Archive for December 2005

Happy Holidays

Posting will probably be somewhat sporadic over the next couple of days as I spread literary holiday cheer amongst my family. We’ll be back on a regular schedule towards the middle of next week.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a fantastic and safe holiday season!

Reading Crisis Con Game, and Oprah

n+1 features an intriguing article on the nature of the supposed reading crisis, the tactics the contemporary authors are using to stall the Grim Reaper, and the influence of Oprah. After listing some marketing tactics used by ambitious writers, The Reading Crisis states that the activity of reading, “flat on its back, encounters these clown-suit paramedics with nitrous in their tanks instead of oxygen, it ought to get to its feet, wheezing and weak as it is, and run.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this piece, but it raises some interesting ideas.

Book Standard Interviews Jim Harrison

The Book Standard recently posted a good interview with Jim Harrison. In ‘Legends of the Fall’ Author Jim Harrison: Loves Home, Hates School, the fantastic writer talked about his preference for the novella form, re-using the same locations for stories over and over again, and how too many aspiring authors don’t read enough. “I’m shocked when I go around giving lectures, how little some people have read in these M.F.A. programs. It’s pretty startling. How can you know how to write unless you’ve read the best?”

Another Year, Another Round of Da Vinci Contenders

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As the days of 2005 fade away and we prepare to launch into 2006, CNN features an AP report on what surely will become a New Year’s tradition… picking the next batch of contenders to The Da Vinci Code crown. The article, Next ‘Da Vinci Code’? Plenty of choices, highlights three new novels that are poised to follow in Da Vinci’s footsteps as well as giving some background to the phenomenon.

Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse, is already a bestseller in Europe and is getting a 100,000 first print run here in the US. The Templar Legacy, by Steve Berry, is the subject of a 200,000 first print run. And The Last Cato, by Matilde Asensi, is also getting a 100,000 first printing. Amounts of the advances aren’t given, but with print runs like that, the dollars should certainly be high.

The article features quotes from editors at Dutton, Rayo, and Ballantine on the Da Vinci phenomenon and it also gives a quick plot capsule of each of the novels featured.

What I thought was most interesting, however, is that this article is almost identical to articles that were published last January. For example, on January 24, 2005, Publishers Weekly ran an article entitled Most Likely to Succeed, that covered “the five titles booksellers say are the most likely to win over the Da Vinci faithful.” Included in that roundup were Adam Fawer’s Improbable, Jon Fasman’s The Geographer’s Library, Matt Bondurant’s The Third Translation, James Rollins’ Map of Bones, and Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian.

Almost a year later, The Da Vinci Code still rules the bestseller list. This past weekend, it was number seven with 142 weeks on the list and shows no signs of being dethroned. The books included in the Publishers Weekly roundup were thrilling novels and this isn’t a snide commentary directed towards them. And I’m sure the books in the CNN article are just as good. I’m just fascinated by The Da Vinci Code‘s dominance and how the media and publishing industry keeps holding up the next whatever. Will the book trade become like sports where every year someone else is annointed the next Michael Jordan? When UCLA won ten consecutive national championships in college basketball, each fall sports reporters wrote about the next team to beat the Bruins.

I suppose it’s natural. After three years of dominating the bestseller list and more than 25 million copies sold worldwide, The Da Vinci Code is a high watermark that can’t be ignored. Whether you think that is a good thing or not is immaterial. The numbers speak for themselves.

I just wonder if we’ll be here at the end of 2006 and see another article proclaiming the next round of contenders. And maybe by that point, I will have finally gotten around to reading The Da Vinci Code.

The Importance of Cover Art

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According to a Times Online article, the story you slaved over for years, and then waited two years for it to be published and hit the shelves, has about the same time it takes to sneeze once or twice to make an impression. The article, You Can Tell a Book By Its Cover, points out that “Studies show that a book on a three-for-two table has about one and a half seconds to catch a reader’s eye. If it is picked up, it is on average glanced at for only three to four seconds. ” The quickness of reader evaluation makes the cover design so much more important.

Patrick Janson-Smith, literary agent and former publishing director of Transworld, told the paper that “I can’t think of a jacket that has transformed the fortunes of a book, but I have seen books absolutely die on the back of a jacket.” But the reporter, Hellen Rumbelow did manage to find some tangible examples of how a book cover affects sales. “Take Georgette Heyer, the slightly frumpy historical novelist. When her publishers changed all her cover art last year, the classy new Jane Austen-ish look doubled her sales,” Rumbelow writes.

The article also presents opinions from various publishing experts about the cover design for books such as Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, White Teeth by Zadie Smith, and You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggars. When you’re reading over their discussion of these books, keep in mind they’re talking about the British versions.

Interesting article so be sure to check it out. And any discussion of book cover design is incomplete without at least mentioning the fantastic Foreward: A Book Design Blog.

NY Times Book Review Selection Process

Several of the book blogs recently pointed out the number of New York Times notable books that were written by staffers and even editors of the Grey Lady. For example, Paul McLeary wrote in CJR Daily, that “six of the 61 books on the nonfiction portion of the list were authored by Times staffers, and another four by regular contributors to the paper.” McLeary pointed out that although the newspaper is a major journalism outlet in this country and works with hudnreds of talented writers each year, “for the Times‘ to compile a list of notable books in which one of every six is the work of a staffer or a contributor seems to stretch the limits of credibility. After all, thousands of nonfictions books were published this year. Surely, a few of those would seem to qualify in front of some of the books written by Times contributors.”

In response to all the discussion on the book blogs and criticism emailed directly to the paper, Byron Calame, the New York Times public editor responded with an article entitled The Book Review: Who Critiques Whom – and Why?. Calame explains that the book review staff takes pains to distance themselves from the literary world and anything that might be misconstrued as conflict of interest. “Yet eliminating all connections appears nearly impossible. Mr. Tanenhaus [editor of the Book Review] and Dwight Garner, the Book Review’s senior editor, are authors themselves and both have the same agent, the powerful Andrew Wylie. This gives me some pause.”

Calame then goes on to describe some of the questions book reviewers are asked when discussing a potential assignment and the “Kenneth Starr” inquiries used to guage the relationship. For example, if the reviewer knows the names of the writer’s children, that’s too close.

For the most part, Calame writes, “readers, it seems to me, are generally well served by the Book Review screening process.” However, he does point out some instances where it could be improved.

This is an interesting article about how amazingly important decisions about books get made.

Blogs and Authors

Pamela Paul, author of Pornified: How Pornography Is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families, wrote an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times. Entitled What Are the Blogs Saying About Me?, Paul’s article examines the way authors approach blogosphere discussion of their work. Some, like Maureen Dowd, avoid spending too much time looking at blog entries about their work. “I’m super sensitive and I think I’d get too depressed,” said Dowd. Others authors, such as Diana Abu-Jaber, are more willing to dive in to blog discussions. “When you read a blog, about your book, you feel like you’re entering into a conversation,” Abu-Jaber told the paper.

It’s an interesting article about the mixed emotions authors have when reading blogs.

Capital Punishment for Literary Critics

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Philip Roth sat down for a cantankerous interview with with the Guardian and it’s a fascinating piece. In the interview, he explains why he doesn’t smile, how the Jewish-writer tag irritates him, and that he would love “a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot.”

It’s a good and revealing piece. Just remind me to run if Roth is ever heading my way.

Interview: Claire Howorth, Publicist

While crappy publicists get the attention (such as the poor soul who provided fodder for every book blogger by emailing folks about the greatness of Pamela Anderson’s new novel) and celebrity publicists get all the headlines (such as Lizzie Grubman’s automobile antics), the truth is that good publicists do a yeoman’s job in letting the public know about our favorite authors. A good publicist is indispensable for authors, publishers, and media folks and they excel at their job with style, dedication, and organization. One such professional is Claire Howorth at Grove/Atlantic.

Claire was kind enough to speak with us about how a publicist gets attention for books, what role publicity plays in acquiring new work, and should aspiring authors include that publicity/marketing garbage the how-to books always advise.

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Happy Endings and MacAdam/Cage

Our favorites over at MacAdam/Cage take over the Happy Endings Reading Series in New York City tonight. Jack Pendarvis, Kristen den Hartog, and Victoria Vinton are featured as part of this fantastic series. The folks fire it up at 8pm but the doors open at 7:30 with no cover charge for entry. The reading series takes place at the Happy Ending Bar, 302 Broome Street at Forsyth (B,D to Grand Street or F, J, M, Z to Delancey). The bar’s phone number is 212-334-9676.

Events in this series are scheduled for the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of every month and are hosted by Amanda Stern.