Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday morning

Bullshit jobs

Galleycat reports on a launch party for Stanley Bing's book 101 Bullshit Jobs... and How to Get Them. And there's an excerpt from the book, dealing with agents and book editors, which might amuse you. Of book editors, Bing says, 'the more [money] you make, the more access you have to the highest, rocket-grade bullshit imaginable.' He also adds: 'The great book editor is at once a gifted salesperson, an arbiter of taste, a babysitter of lost souls, and a closet boulevardier. God bless them, both of them.'

Sounds to me as if he's been there and done it.

Boris on why women read

In the Telegraph, Boris Johnson has an article about why women read fiction. Actually it's not only about that: it's a wide-ranging article dealing with social changes in the UK. But when we get to the reading fiction bit, here is Boris's conclusion:

The reason women devour so much fiction is that it is the only place where they can find a certain idea of masculinity. It is a spirit that has been regulated out of the workplace and banished from the classroom.

Women turn to fiction, I would guess, because it is the last reservation for men who are neither violent thugs nor politically correct weeds, where a girl can still get her bodice ripped without the bodice ripper being locked up.

Now that seems about right to me, although Michael Schaub, of Bookslut, who led me to the article, didn't seem to think much of it.

Most UK readers of this blog will know who Boris is, but in case you don't you can find out on Wikipedia. Personally I wish he was Prime Minister.

Calling Joanna Trollope fans

OK, here's the deal. On 26 June the BBC World Service will be interviewing Joanna Trollope on the World Book Club programme. You can find details on the BBC's appropriate web page. The discussion will centre on one book in particular, The Rector's Wife.

If you have read this book, and would like to ask the author a question about it, then here's your chance. Send an email to You can use this address right up until the day of the broadcast, but the sooner the better.

If you visit the BBC site, you will see that the same page has links to numerous previous interviews which you can still listen to: about 30 or 40 of them, including all the usual literary suspects but also Martin Cruz Smith, Ken Follett, Ruth Rendell, Terry Pratchett, and other big commercial names.

More on the Book Depository

New online retailer the Book Depository, mentioned here some ten days ago, is a bigger and more elaborate outfit than I had realised, though I still don't think that the home page makes it immediately obvious what the site actually does. And as I'm a simple sort of chap I like to be told these things. Anyway, just how big and elaborate a business it is is explained in Publishing News.

Book sales in Europe

British and American publishers have for some time been fighting a small, quiet war over the right to sell books in English on the continent of Europe. Now the bosses of some European book businesses have made it plain that they want an open market. Details in

Jordan on horseback

We have already noted, you and I (15 March to be precise), that Katie Price, aka the stupendously well endowed (if with assistance) model Jordan, is to publish a novel in July. Entitled Angel, the cover looks quite remarkably dull to me.

However, there is good news. Publishing News reports that Katie is to plug the book by riding a horse down Oxford Street, dressed as an angel. Now angels aren't usually dressed like Lady Godiva, dammit, but Jordan is a lively lass and I dare say she would do it if there were enough requests. Go on, write in. Her publisher (Arrow/Random House) don't have a web site for her listed on their list of author sites, so you'll just have to write to them. Not that they want you to, of course. Publishers don't want to be bothered by mere members of the public: see their contact page, which definitely warns you off.

By the way, Angel has so far subbed 150,000 copies. 'Subbed' in the UK book trade, means ordered by the retail trade in advance of publication.

Irvine Welsh interview

The Book Standard has an interview with Irvine Welsh, of Trainspotting fame.

Treat to look forward to

Hey, you know what I found out? Susanna Clarke has a new book coming out. In October, subject to change. Entitled The Ladies of Grace Adieu, it's being issued by Bloomsbury. Looks like a collection of short stories. Well, she published a few of those while she was writing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, and I thought they were pretty good.

How not to advertise

Saturday's Times has a Books section, and then another section entitled The Knowledge: this latter deals with 'the cultural week', and has info on films, theatre, music, galleries, et cetera, plus the week's TV and radio listings.

In last Saturday's The Knowledge there was an advert for a book entitled The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole by Stephanie Doyon. The ad occupied most of a page, and advertising space in the Times is not cheap.

Apart from a picture of the book, the ad ran as follows (all in capital letters): Stand by me meets a confederacy of dunces in this enchanting story spanning three generations in small town America.

Now... What the fuck, as I believe the young people say. I tried this on Mrs GOB, and it meant absolutely nothing to her. It does mean something to me, but not a lot. Stand by me is presumably a reference to the 1986 film of that name, which I never saw but which is, I suppose, tolerably well known if you happen to have been around in 1986 and were paying any attention to films at the time. All I remember about it is that it was about a bunch of boys.

Then there's a confederacy of dunces. This is, equally presumably, a reference to the novel of that name which won the Pulitzer prize in 1981. I tried to read it and found it the most excruciatingly dull book that I'd read in a very long time. It is chiefly famous because the author committed suicide; it is said that he became depressed following numerous rejections of his novel, which was only published through the efforts of his mother after his death. As for what it's about -- I remember nothing.

So -- what we now have is an expensive advert for a paperback (no price given), published by Bloomsbury, and the only thing this ad tells us is that the book might, just conceivably, if you are extraordinarily well read and well movied, remind you of a couple of things which appeared more than twenty years ago.

Does this strike you as a good way to spend a marketing budget?

Hope for the great unwashed

There's an ever-growing band of hopefuls (it seems to me) who believe that if you put stuff out in one form or another, even give it away free, and if it's really really good, then sooner or later it will attract the attention of a big-time publisher, and fame and fortune will be yours for ever more.

Should you happen to believe that particiular article of faith, then your faith will be reinforced by a Joel Rickett report in the Guardian (link from 'The cannier conglomerate publishers,' says Joel, 'are scouring blogs and specialist websites to find promising material. HarperCollins's paperback team, Harper Perennial, has turned up three books from small publishers that have created a stir; each will be reworked, redesigned and marketed to a wider audience.'

These three are Michael Norton's 'subversive ethical guide', 365 Ways to Change the World; a set of fantasy short stories, Magic for Beginners, by 'the cult American author' Kelly Link; and Belinda Rathbone's The Guynd, which traces the true story of how an American art historian fell in love with an eccentric Scottish laird.

Susan Hill on the Orange Prize

Last Saturday's (17 June) Times quoted Susan Hill's blog reference to the Orange Prize, which she helped to judge in 1996. 'The management team is feminist PC new Labour personified. It is the only prize I have judged where I was really, really unhappy with the whole tone of the way it was run.'

That blog entry was on 24 May. On 17 June Susan notes that what she writes is being noticed, as well she might, because what she has to say is always relevant and timely, and comes with a welath of experience behind it. Her blog is rapidly becoming essential reading.

On 17 June, for instance, she says this: 'The fact is that a lot - a lot, a lot, a lot - of people who read and buy books, now take absolutely no notice of the literary pages of the papers - indeed, they probably never glance at them.'

Damn right, sweetheart. Me included. Well, I do glance, but only to see what silly ideas they've come up with now. Like that book advert, mentioned above.

PDF made simple

Someone wrote to me a while back and asked about how to make PDF files. I gave such advice as I could, though I am really the last person to ask about technical matters.

Basically, if you want to make really professional PDFs, you need the Adobe Acrobat programme, which is very expensive. I have an early version, which I used on Windows 95, but it doesn't work on Windows XP. I wonder why? Can Adobe be encouraging me to buy an upgrade?

There are various medium-priced programs, such as Serif Page Plus, which will allow you to convert a page layout to PDF. Serif is quite a good programme, but it takes a many hours to learn how to use it.

And there are also some free conversion programs. The trouble with the free ones, at any rate those of them that I've tried in the past, is that they sometimes alter the layout of the page when doing the conversion. This is something that I find totally unacceptable. In fact it drives me nuts.

However... Over the weekend I read an article which mentioned pdf995. This is free, if you can put up with a few adverts, and only costs $9.95 if you want to get rid of the ads. More to the point, it seems to work. I have only tried it on three files so far, but I deliberately chose as test pieces three files which I thought might give trouble, and the PDFs emerged just fine.

Much more testing is needed before I decide if I'm completely happy. And, as you would expect, this program lacks any kind of control over the extent to which images, for example, are compressed or not compressed.

For a lot of people, however, that kind of refinement is unnecessary anyway. Take a look. It's easy to download and absolutely straightforward to use (even for a non-techie like me).


Anonymous said...

RE:PDFs Or just download the free opensource office suite OpenOffice 2.0 and when you want to convert your file into a PDF click on an! Open Office is an excellent programme, and, in many ways, superior to Microsoft's Word et al. A good many corporations and public bodies, such as the state of Massachusetts, (whose policy of free online public access to documents was vulnerable to legal challenge because, it was argued, that being obliged to buy Microsoft software in order to access documents disenfranchised potential users). Several national government departments, such as in India, have successfully migrated to OpenOffice thus saving their taxpayers $millions in licence fees to Mr Gates. I was surprised that you are not already an OpenOffice user. Macmillan does not use OpenOffice either, as I found out when trying to submit a novel to newmacmillan writing. But, again, converting OpenOffice files to Windows files is straightforward, just a click, but sometimes requires some re-formatting. Why pay tax to Mr Gates when you can get better quality software for free?
Mr Arnott's rise to visibility was helped by his taking part in a BBC documentary which followed the fortunes of three would-be authors as they queried agents and publishers. Mr Arnott, then a resting jobbing actor, was the only one of the three to get near to landing any kind of deal. I can't remember the title or the date of the programme, but it was broadcast about five, maybe six, years ago.

Anne said...

I think it is appropriate to say that women look to fiction for a sense of masculinity. I believe that both men and women have been archetypally wounded and distorted over the centuries about their sense of self by various conditionings. The images we have of masculinity in this society are mainly based on the warrior or the reaction to it, which we see so much of in 'I'll be back and Asta La Vista Baby etc'. Men are confused in their true nature and so are women with society's obsession with youth, silicon and false. Real honest strong beautiful wholesome women have been made to feel wrong because they don't fit in with this image. It is time this claptrap ended, it sells product, it is not love,life and passion.

Anonymous said...

Re: Boris. Personally, I read fiction for various combinations of the following things: a) entertaining stories, b) thoughtful themes, c) lyrical prose, and d) interesting world-building. But perhaps I've been misunderstanding myself all these years? Maybe all I'm after is a Real Man? *rolls eyes*

EJ said...

Perhaps this will help to visualize the new book "The Greatest Man In Cedar Hole"

Stand By Me meets Confederacy of Dunces: A group of boys loiter about in a soiled bed eating a lot and letting their underwear get yellow.

Hope that helps.

Susan Hill said...

Don`t you just love spelling mistakes ? I do. I am SOOO proud of having a welath of experience. Thank you for your kind words, GOB ..respect.

Anonymous said...

"Stand by me" is (if memory serves) a film based on a Steven King short story.

Can't remember what the original story is called but I remember enjoying it.

I expect they changed the title so that they could name the film after a classic song and have the actors cavort about for the trailer.

It reminds me of an interview I read where Steven King said that rumours of him being able to publish his laundry list were exaggerated as he'd written an 'unpublishable' piece about a man who eats himself.

When I read King's comment I had already read the story (they shouldn't have published it; it was horrible).

Not that this has anything to do with anything at all but that reminds me of the movie 'Lawnmower Man' which stunk and was actually a Steven King short story title. They bought the story so that they could sell the movie as 'based on a Steven King story' even though only the title remained.

Any publishers reading this might want to have a look at my laundry list for potential publication. And the following short story titles are also available:

My Left Tit (My Left Foot meets Tony Blair)
The Cattle Prod and the Milkmaid (Ghosted by John Prescott.)

Publishers should feel free to add stories by proper writers (such as Jordan) to these titles as they see fit.

Anonymous said...

Boris's conclusion strikes me as utter twaddle.

Anonymous said...

Boris is a funny guy. He plays the buffoon so well, he must think we don't know he actually is one.

I think 'putz' is the technical term.

I have an article for the Telegraph. It's about a public school nitwit who achieves fame and fortune wildly beyond his intellect or talents and even though he got buggered repeatedly at school he's still a man's man for all that.

Anonymous said...

Book depository would probably be very reliant upon their third-party sales from Amazon.

Piggy backing on the corporate, discounting to make pence on titles, almost definitely making money out of the Amazon customer shipping charge due to a packet post contract with Royal Mail.

Plenty of companies doing it, nothing illegal : Amazon are very reliant upon their third party sales, which contribute a substantial part of the corporate's revenue.

Book depository have 192,681 ratings on Amazon in the past 12 months. If you reckon that only a figure of somewhere between one in five and one in ten buyers leave feedback than you quickly arrive at the annual trading figures as passed on Publishing News.

Perry Middlemiss said...

"Stand By Me" is based on the novella, "The Body", from King's collection "Different Seasons". This book also contained the stories "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" (filmed in 1994), "Apt Pupil" (filmed in 1998, with Gandalf in a starring role), and "Breathing Lessons".

"Stand By Me" is a reasonable "rites-of-passage" story about a group of boys in 50s USA who set out to find the body of a boy rumoured to have been killed by a train. The original collection contains some of King's best work and shows what he can do when he steps outside the horror genre.

Elizabeth Baines said...

Bill, I saw that documentary on would-be writer Jake Arnott. Either my memory is too tainted with bitchiness, or the TV production team made it up, or it really did happen that the publisher went down to agent Jonny Geller's office to look Jake over (and assess his personal marketability) before deciding whether or not to pull the cheque from his pocket. The programme purported to be out to expose this Cult of the Glamorous Author, but inevitably contributed to it.