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Archives: February 2007

Roth Wins PEN/Faulkner Again

The Washington Post’s Bob Thompson reports that The PEN/Faulkner Foundation will announce today that Philip Roth has won its 2007 award for fiction for his novel EVERYMAN — making Roth the first writer to receive the award three times. He won in 1994 for OPERATION SHYLOCK and in 2001 for THE HUMAN STAIN. “I’m delighted,” he said in a telephone interview with Thompson. The PEN/Faulkner is a gratifying award, he said, because over the years “there just seems to be a consistency to the quality of the winners.” Other finalists for the award included Amy Hempel, Edward P. Jones, Charles D’Ambrosio and Deborah Eisenberg – all for short story collections.

New York Comic-Con: Panel Report

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from left: Abby Denson, Alison Bechdel, Ariel Schrag

When it came time for questions from the audience at the gay comics panel at New York Comic-Con, I mentioned the effort to ban Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home from a public library in Missouri because of its sexual content and wondered if the other panelists had experienced similar problems with their work. Abby Denson, the creator of Tough Love: High School Confidential, talked about how she and her publisher had made a concerted effort to get the gay teen romance into as many libraries as possible, while Ariel Schrag revealed that the graphic memoirs of how her sexual identity unfolded during her high school years had been seized and burned by Saudi customs officials. “But everything is, you know,” quipped Jose Villarrubia, who later downplayed the idea that the workof queer comics creators is always influenced by their sexuality, joking, “It’s not like I do gay coloring.” (Denson chimed in, “Nobody asks J.K. Rowling why she isn’t a boy wizard.”) He also observed that creating comics simply because of a perceived need to have queer-positive characters out there was a recipe for failure, and that truly effective characters emerged from a pure love of storytelling.

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Earlier in the weekend, I took part in a panel on blogging about comics with Heidi MacDonald, Chris Butcher, and Johanna Draper Carlson (photo swiped from Chris Mautner of Newsarama. It was a pretty good time: My three colleagues are among the most authoritative commentators in the field, so I was glad to learn what I could from them, and I got to talk a little bit about reporting on comics news for a non-comics audience (and about finding the GalleyCat voice). And, as it turned out, about 90% of the audience had blogs of their own, so I’m hoping to see our Technorati stock improve…

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HarperCollins Launches Embeddable Online Reader

In another move to expand the horizons of its digital warehouse, HarperCollins announced in a statement today the creation of the “Browse Inside” widget, which enables fans and authors to embed sample pages of their favorite books directly onto social networking sites and blogs. It marks the first time a syndicated reader for books has been available online. The widget provides simple code that can be copied and placed on a profile or blog. Currently, the standard browsable sample pages that are available include the covers, front matter, back matter and first three pages of chapters one and two.

“The Browse Inside widget is the most recent marketing tool we have developed using the capabilities of our digital warehouse to market our titles to the MySpace generation online,” said Brian Murray, Group President, HarperCollins. “We are extending our reach beyond the HarperCollins site to where many potential book buyers visit – on social communities, blogs or author sites.”

The Daily Show Sells Books – Who’d Have Thunk?

The New York Times’ Julie Bosman adopts a sense of gee-whizness in this piece about how Comedy Central‘s flagship satirical show brings on serious authors – and how their books sell in massive quantities thereafter. Of course, let’s remember that if 1.5 million people watch the show, and if 1/10th of the audience (or less) buys books, voila! Instant bestseller (see, BOOK, AMERICA THE.) So the numbers for stardom don’t have to be all that high. Still, the number of serious authors talking to Jon Stewart (and Stephen Colbert on THE COLBERT REPORT) has gone up in the last few years as the number of venues for them dry up elsewhere. Publishers say that particularly for the last six months, both shows have become the most reliable venues for promoting weighty books whose authors would otherwise end up on THE EARLY SHOW on CBS looking like they showed up at the wrong party.

“It was almost an ‘oh my God’ moment,” said Lissa Warren, publicity director for Da Capo Press. “There aren’t that many television shows that will have on serious authors. And when they do have one, it’s almost startling.” Part of the surprise, publishers said, is that the Comedy Central audience is more serious than its reputation allows. They aren’t just YouTube obsessives but a much more diverse – and book-buying – audience. “It’s the television equivalent of NPR,” Martha Levin, publisher of Free Press, said. “You have a very savvy, interested audience who are book buyers, people who do go into bookstores, people who are actually interested in books.”

Scene @ New York Comic-Con

starwars9.jpgTo be honest, I could’ve spent the entire weekend at New York Comic-Con doing nothing but taking pictures of Darth Vader and the assorted stormtroopers wandering around the Javits; they’re just such awesome photogrpahic icons. But my Flickr set from the weekend has lots more to it, from college co-eds dressed up as their favorite characters from Japanese animation to men who helped create the Silver Age of comics back in the 1960s (including one guy who was 12 when he started writing for DC Comics!).

As a quick reminder of why all this matters to those of us in “traditional” book publishing, Calvin Reid writes for PW Daily about the $330 million in graphic novel sales last year, two-thirds of which came from the general bookstore market. Not that the major publishers really need reminding, as plenty of them had staked out space on the convention floor, aiming to get fans interested in their own graphic novels or, in some cases, their fantasy and science fiction lines.

Scene @ Allen Shawn’s Book Party

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Allen Shawn greets guests at the party celebrating the publication of Wish I Could Be There, which combines a layman’s tour of the science behind phobias with a memoir of Shawn’s own experiences with claustrophobia and agoraphobia. (I interviewed Shawn for Publishers Weekly back in November.) The Saturday night party, hosted by Upper East Side rare book dealer Glenn Horowitz, drew an assortment of literati, including New Yorker humorists Andy Borowitz and Patricia Marx, along with Deborah Eisenberg, Francine Prose, and Louis Begley. I also chatted briefly with NYT reporter Joyce Wadler, who wrote a profile of Shawn for the Styles section last month.

“Original” War and Peace Slimmer, Happier, Controversial

Can’t stomach the idea of wading through Leo Tolstoy‘s 1500-plus page classic? Well, thanks to the work of scholar Evelina Zaidenshnur and the translation by Andrew Bromfield, you’ll be able to read the author’s purported “first draft” of the novel – some 600 pages lighter, with the removal of Tolstoy’s philosophical musings and the prospect of a happy ending, reports the Independent on Sunday. The new book, to be published in the UK by Fourth Estate in April, was the life’s work of the Russian scholar, who for 50 years pored over thousands of pages to assemble Tolstoy’s first draft, matching different inks, changes in handwriting and types of paper to piece together the author’s earliest version.

Not everyone, however, is pleased. Academics such as Tony Briggs, emeritus professor of Russian language and literature and author of a bestselling translation of the novel, fear many will be tempted to settle for what they regard as an unfinished version. “To claim that it’s the ‘original’ is entirely spurious and is simply selling the novel short,” he said. “This is a sanitised Hollywood happy-ending version where everyone lives happily ever after. But frankly this is an outrage and no one should be misled. The moment Tolstoy thought of these ideas, he rejected them and went on to rewrite them.”

Pearson Profits Rise

Pearson, the world’s largest education publisher (and parent company of Penguin Books) reported a 19 pct rise in 2006 profits, ahead of market expectations, and said it expects to grow faster than its markets in 2007. Penguin saw sales rise by 5% and operating profit by 10% in 2006, with underlying sales growing by 3% despite what its parent called a “tough consumer publishing market”. Pearson said that its book publishing subsidiary had a “record number of bestsellers for record number of weeks” over the year–Penguin UK had 59 titles in the Nielsen Bookscan‘s top ten bestseller list, up 5 from 2005, keeping them there for 361 weeks, up 42 weeks from 2005; Penguin US had 139 books on The New York Times bestseller list, 10 more than in 2005, and kept them there for 809 weeks overall, up 119 weeks from 2005.

Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino said: “This is another strong set of results. We have built market-leading businesses and invested consistently in their content, technology and international expansion. That strategy is paying off with sustained growth in sales, margins, earnings and returns, and we expect 2007 to be another good year.”

Looking Under the NYTBR‘s Hood

The weekend Gawker team delivers an extensive summary of a Harvard lecture by NYTBR editor Barry Gewen, pulling back the curtain on the New York Times Book Review. So if you missed the Book TV documentary late last year, Gewen offers a slightly less neutral perspective, as in his description of how Sam Tanenhaus‘ “early intentions of creating ‘fireworks’ in the Book Review and breaking the editorial staff of its habitual timidity have since given way to mild-mannered realism.” Well, I wouldn’t begin to analyze the psychology of the Review staff, but even I have to admit that if there’s one thing Tanenhaus and his team have done, it’s to create fireworks. Not all of them good, initially, but considering that yesterday’s edition was the second Review this month to put a paperback original novel on the cover (as well as giving a second PBO a full-page review inside), it’s safe to say that some major shifts have taken place.

Gewen also (jokingly) told his audience that while the Review offices weren’t nearly as nice as the ones the Magazine crew had at the other end of the floor, “we’re smarter than we are,” and admitted that despite working for the paper for nearly two decades, he’s never met Michiko Kakutani.

Proper Care and Marketing of Meg Gardiner

Thanks to Stephen King‘s lavish praise, both on his website and on the back page of the February 16 issue of Entertainment Weekly, it’s pretty damn difficult to find a copy of any of Meg Gardiner‘s books – which, of course, have to be imported from the UK or Canada. And so the buzz is building, and her agent, Jonny Pegg at Curtis Brown UK, told Publishers Lunch that “some ten publishers are in the frame — we should have news by end of next week or some time in the following week.” With Britt Carlson of Gelfman Schneider handling subrights, no doubt some serious money (of the seven-figure variety) could be thrown around.

But remember Ron McLarty? He was the last unpublished beneficiary of King’s lavish praise, and while THE MEMORY OF RUNNING got him the obligatory mega-deal and did all right, the followup, THE TRAVELER, came out “with the same fanfare as a pillow fart,” as one publishing insider commented to us. And since I’d like to see Gardiner really get her American due (as a fan of CHINA LAKE who promised herself ages ago to read the rest of the series, but hadn’t gotten around to it) here are a few points to consider for any publisher making the deal:

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