A request for an advance of any size can come out of the blue at the least expected moment in negotiations, regardless of the economic value of the project.  I have come to feel that the fact of an advance has a special meaning transcending cash value, as when a ballplayer wants $20 million per season rather than $18 million and then goes via free agency or a forced trade to a city or team that he doesn’t really hanker in order to get his extra dough.  It become like a point of honor or respect—or something that someone else got that they then feel they need in order not to lose face.  I have actually had an author say to me, “Don’t shame me.  Give me some advance so that I can still talk to my writer friends.”

Recently I was negotiating a contract with a technical author on an alternative healing and energy system.  It was clear that he didn’t want to do a commercial book but one that would have academic standing, and it was supposed to have color—somewhat, though not entirely, gratuitously.  After a month of back and forth negotiating, as I was trying to work with him on how we could create a project that we could live with and afford to do, he sent an email accusing me of never having offered him an advance.

An advance was never in my consideration and was so far from anything that we would do or that was in the cards for this project that it essentially ended the dialogue.  After all, his book in color might cost $20,000 to do, and it looked as though we would have trouble coming close to making that back up, even without an advance.  Plus, there were half a dozen titles in competition with it for a slot on our list.  When the bar shot up into new territory, it was easy to let go.  I don’t think the author ever understood the fragility of his situation or his negotiation with us.

Back in the early eighties, before the Internet, I somehow located the author of one of my favorite teenage-years books—actually a screenplay.  Arch Oboler wrote Night of the Auk, an astonishing science-fiction drama about the first human astronauts to the Moon returning in their ship to find the Earth in atomic war, their glory irrelevant and their home planet devastated.  The entire play, encapsulating the tragedy and existential dilemma of a human race about to become extinct, was written in beautiful blank verse, like a Greek chorus or series of Shakespearian soliloquies (see “My Favorite Novels and Other Fictions” elsewhere on this website).  Night of the Auk appeared on television in the early sixties, and I memorized many of the speeches at the time.  Their rhythms, like fifties rock music, influenced my writing for years.

Once I time-traveled and made touch with Oboler, we developed a correspondence and eventually I offered to bring his Auk back into print.  He was delighted and offered to do anything he could to help.

A few months later Lindy and I visited him during a trip to Los Angeles.  He was very old, had severe vertigo, so sat motionless in a living room filled with collectibles of all sizes and material, hundreds of them.  They were all his totem animal and lookalike: the hippopotamus.

He reaffirmed his pleasure at the possible revival of the Auk, and we had a happy correspondence for months thereafter, including his acceptance of a contract.   Then, just before we were to begin and I needed his signature, he wrote back tersely, “The house needs a new roof.  Send me $5000.”

But this book was a labor of love.  The Auk had no real market.  The play itself closed after eight performances on Broadway despite an all-star cast including Claude Rains and Christopher Plummer.  I dropped it like a hot potato, and Mr. Oboler and I broke off communication.

Two years later, he wrote again, asking us to reconsider.  “I never should have requested money,” he confessed.  “I didn’t want it and I didn’t need it.  My lawyer told me I was a fool to give the book away even though no one wanted it.  I was so pleased that you remembered the play and were willing to give it a second life.”

By then it was too late.  Once scared off, I realized that it was a foolhardy venture anyway.  Instead, with Mr. Oboler’s permission, we ran a scene in the anthology Nuclear Strategy and the Code of the Warrior.

These contracts are fragile and delicate dances indeed—dances of money, of honor, and something else I can’t quite name.

Chapter 16: Departments 4: Sales and Marketing | Table of Contents


That is, for those who don’t find the original particularly countercultural.
After being a seminal, industrial-era California business, Haws fled the high taxes and Workman’s Comp nightmare of the Golden State for taxless Sparks, Nevada, leaving their pressure-resisting spigots behind to be surround by CDs and then books.
Though most of them were excluded too once we turned our website over to Random House.
These were basically pallets with five-foot-high walls and no roof except for the heavy shrinkwrapping around the whole, vernacularly and mysteriously called either gaylords or shrouds.
This is only about four blocks from our former residence and home office at Blake between Dana and Ellsworth over two decades earlier, though they are long blocks crossing very different neighborhoods heading east toward Telegraph.
The trouble with the latter space was that it bordered on a car-repair joint, and carbon-monoxide fumes seeped through the wall into the books.
There were other, more egregious and more equitably applied noncompliances (like wrong labeling on the carton or cartons over a predetermined weight limit), but we never incurred these particular ones.

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