Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Wednesday whatnots

Now this one I like least in principle. Seems there are two ghostwriters (story from Publishing News) in Toledo OH, and for years they were churning out speeches and articles and ebooks for other people to put their names on.

And then they got a request which was a bit different. A longtime client asked them to write a special story as an anniversary gift; this story would describe the client's first romantic encounter on his wedding night.

Well, they did the job and the client and his wife were thrilled. Word spread. And it got to the point where the personalised stories were about half the business. So now they've given that side of things a life of its own, so to speak. You can get the flavour of it at The Velvet Diary.

Oh my...

I won't complete the rest of it. But the air was blue when I first read this next bit.

Publishers Lunch, using M.J. Rose's Buzz, Balls & Hype as its source, reports that Holtzbrinck are inviting authors from all of their tradegroups -- Holt, St. Martin's, Farrar/Straus, Tor, and Picador -- to set up blogs through the company. The invitation notes: 'In terms of effort on the author's part, a successful blog needs to have at least three posts a week, and it only takes a few minutes to post a new message, so it won't take them much time.'

It was at that point that the air started to change colour. IT WON'T TAKE THEM MUCH TIME. Ha!

Oh my friend, if you only knew. Those words will come back to haunt you. Quite apart from writing the xxxxing post, a blogger has to proof-read it, set up links (and check them), and wrestle with Blogger (or whatever you're using).

And that's only half the job. Dealing with the ensuing correspondence takes as long again. And if you have any significant numbers of readers, people send you stuff, or ask you to read stuff, and much of it is really very interesting but it all takes TIME.

I am not alone in thinking that Holtzbrinck are talking through their arse. M.J. Rose says 'For a blog to be successful it has to have passion, voice, commitment, creativity. It takes a lot for the writer to bring fresh ideas to a blog on a continuing basis.' And, she adds, the very last thing an author should be doing is starting a blog; apart from anything else, it doesn't sell books.

Yea verily. Not that I claim any great merit for my blog, and I don't begrudge the time spent. If I did, then obviously I wouldn't do it. But a blogger soon learns the truth of a universal law: everything takes longer than you think it will. Including this bit.

Speaking of new blogs...

L. Lee Lowe, author of the serial novel Mortal Ghost, has just started one.

Another new kid on the block is Dave Roberts, who... gosh, I can hardly believe this, it's so unusual, but he's written a book. He blogs about the frustrations of having it in the shops and wondering if anyone's going to buy it.

The book is called E-luv: an Internet Romance, and it's published by The Friday Project. The publisher describes it as 'a compelling tale of cyber romance, cyber cheating, cyber weddings, and the glorious fantasy land of cybersex (where literally anything is possible).' Waterstone's in Edinburgh had it in their window, which certainly isn't bad.

And then there's Steve Somebody, who reads. The hunky picture from last Saturday may or may not put you off, but the prose is intelligent.

And, before I forget, there's Clare Dudman, who isn't new but has published novels in various countries, through thoroughly respectable imprints, and keeps snails.

There's also a blog by Ira Joel Haber. He's an artist and a bookdealer, and his blog deals more with art and personal matters than with books. However, he does have a link to his bookdealing web site, Cinemage Books, which specialises in hard-to-find, out of print, and rare film books. Cinemage also carries posters, stills, and other film memorabilia, together with comic art books, animation, Disney, gay and black material, graphic design, and performing arts.

You can buy, for instance, an MGM photograph of Jean Harlow for $75. And a signed photograph of J. Edgar Hoover will cost you $100. I know which I'd rather have.

Ira also has for sale a comic called French Ticklers. Could that possibly be about... No, no. Couldn't possibly.

Scott Stein, meanwhile, has an interesting post about how, more or less by accident, his short story got edited by a big man in the field.

Tonto Press

The Tonto Press is a (small) UK-based publishing company which runs courses in creative writing and occasionally invites submissions from writers. Their latest book will be launched tonight at 7.30 in Newcastle.

Everyone who's anyone

Gerard Jones continues to prosper, despite the efforts of those who would love to close him down. The fifth edition of 'EVERYONE WHO'S ANYONE IN ADULT TRADE PUBLISHING, NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES, BROADCASTING AND TINSELTOWN, TOO: A Writer's Guide to The All-Pervasive Nazi Propaganda Network' is finally finished and is available free, online. Go take a look.

The title of the facility is pretty self-explanatory, but just in case you've never heard of it, let me say that Everyone et cetera is a free, searchable, 1.2 GB online email and web address directory of around 15,000 of what Gerard calls 'the most influential ignoramuses in the media, entertainment and academic industries whose perverse job it is to keep themselves and others brainwashed.'

Still, it works for him. Says Gerard: 'During the four years EWA has been online I found a good agent, sold one of my books (Ginny Good), got it published the way I wanted it published and made it into a fifteen-hour, multimedia audio book all on my own. The Audio Book of Ginny Good is easily and by far the single greatest literary achievement of the 21st Century. Listen to it and see. It's free.'

More bookplates

A correspondent read my piece on bookplates of about a month ago, and gave me a link to the collection of Micheal (sic) Jones. These come mostly, it seems, from Eastern Europe, and some of them are rather fine.

Booker longlist

As every single book blogger in the entire universe has already noted, the Booker longlist has been announced.

There's only one writer on the list whose previous work I have read, and that's Sarah Waters. Her latest, The Night Watch, makes the cut, which is a pity really. I have a copy, and was looking forward to reading it, but now I'm not sure. Booker approval has kind of put me off.

Sarah's first book, Tipping the Velvet, won the 1999 Betty Trask Award, which is much more my line of country.

Should you be interested in Booker machinations, see the article by Michael Holroyd in last Saturday's Times. Among other things, he tells how he was sitting at the same table as Anita Brookner, in 1984, when she won with Hotel du Lac. 'I can remember,' he says, 'the look of absolute horror on her face as her name was announced.'

Holroyd also tells us that the man who set up the prize had clear ideas about why it quickly proved to be a big talking point. 'They love it,' he declared, 'because it is so unfair.'

She's choosing your books...

but only if you let her. Amanda Ross, the person who picks the books for the Richard & Judy show, and who therefore has a heavy influence on the UK bestseller lists, is interviewed yet again, this time in the Sunday Times.

Says Amanda: 'There’s only one book I regret choosing for the show, Brick Lane by Monica Ali. I only put it on because I thought it would make the list look broad, but have you actually read it? It makes you want to give up after 40 pages.'

I know the feeling.

Amanda also says: 'I suppose it’s a bit odd for the most powerful person in publishing to admit this, but I don’t really know anything about books at all.'

I'm sure that last statement will be held against her in some quarters, but actually I think it's quite a good thing. It is right and proper, in my view, that the book list for R&J should be picked by someone who can reasonably be described as an 'ordinary' reader, rather than someone who is infected with the 'literary fiction is best' bug. Where she goes wrong, I think, is when she allows herself to be influenced by other factors: as in the self-confessed case of Brick Lane, and in my suspected case of The Righteous Men.

Instant gratification

Martin Wroe also had an article in the Sunday Times, in which he described how he published a 76-page book of hybrid poem-prayers through He is full of enthusiasm for this 'new' print-on-demand publishing method, as well he might be, because a 76-page book of poem-prayers wouldn't have stood an earthly of getting into print otherwise.

The article is, as usual, wildly over-enthusiastic and optimistic about sales potential, but it's pretty well balanced and interesting otherwise. It won't tell most readers of this blog anything that they don't know already. But it will, I'm sure, come as a complete revelation to a number of Sunday Times readers who aren't quite so well informed.

Since we've mentioned the relatively uninformed, last Saturday's Times had an article by Danuta Kean which spelt out some of the dangers awaiting wannabe authors, the chief of which are agents who aren't really agents -- or at least not agents of any standing. They are only after your money.

It was ever thus. In volume two of Authors by Profession, Victor Bonham Carter relates how, in England in 1910, 'the number of reliable and successful agents was small, in contrast to the crowd of applicants for authors' business.' One of the latter, A.M. Burghes, was convicted of fraud in 1912.

First lady of Iraq

The Sunday Times provided a third interesting item in the form of a review of Daughter of the Desert by Georgina Howell. This is a biography of Gertrude Bell.

It is often forgotten that the Brits have been in the Middle East for a very long time, both as individuals and as a military/political force. Some of the Brits who made their mark in that area are reasonably well known: Peter O'Toole's 1962 performance as Lawrence of Arabia helped to make that name famous, and Glubb Pasha was also a familiar name at one point.

What is less well known is that some of the early explorers and travellers were women. In the nineteenth century we had Lady Hester Stanhope (described for us in Eothen), and in the early twentieth century there was Gertrude Bell.

Gertrude Bell's achievement, crudely put, is that she was one of the principal architects of modern Iraq; she knitted together a viable Iraqi state out of a bunch of feuding sheikhs. She had a formidable wardrobe and lots of jewellery, and they regarded her as a queen, as well as a reliable representative of the British government.

Usually, she visited the sheiks in their desert tents where she 'won them over with her routine of flattery, useful gifts (the odd revolver did not go amiss) and intimate knowledge of their language and customs.'

It is, of course, the viable Iraqi state that Gertrude Bell helped to create which the Americans, with help from the current generation of Brits, have so effectively demolished.

Amazon search?

Search me. I don't know what's happened to it. I tend to use Amazon as a surrogate for the old books-in-print database. Of course it has ceased to be reliable for that purpose, because it now includes all sorts of out-of-print stuff. But I still tend to use it as a guide to a writer's output.

Anyway, on Monday the search facility on just plain wasn't working, so yesterday I tried it again. Just as a test, I set the search for Rosamunde Pilcher, newest books first, fiction, hardcover.

Result: total crap. The first 7 items listed were paperbacks, not hardcover; then there was an audio CD; then more paperbacks. Not until item 13 was there a hardcover.

Another test. Stephen King, A to Z, fiction, audiobooks. Result: first 8 items paperbacks. First audio CD, item 57.

At the bottom of each page of search results, it says that the search is powered by A9. And A9, the company's About Us claims, 'researches and builds innovative technologies to improve search experience for e-commerce applications. A separately branded and operated subsidiary of, Inc., opened its Palo Alto, California, doors in October 2003.’s technology will power search on and other web sites.'


Lynda Lee-Potter goes indie

Does the name Lee-Potter ring bells? It should, I think, at least in the UK. The late Lynda Lee-Potter was a Daily Mail columnist for many years, and her daughter Emma Lee-Potter is the author of three novels for adults. She also spent ten years working as a hard-news reporter for the Evening Standard, Sunday Express and Today before becoming a freelance journalist.

Now Emma has started her own publishing company, Porthminster Press, and the first book is just out. The Rise and Shine Saturday Show (written by Emma) is the new company's first book. It's a 'fast-moving, fun read for children aged eight to 12. Designed to be the first of a trilogy, it follows the fortunes of five youngsters from very different backgrounds who are all desperate to be pop stars.'

Emma's blog describes some of the joys of running a small, independent publishing company. And, if you're in search of a bit of inspiration, it relates the story of Catherine Jones (no, another one) who in 1990 self-published Gumboots and Pearls, a guide to being an Army officer’s wife, and sold 16,000 copies.


Novel of the year, by book bloggers

As proposed a while back, Susan Hill has launched her Novel of the Year Award, said novel to be rewarded (when the project really starts, in 2007) with a cheque for £1,000. Meanwhile Susan is setting up a dry run. She is asking anyone with a book-ish blog to make nominations for the best novel of 2006, just to see if the idea works and to throw up any possible snags. You can read all about it on her blog.


Clive Keeble said...

A moderate rant

"Daughter of the Desert" by Georgina Howell UK price £20.00

Once again Macmillan marketing department have apparently excelled themselves.

This title, which would be a cert stock item for most indies, was not offered with any pre-publication promo discount and only shows from wholesalers with normal trade discount.

The price on Amazon £9.99 (50% off). How many will Amazon sell - probably way under the number which would have been achievable with a fairer discount level to all sellers including the indies.

Macmillan consign these books to Amazon, Amazon will not be paying for the books until sold. Macmillan titles are consistently heavily discounted on Amazon : hence I and many other indies now treat *all* Macmillan titles with suspicion knowing that the Basin will probably offer them at a price not given to the independent booktrade.

End of rant : those interested in Arabia should read the life of Jane Digby - a colourful character from the Dorset dynasty.

Maria said...

I'd have to disagree with Ms. Rose on one count. Blogs do sell books. How do I know? Because these days, I get a lot of book suggestions FROM blogs. I had never read Tess Garrison, but I heard about her after some posts on Confessions of...Sarah's blog.

Yeah, some blogs send me to other blogs and I don't buy the books because I read the author's blog and think, "I dunno. The guy doesn't sound that interesting." Or the blog is weird, not updated, etc. (There are some writers I read regularly, but these writers can't do a blog to save their life...!)

These days...I bet I'm buying half my books because of blogs.

Another example:

As the ever "aspiring" and unpublished author, I do a lot of research on agents. Those that have blogs often list their client's books or talk about those books. Goody for me. I can figure out which of the books I'm likely to enjoy and go and read it--so that I have some idea what the agent might like. One of those books just came in the mail yesterday.

But be warned. Agent blogs that bore me...well, yeah, I don't stick around long, nor do I go out of my way to get the client books. It's a fine marketing line, as always.

Iain said...

In terms of effort on the author's part, a successful blog needs to have at least three posts a week, and it only takes a few minutes to post a new message, so it won't take them much time. [Holtzbrinck]

Shameful. And from a publisher! I quote my old mate Sam Johnson: "What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure."

Too right. If the GOB wrote without effort, we would all begin by reading without pleasure, and end by not reading at all. I've seen blogs and other web pages which are rife with idiosyncratic orthography (spelling errors, to the less pretentious), bizarre punctuation and clumsy phraseology. I can never be bothered with them, even though they might, for all I know, contain something of interest.

George Bernard Shaw (though he may have been borrowing or stealing on this occasion) once famously apologised for the length of a letter he had written, explaining that he had not had time to write a shorter one.

With this in mind, I divide all producers and consumers of written language into three categories: those who know instantly what Shaw meant, those who get it when it's explained, and those never get it.

The GOB is, of course, in the first group. He must, I fear, suffer, if the rest of us are to have any fun. And he doesn't get paid a single penny for it.

Life's a bitch.

M.J. Rose said...

I actually didn't say blogs don't sell books - its out of context. I said that no author should do a blog with the express purpose of using tha blog to sell books. The selling of the book is a by product that sometimes happens if the reader likes the tone and tenor of the blog and gets to know the blogger over time.

But as a main purpose? Nope - that's flogging.

Annette-newstart said...

How right you are about blogging taking time.No-one could blog in five mins.
When I blog, I have to wait for my husband to go out,and put on some soothing music (Maria Callas)
It takes a good 3-4 hours to write a blog, and then you re-read it and check for any spelling mistakes.
If I am disturbed then thats it, I am finished......and I don't take to kindly to that!!!

Andrew O'Hara said...

Lights and mirrors and nothing's real. Numerically, we reach more people with our ten million blogs than JGutenberg Inc. did with a 15th century press, but percentage-wise the old boy probably did far better. Who knows--if we were really honest about it, we'd admit we do all of this for the giggles. Johannes sure did.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Oh dear. So you reveal a personality that puts potential readers right off your books... And when you start your next book there just isn't so much time and creativity left in the day, so you fail to update it and you're a lazy boring git whose books no one would buy... What have I let myself in for?