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Archives: July 2008

Again With the Fight Over Women’s Fiction Cover Art

The last time we touched upon the ongoing debate over “women’s fiction” book covers, back in April, I told you about Philadelphia journalist Karen Heller‘s suggestion that publishers were demeaning serious women writers, along with their readers, by giving their novels “chick lit” cover art, and her curious assertion that “”if [publishers] would banish the uniform covers… and realize that women—who buy an awful lot of books—will buy ones without pink or shoes or severed body parts on the cover, they might sell a good deal more copies.” Three months later, Guardian blogger Diane Shipley has come up with pretty much the exact same notion. “Books aimed at women are becoming increasingly homogenised, girly and bland-looking,” she claims. “I hope publishers will soon realise that their tactic isn’t working and could, in fact, backfire badly. If all book covers look the same, then none stand out.”

While I might be willing to give their argument some credence at the broadest aesthetic levels, I’m still curious about how Heller and Shipley are coming to the conclusion that women readers are rejecting, or are primed to reject, “bad” cover art to such an extent that the publishing industry might actually suffer, other than their personal fed-up-ness and the grumpiness of their literary author chums. Then there’s Shipley’s passive-aggressive threat that “if we know that how a book looks is no indication of its content, we might just become so dispirited that we bypass the bookstore and rent a DVD instead.” If you ask me, that sounds like somebody’s commitment to searching out great literature is lacking.

In the comments section to the post, though, there’s an interesting anecdote from the designer of the book jackets for Sue Hepworth‘s Zuzu’s Petals, which explains how the first cover (left) inspired virtually no enthusiasm among bookstore buyers, while the redesign (right) was a hit with retailers, two of whom tapped the novel for in-store promotions.

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Novel Writing: Editing Your Draft

Novel Writing: Editing Your DraftStarting July 16, workshop your novel in-progress with a published author! Erika Mailman's course will function as a workshop, with the emphasis on sharing your work for review and providing critiques for your peers. By the end of this class you'll have up to 75 pages of you novel workshopped and developed patterns to improve your writing. Register now! 

Stephenie Meyer’s First Comic Book Convention Turns into Media Blitz

Stephenie Meyer was probably one of the most popular prose writers (as opposed to the graphic novelists) to visit the San Diego Comic-Con last weekend—especially with the media, which is hardly surprising given that her fourth novel, Breaking Dawn, is just about to come out, as is a movie version of her first, Twilight. She pops up in an MSN Video segment about the upcoming film, along with director Catherine Hardwicke and actor Robert Pattinson:

Over at Entertainment Weekly‘s PopWatch blog, they ran a four-part video interview, where she compares her reception at the convention to the book signings she’s done over the last few years: “The sound of 2,000 girls screaming is similar to that of 6,000 girls screaming,” she says, but she really couldn’t see much of the crowd what with the flash bulbs going off non-stop.

Book Industry Pros @ Comic-Con: Hard Work, But Fun

elvis-rachel-kempster.jpgDK associate publicity director Rachel Kempster went to San Diego for the Comic-Con last weekend, and got her picture taken with the Elvis Trooper, perhaps the festival’s most easily recognized attendee. “DK has been attending the show for 6 years, and this was the best year ever,” Kempster emailed me earlier this week, citing the strong sales for all the promo posters and books stocked in the company’s booth. “You know, ever year I’m shocked that our booth gets so mobbed at a show with so much competition (a booth for the Dharma Initiative! Action-figure exclusives! Movie stars!) but it does… And on a side note, I got to meet Ron Moore, creator of Battlestar Gallactica. I nearly fainted.”

DK has plenty more photos from the weekend, although not nearly as many as Bully the Cow has been posting all week. Tor‘s new website was posting throughout the weekend, too, as was Random House‘s sci-fi blog, Suvudu. (And, of course, mediabistro.com’s own FishbowlLA.) What other exemplary Comic-Con coverage have you seen?

Popping the Hood On Doubleday’s Online Redesign

Doubleday‘s associate director of online marketing, Jeffrey Yamaguchi, opened up to Book Business about relaunching the publisher’s website with WordPress, “[simulating] the look and usability of a blog while maintaining Doubleday’s integrity and standards as a publishing house.” Indeed, the new Doubleday.com has the two-column structure of a blog, but it’s front-loaded with information about new releases, including video clips, readers’ guides, and collations of media and blogosphere mentions. (Second-level pages for specific imprints like Flying Dolphin Press or Doubleday Business showcase cover galleries of recent releases.)

“We have no illusions that this site is a major destination site,” Yamaguchi says of the redesign. “It’s a source for information about Doubleday Publishing Group authors and things that are going on.” The look and feel, he explains, are primarily a way to break out of the old-school format of just slapping catalog copy online and hoping that’ll be enough information to get by—but ultimately, even as they make their online homes more attractive publishers need to “go where the people already are” if they really want to build their audiences. It’s a point that’s worth repeating: Publishers counting on the Internet to help them move beyond the current economic holding patterns into real and sustained growth are going to need to learn to measure the right metrics.

Orson Scott Card: Gay Marriage Could Spark a Coup d’Etat

orson-scott-card-headshot.jpgFor years now, the iconic status of Orson Scott Card (left) within the science fiction community has had an asterisk: Yes, Ender’s Game and its various sequels are perennial favorites, but Card’s homophobic politics, about which he has been rather vocal over the years, leave many fans to make awkward excuses about how they just like good stories. (How homophobic, you ask? In one famous essay, Card suggested America needs anti-sodomy laws “to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society’s regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.”) To the limited extent that the mainstream world knows about Card, it usually doesn’t hear about his views—unless, say, he wins a lifetime achievement award for being an inspiration to the youth, leading activists to question the appropriateness of that gesture.

Those questions are getting louder, though, now that Card’s written an essay supporting California’s ballot initiative to ban gay marriages for The Mormon Times—or, as John Scalzi put it, “brings the economy-sized jug of crazy sauce to the same-sex marriage discussion”—by suggesting that the government has no business redefining millennia-long traditions, and if same-sex couples are acknowledged as equals to husband-wife pairings, “the last shreds of meaning will be stripped away from marriage, with homosexuals finishing what faithless, selfish heterosexuals have begun.”

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Book Blogs: Surprisingly Different from Mainstream Media

Thanks to those of you who let me know about the brief mention of GalleyCat in Lissa Warren‘s HuffPo essay about how book blogs fail to replicate newspaper book review sections. I’m always somewhat tickled to be accorded the same level of esteem as The Elegant Variation or, as in this case, the NYT‘s Paper Cuts, particularly since, as Warren herself indirectly acknowledges, GalleyCat isn’t a literary blog, but a site about what’s happening in the industry and where it’s headed. (I’ve shared my opinion about books I’ve read from time to time, but I’m willing to bet that’s not why you read the column.)

In response to Warren’s assertion that “for the most part, these blogs don’t actually review books,” though, Literary Saloon blogger Michael Orthofer suggests she’s just not looking hard enough. “Warren has good fun suggesting how litbloggers should present their material,” he says, “but her recommendations read like those of someone criticising what they think can be found on literary weblogs, rather than someone who has actually taken a look at a fair number.”

He also points out that the literary blogosphere offers different ways to talk about books than the format of Warren’s “traditional book review outlets,” which, she concedes,”are drying up and no one has yet determined how to save them.” What Orthofer doesn’t say, but has been suggested repeatedly on this blog over the last year, is that one reason those outlets have become easy for management at some papers to cast aside is that many reviewers really aren’t good at what they do, their attempts at innovation are often lackluster, and sometimes it’s even painfully obvious they don’t read the books closely enough. Frankly, the literary blogosphere should probably be applauded for “failing” to imitate the mainstream media’s reviewers, and for experimenting with new models of coverage that are establishing their own levels of relevance to the book-loving public.

Fans (& Other Billyburgers) Stock Giant Goddess of War Diorama

lauren-weinstein-foamhand.jpgThis Sunday, Lauren Weinstein will be appearing at Desert Island, a comic book shop in Williamsburg, to promote her new graphic novel, The Goddess of War. The in-store event features a window display filled with cartoon characters created by Weinstein’s fans and fellow artists, along with “anonymous folks in the greater Williamsburg area”—all of them running from this giant hand swooping down from the heavens to scoop them up. “One guy has decorated a cardboard space ship with cheerios that he painted red,” Weinstein reports on her blog. “Another cool anonymous lady made little yuppies. A little kid made a bunny. A rapper made a kind of transvestite.”

Job Post of the Week- I’m going to Disney

disney job.jpgI’ve known two types of people who move to NYC and get into publishing. Those that stay and those that go back to California in a year or so. Well, for those of you who want to stay in publishing but miss LA, here’s a gig for you from the mediabistro job board:

Disney Publishing Worldwide seeks a Senior Editor, Animation Publishing to join the animation editorial team in developing and managing content development and licensee approvals. This role involves extensive coordination and communication with Disney Publishing, studio contacts, and third-party publishers. We are looking for an experienced children’s book editor who has demonstrated success in translating entertainment properties into printed content. We view publishing as a direct extension of the consumer’s experience with our films as well as a source of ongoing content and storytelling, and our products must reflect and extend the authenticity of the films.

Judge Parker’s Fascination With Little Red Book Continues

judge-parker-golf2.jpgTwo weeks ago, I noticed that Judge Parker was plugging The Little Red Book, the late Harvey Penick‘s guide to improving one’s golf game. At the time, I joked that we could look forward to “several days of Sam Driver reading choice excerpts during his plane ride.”

Yesterday’s strip was close enough that I’m going to remember to be careful what I wish for here on out (although today’s strip is actually sort of amusing).

As for whether all this plugging on the funny pages is helping the book out in stores, a source at Simon and Schuster notes that The Little Red Book is already a perennial—”the highest selling golf book ever published,” according to Wikipedia—adding that the data available for mid-July sales was insufficient to draw conclusions about any comics-related spike in its performance.

(Judge Parker distributed by King Features Syndicate)

Wasserman on Internet Book Coverage

wasserman_about.jpgThe Book Publicity Blog pointed me toward a great interview with former L.A. Times Book Review editor, Steve Wasserman on Monday’s NewsHour segment about the demise of print book reviews. Now that there are only four papers with separate book sections including the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and the New York Times does online book coverage have the authority, nay, gravitas that book sections lend? According to Wasserman, they don’t:

I have no problem with the vast democracy wall that the Internet provides on which everyone, every crank and every sage can post his or her pronunciamento.

But what’s lost here is the discriminatory filter provided by people who have embraced journalism as a craft. What has been lost here is the authority, such as it ever was, of newspaper people trying to do a job well done.

I do not see foreign coverage being replaced by the activity of individuals on the Internet bloviating about this or that.

And despite the robust nature or at least the very excited nature of the conversation on the Internet, the best criticism still being written today is being published, say, in magazines, James Wood in the New Yorker, or Leon Wieseltier in the pages of the New Republic, or Christopher Hitchens in the pages of the Atlantic.

And it will be a long time before the Internet gives us a forum in which such people unsupported by institutions can deliver us that kind of literary criticism. At their best, the newspapers were an exercise in delivering to us that kind of informed criticism, which was the work of professionals who had devoted a lifetime to the consideration of literature.

Photo Credit: Zuade Kaufman

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