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Archives: October 2005

Sold in 60 Seconds?

The second floor of the Strand bookstore was packed Wednesday night with aspiring writers looking to pitch their book in front of a panel of publishing insiders that included agent James Levine, Time Warner Book Group head Larry Kirshbaum, Publishers Weekly deputy editor Karen Holt, Mauro DiPreto of Harper Entertainment, and newly appointed Bloomsbury publishing director Annik LaFarge. The setup—40 writers would have one minute each to describe their project, then the experts would tell them what they were doing right, and what they’d need to improve—was put in motion by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry, the husband-and-wife team behind the new writer’s guide Putting Your Passion Into Print. (Eckstut knew her panelists well, having formed relationships with them through her own work as a literary agent at Levine Greenberg.)

“Is this whole night going to be about sex?” Kirschbaum jokingly griped after the first two proposals focused on the erotic awakenings of middle-aged women as told in fiction and memoir. Soon enough, the panel was hearing out a woman who survived a bout with cancer and became a hospital clown, followed by a woman who asked, “If I could talk to my dad after he died, why couldn’t I talk to God and the angels?” in order to reveal that she could, and they’d given her all sorts of advice to pass on to us. Kirschbaum pointed out that she was working well-mined territory and urged her to look at the competition. “Do you have a new take on this?” LaFarge pressed, while Holt urged her to determine whether she was writing self-help or spirituality, so she’d know where the book would fit in the marketplace.

The advice was largely encouraging; one fellow who wound up pitching a second memoir in his final five seconds, based on a completely different set of experiences, earned a recommendation from LaFarge to find the story he most wanted to tell. When an urban historian pitched an idea for a collection of New York City maps with overlays to present historical transformations of the five boroughs, the panel thought it was a great idea but likely too expensive to produce for too small an audience, but Levine suggested that MIT Press might be interested. Levine also had strong enthusiasm for a handbook on drawing caricatures, telling the young artist that he might have come up with the perfect niche book. LaFarge suggested expanding the audience to include people interested in drawing realistic faces as well; no, Levine countered, this book is prefectly distinctive, “and if your expectations for an advance were realistically modest,” the author was definitely on to something. And so it went… I had to bail halfway through, but it looked like even those writers who weren’t getting to pitch their ideas were taking copious notes.

Bete-ing the PR Odds

Tim Bete, the author of In the Beginning… There Were No Diapers, gets in this week’s final word on how authors can deal with the publicity cycle. Although he’s happy with the work his publisher, Sorin Books, has done to promote his collection of fatherhood humor, he says he was approached by several publicists offering their services. “The bottom line in every case was that the numbers didn’t work,” he recalls. “Based on my royalty rate, I didn’t think the publicity they could provide would generate enough sales for me to break even on their fees. While it might pay off in the long-term career of an author, most PR services aren’t going to pay for themselves through royalties.” One firm, however, convinced him to do a small campaign focused on the Internet; for $500, he reports, they got him more than 30 reviews on blogs and other web sites. Bete tells more about the making and the marketing of his book on his official website.

Even Scott Adams Has a Blog Now…

…and it’s kind of refreshing that, rather than be bothered by having to deal with the technical side of things himself, he just signed up for a Typepad account. And he’s opened it up for comments.

“My blog is the only writing you’ll see from me that doesn’t first go through a professional editor,” Adams promises. “The only reason I dare writing this blog is because I have absolutely no sense of embarrassment. Most people would be horrified at the prospect of proving their ignorance to thousands of readers. My attitude is more along the lines of I have thousands of readers? Cool.” So far, it looks like he’s either trying out bits for future books or repurposing stuff that didn’t fit into earlier ones, but for fans of Adams’ humor—especially the days when Dilbert got outside the office more often—this should be amusing.

Another Round of Holden Poker

From Publishers Marketplace comes word that Anthony Holden has resold the rights to his 1990 poker memoir, Big Deal, to Simon & Schuster—along with a sequel, to be called Bigger Deal, in which he essentially repeats his initial experiment of trying to survive on the professional poker circuit for a year. No less than Salman Rushdie called the first book “the best description of world-class poker we’ve been given,” but that was fifteen years ago, when poker was a subculture with a more-than-faintly seedy veneer to it. Today, poker’s been so readily embraced that not only are the top-level competitions televised, along with friendly games among celebrities, but it seems like every major player already has his or her own book out.

Just looking at the piles of books stacked around my desk, I can readily pull out Matt Lessinger’s The Book of Bluffs, Amarillo Slim’s Play Poker to Win, and Cat Hulbert’s Outplaying the Boys: Poker Tips for Competitive Women. The bestseller list for poker books at Amazon brings in Dan Harrington, Doyle Brunson, Phil Gordon, King Yao, Barry Greenstein, Mark Blade, Phil Hellmuth, and Annie Duke… and that’s only on the first page. Then there’s the slew of books by more casual players; by the time you get around to the recently published Rough Guide to Poker (which is more of a cultural survey than a strategy manual), it becomes clear that Holden’s going to have to bring his best game if he wants to stand out in this tournament. Of course, he does bring skills to the table that give him a literary edge over much of the competition: Long before the poker books arrive, Little, Brown will be releasing his new biography of 19th-century poet Leigh Hunt, The Wit in the Dungeon. Now wouldn’t it be fun to sit him across a table from NYT poker columnist James McManus and see what happens?

U. of GA Press Recalls Stories, Revokes Prize

Brad Vice’s short story collection, The Bear Bryant Funeral Train, earned a fairly complimentary review in last Sunday’s SF Chronicle. It may well be the last review the book will get, as the University of Georgia Press has announced that it is withdrawing the collection from bookstores.

“On October 13,” according to UGA’s official statement, “the Press learned from the Tuscaloosa Public Library that one of the stories in Vice’s collection, ‘Tuscaloosa Knights,’ contained uncredited material from the fourth chapter of the first section of Carl Carmer’s Stars Fell on Alabama, a publication of the University of Alabama Press. UGA Press immediately froze stock of The Bear Bryant Funeral Train and contacted Brad Vice for his response. Vice admitted that ‘Tuscaloosa Knights’ borrows heavily from Stars Fell on Alabama and that he had made a terrible mistake in neglecting to acknowledge Carmer’s work. He further stated that he had done this without any malicious intent whatsoever.”

In addition to recalling the book from circulation and allowing the publiciation rights to revert back to Vice, UGA will also re-assign the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction it gave Vice last year to one of the other finalists.

UPDATE (5:30 p.m. EDT): In his apology to UGA, which he made available to Galleycat when contacted for a statement, Vice acknowledged that he relied heavily on Carmer’s description of a 1927 Klan march in writing “Tuscaloosa Knights” and “hoped to add authority to my story with the visual details of Carmer’s historical reckoning.” “I made a terrible error in judgment by omitting to acknowledge this due to my ignorance concerning the principles of fair use,” Vice concedes. “I am sad to learn the omission will mean the demise of the book, a labor of love I have been working on since I was an undergraduate at the University of Alabama. Though I am deeply saddened by this prospect, I am made even more sad by the impression of impropriety these allegations of misconduct have left on my hometown, a place I care for deeply. This book was supposed to be my love letter to Tuscaloosa, and I am grieved that it would be read in any other way.”

Ex-Prez Clinton Webcasts from NYPL

frankclinton.jpgTonight’s New York Public Library conversation between Bill Clinton and John Hope Franklin is sold out, but you’ll be able to catch the webcast starting at 7 p.m. Clinton and Franklin go way back; in 1997, the president appointed the historian to lead his initiative on race relations. The two will be discussing “how to destroy the color line that continues to divide our country,” and you can bet that conversation will turn to 90-year-old Franklin’s experiences fighting segregation and prejudice, which are chronicled in his forthcoming memoir, Mirror to America.

Hodgman’s Hoboes Come Alive On Flickr

horace.jpgFormer “PROFESSIONAL LITERARY AGENT and high-powered media insider” Hodgman has been tirelessly promoting his first book, The Areas of My Expertise, for some time now; just last night, we hear, he was working the room at the Chelsea Barnes & Noble with singer Jonathan Coulton. One assumes—hopes, really—that the two of them went through some of the 700 hobo names Hodgman compiled for the book, from “Stewbuilder Dennis” to “Mississippi Barry Phlegm” (follow the link to a page where you can download a full, 54-minute recitation with acoustic guitar accompaniment on MP3). Now, answering a call from Boing Boing editor Mark Frauenfelder, artists on the Internet are visualizing the hoboes. At left, for example, is Ryan Freeburn’s rendition of “Horace, the Bird-Headed Fool.”

“I am obviously pleased and bewildered in the way only the internet can please and bewilder,” said Hodgman when contacted by email about the wave of illustrations. “I am also a little shamed. It’s a great idea, first of all. One I wished I had had… Here is the internet the way it should be: un-schemed, honestly undertaken, and fueled by pure enthusiasm by strangers. I am flattered and amazed and a little scared. They are lovely drawings, even if the one of ‘Holden The Expert Dreamtwister‘ sort of resembles something that might have been tempera-painted on the roof of an old school bus that had been used for years by a wandering hippie cult before they all committed ritual suicide with poison. But that is beautiful too.”

See also Claire Zulkey’s interview with Hodgman on MBToolbox, where he describes coming up with all those names as the hardest part of the book.

Stephen King, Comic Book Writer?

Did anybody really believe Stephen King’s announcement a few years back that he’d be retiring after the conclusion of the Dark Tower saga? His current bestseller, the paperback original The Colorado Kid, might conceivably have been viewed as a fun little experiment, but with novels Cell and Lisey’s Story on the way in 2006, he seems to be back in full swing. Perhaps even ready to try new things; rumors have been swirling since early this summer that Marvel Entertainment was talking with King about doing some comic book work for them, and a British website yesterday added some details, specifying that King will create a Dark Tower graphic novel with hot artist Jae Lee. Wasn’t the Dark Tower series supposed to end on a fairly definitive note? For what it’s worth, Marvel is promising to reveal all next week..or even sooner; PW Daily says the word will come on Friday. I’m just guessing, but that means it’ll probably be during editor-in-chief Joe Quesada’s weekly chat with comics site Newsarama.

UPDATE: Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter seems to have resolved the “but isn’t Dark Tower over?” problem: his sources say King’s working on a prequel. Yawn—wouldn’t it be more fun to see him rescue an obscure superhero from oblivion, like Jonathan Lethem’s going to do?

More on the joys of your in-house publicist

Building on the series of posts Ron has had over the course of the week to follow up on Elizabeth Royte’s NYTBR article, Bev Marshall writes in with her experiences before and after publication of her new novel, HOT FUDGE SUNDAE BLUES:

When I jumped from an independent publisher to Ballantine/Random House, nearly everyone I knew warned me that I would be ignored, overshadowed by the big name authors there. I write fiction, the literary kind that everyone I knew said was a hard sell anyway. But everyone was wrong. My publicist Cindy does handle big name authors, but that just makes her more savvy about promoting books. She’s got great ideas, she listens to all of mine, and treats me with great respect.

On my first tour she called me after every event. Was I happy with it? Did I need anything? How was I feeling? She called the booksellers, too, and they loved her for caring. I’ve just returned from my second tour with same publicist, but this tour was different. My book came out the day after Katrina hit. I’m a Louisiana author who grew up in Gulfport, and many of the events she’d booked were cancelled because the stores weren’t even there anymore. But she pulled it all together, salvaged what she could of the tour and most importantly, cared about me, the person, not the book. She helped me laugh, comforted me while we were still searching for lost relatives and friends, and I truly believe she would have moved the earth to sell my novel if she could. She remembers that I like to sit on the aisle in airplanes, that I smoke, that I like to arrive at events early. It’s the little things that matter, too. I don’t know if a freelancer can give all of that to an author since I’ve never hired one, but a long, close relationship with a publicist is what matters most to me.

I’m happy with Cindy, and if my book doesn’t sell a zillion copies, it won’t be because she didn’t believe it in with all her heart and try her best to promote it.

Liberals Just Love to Play With Words

Ig Publishing will be taking over the Small Press Center tonight at 7 p.m. for a beer bash—free Pabst Blue Ribbon, while supplies last!—to celebrate, among other things, the publication of The Real Republican Dictionary by Robert Lasner. The idea behind the latter book—”what the Republicans say is not what they mean, and you need a dictionary to comprehend what they mean”—is so simple that Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel is already bringing the competition: The Dictionary of Republicanisms.

vdhcover.jpgAs the cover at left shows, vanden Heuvel clearly has the advantage when it comes to black short dresses and leather jackets, but if she shows up at the Merc, can she knock back an entire can of PBR faster than Lasner? More importantly, how does her GOP-speak (and that of the Nation readers who supplied most of her definitions) stack up against his? You decide:

  • Activist Judges
    • Lasner: “Judges who refuse to adhere to a strict interpretation of the Ten Commandments.”
    • Vanden Heuvel: “A judge who interprets the law as it is written.”

  • Axis of Evil
    • Lasner: “Liberals, homosexuals, and the French.”
    • Vanden Heuvel: “Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld.”

  • Peace
    • Lasner: “The short interval between wars.”
    • Vanden Heuvel: “What war is for.”

The grand master in such matters, perhaps, remains Ambrose Bierce, whose Devil’s Dictionary described peace thus: “In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” He was also, so the stories go, one heck of a drinker.

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