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Archives: February 2007

Haskell Smith on Publishing’s “Broken Telephone”

mark-haskell-smith.jpgWhen we ran an item on product placement in fiction focusing on Mark Haskell Smith‘s Lexus-sponsored short story last week, the reaction was instantaneous – and often erroneous, as Haskell Smith found out. Watching the news spread “has been like watching a game of telephone in action,” the author told us by email. “Amusing, to be sure. But kinda alarming too.” That’s because various blogs have since reported that Lexus paid him an “undisclosed amount” (aka a lot of money) and gave me a free car. “They let me drive one of their cars for a day or two, it’s true. But my trusty Subaru Forester has not been displaced from my driveway by some sleek lux-mobile.”

Haskell Smith freely embraces his so-called “whoring credentials” (he lives in LA, after all) “the fact is that my actual novels do not feature product placement and the only corporate entity that asks me to make changes is my editor at Grove/Atlantic.”

We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful

greglindsay.jpgWe saw the announcement in yesterday’s Publishers Weekly about contributor Greg Lindsay landing a book deal with Farrar Straus Giroux for co-authoring Aerotropolis, a book about a “combination of giant airport, planned city, shipping facility and business hub” that’s popping up all over the world. The other author is business professor John Kasarda, who coined the term—which was popularized (or at least introduced to mainstream America) in Lindsay’s Fast Company profile of Kasarda last summer.

So, I asked him, considering that his research included three weeks flying around the world without ever leaving the airports, did he really want to hit the road again for an author tour? Lindsay revealed that his original book proposal called for a two-week tour of nothing but airports, with stops at JFK, Los Angeles International, Chicago O’Hare, Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Francisco International, Denver International, Houston George H. W. Bush, Washington Reagan and Dulles, Boston Logan, and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. “It’s not like I have much of a choice,” he elaborated. “That’s where the most hard-core segment of the book’s audience lives 300+ days a year.”

Appealing to the Boys’ Set

Just because it’s difficult to find books that boys want to read, doesn’t mean there aren’t initiatives to create a new market for them. So posits the Boston Globe’s David Mehegan in profiling Steven D. Hill and Peggy Hogan, whose newly founded Flying Point Press attempts to disprove conventional wisdom that boys aged 10 to 15 won’t read non-fiction.

They had noticed there’s a strong nonfiction market for men — adventure books such as Sebastian Junger‘s “A Perfect Storm” or Jon Krakauer‘s “Into Thin Air.” But, said Hill, “it was clear that publishers were ignoring adventure, history, and nonfiction for 10-to-15-year-old boys.” Hogan said, “If you look at what men read, there was no springboard for boys. If they want to read the kind of books they will read as adults, there is nothing to lead them into that area.” But then Hill remembered the 1950s and 1960s- era Landmark Books, which were narrative non-fiction, mostly history and biography. With most long out of print, Hill decided to bring them back, with funding aid from Sterling Publishing.

“A single book is not going to make a difference,” said Hogan, 65, “but a series for children is a powerful concept, as it was with Landmark. The idea is to have a list of all the titles in each book, so that if you like one, you know you can find something similar.” But many are skeptical the idea will work. “I don’t do well with nonfiction of any type, even for girls,” said Ellen Richmond, owner of the Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine. Other booksellers said much the same, but some remain optimistic. “Boys are a tougher audience to reach,” said Portsmouth, NH librarian Michael Sullivan. “But when you give them books they like, they react as well as girls do. Everybody loves a good story.”

Yes, Starbucks Has Changed Ishmael Beah’s Life

Josh Getlin at the LA Times follows former child soldier Ishmael Beah around as he signs books in Manhattan, the author’s profile growing in leaps and bounds ever since Starbucks made his memoir A LONG WAY GONE its second book choice. “This all hit me out of the blue,” the modest, soft-spoken writer said to Getlin recently, riding a cab to his first appearance on the tour, in a New York cafe. “I didn’t even know Starbucks sold books. They chose mine, and it changed everything. I wasn’t really prepared.” So far, according to Starbucks, the book has sold 37,000 in its chain stores to date – which matches up with the Bookscan numbers published here last week.

There’s the usual surprise from publishing types like Ira Silverberg (Beah’s agent) and Sarah Crichton (his editor) and some further insight into how Crichton handled the memoir in the wake of the James Frey scandal. The publisher asked Beah to vouch for the accuracy of his book, with its sharp recall of details and conversations. Crichton was willing to take the leap after Beah assured her that he has a “photographic memory.” He reminded her that he had grown up in a culture with a long-standing oral tradition and had learned to tell stories from memory around a fire – and so editing continued. Beah’s book — and his message — are primed for huge national exposure. But will Americans really be able to grasp what he’s been through? “I’m like any other 26-year-old,” the author said with a laugh, minutes before his debut. “A 26-year-old with a Starbucks tour.”

Story Prize Finalists on Lopate Today

I’ve been pretty good up until now about not using this journalistic platform to promote the Story Prize, which I’m judging this year along with Edwige Danticat and Mitchell Kaplan. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that all three finalists—Rick Bass, Mary Gordon, and George Saunders—will be on Leonard Lopate’s WNYC show this afternoon, starting around 1:20 p.m. The program says they’ll “compare notes,” so I’m not sure if they’ll actually be reading from their nominated works, but it should be a good show in any event. And of course they’ll definitely be reading tomorrow night at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium during the awards ceremony.

And I’m not about to give anything away here (heck, I haven’t even told Sarah or Mrs. GalleyCat who won), but it was tough deciding between three writers of this caliber… Heck, it was difficult narrowing the field down to those three, as yesterday’s runners-up for the PEN/Faulkner prize showed. Amy Hempel, Edward P. Jones, Charles D’Ambrosio and Deborah Eisenberg were just four of the authors who published wonderful short story collections last year…all of whom were overlooked by the fiction committees for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle, as were the Story Prize finalists.

Civil War Ends With a Whimper

After many delays, Marvel released the final issue of its Civil War mini-series last week to an absolutely underwhelmed response from fans online. One of the best critiques came from blogger Chris Sims, who derided the comic as “the biggest pile of nothing that I have ever read.” Sure, the artwork from Steve McNiven was amazing, but it was all in the service of lameness: “the most poorly-written and anticlimactic resolution of Mark Millar‘s entire career,” Sims continued, as the final battle between Captain America and Iron Man ended with the former hero “tackled by a group of emergency workers who might as well be carrying a banner reading ‘THE HEROES OF 9/11′ in grand political cartoon fashion” just as he’s about to smash his former best friend in the face with his shield. (And that was after a callback to Lloyd Bentsen’s famous put-down of Dan Quayle…as restaged between Hercules and Thor; the joke wasn’t just lame, it was old.)


Ever since Civil War began last year, Marvel has been trumpeting the fact that Joss Whedon came up with the ending for the series during a story conference…and, given the adverse reaction to the way the final issue played out, Whedon went online to clarify matters. “I think I’ve been given too much credit for all this,” he protested. “If the whole thing rests on Cap and Tony’s conflict, and they’re gonna fight… somebody’s gotta win. I just pitched that Cap got past Tony’s armor and started beating the poo out of him…thus becoming exactly what Tony had called them all: a superpowered guy taking it out on a powerless human. Cap realizes this and lay down his arms. (But he wins. Eat that, Stark.)” Instead, in the final telling, after being tackled by the emergency response workers, Cap looks at the devastation in midtown Manhattan and realizes that the fight is causing more damage than it’s solving, then he surrenders, and then Reed Richards writes a long, boring letter to his wife about the brave, new world in which they’ll all live now.

“Obviously, there’s a certain amount of political allegory in a story where a guy wrapped in the American flag is in chains as the people swap freedom for security,” Millar conceded in a post-series interview with Newsarama. “We all felt Cap was going to win this because he had 70 years of superhero tradition behind him, but as the story moves on you realize he’s fighting the tide of history. He’s a cowboy who’s still out there wearing a mask when all his friends were becoming sheriffs.” But, as fans in a Newsarama comment thread pointed out, few of these subtleties come through in the finished story, and that could possibly be considered a storytelling failure.

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S&P Cuts Borders’ Stock Value

Shelf Awareness reported this morning that Standard & Poor announced that it is recommending that Borders‘ stock value be cut from 3 stars (hold) to two stars (sell) despite the expected increase in sales generated by July 21′s expected release of the final Harry Potter book. But a “disappointing holiday sales results” means S&P thinks margin pressure will mount due to a highly promotional environment.

Realignment for Random House UK

In Britain, The Random House Group has announced a number of changes and promotions as part of the Group’s growth strategy as it looks to the next stage in its development. First, Board Director Richard Cable, is to develop a new publishing portfolio. In this new role he will seek out “exciting and profitable new publishing enterprises” and further announcements should be expected during the year. But the big news is that the CHA arm – which include Century, Hutchinson, William Heinemann, Arrow, Random House Audio and Random House Books – will split into an entirely separate entity from the CCV line – which comprises Jonathan Cape, Chatto & Windus, Harvill Secker, Yellow Jersey Press, Vintage and Pimlico.

CHA will be led by Susan Sandon, who is newly promoted to Managing Director. In this new role, she will report to Peter Bowron, Group Managing Director, who takes on this responsibility alongside his current portfolio. CCV will be helmed by Cable with Dan Franklin acting as publisher for the whole line.

Good Quarter for S&S

As part of a statement released by parent company CBS Corporation, Simon & Schuster‘s publishing revenues increased 7% to $252.5 million from $237.0 million, while OIBDA increased 8% to $38.9 million from $36.1 million, and operating income increased 7% to $36.3 million from $33.9 million, reflecting the revenue increase partially offset by an increase in bad debt expense. For the full year, revenues increased 6% to $807.0 million from $763.6 million in 2005 due to sales of top-selling titles as well as higher distribution fee income. OIBDA increased 5% to $78.0 million and operating income increased 4% to $68.5 million, reflecting the revenue increase partially offset by higher expenses, primarily resulting from an increase in bad debt expense and higher production, employee-related and selling and marketing costs. Publishing results included stock-based compensation of $1.9 million and $.5 million for 2006 and 2005, respectively.

Will Crais Take Hollywood’s Call?

robert-crais.jpgFor years, Robert Crais has resisted selling the film rights to his most popular series, the thrillers starring private eye Elvis Cole and his ultra-tough sidekick, Joe Pike, a point that was emphasized most recently in last week’s LA Times profile of the bestelling author. Not that Crais is against Hollywood on principle; he got his start writing for Quincy and Hill Street Blues, and sold the rights to one of his other novels a few years back, which led to the Bruce Willis vehicle Hostage. But we hear that The Watchman—which happens to be the first that puts Joe Pike front and center—is attracting serious attention from at least two A-list actors (one of whom has an Oscar) even before it arrives in stores this week…and that they’ve just gotten more competition, as Michael Mann, for whom Crais wrote two episodes of Miami Vice, may be interested as well.