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Archives: October 2008

Bloggers: Next Best Hope for Book Reviews?

We meant to say something about Thomas Nelson‘s new “Book Review Bloggers” program sooner after its launch Wednesday morning; it’s just been a busy week. The deal, which is largely a formalization of promotional techniques Nelson used on The Faith of Barack Obama and the Lynne Spears memoir, is pretty straightforward: “Any blogger can receive free copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review on your blog and on Amazon.com.”

michael-hyatt-headshot.jpg“I think this is a case where if the products are WOW, they will generate enthusiasm and buzz,” explained Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt (right). “If not, then that will also help us create better products in the future.” His plans are ambitious; basically, he wants to create a database of 10,000 bloggers, sorted by their areas of interest, so they can target specific audiences.

Some of the initial reaction among publishing insiders and other literati on Twitter Wednesday focused on what was perceived to be wrong with the Nelson system, like the imposed obligation to review the books, or the insistence that reviews need to appear not just on blogs but on catalog pages at online bookstores. (The latter was said to put people’s Google rankings at risk; frankly, we’d be more offended at being “forced” to create content for websites from which we haven’t bought a book in ten years, and that only because we looked in every local indie bookshop first.) Other suggested that printing 1,000 ARCs was a waste of resources—although Hyatt himself commented that “our ‘cost per thousand’ will be roughly a tenth of conventional advertising—and with much more impact.” (NOTE: As per Hyatt’s comments below, Nelson actually isn’t sending ARCs, but finished books.)

For all the objections, even the ones we share, we watch Nelson’s experiment with great interest because, let’s face it, publishers can no longer rely on newspapers to cover books and writers, and every day that publishers are not actively fostering public discussions about their products—we hesitate to even call the desired results “reviews” at this point—is another day they spend allowing their market to slowly disintegrate. (Please note that we are not saying the industry is at risk of dying any time soon; if we had to choose a colorful metaphor, we’d say it was like digging a grave with a teaspoon, then building a coffin out of toothpicks and lining the interior with cotton balls—and we would only apply that metaphor to individual companies, not to the industry.) Is Nelson’s program perfect? Probably not, but so what? As we said in a conversation with an executive at another house yesterday, “It’s okay to ground out in the first inning.” If this experiment fails, the next company will have a better idea of how to keep track of which bloggers should be sent books about this and which ones should be sent books about that, and how to squeeze maximum promotional value out of those mailings, which might turn out to be e-books instead of ARCs print editions, who knows?

Or: It could work this way, and then everyone would be trying to duplicate Thomas Nelson’s success… or just buy access to their database of contact information for influential bloggers.

A Better Understanding of Doubleday’s Mini-Implosion

davincicode-cover.jpgOne of the reasons we’d been so skeptical of the notion that Dan Brown‘s writer’s block caused the Doubleday layoffs is that it just made no sense to us that the publisher would continue to bank on a sequel to The Da Vinci Code turning up after the first year Brown failed to deliver. But thanks to some schooling from a high-ranking editor at another house, we’ve come to understand that it might not have made that much difference even if they had stopped counting on him:

“Remember, advance payments are staggered,” this source told us. “If they signed up books for a shitload of money in, say, 2005, that money would be paid out over a two-year period, at least, with the final payment coming due in 2007, if not later. Had Brown delivered on time, they would have had tons of cash coming in when they had to ante up the last of the money.”

“Doubleday knew what their fixed costs were and kept adding to them,” our insider continued, “but they also kept thinking the Dan Brown money would be coming in within a certain timeframe to offset those costs. The fixed costs didn’t change, but when the money didn’t show up… well, you’ve freelanced, right? Remember how it felt to have your rent come due but your last job hadn’t put your check in the mail yet?”

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The Scariest Books

Lovecraft1934.jpgThe Second Annual Literary Halloween Party kicks off at McNally Jackson Books tomorrow. Find a friend and dress like a socialite–taking your book into court like two New York sisters.

There’s a little something for everybody, as the action-packed party invite shows: “Refreshments will be served, to the accompaniment of projections from horror comics anthology Nightmare Factory 2 (Fox Atomic) and signings by writers Joe Harris and Stuart Moore and artist Bill Sienkiewicz. Next is the Scary Story Slam, in which partygoers can compete to present the best horror story (literary or original) in under 3 minutes.”

In the interest of helping GalleyCat readers win the horror story contest, let’s make a quick list of the scariest books. We suggest: It, by Stephen King, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, and At the Mountains of Madness by good old H.P. Lovecraft (pictured). And Ron chimes in with his semi-annual endorsement of Robert Anton Wilson‘s Masks of the Illuminati, while we’re at it.

Add your favorites in the comments. (Via JacketCopy)

Exclusive Interview: Author Barry Lopez on the Election

Should young writers worry about Sarah Palin?

Barry Lopez, the National Book award-winning author of Arctic Dreams, answered that question in a thoughtful interview with GalleyCat last night.

As we reported, Lopez was the featured speaker at the 2008 Whiting Writers’ Awards–giving 10 young writers a $50,000 check and some powerful writing advice for these tumultuous times.

This began GalleyCat’s GalleyCat’s 2008 Election video series. To recap the literary interviews: author Barry Lopez talked about Sarah Palin, author Manuel Munoz reflected on university funding, and poet Douglas Kearney pondered political language in the age of Joe the Plumber, playwright Dael Orlandersmith spoke about writing truthfully, and author Benjamin Percy pondered the Iraq War.

Then Again, It Could Be Dan Brown’s Fault… Or Could It?

DD-logo.gifWe indulged ourselves in a bit of sarcasm yesterday when the NY Times raised the possibility that the recent layoffs at Doubleday might be Dan Brown‘s fault; our exact words being “Yes, we’re so sure Doubleday has been making ongoing financial projections for the last three years based on the possibility that Brown might finally turn in the manuscript of The Solomon Key.” This morning, though, somebody suggested to us that the publishing company might indeed have been dutifully mentioning the book in its budgets—although our source didn’t know whether that was in the form of projected earnings with a real number attached, or just a mention that “hey, if Dan gives us the manuscript, we can probably get it in stores within 90 days.” Or, for that matter, if it was true.

We have absolutely no idea whether it’s true, either, but even secondhand information gives us an opportunity to speculate—and it still seems to us that three years of expenditures based on the hypothetical revenue from a non-existent book would be no way to run a business. If we were going to propose reasons Doubleday decided it needed to save money, we would start by looking at more concrete factors, like the cost of building Spiegel & Grau‘s frontlist, long before it occurred to us that the company had been spending imaginary Dan Brown money since 2005. (Which, as we said back in 2007, is not a judgment on our part of S&G’s expenditures; in the same position, we might well have made the same financial decisions in order to acquire the same books… and feel that it’s too early to second-guess the strategy behind them… unless circumstances are really that drastic.)

Should Layoffs Be Publicized?

YoureFiredlogo1.jpgIn a new feature, Slate has begun to archive grim layoff notes. The feature is called You’re Fired, and opens with the email that announced 600 Time Inc. layoffs.

The feature editorializes about the email language: “The New York Times reports that the layoffs will begin in two weeks, yet an e-mail The Big Money obtained from inside Time Inc. does not mention layoffs. We’ve moved from euphemizing job cuts to denying they exist.”

Similar cuts have rocked the publishing industry this week with layoffs at Doubleday and McGraw-Hill, this quote strikes close to home. These issues have already sparked passionate debates in the comments section. What do you think? Should these personal moments be publicized, or should we keep them private? (Via FishbowlNY)

2008 Whiting Writers’ Awards

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“Write until your heart is nothing but ashes,” declared Barry Lopez, the National Book award-winning author of Arctic Dreams, addressing the ten winners of the 2008 Whiting Writers’ Awards last night.

Ten authors received a $50,000 check from the Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation last night. Since 1985, the philanthropic foundation has given emerging creative writers these grants, the nominees selected by “a small group of recognized writers, literary scholars, and editors.” GalleyCat was there with a videocamera–look for ongoing interviews with the winners.

The New York Times rounded up the winners:

“[F]iction writers Mischa Berlinski, Laleh Khadivi, Manuel Muñoz, Benjamin Percy and Lysley Tenorio; the essayist Donovan Hohn; the poets Rick Hilles, Douglas Kearney and Julie Sheehan; and the playwright Dael Orlandersmith.”

If They’d Waited a Week, They Could’ve Called It November Rain

steven-adler-headshot.jpgIf you’ve been watching Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, you know about the book proposal Gary Busey says he’s put together for a collection of “Buseyisms,” where he turns ordinary words into acronyms—like “sober: Son of a Bitch, Everything’s Real!” Turns out that one of the other cast members is a little further along in the literary process: Later this morning, editors will begin receiving a proposal from former Guns’N'Roses drummer Steven Adler for a memoir about his drug addiction and recovery called My Appetite for Destruction. But that’s not all! It comes bundled with another memoir, this one written by his mother, which will be called Sweet Child Of Mine.

Oh, it would be so easy to make an “unfinished manuscript”/Chinese Democracy joke here, except that the concept itself is probably funnier than any string of words we’d actually tap out…

(Honestly, though, if Tori Spelling and Dog the Bounty Hunter can get on the bestseller lists, and George Carlin could cobble together commercial successes out of his joke files, you gotta figure somebody could see their way to offering Busey a contract for a trade paperback original.)

Campaign Ads, Book Trailers, and Evolution

As Barack Obama rules the airwaves this evening, writers and publishers should ponder what television campaign ads can teach us about selling books.

The Museum of the Moving Image has a brilliant exhibit online entitled The Livingroom Candidate–allowing viewers to explore more than a half-century of presidential TV ads. Watching these ads evolve (and devolve, in some cases), might help us build a better book trailer.

For instance, this Nixon ad revolutionized the art of television advertisements with a couple toy soldiers. Someday soon, a bright writer will hit on that kind of powerful visual language–where is the book trailer’s answer to the infamous simplicity of Daisy Girl?

From David Schwartz, curator of the online exhibit: “In a media-saturated environment in which news, opinions, and entertainment surround us all day on our television sets, computers, and cell phones, the television commercial remains the one area where presidential candidates have complete control over their images.” (Via Errol Morris)

From a Month-Long Writing Marathon, A New Tale of the Undead

carrie-ryan-bookcover.jpgYou may recall a few weeks back, when we considered a cluster of zombie novels coming out from St. Martin’s early next year. It was right around that time that we got an invite from Delacorte to come out to dinner with a few other media types and some children’s librarians to meet Carrie Ryan, the author of The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which falls into similar territory, although it doesn’t use the Z-word: Imagine The Village, but instead of the future, what’s out in the woods is a horde of “The Unconsecrated.”

Ryan, who until recently was a practicing lawyer in North Carolina, says she went years without watching any horror films after a traumatic experience as a child with a TV showing of Poltergiest—until four years ago, when a boyfriend (now fiancé) asked her out on a movie date and then proposed the Dawn of the Dead remake. Two years later, Ryan decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and chose a story about a young girl in an isolated village surrounded by the undead as “a love letter to my fiancé,” she explained to us. “He had sparked this interest in me, made me realize I could write this story.” That first month, she wrote the first 20,000 words, and six months later she had a finished rough draft; revisions took up the summer, and the book was sold by last October. (Editor Krista Marino invoked the “took it home on Friday, read it all Saturday, made an offer Monday morning” book deal template; she also picked up the sequel while she was at it.)

So: The 10th annual National Novel Writing Month starts Saturday. If you’re planning to take a shot at writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days, let us know!

(photo: Darren Cassese)

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