Friday, March 24, 2006

Short bits

Hotel Chelsea blog

The Chelsea Hotel in New York argues, with some justification, that everyone who's anyone has stayed there at some time or other, and the latest to get a mention on the hotel blog is Alexander Masters, who won the Guardian First Book Award in 2005 for his biography of a homeless man.

At first the Chelsea blogger thought there was no connection between Alexander Masters and the hotel. But he was wrong. The novelist Joan Brady has this to say:
In re Alexander Masters, he is in fact the great nephew of Edgar Lee Masters, who lived at the Chelsea for many years. I am his mother. His father was Dexter Masters, Lee's nephew. That is, he is not unrelated to the hotel at all. Furthermore, all three of us stayed at the Chelsea for over a month in 1970 or 1971.
Which is all perfectly clear, I hope. Though it reminds me somewhat of the statement made by Mary Gordon, the cousin of the nineteenth-century poet Algernon Swinburne, when she described their relationship as follows:

Our mothers (daughters of the third Earl of Ashburnham) were sisters; our fathers, first cousins -- more alike in characters and tastes, and more linked in closest friendship, than many brothers. Added to this, our paternal grandmothers -- two sisters and co-heiresses -- were first cousins to our common maternal grandmother; thus our fathers were also second cousins to their wives before marriage.
Concentrate, concentrate. It is, as I say, all perfectly simple. And it explains a great deal about why Algernon was so peculiar.

The Bookseller Crow

The Bookseller Crow on the hill looks like an enterprising independent bookshop in south-east London. What's more it has a blog. Click on the Bedside Crow. The bookshop owner is, it seems, a gentleman trader from the shires who struggles to make ends meet in sarf London, aided, he reports, by a wife who has three separate jobs. Well quite, quite. One understands.

I'm not sure whether the gentleman trader's wife knows, but he has taken an interest in books which have pictures of girls in knickers on the front. And there are quite a lot of them. I hadn't noticed this trend myself, so perhaps I ought to get out more.

Agents' blogs

I mentioned the other day that I'd forgotten the name of another agent's blog that I was going to recommend. So Carla Nayland kindly wrote and pointed me to one, Pub Rants, by Kristin Nelson. No, that isn't it. Neither is it one of those other blogs by agents that Kristin lists for us. But all are worth a look, especially if you're looking for an agent yourself. And, eventually, I noticed that one of those blogs linked to by Kristin actually mentioned the blog I originally had in mind: Agent 007.

Agent 007 offers a link, among other things, to Seth Godin's advice for non-fiction writers. His first point: 'Book publishing is an organised hobby, not a business. The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous.' I like that. It's a point made here time after time, of course, but Seth Godin is one of the world's top marketing men, and it's nice to have someone who punches with that weight share your opinion.

My view: being an agent is the toughest job in the business.

Short stories

L. Lee Lowe has posted another short story on his blog, Into the Lowlands. Now, whether you think this is terrific, so-so, or bloody awful, the fact is that it's there, some people are aware of it (you and me for starters), and it's one way to do things. If you write a stunner, you can bet that someone will send an email to someone else, and so on.

Bill Walsh writes a novel

Amazon sent me an email which I was about to delete without reading, when I realised that it claimed that I had previously bought a book by Bill Walsh. Have I indeed, I thought. News to me. But when I followed it up I realised that it's true.

Bill Walsh is the author of Lapsing into a Comma, talked about here on 25 March last year. But unfortunately -- or fortunately -- the Comma Bill Walsh is not the same Bill Walsh as the author of Matilda, a book to be published by Penguin Ireland in April 2006. That Bill Walsh is a retired plasterer, whereas the Comma Bill Walsh is the Washington Post copy chief.

So, nice try, Amazon. But next time try checking a few facts.

Things could be worse

Is life treating you badly? Need cheering up? If so, go see the Word Pangs guy. He's got some links which will have you chortling in no time.

I jest, of course. Actually there's some serious stuff here. For those interested in the writing/depression link, for instance, there is a 1994 article from the New York Times which is more than relevant. And there's another link to the Wikipedia entry on writers who committed suicide. This will certainly set you back on your heels somewhat. It did me, anyway. And it doesn't even mention Tom Heggen.

Word Pangs also has some very funny stuff as well. You will be pleased to hear.

Welsh wizardry

The Western Mail gets excited this a.m. (Link from Seems there's this small Welsh publisher, Crown House Publishing, who published a book by Janey Lee Grace, a presenter on BBC Radio 2. Title: Imperfectly Natural Woman. Subject: tips on living a green and holistic lifestyle.

Initial print run was 10,000. It came out in January, and no one took much notice. But then Janey mentioned it on the radio and it took off. Currently it is no. 2 in sales on The first 10,000 are gone and the firm is reprinting.

Hmm. Maybe steam radio is still pretty effective.


Anonymous said...

I suspect it's me that needs to get out more. Many thanks for the mention.

Anonymous said...

I followed the Chelsea blog for a time and find it a bit transparently promotional and probably put out by someone on the hotel payroll--which then leaves me a bit skeptical of its elaborate stories. Much like what one would read on the back of a dinner menu. In that sense, nice work.

As far as the suicide list, it's obvious that one is much safer to have a name that starts with "N." If, on the other hand, a publisher thinks a front-page suicide will help promotions, they should pull the B's, C's and P's out of the slush pile.

Anonymous said...

I have just read Seth Godin's advice to authors.

He wishes us to know that writing non-fiction is, at best, a paid hobby and not a way to make serious money. No doubt he is right. But it is the illuminated sub-text of his piece that really interests me. This is where he says (without, of course, saying it) that there are exceptions to the rule – which is designed only for the 'little people' – and that he, Godin, is an exception as big as the Ritz.

For those of who are, as it were, un-exceptional, his words offer little comfort.

I have a new book on sale. It is a memoir, called The Beginning of the End – The Crippling Disadvantage of a Happy Irish Childhood, published by Mainstream of Edinburgh.

It's a strong story, full of sex and violence and down-home family values. I worked hard on it. So did my editor at Mainstream. My publisher then offered to pay for me to fly over from New York to promote sales in Ireland and the UK.

So far, so good. But there's more. The Beginning of the End (remember the title!) was serialised in the Sunday Times; it received splendid reviews in the Daily Mail and the Belfast Telegraph, and a good one in the Sunday Times (with others yet to come). I wrote articles for Scotland on Sunday and the Belfast Telegraph and was interviewed on Radio Ulster, Ulster Television and RTE in Dublin, as well as by radio stations in Hull, Glasgow and Bristol. Finally, I was a guest last Saturday on Ned Sherrin's Loose Ends.

Boy, was I good! My tour was a triumph.

Lots of promotion, then. Sadly, that was when I hit the wall. For the simple fact of the matter is that Waterstone's, Borders, Ottokars, W H Smith and Books Etc were not interested. They couldn't care less. I doubt that more than 100 copies of the book found their way onto the English market in the first two weeks after publication. Almost all of my sales have been restricted to Ireland, whose population, though more literary minded on the whole than that of England, is a mere five million.

Why is this? I could go on about the need to "pay" for space. If you want to get your book onto the Big Tables these days, you have to shell out a small fortune – which for a company like Mainstream is financially prohobitive.

But it is in fact a lot simpler than that. There are far too many books published these days in the UK – 159,000 last year alone, against 75,000 in the US. Most might as well go straight from the printers to the pulping room.

British bookshops cannot hope to give houseroom to more than a tenth of the country's annual book production. If they did, bookshops would have to swell to the size of cathedrals. The result is that the bigger publishers pay a hefty premium for space (as much as £50,000), while almost everyone else goes to the wall.

If you have been paid a big advance, your book becomes an investment that has to be protected. If you haven't, the publisher has nothing to lose. Booksellers, meanwhile, expect to be paid at both ends – first when the books come in, second when they are sold to the punters. It is the retailers who effectively control both supply and demand.

It is not a happy situation. What's a chap to do?

All that can save me now is word of mouth. I therefore appeal to the readers of England. Get out there and demand my book. I have done my bit. The publishers have done theirs. Now it's up to you.

In the name of God!

Walter Ellis

Anonymous said...

Walter, I read your comments and they almost broke my heart. However, since I had a very similar experience to accompany the recent publication of my own book, my heart was already broken. john

Anonymous said...


As the owner of an independent (quality) bookshop in rural Somerset my thoughts are that the cover price of £9.99 paperback is too high for most bookshops to take your book on spec. You might also care to note that Bertram's (the independent wholesalers) quote a lead time of 14 days from order placement and a probable discount of only 25%.

On an average month I scan lists of approx 4,000 new titles - I would never order more than 50 new titles each month. (I take all stock firm sale (my decision)this is mostly all non-fiction)

Its tough out there for everybody except the lucky 5% : authors, publishers, and yes even the terrestial bookshops.

My shop is open today : I work 7 days a week. Wages, you must be joking, I would make more collecting trolleys at the local Tesco : I do however have an occupation which would be the envy of most working people.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Andrew has never met the management of the Chelsea Hotel if he thinks that the bloggers are on the payroll. Management is not going to pay for bloggers to write about junkies shooting up in the bathroom.

sparkle hayter said...

No, Andrew, the Chelsea blog is not written by anyone on the hotel payroll --just by two long time residents (and former neighbros of mine on the third floor) who love the place.

The truth is stranger than fiction at the chelsea -- probably everywhere, but most certainly at bhe chelsea hotel.

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