Why Welcome to the Fifth Estate Failed

Geoff Livingston & The Fifth Estate

People who know my books usually remember my first book Now Is Gone and most recently Marketing in the Round. Then there is Welcome to the Fifth Estate, which barely sold 1000 copies in total direct, electronic and print.

I want to come clean on this project. It didn’t go anywhere for a reason: I stopped marketing it two months after its release. Here is why…

The Fifth Estate was my nightmare book project.

In large part, the book was submarined at every step, suffering a progression of typos and production delays that for all intents and purposes hamstrung the project.

Welcome to the Fifth Estate was supposed to be released in early March, 2011. To prepare for it I booked 10 consecutive weeks of speaking engagements from SxSW through Memorial Day.

By February the proofs didn’t arrive. The release delays began.

SxSW came and went, and no book, so I was forced to begin the tour without a product. Instead I had postcards and self made moo cards with the book cover on them. What a way not to make a sale.

Finally, I received proofs as March arrived. The manuscript was a typo-ridden mess. This was in spite of hiring an editor, and using my father, former managing editor of the Philadelphia News, to proof before I submitted text.

How did that happen? Well, for example, the publisher had an intern edit the book, and in some cases insert new typos. In addition, the publisher laid the book out in Pages(?), which may have caused additional errors.

OK. We sent back a marked up version of the text. Nothing was turned around. Milestones continued to slip. The revised publish date of May 1 became May 31. The tour was squashed in its entirety.

By the middle of May, I used the publishing contract to force the book release. The publisher committed.

Released At Last

Soleil says, "The Fifth Estate, huh?"

A small number of books were printed, in essence galleys, about 100. I actually had them in hand for my final event in New York City.

Reading the book on the way to New York, I found at least one typo on every page.

I wanted to scream. Though it was a part of me, I hated the book because it was marred with scars. That’s in spite of the content itself, which represents my best book from a conceptual and thought quality standpoint.

Then the complaints began. In addition to the typos, there was a new problem: Delivery. The complaints rolled in, “Where’s the book? Why I haven’t I received it?”

Turns out that only the 100 copies I received were published. I was now three weeks into the book launch, and everything seemed doomed. This was in the midst of a virtual blog tour, my second phase of marketing for the effort. Finally, books began shipping around June 21. But the typos remained.

All hell was delivered on my part. A second edition was scheduled for delivery in late July after the first edition ran out, roughly 400 copies. On my advice, the publisher used short runs to offset costs. We both thought the book would sell less than Now Is Gone as the second effort competed against a flood of social media books.

By the end of July, I couldn’t get a
sales report, only what Amazon offered. I decided to scrap my third phase of marketing set for September until the financials were worked out. They never came.

Instead, I used my lawyer to get a sales report from the publisher, which arrived in November. But the game was over already.

The straw that broke the camel’s back? I was never paid the advance or any royalties.

So I let the book die.

62 Replies to “Why Welcome to the Fifth Estate Failed”

  1. The more painful the situation today, the more valuable the stories you can share about it tomorrow, mate. I can only imagine the sleepless nights and recurring sense of outrage with such a fiasco.

    Lessons learned, right?

      1. I know your focus is getting into sports marketing and spending more time with family, and I’d hate to throw a wrench into your editorial calendar, but I’d be interested in you sharing thoughts on self-publishing (beyond digital).

        You’ve got experience. The lessons you’ve learned are pretty valuable, ya know?

          1. Excellent! Looking forward to it.

            I’ve just taken GBXM “print-ready” digital with Issuu and am starting to look at fulfillment options for an international audience. I’ve also got a couple book projects simmering on back burners.

            This will be incredibly meaningful content. :)

            Thank you, Geoff.

      1. I don’t understand why you need to buy the rights back. If they didn’t pay you anything, then how could they possibly have the rights? Isn’t the exchange of money a component in obtaining the rights. It seems like it is still yours. Am I wrong?

          1. If you wanted to talk about Create Space and Kindle, I’d be available. Since the book is done, you have cover art, it shouldn’t take more than a few hours to get it up. (You would need to buy an ISBN number, but that isn’t too expensive) Oh and I believe Create Space requires you order one proof, before they will let you hit publish.

    1. I am going to pass on that one. I just don’t want to name them or link to them. It’s not my intent to call out other parties, just state what happened and why it caused me to let the book fail. I feel like if you didn’t know this, you might think I wouldn’t be able to carry a book on my own. And that’s just not reality. I intentionally let the book bomb.

  2. Wow. I know how difficult it is to bury a labour of love, as I chose to do with one of my companies after prolonged (and groundless) TM litigation. I like what Margie said in tribute to your book, and recognize how tough it is to let something good go, but FWIW, my two cents would be: let it die.

    You’ve done us all a great service by sharing your story. Sometimes we look from afar and believe those of you who are so successful don’t experience the kinds of difficulties we others do. I’m so sorry for your experience, but they say it’s only through the tough times and challenges that we grow. Yeah, I know…sounds like a platitude, but it’s true.

    Thanks for sharing. I’m now getting busy on my Honourary Canadian badge (see comment I made on your response to Joe Waters below) Cheers! Kaarina

    1. It’s funny. I did consider legal action, but it would have been a fruitless pursuit, costing more time and energy than the financial outcome was worth. My lawyer was the one who suggested letting it go, and it seemed like a good idea not to foul the waters as Marketing in the Round was in the works (at least being pitched). So, I let it go.

      Life always deals everyone lemons. It’s a question of whether you get up or not. We have to get up and keep moving forward!

      -G “el” Canadian.

      1. When I was going through the hell of litigation, my lawyers told me I’d win the battle but lose the war…win the TM but be tied up in civil court for years. Sometimes we just have to make lemonade and let it go.

  3. I was looking forward to reading this post, after you mentioned it the other day on G+. What a nightmare.

    I’m an avid fan of self-publishing, because I have complete control. I had no idea that things were so bad with a publisher, though.

    For Two Decades and Counting, I sent the work, as it was being written, in 10,000 word sections, to my editor. She had each section polished before the next one arrived.

    Because of that, I was able to write 45,000 of the 52,000 words in 21 days (I was sick for three) and then publish in 5 days (getting the proof from Create Space in two days).

    We had a hard deadline, because of the launch being at at the Iowa vs. Penn State game Feb 4, 2012. Still, I got everything done, including most of the writing, in under a month.

    Was it flawless? No, but when an error was found, because I’m the publisher, I simply got into the master and fixed it for both Kindle and print.

    I think you’d enjoy the publishing aspect of the book business and I KNOW you’d like the control.

    1. Yeah, I am definitely very interested in this path. Not only from an editorial standpoint, but also from an ownership and the marketing perspective. I like the stealth it can afford you, and also the luxury of writing on your pace.

      As you say at least any errors will definitely be mine. And of course, I know I will get paid!!!

  4. Wow. As your relatively new reader, I had NO idea about this. This is unbelievable. I feel for you. I admire your courage to write about this, and also your grace for not naming the publisher…(although anyone can google it to find out.) You are all class, Mr. Livingston.

  5. That is an awful story but I think you have done something positive by sharing it with us. It is crazy hear how many different things happened to it.

    I certainly understand why you would be angry, who wouldn’t be.

  6. Funny…I just reorganized my business books and was looking at my copy the other day. Now I’ll savor it even more – sounds like I have a collector’s item!

      1. I have no doubt!!
        Just registered for xPotomac – what an interesting agenda you’ve put together, Geoff! BTW, thought I saw face recognition on a session description but don’t see it anymore. Hope it gets covered – I know lots about it technically but have never seen a marketing forum on it. Would be great!

        1. Ah, that’s awesome. So glad that you will be joining us. Unfortunately, we did decide not to talk about facial recognition as a full session this time. But I am sure it will come up ;)

  7. Wow. What a nightmare experience, Geoff. It sounds to me like you have a real case against that publisher. Not that you necessarily want to pursue it. But I can understand why you haven’t been able to talk about because of pure fury.

  8. I bought a copy! Makes me feel like part of an elite club now. Sounds like the experience was an absolute nightmare. I thought the book itself was good.

    1. Being an author is like wearing glasses. Until you wear them, you don’t know what it takes to make a book fly or fail. And until you wear them, you can keep guessing.

  9. If it’s your best work, then it’s time hasn’t passed. Maybe it’s time has passed regarding the business aspect of putting out a book, but not the content. Skip any editing and just self-publish it. Include a prologue at the beginning titled “Why all the typos?” and include a link to this article. It can serve as a gateway and likely lead to additional sales of your other works. Again, if it’s your best work, don’t you owe it to the community to put it out there?

      1. I hear that. If there is true legal uncertainty, the publisher would face two issues: 1) the costs to take action in the face of uncertainty and highly questionable damages incurred since it’s not selling (or even on shelves or in ongoing production), and 2) the publicity. While it’s not difficult to find out who the publisher is, you intentionally avoided naming them in this piece. That would change, and “Incredibly inept publisher that dropped the ball sues author for making book free online” is not a great lede for them to have out there.

  10. Great that you moved past it, which is the message I took from this post. Congrats on your most recent project.

  11. That is an awful story but I think you have done something positive by sharing it with us. It is crazy hear how many different things happened to it.

  12. You are awesome, Stacey. I had no idea that you were working on a book. What is the topic… Also, I published another post today on traditional vs. self publishing. You may find it interesting.

  13. Wow, that’s brutal. =( Sounds very similar to what my mom went through getting her first book out through a publishing company that will remain unnamed. Big part of the reason she and I went indie.

    So sorry this happened to you.

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