Friday, May 25, 2007

Weekend roundup

By the way, if the line spacing in this post looks odd, that's not my fault. New Blogger is about as reliable as New Labour -- i.e. seems to have gone completely crazy.

If you can rhyme, now's the time

Abebooks commissioned a sculptor to create a bookshelf entirely out of Harry Potter books. And it's being offered as a prize in a Harry Potter poetry competition. You could do far worse/ than to enter your verse.

Recruiters on the loose

Big row in the UK at the moment about Scientology. Personally I once tried to read Dianetics and failed utterly. Perhaps it was because I could never bring myself to have much faith in a belief system invented by a science-fiction writer.

For my own part, I belong to the apathetic-agnostic-atheist wing of the Church of England. This is a religious denomination of which you can remain a member in good standing by attending church on three occasions only: when you are christened, married, and buried; and the first two are optional. You can be a fully paid-up member while doubting everything, believing nothing, and having no faith whatever in anything. I warmly recommend it.

Meanwhile, if you are accosted by eager young people who are keen to convert you to Scientology, the Times offers advice. You should say 'Xenu' to them. Repeatedly. Apparently, Xenu was an alien who visited the Earth 75 million years ago, but you aren't supposed to know about him until you have reached a senior level in Scientology; and, of course, have paid a commensurate fee.

S&S start chopping things about

Quite a lot of people are unimpressed by the new terms introduced into Simon and Schuster's contract -- e.g. the US Authors Guild. S&S/Touchstone were involved not so long ago in the Sobol competition debacle; and said competition was severely criticised by them as knows owt about publishing: e.g. Miss Snark.

However, as if that wasn't enough, Touchstone is now involved in yet another online 'competition' -- of sorts. Here's the press release. Galleycat says that the publishing world finds this latest S&S venture a trifle ridiculous.

Michael Cader, of Publishers Lunch, also read this press release, and promptly got on the phone to several of the participants. He discovered that the details are as clear as mud. Either MediaPredict declines to disclose them, or they have yet to be firmed up, e.g. with participating agents. Common sense, rather than inside information, suggests that you ought to be very cautious indeed before leaping forward to participate in this one.

Miss Snark retires

Miss Snark is another big-time blogger who has found it all too much and quit. But she leaves a formidable resource to dip into.

Publishers Lunch ain't free

Incidentally, you will find that I quite often make reference to the Publishers Lunch newsletter, written by Michael Cader, and if you click on my link you will find that you have to pay to receive the de luxe version. And you may feel that paying out good money for this purpose is quite unnecessary. Well, unnecessary it may be, but I think it's good value for anyone who is seriously trying to make headway in the book business. (Not a course of action that I would advise, by the way.) Cader is very much on the ball and has a refreshingly inquiring mind. His discussion of the MediaPredict business alone could save you a lot of heartache.

Here's another Publishers Lunch link. If you're thinking of becoming a ghost writer (smartest move in an otherwise dumb career, imho), then choose your agent carefully. Otherwise, you might end up paying a high commission and being sued.

Let the Devil die?

Radenko Fanuka argues that we should not let the Devil die. I didn't even know he was ill. In addition to poetry, Radenko has written a book, which has been well received by Amazon reviewers.

Viagra emails get through OK

I know we have to avoid giving needless offence to people, but some Americans seem to have their email filters set a bit high. Ron Hogan on Galleycat reports that one of his correspondents had trouble receiving a review of a book from him, because the book was entitled Impotence: a History.

Amateurs spoil it for the pros

M.J. Rose -- unsurprisingly, in view of her history as an earlier exploiter of online marketing opportunities -- takes a sensible line on the business of how to give it away on the web and still get paid. The web wants to be free. Don't ever doubt it.

Repeat after me

Jim Crace has a new book out. I tried one of his earlier novels and decided it was not for me, but I have a soft spot for him because of one story he tells. Seems he went into a bookshop to buy a copy of one of his own books for a friend. He asked the young man behind the till whether he had a copy of Whatever it Was, by Jim Crace, pronouncing his name (as he always does) to rhyme with race. The young man led the way to the shelf, remarking smugly as he went, 'I think you'll find that the author's name is pronounced Crar-chay.' Jim didn't say anything. Just handed over his credit card.

Now Croce, on the other hand... I remember another smug young man, forty years ago, telling me that, at Oxford, people were reading Croce again.

Madame gets around

Madame Arcati interviewed Jonathan King about the Eurovision song contest and his life in general. Naturally they touched on the state of popular music, and here's part of what Jonathan said. Does it ring any bells in another context?

The big problem at the moment is - the major music corporations are (rightly) dying in this download world and the thrashing of their death throes means we are being force fed crap which is their top priority but no good. However, the good news is... it's easier than ever for truly talented musicians to emerge via internet and other sources.
By the way, my principal objection to Eurovision this year was that it gave every impression of being mimed. But no one else has mentioned it, so perhaps it was just my suspicious mind. Anyway, even giving the impression is bad.

Madame, by the way, continues to mingle with the good and the great. Ah, dear reader, if only you and I could win the Booker -- or the pools, or the lottery -- we could do the same. Perhaps, like Madame, we should polish up the old crystal ball and learn what will be popular/prestigious in the future.

Cold Tree Press

You may remember that, some time ago, I reviewed Mark Levine's book The Fine Print of Self-Publishing. This contained detailed analyses of 48 companies which provide services for those who wish, in effect, to publish their own book.

One of the companies listed as 'outstanding' was the Cold Tree Press. Nip over to their web site and you can form a judgement for yourself. The company was founded and is run by Peter Honsberger, an award-winning graphic designer, and I think it shows. Levine also adds that the firm puts out well written and aesthetically pleasing books; and there is certainly an emphasis on authors having their work professionally edited.

I was prompted to look at this firm by a press release about Gary Paul Corcoran's novel The Trip into Milky Way. This is not, it turns out, a novel that I want to read, for a variety of reasons, but I can see clearly enough how it came to be written. I can also believe that it will strike a chord with readers of a certain age and background: Americans who were young and hopeful in the 1960s, but are not so young now -- and, who knows, maybe not so hopeful.

Mitzi is still at it -- apparently insatiable

Mitzi Szereto -- you remember her, I'm sure -- is preparing a book of female sexual fantasies. The aim being (and this is a serious academic study, I will have you know; Black Lace books have a reputation for that kind of thing) to shed light on the female psyche at this particularly significant point in the new millennium. Or something like that.

If you want to take part, you go to the Black Lace web site and fill in the questionnaire. Or try to. It's not easy to find, and when you do get to the right page it says 'reader questionnaire to follow soon'. Little right hand/left hand problem here one feels, but never mind. You get the general idea. (Original link from

Of course it would be wholly inappropriate for any gentlemen of a mischievous turn of mind to invent a female persona and sign up in her name, so to speak. That would distort the whole thing, and introduce a bias into the findings which would deeply distress all seekers after the truth. So don't even think of it. Heh heh heh.


Maud Newton found an article which introduced me to some hitherto unknown rules of English grammar. And I bet you don't know them either.

Mike Palacek has a fictional vision of a near-future world in which neo fascists can stick you in jail for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Totally incredible, as I'm sure you will agree; couldn't possibly happen here. Fiction gone mad.

Meanwhile, on the same general subject of combating terrorism, you might like to read last Sunday's review by Max Hastings of a new book by Professor Hennessy.

Michael Cader of Publishers Lunch draws attention to a rather nauseating post on the Google Book Search blog (cute kid, if you please). But behind this curious way of announcing something lie some key developments in the Google Book Search programme. Cader seems to have tested the system out and is so far not wildly enthusiastic about the actual results. A succinct explanation is available here.

Cader also reports that HarperCollins Publishers' Chief Executive Jane Friedman just didn't understand what The Dangerous Book for Boys meant. It means dollar signs, darling; very simple. Fortunately her sales staff urged her to stick with the title. The book had been a hit in England and Australia, and, in just two weeks, Dangerous has become the breakout hit of the US season. Despite taking out the stuff about cricket.

In the Times, Philip Kogan tells what it's like to run a small academic publishing house. (Hard work. Helps to be a workaholic.)

Over at Galleycat, Ron Hogan beats up some clown from the LA Times who thinks that bloggers are a lower form of life and should have their licence to write confiscated. Give him a kick from me, Ron.

At, self-published or small-press authors get a chance to sell their books and, er, mingle with their readers. This is not a process that will appeal to everyone, but some will love it. Especially, I suspect, a certain kind of reader. Video, podcasts, and all like that. And there's a reader-driven knockout competition to identify 'the top 100 indie books'.

Word is (via Galleycat) that Rosie de Courcy is joining Random House UK. But she is described as a 'veteran publisher'. This makes me feel old. Bloody hell, I had an interview with Rosie when she was still a teenager, fresh her first triumph of persuading some US paperback firm to pay a ridiculous sum of money for some bodice-ripper (can't remember the details). We got on OK but she didn't buy my book.

And finally...

... which may be a considerable relief if you've got this far. Bloggers are firmly put in their place by... no. no. Must resist the temptation to say what I really think about this woman, especially after yesterday's piece on libel. But one Sheila Kohler says this:

Occasionally someone may mention my books in a blog. I believe the dangers of this indiscriminate reporting on books is that people who have no knowledge of literature can air their views as though they were of value and may influence readers.
(Link from Galleycat.) God forbid, of course, that anyone should ever believe any of the crap that people put on blogs. This brilliant piece of analysis comes, by the way, from a woman who has just hired a publicist, who is, naturally, contacting lots of blogs....

As I have frequently said, the first requirement for working in the book world is a sense of humour.


Anonymous said...

I appreciate Ms. Kohler's reminder that books could not survive in a world without newspaper critics--yea, without newspaper critics, what would happen to our children and our children's children?

Anonymous said...

"...a sense of humour." Very funny, Michael!
Enjoy your holiday...don't take any wooden nickels.


Julia Buckley said...

Someone accused me of being a fundamentalist Dawkins fan the other day. I do quite like him.

Suzan Abrams, email: said...

Just to let you know your line spacing doesn't look odd at all, Michael.
But you're right. New Blogger is crazy ie. slightly mad!

Anonymous said...

Jim Crace is hilarious -- a funny, kind, and generous man (and a kick-ass writer, too). A couple of weeks ago he was at the Free Library in Philadelphia and told the audience some very amusing stories about his adventures as a writer (including his invented-by-Amazon book, "Useless America"). He also read part of "The Pesthouse" and, by God, if the man wanted to pen an ode to a vacuum cleaner, I would want to read it. No one writes more beautiful prose than Crace.

Afterwards, my husband and I were honored to have him join us for dinner and J.C.'s son-of-a-groundskeeper lore solved a big problem we have with our lawn: He told me to give our dog ketchup with her food and then when she waters the lawn, she won't kill the grass.

How many novelists know stuff like that?

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