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Ron Hogan

Friedman Pops the Hood on Open Road


Yesterday afternoon, former HarperCollins CEO Jane Friedman came to the Center for Publishing, a division of NYU’s School for Continuing and Professional Studies, to talk about her new company, Open Road Integrated Media, which aims to publish electronic editions of backlisted titles by big-name authors like William Styron, Pat Conroy, and Iris Murdoch along with, in separate branding tracks, original fiction and non-fiction by other writers, quite possibly including some with no prior publishing history. Friedman also introduced the audience to Open Road president Jeffrey Sharp, who previously ran a film development division at HarperCollins and will be engaged in similar efforts in his new position—but high-profile action items like a movie version of Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness appear to be of less day-to-day importance than the development of a steady stream of marketing videos to promote the Open Road titles. Friedman was adamant, however, that such videos would not be integrated into the books themselves to create “vook” hybrids. “We do not want to disrupt the purity of the read,” she declared. “We want the marketing to drive the reader to the book.”

The audience at the lunchtime talk was a mix of NYU students and publishing execs—we spotted Russell Perreault, Robert Miller, Matthew Baldacci, and Peter Workman, among others—and came loaded with questions; while Friedman did deflect a few topics (DRM, piracy, and the Google Books Settlement), she spoke at length about her company’s willingness to collaborate with the “legacy publishers” who held print rights to Open Road backlist titles and possibly even to license rights to paper editions of Open Road originals. She also offered her thoughts on e-book pricing, which she’s initially aiming to keep at levels comparable to trade paperbacks: “The value of an e-book is the same value for the person reading it as any other format of the book,” she offered, rejecting the notion that digital editions had to be “cheap.”

(photo courtesy of NYU; full disclosure: senior editor Ron Hogan is an adjunct faculty member at the Center for Publishing)

James Othmer’s Agent Was No Clown… Yet

We enjoy following James P. Othmer on his Twitter stream, so we were delighted to see that AgencySpy editor Matthew van Hoven posted an interview with the Adland author to’s “So What Do You Do?” series. Othmer discusses his background in the advertising biz and his circuitous route to becoming a published writer:

“I realized that if I wrote a nice little jewel of a novel that would have a small readership and was well-reviewed, I would never come close to making the money I was making, even as a copywriter. I realized it was an unrealistic goal to say I’ll be a self-sustaining writer of fiction. So I kept at it, and I wrote three novels. I had several agents. One agent died, one agent quit to go to clown school.”

Othmer, who draws upon his personal experience to inform a meditation upon advertising in Adland, notes that he’s still consulting in that field, a process he describes as being hired to “take a look at a brand, and lift the hood up and see if there was something I could bring to it.” Meanwhile, we’re waiting for the film adaptation of his first novel, The Futurist, to get out of pre-production, and then next June he’s got a new novel, Holy Water, about “a water-filtration salesman who gets transferred to a third-world nation to open up a back office in a drought-plate nation [after] his wife has thrown him out of the house because he lied about his vasectomy.”

Lost Symbol Out, Gathering Storm In


Brandon Sanderson, the fantasy author handpicked to complete the late Robert Jordan‘s Wheel of Time series, chats with “Storm Leaders” and Tor employees at a reception in the Flatiron Building yesterday afternoon toasting the debut of The Gathering Storm, the first of three volumes expanding upon Jordan’s unfinished material, in the top slot of the New York Times bestseller list for hardcover fiction. (As one publicist was said to have exclaimed shortly before our arrival, “Take that, Dan Brown!”) Meanwhile, Tor’s founder, Tom Doherty, touches base with Macmillan CEO John Sargent. Just a few hours later, Sanderson would head over to the Union Square Barnes & Noble, where fans had begun staking out seats for his reading shortly after noon.

Also, there was cake. Chocolatey, chocolatey cake, with a dragon on top.

Pipkin’s Woodsburner Takes First Novel Prize

pipkin-sargent-prize.jpgThe Center for Fiction presented its fourth annual First Novel Prize to John Pipkin for Woodsburner, a retelling of an incident in the life of young Henry David Thoreau, at a private ceremony last night in New York City. The other nominees for the award were Philipp Meyer, Patrick Somerville, Paul Harding, and Yiyun Li. In some respects, the cocktail reception before the ceremonial dinner felt like a sneak preview of next week’s National Book Awards reception, as many of New York’s top book editors came out to celebrate one of their own—Gerald Howard, the recipient of the Center’s Maxwell E. Perkins Award for lifetime achievement in editing fiction.

As a sidenote: The Center also announced that the First Novel Prize, which was known as the Sargent Prize from 2006 to 2008, would be renamed the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize beginning in 2010. The new sponsorship comes from financial writer and Center board member Nancy Dunnan, in memory of her father, Ray Flaherty.

Sonny Mehta to Receive AAWW Lifetime Achievement Award

aaww-reception-invite.jpgThe Asian American Writers’ Workshop is hosting “Page Turner,” its first all-day literary festival, this Saturday at Brooklyn’s powerHouse Arena—and on Friday night, the Workshop will present Sonny Mehta with its Lifetime Achievement Award in a ceremony that features an appearance by one of Knopf‘s literary stars, Michael Ondaatje. There are two levels of access to the Friday night event: $50 lets you in on a cocktail reception at 7 p.m., but for $500 you can stick around for the gala dinner afterwards. (Both tickets include full access to Saturday’s events, which are also priced separately or on a day-pass.)

Full disclosure: GalleyCat senor editor Ron Hogan is one of many guest speakers Saturday; he’ll be moderating a discussion about “Queering the Asian-American Coming of Age Story” with novelists Alexander Chee, Abha-Dawesar, and Rakesh Satyal that afternoon.

Sheila McClear’s Memoir (It’s Not About Gawker)

In early 2008, we learned that Sheila McClear (left), then an editor at Gawker, was shopping a memoir about her brief career as a peep show dancer. This morning, we’re pleased to hear that the book, formerly titled Every Day I Know Less and Less: Postcards From the New Times Square, has been sold to Denise Oswald of Soft Skull as Last of the Live Nude Girls, in a deal brokered by Holly Bemiss.

eBook Publisher is ‘Ravenous’ for Your NaNoWriMo Output

As National Novel Writing Month continues, Ravenous Romance editorial director Lori Perkins emails us that she’s willing to have a look at any completed manuscripts that come out of NaNoWriMo. “One of our writers told us that a lot of agents and publishers on Twitter have refused to even look at NaNoWriMo work, so we really want to get the word out,” Perkins says. “I know there’s some really good work being written right now and I’d love to find and publish it at RR… As a publisher that buys over 300 new short stories a year, I am sure we will find some exciting new voices in erotic romance fiction.”

Yes, as Perkins specifies on the Ravenous Romance blog, she’s interested in “just about every category of erotic romance, [though] our readers are anxious for more M/M/, paranormal and menage.” With the genre boundaries in mind, any NaNoWriMo manuscript (in the vicinity of 50,000 words) submitted to Ravenous in December 2009 is eligible for publication along with a $200 advance.

Our own feelings on the subject are as follows: If an agent or a publisher says they won’t look at a NaNoWriMo manuscript, don’t tell them about it, at least not when you’re submitting. Afterwards, if somebody wants it, then you’ve got a cute backstory about how you were inspired to write the novel, but for now, let the work stand on its own merits. Which brings up an even more fundamental point: Why would you even think of submitting your NaNoWriMo manuscripts in December? If you’re fortunate enough to have a workable first draft on November 30, you take a couple weeks off to refresh yourself, then you start revising!

But most importantly, we just want to remind you: It’s National Novel Writing Month, not National Fantasizing About Selling the Novel You Haven’t Written Yet Month. Act accordingly.

Let’s Talk eBook Royalties: First, What Should They Be?

We know publishing companies aren’t always having the easiest time transitioning themselves into the eBook market, but we can offer one bit of advice without hesitation: Don’t, as one independent publisher recently did, contact authors directly about your new electronic publishing program and mention in your email that “we’d like to make some changes to your publishing contract” to accommodate your new digital initiative and, by the way, here’s “an addendum to your contract that you will want to sign and return to me in order to enroll your title in this exciting new program.”

We say this because even though publishers may be able to tell authors, as this independent publisher did, that they anticipate being able to give them more money by raising the royalty rates on electronic media from direct sales, even with a reduction on the royalties on electronic media licensed to resellers, there’s generally (though not always) somebody else who needs to be in on that conversation: the agent. And when the agent finds out a publisher is sending contract addenda directly to authors and telling them “we will need you to agree to this minor contract revision before we can include your title in our e-publishing program,” we can assure you: The agent is not going to be happy. And she is going to let the publisher know.

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A NaNoWriMo Home Base for New Yorkers

jack-writers-studio.jpgYesterday, we shared some tips from a toolbox for National Novel Writing Month participants no matter where they may be—but here’s an opportunity of special significance to GalleyCat readers in the New York City area: The Center for Fiction is opening up its Writers’ Studio at 40% off the usual membership fees. The Studio is located on the top floor of the Center’s midtown headquarters, and members can make use of “a desk, a personal locker, access to an up-to-date reference library, comfortable chairs, electrical outlets for portable and laptop computers, wireless access to the internet, access to a refreshment lounge located on the premises, and all the privileges of general membership—including access to our 75,000 volume library, discounts at our bookstore, and marked down tickets for all our events, reading groups and writing workshops.”

Membership options extend from an evenings-and-weekends plan (usually $100/month) to full access from 9 a.m. to midnight or 6 p.m. on weekends ($130); to snag the discount any time this month, email programming director Kristin Henley and put “NaNoWriMo” in the subject line.

Meanwhile, here’s some of the best advice for NaNoWriMo participants we’ve seen yet, from Merlin Mann: “Read the next sentence out loud to yourself three times. No, do it: When I’m reading about writing, I’m not writing.” As Mann points out, the top habit of amazing writers is pretty simple: “They write.”

(Note: Senior editor Ron Hogan curates a reading series at the Center for Fiction.)

Fourth Story: Alternative Reality Soap Operas for Teen Readers


(Fourth Story Media CEO Lisa Holton looks on as creative development and marketing manager Ariel Aberg-Riger browses the Amanda Project website.)

“I was thinking more and more about how we publish books and how we reach our audiences,” Lisa Holton told us as we sat at the work table Fourth Story Media shares with Cookstr in their South Street offices, “and about how young people incorporate technology into their lives. How do we develop traditional book publishing but marry it to various online and digital media in a way that makes sense to readers?” Last summer, after leaving her position as Scholastic‘s president of trade publishing, Holton launched Fourth Story as an incubator for the multi-platform stories she had in mind for young readers.

The first venture—The Amanda Project—is now in play, as HarperTeen has published the first in a projected eight-volume series. The initial story was developed by Melissa Kantor, whom Holton had first published back at Hyperion, with individual volumes assigned to different authors. At a website (developed in collaboration with Happy Cog Studios), readers who’ve gotten sucked into the story of three high school classmates, who weren’t friends to start with, banding together to figure out what happened to the one girl they had in common, can create online personae for themselves and add new perspectives to the weekly mini-puzzles supplementing the narrative in the print volumes. (“They’ve immersed themselves way more deeply than we thought they would,” Aberg-Riger confessed; at one point, putting the clues in one puzzle together, the teen players began to organize a trip to Paris—sending the Fourth Story office into a frenzy before they realized the girls were just plotting out their characters’ travel plans.) The first four books will tell one story arc which, combined with the revelations gradually unfolding online, will set up a second story arc for the back half.

The effect, we commented to Holton, was like a participatory soap opera, or a massive Dungeons & Dragons campaign with one dungeonmaster and hundreds of players; she brought up the classic text-based puzzle games Infocom created for home computer owners in the 1980s, which set us both on a nostalgia kick for their adaptation of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, one of the truly great interactive fictions. (Interestingly, that was the second time this month we’d found ourselves in that conversation!)

“A lot of adults had a really hard time grasping this,” Holton says of the way the books and the website link together into one overarching immersive narrative, “but I would explain it to a 13-year-old girl and ” (she snaps! her fingers) “she’d get it in 30 seconds. In fact, beta users used to tell us it took them a long time to figure the website out, and it would turn out ‘a long time’ was five minutes.” Inspired by the initial success of The Amanda Project, Fourth Story is already preparing another series, a science-fiction-themed narrative aimed at young male readers. “In some ways, this is radically different than what I’d been doing for the last 20 years,” Holton reflects, “but the basics are still the same… What’s the story? And how do you think readers will be interested by it?”