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Archives: October 2005

Everything Old Is New Again

Today’s NYT profile of Simon Spotlight Entertainment publisher Jennifer Bergstrom acts like her cultivation of books “devoted to pop culture for readers age 18 to 35″ is a new direction, but consider one of the main tricks involved—signing books by entertainment personalities. The article names comedians Tommy Chong, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor and Greg Behrendt, who cowrote He’s Just Not That Into You with sitcom writer Liz Tuccillo. A quick look in the Publishers Marketplace deal database pulls up books Bergstrom acquired by another sitcom writer, Michele Serros, and “celebrity fashion stylist/designer” June Ambrose. But tapping into star power and showbiz panache is, as it happens, one of the two ways Miramax Books CEO Rob Weisbach made a name for himself in the ’90s, when he corraled Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen Degeneres, and Paul Reiser into creating a string of #1 bestsellers (there was also Whoopi Goldberg’s Book, but best not to dwell on that).*

As it happens, Weisbach ended a three-year stint as an editor-at-large at S&S, where he was doing his best to develop talent and properties with cross-media potential, in order to take the Miramax gig. And, in fact, when he arrived at Miramax, Weisbach enthused about the opportunity to join “a visionary new integrated media company” and “help build a publishing division that will provide a nurturing home for writers of superior talent, work aggressively to help all variety of booksellers bring our titles to a broad audience, and find new ways to close the gap between traditional publishing and the next-generation consumer.”

All of which sounds an awful lot like the path SSE is pursuing to fulfill the mandate from S&S CEO Jack Ramanos “to reach a younger audience not necessarily interested in reading the same things that the baby-boomer audience was buying,” including the willingness to sell books in retail outlets like Urban Outfitters. The angle that Times reporter Edward Wyatt doesn’t dwell on, but which actually might be more interesting, is that the children’s wing was able to put together this strategy and make it work fast. And not that we like to brag or anything, but pegged Bergstrom as someone to watch over a year ago.

*The other half of his success came from his willingness to publish the edgy fiction of folks like Dale Peck and A. M. Homes.

Manga Making Inroads in Europe, Too reports on the reaction to manga‘s rising popularity in Europe, building from the satirical response in the new Asterix graphic novel to the financials and giving a simple reason for the books’ popularity: “They create a niche genre for girls.” That’s fine, says MangaBlog, but it could also be that the market for traditional Eurocomics is in decline. The takeaway for Love Manga, though, is in observing how European publishers are rushing to meet the new demand, including developing their own manga-style comics, much like American publishers.

Spiffing Up the Classics

umbrella.jpgPublishers are always happy to give a classic book a makeover and send it back out into the marketplace. Maira Kalman, to take one recent example, has recieved a lot of attention for her work on the new illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style from the Penguin Press (see, at left, her version of “somebody else’s umbrella”).’s own UnBeige went to see the opera, while Library Journal did an email interview with Kalman in which she describes finding the book at a yard sale and becoming entranced. “When I started reading, I had an immediate and decisive vision of illustrating the book,” she recalls. “It was so funny and smart and eccentric.” Meanwhile, NYT lands its own interview, offering a little more background on the opera (performed last week at the New York Public Library).

Kalman’s paintings are a lot of fun, but the new old book I’m loving the most these days is the Penguin Classics “deluxe edition” of Voltaire’s Candide—or, as Chris Ware calls it, “the satirical scourge of 1759, now in paperback!” Penguin gave Ware, the comics artist who’s made a recent splash with his arrival on the NYT magazine’s funny pages, free rein to play around with the book’s cover, and he begins by creating a mini-comic adaptation of the book’s opening chapters (clicking on the strip below will show you the full illustration):


The fun continues with more mini-comics on the inside flaps, and even sarcastic hand-lettered commentary on the back cover, assuring readers that “Theo Cuffe’s new translation is invaluable for those English-speaking readers who cannot understand French, and the introduction by Michael Wood should prove indispensiable to all schoolchildren who haven’t read the book and are cramming in homeroom before the test.” Penguin plans similar editions of other titles for 2006, with names like Art Spiegelman being mentioned.

(As it happens, Ware’s in town, and he’ll be discussing comics at Symphony Space tonight with artist Charles Burn and graphic designer Chip Kidd. Burns and Ware also chatted on Radio Open Source earlier this week.)

What Would Karen Joy Fowler Think?

Longbourn describes itself as “an online community that celebrates the work of Jane Austen as we look forward to the Focus Features release of Pride & Prejudice.” In other words, and as if the big ol’ picture of Keira Knightley on the home page didn’t give it away, a marketing tool. Still, it is an online book club devoted to reading Austen, or at least purports to be… So far, the big attraction seems not to be the promised “discussion questions” and “guest chats with Jane Austen scholars,” but an “exclusive clip” from the film. And even that seems to spark doubts among the visiting fans; one recent posting to the message board is headlined, “New clip? Indeed it is not.”

Street to Amazon: “Good, Just Not Good Enough”

PW Daily reports a “strong quarter for Amazon Media,” noting specifically that thanks in large part to about 1.6 million copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, “sales at’s North America media segment rose 21% in the third quarter, to $684 million.” Forbes supplies the detail investors want to hear: “pro forma earnings of 18 cents per share,” yet notes that Credit Suisse First Boston is still holding back on the love, as an analyst comments, “We don’t believe shares of Amazon will be able to outperform the broader Internet group.” WSJ adds that Deutsche Bank and Citigroup have also lowered their Amazon ratings, because “its third-quarter profit fell 44%, crimped by a legal settlement, and offered a muted sales and margin forecast for the crucial holiday quarter.” Or, as Business Week puts it, “good, just not good enough.”

Collins McCormick has a new name, finally

In the aftermath of the split last month between David McCormick and Nina Collins, the biggest question was what would happen to the rest of the agency’s stable: Amy Williams, PJ Mark and Leslie Falk.

Now Publishers Lunch reports that Williams has been promoted to partner, and the agency will officially rename itself as McCormick Wililams, with a new email address (firstinitiallastinitial AT mccormickwilliams DOT com) to boot. Leslie Falk remains managing partner, PJ Mark will be a senior agent and Gillien Linden joins as the new office assistant.

Considering Williams’ track record — her client roster includes Elizabeth Kostova, Mark Winegardner, Dean Bakopoulos, Owen King, Lisa Selin Davis, Emily Raboteau and Karen Olsson, just to name a few recent successes — it’s hardly surprising she gets her name on the masthead, a mere four years or so after she toiled as an assistant at ICM.

When In-House Publicity Is Enough

Laila Lalami, the creator of the popular Moorish Girl litblog, weighs in with her own take on our recent debate over how authors can handle the publicity cycle. “When [Lalami's debut] Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits was sold,” she emails, “several of my writer friends recommended that I hire a freelance publicist to work on it.”

“They argued that, these days, in-house publicists are just too
overworked to really focus on each book and give it the attention it needs, that the marketplace was flooded, and that without hiring a freelancer my book
would be doomed. So I did some research on freelancers and even met with a couple of them to talk about how they could help the book.”

Her first meeting with Michael Taeckens of Algonquin Books, however, addressed all her concerns about whether the small house would be able to do enough for her and her short story collection. “I could tell that he had read Hope and understood what I was trying to do,” she reports, “and I felt that he would be great at promoting it. So I didn’t hire a freelancer, and I have not regretted that decision.”

Do you have a similarly positive relationship with your publisher? Tell us about it. Heck, tell us if you had a negative experience, too, or if you’re a publicist who had to deal with the author from hell, even—we love to hear insider stories.

A Million Little Script Changes

Today’s the day James Frey cleans up his language and chats with Oprah and her friends about A Million Little Pieces. Or, as Page Six put it, “to plug his book.” (I don’t exactly know that the book really needs any more plugging once it got Oprah’s approval, but this may be a semantic distinction of little import.) But while his television star is rising, the Sixers say his film stock is taking a behind-the-scenes beating: “We’re told director Laurence Dunmore left the project in frustration a few months ago, and Frey himself is steamed that his script has been revised so many times by writer Kip Williams that it no longer resembles his acclaimed book.”

The Book Standard has described Dunmore as attached to the project twice this month, but maybe Page Six has an inside track to Hollywood a publishing newsmagazine lacks. So I tried calling producer Brad Grey’s office late Tuesday afternoon, so late that the woman who answered the phone couldn’t find anyone authorized to comment. And the IMDb page hasn’t been updated in over a year, so that’s no help…

See, she really can read!

There are so many ways to dissect this story about Victoria “Posh” Beckham:

1. She is reading a book, after claiming she never read one.

2. She was “immersed” in said book (while shopping in LA, natch) when she had claimed she hadn’t been able to finish a book in years.

3. The book’s about Scientology.

Honestly, they can have her. I’ll just feel sorry for the kids though…

Dissension in the AAP Ranks

Soft Skull Press publisher Richard Nash started up a blog recently, and he’s weighed in on the lawsuit filed by the Academy of American Publishers against Google over its digital library project. Although he’s a member of the AAP’s committee of small and independent publishers, Nash disagrees with the Academy’s position and, he writes, “it’s not even, unfortunately, something I can just keep quiet about disagreeing with either.” He elaborates:

“The fundamental goal of copyright in the Constitution is not to confer an absolute property right but rather to stimulate cultural production: a limited property right being a means to that end, rather than an end in itself. Thus we are always intrinsically talking about relative values, trade-offs, balancing acts, etc. Having the world’s books available in searchable and granular format online is a tremendous boon to the culture, and will result in more and better books. Again and again, in comments issued by publishers and authors, by the AAP and the Authors Guild, there is a profound failure to perceive that such rights are not absolute property rights, but relative property rights, issued provisionally to achieve a larger social purpose. That is how it is, and how it should be.”