Operation Hardcover by Dave Agans

“Mr. Kneeland is here” said the intercom. Stephanie Crusher, head of AAH Furniture Corporation, pressed a button.

“Send him in.”

Bill Kneeland pushed through the door as if a tiger waited to pounce from the OC-55 credenza behind it. He wasn’t completely wrong. Stephanie nodded toward the hot seat, a specially adjusted model OC-23. As Kneeland settled onto the low, hard chair, Stephanie stepped around to his side and leaned against her desk. The ED-14 sported a smooth thumbnail edge which allowed her to sustain the intimidating position in comfort—and without creating a crease in her skirt.

“So,” she said, “what about Operation Hardcover?”

Of course, Kneeland tiptoed around the real issue like it was a shin-high coffee table in a dark living room.

“Well, we’ve been working with the Big 5 publishers to set the hardcover-to-paperback launch delay at 21 months, up two months from a year ago. And we talked them into a one-month adder for every 10,000 hardcover copies sold, so the popular ones hold out even longer.”

“Old news. What else?”

Kneeland tried to lean the chair back, but Stephanie had disabled the patented tilt-feature. He had to crane his neck to look her in the eye.

“Our Luddite Ladies team has increased their penetration of book clubs to almost 70 percent. The LLs insist on reading only what they can get in the library—which, of course, are mostly hardcover. With just one Luddite Lady member, a club can’t choose books that only came out in paperback or e-book.”

Stephanie felt like she was trying to open a stuck drawer. She gave it a final pull.

“Get to the point, Bill. What are we doing about Mystery Thriller Week?”

The chair squeaked as Kneeland straightened up and gathered his thoughts. This would not be a satisfactory answer.

“We’re trying to ignore it,” he said, squeaking like the chair. “We don’t think it’s a threat…”

“Not a threat?” she snapped. “Through MTW, mystery and thriller fans can discover hundreds of great new authors! There’ll be discounts and giveaways! Interviews! Excerpts! Reviews! And it’s all free on the web! These people don’t do hardcovers, Bill. If all those readers discover even one or two new authors, sales of the Pop 20 writers will tank! Mystery Thriller Week is a threat—what are you going to do about it?”

“We’ve been spreading propaganda for years that these new authors aren’t as good as the Pop 20.”

“Bill, you’re aware of all the independent reviews MTW is doing. Those lies you’re planting are shakier than a two-legged stool.”

Kneeland’s eyes fell, admitting she was right. He shrugged.

“Maybe we should sic the Editorial Board on ‘em?”

Stephanie considered it. The “Editors” were a small team of highly-skilled assassins, used to eliminate mainstream reviewers who dared to pan a new release. It didn’t take much—one or two “deleted” critics and the rest fell in line. There hadn’t been a bad mainstream review of a hardcover in years.

But this was different.

“We can’t kill a hundred people without drawing suspicion. Hell, I don’t know if the Editors even have that much ammo. Any other ideas?”

Kneeland shook his head.

“I got nuthin’.”

Stephanie let the failure hang between them for a few seconds.

“Well, get somethin’. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”

Kneeland nodded, extracted himself from the OC-23, and shuffled out.

Stephanie crossed to the window that overlooked the plant floor. The Assemble At Home Furniture Corporation’s shelving factory was running at peak capacity. Circular saw stations sliced particleboard sheets into shelf planks, and glue machines immediately applied veneer from giant espresso-brown rolls. The multi-head drill robot bored pilot holes in acceptably precise positions along the edges. On a parallel conveyor line, the hardware manifold filled bags with screws, washers, brackets, and plugs before sending them to the REPI machine. Stephanie smiled—that was her idea. There were always enough parts, but the Random Extra Part Inserter made sure there were a few left over just to confuse the customer. Every cartoon, blog post, late night joke, and standup comedy bit about how hard it was to assemble AAHFC shelving was good publicity. Sales were booming.

Then she thought about MTW and stopped smiling. Shelves only sell if there’s something to stack on them. She’d realized a long time ago that hardcover books took up the most space, and only the popular authors went hardcover first. Grisham, Connelly, Child, Evanovich—all of them were good for business. Hell, the last four David McCullough bios had goosed shelf sales 2 percent all by themselves.

She turned from the window. These new authors were coming out in paperback and—she shuddered—e-books. Practically zero shelf space required.

Mystery Thriller Week was indeed a huge threat. Once fans discovered a great new author, or two, or even—she shuddered again—a half dozen, it was all over. Stephanie could only hope no one would hear about it.

She sighed, walked to the EB-48 executive bar, and poured herself a tall Scotch.


Our thanks to MTW author Dave Agans for providing this look into the power of the MTW.

DAVE AGANS, corrupted by Mad Magazine and Get Smart at an early age, began writing spy spoofs in the sixth grade. He has since written the musical comedy Hot Buttons, dozens of comic stage monologues, the popular, humorous technical book Debugging, and the conspiracy thriller satire The Urban Legion. Dave can be recognized on New Hampshire golf courses by his flawed swing and on the roads by his AMUSED license plate.


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