Archive for December 2007

New Year’s Lit?

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Speaking of New Year’s Eve and all, can anyone think of a good book that centers on New Year’s festivities? I’m sure there’s a major book out there and I’m just blanking on it, but off the top of my head, I can’t think of anything. Know of any books where New Year’s Eve features prominently in the plot?

New Year’s Eve Reflection

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So before you get too far gone with your partying tonight, take a moment to reflect on your writing in 2007. What did you accomplish? What needs to be improved?

For me, 2007 was a pretty good year. I published a small piece in one of my favorite literary journals, Tin House. I also had some pieces in Stuff magazine. Which kinda made me question if I was the kiss of death for glossy rags since several have closed down after printing my work. But I guess if someone has to be the literary grim reaper, then I’m fine with filling that role.

I also received my first book publication, in a small way, with Rules of the Game. And I have two nonfiction book projects that are steadily rolling along.

Any evaluation of the past year has to also include the areas you should strive to improve in 2008. For me, I believe my biggest shortcoming this year has been a lack of focus writing-wise and therefore a certain amount of procrastination.

I wrote a ton of words this year. I don’t believe I declined or failed to jump at any writing opportunity which passed my way in these past twelve months. Which I believe is a good strategy at you get experience and build a literary resume. However, the negative side effect is that I was spread so thin that I don’t believe I focused on the key writing chores as much as I’d like. So my goal for 2008 is to be more judicious.

So that’s it for me. How did you 2007 writing go?

And Still More on Book Sales Figures

So I missed this article back before the holiday, but CNN provided sales figures for rock star books that ties nicely into our earlier discussion of how wide ranging book sales can be. As I’ve mentioned before, book lovers so rarely get any true sales figures (that aren’t Potter-related) that it’s difficult to know how a particular title is doing. The CNN article provided sales counts for some specific rock legend books.

  • Eric Clapton’s Clapton, currently #7 on the bestseller list where it has held a top ten position for 10 weeks: 525,000 copies
  • Slash’s Slash, currently #18 on the bestseller list: in excess of 100,000 copies
  • Nikki Sixx’s The Heroin Diaries, currently #24 on the bestseller list: 200,000 copies

The article also mentions that 2004′s Bob Dylan book, Chronicles: Volume One sold 425,000 hardcover copies.

More grist for the sales count mill…

More on Book Sales Figures

Last week, I posted a link to an AP article that provided some sales figures for recent books. My point in originally linking to that article was to shed some light on the otherwise mysterious question of book sales figures.

A publishing insider posted a comment, kindly pointing out that the Associated Press figures were “WAY OFF.” I appreciate the update from the commentor and I agree that in the case with literary authors like Junot Diaz, the sales numbers are (will be) outstanding.

It’s unfortunate that accurate figures are so difficult to obtain. I’m not suggesting that we trust every word that’s in the media, but if the Associated Press is so substantially wrong, then it’s even more frustrating.

It seems like with movies and music, numbers are a bit more accepted (even though we know those are fudged here and there) and there’s less mystery and less debate.

The real problematic result of all this confusion is that aspiring authors have almost no idea of what makes a actual successful sales total. Which leads to people like the guy who recently emailed me. He’s never been published before at any level, has no track record, has no schooling, has no platform, and has no reason to stand out in any way at all. He might very well be the greatest writer in the world, but he doesn’t have any of the indicators we cynically look for when encountering a new writer.

And yet he is absolutely, positively convinced that his poetry collection is going to sell 8 million copies in its first two weeks of release. His email was laughable in its naivete and it’s the kind of message that editors and agents would immediately dismiss as the rantings of a kook.

While this particular guy probably is a little kooky, I have to ask the question… if publishing industry reporters can’t get accurate sales totals, how in the world is some aspiring author in Topeka supposed to know what is a reasonable goal? We read about Rowling figures, we hear about Dan Brown figures, but if sales totals the bulk of authors are so impossible to obtain, how can this eager poet develop a more informed opinion?

If you read the websites, peruse the blogs, and follow the publishing industry on a daily basis, you can get a better idea of sales counts. But even then, it’s vague. Meanwhile, someone new to the whole shindig is going to walk in the door with absurd expectations and quickly be dismissed because of those expectations.

I guess the bottom line is that I don’t see what all the mystery is about. Certainly, no publisher or author wants to have their “failed” books be common knowledge. But it is widely reported for movies, music, and other forms of entertainment.  

UPDATE: Evidently, Y. sent a note to Ron at Galleycat. Here are his thoughts on the matter.

Book Sales Figures

One of the things that troubles aspiring authors is understanding just what amount of books need to be sold to be considered a successful writer. Obviously, we understand that the publishers expectations and the amount of money spent come into play. But there are such massive disparities, even on the bestseller list that it can be confusing.

For example, we all know that J.K. Rowling sold something like 8 million copies of whatever Harry Potter novel in 24 hours. Meanwhile, back in 1995, it was thought that John Grisham had the fastest selling hardcover ever when he moved 300,000 copies in a week. And then you compare that with smaller writers, but no less successful in their own way, like Tucker Max who said he sold 60,000 copies of his book in six months. All three were bestsellers, but all three had dramatically different sales totals.

So given the wide-range of sales figures, and the fact that the public almost never knows how many copies a book has sold, I always perk up whenever an article appears that gives the statistics.

From Galleycat, I learned about this AP article that provides statistics for books by OJ Simpson, Jenna Bush, Jimmy Carter, Denis Johnson, Valerie Plame, Junot Diaz, and others.

The Farther Shore Reviewed

As you know, Matthew Eck’s The Farther Shore is the Winter 2007 Read This! selection. Over at the Litblog Co-Op site there is a post that collects a number of reviews of the book from around the web.

How to Write a Successful Stocking Stuffer Book

In The Telegraph, Sam Leith explains how to write a successful stocking-filler bookhow to write a successful stocking-filler book.

Eck Interviewed at Lit Kicks

I mentioned that many of my colleagues in the Litblog Co-Op were going to post features about Matthew Eck and The Farther Shore this week. Lit Kicks was one of the first to weigh in with a great interview with the author.

In the interview, Eck tells Lit Kicks about working in a war zone, about his writing influences, and how he likes “to write first paragraphs over and over. I like discovering the voice the novel needs. I like finding that key,” among many other great responses.

A 100k Rowling Book

Sotheby’s is going to auction a hand-written, hand-illustrated book by J.K. Rowling for charity. The estimate? $102,000.

The Corporate Approach to Writing

A couple of articles recently have discussed the increasing “team” approach to writing a book. I suppose this has gone on for years (celebrity ghostwriters, Hollywood studios’ stable system of writers, a research intern here and there, James Patterson’s co-authors) but the more recent cases seem to be getting more and more ridiculous. In some cases, these “authors” are actually acting like CEOs.

Forbes looked at the cast behind Tom Brokaw’s bestselling efforts. The article looks at the group Brokaw thanked in the acknowledgements: “Liz Bowyer, the captain of the team, a tireless and persuasive interviewer; Frank Gannon, suggestions, observations, contributions, encyclopedic knowledge of the ’60s; Michael Hill, fact-checker extraordinaire; Meaghan Rudy, now part of the NBC family; and John Balz, who tracked down players, facts, trends and under-reported consequences of the ’60s.”

For someone like Brokaw, on a big effort like Boom or The Greatest Generation, I don’t suppose this is over the line. But what about Harvard professors using the work of their graduate students?

The Washington Post points to an article by Jacob Hale Russell in 02138. The magazine covers the Harvard community and Hale’s article explains that some professors churn out books “with the help of a small army of student assistants who research, edit and sometimes even write material for which they are never credited.”

In one case, a law professor even submitted a work that contained six paragraphs lifted word for word from a book published by someone on the Yale faculty. Follow the link to read the author’s explanation, complete with references to at least two assistants. Most hilarious of all (or most damning, depending on your perspective) is the article’s statement, “In other words, at least some of Ogletree’s manuscript was sent to his publisher without having been read by the person supposed to have written it.”

And if the implications aren’t clear, the authors explicitly point out that if a Harvard student committed such an infraction, he or she would be subject to expulsion.