Monday, July 10, 2006

Monday miscellany

Noah Cicero's Transmissions

Speaking of people doing their own thing -- and surely we were, sometime recently -- Noah Cicero's Transmissions from Noah X to Tao X can be found on the Bear Parade.

Faber's alliance

Faber, a UK independent publisher (i.e. not owned by one of the big international conglomerates), has formed an alliance of other small publishers to help boost trade. Now they have decided to involve small independent booksellers as well. Details in Publishing News.

Andrew Franklin also welcomes this development in the Guardian.

Cory Doctorow on the digital world

Poking around on the Locus web site, which I do at least once a month, mainly for hints on interesting things to read in the science-fiction field, I found a link to an article by Cory Doctorow.

Cory is one of the people whose views on the digital world are well worth listening to, mainly because he not only understands the technology (which most of us don't) but writes fiction as well. His latest piece has a lot to say about the music business, but as we all know by now (or ought to), what happens in the music business is highly relevant to, if not actually a prediction of, what will happen in publishing. Here's a taster:

The Internet is enabling a further decentralization in who gets to make art, and like each of the technological shifts in cultural production, it's good for some artists and bad for others. The important question is: will it let more people participate in cultural production? Will it further decentralize decision-making for artists?

...I've discovered what many authors have also discovered: releasing [free] electronic texts of books drives sales of the print editions. An SF writer's biggest problem is obscurity, not piracy. Of all the people who chose not to spend their discretionary time and cash on our works today, the great bulk of them did so because they didn't know they existed, not because someone handed them a free e-book version.

I don't believe it!

Another gem found on the Locus site is this. The International Horror Guild (which one might have thought was regarded by the literati as an unspeakably vulgar operation, entirely unworthy of notice), has announced its shortlists for the IHG awards. Included in the Collection (single author) category is Specimen Days, by Michael Cunningham!

Can this be true? Is it 1 April and I didn't notice? Does Michael know? If he wins, will he turn up and make a gracious little speech, saying how this means so much more to him than the Pulitzer?

Or is this just part of the previously noted attempt to make the more popular genres 'respectable'?

CAPS or not?

The Feedback section in Saturday's Times had an interesting insight into the paper's policy on the use of CAPITAL letters. Someone asked why the Times prints acronyms such as SARS and AIDS as Sars and Aids.

Answer: Times style is to print in lower case, with an initial capital letter, any acronym that is normally pronounced as a word; hence Aids (distinguished from other aids by its capital letter), Sars, Unicef, Unesco, and so forth. But, on the other hand, acronyms which are pronounced as a series of letters are printed all in caps: hence BBC, NHS, TUC. Exceptions (there always are some, because this is the English language): organisations, such as BUPA and AXA, which have specifically requested that their names be printed all in capitals.

Animals in war

Also in Saturday's Times was an article by Jilly Cooper about the use of animals for military purposes. It is estimated, for instance, that 8 million horses died in the first world war. Two years ago, Jilly and a number of friends succeeded in setting up a memorial to all those animals who died in war. Designed by David Backhouse, it was unveiled on Park Lane in November 2004.

Jilly's article, worth reading in its own right, is based on her introduction to a new book by Juliet Gardiner: The Animals' War. The book is associated with the Animals' War exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, London, from 14 July onwards.

Suckers for punishment

Baigent and Leigh, who claimed that Dan Brown nicked their ideas for The Da Vinci Code -- and lost, comprehensively -- have been given leave to appeal. Some lawyer somewhere says that the Judge may have erred in his ruling.

Don't bet any money on it, is my advice. Galleycat has some details, drawn from the Bookseller.

M.J. Rose on marketing in practice

For those too young to remember -- it must have been at least, oh, seven or eight years ago -- M.J. Rose was just about the first writer to use the internet to make herself famous. Not Madonna-type famous, or even Danielle Steel-type famous, but famous enough to have a career as a full-time writer.

Now she also acts as a book-marketing guru, and to see what she is doing to plug her latest, nip over to her blog, Buzz, Balls & Hype.

And no, I'm not claiming my five bucks for charity. This is a freebie.

Dangerous words

Michael Schaub, on Bookslut, led me to a Salon article about Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith.

To say that Harris is against religion is putting it rather mildly: one reviewer described his book as a 'nuclear assault'. First published in 2004, The End of Faith is a full-blooded attack on Islam and Christianity, 'carrying both pages and pages of quotations from the Quran imploring the faithful to kill infidels, and a chilling history of how Christian leaders have brutally punished heretics. Harris argues that much of the violence in today's world stems directly from people willing to live and die by these sacred texts.'

During the interview, Harris argues that religious moderates are worse than fundamentalists, 9/11 led us into a deranged holy war (what can he mean?), and believers should be treated like alien-abduction kooks.

This cannot be right. Surely his book should be banned.

Hard times for lesbians?

Jane Chen has done a survey of the Lesbian publishing industry (link from Bookslut). And whether you care tuppence about the gay/lesbian scene or not, the article undeniably has some interesting and valuable data about small shops and publishers.

In one or two places, however, I question what she has to say. For example: 'An important number to note here is that the ratio of net profit for the publisher relative to royalties for the author is roughly 2:1. Industry standard usually falls between 1.5:1 and 3:1. And these numbers do not even take into account company overhead or book returns, which can reach as high as 20%.'

It is not entirely clear what Jane Chen means in the above sentence, but it makes better sense, at least to me, if you substitute 'gross profit' for 'net profit.' But whatever the truth of that, the article certainly gives a few insights into niche-publishing economics.

Irony revisited

Penny Wark, in today's Times, offers a profile of Zinedine Zidane which presumably went to press before about 9.00 p.m. last night. In it, she inadvertently gives a whole new dimension of meaning to the term irony.

'The motif of his mature playing years,' says Wark, 'has been his control and self-discipline.'

Fr Randall Radic

Randall Radic, aka Father Felony, aka Daddy Radic, is the former pastor of a church in Ripon, California, and he is currently awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to felony grand theft by embezzlement: in short, he sold the church (without actually asking the congregation's permission) and bought himself a BMW with the proceeds.

Dr Blogstein has an interview with Father Radic, which gives you a pretty good pen-portrait. The man himself also has his own blog, Sound of Meat. And as if that was not enough he has another one, Rock and Roll King. Should you be about to extradited from the UK because Tony Blair wants to keep the Yanks happy, and thrown into some clink pending trial while American citizens can walk around free for a while, even after being found guilty, then these sources might contain a few useful hints on what to expect.

And if you read into the small print you will find that Radic is a writer. The Sound of Meat, his ebook memoir of prison experiences, is due for publication in August. He is currently writing volume two, entitled Snitch, and is looking for an agent.

Father Radic says he is 53 years old, just got out of jail (admits he's guilty), has no job, no house, no car and no money. He's just trying to make an honest living.

The essence of our time

Lev Grossman, in Time magazine, wonders who is the voice of this generation. In literary terms, that is. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Salinger, they all somehow spoke for a generation (or so Grossman claims). Kerouac did too, apparently.

The article is used as the cue for dropping a whole host of famous literary names: in addition to those already mentioned, we get Franzen, Lethem, Chabon, and so forth.
There's still no writer under 40 who makes you want to stand up in a crowded theater and shout, That right there is the voice of this generation, that is the yearning and the rage of the contemporary, embodied in some poor sad sack of a character who's mad as hell and just can't get no satisfaction. Every once in a while a novel comes along that makes everything else feel dated, that feels as current as tomorrow's e-mail, that gives readers the story of their own secret ineffable desperation with such immediacy that it induces spontaneous mass recognition as the Voice. Every once in a while--but not lately.
Grossman questions whether the quality of writers has changed, or perhaps whether their mission, or their interest in being 'the Voice', has.

I didn't have much patience with any of this, I'm afraid. But no doubt it fills up the space between the adverts satisfactorily.

If you're looking for a young writer who speaks for young people today, I have a few other suggestions.

Britney Spears wrote a novel, you know. Oh yes. Together with her Mom. A Mother's Gift.

Then there's Nicole Richie, with The Truth about Diamonds.

And in the UK, just out, we have Katie Price (aka Jordan)'s Angel.

Bookplates for beginners

You don't hear much about bookplates these days. They belong to a past era, I feel -- certainly pre-digital. However, in theory there is no reason on earth why bookplates should not have a resurgence of popularity. After all, these days there are so many computer-based ways to produce and print fantastic bookplates of your own.

Anyway, If you want a few ideas, nip over to Lewis Jaffe's Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie and see what he's collected. You might be inspired.

(A bookplate, by the way, is a label that you stick inside the front cover of a book when you buy it, to show that it's yours. Not everybody knows that. You do, of course. But not everybody.)

New from Penguin

Penguin UK has some interesting stuff out this month. For example:

Robert Allen (no relation) has produced a guide to English phrases and their meanings: Allen's English Phrases. A bit pricy at £25 but might make a present for some keen reader.

Dara Horn's novel The World to Come, reviewed here last December.

And then there's Tucker Max's I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. Penguin UK, publishing Tucker Max? I dunno, I must be getting old. Here's what Tucker's publicist said in a comment on one of my posts about Maddox:
It [I Hope they Serve Beer in Hell] went as high as #26 on the NYTimes Bestseller List, based solely on his internet site and word-of-mouth pr. His web site is, and by all accounts he is much more offensive than Maddox. But guess what, a lot of people find his writing to be smart, funny, and completely original, which is more than can be said by much of what comes out in the book world these days.
You know what they say: times change.


Anonymous said...

A lot of good reading from His Grumpiness this morning, and all interesting as usual. I like the publisher's comment on young Britney's book: "Besides being an author, Britney is that rare phenomenon, a megastar." And a schoolmarm.

Anonymous said...

I probably will be in the minority, but am not excited by Faber's alliance which is, IMVHO an attempt by some independent publishers to help themselves.

Fact, it was thanks to the contract between Alan Bennett and joint publishers Faber and Profile Books which saw "Untold Stories" discounted so heavily by the chains and Amazon. And there was all that drivel spoken by Alan Bennett who expected customers to go to the indies and purchase his book at full cover price.

Profile Books consigned very large quantities to Amazon for 2005 Christmas trade : needless to say, heavily discounted on the Basin.

No, I for one , will be passing over this alliance, and choosing to fish in less polluted streams.

Anonymous said...

Just a thought on Lev Grossman's article in Time.

Grossman's thesis, briefly, is that our societies no longer have the homogeneity necessary to allow any young writer to emerge as the voice of a generation. (And let it be said straight away that the very concept of the voice of a generation is pretty stupid, but it's clear enough what Grossman has in mind.)

I doubt if he's entirely wrong, but I don't think he's got it altogether right either: youthful novel readers comprise only a very small percentage of any society, and I suspect that they have enough in common to make it quite possible for someone to become their voice. (Bear in mind that the literary voice of a generation is in reality the voice only of its most literate members.)

So what else might be helping to stifle such a voice? Well, in the first place, the sheer number of novels now being published makes it much harder for any one to emerge from the pack as, say The Catcher in the Rye emerged half a century ago.

Then there is the fact that the voice of a generation pretty well has to be the voice of an outsider, that of one who feels alienated. And given the universal acknowledgment of the extreme difficulty of getting a novel published today, it must be very hard for any young published novelist to feel alienated at all. No young novelist you have ever heard of came from nowhere: they all know that they are insiders, and this simply must make a difference.

And (just to add a belt to the braces, and make damn sure that the trousers don't fall and show us . . . er, abort that thought) the literary world today is more controlled than ever it was in the past, with publishers (and thus, by necessary extension, agents) constantly second-guessing the market. The voice of true alienation is very unlikely to get a hearing in such a world.

Ah well, time to own up. Yes, you're right: these are the bitter, twisted words of one whom no one will publish, and who consequently would say this, wouldn't he? And . . . well, yes, I suppose I would. So what?

Anonymous said...

No, the IHG awards are not an "attempt to make the more popular genres 'respectable'". The awards try to bring public attention to works of outstanding merit. If you take the time to look at their Web site you will find a full list of this year's nominees as well as past recipients.

Horror should never be totally "respectable" or it would not be doing its subversive job. Nor is outstanding horror literature particularly "popular", although it sometimes is. Many would argue that horror is not a genre at all, although it was once an active publishing category. The generic horror written to a formula that became popular in the 1980s is neither popular these days nor outstanding.

All awards are subjective, just as all reviews are. Obviously these judges felt the Cunningham collection was "horror" and worth noting. You'll notice they also nominated the Kelly Link collection you so loathe. Perhaps you like Hilary Mantel better? My goodness -- she's nominated in the novel category. Ms. Mantel probably would rather have won the Orange...but that does not lessen the honor bestowed by IHG.

Might Mr Cunningham be appalled that he is nominated? Would not any author appreciate a sincere effort to get more people -- people who may not have otherwise heard of him -- to read his book? If he wins the award, I'm sure they will mail it to him. He can do with it as he wishes.

You recently noted awards aren't worth much anyway. Then why mention any allegedly worthless award then get picky and grumpy about what some very dedicated people feel is worth their considerable time and effort?

Mark Thornton said...

Having read through the Faber release, the Guardian article, and Clive Keeble's comment, I (as a new independent bookseller) *do* feel excited by the Faber alliance. In the Faber piece itself, Liz Drew's comment about benefits from author-tours is spot-on.

Faber are not doing this out of the goodness of their heart of course, but I think the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks as far as we are concerned, and we'll definitely be following up.

Anonymous said...


IMVHO it is very unlikely that any publisher whose stock is consigned to Amazon at a price which permits the Basin to discount the titles by up to 50% will ever give a damn about independent retailers.

The Faber Alliance, IMVHO, is a desire for those parties to play the field.

I have no interest in 3 for 2 promos, and have no desire to have a lite version of the corporate deals given by Faber Alliance members.

There are some fantastic independent publishers out there who have always worked primarily with the independent bookshops : it is these houses with whom I throw in my lot.

Something that I learnt many years ago is that I will run out of money long before the bookworld runs out of available quality stock.

Amol said...

Hi! It is a little optimistic to think people still know what bookplates are,esp. in this fast-paced world of use and throw. Been on the look-out for a nice design for creating my own bookplate. Found the site a few days ago. Nice ones in the "don't mess" section.Here is another site if you are interested

Anonymous said...

Jane Chen, who wrote the article on lesbian publishing for AfterEllen, has a story or two in anthologies published by Bold Strokes Books. I tend to view her article as a writer promoting her own publisher, in part, by tearing apart the publisher's competition.

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