Chronicle Books, which you’ll recall I mentioned last week has fabulous design, is running its annual “Friends and Family Holiday Sale,” and, according to UnBeige editor Alissa Walker, the publisher “thinks of UnBeige as family.” I suspect it would be bad form for me to simply blurt out the special promo codes they’re offering, but, really, if you’re the least bit interested in book design, you ought to be at least skimming UnBeige already, so follow through the link today or tomorrow.
Archives: November 2007
Maybe it’s a bit early to start thinking about what to do this weekend, but I’m going to throw an idea out to you anyway: the New York Center for Independent Publishing (you once knew it as the Small Press Center) is holding its annual book fair this Saturday and Sunday at the Center’s headquarters (20 W. 44th). Over 100 independent presses will be taking part in the vent, and guest speakers include Fugazi lead singer Ian MacKaye and Nation columnist Katha Pollitt. And who can resist the allure of a literary trivia battle between the staffs of A Public Space and The New York Review of Books? If I were going to be in town this weekend (and you’ll hear more about that at the end of the week), I’d either be in the front row or begging Brigid Hughes or Edwin Frank for a temporary hire…
Pressed to name a Robert E. Howard character, some people might be able to come up with Conan the Barbarian; ask for two, and they might mention Red Sonja (although that’s only half-right). If you’ve got a hardcore Howard fan, though, he might mention Solomon Kane, the protagonist of a series of stories written for Weird Tales in which a 16th-century Puritan wanders the earth, like Cain in Kung Fu, fighting evil with his sword and pistols. After Paradox Entertainment bought the rights to the Howard catalog a few years back, a film starring the character was one of the first projects anticipated, then announced, and here’s the first poster of the summer 2008 release, starring James Purefoy and written and directed by Michael J. Bassett, director of Wilderness and Deathwatch.
I am so there, although I’ll be praying between now and then that it doesn’t turn out like Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing.
Usually, the literati who turn up in Sunday’s “The City” section of the NY Times are writing guest essays about their charming (or wretched) metropolitan lives, but Ed Park wound up as a profile subject when his role as the publisher of the New-York Ghost newsletter was officially revealed. Each issue of the zine, containing “an assortment of stream-of-consciousness prose, whimsical poems, dream transcripts and archival illustrations,” is sent to subscribers by e-mail as a PDF file. If sample articles like “One-Word Review: Hilarious” feel a bit McSweeney’s, perhaps that’s to be expected: One of Park’s many current gigs is on the editorial staff of The Believer. (His first novel, Personal Days, is due from Random House next May.)
Frank Kameny has a big problem with Tom Brokaw‘s Boom!: Voices of the Sixties. The former NBC news anchor’s pop history of the decade includes nothing on the gay rights movement, not even the Stonewall riots, and that strikes Kameny—one of the leading activists in that movement—as sheer “passive-aggressive hostility to our history.”* In a letter to Brokaw and Random House executives Gina Centrello and Kate Medina, Kameny accuses the book of having “de-gayed the entire decade” and further charges, “One does not hear even one single gay voice in your book. The silence is complete and deafening.” (Jann Wennner is interviewed in the book, but apparently doesn’t count.) “The Sixties were a period of unprecedented rapid social and cultural upheaval and change,” Kameny continues. “We gays were very much a part of all that. A reader of your book would never have the slightest notion of any of that…You owe an abject public apology to the entire gay community. I demand it; we expect it.”
The attitude may be more than a little high hat—and the closing shot that “Gay is Good [and] you are not” is just plain rude—but Kameny’s not the only person to notice the massive oversight in Brokaw’s historical account. In yesterday’s Washington Post, Charles Kaiser damns the book’s vapidity on a number of different levels, but specifically notes the lack of any gay history.
*Of course, there’s plenty of room to quibble; “hostility,” after all, implies that Brokaw and the other parties involved in the book’s production gave any thought to the matter at all—it could just as easily be interpreted as indifference.
Newsarama blogger JK Parkin reported on a collaboration between Marvel and DC Comics to issue cease-and-desist letters against Z-Cult FM, a website that tracked new comic book releases and included links to BitTorrent files containing scans of those issues. Z-Cult’s response was defiant, as administrators announced Friday afternoon that, since the site isn’t based in the United States, the American laws the comic book companies are invoking to shut the site down don’t apply to it and, anyway, “we have always had a clearly explained and signposted policy of making it clear to all comic publishers and copyright holders that we will on request (and reasonable proof of ownership) remove their material from our trackers,” but Marvel and DC wasn’t following Z-Cult’s policy, so Z-Cult saw no reason to cooperate.
In an interesting twist, one of Z-Cult’s administrator’s, “Serj,” went on to announce that independent comics publisher Slave Labor Graphics had given Z-Cult permission to distribute some of its comics digitally, “[hoping] that exposure to our large library of titles will help encourage support of our legal download site. But SLG publisher Dan Vado initially repudiated that statement, explaining that a freelancer who had been authorized to set up a banner ad exchange took it into his head to give permission that wasn’t his to give. Nevertheless, Vado added while sorting the mess out with Serj over the weekend, “you can go ahead and make our stuff available for download. I am not certain what our digital plans are going to be in the coming year, so I may come back and ask you to drop them again.
If you haven’t added Teleread: Bring the E-Books Home to your RSS feed yet, you should strongly consider it: David Rothman has been providing excellent reporting and commentary on the e-book corner of the publishing industry. His blog has been one of my regular sources for information and perspectives on the Amazon.com Kindle, and last weekend was no exception, with a Saturday post on some awkward questions being raised about Amazon’s pricing on Kindle-formatted bestsellers and other potential antitrust issues:
“Amazon, the 600,000-pound gorilla of e-tailers, at least partly sabotaged years of e-book standards work by the IDPF when it insisted on a new proprietary format for the Kindle. Meanwhile concerns exist about the Amazon-owned Mobipocket format that so many independents use; will Jeff Bezos and buddies kill it off or let it shrivel away, now that they’re playing up their new Kindle format, complete with $10 bestsellers that the Mobi store doesn’t offer at that price. Questions are even arising among tech-hip TeleBlog and MobileRead readers as to whether Amazon simply tweaked Mobi to create a new proprietary formatâ€”perhaps mainly to increase its dominance over other e-tailers? Is it the same old Mobi with just new DRM and fresh machine-identification numbers?”
Meanwhile, Peter Brantley collates more responses to the Kindle in a post for O’Reilly‘s Radar blog. Publishing veteran and Portable CEO Joe Esposito suggests that people who are complaining about what Kindle doesn’t do are missing the point: “Kindle is not a device,” he writes. “It is a component of a system… It won’t fail because it doesn’t support open standards or lacks this feature or that or even because the price is high; it will fail if it doesn’t self-evidently provide ten times the value of hardcopy, and a return on the capital for everyone in the value chain.” Commenters do not respond kindly; as one argues, “Making capital happy only gets you investors; making users happy gets you a business.”
Xerox PARC researcher Bill Janssen takes a lateral approach, roping in last week’s NEA report to suggest that we might be facing “a twilight of the popular novel,” on the wild-card hypothesis that striking WGA members might turn to “machinima” to reach audiences on the web. I’m not entirely convinced, but there’s one thing that’s true: The Internet has created a radically different environment in which to strike than 1988. It’s entirely possible the writers’ approach to the net may shift from using it as a platform to explain why they strike to using it as an entirely new outlet for creative expression. In the meantime, here’s a fun midpoint between the two:
Congratulations to HarperCollins Children’s Books senior publicist Melissa Dittmar (left), who was married last week to film marketing director Stephen Bruno. Their wedding was featured in the NYT Sunday style section, along with that of National Book Award-nominated* poet Moira Egan and Damiano Abeni.
*Additional research, prompted by a tip from a reader, indicates that Ms. Egan was only “nominated for a National Book Award,” as the Times phrased it, in the sense that her publisher submitted the book for consideration.
“A Concerned Reader and Writer” wants us to think about something during the long weekend:
“Have publishers completely lost their commitment to literary fiction simply because of the bottom line? Rachel Kahan said [in an earlier GalleyCat post] that she was proud to publish commercial fiction because it catered to her readers’ taste. A smart enough market decision for an editor to make, after all. But… is it because commercial fiction is simply safe and comfortable? Does that philosophy completely dominate the decision to take on an ‘edgier’ author? Would any publisher out there dare to publish Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses now, if they could foresee what havoc it would stir up? Are there novels and non-fiction books out there that are intelligent and provocative, but a publishing house would pass on because they are dangerous (the opposite of comfortable) and make readers think and react? Are publishers becoming just a little ‘too comfortable’ to take risks now?”
“Have publishers completely lost their commitment to literary fiction simply because of the bottom line?” What, you seriously want to suggest that there’s no literary fiction being published anymore? That’s just insane. Notice, too, the false binary distinction between “commercial” and “literary” writing, as well as the lazy assumption that “edgy” writing is the same as “intelligent and provocative” writing and “commercial” is the same as “safe and comfortable,” which is a fallacy we dealt with last month when the “alternative” poseurs started demanding their own section at Amazon.com. The real problem with these questions is the idea that all publishing houses think alike, and that they’d all reject a manuscript for the same “cowardly” reasons. If this were true, agents would never have to go door-to-door again; they could just set up auctions for everything and cast aside the authors who couldn’t attract any bidders.
Are there novels and nonfictions (yeah, it’s an ugly word, but technically I should be on holiday, so I’m not wasting time looking for another) out there that are too unsettling, aesthetically or ideologically, for commercial publishers to accept? Undoubtedly. Does that mean no publisher would take such books on? Not necessarily; any number of independent presses abound, catering to all points on the aesthetic and ideological spectrum. And, frankly, the ease with which anybody can self-publish these days means that no author can use a lack of interest from publishers as an excuse any more. If getting your uncomfortable message out to the world and forcing it to think and react means that much to you, stop waiting for somebody else to do you a favor and publish the book yourself.
Is that a hard path? Yes. And the odds are good that you won’t make a lot of money at it, especially if you’re a quitter. So you have to ask yourself: Is your message so important that you’d be willing to give over a huge chunk of your life to getting it out? And if you can’t say “yes,” then why should you expect anybody else to care about your book either?
“Frankly, we are losing the battle against on-line shopping, big box discounters, increasing rents, and a half-empty street,” the owners of Village Books, an independent bookstore in Pacific Palisades, warn. Feeling down to the wire, they’ve decided to lure customers back into the store with a holiday sale, knocking 15 percent off everything in the store for the first weekend of December.
As the comparable situation at the Eso Won bookstore in South Central reveals, though, it’s going to take more than a bunch of shoppers making a single visit to turn the problem around. Just as a local bookstore needs to prove its value to the community, so too the community will have to demonstrate its commitment to the bookstore.