Friday, June 02, 2006

Weekend roundup

Tim Coates on libraries

Tim Coates is an increasingly well known critic of the UK public-library system. See, for instance, his 2004 report, Who's in Charge? Well, now he's got a blog, on which he can berate the Mr Grimsdykes of this world for their overall cluelessness, if not downright malice. (Thanks to Maxine at Petrona for the link.)

Poems in the dark

Vincent Spada, whose Auntie lists were mentioned here last week, has a more serious side. He's a poet; and if you go to Poems in the Dark you can find examples. I rather line this one, if he will forgive me for quoting it:


One always thinks when one is young
that they are a song yet to be sung
Fame and fortune are just a matter of time
No mountain is too high for them to climb

But the years roll by, too quickly, it seems
and, one by one, end all of your dreams
The truth prevails, and you finally see
that what never was can never be
For that is life

Vin is looking for a publisher for his poetry and stories, so if you like that example you could go take a look.

More Mitzi

Mitzi Szereto, as has been noted here a few times, is an erotic writer who gives talks and courses on how to do it. Write erotic fiction, that is. And she's in London:
Date: Wednesday 14 June 2006
Time: 6.30 for 7 p.m.
Venue: The Boardroom (3rd Floor, off the music section), Foyles Bookshop, Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0EB
Nearest Tube: Tottenham Court Road
Admission: free to members; £3.00 non-members
The event is sponsored by Women in Publishing, a non-profit organisation devoted to promoting the status of women in publishing.

Abebooks 10th anniversary

Abebooks is possibly the most successful online conglomerate for secondhand-book dealers, though I gather, from various mutterings, that not all such dealers are happy with abebooks's current arrangements for dividing the loot. However, if you are looking for something obscure, published in 1923, or even 1973, abebooks is in my view a pretty good place to start.

Currently is celebrating its tenth anniversary in business, an occasion which has led to the invention of certain non-books, such as Henry VIII's Making Marriage Work. Henry made his marriages work, as you will doubtless recall, by chopping the heads off some of his various wives. Drastic, but certainly effective.

Judgement Day for McCrum

Nobody likes McCrum much. I didn't have anything nice to say about his Observer article on Tuesday; Roger Morris wasn't too impressed; and Francis Ellen wrote a lengthy crit as a comment on another post of mine (you can find it here). Bournemouth Runner at the Art of Fiction was confused by it, even after two readings. But at the very similar-sounding Tart of Fiction it got a somewhat warmer reception.

Actually I'm not sure the damn thing deserved all that attention.

Digitally dubious

From time to time we have noted, you and I, that the internet has sometimes been used to catapult people to fame and fortune without their having to go through the tedious process of finding an intermediary, to market their work to the general public.

Thus, for instance, we had the musical group Arctic Monkeys, finding an audience, selling lots of records, and recently getting themselves a US tour, all without benefit of a contract with one of the big-time recording companies. This was a process which deeply impressed Val Landi, for example, since it appeared to offer hope that he, and others, could achieve similar things with fiction.

Well, maybe. As for me, I sat here sighing and thinking to myself that it would not be long before someone took this apparent route to success and -- shall we say -- added a few creative wrinkles to it.

Hence I was not altogether surprised to open my Times on Wednesday and find a headline which said: Singer denies rise to fame was result of internet scam.

Seems that Sandi Thom became famous by webcasting concerts from her basement flat. But now Sandi has had to deny that her success is the result of 'music's most ambitious internet scam.' It's a longish story, but there's a professional publicist involved, and when asked to verify the claimed audience figures he replied that 'his expertise was generating publicity, not technology.'

Now, it seems, 'Chart companies are on the lookout for internet hype. The Modern were removed from the Top 40 when the Official UK Charts Company noticed a pattern of multiple download purchases of their track. The band blamed overzealous fans for ordering too many copies.'

And all like that.

Calamity Physics

While reading the Scotsman, earlier this week, in connection with the Troup/Hanso Corporation business, I chanced across a link to a web site plugging the novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl.

I don't go much on hi-tek web sites, being a relatively recent convert to broadband, and this one is, I think, the fanciest I've ever come across. I certainly wouldn't advise going there unless you have got broadband, because I think it would take fifteen minutes to get from page to page.

That said, the site is reasonably interesting and inviting, and certainly very clever. It also has a sense of humour. And music.

I was doing quite well with it, and quite looking forward to reading Marisha's novel, until I came across the following endorsement from Jonathan Frantzen: 'Beneath the foam of this exuberant debut is a dark, strong drink.'

Oh dear. That is not a good sign. There I was, thinking that this might be some really clued-up writer who has not only written a skiffy thing but bolted together, with some very clever friends, this elaborate plug for it. Seems not. The book is going to be published by Viking in August. And, given the time and trouble taken over this web site, we are assuredly going to hear a lot more about it before then.

Publishers Weekly have given Special Topics in Calamity Physics a starred review, saying about it (among other things): 'This novel is many things at once—it's a campy, knowing take on the themes that made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity.'

Hmm. This isn't encouraging either. The Secret History I never finished; just couldn't see what the hell everyone was on about. Prep I've never even heard of.

And for a minute there it all looked so promising.


Three additions to the blogroll this week, all of them by Brits. Roger's Plog is by Roger Morris, author of the MNW-published Taking Comfort. Then there's The Art of Fiction, the author of which, as far as I can see, wishes to remain anonymous. And finally the wonderfully titled The Tart of Fiction, who is also a shy lady.

Booksellers deeply hurt and upset

On Monday last we noted the Sunday Times 'revelation' that booksellers were charging publishers for putting their books in prominent piles, including them in 3 for 2 promotions, and all like that. And the booksellers, it seems, considered all this a wicked slur upon their integrity.

Publishing News has the story (link from And we do actually learn something from it. We learn, for instance, that Nicholas Clee (nor surprisingly) got it right when he said that the booksellers choose which books they think will go, and then approach the publishers to launch a joint effort (hence the term co-op).

We also have Jon Howells, of Ottakar's, wondering aloud why the Sunday Times was 'revisiting such an old story'. It's because they haven't the wit to go out and find a new one, that's why. He also adds: 'The supermarkets don’t get a mention, or Amazon, and the extra discount the publishers give them is far more expensive than paying a few quid for a bookstore promotion.'

And there's more. Worth looking at.

Joe Wikert's view from the top

Finally this morning, here's another top publishing man who has a blog. Joe Wikert is Vice President and Executive Publisher in the Professional/Trade division of John Wiley & Sons. His primary responsibilities are for books for software developers and IT people, so he knows a thing or two about digital. (Link from Publishers Lunch.)

If you scroll down the right-hand side of Joe's blog, you will find that he has highlighted a number of previous posts under various headings (excellent idea -- must try to find time myself). Lots and lots of good stuff here, such as A skeptic's view of authoring; Agents: do you need one?; Self-publishing; and more.

This blog is mainly for non-fiction writers, but is also of general interest.


ivan said...

Mr. Vincent Spada's REALITY:

While I appreciate that a poem should not state, but be, the REALITY poem is indeed somewhat in the dark.
Many of us get to the blessed state Mr. Spada is talking about, perhaps even Mr. Spada himself,but we get there perhaps too early, don't respect the success and yield to all sorts of excesses.
Then reality does set in and we are knocked from the mountaintop, banished from the achieved dream.

He whom the gods would destroy they first call promising--whatl9th century wag said that?
I had the good luck to attend a fine school in which there was a publishing outlet for poems and short stories. I published quite a bit, won some notoriety and was almost immediately hired by the Toronto Star. I married well, perhaps too well and by thirty-two, things were so good that I just wanted to jump up and grab my own tail. The dream had been achieved. Total success at 32.
But then the Norman Mailer ride, the bottles, the light drugs. And then the publishing was not so good any more, the mental blocks more frequent. "You can't get it up any more, Ivan, the editors would say.
Happily,like Mr. Mailer, I got to write about the problem, got it serialized in a magazine called TOPIC out this way and soon published my own Advertisements for Myself...Got it all down just by the skin of my teeth. More fame. More money. And then, and then...
Maybe Mr. Spada's poem was closer to the truth than I thought!

Anonymous said...

Oh God. Booksellers, accused yet again of selling prime floor space and places on their lists of recommendations, are, the GOB tells us, 'deeply hurt and upset'.

Let’s just take one example of what have become known as co-op promotions (i.e. promotions requiring the cooperation of bookseller and publisher). At the end of the year, publishers will be paying WH Smith’s £50,000 per title per week for inclusion in their special Christmas promotions.

But that’s all fine and dandy. We know it is, because Nicholas Clee (who, as a former editor of The Bookseller, must know what he’s talking about) has explained it: there is no question of bookshops promoting books simply because they are paid to do so; they only accept money from the publishers to promote books that they would promote anyway.

Please, please listen: if a publisher refuses to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds to get his titles onto Smith’s lucrative Christmas list, what do you think will happen? If Mr Clee is to be believed Smith’s will say, ‘Makes no difference. We’re going to promote your books whether you pay us or not.’

Excuse me while I scream at the top of my voice, holding my head tightly between my hands to keep it from blowing apart. I’m trying to work out just how stupid you’d have to be to believe this, and I can’t quite get there. It’s off the scale. No explanation of what is really going on should be necessary, but if even the GOB is taken in, then I’d better have a go.

With an increasingly sophisticated public now wary of advertisers’ claims, the advertisers have begun to cheat. Some, for example, now pay London cabbies to sing the praises of the product which they have contracted to push. The point is, of course, that the unfortunate victims of this form of advertising are conned into thinking that they are getting an impartial recommendation. Exactly the same thing is happening with these so called co-op book promotions.

Jon Howells of Ottakar’s lashes out at those who deplore the practice: ‘The supermarkets don’t get a mention, or Amazon, and the extra discount the publishers give them is far more expensive than paying a few quid for a bookstore promotion.’ (A few quid??)

Let me try to put this in simple terms. A discount is not a con trick. The only reason that publishers don't pay Amazon and the supermarkets to promote particular books is that Amazon (unless there's any truth in this story) and the supermarkets don't work that way. If they decided tomorrow to abandon discounts in favour of co-op promotions . . . Well, you surely don’t need me to complete the sentence.

The whole thing stinks. Next time you go into one of the big bookshops, wear a peg on your nose.

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