by Tess Gerritsen
Lately I’ve been thinking of cutting off all email accessibility from the public because it gives me heartburn to receive messages like this one:
Recently I was in an airport bookshop where I spotted a new book of yours that I’d never seen before. I eagerly bought it, only to discover later that I’d already read the story, but it was published under a different title. I am thoroughly disgusted by your greedy ploy to encourage double purchases, and I will never buy another one of your books. Shame on you and your publisher!
You and your publisher should be ashamed of yourselves for selling the same book twice, under different titles. I cannot believe that you would stoop to such a tactic. I have demanded a refund but the bookshop refuses to give me one. How money-grubbing can you get?
The reason for these complaints has to do with the fact I am published in different countries around the globe. In the UK, my thrillers are published by Transworld Publishers. In the U.S., my titles are published by Ballantine Books. Anyone who’s sold foreign rights understands that, with each new territory you sell to, you are dealing with a separate publishing entity, and each publisher will choose its own cover design, use its own translators, and yes — specify its own title for the story. Not surprisingly, my book ICE COLD will not have the same title in Germany, where it’s called TOTENGRUND. Nor will it have the same title in the Netherlands or Turkey or … the UK. Yes, even though they speak English across the pond, the UK is a foreign country. (Although some Americans refuse to believe this.) Englishmen drive on the left and they have foreign currency and no, they do not think of themselves as Americans with cool accents. Nor do they believe they are required to publish books under the same titles that we do.
Which is why I’m getting those angry letters.
Because the UK is a different readership, my publisher there prints my stories with locally appropriate spellings. E.g., neighbor becomes neighbour. Sometimes my UK publisher also has a differing opinion on what the title of a book should be. THE KEEPSAKE, for instance, fell flat as a title for the UK market, where the word “keepsake” had little significance. Instead, Transworld opted for a more visceral title: KEEPING THE DEAD. My US publisher, however, thought that KEEPING THE DEAD was way too visceral for delicate American tastes. Each publisher has control over its own territory, and so the book was published under two different titles. Transworld distributes to the UK and its territories; Ballantine distributes in North America. In theory, their markets should not intersect, and readers in the UK should not be buying the US version and vice versa.
But then we come to world travelers. And the internet.
Once a traveler leaves his home territory and enters another, he also enters a different market. Just as you will not find paracetamol in a US drugstore, you will most likely not find acetaminophen (Tylenol) in a UK pharmacy. Travelers have learned to expect that the names of drugs may change once you cross a border. But they have not yet accepted the fact that the titles of books may also change in foreign countries. Internet sales add another complication because suddenly an American can go onto Amazon.co.uk to buy a book published in the UK. Or UK readers may go onto Amazon.com and buy a book published in the U.S. This foreign-published book isn’t supposed to be available to them at all, but the internet doesn’t know that. The internet is just there, at your service, to give you what you demand. And when you accidentally buy the same book, under a different title, whom do you get mad at?
The author. Because of course it’s our money-grubbing fault that this happens.
For awhile, I was so guilt-stricken by the thought of all these readers paying double for the same book, that I’d offer a free title to everyone who complained. I’d mail out the books, free of charge. Then one day I realized that providing the free books, along with the foreign postage to mail them, had costed me hundreds and hundreds of dollars. I also wondered how many of these were authentic complaints. Maybe word had gotten out that Tess Gerritsen was an easy mark, willing to send out free books at the drop of an email. So I stopped doing it.
I also got fed up with being called a crook, a money-grubber, and a cheat.
I know I’m not the only author in this position. A US mystery bookseller told me that she gets complaints all the time from customers who come in asking for UK editions of books, and then demand their money back when they discover it’s the same book they’ve already read. I know authors who are forever explaining why their UK editions have different covers and titles. On my own website, I point out the international differences in titles. Still these double purchases happen, and the internet has made this worse.
Consumers need to be alert to the issue. On Amazon.com, the U.S. site, you can find my UK editions KEEPING THE DEAD and THE KILLING PLACE for sale. But neither of these titles is offered by Amazon.com itself; they are available through third-party sellers, and once a book gets into third-party hands, it is beyond anyone’s control. Likewise, Amazon.co.uk only sells the American editions through third-party sellers. Shouldn’t that be a clue?
Nevertheless, it’s the author who’ll get blamed for it. On Amazon.com, in response to an annoyed reader, I offered this explanation:
“This is the UK version of THE KEEPSAKE. It is published by Transworld in the UK and its territories and WAS NEVER MEANT to be sold in the US. Each publisher releases its own edition in its own market area. Unfortunately, with internet sales (which erases all geographical boundaries) this book may be inadvertently purchased twice. Please do not blame the publishers, as each company intends to sell only in its own market. But online sales and international travel makes it impossible to control where their editions end up.”
The responding comment was: “That is NOT an excuse!”
For some readers, no explanation will ever suffice.