Monday, October 17, 2005


Here are a few odds and ends which cropped up over the weekend.

Book output

Bowker, big name in bibliographic data, have released some latest figures for book production in the English-speaking world.

Altogether, publishers in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, issued 375,000 new titles and new editions in 2004. Add in a few books imported from elsewhere, and you get about 450,000 books in English published in one year.

Broken down by country, Publishers Lunch reckons that the US issued 195,000 books, of which 25,000 were novels. The UK (with a population about one fifth that of the US) put out 180,000 titles.

Anyone worried about competition?

Agents' blogs

Publishers Lunch also mentioned a couple of agents' blogs that I hadn't come across before. First, Agent Kate. This one is full of lots and lots of good advice. Read, learn, and inwardly digest. Here, for instance, is a list of things Kate does not want you to write to her about:

1. Hurricane Katrina. Sorry Folks. Not Yet. The only good 9/11 books didn't come out until this year. Give it time.
2. Grieving spouses. Yes, I am a heartless bitch.
3. Paranormal Romance. You won't BELIEVE how many queries I get containing these two words a week.
4. Religious Conspiracy. The Da Vinci Code is so over.
5. Any detective formerly or currently working for the FBI, CIA, local, regional, or federal police, or in private practice. Why can't normal people solve murders? Butchers. More butchers should solve murders. Just think of the suspense.
6. Any work of fiction or non-fiction primarily written in letter form.
7. Fiction with a billion different narrators. Pick one and commit, people.

Another agent with a blog, this time not anony/pseudonymous, is Andrew Zack. Among other things, Andrew issues some monthly data about the number of submissions received by his company, and the number of people who are taken on as clients. Posts are by no means daily but appear to be useful.

Dark Fire wins

C.J. Sansom's historical mystery novel, Dark Fire, was reviewed here favourably on 22 March 2005. And now we hear from Publishing News that the author has won this year's Ellis Peter Historical Dagger award. This 'Dagger' is handed out annually for the year's best historical crime novel; judges are appointed by the Crime Writers' Association of the UK.

Thought for the day (which has probably been debated ad nauseam by the CWA, but you may care to consider it as an intellectual exercise): Should the phrase 'Crime Writers' Association' have an apostrophe at all? And whether you answer yes or no, should there be a hyphen in there somewhere?

Personally I think there is a case for omitting the apostrophe when the word which might be apostrophised describes, either on its own or as part of a compound adjective, what sort of noun it is, rather than who it belongs to.

I have support in this (I think) from no less an authority than Bill Welsh, author of Lapsing into a Comma, and the man who runs a web site called The Slot, where such arcane issues are debated.

In his book, Walsh takes the view that some usages are merely labels, not possessives. Dodgers' pitcher Don Drysdale..., he says, does not need an apostrophe. On the other hand, The award went to the Dodgers' pitcher Don Drysdale... is correct.

Search me

You may have noticed that this blog is driven by Blogger machinery, and that, right at the top of the page, there is a search facility, using Google. This search facility purportedly searches the GOB, and it has recently been 'improved'. And now it doesn't work.

Suppose, for instance, you want to know whether I have previously written about the novel "dark fire" and you type the title, in inverted commas, into the search box. You get a nil return. Or at any rate I do. But I know damn well that I've written about it before.

To find the reference, I had to go to the main Google search facility. There you type in "grumpy old bookman" plus "dark fire", and you get the answer you are looking for.

Sorry about that but it ain't my fault.

Digital developments

Saturday's Financial Times included an article by Nicola Christie about the 'digital revolution' in filmmaking. It's not directly relevant to the world of books, but it is a useful reminder that digitisation is changing everything; and fast. I keep banging on about this in relation to books, and it's all true, believe me.

I think one of the reasons why I am so conscious of the pace of change here is that I am comfortably old enough to remember what the world was like before we had any of this. Not only that, but I realise that even the experts were slow to catch on to the pace of change.

About twelve years ago I had a boss who was an American professor of electrical engineering. He was keenly interested in all things computational, and he had on his desk a state-of-the-art machine on which he had loaded every piece of software then known to man.

'You know,' he said to me one day, his voice filled with awe, 'pretty soon we shall have hard drives which will hold one gigabyte of data. I think that will be enough,' he added. 'Even for me.'

Today, folks, my one-year-old, pretty much bog-standard machine has a hard drive with 80Gb capacity.

Genre debate today has a link to an article in the Guardian. It seems that some senior figures in the crime-writing world have been saying what I've been saying ever since this blog began, namely that there is no reason whatever for supposing that genres such as crime and science fiction are in any way 'inferior' to literary fiction; rather the reverse, if anything. In particular, they suggest, the Booker Prize thing gets everything out of perspective. Guardian columnist Peter Preston seems to agree with them.


Anonymous said...

Agent Kate:

Fantastic advice! These agents really know their stuff. If only I’d listened when they were all screaming for 900-pages on boy wizards or dramatic reworkings of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail.


Butchers solving crimes? What can I say but… genius! I’m right on it. All of my crime writing with an experienced policeman as the central character is in the bin. It’s butchers for me from now on.

In fact, that book I was writing about the romance (in letter form) between a former (dead) CIA spook and the grieving wife of a 9/11 victim is for the shredder and I don’t mind telling how red my face is right now. (Although I’ll admit that getting the letters delivered during Hurricane Katrina was causing me some difficulties, so I’m glad to be shot of it.)

“Queries containing those two words…” How tiresome it must be, the life of a bestsellerologist; to have to see “those two words” amongst all those queries written by all those dim-witted and seriously misguided souls. No doubt the poor things even wrote a couple of hundred thousand words before branding themselves with the mark of the beast.

Yes indeed, she is, as she claims, a heartless bitch.

But oh, for a heartless bitch who’ll just read the damn thing instead of imagining how shit it would be if she, an agent (I might have been a writer myself if I’d had any talent) had written it instead of the idiot who wasted five precious seconds of the time that might have been better spent with her head stuck up the arse of a celebrity.

Writing lessons from agents?

Better had she written something resembling advice that can result in publication:

1. Shag an agent.

2. If you can’t shag an agent shag a publisher.

3. If you can’t shag an agent or a publisher consider oral sex.

4. If you are unable to perform any of the above write a crime novel with a butcher as the central character. (You might as well because you’re not getting published anyway.)

Francis Ellen. (Embittered writer)

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