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Archives: August 2008

Before the Main Event, a Bestselling Author Appears

Here’s a quick trivia question: Which of tonight’s primetime speakers at the Democratic National Convention is the author of a memoir that made the New York Times bestseller list and is also the subject of another New York Times nonfiction bestseller… and isn’t running for president?

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It’s Nathaniel Fick (far left), the former United States Marine who wrote about his combat experiences in Aghanistan and Iraq in One Bullet Away while Evan Wright‘s Generation Kill offered another perspective on the role of Fick’s platoon in the latter theater of operations. Fick is now a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, and will be speaking about his confidence in Barack Obama‘s ability to succeed as commander-in-chief. As this picture shows, he’s been behind the Obama campaign for a while now, organizing a rally for the candidate in Kabul just two weeks ago.

FishbowlNY and FishbowlDC bloggers, covering the convention for their respective websites, have been told they should keep an eye out for him today to get an interview.

How to Judge a Book By Its Cover (and a few other factors)

“People send me lots of books,” writes 43 Folders editor Merlin Mann, “so I have to decide rather quickly whether one should be added to the ambitious pile of stuff I already really want to finish reading.” GalleyCat has the same problem; fortunately, Mann’s got a checklist of questions readers can ask themselves, whether they get books in the mail or have to look at them in a bookstore, to make the yea-or-nay vote “easy and obvious.” Some of the highlights:

⇒”Is the author’s large, whitish face the primary feature of the cover?”

⇒”Can you find the word ‘secret’ anywhere on the cover of the book?”

⇒”Does the book suffer from the overlarge margins, giant type, two-paragraph pages, and ‘inspiring quotations’ that often suggest a rushed, shoddy, or lazy manuscript?”

Perhaps most important of all, “can you imagine a future in which closing this book on the last page will make you angry that you didn’t just go back and re-read A Confederacy of Dunces instead?” But those are just Mann’s criteria—how do you make these decisions?

The “Final” Season of Happy Ending

astern.jpgAfter five years of curating a twice-monthly combination of performances from authors and acoustic musicians at the Chinatown bar Happy Ending, Amanda Stern is getting ready for one last season—but this isn’t the end of her role as a literary event organizer. In January 2009, Stern will move the Happy Ending series a mile uptown to Joe’s Pub, where it will continue as a monthly show.

As the series had grown, the original bar—which was never really intended to host live music—was no longer able to meet the show’s growing technical needs. “Joe’s Pub can offer us the highest quality sound, a spectacular stage, comfortable seats and…food!” Stern emailed when queried about the move. “While I’m deeply sad to be leaving Happy Ending and all the friends I’ve made there, I’m doing what’s best for the show and I’m thrilled and honored to be part of the team at Joe’s Pub. I planned originally to keep one show at the bar and the other at Joe’s, but that seemed too confusing.” Another concern was that the new venue increased the amount of pre-production work that would go into each show… and then there’s Stern’s understandable desire to find some more time to complete her own second novel, as it’s been five years since the publication of The Long Haul.

The final season of Happy Ending at Happy Ending begins Sept. 10 with Andrew Sean Greer, Hannah Tinti, Darin Strauss, and special musical guest Moby. Although it would not be at all surprising if Strauss brought his guitar along, too.

Two College Pals Take (Describing) Friendship to Next Publishing Level

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Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler met as freshman journalism students at Syracuse—”we were in different social circles but all the same classes,” Lavinthal recalled, relaxing at the Library Bar after leaving the Cosmopolitan office, where she’s a content editor for the magazine’s Sirius programming. After graduating, the pair wanted to work together on a book project, and took a look at various features they’d written for the school paper. A feature on hookups seemed “more relevant post-graduation than we’d ever thought it would be,” she recalled, and that led to The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl’s Guide to Living It Up. Their initial attempts to find an agent failed, but they did score a meeting with editors at Simon and Schuster, at which point Rozler (who works as a production editor at Fairchild Books) looked up the agent for The Metrosexual Handbook, Adam Chromy. 24 hours after they contacted him, they had an agent—who got several other publishers to bid on the book before it landed at Simon Spotlight.

Their latest book, Friend or Frenemy?, described as “a guide to the friends you need and the friends you don’t,” has just come out from Harper—but before that, Lavinthal admitted, they had tried writing a novel together. “It just wasn’t working,” she said of the year they spent on that project; one day she turned to Rozler and asked, “Do you like this book?” Rozler mustered up an “it’s all right,” and they knew it was time to move on, keeping a few of the ideas they’d developed and reworking them into another lifestyle handbook. The pair tend to work from outlines, then take on individual chapters “until we can’t look at it anymore and switch,” Lavinthal said. “I’ll get half a list done and tell Jessica to finish it.” Rozler nodded, adding, “Anything scatological is probably me.”

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Another Voice from the “Publishing Is Dead” Crowd

Last Sunday, over at the Huffington Post, Richard Laermer posted what is touted as merely the first half of an article pointing out everything that’s wrong with book publishing today. “In my book Punk Marketing one particular thought appears incessantly: don’t do what you’re doing because it’s the way it’s been done forever,” Laermer writes. “Publishing industry needs that advice in an overt way… It’s starting to make little sense why I would write something that while widely read could be given out in a ‘cleverer’ format. Doing a book with a major corporation just starts to seem…odd, given the proclivities in which I do everything else now.”

Odder still, perhaps, when outlets that report to Nielsen Bookscan have only shifted 7,000 copies of Punk Marketing (frequently referred to in promotional copy as a ‘bestseller”) since it was published by Collins in March 2007, which indeed seems like a rather poor return on investment, though it’s of course entirely possible that the 30 percent of bookselling outlets not reporting to Nielsen had disporportionately larger sales on the title. (Laermer placed his latest book, 2011: Trendspotting for the Next Decade, with McGraw-Hill, and announces at the end of the article that the book after that will be self-published.)

Anyway, Laermer’s complaints are frequently, shall we say, interesting: “How can a 22-year-old editor bid on a book?” he starts off. “What does a post-graduate $32,000-a-year fresh-out know what will hit with the public?” Good questions—and just as soon as a real-life 22-year-old editor making $32,000 a year who’s bid on a book all by herself shows up, she can answer them. She’s probably the one who’s been dealing with the agent who’s so “beyond frightened of pissing off the editors,” he’ll actually tell his authors they’re lucky to get whatever paltry advances the publishers deign to offer. If you were dealing with a 22-year-old who could strong-arm an entire editorial team into approving her bids, you’d be scared too!

Also, did you know small publishers exist only as a marketing gimmick? And that big publishers are a bunch of wussies who spend all day in meetings afraid of offending each other and don’t know how to work the bookstores? Which isn’t to say he doesn’t hit some nails on the head—publishers do spend too much money to acquire too many books that they can’t market properly afterwards—but what do you think about his broader critiques?

O’Reilly on Amazon/Shelfari: Web 2.0 Consolidation Begins

Tim O’Reilly has some interesting observations concerning Amazon.com‘s acquisition of Shelfari earlier this week—starting with the fact that the current playing field for book-themed social networking appears to be dominated by Goodreads.com, and he’s got a chart to prove it:

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“Of course, that could change quickly if Amazon throws their muscle behind Shelfari and integrates it into their overall service,” O’Reilly notes, citing a trend where “companies with dominant share tend to get more dominant over time,” even when moving into new but related markets. “But here’s the counter,” he adds: “open and interoperable applications, including open social networks.” What if all the other social networks dedicated to books banded together and let their users communicate with each other over the fence, as it were?

O’Reilly doesn’t mention this, because his main emphasis is on the survival of the networks, but… the consequences of such a move for authors and publishers, who currently have to choose one bookish network upon which to focus their attention or else scramble to maintain some sort of presence on several of them, could be significant.

Emmanuelle Alspaugh Changes Agencies

emmanuelle-alspaugh-headshot.jpgLiterary agent Emmanuelle Alspaugh has relocated from Wendy Sherman Associates to Judith Ehrlich Literary Management. In roughly a year and a half with Sherman’s agency, Alspaugh made deals for authors like former Miss USA Chelsea Cooley, Marie Claire editor Sarah Wexler, and romance novelist Alissa Johnson; she was also briefly an agent with Creative Culture, where she connected Canadian novelist Danielle Younge-Ullman with Plume; that book, Falling Under, came out earlier this month.

In her new position, Alspaugh emailed, she’s “delighted at the chance to assume more of a partnership role” working with Ehrlich, a former journalist who’s been representing authors for the last decade, and launched her own agency in 2002.

It’s Not The Night Chicago Died, But It’s Close

Longtime GalleyCat readers will recall that one of the most frequent complaints lodged against book trailers here is the prevalence of the “slap some music and pictures and captions together” school. But there’s always an exception that proves the rule: This promotional film for Michael Harvey‘s The Fifth Floor manages, through the skillful deployment of a consistent visual aesthetic, to give the impression that the novel might be doing for the Great Fire of Chicago what The Da Vinci Code did for Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

It’s a great example of how to craft a story pitch that tells just enough of the story to make somebody say, “Now tell me that again in more detail!”

Henry Alford, Sandra Tsing Loh: One Night Only

tsingloh-alford.jpgHenry Alford first met Sandra Tsing Loh back in 1994, when they were introduced by a mutual editor. “I knew the moment I started reading [Depth Takes a Holiday] that Sandra was a kindred spirit,” Alford recently recalled. “Both of our books contained the phrase ‘Danskin crotch panel.’” Tonight, at Housing Works, Alford will be asking Tsing Loh about her latest, Mother on Fire: A True Motherf%#$@ Story About Parenting.

“Sandra’s new book works on several levels, including my own,” he emailed. “There’s something very satisfying about reading an account of someone who has a lot of initial anxiety about putting her kid in a public school, but who ends up becoming an advocate and activist for public education… I’ll be interested to find out from her at the reading now much of the hysteria about getting your child into a good school is genuine concern for the child’s education and welfare, and how much is status anxiety.” Of course, he still appreciates the funny bits: “I love the part where Sandra puts all her Jonathon Kozol books into a wicker basket as if getting ready to drown them. That’s good stuff.”

Alford strengthened his connection with Tsing Loh’s family when he met her father as part of the research for How to Live, which the subtitle describes as “a search for wisdom from old people (while they are still on this earth).” In the book, he writes about how he was nervous about encroaching on Tsing Loh’s “territory,” as she’s been incorporating stories about her father’s scavenger lifestyle into her performances and writing for years, but, in the days before the Housing Works event, he remembered being “thrilled” when Dr. Loh agreed to be interviewed. “I’d always thought Sandra was exaggerating when she said he uses a Frosted Flakes box as his briefcase,” he confided. “She is not.” (For more on that story, though, you’ll have to wait until early 2009, when Twelve publishes Alford’s book.)

(photos: Tsing Loh/Alexander Techworks; Alford/Vanity Fair)

Resistance Is Futile. Books Will Be Annihilated… Really?

clipart-robot-reader.jpgDespite all the evidence undermining her assertion that the Internet can’t save technology because the audience for books consists largely of the middle-aged and elderly while “most people in their 20s and 30s… will tell you that books are so 20th-century,” Cindy Weaver came back with another round of assertions, declaring that “there is every reason to think that books will be a thing in the past in the next 10-20 years,” to be replaced by multimedia stuff that places less and less value on text—like something out of a Vernon Vinge novel, perhaps.

“What I find so frustrating is that when these concerns are brought up to publishers they will stare back at you with blank faces,” Weaver writes. “‘There is nothing that we can do,’ they will say, and that is when they become victims of their own thinking. A thinking that is grounded in the past that does not look forward. We will see continued growth in e books in the next few years and many publishing heads are putting a lot of apples in this cart. They will be sorely disappointed. Why? Because a mass market will never materialize.”

Of course, one could argue that there’s never really been much of a “mass market” for books anyway, compared to other entertainment products, but that’s too depressing to contemplate this early in the week, so let’s stay focused on the topic at hand: Does that publishing industry sound familiar to you? Or, at places like the technology panels at BookExpo America, and all of O’Reilly‘s Tools of Change conference, is there nary a blank face to be seen? Some might say publishers appear to be actively engaged in the effort to keep their industry relevant… and while there’s a recognition that multimedia products will be a part of the future, nobody appears to be backing off their commitment to the written word.

Or do they? What have you seen happening out there?

(By the way, Weaver added another nail to her argument’s coffin by passing along a PW article from March indicating that online retailers are poised to take the biggest market segment as early as next year.)

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