Thursday, December 14, 2006

Thursday market

UK publishing data

Trevor Dolby, until recently the managing director and publisher of HarperEntertainment, has an article in this month's Prospect which sheds useful light on the UK trade publishing scene. (Link from

Dolby concentrates mainly on the celebrity (auto)biography phenomenon, which has been with us for decades but which he claims (with some justice) to have re-invented about ten years ago. He provides case studies of a few outstanding examples, such as those of Martin Kemp, David Essex, and the like.

Along the way, he gives us some insights into the trade's attitude towards Jordan, how he came to do Jade's story, and the differences between the UK and US approach to these things. He also tells us, in relation to a £20 (retail) book, where the money goes.

There's nothing dramatically new here for those who've been in the business for years, but there are always people coming along for whom this kind of thing is an eye-opener.

There are editors, and editors

Book editors come in all shapes and sizes. The two chief ones, perhaps, are the hands-on publishing house executives who mould and shape the careers and books of major talents. Chief exemplar: Max Perkins. (He dead, by the way.)

Then there are those fierce souls known as copy editors, or line editors. These are far less senior in the pecking order, but influential none the less, and they go through your manuscript in great detail to correct the spelling and the punctuation. If you're lucky, they might even ask your permission before they tamper with your prose, but some of them just go ahead and change stuff anyway.

Daniel Scott Buck (whose The Greatest Show on Earth was reviewed here on 31 August 2006), reckons that what his generation of writers needs is a new Gary Fisketjon. And, er, if you're not quite sure who he, Fisketjon is a guy in the Max Perkins tradition -- details on the Nashville Scene. And he's still looking for the Great American Novel.

You should also take note that there is a lengthy piece on Tingle Alley about the legendary New Yorker copy editor, Eleanor Gould Packard. (Thanks to Dave Lull for the link.) This is extracted, it seems, from the New York Times. I found it slightly depressing to read, not least because the lady suddenly went deaf. And yes, I do know about Rush Limbaugh, thank you.

Personally I have very mixed feelings about both varieties of editor. Yes, the Max P type can be useful at times, but at other times he/she can be a damn nuisance. Overall, I don't want someone else shaping my books and my career (which is probably why I remain obscure, though happy). I want to take responsibility for my own stuff, and make my own decisions.

A keen-eyed, pedantic copy editor can also be a boon at times, but you don't have to go far to find horror stories about unwarranted interference and wholesale 'improvements' which were anything but. So on the whole, thanks people, but I'd rather do without you lot as well.

Less than 100% accuracy?

We have pondered here, from time to time, about the truthfulness and accuracy of memoirs, particularly that group which Trevor Dolby (see above) and others refer to as misery memoirs.

Connoisseurs of the latter genre may like to consider the New York Times review of Jennifer Lauck's Blackbird. Between the ages of 5 and 12, Lauck was reportedly orphaned, sexually abused, neglected and eventually abandoned. Her account of these events has earned her a lavish blurb from Frank McCourt and an appearance on 'Oprah', which never seems to do a book any harm.

However, the NYT points out that 'reading this book is like listening to testimony from a child-abuse survivor whose dormant memories have surfaced after many years. You want to trust the victim, but it's hard to eliminate suspicion that what you hear may not be entirely accurate.'

Those who seek evidence for lack of accuracy may wish to look at a blog which also goes by the name Blackbird. (Link from Daniel Scott Buck.) This is written by Jonathan Lantry, who was, for a little over three years, Jennifer Lauck's step-brother. He does not quite remember things the way Jennifer does.

One-liners, or thereabouts

The Nature Conservancy now owns Ernest Hemingway's house in Idaho and is taking steps to restore it.

The Wicked Witch of Publishing has a plan for getting Santa to give books to needy children.

Punkrockpenguin has a collection of bad book covers (gee, I dunno, some of 'em look OK to me), and Mark Rayner at The Skwib, from whom the link came, finds a lot of similar stuff in the Carnival of Satire (7 December).

What a shame. Duncan Fallowell, author of the April Ashley book which was plagiarised recently, tells me that the new book, largely nicked from him, was being considered for the J.R. Ackerley prize until the scandal erupted. Mr Fallowell's latest, by the way, is a novel: A History of Facelifting.

L. Lee Lowe offers a podcast of chapter 1 of his YA fantasy novel, Mortal Ghost.

iUniverse books: you may love 'em or hate 'em, but they are not entirely ignored.

Madame Arcati points out that Stephen King, who rarely signs copies of his books, has made some available to support a fund for book-trade freelancers who suffer a catastrophic accident. Go buy, says Madame, and I agree.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the great information. I am really enjoying Madame Arcati - sure do appreciate finding her through you.

Anonymous said...

As if in the shadow the the Big Two Hearted River, Hemingway would be pleased to see the restoration of his home. Perhaps, though, he would have been happy also to let us plebeians see it as well as the privileged.

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