Monday, July 31, 2006

Held over from Friday

HarperCollins romance

Galleycat reports that HarperCollins are inviting romance fans to contribute to a romance ebook, one chapter at a time.

Jane Friedman, CEO of HC, says 'We're creating an online community that will bring the fans closer to the authors we publish. If you are a fan and you get a communication from Julia Quinn, somebody you've been reading for years, then you'll be a fan of hers for life. And I think you'll become a fan of Avon's for life.'

Well, yes. And replying to fan letters always was a good idea. But now we're into 'online communities', which means that, to be a successful writer, you have yet another (unpaid) burden added to the list. Time was, all you had to do was write the books.

Grumpier than me

Actually I don't have any real reason to be grumpy. I don't depend on the book business for a living. In fact, I barely deal with the book business at all, except through a minimally profitable contract with a distributor (the UK wholesaler Gardners), who (extremely efficiently) send out whatever books of mine that people are eccentric enough to order. But there are those who are really involved in the book business, and have put their professional lives on the line for it.

One such is M.J. Rose, who has a background in marketing and advertising, as well as a successful track record in writing novels. In a recent post on Buzz, Balls and Hype, M.J. complains bitterly, giving examples other than her own, of publishing firms which, in her opinion, are still stuck in the Middle Ages and show no awareness of the need to change their ways.

Mass market blues

Went down to the bookstore, saw my baby there --
Yes, went down to the bookstore, saw my baby there.
Marked down to a dollar, can't get paid nowhere.

Or something like that.

Also on Buzz, Balls & Hype, M.J. Rose reproduces, with permission, James Grippando's piece for the MWA about the (alleged) death of the mass market paperback.

I must confess that, like the first commenter on the article, I was not too impressed by the reasoning in this one. The author almost suggests that buying anything other than a hardback at full price is immoral, and I wouldn't care to go down that route myself.

'Though the purchase of used books is not even the remote equivalent of pirating music off the Internet...' he says. Well that's good to know.

The Golden Age of Detection

Jon Jermey, mentioned here on 26 July, kindly drew my attention to the Golden Age of Detection Wiki, or GADetection for short, which is a very promising resource.

As its name suggests, the site is 'a comprehensive collection of material relating to the Golden Age of Detection - roughly from 1920 to 1960 - covering authors, books, magazines, ephemera and other details.'

First explorations suggest that this contains a great deal of useful information. For example, two of my favourite crime novelists are Margery Allingham and Colin Watson (click on their names for sight of my earlier essays on them). Here on GADetection both are featured, though not surprisingly there is far more about Allingham than Watson, who seems to have kept a low profile.

The General Discussion section also provides such gems as Ronald Knox's Ten Commandments for Detective Fiction. Knox, by the way, was one of the many clergymen who were fascinated by the classic detective novel.

There's a story about a clergyman who read whodunits, and I think it's in Colin Watson's Snobbery with Violence. It seems the clergyman went to his local bookshop and poked around for something to read (in the whodunit line, of course), without success. He then asked the bookshop owner if he could help. The owner suggested this, and suggested that, but every time the clergyman, sucking his pipe, answered succinctly, 'Read it.' Eventually the bookshop owner's patience ran out. 'Well then,' he said tartly, 'you'll just have to read a proper book, won't you?'

Aiming too high

Publishers Lunch links to a New York Times article about crime witer George Pelecanos. 'Mr. Pelecanos, 49,' says the NYT (and doncha just love that 'Mr'? Respect, eh?), 'is part of a fraternity of writers, including Dennis Lehane and Richard Price, who push the boundaries of crime writing into literary territory, exploring character more deeply than many crime novelists dare, introducing challenging social themes and bucking expectations that everything will come out all right in the end.'

Which is a load of crap, for a start. Anyone who thinks that there is anything praiseworthy about a crime writer who pushes into literary territory has a few screws loose. Crime writing belongs out in the mean streets, and should be printed on pulp.

Furthermore, the NYT is puzzled that 'critical acclaim has failed to translate into the kind of sales that Mr. Pelecanos's publisher, Little, Brown, believes he deserves.' As if critical acclaim was ever worth a pitcher of warm spit. I don't think Mickey Spillane ever got any critical acclaim. 'If the public likes you,' said Spillane, 'you're good.'

The National Free Press

The National Free Press is a new publication produced in Canada, and aimed chiefly, I suspect, at Canadian readers. It places a great emphasis on freedom of speech, and you can read the May/June issue for free online.

A healthy lifestyle

Maud Newton tells us that one Thomas H. Benton, an understandably pseudonymous college professor, has been talking to his English students and asking them why they want to do a PhD. Here's what they came up with:

Formative experiences with reading as a child: being read to by beloved parents and siblings, discovering the world of books and solitude at a young age.

Feelings of alienation from one’s peers in adolescence, turning to books as a form of escapism and as a search for a sympathetic connection to other people in other places and times.

A love for books themselves, and libraries, as sites of memory and comfort.

A "geeky" attraction to intricate alternate worlds such as those created by Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and George Lucas....

There's a lot more to the list than the bits I've quoted, and it gets worse, if you can believe that.

Does this sound thoroughly unhealthy to you? Because it sure as hell does to me. I always knew that Eng Lit students were a sad, misguided lot, but it's faintly unnerving to have it demonstrated in public.

Publishing News says that has had a good first year.

There is no obvious way of finding out who is resposible for this site, but it gives every indication of being a commercial operation rather than a site run by mad-keen amateurs. Users are invited to register, and they get to read extracts from every featured book. The titles of the latter are displayed in a box on the right and they change pretty rapidly as you browse.

Louise Weir is director and co-founder of this site, and I see that in 1990 she won an award for book promotion of the year, so presumably the whole of this latest venture is paid for by publishers. Also on board is Sarah Broadhurst, who for the last twenty-five years has been the Bookseller's paperback preview person. I may be wrong, but it rather looks as if self-publishers in search of a bit of free publicity need not apply.

Perhaps not so revolutionary

Several bloggers have noted that Penguin UK have announced the arrival of their brand-new company blog, as of today, 31 July.The Literary Saloon is quietly amused by Penguin's claim that they are offering 'the first blog from a mainstream publisher' -- the Lit Saloon links to at least 16 others.

Lynne Scanlon on Borders

Lynne Scanlon is a person who has worked at a high-level in the book trade, and her views on developments at the US bookseller chain Borders are therefore better informed than most. And there are quite a few other ideas in the comments section.

On the Road in full

A number of bloggers (e.g. Dibs) have reported that the original typescript of Jack Kerouac's 1950s novel On the Road has been found and will now be published as he originally wrote it.

Frankly, I'm not sure that anyone who wasn't around in the '50s is going to get too excited about this. And for me, On the Road never quite hit the spot. However, Kerouac is (says he with a sigh) 'taught' these days, so I suppose academe will welcome the news as it will give them something to chew on. 'Compare and contrast...'

Mortal Ghost

L. Lee Lowe has begun to post chapters of his YA fantasy novel Mortal Ghost on a purpose-built blog, at the rate of one a week. A new chapter will appear every Friday, at the end of which the whole thing will be available as a free PDF.

All at sea?

I haven't looked at a map, but I suspect that it's impossible to live in the UK and be more than -- what ? -- sixty miles from the sea? Anyway, we've all been there, which is more than can be said for some who live in mainland Europe, Asia, America, and Africa.

Margaret Muir is a writer who has sailed on a barquentine on the Indian Ocean and crossed the Atlantic on a clipper; she has even sailed on Cook’s Endeavour replica. Not surprisingly, therefore, her 2005 novel Sea Dust involves a sea voyage.

On her blog, Margaret also has something to say about HMS Victory, and Mary Rose.

To the barricades, old codgers!

Raymond Tallis is a Professor of Geriatric Medicine at Manchester University, and in today's Times he tells us that he sees the elderly as the chief defenders of human liberty.

Where, then, are we to look for the guardians of freedom? This is where the growing cadre of healthy elderly people may be increasingly important. They no longer hope for promotion or preferment. They are not required to bite their tongue or grovel. They have no targets to deliver on, no need to devote themselves to the futile productivity of academe, no asinine mission statements to write or respond to. They are at liberty to think and to say what they like. They can therefore shout out what those who have families to feed and careers to promote — and so must remain on-message at all costs — would not dare mutter in their sleep.

Hear, hear, sir! Well said. Aux armes, citoyens!


Jasper Milvain said...

Most newspapers will call any man "Mr" on their news pages -- unless he's a celebrity, a convict, or a corpse. Which exemption did you want applied to George Pelecanos?

Anonymous said...

Regarding the blogging publishers etc it amazes me that so many businesses which are blogging decide to add copyright logo to their pages rather than posting under Creative Commons License : "copyright" blogs would be better classified as company newsheets. Are they scared of making an impromptu remark, or do they think that everthing that they publish is to have a price on its head ?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who wasn't shedding tears when I read about Mr P's travails. All the bloggers commiserating with him never answered the question I had, which is how hard do you have it when you're getting $1.5 million for three books? Especially since I can't figure out how Mr P's proven sales translate into $1.5 million in royalties.

Armand said...

Thank you for the heads-up on Love Reading. Looks like an interesting site.


Anonymous said...

Susan Hill, in her innocent comment on lovereading is the little boy crying out that the emperor has no clothes

I doubt very much that lovereading actually wanted everyone to know that their book promotions are paid for by publishers. As His Grumpiness implies, the streetwise will cotton on fairly quickly, but the fact is that most readers aren't at all streetwise when it comes to the ways in which books are promoted. (Now that the cat is out of the bag, it wouldn't surprise me if lovereading were to announce that the revelation doesn't bother them in the least, but . . . well, maybe I'm just an old cynic.)

Susan Hill has -- innocently, by the looks of it -- done to lovereading what Matthew Paris did to Countdown (note to non-Brits: a TV program[me] in which contestants must make the longest possible word out of nine random letters) when he told everyone that the celebrity guests (without whom, the show would, of course, lack all credibility) got a lot of help in finding words longer than the poor contestants could ever manage. Ah, the loss of innocence!

I had a look at the lovereading website, and found, as I'd expected, that there was absolutely no advice to publishers on how to make an approach if they wished to have their books considered for promotion -- no indication whatever, in fact, as to how this might be done.

It's pretty obvious that the lovereading people, as His Grumpiness tells us, are very well connected, and can find plenty of suitable books for their site without dragging the bottom of the publishing barrel -- i.e. without going anywhere near vanity publishers or self-publishers. I'd be prepared to bet, whatever Susan Hill might think, that any such who dared approach lovereading would be rejected sight unseen.

I'm afraid that this is just another example of cooperative book promotion (i.e. promotion which entails a bung from the publisher to the promoter). If anyone is interested, I've commented on this practice, and the book trade's defence of it, previously on the GOB -- here and here

Anonymous said...

Lovereading may have managed to convince some that they're worth the money but checking web rankings tells a different story.

Many of the blogs cited on GrumpyOld reach many more potential readers than Love... Could it be that a publishing insider set up a web site and hey presto, it's only a few hundred quid and you're on the web in front of trillions? This technology is gee whiz.

Lovereading comes in at around 350,000. Maud Newton kicks its teeth in for nowt at 317,000. Bookslut clobbers it at 80,000. CompleteReview (home of Literary Saloon) drops a five-ton Isramerican peacemaker on it at 49,000 and bibliophile doesn't even have to acknowledge its existence at 19,000.

Aren't these places free? I love it when people take cash for marketing and then say that they 'have to like' the book. Only in publishing have we ever heard such a ludicrous business strategy, and only in publishing are players so far away from reality as to believe that such places are actually providing value for money.

The web is full of scams and many of those scams are perpetrated, like the best confidence tricks, with the collusion (knowing or otherwise) of seemingly 'stand up' characters.

Bibliophile has a 'reach' (as measured by people with large wobbly brains who do not work in publishing and only read Star Trek comics) more than fifty times that of LoveMakingMunee. Fifty Times! (I used an exclamation mark for methinks that a multiple of fifty deserves it.) Fifty times!!!

I'll bet the gal who runs it does so with the absolute best intentions and I'd bet that arguments could be formulated to attempt to prove that numbers ain't everything and that 'inclusion' in LovePublishingCauseTheyreSoEasy is more valuable than having fifty times as many people see your wares at the ropey Bibliophile, or the amateurish Bookslut. Why, these people don't even take as little as a few hundred pounds. What good could they possibly do a good book?

Of course, I'm too lazy to find out whether the blogs cited here take money or not but suffice to say that you might do worse than throwing a few hundred quid at Love but only if you wipe your arse with it.

I'm all for helping the officially vain to get noticed but I already got banned from a self-publishing 'group' for commenting on the numbers of grifters offering marketing and editing services. People have a duty to get their facts straight when touting their pals' businesses to people to whom 'a few hundred quid' qualifies as a shitload (and I'm sure that they did).

I expect what Love does, in terms of selectivity, is make sure its customers don't see their own proper books mixed up with all the shitey self-published, or small press offerings that aren't going to sell anyway. I'd bet that if Love did indeed deign to take a few hundred quid off the likes of me their proper customers would be threatening to take their few hundreds of quids elswhere.

In the U.K. we have an altogether better class of confidence trickster. After all, without publishing, the City and the church our upper-class nitwits might have to actually work for a living.

By the way, GrumpyOld comes in at 438,000 which ain't bad for someone who doesn't charge any hundreds of quids at all for providing his daily insights into the club, the players and the wanabees.

I have a book called The Samplist. It is fucking brilliant. Dyawanna buy it?

Please don't think me guilty of shameless self-promotion, I'm going to check my sales next week to see if advertising here has helped or whether I should fork out a few hundred quid for some proper marketing.

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