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Archives: June 2005

On the TPOs of the World

When I first saw the subject of this article, I rolled my eyes. One more story, no matter how good, on TPOs, and I’ll tape it to my list of infinitely returning (/recurring) book article “ideas,” aka, articles I’ve had enough of. But, until then, the quality of this particular iteration, penned by Agate’s Doug Seibold, has me cradling its paragraphs in loving blockquote tags…

Here, Seibold describes his initial reasons for distrusting “the TPO option” and what eventually changed his mind:

There were a few more rules to [the hardback] game that also cut against the TPO option. The first was that if a hardback did really poorly, the smart thing to do was mercy-kill it, rather than release a paperback edition. The second was that the review media were disinclined to pay as much attention to TPOs as they were to hardbacks. The third was that booksellers didn’t quite know what to do with TPOs; many stores’ high-profile table positions were segregated between “new releases,” i.e., hardbacks, and “new in paperback,” i.e., reprints–leaving no real place for the TPO.

What really changed my mind about TPOs, though, was learning more about just how much the rules of hardback publishing have evolved. …. It’s so much easier for stores to stock paperbacks than hardbacks, despite the fact that they (as well as the publisher, and the author) earn a higher return on every hardback sold. Why? The reward of that higher margin is undercut by the hardback’s higher inventory cost. Even books selling in consistent but small numbers are likely to be returned, simply because of that inventory cost. I used to believe that the sales life of a decently performing hardback could be nine to twelve months if it was selling steadily. Now I understand how these factors all conspire to make that life much, much briefer.

Critical Reception: Summer Spotlight

historian.jpgThe Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova

Praise abounds for Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, the “Dracula-da Vinci Code hybrid” that purpotedly landed its first-time author a whopping $2 million advance. Salon‘s Laura Miller tacitly approves the high cost, calling the debut “a fine Bordeaux to Dan Brown’s overcaffeinated Diet Coke.” USA Today, meanwhile, asserts that “Kostova may have outdone Stoker.” And the Boston Globe assures “lovers of the new genre of bibliophile mysteries” that they “will find much to cozy up to.”

Occasionally, though, critics find that Kostova’s prose amounts to nothing more than a (requisite vampire joke; sorry) pain in the neck. “The vampire’s power to inflict misery pales beside that of the book’s contorted narrative structure,” writes the Times’ Janet Maslin. Weighing in at more than 600 pages, “even the undead,” apparantly, “can be talked to death.”

longwaydown.jpgA Long Way Down
by Nick Hornby

Either to ban the material to another medium entirely, or to help bump readers’ cultural trajectories just a couple degrees shy of future impact, reviewers can’t refrain from calling Nick Hornby’s latest “a screenplay on dry ice, disguised as a story-device novel” (Slate), or, more straight-forwardly, “a formulaic idea for a cheesy made-for-television movie” (the NYT).

More insulting, still, to A Long Way Down‘s credentials is how much air-time — and glee — each review devotes to the possible adaptation’s casting. Hugh Grant and Keira Knightley? suggests Slate. And maybe the ever-tasteful Brenda Blethyn as Maureen? The Times, even less a fan than Slate is, proposes “a younger Tom Selleck,” “Shannen Doherty on speed,” and — here’s the real blow to the nuts — “David Schwimmer.”

Only the L.A. Times likes the book well enough (“[It conveys] an earnest, sincere belief in the humanity of others without becoming [...] fake.”) to glance at its accompanying media kit. If only others had been so thorough, they might know an adaptation is already underway, starring Johnny Depp.

specimen.jpgSpecimen Days
by Michael Cunningham

Depending on your reviewer, Specimen Days is either an “unsettling hodgepodge” (The Plain Dealer) filled with “the kind of choices people make only on the planet Literature” (Newsday) or a “brave new novel” (USA Today), “as ambitious as it is generous” (The NY Observer), and “overflowing with smartness” (Boston Globe).

Critics find themselves especially divided over Cunningham’s appropriation of Walt Whitman. “Leaves of Grass feel like [an afterthought] grafted onto the tales … in an effort to lend them extra philosophical weight,” writes the Times‘ Kakutani. Newsday agrees that “Cunningham, a congenitally melancholy writer, has no affinity for Whitman”:

Some characters appear to have a form of Tourette syndrome that causes them to declaim Whitman involuntarily. But these quotations stick out of the delicate prose like a tuba in a string quartet.

USA Today, however, finds Whitman’s optimism a necessary antidote to Cunningham’s dark worldview: Only “because Whitman remains Cunningham’s inspiration,” does the novel “[offer] hope.”

The Google Literati

Thanks to Roderick Maclean, author of TROPIC/OF/CUBICLE (Spork Press), GC will now present (as in, copy and paste) “The Google Literati,” “a ranking of the most popular contemporary literary authors on the Net, as tracked by Google AdWords”:

01. David Sedaris (N/A)
02. Chuck Palahniuk (N/A)
03. Michael Chabon (1,298)
04. Nick Hornby (N/A)
05. John Irving (835)
06. Dave Eggers (714)
07. Haruki Murakami (628)
08. Bret Easton Ellis (513)
09. Arundhati Roy (414)
10. David Foster Wallace (410)
11. Jonathan Safran Foer (325)
12. Ian Mcewan (324)
13. Jeffrey Eugenides (263)
14. Zadie Smith (195)
15. Douglas Coupland (184)
16. Irvine Welsh (171)
16. Jonathan Lethem (171)
18. Neal Pollack (163)
19. Orhan Pamuk (154)
20. Amy Hempel (151)
21. Steve Almond (134)
22. Meg Wolitzer (102)
23. Charles D’Ambrosio (82)
24. George Saunders (74)
24. Mary Gaitskill (74)
26. Denis Johnson (73)
27. Aimee Bender (69)
28. Jonathan Ames (63)
29. Michel Houellebecq (51)
30. Monica Ali (44)
31. Rick Moody (40)
32. Sam Lipsyte (38)
33. Colson Whitehead (37)
34. Andrea Levy (31)
34. Heidi Julavits (31)
36. Ben Marcus (26)
37. Nell Freudenberger (25)
38. Stephen Elliot (16)
39. A.M. Holmes (14)
40. Hari Kunzru (9)

Maclean instructs, “The numbers to the right of each author represent the number of times his or her name was searched using Google and several other partner search engines over a three day period.” N/As refer to data collected over a one-day (versus three day) period.

Describing the genesis of the list, Maclean cites his attempts at finding alternative methods for publicizing TROPIC/OF/CUBICLE. “I have no experience whatsoever in promotion or marketing,” he writes. “So, when I find the time, I experiment — see what works and what doesn’t.”

One of the things I’ve tinkered with lately is Google AdWords. This service allows one to bid on search terms and have searchers’ returns supplemented with text advertisements. Using AdWords, I set up an ad campaign based entirely on the names of popular or critically acclaimed contemporary authors, such as Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon. For more than a week, when anyone has searched for “Michael Chabon,” among other authors, my ad (pictured above left) has appeared in the “Sponsored Links” column on the right side of Google’s search returns page. Those searchers who have clicked through to my site probably wouldn’t have run across my book otherwise, and, as they have all shown interest in a contemporary literary author, the connection seems well targeted. Because Google’s system fosters competitive bidding on keywords, the only way this scenario works for me is if few companies have placed ads using the same keywords as I’m using, allowing me, in essence, to bid the absolute minimum cost per click (5 cents) and still get a high position in the ads. If I were trying to do this with the phrases “SAT prep” or “car dealerships,” it would be pointless — I wouldn’t get anywhere for less than several dollars per click and I’d still be placed in a lengthy clutter of other ads. With author names right now (and I say right now, because I’m sure this will change), there are simply very few companies that have bought keywords. With some names, mine is the only ad; with others, there are five or six competing ads, mostly bookstores like Amazon buying in bulk.

Along the way, I realized others might find it interesting to see the results of my experiment, particularly which authors are most sought after on thet Net. Above, then, is my list of authors and their relative popularity.

“Publishing+,” Meet “Author+”

inc.jpgDoes the business plan make the writer? Today’s NYT profile of Janet Evanovich suggests it can.

According to the Times, “Ms. Evanovich plots her first week of promotion to include book signings at big stores that report their sales to publications that publish best-seller lists.” Similar eye-on-the-prize manueverings may help explain why Evanovich — with sales “well short of the levels reached by the likes of Nora Roberts, [James] Patterson and John Grisham” — has been able to achieve something Patterson and other household name authors have not: annual No. 1 bestsellers.

HarperCollins may lay claim to the phrase “Publishing+,” but Evanovich’s strategy might best be described as something like “Author+,” turning its author not so much into a household name as a brand name:

When fans, impatient for her next novel, began asking her to recommend other writers like her, Ms. Evanovich hired one instead. Thus began a separate line of paperback romance-thrillers with Charlotte Hughes as co-author and St. Martin’s as publisher.

… Ms. Evanovich acknowledges that her strategy is little different than it might be for selling toothpaste. “When you’re trying to expand your business, it’s about real estate in the stores,” she said in an interview at her hilltop home in rural western New Hampshire, and more products in more categories mean more shelf space.

But while her relentless self-promotion has attracted more fans, it has also created some tensions. Michael Morrison, the president of HarperMorrow, the HarperCollins division that published “Metro Girl,” said the interplay of multiple publishers and product lines is not ideal. “I’m a believer that a publisher and an author should have one primary relationship,” he said … “It’s much easier to work with an author and orchestrate a publishing career if you have all of the books under one house,” he said.

Given Harper’s Publishing+ strategy, Morrison’s discomfort should come as no surprise. In February, HC topper Jane Friedman told the Times that she “envisions a day when a reader in a bookstore will reach for a HarperCollins novel the way some parents of young children now reach for a Disney film in a video store– a result of faith in the producer rather than the specific content.” By establishing herself as a brand name, Evanovich could only be subtracting from HC’s “+” enthusiasm.

So Juvenile

“The canon” used to be The Phrase — the words no debate about what high schoolers ought to be reading could do without, the concept cultural conservatives and progressives competed to define, the idea that summer reading lists bowed down to or undermined. Nowadays, though, The Phrase most likely to come up during discussions of high schoolers’ required reading is “‘issues’ novels,” a gritty and/or simplistic strain of YA fiction first railed against in the NY Times one year ago and again attacked in Slate last Friday.

Contrary to what readers might expect (or what they might have expected if I hadn’t named the publications as the NYT and Slate), neither attack makes a bee-line for “issues” novels” sexually explicit passages. Neither relies on religious or conservative sentiments, either. Instead, “the real trouble with such issues-oriented contemporary fiction,” Slate‘s Ann Hulbert argues,

is that it encourages what you might call (in Jeanne Kirkpatrick style) literary equivalence: The genre, as teachers have discovered with the help of accompanying guides, lends itself to trendy and tidy didacticism. And so the books can end up as assigned reading for older kids precisely when these students deserve to be discovering the difference between real literature and the melodramatic fictional equivalent of an Afterschool Special.


  • New ALA study reports how frequently federal, state and local agents are demanding records from libraries. According to one librarian, “the findings are completely contrary to what the Justice Department has been trying to convince the public.”

  • USA Today calls Judith Regan “a book and movie agent.” A rep from Project for Excellence in Journalism comments, “This is the dark side of synergy.”
  • Neal Pollack is the Greatest Living American Writer. Neal Pollack is Dead.
  • Page Six reports that “Tara Reid is the front-runner for the lead in the movie/TV adaptation of She’s Got Issues by Stephanie Lessing, slated to hit bookstores the weekend of July 4.” Happy birthday, America. You’ve got issues.

Schiavo Nearing Book Deal

Word about town is that David Vigliano’s repping Michael Schiavo. Previously, the boldface-friendly agent’s repped Moby’s vegan cookbook, but we’re told jokes about vegetative states are very crudité.

Let’s Keep Our Priorities Straight Here


Authors’ Walk of Shame

Typically, authors’ jeremiads against the publishing biz bemoan their books’ covers, their books’ lack of publicity, their books’ clueless editors, and their own shameful attempts at self-promotion. This one does all that, but adds one element to the story which — as obvious as it seems — I haven’t seen before:

All this business about making books made me unenthused about writing because when you make a deal and money is involved, even small potatoes money, you have to relinquish control. In my case that meant a late publication date, virtually no marketing, poor distribution and a cover that doesn’t work. Just didn’t seem worth it.

I think about this as I wheel my daughter Mamie around the neighborhood for her afternoon walks. Last week we checked out Jonathan Safran Foer’s new seven million dollar house. Do I want that? Well, I’d like a house for sure, but do I want to be embroiled in the business of books to get it? …

How many authors — raise your hands — have “just happened” to pass by there? How many stopped to stare? How often do Jonathan and Nicole look out their windows and see, across the street, lone figures with looks of anguish on their faces better suited to rainy nights in pet cemetaries than sunny days on tree-lined streets?

They couldn’t have known, buying their house, how quickly other writers would make it a symbol — of enviable entitlement, plum success, ostentatious satisfaction. And, whether or not we writers actually pass by it, our references to it and jokes about it suggest a fixation reminiscent of stalking.

Secondary Market in Proofs? Part II

How often do ARCs get sold on eBay?

GC goes undercover (no, not really) and tracks down ARCs of fall’s most anticipated titles …

Book Title Author Release Date No. Listed
Faithless Karin Slaughter Aug. 30, 2005 12
Flush Carl Hiaasen Sep. 13, 2005 9
The Widow of the South Robert Hicks Sep. 1, 2005 9
Lipstick Jungle Candace Bushnell Sep. 1, 2005 8
Son of a Witch Gregory Maguire Sep. 27, 2005 6
Tyrannosaur Canyon Douglas Preston Sep. 1, 2005 8
The Diviners: A Novel Rick Moody Sep. 12, 2005 6
Cinnamon Kiss Walter Mosley Oct. 2005 6
Blue Smoke Nora Roberts Oct. 11, 2005 6
Last Days of Dogtown Anita Diamant Sep. 13, 2005 5
The March E.L. Doctorow Sep. 20, 2005 5
The Tender Bar J.R. Moehringer Sep. 1, 2005 4
Shalimar the Clown Salman Rushdie Sep. 6, 2005 4
Lunar Park Brett Easton Ellis Aug. 16, 2005 3
Spook Mary Roach Oct. 17, 2005 3
At First Sight Nicholas Sparks Sep. 13, 2005 3
Between You and Me Mike Wallace Oct. 25, 2005 3
Bait and Switch Barbara Ehrenreich Sep. 13, 2005 2
Everyone Worth Knowing Lauren Weisberger Oct. 4, 2005 2
Slow Man J.M. Coetzee Sep. 26, 2005 1