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Archives: November 2007

Book Sales Might Be Rising, But Book Jobs? Not So Much

Here’s a sobering statistic from the Progressive Policy Institute:

“Since 2001, employment in the publishing side of America’s book industry has fallen from 88,000 to 81,000, while book-printing employment has dropped from 38,000 to 30,000.”

Have a great weekend, everybody!

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Dateline Reykjavik: Getting Settled In


Yrsa Sigurdardottir signed copies of her Icelandic murder mystery, Last Rituals, Wednesday afternoon at Baltimore’s BWI Airport, next to the IcelandAir terminal, as her publisher, William Morrow, made free copies available to all the passengers on the daily flight to Reykjavik—and, as you can see, the airline crew. (The story, about an Icelandic single mom and attorney who solves a grisly murder involving medieval witchcraft and modern body modification with the help of a handsome if aggravating German counterpart, could definitely keep those who chose to read it on the five-hour flight awake. Having read the book last weekend to prepare for the trip, I was busy catching up with Charles Ardai‘s Songs of Innocencedamn, that’s good reading.)

So far, our activities in Reykjavik have been largely non-literary. I got to drive a hydrogen-powered Prius at the local Hertz, one of the first hydrogen hybrids at a car rental agency in the world (and at $140K a pop, no wonder, but it drove great). And then we saw the Islendingur, a replica of a Viking ship, but it was way too dark for pictures, and went swimming in the middle of a rain storm at the Blue Lagoon hot springs, and then we had the most amazing arctic char I’ve ever eaten in my life for dinner, and then we came back to the hotel to crash. We’re supposed to meet with Sigurdardottir today to tour the city and then hear from the curator of a museum of witchcraft that figures prominently in her novel, and I’ve got a copy of another Icelandic mystery novel, Arnaldur Indridason‘s Jar City, to keep me occupied during any lulls in the activity… so more details whenever I get a chance.

Beschloss’s New Book Deal? That’s Old News!

Remember how I told you a couple weeks ago to keep your eye on Leon Neyfakh, the New York Observer‘s publishing industry correspondent? Here’s a perfect example of why: Yesterday, Publisher’s Weekly made a hullaballoo out of Crown winning an auction over Michael Beschloss, for “a major history of wartime U. S. presidential leadership through two centuries.”

Neyfakh had that story on November 8. Well, okay, he didn’t discuss the subject matter of the book, but he had something arguably even better: a quote from Simon & Schuster spokesman Adam Rothberg pooh-poohing the suggestion that Beschloss’s departure should be construed as part of a trend of the house losing big authors: “We make bestselling authors here. Success attracts attention. There’s a whole marketplace of publishers out there who notice the success. They want bestselling authors on their list, and frequently they’re willing to pay a ‘free agent premium’ to attract those authors.”

Scene @ Louisa McCormack’s Book Party


On my way to Jack Romanos‘s retirement party Tuesday night, I stopped by the Little Inn, where Canadian television personality Louisa McCormack was celebrating the release of her first novel, Six Weeks to Toxic, in the US. We’re laughing here over her explanation of how the weakness of the American dollar means that it’s approaching a 1-to-1 relationship with its Canadian counterpart—which is incredibly frustrating to Canadian book buyers who are saddled with all those now exorbitant price tags on American books. Apparently there’ve even been incidents of “book rage” in Canadian shops over the pricing issues.

I Have Stepped Out Briefly…

Sorry for the relative silence today, and apologies in advance for tomorrow as well—I am in Reykjavik with several other media types, being shown the local sights by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, the author of the international bestseller Last Rituals. Unfortunately, I have not gotten my power adaptor to work on my laptop yet, and even if I did WiFi access is something like $30 a day (cursed weak dollar), so chances are I won’t have any pictures to show you until Monday morning. But I will try.

Philip Levine Feted Tonight at Cooper Union

“You know what work is—if you’re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.”

philip-levine.jpgTonight at 7 p.m., the Cooper Union is hosting a birthday tribute to poet Philip Levine that just about every poetry-themed group in the city is sponsoring: the 92nd Street Y‘s Unterberg Poetry Center, the Academy of American Poets, Cave Canem Foundation, Poets House, the Poetry Society of America and Poets & Writers (along with Levine’s publisher, Knopf.) Among the scheduled readers and speakers: E.L. Doctorow, Edward Hirsch, Galway Kinnell, Yusuf Komunyakaa, Sharon Olds and Charles Wright, just for starters.

And he didn’t merit this widespread affection just by surviving until his 80th birthday. “Phil Levine has meant everything to me as a poet and as mentor/friend for the past 25 years,” says Kate Daniels, another of the evening’s featured celebrants. “Though we grew up in vastly different worlds—his: mid-century, first generation, Jewish, working class Detroit, and mine: baby boomer, white working class, segregated South—his powerful vision of the social, cultural, and economic forces that create injustice and oppression, setting people against each other, helped me to understand the sorry conditions of my own very different life, and to find a kind of
rough beauty in my family and friends, as well.”

“Phil was an amazing teacher,” concurs Malena Morling, “generous, honest, sweet and funny as hell. I remember floating out of his classes at Tufts, having laughed for two hours and at the same time having been awed by his brilliance. As a poet he has written a staggering number of extraordinary poems. Regardless of how many times I have read a particular poem, I always find a new layer of connections and a depth of compassion that is startling.”

Daniels adds that there’s nobody like Levine in American poetry except maybe Whitman, especially in terms of a focus on work and workers. “But Whitman wrote without benefit of the 20th century’s consciousness of Freud and Marx,” she observes. “Even at 80, at the beginning of this bizarre new century, Levine continues to write and publish poems that have something to say to us about the place of work in our lives, our need for work, and the many ways in which the powers that be conspire to ruin us through meaningless labor or too much work.”

Of his creative process, Levine has said, “You get yourself into a state where what you are intensely conscious of is not why you wrote it or how you wrote it, but what you wrote. You just read it as a piece, as someone else might read it, and you see where it’s alive. If that voice that you created that is most alive in the poem isn’t carried throughout the whole poem, then I destroy where it’s not there, and I reconstruct it so that that voice is the dominant voice in the poem.”

(quote from one of Levine’s finest, “What Work Is“)

Jack Romanos Has a Posse


Outgoing Simon & Schuster CEO Jack Romanos is flanked at his retirement party by, from left to right (ironically enough): Mary Matalin, Lee Iacocca, Mary Higgins Clark, Vince Flynn, Paula Deen, and James Carville. Others who came to pay tribute to Romanos in his final weeks as head of the company included Les Moonves, Carolyn Reidy, Ian Chapman of the company’s UK division, Kevin Hanson from Canada, American operations leader Joe D’Onofrio, etc., etc. As Carville quipped from the lectern, “Jack, your company has learned how to get a big turnout at a retirement party—and that’s to give everyone a speaking part.” There were also gifts, including a specially commissioned piece of aboriginal art from the Australian branch, a pop-up book called The House that Jack Built from the children’s division, and a nickel-plated “executive” Rubik’s Cube (which, you’ll recall, marked Romanos’s first major publishing triumph). Oh, and Paula Deen said Romanos will never have to wait in line at her restaurant in Savannah, which is where he’s headed once he leaves the office at the end of the year.

September: Another Month of Rising Book Sales

The Association of American Publishers released its latest figures on book sales: an increase of 5.7 percent for the month of September, and yearly sales maintaining their climb with an increase of 9.9 percent. The Harry Potter bubble is slowly receding; children’s/YA hardcover was down 12.8 percent over August’s numbers. But don’t shed a tear just yet: The category still produced $87.1 million in sales, over $15 million more than adult mass market paperbacks, which are in decline 7.5 percent for the month and 6.3 percent for the year to date.

And here’s one possible sign of the future: “Audio Book sales posted an increase of 36.5 percent for September compared to last year’s figures with sales totaling $22.5 million; sales for the whole year were up by 40.1 percent. E-books sales rose by 27.7 percent for the month ($2.9 million); the category also posted an increase of 23.6 percent for the year.” Let’s see what e-book sales are like for November, once the Kindle numbers are factored in, eh?

Warning: Lots of Violence, All of It Gratuitous

Last week, when I ran Mike Huckabee’s endorsement from Chuck Norris, I warned you that there was an official promotional video in the works for The Truth About Chuck Norris, the book capitalizing on the Internet meme. This is that video. Just so you know, it dances a tarantella along the edge of NSFW, what with all the violence and occasional references to Norris’s prowess in other arena.

Edgar-Winning Charles Ardai Ineligible for Edgar?

songs-innocence-cover.jpgSarah Weinman may have left GalleyCat, but that doesn’t mean she’s stopped breaking stories. Yesterday afternoon, she posted on her own blog about Charles Ardai‘s run-in with the Mystery Writers of America. In addition to co-owning Hard Case Crime, which specializes in original and long-out-of-print pulp thrillers, Ardai also writes private eye stories under the anagrammatic pseudonym Richard Aleas, in which guise he’s won the MWA’s Edgar Award for the short story “The Home Front.” But the new Aleas novel from Hard Case, Songs of Innocence, has been ruled ineligible for Edgar consideration, even though Publishers Weekly just called it one of 2007′s best hundred new books, because the MWA says Ardai’s financial interest in the Hard Case imprint makes it a self-published novel, even though the Hard Case line is actually published and distributed by Dorchester (making Ardai’s position somewhat akin to that of a book packager, though he’s billed as a publisher).

“It’s not that I think the book would have been nominated or won the award otherwise,” Ardai said when he told me about the situation over the holiday weekend. “It might, it might not, and either outcome would have been fine. It’s a matter of principle: Why should this book be the one title published all year by a legitimate, MWA-approved publisher, in the conventional advance-and-royalties-and-publisher-pays-for-everything fashion, to be singled out as ineligible?”

Good question! “This decision is no reflection whatsoever on the quality of the book, which many of us on the committee have read and enjoyed,” MWA Awards Chair Lee Goldberg told Sarah. “In fact, the point of our guidelines is to assure that decisions about Edgar eligibility are made regardless of a work’s perceived quality (or lack thereof) or the popularity (or lack thereof) of the author.” And that “rules are rules” approach sounds fine, except… “decisions about Edgar eligibility are made regardless of a work’s perceived quality”? You could argue that the quality of a potential candidate for a juried literary award should bear a little more consideration than questions of provenance.

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