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If The Kids Are United, YA Lit Can Never Be Divided

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Yesterday’s post about Dave Eggers‘s belief that the youth of America still love literature prompted YA author Lorie Ann Grover to send us an email about the passion for reading shared by the 6,000 members of the Readergirlz social network (which she co-created). She quotes one of the teenage girls who participates in the site:

“I just wanted you guyz to know what a terrific job you all are doing. I was reading a Holly Black novel at school the other day, killing time before my next class, when another student came up to me and told me that Black is one of her favorite authors. We talked a while and I was surprised when she said she too knows about the readergirlz… I didn’t realize that many people my age read let alone all belong to the same reading group. It was a neat feeling. Thank you.”

And it’s not just teenage girls: There’s also GuysLitWire for boys to talk about the books that capture their attention. We’ve gotten a lot of ridiculously pessimistic emails over the last few years suggesting that one of the biggest reasons the publishing industry has no future is that kids don’t read; sites like these two give us hope that the naysayers have simply lost touch with an audience (a bunch of audiences, really) that still exists and will continue to exist… and that the future of publishing will be led by those who are able to bring that audience together.

An Arts Editor Responds to the Book Review Crisis

2007_0724_citypaper.jpgEarlier today GalleyCat reported on Creative Loafing Media’s bankruptcy news. The company owns Chicago Reader, Washington City Paper, and several more alternative weeklies–papers that provide arts coverage for countless readers around the country.

Mark Athitakis, the Arts Editor at Washington City Paper, responded to that post with a report on how his book coverage has weathered the crisis. Here are his thoughts:

“Just to be clear: Though our corporate owners declared bankruptcy yesterday, the lights are still on here, and we’re still putting out a paper. This week’s issue, in fact, will have a brief preview of Lynda Barry’s upcoming appearance and a review of Jose Saramago’s latest. Not a lot, I know, but I try to squeeze in what we can.

“It’s true that I don’t have deep pockets for book reviews—I never really did–but nobody’s yet told me to stop running them. I’ve written a little more about this for Critical Mass. This ran before the recent turmoil, but the general points still apply.”

According to Athitakis, the next issue’s book coverage will go live next Tuesday night at this link.

Book Publishing Is SO Dying, Insists Reader!

clipart-deathbed-scene.jpgA reader who goes by the name “Egbert” had this comeback to yesterday’s criticisms of the latest “end of book publishing” hoopla:

“…so, we should all not worry about the fate of Borders, or how ebooks will ultimately effect print runs on books, or any other number of issues brought up in that article, cause you and your cronies have fixated on the authors named in the story?”

(1) As a historical exercise, name a retail segment in which manufacturers were brought to ruin by the financial failures of third-party vendors, prompting the industry’s subsequent collapse. As an alternative, you could name a retail segment in which, following the removal of a major vendor from the market, other vendors were completely unable to capitalize on the newly available market share, and the market subsequently collapsed.

(2) The fate of printed books, whatever it may be, is not the same thing as the fate of the publishing industry—or at least it doesn’t have to be.

(3) Boris Kachka‘s the one who elevated the drifting of Tom Wolfe and Richard Ford to levels of oracular significance, so it’s funny to see other people accused of “fixating” on something that is quite heavily weighted in the original article.

Look, nobody’s arguing that the publishing industry is going to stay the way it is, or that it can’t benefit from the major revamping that’s on the way. But that’s hardly the same thing as saying we’re at “the end,” and it does the cogent observations scattered throughout Kachka’s article a disservice to lump them into such a sensationalist worldview. Also, it’s worth remembering that the publishing industry’s sun does not rise and fall on less than a dozen buildings scattered around Manhattan, or who does or does not have an office in one of those buildings on any given day.

One Agent’s Tribute to David Foster Wallace

Literary agent Chris Parris-Lamb of The Gernert Company wrote to GalleyCat yesterday with these thoughts concerning the death of David Foster Wallace:

I’ve never been truly devastated by the loss of a public figure before, and I just feel compelled to say this. For what it’s worth David Foster Wallace is the reason I’m in book publishing. I read Infinite Jest my sophomore year of college and that same year had an interview for an internship at a literary agency where I talked about it for almost the entire time. I was so naïve that I didn’t even understand what a literary agency was—when the person interviewing me asked me if I knew what an agent did, I said, “You publish books, right?”—but all I knew was that if there were people writing books like Infinite Jest, I wanted to be a part of bringing them to the world.

Here I am now as an agent, six years later, trying to fight the good fight (or so I tell myself), and the shadow DFW casts over contemporary literature has only increased, now for the saddest of reasons. Whether you liked his work or not, he was at the very least the kind of writer you had no choice but to form an opinion on, and we need more writers like that. Somewhere in this country there is a young genius—a member of what we’ll now call, sadly, the post-Wallace generation—trying to figure out how best to leave his or her mark on the world (Wallace, for those who don’t know, could well have become one of the foremost philosophers and logicians of his time had he not chosen to leave that academic track to pursue writing). There are more ways to do that now than ever before—certainly more than were available to Wallace, who came of age before the Internet—and perhaps it’s true that the general public doesn’t pay attention to writers in the way it once did. But Wallace’s work will live on in a way that only great literature can, and so maybe his example can serve as a call to the writers—as well as the would-be and could-be writers—of that next generation: Whether you care for his work or not, and whether you write like him or not—and it’s better if you don’t; for all the Pynchon comparisons made by people who clearly hadn’t read much of either Wallace or Pynchon, he wrote like no one else and no one else wrote like him—if you can make us look at the world around us in a new and deeper way, people will pay attention, and eventually people will care. We need you now more than ever.

Your Anonymous Complaints Are Tiresome (And Wrong)

A quick follow-up to Andy’s item yesterday about whether or not Madonna’s brother is a flop artist, based on a (very familiar) bit of anonymous whinging that showed up in the tip box yesterday. Actually, I don’t have anything to say one way or the other about Madonna or her brother or his book, but this line jumped out at me:

“The writing is flat and second the person telling the story is not loved. People will not spend money on a book that has these two glaring flaws.”

Four words: If I Did It. Also, not for nothing, but Dick Morris currently holds the #2 spot on the NY Times hardcover nonfiction list. (Although I am willing to concede the possiblity that somebody, somewhere, might love Dick Morris.)

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Can We Make Publishing Better, Faster, Stronger?

Yesterday, prompted by Jon Karp‘s WaPo article, I asked what it would take for the successful techniques of small independent publishers to be scaled up to Big Publishing. “It really wouldn’t be very hard,” Soft Skull‘s Richard Nash replied, “since they’re already doing it in children’s books, they’re already doing it by providing client distribution services to other publishers and they’re already doing it in sales by establishing corporate-wide organizations to supply sales services to the existing imprints.”

“The corporate publishers have to convert themselves into distributors akin to Perseus/PGW [and] Consortium,” Nash continued,” except that they also provide editorial, design and production services, and they provide office space and human resources support. But editorial and marketing/publicity gets disaggregated into multiple imprints. Each has a budget, anyone can get fired for not staying within budget or not have a plausible explanation as to why budget will be made, and then some, in the subsequent fiscal year. (That is, approximating the fiscal discipline of the average independent publisher.)

“To make this work there would be one critical adjustment to make, which is to ignore those agents who play publisher egos off one another and convince them when they’ve overpaid for yet another debut novel that they’ve ‘won,’ that they ‘beat’ the other house. However, I believe that having the smaller imprints will render more transparent those who know how to reach an audience, and be profitable, compared to those who just know how to ‘win’ auctions. As a result, kudos will go to those folks who are reaching their audiences, rather than to the editor whose strengths lie in talking the suits into writing big checks.”

As Nash sees it, “Corporate publishers have the talent, the sales force, the publicists, the management information systems, they just need to realize that while things are not yet fucked in the publishing business… [W]hile it might seem for each senior management person that they’ve more to lose by rocking the boat than by holding tight, you don’t want to be trying to turn the aircraft carrier into the flotilla of destroyers while sales are down 10 percent like in the music business and you’re getting strafed from above.”

But another reader wonders: Is Karp’s scenario missing a key component?

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BookExpo Mailbag: What’s the e-Book’s Market Function?

“I found the interaction between two of your posts [last week] interesting,” writes Aaron Hierholzer of the Greenleaf Book Group. “The report on the Publishing 2.0 model panel and the Kindle‘s nonexistent profit margins highlighted part of the problem e-books face before they take root: there’s no consensus on what their main role is.”

“Are they best as a tool to spur print sales (as Derek Powazek suggests),” Hierholzer asks, “or are they the final, standalone product, worthy of a purchase (as Amazon.com presumably hopes)? In the NYT piece, Amazon claims that people buy the same amount of print books even as they buy more e-books; is the suggestion that they buy both e-book and ‘p-book’ versions of the same title? If not (this seems rather prodigal to me), how do they decide which books to buy in which version?”

Good questions! Anybody care to venture an observation?

Is a New Generation Taking Over Big Publishing?

“Did you notice that the new CEO at Random House [Markus Dohle] is 39, and Brian Murray is 41?” a reader emails this morning, upon the news that Murray’s replacing Jane Friedman at HarperCollins. “What happened to 50 as the minimium age for a CEO? I guess you need one more for an official trend.”

If there was a third to come, who would it be? And what are the implications? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

S&S Drops In Super Secret Memoir

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We just received a nice anon tip about a new secret “pop-culture memoir” to be published by Simon Spotlight Entertainment with an embargoed July 15, 2008 on sale date and 350 thousand copy first printing in hardcover. Could this be the memoir Madonna’s ex-nanny was shopping around last year or something else entirely. What’s your guess?

What Can Brown Do for You? Book Thievery Update

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Stories of books gone missing are coming out of the woodwork and a common theme seems to be that whoever is doing the stealing, isn’t taking the time to make sure no incriminating evidence is left behind.

Years ago, a friend of mine published a novel with a publisher that was in a lot of transition. So she ordered a case of her own book from Barnes and Noble, thinking she would use it to do some mailings of her own. Then she went on tour, forgot about it all, and returned to New York to find a huge stack of the book at The Strand–with her invoice folded inside the top copy. Somehow her crate of books, shipped via UPS, had been “delivered” to the Strand.

UPDATE on CNN Mailroom Theft: Chris Ariens over at TVNewser has the word from a CNN insider on what might have happened to that book here.

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