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Posts Tagged ‘Motoko Rich’

Talk to the Animals for Publishing Succcess

Cats and dogs and elephants and lions and tigers…okay, the last two haven’t figured into bestselling novels or non-fiction yet, but maybe that’s just a matter of time, if one continues the trend line pinpointed in Dwight Garner‘s piece in the New York Times’ Week in Review section, which he claims he wouldn’t have written if he’d not found out about Sara Gruen‘s $5 million deal for THE APE HOUSE in last week’s article by Motoko Rich (even though it’s been common knowledge for, I dunno, months?)

Anyway, Garner wants to know why the American reading public is so animal-crazy. “Americans have become existentially lonely,” said Jon Katz, author of DOG DAYS. “We’re disconnected from nature and from the animal parts of ourselves. We’re living in cities and we’re generally frustrated by our work and dissatisfied with politics, technology and religion, all of which have mostly failed to uplift us as promised. So we’ve been turning to animals for companionship and love and emotional support.” Of course, some of those offerings – coughcoughJONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULLcoughcough – might not be the best examples of what Katz is talking about, but as Garth Stein‘s book deal illustrates, animals are still very, very hot in publishing.

NYT Discovers Water For Elephants After Everybody Else

Like Publishers Marketplace, I have to wonder: what took so long for Motoko Rich‘s profile of Sara Gruen to run when WATER FOR ELEPHANTS stormed the bestseller lists last summer? I’m guessing it’s the news that Andrew R. Tennenbaum, a co-producer of the Bourne spy movies, optioned the rights to the novel in a deal worth more than $1 million to Gruen if the movie is made. Or that by hitting #1 on the NYT paperback bestseller list, the book has a new life in paperback.

But really, the focus of the piece is on Gruen’s next book, THE APE HOUSE – and especially the eye-popping $5 million-plus advance from Spiegel & Grau for the book and its followup. Cindy Spiegel said she was sure that Gruen could write another hit. “I feel very confident that she can continue writing books that have that same appeal because she has a connection with animals that is rare.” Emma Sweeney, Gruen’s agent, said that given how well WATER FOR ELEPHANTS is selling, “I really felt that the books deserved these numbers.”

More interesting is the reaction from Algonquin, where they are happy for Gruen’s success but perhaps a bit miffed she left. “All publishers think that they can make a best seller happen, but we don’t hear about the ones that don’t work,” said Elisabeth Scharlatt, Gruen’s publisher at Algonquin. “WATER FOR ELEPHANTS could end up being Sara Gruen’s best book.”

Today’s Obligatory Harry Potter Roundup

With the publication date of HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS less than a month away, expect the volume of stories to increase (even if the quality, or significance, may not correlate.) Today we have a few choice morsels including:

    • A rare first edition bought by a UK schoolgirl fetched 9,000 pounds. Truthfully, I thought it would get more at this stage, but what do I know? [Life Style Extra]
    • Scholastic will host a “Harry Potter Place” starting July 20. [release]
    • Kim Brown, vice president of merchandising for Barnes & Noble, and Kris Nugent, manager of Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Il. reveal their Harry Potter strategies. [Chicago Daily Herald]
    • Motoko Rich goes to the Harry Potter fan sites for their thoughts on spoilers, predictions and other Potter-related items. [NYT]
    • Potter-mania extends to the Ukraine, too. [Kyiv Post]
  • Who Spiked the Water at 1745 Broadway?

    It’s been a very strange week for the world’s largest publishing company. First we had Wednesday’s surprise announcement that Crown svp and publisher Steve Ross would be moving to Collins, with Tina Constable stepping in to take his place. Now comes last night’s announcement that Daniel Menaker was jumping ship from Random House‘s eponymous imprint, though it remains to be seen if the party line that the decision was “absolutely mutual” will hold up under scrutiny.

    Maybe it’s because the current edition of Publishing Revolving Door takes me on a time warp all the way back to 2003 – ancient history for some, but important history nonetheless. Menaker, after 26 years at the New Yorker, first joined Random House in 1995 and continued uninterrupted there save for a sixteen-month stint at HarperCollins, which ended in 2003. The company he returned to was not the company he left behind. They had moved to sleek new offices in an office condominium between 55th and 56th streets; Ann Godoff was gone in one of the most publicized oustings in recent memory; Little Random had been absorbed in the same umbrella containing Ballantine and its holdings; and at the center of the new-look imprint was, and still is, president and publisher Gina Centrello. Taken together, these were clear signs of the company’s increasingly commercial shift that would play out in a major way over the next four-plus years. And yet Menaker was hired to give Little Random a distinct literary bent, which he did in the form of novelists Benjamin Kunkel, Arthur Phillips, Gary Shteyngart and Jon Clinch as well as former poet laureate Billy Collins, even if said acquisitions didn’t necessarily pay off in terms of sales.

    No matter how much Menaker, Centrello and the Random House brass want to downplay the bottom line, it’s difficult to play by their rules in light of the company’s most recent shakeups – not to mention their gutting of the sales force, Bertelsmann‘s attempts to patch up the mothership after getting scared straight by former minority shareholder GBL’s threats to take their holdings public (Bookspan, anyone?) and a downturn in profits. All of which has to make one wonder about the overall health of Random House – and if more “unexpected” news is just lurking around the corner.

    BEA: Reactions in Print

  • The Washington Post’s Bob Thompson covers the convention for the paper, also got an advance look at Jenna Bush‘s manuscript.
  • Otto Penzler writes what’s assumed to be a somewhat tongue-in-cheek take of how BEA’s gigantism can make one despair.
  • Also in the Sun, Kate Taylor weighs the pros and cons of the Espresso Book Machine.
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    Publishing Statistics Galore

    During BEA, the Book Industry Study Group released statistics on book sales and buying habits during 2006, reports the New York Times’ Motoko Rich. Publishers sold 3.1 billion books in 2006, up just 0.5 percent from the 3.09 billion sold the year before, according to Book Industry Trends 2007, an annual report that looks at sales in the United States. As a result of higher retail book prices, net revenue climbed 3.2 percent, to $35.7 billion from $34.6 billion. Competition from other media is stronger than ever, the overall economy remains tight and, said BISG senior researcher Albert Greco to the AP, the industry may be too old to expect truly dramatic expansion. “The book business has been around for centuries. It’s a mature business, and it’s hard to get tremendous growth.”

    Meanwhile, a new study attempts to understand the buying habits of the average American women. According to the Women and Books 2007 study, she is 45, married, has a bachelor’s degree, lives in a large city (population of 500,000 or more) and possesses an annual household income of $88,625. Among the many statistics generated, the study found the average woman purchased an average of 28 books for herself or others, spending $280 on non-fiction titles and $147 on fiction titles. More than 2,000 women took the comprehensive survey and 1,601 responses were validated for use in the study’s final results.

    Hillary Books: What’s the Rush?

    For those keeping score, last month Knopf announced that it was publishing Carl Bernstein‘s 640-page book A WOMAN IN CHARGE: THE LIFE OF HILLARY CLINTON, originally planned for the fall, on June 19, surprising Little, Brown, which was scheduled to publish its own Hillary book by Jeff Nerth and Don Van Natta Jr., HER WAY: THE HOPES AND AMBITIONS OF HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, on Aug. 28. Then, this month, Little, Brown said it had also decided to move its publication date to June 19, making the rivalry abundantly clear.

    Now the release date wars have really heated up, reports the New York Times’ Motoko Rich. Bernstein’s book will now publish on June 5, with Nerth and Van Natta’s to follow only three days later. Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards said the push-up correlates to the Democratic primary debate in New Hampshire on June 3 which “presented a significant coverage event for our book.” Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch explained HER WAY would be excerpted in The New York Times Magazine on June 3, which prompted the move of its on-sale date to June 8. “It’s not Belmont, mind you,” Bogaards said, “but I like the fact that our horse is already saddled up and in the paddock, ready to run, shall we say.” Thankfully, Pietsch did not engage in any horse metaphors, and the books can’t be moved up any further lest booksellers’ headaches worsen..

    S&S Turns to Public for Help with Book Projects

    Between last year’s disastrous alliance with the Sobol Awards, its strange love of American Idol-style contests and the brand new fight about its boilerplate contract changes, Simon & Schuster has been having a rough go of late with regards to its reputation. But Motoko Rich‘s newest report that S&S is partnering with MediaPredict to select a book proposal based on bets placed by traders in the new market goes a step further and confirms the following: the publishing house execs must really have a high-quality crack pipe being passed around the office.

    On the face of it, the idea sounds, if not plausible, at least interesting: Media Predict is soliciting book proposals from agents and the public, and posting pages of them on the site. Traders, who are given $5,000 in fantasy cash, can buy shares based on their guess about whether a particular book proposal is likely to get a deal, or whether S&S imprint Touchstone Books will select it as a finalist in a contest called Project Publish. If either happens within a four-month period, the value of the shares go to $100 apiece; if not, the share price falls to zero. “Being able to predict the performance of something is key,” said Brent Stinski, founder of Media Predict. A prediction market, he said, “is a very powerful tool.” And Touchstone publisher Mark Gompertz is excited about the possibilities of a project that in his words, could do for book publishing what focus groups do for soap and soda and what screening audiences do for movies.

    But I can’t help but agree, at least in part, with Wharton School prof Justin Wolfers‘ concerns about the contest. “If they say we find it really persuasive that everyone bet on book A, they’re just looking at a book that everyone bet that everyone else bet that everyone else thinks is the best book. So you don’t end up with the wisdom of crowds, but the infinite reflection of crowds looking at crowds.” And taking the sum total of S&S’s recent moves, by going directly to the reader for guidance and counseling, it’s like they’re cutting out the editor, agent and author in the process – growing pains which may not really work in the end.

    Writers Slash Their Not-So Favorite Books Into Pieces

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    Earlier this month, Wall Street Journal theater critic Terry Teachout espoused the joys of brevity in books in his most recent “Sightings” column on Orion’s plans to publish abridged editions of classic novels. Now the New York Times’ Motoko Rich pushes the idea forward in a not-entirely-serious vein, asking writers like Christopher Buckley, Joyce Carol Oates, Norman Mailer and Jonathan Franzen to pick what books deserve to go under the editing knife. Mailer offered a list that he requested be printed in full and without commentary, while Neal Pollack suggested cutting “80 percent of THE NOTEBOOK by Nicholas Sparks and turn it into the greeting card that it was meant to be.”

    Most controversial goes to Ann Patchett with her Orwell slams and most wimpy, easily, to Franzen, who applied the abridging logic only to titles, even if he got off some amusing zingers like “Shortmarch” and “Paler Fire.”

    More on S&S’s Boilerplate Contract Changes

    Simon & Schuster‘s boilerplate contract change to exclude a minimum threshold for determining whether a book should stay in print or not continues to get traction. AP’s Hillel Italie offers his own summary but also includes an intriguing nugget from an interview with S&S CEO Jack Romanos, who said that in an ideal market the only books he could envision going out of print were time-sensitive works such as tax guides – and that fiction titles especially should never go out of print. That opinion was seconded by HarperCollins president and CEO Jane Friedman, also interviewed by Italie last week. “No. In one word, no. There is no reason for a fiction title to go out of print, because you never known when there is going to be an audience for that book,” she said.

    Which brings us back to print-on-demand. In a follow-up email, S&S spokesman Adam Rothberg explained that the earlier version of the boilerplate contract “reflected a time when p.o.d. was nascent and not-ready for prime time. This brings it into the era when p.o.d. is an established printing technology and p.o.d. books are readily available for sale.” But agent David Black told the NYT’s Motoko Rich that in reality, if a book is available only through print-on-demand, “an author’s book is going to be available in dribs and drabs.” He added: “If there is the possibility that I can take this book and place it somewhere else where somebody is going to publish it more aggressively than on a print-on-demand basis, shouldn’t I have the opportunity to do that?”

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