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Bookthievery Update

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Chris Erikson from the New York Post just sent me this story about his missing copy of Tales of Times Square:

Someone sent me your post about the CNN mailroom thief, figuring I’d be amused since something similar happened to me recently. It involved a book called “Tales of Times Square,” by Josh Alan Friedman, which was originally published 20 years ago. I’d emailed Josh a year or so ago and told him how much I liked the book, so when it was reissued recently he sent me an inscribed copy — which then was stolen from my desk. A lot of things were getting stolen from desks at the time, and they eventually caught the guy and fired him. Meanwhile, Friedman gets a fan email through his MySpace page from someone who happens to mention that he’d “found” a copy of the book at his old job at the Post. So he called the guy out, fingering him as the thief and telling him to return the book. In his email, the guy had asked about the identity of a real-life model who’s identified by a pseudonym in the book, and Friedman said he’d tell him if he returned it. Sure enough, he sent it back, and it’s sitting on my desk as I write…. so, further evidence that stealing inscribed books brings on bad karma.

And, I just got confirmation on another story I had recalled. Evidently a few years back there was an Avon/Morrow employee who had a deal with The Strand and was using the company messenger service to send over entire cases of books. Talk about ballsy!

However, not everyone is convinced the CNN incident is theft. I just received this anon tip:

Has it occurred to any of you that evan did the selling and was covering his a. with the author? given the inconvenience of a trip downtown for a busy producer, this seems way more likely than a mailroom theft.

UPDATE: It must be that time of year. Sara Kramer just wrote to alert me of her story Harvard Book Store nabs book thief and muses: “a comment on your site made me wonder if blaming the mailroom is the new blaming the cleaning lady.”

Thief in the CNN mailroom!

It appears that the CNN mailroom has an entrepreneur who, rather than schlep stolen books down to the Strand bookstore for some cold hard cash, is selling them on Amazon. This just came in through the Galleycat tipwire:

This was sent out by Brian Sack, author of In the Event of My Untimely Demise via the book’s Facebook page. It’s funny but definitely must be maddening from an author’s standpoint at the same time: “I received an email from someone who bought IN THE EVENT OF MY UNTIMELY DEMISE from a third party vendor on Amazon. He was curious why his new book was signed with a note to a guy named Evan. First I thought I was being pranked. How could someone buy my book on Amazon and receive a copy that I’d personally signed and mailed to Evan, a producer at CNN? Too weird. But I emailed Evan – and he said he’d never received the book. Hmm. We did a little Sherlock Holmesing and came to realize that someone in the TimeWarner/CNN mailroom is actually stealing books that arrive in the mail and re-selling them on Amazon. Isn’t that great? They didn’t bother to open the book and notice that I’d signed it to someone. Now Evan’s working hard to find the thief and teach him or her a valuable lesson in sudden occupational reassignment.”

This certainly makes a good argument to follow up on books that you send out.

Former Editor Says Requesting Or Receiving Author Headshots Isn’t Widespread Practice

Former St. Martin’s Press editor Jason Pinter objects to yesterday’s tipster’s assertion that “male writers are being asked for headshots now with their manuscript submissions, from major houses.” “It’s disingenuous to run a quote saying that “male writers are being asked for their headshots.” “That statement–without any sort of caveat or context–implies this practice is widespread and common, when I can attest to the fact that it is anything but. This is not to say that editors don’t look at attractiveness as an unexpected bonus, but I’ve never heard of a fiction writer being asked to submit any kind of photo until after their book was already acquired. If this did happen (this story was told “anecdotally,” remember), one instance hardly constitutes an epidemic,” Jason writes. Fair enough.

Shocker: Publishers Really Are Looking For The Next Pretty Face (And Sometimes Bod!)

A reader writes: “Just thought you might want to know that anecdotally, vis a vis your post on Galleycat today, male writers are being asked for headshots now with their manuscript submissions, from major houses. One friend even wrote to ask me if this was normal as he was freaked out (he happens to be gorgeous). He did eventually sell his short story collection. To a decent literary house.

Previous to that, the only time I’d heard of it was back about 7 years ago when [Redacted] confided that her French and Italian publishers had asked her for a full body shot before consenting to buy her book. She sent it and the rights were acquired, and she was sent on tour.”

(Joke about judging a book by its cover goes here).

Why Printing Fewer, Non-Returnable Books May Not Save the World

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In response to Emily’s post yesterday about the environmental consequences of our no-returns business model, which raised the possibility that “people don’t buy more books because they see big luxuriant stacks of books on offer,” Wiley marketer Andrew Wheeler offered a mild rebuke:

“If there are three books on a shelf, and two customers come looking for it, two sales will result. If there is one book on a shelf, and two customers come, one of them is out of luck—and so is the bookseller. You end up with returns because it’s impossible to always have precisely one book for every purchaser in the right place at the right time.”

Wheeler describes bookselling as a Scylla and Charybdis setup, where retailers try to steer a path between the “false negative” of being out of stock when customers come calling and the “false positive” of having lots of books nobody’s looking for. “You can manage a business to minimize one of those, but doing that, either way, is dangerous,” Wheeler cautions. “The smart way is to keep an eye on both measures, and balance them out across a publishing line.”

(I’ll leave the fine points of that argument for those of you with better business sense to tease out, but I just want to make one small correction to Wheeler’s argument, which begins, “GalleyCat doesn’t have comments…” We do, we really do!)

Upholding the Industry’s Great Liquor Traditions

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Literary agent Ted Weinstein passes along some pictures from “Books and Booze,” a semi-annual gathering of the San Francisco Bay Area’s publishing community. Among those who came to 111 Minna Gallery for the most recent bash were the Wiley editorial triumvirate of Lesley Iura, Sheryl Fullerton and Jesse Wiley, along with independent consultant (and party organizer) Ani Chamichian, joined by agent Rob Preskill.

That reminds me: We haven’t had a party in a while… and with two new bloggers, we’ve got plenty of reason to celebrate… Hmmm.

A Few Bugs in the Paperless Office Yet?

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After Random House bought Sony Readers for its entire sales team, an agent who would rather not tell you his name wrote me to comment on the number of publishers who are using the e-book readers to distribute galleys and manuscripts without all that cumbersome paper. “Electronic is better for everyone, and I bet much more than half of submissions (at least for non-fiction proposals) are already being submitted by agents electronically now,” he says, “[but] Sony Readers don’t handle PDF files, which means we have less control of formatting when we are forced to send an RTF.”

This Is Why We Have Fake Editors

“[Fake editors] are most definitely not an urban legend,” a freelance editor emailed me yesterday. “A company that I worked at in the ’90s not only sent out rejection letters under a fake editor’s name, but this fake editor also had a voicemail box and an e-mail address. I would bet this still happens. Most rejected authors are gracious, but those that aren’t can be horrifying.”

And how: The pseudonmyous “Moonrat,” an editor here in New York, writes on her blog that an aspiring author has turned into a stalker. The guy shows up unannounced at her company and drops off his unsolicited manuscript after waiting more than half an hour for her, then calls her assistant the next day wondering if there was any feedback yet. “Now he has somehow learned my direct line,” she reports. “I have had 3 (three) long phone messages from him today about his book and how it’s going to change the world.” (Via Maud.)

This Fake Editor Story Is No Bull

clipart-ceramic-bull.jpgThis morning’s item about rejection letters sent out under false names sparked another recollection about the way things used to work in publishing. Colleen Lindsay, an agent with Fine Print Literary Management, recalls an episode from her years on the other side of the fence:

“Long ago, when Lester and Judy Lynn Del Rey were still heading up Del Rey Books, they had several small ceramic bulls that were named after various popes. One of the ceramic bulls was named Urban. Urban Del Rey. Now, frequently, when Lester and Judy’s staff and assistants rejected manuscripts or queries, they used the name Urban Del Rey as a signature. In several of the leading writers guides of the time, Urban del Rey was actually listed as an acquiring editor. And even when I was still working there a couple of years ago, we would occasionally receive slush addressed to Mr. Urban Del Rey. It always made us smile.”

Oh, wait: papal bulls. Now I get it! Lindsay adds that, as far as she knows, “the bulls have gone off to live with various and sundry long-time Ballantine employees.” And, no, they probably didn’t much look like the picture above, but I work with what I’ve got!

Borders Face-Out Strategy: Pump Up the Volume

clipart-small-browse.jpgHere’s an interesting take on Borders‘s new face-out program, from Dave Marx of PassPorter Travel Press:

“Can an advertising venue with surplus display space fill that space at a profitable rate?” Marx asks. “Surplusses tend to drive rates down, which could help publishers. Most likely, then, Borders won’t dump the added co-op onto the market at once. In the meantime, that space will go at no charge to titles the retailer favors.”

Which could mean a lucky break for small publishers . (On that note, when it comes to face-out, a former Borders employee who for obvious reasons wishes to remain anonymous says, “The people that are really making those decisions are the inventory processing teams in the stores. There are required face-outs but those are generally ignored by employees if the book they are asked to bring attention to stinks.”) Marx goes on to explain that the ultimate point of facing more books out isn’t the increased opportunity to rake in co-op money, but the ability to generate faster turnover: “With or without co-op support, the goal is fewer slow-selling titles.”

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