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Archives: December 2006

Happy New Year from GalleyCat!

We’ve enjoyed the slightly slower pace of the holiday week, but starting next Tuesday, January 2, it’s back to work for us! With any luck, the publishing industry won’t get itself caught up in quite so many scandals in 2007—or, at least, we won’t find ourselves in the middle of quite so big a hullaballoo as the Judith Regan firing. Whatever happens, though, we ‘Cats will be there with something to say about it…

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Churches Get Mysterious and Funny

The LA Times profiles Donald Seitz, who kept noticing funny signs on church billboards on his way home from work. He liked them so much he decided to seek out as many as he could and the result is the self-published GREAT AMERICAN BOOK OF CHURCH SIGNS. The signs are meant to enlighten, entertain and evangelize — in usually 10 or fewer words — and often give drivers a glimpse of what the church community believes and what to expect from the pulpit.

“Many of the people who read signs will not end up in their [churches'] pews, but they may be able to affect their lives in a positive way,” Seitz said, explaining why he spent the next three years driving 20,000 miles across 40 states to photograph 100 church signs for his book. “It’s like a sermon on the road.” Naturally, others, like blogger Joel Bezaire, don’t think the signs amuse. He started the blog crummychurchsigns.com, which offers “critical analysis of critically bad church signs,” according to the website.

Meanwhile, the WSJ’s Lauren Winner chronicles a new (if not exactly “popular”) trend in crime fiction of having clerical protagonists, as seen in series by Julia Spencer-Fleming, Katherine Hall Page & Phil Rickman, to name a few. She offers several reasons, but it all boils down to the last paragraph: “there is something both comforting and hopeful about the morality that governs the mystery genre. Good and evil are clearly delineated…In a world often beset by violence, such stories are enough to restore one’s faith.”

AMS Files for Voluntary Bankruptcy

Advanced Marketing Services, a leading provider of customized merchandising, wholesaling, distribution and publishing services for the book industry, announced in a statement today that it will file voluntarily for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Chapter 11 proceeding does not include the Company’s international subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Mexico and Australia, and their operations will not be affected. The Company also announced that, in conjunction with the filing, it has entered into a loan agreement for $75 million in Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing from Wells Fargo. “This move will permit AMS, with its investment banker, to continue to pursue strategic alternatives,” said Gary M. Rautenstrauch, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Additionally, Chapter 11 protection will enable the Company to continue to conduct business in the normal course, make payments to vendors going forward and continue delivering quality service and products to customers.”

21 Years Later: Let’s Remake King David!

Babylon 5 creator and Spider-Man scribe J. Michael Straczynski pulled back the curtain on several upcoming projects in a post to his message board a few weeks back. Here’s one of the more interesting tidbits:

“The screenplay for the film I’m writing for Universal will be turned in mid-January. Akiva Goldsman is among the producers on this project, a big budget historical movie based on the life of King David.”

richardgere-kingdavid.jpgNow, I’d thought the 1985 version starring Richard Gere (left) had pretty much killed the big-screen biblical epic as a genre, but then somebody reminded me of the success of The Passion of the Christ and, on a somewhat smaller scale, The Nativity Story, so maybe the time is finally right to revisit the Books of Samuel and Kings. (Actually, there was a TV miniseries that retold this story in the ’90s, starring Nathaniel Parker as David; aren’t you sorry you missed Leonard Nimoy’s performance as the prophet Samuel?) As a screenwriter himself, Goldsman is no stranger to adaptation—or, for that matter, to stories involving the House of David: he penned the high-grossing film version of Dan Brown‘s Da Vinci Code and is already at work on Angels and Demons.

Can You Stand Another Top 10 List?

Don’t worry, Seattle Post-Intelligencer book critic John Marshall actually has something new to say about the best fiction and nonfiction of 2006, with an assortment of authors that haven’t been mentioned over and over again on every other reviewer’s list this month (except Richard Ford, but what can you do—the Ford will always be with us). Not only that, he mixes fact and fancy together into one list instead of keeping them separate. His #1 selection? Strange Piece of Paradise, Terri Jentz‘s memoir of surviving an attempted ax murder and her efforts years later to make sense of the assault. (The book earned cover placement on the NYTBR back in May.)

By the way, if you’re looking for more recommendations, I did a nonfiction list for my other blog earlier this month with ten books I’d put into just about anybody’s hands.

Scene @ Aury Wallington’s Pop Party

aury-wallington.jpgSure, when you think “book party,” New York is the city that comes to mind, but the mediabistro.com team in Los Angeles is doing its bit to make the literary scene out on the West Coast as well. Last month, they hosted the release party for Pop!, a YA novel by television writing instructor Aury Wallington (left) that generated a mini-controversy when Borders decided it wasn’t suitable for stores. More pictures from the party are available in mediabistro.com’s events section, along with photos from the many other parties Laurel & company throw each week.

Don’t Abandon Those Pitch Letters Yet

Yesterday, we asked if publicists still need to write pitch letters when sending reviewers books, and the relatively unsurprising consensus is that, yes, those one-sheets can be rather useful, when they’re done right. “I just got a book without a pitch letter and asked myself ‘I care about this book why?’” writes freelance reviewer Jen A. Miller—who, by pure coincidence, recently did an article for Poets & Writers about how to get noticed by literary journalists. “I get a lot of galleys, even as a freelancer, and when I go to my ‘to be considered’ shelf, having the pitch letter helps me make a decision about whether I’ll write about or review the book.”

“For books that publicists are sending my way in the hopes I will read and review, then the letter really matters,” says Bookslut YA reviewer Colleen Mondor. “It might make all the difference between me opening the book and giving it a try for a couple of chapters or just putting it on the donate stack. Without the letter I only have the blurb on the back cover to go by and that often is not enough to give me an idea as to what the book is about.” She estimates that several dozen of the 500 review copies she received in the last year could have fallen completely by the wayside if they hadn’t had cover letters attached. (Mondor also follows up on last week’s question about how reviewers should approach book publicists; without direct contacts at some major publishers, she simply doesn’t have the time to deal with the formal solicitation process, and will stick to the publishers with whom she already has strong relations. “If the publicists don’t make it easy to contact them,” she says, “then I won’t be requesting review titles.”)

But one reviewer isn’t so attached to those letters. “I tend never to read them and just read the back of the book or see what everyone else is reading,” he says—although that’s starting to change ever since he went on a job interview at a big house and they asked him to write a sample pitch for a book. “I nearly panicked,” he admits. “I pay a bit more attention to them these days.”

Sci-Fi Classics Stuck in Limbo

About a month ago, when we discovered that the Library of America was planning to publish a collection of Philip K. Dick novels, we invited science-fiction professionals to recommend more sci-fi for the American literary canon. Our request inspired Del Rey VP Betsy Mitchell to revisit the Nebula Awards, presented annually by the Science Fiction Writers of America, to see which novels, judged the best in their genre the year they were published, had fallen out of print. Here are the titles she recommended be brought back:

True, all but the Pohl are available in electronic editions, and UK readers can still get paperbacks of the Bishop and the Pohl, but these are stories that American science-fiction fans should be able to find more readily than this, not just for their historical significance—Man Plus in particular can be seen as marking a creative rebirth for Pohl—but simply because they’re darn good reads. And though Mitchell confined herself to award-winning books, you could certainly get a list twice as long from any SF fan with more novels that deserve similar restoration…

Do Reviewers Care About the Pitch Letter?

You might recall last week’s item about whether book reviewers still need to submit requests on company letterhead. Well, now a publicist has a question for the reviewers:

“When sending out books for review, how important is any sort of letter that accompanies it? My more cynical colleagues shove a galley into an envelope, label it, and send it off, believing that no one has the time to look at an introductory letter. Other, more ‘traditional’ colleagues painstakingly craft letters that summarize the book/highlight key components/spotlight the author’s credentials in the hopes that something they say might put the galley closer to the top of ‘the pile.’ In the end, are these letters tossed aside and the galley thrown in the pile? Or are galleys that come without any sort of run down ignored?”

How about it, book reviewers? Do you bother reading the pitch letter, or would you rather just have the book? Personally, I think the letters can give worthwhile insights into just how big a push a house is going to put behind a given title, and thus how impossible it might be to ignore…but what’s your take? We’ll run responses in a future item.

The Further Literary Adventures of Hitler

Remember back in the summer, when we were the first to tell you about Norman Mailer‘s new Hitler novel, The Castle in the Forest? At the time, I mentioned that it was following in the footsteps of a comic book called The New Adventures of Hitler, in which young Adolf putters about Liverpool in 1912, trying to figure out what to do with his life. Although I’d vaguely recalled that the story was based on actual claims in the memoirs of Hitler’s Irish sister-in-law, I never realized that the story had inspired an earlier work of fiction: Young Adolf, a Beryl Bainbridge novel published back in 1978. Thanks to Gary Indiana, who describes it to us as “a beautifully funny novel” and “one of the most hilarious books on Hitler ever written,” I’ll be making a trip to the library to see if they’ve got a copy (as of Thursday morning, Amazon.com only had one copy left).

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