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Archives: November 2008

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Lockdown: Outside Reactions

hmharcourt-logo.jpgThe publishing world was caught off guard by yesterday’s announcement from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt of a temporary freeze on new acquisitions, and throughout the afternoon and evening, industry insiders tried to make sense of the situation. Our immediate speculation was that the “exceptions” HMH pre-emptively granted itself would almost certainly include legacy authors like Philip Roth or Cynthia Ozick, while “midlist” authors who’d been with the house before and were up for new contracts should probably have “a serious talk with [their] agent.”

The most serious consequences, however, will probably be in terms of HMH’s suport of new literary voices. “I’ve got a short story collection from a debut author on submission there,” one agent told us last night. “I guess I know how that will turn out.” Janet Reid of FinePrint Literary Management took a more skeptical view. “I think it’s smoke and mirrors,” she said of the announcement. “If they want something, they’re going to get it.” She pointed out that some HMH editors were known, even before yesterday’s freeze, for extremely judicious buying practices, and questioned how much less they could acquire (other than, of course, nothing). As for the reduction in the HMH frontlist, which the Wall Street Journal estimated as more than 15 books a month, one editor at a rival house told us “a lot of other houses ought to do that.”

“This is a whirlwind blown out of proportion to what it really is,” Reid continued, calling yesterday’s buzz a consequence of “the first huge economic downturn in the age of transparency.” Within moments of the announcement items had been posted to sites like GalleyCat and PW and people started talking about it on Twitter: “We were all on it in five minutes,” she noted.

Other agents expressed surprise that HMH had chosen to go public with its non-acquisition policy, speculating that other houses would probably start buying fewer books as well and just not tell anybody outside their office; one theorized that the decision wasn’t so much a reaction to the current economic climate as a way to deal with the huge debts racked up in the merger of the two publishing houses last year.

Thomas Pynchon’s Private Detective Hits Streets in August 2009

pynchonvice_thumb.pngThomas Pynchon is publishing a private detective novel entitled Inherent Vice this summer–writing about a shamus solving a case during the 1960′s.

Conversational Reading got the scoop via the Penguin catalog. Aficionados of Thomas Pynchon‘s hardboiled spy novel, V, or his conspiratorial detective-work in The Crying of Lot 49 can give thanks this weekend.

Here’s a catalog sample:

“It’s been awhile since Doc Sportello has seen his ex-girlfriend. Suddenly out of nowhere she shows up with a story about a plot to kidnap a billionaire land developer whom she just happens to be in love with. Easy for her to say. It’s the tail end of the psychedelic sixties in L.A., and Doc knows that ‘love’ is another of those words going around at the moment, like ‘trip’ or ‘groovy,’ except that this one usually leads to trouble … [Pynchon] provides a classic illustration of the principle that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there . . . or . . . if you were there, then you . . . or, wait, is it . ..” Taps GalleyCat for Literature’s Best

mblogo.jpgWe were pleasantly surprised to wake up this morning and discover GalleyCat had made the list of the ten best literature blogs, as determined by David Gutowksi, the creator of Largehearted Boy—especially since we made it onto the roster with several of our own favorite book blogs, including the websites of novelists Laila Lalami and Mark Sarvas.

Although, strictly speaking, if we’re a “literature” blog, by virtue of the fact that we talk about the book business, there really ought to be room on that list for publishers like Chad Post of Open Letter, who’s been blogging about the realities of independent publishing (and publishing world literature) at Three Percent. Maybe there’s a blog or two on that list that only covers books intermittently we could bump to make room for Post… or for another great book blog we haven’t even thought of yet, that you’ll tell us about in the comments section…

AvantGuild: An Agent Opens Up the Hispanic Book Market

diane-stockwell-headshot.jpgThe newest installment of’s “Pitching an Agent” profiles Diane Stockwell of Globos Libros, a literary agency that focuses on the Hispanic market—which Stockwell first tapped into back in 1992, when she was an editorial assistant at Warner Books and the only one in the department who knew Spanish. When Stockwell (right) founded her own company in 2001, her original plan was to produce bilingual children’s books and do an occasional freelance translation gig, but then a Chilean author asked for help placing a book, and then Stockwell began representing Univision’s Dr. Isabel, an author she’d first published years ago at Kensington… and things took off from there. Now Globos Libros actively seeks other practical nonfiction books by authors with a strong presence in the Spanish-language media.

ag_logo_medium.gifThis article is one of several features exclusively available to AvantGuild subscribers. If you’re not a member yet, you can register for $59 a year, and start reading those articles, receive discounts on seminars and workshops, and get all sorts of other swell bonuses.

Author Joan Wickersham on Writing about Suicide

“My father killed himself in 1991, and when I got the news I thought, ‘Oh, no, that’s impossible. He would never do that.’ And at the same moment I thought, ‘Of course.’”

That’s Joan Wickersham describing her long and difficult struggle to write about her father’s suicide. In this exclusive video from the National Book Awards, Wickersham talks about her ten-year struggle to write about that family crisis. Her book, The Suicide Index: Putting My Fathers Death in Order, was a finalist for the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

During that prestigious evening last week, GalleyCat also had video interviews with NBA Young People’s Literature winner Judy Blundell, Nonfiction winner Annette Gordon-Reed, Poetry winner Mark Doty, former finalist Joshua Ferris, and finally, Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell and finalist Salvatore Scibona discussed poor writers.

Kim From LA: Publicist With A Poetic Sensibility

Most people in the publishing business who know Kim Dower know her as the force behind Kim from L.A., a Los Angeles-based expert in getting publicity for books and in preparing authors for media appearances. Turns out she’s also a poet who had been published in literary magazines like Ploughshares and The Seneca Review—and the most recent participant in Guerrilla Reads, an “online video literary magazine” that showcases footage of writers reading from their work out in “the real world,” as opposed to a formalized reading.

“I started out many years ago as a poet at Emerson College,” Dower emailed us when we asked about the video. But she put the poetry aside to focus on her PR business and other writing projects until two years ago, when, “like magic, like a dream,” she began writing again, up to two or three poems a week. Since then, she’s taken several intensive writing workshops with Thomas Lux (her former mentor at Emerson) and also participates in a weekly writing group led by L.A. poet Terry Wolverton.

“This was my first ‘submission’ after all these years,” she says of the video, shot in one of the canyons of Mulholland Drive—four poems from a collection called Air Kissing on Mars she’s been working on since she resumed writing. We asked her if the poems had an overarching theme; “no theme I’m aware of except I write about things in every day life,” she told us… “things that happen to all of us.”

AgencySpy: How to Get a Book Deal in Advertising

jud-laghi-headshot.jpgThe anonymous half of the editorial team at AgencySpy,’s blog about the advertising industry, scored an interview with LJK Literary Management‘s Jud Laghi about whether there’s room for any more books on advertising and marketing in the business sections of America’s bookstore. “There’s still plenty of room in the market for books that crossover ad and marketing concepts in ways that people outside the industry can relate to,” Laghi declared. “The average person now has the ability to be heard on a scale that was once reserved for established personalities and companies. Writers with a background in advertising and marketing have a unique insight on that model, and how to apply it on various scales.”

“The core of the advertising and marketing mindset is an understanding of what it takes to be remembered,” Laghi continued, “which remains as important and elusive as it’s ever been and, I think, good material for books.” He also offered up tips on how to make your pitch stand out, especially at a time when agents will be thinking very carefully about taking on new clients as publishers become increasingly selective about taking on new writers, and how to prove your platform from the onset.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt “Temporarily” Stops Buying New Books


In a move that made a few agents anxious, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts,” according to a spokesperson. As Publishers Weekly reports, a few executives were informed of the policy “verbally,” but a spokesperson confirmed the dramatic policy.

Josef Blumenfeld, Vice President of Communications at the publisher, explained to PW: “In this case it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature … We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.”

In the article, a few agents fretted about the change. One agent told PW that they had recently seen a book rejected according to the publisher’s temporary policy. Blumenfeld stressed it was “not a permanent change.”

The Literary Legacy of Hannity & Colmes

defiantdadsmedium.jpgAfter 12 years of punditry, debate, and books with long subtitles, Alan Colmes is leaving the FOX News program, Hannity & Colmes at the end of the year. TVNewser has more.

The liberal pundit had had this to say: “Although it’s bittersweet to leave one of the longest marriages on cable news, I’m proud that both Sean (Hannity) and I remained unharmed after sitting side by side, night after night for so many years.”

In the argumentative duo, Sean Hannity was conservative and prolific. In 2004, he wrote Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism; and one year later, he wrote Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism. In addition, Hannity runs a conservative book club out of his website.

In 2004, Colmes wrote the bestseller, 2004 book, Red, White & Liberal: How Left Is Right & Right Is Wrong. Oddly enough, out of the two authors, only Colmes’ wife currently has a new book on the market. Jocelyn Elise Crowley just published a look at divorce activists in Defiant Dads: Fathers’ Rights Activists in America–currently one of the top ranking Family & Health Law books at Amazon.

Pan Macmillan Partners with Popular iPhone Reader


Books by John Scalzi, Clive James, Peter F. Hamilton, China Mieville and Neal Asher can now be purchased for the iPhone, as Pan Macmillan partnered with the e-reader company, Lexcycle–becoming one of the largest publishers to step into this new digital realm.

The first round of titles are available on the iPhone and iPod Touch using Lexcycle’s Stanza application, and the companies expect to add more titles over the next year. In addition, the partnership will allow Stanza readers to sample bestsellers in special excerpts.

Sara Lloyd, Digital Director of Pan Macmillan, said her company had studied the market carefully before the partnership. From the press release: “Since the iPhone launched its App Store we have been watching developments closely to see which reading apps became most popular. Lexcycle’s Stanza emerged very quickly as a clear leader in its category and so we immediately made contact to ask about developing a strategic partnership to bring our ebooks to readers through this new channel,” she explained.