January 5th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

It shouldn't happen to an author

Back in June, 2005 I was floating along on a fluffy white cloud of authorial bliss. I had a book, it had a nice shiny cover and people were already buying it on Amazon five months ahead of publication.

Then July happened and my book disappeared.

I couldn't believe it. Another book had replaced mine. It had my ISBN. It had my publisher but ... everything else was different. My Amazon listing had been usurped by Timothy Zahn and his Blackcollar. Was this what the big authors did to first year authors? Had I been picked on in the author's playground? Would Timothy Zahn and his gang come asking for my dinner money?

To make matters worse Blackcollar already had its own page and ISBN. The book was listed twice. How many listings did he need?

And then it got worse. Other booksellers followed suit. A concerted attempt was being made to expunge my book from the time-line. Naturally, I informed my publisher who, in turn, told me that it must be a data entry error in Simon &Schuster's database and my dinner money was safe.

August was a battlefield. The forces of Blackcollarness swept the planet laying claim to my ISBN wherever they found it. I countered by emailing the booksellers, the distributors and Timothy Zahn's mother. Every week a new book appeared - sometimes it was Blackcollar, sometimes it was Resonance, every time it was attrition. Neither book would give an inch.

Then September came along and with it, the bombshell. S&S had mixed up the ISBNs for Resonance and Blackcollar in April. They'd then discovered the error in July and switched them back but the message had not got through to Baen. So everyone I had emailed in August assuring them that as author I knew my own ISBN ... I had to email again assuring them the opposite.

Fate was really pissed off.

Now, I know something of Fate. She's capricious, vengeful and hates me. If I take one step away from my allotted path in life, which I do every other step, she slaps me down.

And as a man who was impersonated, robbed, arrested, pursued by wasps across a roof and menaced by a ten-foot caterpillar - all within months of moving to France. I know of what I speak.

So along came October - the month before Resonance's publication date - and the book disappeared again. And then mutated with the verve of a fruit fly. Strange books started appearing - Blackcollar by Chris Dolley, Resonance by Timothy Zahn. Sometimes they had a November publishing date, sometimes January. The pages could by 400 or 608. The descriptions and covers were interchangeable to. And often we were co-authors of both books. Even today Amazon.com has Timothy Zahn as the co-author of Resonance. Did I try to correct it? Of course. What did Fate have Amazon do? You guessed it - they deleted my name and kept Tim's. Which is why I haven't touched it since. It took weeks to get my name back on the book.

And overseas it was worse. I'd request a change, three days later it would be made, two days later it would be changed back again. Even today about a quarter of the on-line listings of Resonance are wrong.

Fate is nothing if not thorough.

Bookshops have even turned away customers in the November/December period because their database (which can never be wrong) said the book wasn't published until January.

But I've been around for along time. I have a rejection papyrus from ASTOVNDING magazine when Pliny the Elder was editor. So I know that Fate always deals me one ace. When I was robbed, impersonated and abandoned by the police forces of four countries - I got a book out of it. Something good will come of this too. The trick is recognising it.