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Archives: July 2007

University Press Try Out New Models

Last week, InsideHigherEd’s Scott Jaschik looked at how University Presses are moving – or not – towards the Digital Age. Now he zeroes in on the model adapted by Rice University Press, which was eliminated as a standalone press in 1996 but came back last year with the idea that it would publish online only, using low-cost print-on-demand for those who want to hold what they are reading. Since the announcement that the press was coming back – and using a unique model by not publishing in traditional book form – many in academic publishing have wondered how Rice would shift to a new format for publishing while maintaining the rigor associated with a university press.

The answer, Jaschik discovers, is that Rice is getting started in a way that points directly to the economic logjam in academic publishing. Rice is going to start printing books that have been through the peer review process elsewhere, been found to be in every way worthy, but impossible financially to publish. In this way, Rice will be linking established peer review systems – sometimes in tandem with Stanford University Press – with its new model of distributing scholarship. The end result? Long Tail Press, as Rice is dubbing it. Alan Harvey, editor in chief at Stanford, said he saw great potential not only to try a new model, but to test the economics of publishing in different formats. Stanford might pick some books with similar scholarly and economic potential, and publish some through Rice and some in the traditional way, and be able to compare total costs as well as scholarly impact. “We’d like to make this a public experiment and post the results,” he said.

Finally, We Get to Run a Blind Item

Someone forwarded us an email that’s apparently been making the rounds lately, in which a prize-winning author notifies some of the grad students in his creative writing program that his lovely wife, also a writer, has left him for one of America’s most prominent captains of industry—so those students can “clarify the issues for any of your fellow grad students who ask,” as “this sort of thing can get wildly distorted pretty quickly.” At which point, he explains in great detail how she’s always found it difficult to live under his shadow, how he rescued her from depression and then she left him for a guy who probably reminds her of the relative who abused her as a child, and how she’s not even going to be this tycoon’s only girlfriend, but that’s okay, because he’s really supportive, and anyway this means she’ll have a room of her own in which to create literary masterpieces. And the author doesn’t mind sharing all this in email, because the couple “will now conduct ourselves as if this is public knowledge,” and, besides, “I am not up to the task of telling this story over and over.” (I’d run longer extracts, but they’d require so much redaction that it’s not really worth it…and, he added a few hours later, the whole thing’s online now.)

With the headers stripped, it’s hard to say with genuine certainty whether or not the email is authentic, although it’s also hard to imagine anybody going to great lengths to pretend to be this particular writer: cui bono?, as the saying goes. At least this particular story, while bizarre, seems slightly more plausible than that rumor about publishing’s latest gay couple that our SoHo colleagues recently revisited…

Sales Boost for EUK

The Bookseller’s Alison Flood reports that Woolworths subsidiary EUK saw third party sales for the 25 weeks to 28th July increase by 36.2%, the company said today, in what it described as “a period of considerable operational change and challenge for the business. Woolworths said that the books market “continues to perform solidly” for EUK, but the traditional music market is in decline. The games market is showing strong growth, while sales of DVDs have been higher than anticipated, “in part because of the unseasonable weather”. The news follows the Competition Commission‘s move last week to provisionally clear EUK’s acquisition of Bertrams.

South African Publishing Merger Questioned

The South African Business Day reports that the Shuttleworth Foundation had lodged an objection with the Competition Commission to the possibility of a merger between South African publishing companies Maskew Miller Longman and Heinemann, resulting from the merger of their international holding companies, Pearson and Harcourt Education International, the foundation said yesterday.

If the Competition Commission found that there was an effective South African merger and that this contravened South African anti-monopoly laws it could force one or both of the international companies to sell off their South African concerns, or dispose of them in a way that did not constitute a merger, said Andrew Rens, the foundation’s intellectual property fellow. The commission has until August 14 to decide whether the international merger means an effective merger between the South African companies.

Hodgman Hops from Holt to Houghton

In the first sign of Houghton Mifflin‘s plans after buying Harcourt earlier this month, the company announced that it had hired Henry Holt executive editor George Hodgman as the vice-president and senior executive editor of the adult trade editorial group. Hodgman’s eye for narrative nonfiction is highly respected in the biz; his picks at Holt included Kevin Boyle‘s award-winning Arc of Justice and Mockingbird, Charles J. Shields‘ bio of Harper Lee. His resume also includes lengthy stints at Simon & Schuster and Vanity Fair.

In a 2005 interview with, Hodgman explained his approach to buying nonfiction: “I like big characters and—this sounds incredibly pretentious—but things that reflect some human spirit—perseverance, desire, imagination. I like writerly journalists who can render character, detail, and place beyond ‘just the facts’ and who are narrative-oriented.” The interview also offers a possible hint as to how he’ll run his new department come September. “It’s all going too fast,” he warns. “Corporate-think means ‘Get it out for Christmas’ or whatever. Business types don’t really think editing matters. They can’t tell the difference so they don’t think readers can. I say, why spend so much money and not take the time to actually get it right?”

A Contracts Manager Tells All

A while back, at a publishing industry luncheon, I met a contracts assistant and proceeded to pick her brain for the next thirty minutes. Without people like her drafting agreements and setting up boilerplates for agents to tweak and modify, there would be no money paid to authors. So today’s homepage article by Jean Marie Pierson, a contracts manager at Hyperion and soon-to-be-published novelist, is a welcome look at this part of the business with tips for writers about why you need an agent, why you shouldn’t treat your book as your baby and why a bigger advance has its share of problems:

Working in contracts means you see advances in all shapes and sizes, and bigger isn’t necessarily better. Here’s an example to illustrate: Say you throw a party: You invite someone who shows up and brings $40.00 worth of beer. They are fun to hang out with and everyone who talks to that person has a good time. You will invite them back. Another guest comes empty-handed, is bossy and eats at least $200.00 worth of guacamole. Unless they’ve going to have George Clooney in tow, chances are you won’t seek them out for the next one.

In much the same way, if you wind up with a large advance for a book and your book earn it back, when you’re angling to write a second title, your publisher’s interest may have left the building. However, if you start off more modestly and do your part as an author who cooperates and helps stimulate sales, a publisher is likelier to give you a shot at writing that next book. While few of us would turn down a big advance if we were lucky enough to get one, but if you’re aiming to be a writer with a lengthy publishing career, starting out small isn’t such a bad thing.

Birkerts Pans Blogs (Shocked, I Tell You!)

In the mid-1990s, Sven Birkerts made a name for himself by suggesting that, as I once glibly summarized his position, the Internet would destroy the art of reading and kill books dead. So it’s no surprise to see him in yesterday’s Boston Globe, sticking up for print-based book reviewers and warning that “literary blogging won’t save our literary culture.” Now, Birkerts isn’t a blowhard like Richard Schickel, so when he weighs in on the so-called book review crisis, attention must be paid…even if it turns out he just gets things wrong in a more sophisticated way.

It’s very nice of Birkerts to refer to the relationship bloggers have with the mainstream media as “predatory” rather than “parasitical” as most of his peers do (although I’m okay with that characterization personally), and to raise the possibility of “coexistence, a meshing of print culture and digital.” If he’s going to take the digital side of things seriously, though, why is the blogger’s perspective represented by a straw man? “People in various quarters, literary bloggers prominently among them,” he writes, “are proposing that old-style print reviewing—the word-count-driven evaluation of select titles by credentialed reviewers—is outmoded, and that the deficit will be more than made up by the now-flourishing blog commentary.”

Literary bloggers calling the book review outmoded? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Name one. Most literary bloggers I know got into the act not because they wanted to hammer the final nail in the book review’s coffin, but out of frustration that the book review editors at America’s newspapers had failed to hold down the fort. Frankly, literary bloggers probably care more about keeping book coverage in America’s newspapers than the vast majority of those newspapers’ other readers, and not just because that coverage gives bloggers something to link to…or because they’re increasingly being hired to write it.

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Nan Talese Slams Oprah, Stands by Frey

nan-talese.jpgThe Texas Pages blog, an online venture from the Dallas Morning News, ran a genuine scoop Sunday evening, previewing an item from the Monday morning paper about the impromptu remarks famed Doubleday editor Nan A. Talese (left) made at the Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Writers Conference. During a question-and-answer session with conference keynoter Joyce Carol Oates, Talese chimed in with a bitter critique of that Oprah episode on which James Frey was thrown to the wolves. Not only is Talese “unapologetic of the whole thing,” she believes Winfrey’s on-air humiliation of Frey was a display of “fiercely bad manners.” She further claims that Oprah Winfrey‘s producers misled both her and Frey as to the nature of that show, and that Winfrey told Frey, after it was all over, “I know it was rough, but it’s just business.”

Talese’s version of events doesn’t entirely ring true—it’s hard to believe that she really thought Oprah was interested in having her on stage with Richard Cohen and Frank Rich to discuss something as banal as “truth in America”—but she scores major points by openly attacking the “holier-than-thou” attitude of Winfrey and her audience, particularly their indignant outburst when Frey admitted that his girlfriend had used a different method to kill herself than that described in his memoirs.

A Sneak Peek at 2008′s Iron Man (DENIED!)

I promise not to go overboard with the San Diego Comic-Con news, especially since I wasn’t there to witness it all firsthand this year, but I couldn’t resist sharing a pirated video of a trailer for Iron Man prepared exclusively for the convention…at least until the suits swooped in and took the video off the ‘net. But trust me, it was pretty damn cool.

The superhero flick, starring Robert Downey Jr. and scheduled for a May 2008 release, was just one example of what NYT reporter Michael Cieply described as the convention’s role as a “particle accelrator for popular culture,” with television and film productions playing as big a part in the weekend’s festivities as the comic books…and the action figures, and the costumes, and the Japanese monster toys, and so on and so forth. Among the highlights: DC Comics revealed that its current weekly comic, Countdown, is building up to a mini-series in 2008 called Final Crisis and scripted by fan favorite Grant Morrison; the entire cast of NBC’s Heroes showed up for a preview of this fall’s episodes, and Marvel will be using four writers and four artists to pump out Amazing Spider-Man three times a month starting this fall.

Equal Opportunity: GalleyCat’s Canine Corps


When former Harcourt publicity director Jennifer Gilmore left her day job earlier this year to focus on writing her second novel, she says, her springer spaniel, Maddie was “thrilled” to have her around the house all day. “And I am happy for a little company while I work,” Gilmore admits. “She stays under my desk all morning, daring me to leave”—but when she’s ready to go out, Maddie clearly knows how to work the sad face!

Joseph Finder says he recently got a note from a reader about an awkward error in Company Man. “I’d used the word taught instead of taut,” he says. “I had some sharp words with my proofreader, and Mia promised to do a better job on Power Play.” (She’d better hurry; the novel’s coming out next month.) Mia was actually trained as a seeing-eye dog, Finder reports, but was deemed “too needy to serve.” (And now, I’m going to be giggling all morning thinking about a taught wire…)