Thursday, September 18, 2008

On a slightly lighter note...

....this is awesome.

Any loyal LOST fan knows that there have been consistent literary references throughout the series, from Watership Down to Alice in Wonderland to The Turn of the Screw. A lot of these hints went over my head, but hey, that's what Doc Jensen and lostpedia are for. But now, those crafty LOST writers have created the LOST Book Club.

Yep, that's right. And, it lists every book that has ever been shown, mentioned, or obliquely referenced, along with a synopsis, it's relevance to the show, and a link to the purchase the book. Pretty freaking sweet.

Now, what are the odds that I can actually read thru all of these before the show returns next year?


ps. In case you don't want to click through, here are some of the surprising books on the list: Bonjour Babar, John Lescroat's The Oath, and Judy Blume's Are You Out There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Publishing just can't win this week

From today's L.A. Times:

Sara Nelson, editor in chief of Publishers Weekly, believes that the reading public "feels stuff not worthy of them is being shoved down their throats." The difficult part, she says, is that the audience for "serious books . . . really doesn't want to be marketed to. But if you don't market to them, they don't know what to read."

As someone who has worked on a number of books that were considered "literary" but got less coverage than any celebrity memoir or Harlan Coben book, I feel that. The industry has become so focused on what will sell rather than what is good, that, at times, it feels as though we are destroying ourselves from within.

The article looks at reprints, with the basic argument seeming to be that people are becoming dissatisfied with the fiction being offered to them, so they are turning to older books that are now being reintroduced to the market. And that the big houses are in danger of losing the trust of readers by tainting their once respected name.

It's an interesting theory, but I would like to argue that there are plenty of good books still being published. The focus just isn't being given to them. And in order to publish the "good" books, it seems that publishers have to balance it out with the "commercial" ones that will bring in the money. Publishers hedge their bets on a couple sure blockbusters in order to keep them afloat so they can try out other books.

But doesn't it seem that maybe if we shrunk the scale, we could solve all the problems at once? Why do we have to have massive lists? Can't we throw all of our energy into books we believe in, rather than just try to market them in between fielding calls about Stephanie Meyer or Curtis Sittenfeld? And, it's not just publishers that are to blame. The media covering the industry doesn't seem to be interested in discovering a new writer...they seem to just want to talk about the author everyone else already is.


Monday, September 15, 2008

it just keeps getting worse

From the NY Times Breaking News Alert:

Breaking News 4:08 PM ET: Dow Closes Down More Than 500 Points

Talk about publishing into a recession...jeez.


What a depressing day for publishing

Ugh, publishing is doomed, and apparently, it's no longer fun.

First up, we have the hella long article in New York Magazine, which asserts that, basically, we're all screwed. Some choice quotes:
Yet in recent years, more accurate internal sales numbers have confirmed what publishers long suspected: Traditional marketing is useless.

“Media doesn’t matter, reviews don’t matter, blurbs don’t matter,” says one powerful agent. Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them....

Marketing a book these days is like playing a slot machine;
hitting one 7 won’t get you a dime. “There has to be this constellation of events,” says Daniel Menaker, whose departure was tied in the press to the low sales of Benjamin Kunkel’s much-ballyhooed debut novel, Indecision. “Not only a Times Book Review front cover but Don Imus talking about it and Ellen Pompeo actually reading the book on-camera. And Barack Obama has just bought it.”
Augh, so true! In fact, I think I have mentioned these points before in some of my rants. Not to mention, the book has to be in stores. The book can be reviewed everywhere, but if it's not sitting on a table at B&N, it's probably not going to sell giant numbers. Which brings us to point #2...
This matters because the following response from Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio is only technically true: “We buy every title published—our business is a long-tail business—less than 5 percent is from bestsellers.”

Editors insist that plenty of books get skipped. Richard Nash, head of indie publisher Soft Skull Press, estimates that one in twenty are passed over, though ten to fifteen copies are shipped into their warehouses in case there’s a special order. Many more are getting smaller initial orders than ever. That’s a very long, very skinny tail.
I'm gonna agree with Nash here. Also, sometimes they might buy 500 of a book. But 500 copies for all of the stores? Not helpful. It means that book is either sitting in a carton in the warehouse somewhere, or shoved on a back shelf. Moving on...
It’ll be rough going in the meantime; some publishers will transform, some will muddle through, some will die. And there will, no doubt, be a lot of editors for whom even this diminished era will look like the last great golden age, when some writers were paid in the millions,some of their books produced in the millions, and more than half of those books actually sold. Book publishing is still a big-league business, and that’s a hard thing to let go of. “There’s something terrible,” says an editor at a prestigious imprint, “about admitting that you’re not a mass medium.”
Oh, god. This was the golden age? Not according to Al Silverman. His new book, The Time of Our Lives: The Golden Age of Great American Book Publishers, Their Editors and Authors, defines the golden age as the period between 1946 and the early 1980s, the period "when 'books were most beloved by a reading public.' Soon afterward, the great 'bookmen' stepped aside and the bottom-liners of business took over."

(NY Mag also references the decline when publishing became about conglomerates rather than taste: "In its heyday, publishing was a vast array of mom-and-pop shops, in which the pops tended to be independently wealthy. Their competitive advantage was not efficiency or low costs but taste....By the nineties, five big conglomerates were divvying up the spoils and their lucrative backlists. Many of the smaller companies that had been struggling, like FSG, Ecco, and Crown, were flush with corporate resources. But in exchange, they gave up final say in how they’d publish their books—or even what books they’d publish. And suddenly an industry accustomed to 5 percent margins was being run by media moguls aiming for double digits.")

Crap. I guess I was about 20 years too late. I imagine the old days of publishing were a bit like an episode of Mad Men. As Gawker puts it, "It can be difficult to know you're in a golden age. You might be too busy working. You might be too caught up in the hum of everyday life. You might live in Omaha. But here's a hint: there are usually a lot of white guys in bow ties smoking indoors." Now, that would have been fun.


RIP David Foster Wallace

I have nothing snarky to say about this. Infinite Jest was always one of the books that sat on my bookshelf, taunting me because, as much as I wanted to read it, I just couldn't ever seem to undertake the huge task of it. Much like James Joyce's Ulysses. But, although I have never read it, I've heard from enough people who have to know that we just lost a great writer. RIP.

PPA Party (AKA Free Booze)

For this week's literary event, I'm going the easy route. The PPA Cocktail Party is tonight, so if you can get your boss to cough up $75 ($65 for members), head on over to Fig & Olive Fifth Avenue at 6 pm for free drinks, free snacks, and tons of publicity people crammed into one space.