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Archives: September 2008

An Arts Editor Responds to the Book Review Crisis

2007_0724_citypaper.jpgEarlier today GalleyCat reported on Creative Loafing Media’s bankruptcy news. The company owns Chicago Reader, Washington City Paper, and several more alternative weeklies–papers that provide arts coverage for countless readers around the country.

Mark Athitakis, the Arts Editor at Washington City Paper, responded to that post with a report on how his book coverage has weathered the crisis. Here are his thoughts:

“Just to be clear: Though our corporate owners declared bankruptcy yesterday, the lights are still on here, and we’re still putting out a paper. This week’s issue, in fact, will have a brief preview of Lynda Barry’s upcoming appearance and a review of Jose Saramago’s latest. Not a lot, I know, but I try to squeeze in what we can.

“It’s true that I don’t have deep pockets for book reviews—I never really did–but nobody’s yet told me to stop running them. I’ve written a little more about this for Critical Mass. This ran before the recent turmoil, but the general points still apply.”

According to Athitakis, the next issue’s book coverage will go live next Tuesday night at this link.

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Soothing Spine Novels

Everybody is so gloomy these days. We need a good literary meme to cheer us up. Earlier today, Fimoculous reminded us of the cheery art of spine novels–an easy way to reorganize your bookshelf and do some writing at the same time.

For fifteen years, artist Nina Katchadourian has arranged stacks books into mini-stories, putting their spines in order so that the titles created short, short stories. Follow this link for examples from her Sorted Books project.

My favorite spine novel takes stacks these seven titles, creating a mini-horror movie: “A Day at the Beach, The Bathers, Shark 1, Shark 2, Shark 3, Sudden Violence, and Silence.” Feeling blue? It’s nothing a little spine fiction-izing can’t fix.

Life in the Book Review Vacuum

logo_inside.jpgToday, two more print outlets for traditional literary coverage tumbled into yawning maw of the bad economy monster.

Creative Loafing–the parent company of a host of alternative weeklies, including Chicago Reader and Washington City Paperdeclared bankruptcy this morning. Coincidentally, the New York Sun quietly folded the same day.

These unfortunate events will shrink the already shrunken market for professional book reviewers. As a number of writers have already reflected, we are living in a traditional book review vacuum. Analysis of the crisis is easy to come by, but practical advice is harder to find.

This goes out to the publicists in the audience. On a practical level, how are you coping with these disappearing markets? What strategies, tricks, or magical incantations do you use to get people pay attention to books in the shrinking universe of book reviews? Email us if you feel like sharing.

GalleyCat Hits the Lecture Circuit


Last week, I was invited to take part in a Direct Marketing Association Advertisting Week panel with Zinio chief marketing officer Jeanniey Mullen and AdWeek columnist Barbara Lippert (plus, not pictured, Marketingworks Charles Salmore and Crayon Consulting‘s Greg Verdino). Our conversation focused, among other things, on the need for companies to approach their online relationships with audiences/customers from a position of authenticity and respect. “There are so many examples when brands tried to force their approach on consumers rather than get a sense of what the community is saying and adjust accordingly,” Salmore warned, while Mullen emphasized the need to make every online engagement matter: “People only go online if it’s going to give them some personal benefit, and we always talk about personal relevancy and making the message count.” (I also stressed authenticity, along with the soft sell, citing publisher websites like Beacon Broadside as an example of how publishers can communicate their passion for books without pressuring readers to buy.)

The panel before ours, on direct/digital marketing, was highly engaging as well. Chick-fil-A‘s Michael McCathren explained how his company tries to make it easier for customers to share their offline experiences at Chick-fil-A in an online setting: “It makes our job easier when they have a story to tell. It gives customers a brand experience they will want to talk about, because they’re talking about you already.” Maggie Tucker talked about how the InterContinental Hotels Group is deploying a variety of online marketing strategies, from paid placements in Google Maps to a Crowne Plaza conference suite in Second Life. And Kitt Williams, the chief marketing office of Lealta, discussed the “Savvy & Smart” customer rewards program, which aims to engage consumers in pre-existing social networks and help them shift rewards from various retailers towards their own preferences. Women control more than 80 percent of consumer purchases, she noted, and they already have vast influence networks offline as well as online. The key to a successful program lies in retaining those consumers past a single purchase—and, she assured the audience, people will continue to buy non-essential goods, even if the economy gets significantly worse than it is now. (So that’s a ray of hope for the book industry there, right?)

(photo: Carmela Uzzi)

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The Bookshelf of Burned Love

fountainhead.jpgAs we enter the second day of our deal-breaking book contest, we’ve learned a lot about our readership. Mainly that most of us need literary relationship counselors.

Readers from all over the United States have answered this burning question: What’s the one book that burned bridges during a disastrous date or failed relationship? The doomed texts ranged from the heavy Ayn Rand novel, The Fountainhead, to the dirty-minded Grant Morrison comic book, The Filth, to J. D. Salinger’s famous, but apparently divisive novel, Catcher in the Rye. The list included enough popular material to scare any literary single straight off the dating scene.

As if the sociological import of this survey wasn’t motivation enough, GalleyCat still has a few free copies of An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England to give out to our readers who answer our burning question. Email GalleyCat your answer. Just include your mailing address in the email, and we will take care of the rest. Stay tuned. We’ll share the best stories in a future post…

Two New Imprints Spring Up in the Midwest

spirituality-health-cover.jpgNew York may be ready to declare book publishing dead, but there’s a lot more optimism in the heartland, from whence announcements have come our way of two brand new imprints from established publishing houses. In Traverse City, Michigan, Spirituality & Health magazine is getting into the book game, believing that its base of 100,000 readers will be ready to make the transition with them. Spirituality and Health Books will start with four nonfiction titles in 2009, including Paul Sutherland‘s The Virtue of Wealth: Creating Life Success the Zenvesting Way and Bob Butz‘s Going Out Green: One Man’s Adventure Planning His Natural Burial. Sutherland is the brother-in-law of Victoria Sutherland, founder and publisher of ForeWord, a book review magazine which is based in the same building as Spirituality & Health; the editor-in-chief at ForeWord, Heather Shaw, will be the book division’s senior editor.

Meanwhile, Northern Illinois University Press has launched Switchgrass Books, an imprint dedicated to literary fiction set in or about the Midwest. They take the mission seriously: “Switchgrass authors must be from the Midwest, current residents of the region, or have significant ties to it.” And, interestingly enough, “agented manuscripts will not be considered.” Which seems like an unusual way to go about things—not, we suppose, that anybody goes to university presses for the promise of huge advances…

Guest Essay: Samantha Ettus on Turning a “No” into a “Yes”

Ettus cr. Donna Newman.JPG
Expert Ease?
By Samantha Ettus

After publishing four books I have now persuaded 400 of the world’s leading experts to write chapters in my series, on every topic from weight loss to vexilology (the study of flags). Each is asked to write a succinct chapter, comply with a strict deadline, and agree to my edits. People assume managing so many diverse and powerful personalities is the hardest part of my job. But the biggest hurdle is the task of identifying, finding and then securing the ideal expert for each category.

You see, I am obsessive about selecting the perfect expert for each topic, so every time I’m turned down I feel like I have been rejected by my biggest high school crush. Don’t they realize I spent weeks finding them – their rare blends of charisma, experience and gift with the written word beckoning me? Of course not. They have blogs to write, speeches to give, TV shows to tape and their own books to pen. So while it pains me to hear a pass after I have painstakingly selected and cold called an expert, very rarely do I take the word “No” at face value. Instead, I put on my emotional body armor, throw my ego to the wind, and try to turn that “No” into a “Yes.”

Continue reading after the jump.

Photo Credit: Donna Newman

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When Does Your Literary Novel Become a Success?


Over at the Editorial Ass blog, the pseudonymous Moonrat takes a question from a reader about how many copies a work of literary fiction needs to sell before it’s considered a success, and the answer’s simple: 7,000 in hardcover. Drawing upon her publishing industry experience, Moonrat offers consoling advice for authors who haven’t done quite so well:

“If you’ve sold between 4,000 and 7,000 copies, in hardcover, of your literary novel, you did a damned good job… If you sold between 2,000 and 4,000 copies of your literary novel, you sold pretty strongly. You’re still in a good position to have your publisher want to take on your second project, or to comfortably find a home elsewhere.

“If you sold below 1,500 copies, your publisher is probably disappointed, although they will never tell you that. Instead, they will tell you that debuts are hard, and literary fiction is nearly impossible. Both these things are true.”

“Your publisher might also be happier or sadder with your numbers depending on how much they paid for your novel,” she concees, “but odds are, if it is in fact literary fiction, they bid with these kinds of specs in mind.” And then, in the comments, she explains why switching debuting authors to trade paperback isn’t necessarily a solution: “We need to sell literally 4-5 times as many paperbacks of a book to make the amount of money we would have off of a hardcover, and while MORE books sell in paperback, in the case of MOST books the discrepancy isn’t that great. That means that if national accounts are denying us hardcover placement, there ARE going to be books we’re not going to be able to afford to publish.”

Reading Banned Books, and Cooking With Them, Too


Judy Blume was one of the many authors who went to Chicago last Saturday for the Banned Books Week Read-Out, an event co-sponsored by the American Library Association and the Chicago Tribune, including several whose books are among the most frequently challenged in schools and public libraries today: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Lauren Myracle (TTYL), and Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, the co-authors of the insidious And Tango Makes Three.

sarah-palin-cupcake.jpgOf course, the annual media focus on banned books came early this year, thanks to Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who apparently took offense at Daddy’s Roommate back when she was just a small-town Alaskan politician. The Haphazard Gourmet food blog commemorates Palin’s aspirations to literary criticism (along with certain other qualities) with a special cupcake—and then continues the theme with a string of “banned book” recipes that has already brought together Eloise and fairy cakes, along with Ulysses and trifle, with more to come, including guest stars Margaret Cho and Josh Kilmer-Purcell.

And how are you celebrating Banned Books Week? Let us know!

SIBA BBQ Brings New England, Southern Publishers Together


The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance held their annual trade show in Mobile, Alabama over the weekend, and Nashville-based Turner Publishing teamed up with Vermont’s Chelsea Green for a “Fire and Brimstone Barbecue.” Turner president/publisher Todd Bottorff and Chelsea Green sales director Peg O’Donnell posed with authors Frank Durham and Diane Wilson. (We don’t know how hot the BBQ sauce was; we presume the “fire and brimstone” thing came about because of the subject matter of the books—Wilson’s memoir deals with growing up in a “holy roller” church in Texas, while Durham’s novels starts in central Louisiana and then turns out to have, you should pardon the expression, honest-to-God biblical overtones.)

PW reporter Kevin Howell filed a report on the weekend’s highlights, including a brief quote from Bottorff, who is publishing Durham’s novel, Cain’s Version, as the launch title for a new imprint specializing in Southern fiction, about the advantages of regional shows like SIBA—”a great place to meet independent booksellers who may not make the trip to BEA.”