When books cross borders

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!

or:

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.

 

40 thoughts on “When books cross borders

  1. Katherine Howell

    Oh Tess, how awful that they feel the need to get so nasty.
    I would've thought they'd read the blurb and realise they'd read it before. But I guess that's no excuse!?!

    Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks ๐Ÿ™‚

    cheers,
    Katherine.

  2. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    It's amazing that you have to endure this at all. And it's a sign of your warmth and concern for others that you've given yourself the responsibility of sending free books to readers who have purchased the same book under different titles. However, as you have rightly discovered – it's not your responsibility to do so.

    I think you've done a wonderful job of explaining the situation you're in – the Catch 22. I think you should offer this very blog as a response to each complaint, perhaps include it as a link. If someone doesn't understand it from reading this blog, they never will. But at least you will feel that you've given it your best shot, without feeling that you should mail each reader a free copy of your books, which, of course, isn't free at all. You're paying for it.

  3. Rita Smith

    I have bought the same book before, but not once have I ever blamed the author or even the publisher. I am sorry that people attack you like that.

  4. Reine

    Tess, how unpleasant! That lacks a certain grace, doesn't it? Why confront an author when you do not know why – do not ask why – their book had different titles. I never buy a book before doing what Katherine says — read the blurb! If I like writers enough to buy all their books I usually know their lists, and I anticipate the publication of their next.

    I'm not sure when I discovered the differences in book titles, and sometimes content in the same books published in different countries. My most memorable example, however, was being in England when my tutor asked me if I'd read JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Hmm. Then I realised she was talking about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. When I told her it was published under that title in the US, she was incredulous, "Why would they call it that! They have completely different meanings!" As we discussed the book we realised there were many differences, maybe not huge ones but a couple of biggies, in the content as well. The US version seemed to have more characters and some added background?

    I walked over to Blackwells and bought the whole English set then published. I wanted to see if the English versions had a different feel. It was a fun project. I ended up getting lots of doubles on purpose, and gave some away as gifts to friends and a set to the library after I was finished with my study.

    Now that I'm going through all my old textbooks from so long ago that they are practically worthless, I am discovering that I've bought lots of doubles, a few triples, and I've managed to buy six copies of Black Elk Speaks . . . cannot imagine how that happened. I suspect I bought a new copy every time it was required for a course, not realising I still had it from a previous course. One of the doubles, I know happened that way, because I couldn't find the first I'd bought of — EEEEEEEEK BLLLLLECH — that horrible book by psychotic savant Bruno Bettleheim and had to get another for a psych course. Cornelia would be pleased to know that I ripped out each page and used them to start the the wood burning in the fireplace.

  5. JD Rhoades

    They attack you because you're the face (and sometimes the e-mail address) on the book cover. the person who made the decision remains anonymous. Not fair, I agree, and as you've pointed out, some people refuse to be educated in the way things like titling and pricing actually work. They're angry, they need someone to blame, and they don't want to hear that you're not it.

  6. B.E. Sanderson

    Maybe part of their irritation would be better placed on their own shoulders. Since they assumed 'different title' means 'different book' without bothering to read the jacket copy where they might've had the chance to think "Hey, this sounds really familiar. Maybe I have read this story before under another name." Feh.

  7. Tess Gerrittsen

    It amazes me that people can be so rude. You'd think their mommas taught them better manners than that. Shame on them for not checking the synopsis inside the front cover or on the back cover. Then they'd know if they had read the book before. Also, if you are such a fan of the author, you'd be aware that the book was re-released under another title if you followed their blog, or checked their website regularly. So – shame on them!

  8. Charlie

    I've never understood why publishers don't just keep the title the author gave it. If a reader finds it odd they can look up the meaning, it's the author's book after all. But I've never assumed it's the author's fault that it gets changed.

    However we do use "keepsake" in Britain, it's just a case that you don't often have the opportunity to use the word, but we know what it is!

  9. Eika

    When I was ten years old, on some vacation where I got sunburnt to an inch of my life, my parents took me aside to point out Harry Potter and the Philosopher's stone was the same as the Harry Potter book we had at home.

    Come on. As far as I'm concerned, expecting things under different titles in different places is common sense. I kinda wanna shake those people who don't get it.

    -Alaina

  10. Louise Ure

    As a reader who has sometimes bought the same book twice … both in U.S. editions! … I cannot imagine blaming anyone but myself for the purchase. It's a weak mind that cannot remember whether one has already read the book or not.

  11. Tammy Cravit

    On one or two occasions, I've bout the same book twice – usually because I forgot I'd already purchased it, not because of title changes. When that happens, I shrug it off and remind myself that supporting a favorite author with another book purchase isn't such a great loss, and I move on. I mean, seriously. It's not like the irate reader dropped a thousand bucks on the renamed book or something. Heck, since I got my Kindle I've been re-buying in digital form lots of books I already own – under the SAME titles, no less. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I think, though, that it would be a shame to cut off public email contact with your readers for the sake of silencing the ingrates. You might shut them up, but you'd also silence the voices of your fans, and that would seem to me a costly solution to the problem. I know when I was writing for my city,s newspaper, I'd occasionally get an irate comment from a reader. I realized, though, that the fact was that even an irate email meant that someone had taken the time to read what I wrote and cared enough to send an email.

    Yes, the world is full of a certain number of ingrates, mixed in among the nice ones. But how sad it would be to throw the baby out with the bath water.

  12. Alafair Burke

    I'm sorry to hear you're being called a greedy grubber, but I take some comfort in knowing I'm not alone. My agent was chasing down Amazon UK at first to remove the 1-star reviews that came in from customers who had purchased duplicate copies under different titles, but we finally gave up.

  13. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    On the drive to my cafe to write this morning I passed a television production on location with signs that read "R&I". Your series is shooting today in Torrance, California, Tess.

  14. Beth Anne

    Tess, only empathetic you would be so troubled by this. It is not your fault. From the 99.99999999999% of us that have been satisfyingly entertainmented by you – let it go. We love you.

  15. Alexandra Sokoloff

    I think it's just easier to reach the author with a complaint. I recently got a blistering e mail from a reader who had bought a book of mine only to find there were pages of another book bound into the copy. I don't know where anyone would get the idea that the author was responsible for a defective copy – it it had been me I'd have just taken it back to the bookstore and returned it for another one. But maybe they did just want a free book.

    I spent way too much time wondering about it, though.

  16. tess gerritsen

    We get the emails because we offer the email access. I'm sure that if angry purchasers could figure out a way to email the publishers directly, they'd do so.

    Alafair, those 1 star reviews are another way of expressing their anger about double purchases. But then, 1-star reviews seem to be a general way to protest just about everything, including the cost of e-books. It's sad that such consumers have made the reviewing process worthless over on BN.com, where it's hard to ascertain if people actually like the book, because what they're really reviewing is the price.

  17. tess gerritsen

    For every author who gets emails like the ones I quoted, my sympathies! I know you're out there because I've spoken to some who now have assistants or spouses answer their mail , to protect the authors from the emotional distress caused by these messages. Easy access to authors has its definite pluses — we get to hear from happy readers and from media.

    For the upsetting emails, I'm learning to hit that Delete button.

  18. Martyn Lewis

    This is an example of what is wrong with the world at the moment no personal responsibilty.

    It's not my fault I'm an idiot and have bought the same book twice it's the authors fault. Errr no it's your fault for not recognising that you've already read it.

    I've got involved in a couple of heated debates about the decision to cast Tom Cruise as Reacher I was disgusted at the vitriol aimed towards some I respect and admire when they had no say in the decision.

    I'm glad that I took the time to email you to say how much I enjoy your books Tess, as one happy reader from the UK keep up the good work.

  19. Sandie Herron

    Tess,
    You have my sympathies for the nasty e-mails. I bet for every nasty one you get a really heart-warming e-mail that makes it all worthwhile. If you didn't, I imagine you would have cut off access before now.

    My experience with several other "big" authors (and yes, you are in that category now) is to get an assistant to preview the e-mail and handle ones like that. I've become friends with Janet Evanovich's web assistant, and he has been quite helpful. I know that Janet doesn't have time to answer all my questions or problems.

    But no, not everybody's momma taught them manners. Today's generation most of all has been raised by TV and electronic devices while their parents were out doing other things or perhaps tapping on their own computer. It's too bad the human element has been removed. Maybe a subplot for your next book?

    I have to wonder how much your Asperger's Syndrome is involved in your feelings in dealing with these e-mails from people. I can't suggest how to ignore your feelings when people accuse you of the things they do other than to answer just as you've done, put it behind you and go on.
    Sandie

  20. Judy Wirzberger

    Dear money grubbing greedy crook – oh my goodness who would think that of you.
    I have this God thing – If I accidentally purchase a duplicate book I think, God must have wanted me to give this to a friend. Or I wonder why God wanted me to have two? or Aha! a Christmas gift.
    I do think you need to speak with Michael Connelly – he has a fantastic assistant who saves him lots of time and he mentions her whenever he speaks of his website. You need to save your energy for meaningful pursuits. But don't you dare give up Murderati!! You've just solved some shopping for me. I never thought to give collections of author's books for Christmas or birthdays.

    Always remember, there are some things only you can do, and lots of other things people can do for you. Concentrate on what only you can do and let some of the other stuff go. There's a retired person out there who would love to work for you part time and there you would be helping the economy.

    Tragedy struck last night. I accidentally turned off my DVR instead of my TV and didn't record Rizzoli — thank heaven for repeats. And thanks for the hours of pleasure you've given me, by the way. You money grubbing greedy crook.

  21. Zoรซ Sharp

    Hi Tess

    I'm with Louise on this one – I've managed to buy the same book (with exactly the same title/cover etc) more than once, and blamed no-one but myself. In fact, for long series I now carry a list on my phone so I can check what I already have and what I don't. And, hey, as I travel and buy UK and US editions, if the book had more than one title, I'd list them both.

    The comments so far pretty much nail it for me. Yes, it's very flattering when somebody picks up a book and buys it based on the author's name on the cover alone, but they really should at least flick through the first couple of lines to see if it's something they recognise. And don't publishers put 'First published as …' on the copyright page if it's had a name change for a different market? It's not brain surgery to check these things, surely? Particularly if you're in a bookstore in another country. And if you're buying on Amazon, you're only a New Tab and a few clicks away from the author's website …

    I know Stuart MacBride has exactly the same problem with BROKEN SKIN, which was retitled BLOODSHOT for the American market, and he still gets snarky reviews from people which have nothing to do with the brill quality of the book, and instead everything to do with the fact that he is an MGC who has personally mugged them for the price of the book.

    Tess, you're a saint to have gone to the trouble of answering these incredibly rude emails. As for sending free books to people, that goes way beyond the call of duty ;-]

  22. Reine

    Tess, let me say again how much I love your writing . . . your characters! I am so hapy to have discovered you here among the brilliant Rati. All the Murderati bloggers – present, past, and guests – are on my personal reading list simply because they are here. For some reason I trust that.

  23. Mark Young

    Tess, sorry you have to deal with a few idiots in the world who never take responsibility for their own actions. On the bright side, I would bet these people are only a small percentage of those who email you about your writing. Don't let a few bad apples spoil your relationship many other fans who love your books.

  24. fiona

    i'm shocked but not supprised. Us english pride ourselves on being polite and well spoken. but not reading simple things like small print and title changes is just stupid.
    i would never call you a cheat or a money grubber? / grabber.

    p.s
    was awesome seeing you again in epsom. surrey

  25. Boyd Morrison

    Tess, I have the same exact issue. My US and UK publishers can't seem to agree on titles, so all three of my books have different titles and covers. You'd never know The Vault (US) was the same book as The Midas Code (UK), which means I spend a lot of time explaining the situation to readers on email and Facebook. So far the readers have been very understanding that I don't have any say in the matter, but I'm sure there will be a few readers who make that double-buy. Although I try to make it clear on my website, I hope to solve the problem by getting title synchronization in the future. A lot of these mix-ups happen in airport stores when a UK resident is visiting America (or vice versa), sees a title they've never read before from an author they enjoy, and snaps it up in a hurry on their way to catching a flight. On the bright side, it means readers are so eager for your next book that they aren't even reading the plot summary before purchasing. What I don't get is why readers think authors are doing this on purpose to make duplicate sales. That would be a terrible business strategy.

  26. lil Gluckstern

    I'm so sorry to hear that once again, courtesy has left the house. You are known for your kindness and genuine niceness, and the last person who would cheat her fans. (I live in Half Moon Bay and missed you due to illness, but I did get the inside scoop.) For Judy W., TNT replays R & I at night, and, I think sometimes, Saturday mornings. Anyway, don't grieve too much, some people are just looking for a reason to be angry.

  27. Jeff Abbott

    I only have one book that has a different title from US to UK editions, but I have a specific UK microsite on my web page, with all the UK editions and covers (because my books come out in Britain before they do in the US), and have found it seems to have dropped the number of complaints (which haven't been so many, more questions as to why than angry accusations).

    An author doesn't have a lot of choice on these matters; few authors are going to argue when the sales force (or even booksellers in a particular market, who a sales rep may ask) give feedback that a title may not appeal in their market. My US title for my third standalone, COLLISION, was deemed too dull by my UK publisher. They went instead with RUN. And it did do better in the UK. Interestingly, some of the foreign editions went with the translated term for COLLISION, others went with whatever RUN is in their language.

  28. John Wiswell

    You seem to have taken their ignorance incredibly personally. It is normal for books, movies, TV shows, videogames, foods and drugs to change names internationally, or even inter-regionally. It's weird when you first encounter it. Some people will simply never grasp it, but it's seldom due to actual vindictiveness. Out of context, the response of "That is NOT an excuse!" reads like limited awareness that certainly annoys, but doesn't really deserve scorn. You get it, some of your audience gets it, and sadly some don't.

  29. Bernadette

    Wow, I thought I was a grouch for having sworn under my breath when I bought a new Asa Larsson book only to find it was the same book I'd read the previous month under a different title. I never dreamed of going so far as to complain to anyone though, I gave the new book away and learned to check with http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk before making any more impulsive purchases. Living in Australia where boks cost an arm and a leg I have welcomed the availability of internet shopping, knowing I have to check before buying is a small price to pay

  30. Linda Rodriguez

    So sorry you have had such rude anger inflicted upon you, Tess. I do think many people are looking for an excuse to erupt in anger today. Perhaps they only feel alive when they are doing that. I've known such folks, unfortunately. The suggestion of a part-time assistant is an excellent one. Simply remove the possibility of encountering the wierdos. Many thanks for the pleasure your books have given to so many of us.

    Linda

  31. Meg Gardiner

    >>You seem to have taken their ignorance incredibly personally.<<

    Tess couldn't have taken it any other way. These weren't general complaints about publishing, made by readers in conversation with their friends over a beer. They weren't blog posts directed at the general book-buying public. They were personal messages directly attacking her integrity.

    It's easy to tell authors: Ignore rudeness. In reality, it's impossible not to be affected by messages from complete strangers saying that you're a horrible person. Tess has handled the issue calmly and with far more generosity than many of us could probably manage.

  32. tess gerritsen

    The following comment was left by someone anonymous, posting under the misspelled name "Tess Gerrittsen." I am a little mystified by this because it wasn't me.

    "It amazes me that people can be so rude. You'd think their mommas taught them better manners than that. Shame on them for not checking the synopsis inside the front cover or on the back cover. Then they'd know if they had read the book before. Also, if you are such a fan of the author, you'd be aware that the book was re-released under another title if you followed their blog, or checked their website regularly. So – shame on them!"

  33. Christina

    This is more a general response after reading a lot of the comments, rather than a response directed to the content Tess Gerritsen posted.

    I think that in the situation Ms. Gerritsen brings up, there are two distinct actions readers are taking. 1) they are buying the same book twice and 2) they are emailing their angry reaction/calling the author names.

    I don't think the attitude to the first action should be "shame on them" or that readers are "stupid," "idiots" or have a "weak mind." It's true that it's not brain surgery, but it's possible for someone, even someone brilliant, to read the back cover/skim the first couple pages, and still not realize it's a book they read months ago, a year ago, 500 hundred books ago. Or maybe they were in a hurry, and they chose an author they trusted and a title/cover they knew they hadn't bought before.

    But I agree that the second action (emailing the author in anger and calling names) is a problem, not because I believe a consumer doesn't have a right to complain about a product but rather because it should not be done rudely and probably should not be sent to the author to begin with.

    I'm really not sure who is to blame here (for the first action, because the reader who emailed is clearly at fault for the second action). The mobility of people and products in the 21st century? The publishers for choosing different titles/covers/packaging? The reader for not realizing the same book only looks different? The author? I don't think I'd point to any one of those as solely responsible for the problem. Probably not to the author much at all. But I definitely would not put it all on the reader either.

    I think it's perfectly natural to feel frustrated/annoyed if you buy the same book twice because of different outer packaging. I have, in fact, done that when traveling. I did not email her about it. I also did not blame myself or believe I was an idiot for doing it. I guess I just…chalked it up to one of those things, shrugged, and moved on.

    (Also, on a different topic, I was unaware that authors believe customers shouldn't leave a review of the buying experience and/or product on the <i>retailer</i> website, that authors believe it should be a book review only. I thought that was what websites like Goodreads are for.)

  34. L.C. McCabe

    Wow. This just demonstrates that some consumers are better at evaluating their purchases beforehand than others. Checking the copyright dates and reading that page to see if it might be something you have already purchased with a different title or cover is part of the whole labeling process.

    I am sure some of these irate individuals have probably purchased a paperback version of a book they once bought in hardcover and are miffed that the covers are different and they were *tricked* by the "money grubbing" publishers.

    Sheesh.

    This is a mistake people can make without crossing any borders.

    In the future, should you care to respond to such emails other than give them a link to this blogpost, you might suggest they give the newer copy of the book as a gift to a friend who will feel honored to receive a souvenir from a foreign country.

    Or they could keep their new copy and donate the previous domestic edition to their local library and claim a tax deduction.

    Either way, it is not your fault and should not become your problem.

    May you have a lovely trip "Down Under."

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