A Quick New Year’s Note About a Book Which Doesn’t Exist

First: Happy 2011, etc, etc. You know the drill.

Second: I’ve been getting e-mail from people in Canada who have been getting e-mail from Amazon.ca, the Canadian version of Amazon, which reads as such:

Dear Amazon.ca Customer,

Customers who have purchased or rated books by John Scalzi might like to know that Big One is now available.  You can order yours by following the link below.

Followed by a link to an Amazon.ca page for the book.

Don’t order this book. It does not exist. I didn’t write it, and it’s not currently on my schedule to write. If you order it, presuming Amazon.ca takes your money, you’ll be getting nothing but air.

So why does Amazon.ca have it in its system? Well, a number of years ago, I contracted with Tor to write a two book series called The Big One. For various reasons, it never got written, and the contracts were repurposed to other projects (Zoe’s Tale being one of them). Amazon.ca must have put the book in its system years ago and not got around to removing it. So now it’s popping on the Amazon.ca site and in its mail alerts.

I do apologize for the confusion even though it’s not my fault, except for the most tangential of reasons (i.e., I didn’t wind up writing the book). Nevertheless, don’t order the book. You’ll be disappointed, I’m afraid. Sorry, Canadian fans.

31 thoughts on “A Quick New Year’s Note About a Book Which Doesn’t Exist

  1. I remember hearing somewhere that Amazon tend to automatically list any book that has an ISBN issued for it. So, if the publisher in question had acquired an ISBN under that name (though it seems a little presumptious to pay out the money for that before the book was even written) this may be why it has appeared… I suppose a big publisher may have one department responsible for ISBN purchases which was sent an instruction to acquire ISBNs for a big list of books, went on and did that without even knowing that one of the books was never going to exist?

    Whatever the cause, I am sure it can be resolved if the publisher in question changes the ISBN or otherwise notifies Amazon?

  2. I know what happened. A latent Y2K software bug caused an oscillation in the Internet that has reached a critical amplitude and frequency, splitting the Earth’s timeline into multiple streams. In the time stream flowing through Canada John wrote that book, and now it’s available for purchase.

    The bad news is you’ll have to pay for it with beaver pelts.

  3. John, this generates a few writing biz questions that I’m curious about. When you go into a contract such as this one (i.e. originally for The Big One but covered by Zoe’s Tale), then:

    (1) Is the contract for a specific book (i.e. The Big One) or just “two books to be named later“?

    (2) If a specific work, what are you providing to the publisher at the time the contract is executed? I.e. is it just a title, is a formal book proposal, is it a “treatment” a la Hollywood, sample chapters, something else?

    (3) When said project goes kaput for whatever reason (pun possibly intended), and you wind up substituting a different work (i.e. Zoe’s Tale) for the originally contracted work, how does that happen? Is just an amendment to the contract, or is it kind of back to square one (specifically in relation to anything you deliver vis a vis #2 above)?

    (4) Is there a Drawer of Misfit Novels where all these kaput projects live, and do you shed a silent tear for them occasionally?

  4. Yesterday in Amazon’s lair
    I saw a book that was not there.
    It was not there again today.
    I wish Scalzi’d write that book, someday.

    Sorry, John and all. I couldn’t resist…! ;)

  5. “Ultimately we broke up.” – Harry

    “Why is that?” – Sally

    “Well, if you must know, it was becauses he was very jealous, and I had these great scifi books I would read.” – Harry.

    “Ehhhh. I’m sorry. I need the judges ruling on this. great scifi books?” – Sally

    “Yes. They were about old men and aliens, and I thought they were sort of funny. And then one day Sheila says to me, “You never read The Big One.” It was all suspicious. Where was The Big One? Where had I left The Big One? And I told her, and he didn’t believe me.” – Harry

    “What?” – Sally

    “They don’t make The Big One.”- Harry

    “Why not?” – Sally

    “Because of Scalzi.” – Harry

    Sorry it just popped into my head and I felt compelled to share.

  6. “I wonder how it is that they list an ISBN number for it. I thought the publisher had to buy those?”
    Yes indeed. And the isbn that Amazon.ca is listing is a valid isbn, valid in the sense that the mathematical check reveals it not to be just random numbers. But it’s listed – it would seem – only by Amazon.ca.

    “I remember hearing somewhere that Amazon tend to automatically list any book that has an ISBN issued for it”
    Amazon will list books with isbns when they are supplied by these from the publisher. Not surprisingly the creation of this data and it’s supplying by the publisher can be a bit tricky. Where I work at the Johns Hopkins University Press we work really hard at having these data feeds accurate – and we’re one of the few publishers to get essentially perfect marks for such.

    “I suppose a big publisher may have one department responsible for ISBN purchases which was sent an instruction to acquire ISBNs for a big list of books, went on and did that without even knowing that one of the books was never going to exist?”
    At some time in the existence of a book project it is assigned an isbn – it’s great tracking tool. That said, book projects get canceled … or whatever. I suspect Tor has – like most publishers – a number of “dead” isbns.

  7. Somewhere in the multiverse, you actually wrote the Big One. We just have to figure out how to get to the correct universe.

  8. I realize you’ve got other stuff on your plate, but maybe you’ve got time to dash of The Little One? To be sold at a bargain rate, of course.

  9. And Amazon’s stellar business practices come to the fore yet again!

    What, they’re not really to blame? Pah! Don’t bother me with trifles!

  10. Amazon doesn’t actually charge you money until they ship the items, so you’ll just repeatedly get emails about how it’s out of stock.

  11. Amazon listings are like herpes — they never go away…..

    Back in 2004, Pocket did a nine-book Star Trek novel series where each title came from the Book of Ecclesiastes. However, it was originally planned as a 12-book series — two books were cut (they were never even commissioned, just planned) and the last two books were combined into one (called A Time for War, a Time for Peace, rather than two books with those two titles) written by me. For years, Amazon continued to list A Time to Create and A Time to Destroy even though they never existed, and also listed A Time for Peace by me for a while (the original listing for A Time for War was changed to the actual book that did exist).

    Amazon gets their listing from production schedules, and because of that, these kinds of glitches will happen. Like I said, it got fixed eventually, but that can be a while…..

  12. Easy enough to assign an ISBN to any project. Years ago I worked for someone who self-published. We bought a block of 10 ISBNs so that we could assign them to various projects as needed.

  13. John, ask your editor at Tor to have Tor’s Amazon sales rep contact Amazon (through their contact on the Vendor Central system) and ask them to mark the book as “cancelled” in all systems.

    I’m a publisher’s sales manager for a publishing company and that’s the easiest and most effective way it can be fixed.

  14. My editor at Tor reads the blog, so I assume by mentioning it here, he’s been informed and will take steps to deal with it once he gets back to work.

  15. Publishers don’t buy individual ISBNs–they buy blocks of them and then assign them as needed, so the cost for one that ultimately doesn’t get used isn’t obvious. Big publishers buy them in the thousands.

  16. Amazon told me that I’d need a court order to delete four of my test prints with Lulu. They had no ISBNs, nothing. I didn’t buy a global distribution package either. They were test prints for personal use only.

  17. That’s why I’m self-publishing with CreateSpace and Kindle Publishing Direct in the next month. I’m going to list my debut science-fantasy ebook for 99 cents. And I’m not expecting to recoup the publishing expenses. I’m NOT jumping on the Hocking bandwagon. Like Stross said, she’s an outlier. I just want to self-publish the best damn book I can. I’m investing heavily in the cover art, interior desisn, and ebook conversion. The editing and copyediting already in the bag.

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