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Archives: October 2007

Quick Hits: Atlantic Re-Orgs, Mac/Cage Goes to PGW

⇒London-based Atlantic Books announced a reorganization of its executive team, with several staffers getting a new job title or new responsibilities or both. Atlantic Found Toby Mundy is now the CEO and publisher; deputy managing director and sales and marketing director Daniel Scott gets bumped up to full managing director; publishng director # Ravi Mirchandani becomes editor-in-chief, and assistant editor Sarah Norman is promoted to editor. The company has also hired a financial controller and continues to look for a sales manager. “Our strategy from hereon is to focus on profitability,” Mundy said of the changes in a press release, “develop our paperback publishing and develop new business alliances and opportunities. I think we have an outstanding publishing team to do that.”

MacAdam/Cage announced Friday that it had signed a distribution agreement with Publishers Group West. The San Francisco-based independent publisher had previously distributed its own titles, which included bestsellers like Girl in Hyacinth Blue and The Time Traveler’s Wife. Publisher David Poindexter was excited by the alliance, which he feels “will clearly add to the success of our authors.” The announcement also included a statement from PGW president David Steinberger, who declared it “gratifying to see yet another successful independent publisher signing on with PGW.” The partnership is one of the most high-profile deals yet for the revived PGW, which was acquired by Perseus Book Group earlier this year after its former parent company, AMS, declared bankruptcy.

Diaz: Let’s See More Respect for Comics Writers

junot-diaz-dirtypop.jpgJunot Diaz‘s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is being applauded by book reviewers for merging literary ambitions with a slew of pop culture references, specifically from the sci-fi and comic book cultural spheres, so it should be no surprise that Diaz’s interview with comics fansite Newsarama is so thought-provoking. In the first half of the two-part article, Diaz explains why some many of his comic book allusions come from the ’80s: “I think that part of it was, of course, you want to mic-check the things you love the most,” he says. “But it was also that… if you look at these books, you see that they’re speaking toward a particular sensibility. They all had a very dark, but in some ways generous view (of the world).” He then adds perceptive comments about how the writers and artists from that period were working out new languages, verbal and graphic, of storytelling, and then admits, “Even before I dreamed of being a literary writer, I dreamed of being Frank Miller.” (Even those readers who aren’t comics fans might recognize Miller as the creator of the source material for the films Sin City and 300, but Diaz is specifically referencing the mid-’80s DC Comics books Ronin and The Dark Knight Returns as his inspiration.)

In the second half of the interview, Diaz reveals just how heavily invested he is in the contemporary comics scene, then admits that when it comes to mashing up high and low culture, the literati are given a better handicap by critics than the comics crowd. “We can go through and rummage through this material and talk about supervillains, and we’ll still get nominated for Pulitzers and other awards,” Diaz says:

“But comic book writers are like holding passports from North Korea, and when they try to enter the pearly gates of the high literary nation, they’re always stopped and blocked and stripped and denied access… Michael Chabon writes a book about comic books and everyone’s on his jock, but Michael Chabon is never going to be competing with the poor guy who’s writing Sinestro Corps for an award of high literary merit. And I’m like, ‘Why not?’”

Or as Grant Morrison, whose appearance at the New Yorker Festival with Jonathan Lethem was a significant step towards rectifying the imbalance Diaz describes, said in a 2002 interview with Sequential Tart, “I think most comics are pretty good and stand comparison with their equivalent TV shows or novels. Is The Ultimates as good as West Wing? I think so. In fact, I prefer it.” (None of which, of course, is meant to knock the literary writers—in fact, perhaps the most glaring omission from this year’s National Book Awards fiction shortlist, after Diaz’s own novel, is Chabon’s alternate history murder mystery, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.)

(photo: Ka-Man Tse/Dirtypop)

How to Sell Comics to Mainstream Bookbuyers?

Occasional Superheroine blogger Valerie D’Orazio found herself browsing in a B&N comics section recently, and noticed that while manga took up more than half the space, superhero comics were confined to just 7 percent of the territory. And even then, she says, the trade paperbacks had great difficulty standing out from one another. Virgin Comics, for example, “had dazzling covers but completely ignorable thin spines,” a big problem when books are shelved spine-out. On the manga shelves, though, “most books sported white spines with colorful logos and representative art,” she observed. “What you got was a joyous riot of books that fairly begged you to pick them up.”

D’Orazio has some tips for how publishers can improve their presentation, including “reprint[ing] more pages in each volume as to get a bigger book spine” and “[using] more bright colors for your trade spines.” What she can’t say for sure, though, is whether these new techniques would really accelerate sales of superhero books outside the comics shops. I would think there has to be some room for growth, especially given the number of DC and Marvel characters that are being transformed into film franchises these days…

Ride Shotgun With Greg Lindsay As He Writes His Book

greglindsay.jpgBack in February, Greg Lindsay, a contributing at mediabistro.com’s FishbowlNY blog, landed a book deal with FSG as the co-author of Aerotropolis, a book about the giant airport-industrial complexes springing up all over the planet. Now Lindsay is documenting his progress in a series of monthly articles for mediabistro.com called “Off The Ground.” The series debuted in late September, as Lindsay began organizing his field notes—”30 pocket-size notebooks, filled on both sides, and more than six days of audio recordings—and quickly found himself overwhelmed. Thanks to some good advice from Charles Fishman, though, he’s back on track… somewhat.

“Writing 1,000 words a day… has become a goal unto itself on some days,” he writes, “and that’s usually the copy I throw out the next day because I veered off the outline and stopped paying attention to the greater goal.”

Sounds like Lindsay’s ready for more advice, this time from sportswriter/novelist Will Leitch, who teaches him how to stay focused on the project’s overall goals and stick to a manageable word count.

ag_logo_medium.gif“Off the Ground” is one of several mediabistro.com features exclusively available to AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for as little as $49, and start reading those articles, receive discounts on mediabistro.com seminars and workshops, and receive all sorts of other bonuses.

Talk About Your Exquisite Corpses: Mystery Writers Assemble Evidence on B&N Chat Board

Over at the “Crime Book Club” message boards on the Barnes & Noble website, Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai has started up a round-robin hardboiled mystery called “Passing the Torch” with a guy walking into the narrator’s office and collapsing dead on the floor. From there, the story already been expanded upon with contributions from fellow mystery writers Duane Swierczynski and Jason Starr, but you don’t have to be a pro to participate—any reader is invited to move the plot forward with a few paragraphs. “I’m not promising that the story will make a ton of sense when we’re all done,” Ardai wrote when he told me about the venture over the weekend, “or even that it will ultimately get completed, given that things like this sometimes peter out, but we do plan to have fun along the way.” So far, they’re off to a pretty good start.

(And, yes, I know that technically this isn’t a true example of “exquisite corpse” technique, because that depends on contributors knowing next to nothing about what their predecessors did. But it worked for the headline.)

Fup of Powell’s Technical Books, 1988-2007

fup-at-powells.jpgI was saddened over the weekend to read about the death of Fup, a 19-year-old cat who lived at Powell’s Technical Books in Portland, Oregon. “Fup was the matriarch of the Tech Store,” wrote assistant manager Ron Silberstein, “the absolute ruler of her domain. She charmed visitors from all over the world. She was one of us.” Silberstein reports that Fup, who was adopted by the store’s first manager, was engaging customers until her very last days, when her health simply declined too far. “In lieu of cards or flowers,” he says, “we respectfully request you make a gift donation to the Oregon Humane Society in Fup’s name.” The Powell’s website has more photos of Fup and friends, as well as links to tales of her life at the store (and her forest sabbatical).

Giving It Away in Bits and Pieces, With Blogger Middlemen

To promote Blogging Heroes, a collection of “interviews with 30 of the world’s top bloggers,” Michael Banks and Wiley are giving each of the book’s subjects the opportunity to publish a PDF file of their interviews for free download on their site. Early adopters include Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson, BoingBoing‘s Mark Frauenfelder, David Rothman, Steve Garfield, and Gary Lee.

“It will be interesting to see how well this works,” Anderson commented as he put up his interview. “Will these samples encourage people to buy the book to get all the chapters, neatly wrapped in a convenient package? Or is something as fragmented and bitty as 30 short interviews so easy to consume in small chunks that the free samples satisfy most of the demand, rather than stimulate it? Because the chapters are all on different blogs it’s hard to read them all together, so this isn’t the same as simply giving the whole book away in one download. But as an experiment in leveraging the power of free samples to sell books, it will be worth watching all the same.”

Unsold Manuscripts Transformed into Marketing Giveaways

When I was hanging out with Melanie Lynne Hauser at a bar near the (downtown) Omaha Literary Festival last month, she told me about a new marketing idea that her husband was putting together, a destination website for free, downloadable e-books that published authors had taken out of their metaphorical desk drawers to give away to readers. That site, AuthorArcs.com, is now online as a beta, and the offerings include not just Hauser’s unsold novel Jumble Pie, but stories by J.A. Konrath and Robert W. Walker as well.

“There are many websites that offer thousands of downloadable short stories, novellas and novels with no vetting of quality,” Hauser explains, but by focusing on published authors, and the manuscripts their agents shopped around but just couldn’t find a home for, AuthorArcs.com hopes to ensure a high baseline standard—the goal is as much about giving something back to loyal fans as it is about tempting new readers with a freebie.

GalleyCat: Now With Equal Time for Dogs

HarperCollins is going to publish a book from the folks at Dogfessions next summer—imagine PostSecret, but with dogs all over the place—and they’re looking for content. Here’s a 90-second video chock full of the sort of thing they have in mind, complete with Nelson soundtrack. (Via Carl Lennertz‘s Publishing Insider.)

For Reviewers, Reliable Is Better Than Nice

Thanks to Keir Graff at the Booklist blog for noticing this week’s spate of posts on the negative waves that some people have noticed in book reviewing—and in rounding up my scattered thoughts on the subject, Graff pulls back the Booklist curtain, explaining that although the magazine has a reputation for being “nice,” their policy is actually a little bit different than that: “We’ll only review a book if we can recommend it in some way,” he says, “OR if you absolutely need to know about it.” If faced with a bad debut novel, though, the editors would likely just ignore it: “Panning a first novel doesn’t help our audience much and can be cruel to the author—although, if it’s a hugely hyped first novel whose release is highly anticipated, well, we just might make an exception.”

That explains why the magazine called Marisha Pessl‘s Special Topics in Calamity Physics “extravagantly arch and self-conscious” and “almost compelling enough to warrant its excessive length,” considered National Book Award nominee Mischa Berlinski‘s Fieldwork “somewhat clumsy,” and I’m not even seeing a review for fellow nominee Josh Ferris‘s Then We Came to the End. Which just goes to show that everybody’s got their own tastes; PW gave Ferris and Pessl starred reviews, although it shared some misgivings about Berlinski’s “uneven thriller”—but even that book has clearly gone on to find its ideal audience.

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