concept to publication

Month: October 2007

Publishing Trends Industry Survey

Publishing Trends has released its first annual publishing industry survey, and I’m not sure there is a great deal of value to take away from it. The survey is probably a worthwhile exercise, but I don’t think it has really found its focus yet.

where book professionals workSo we won’t spend much time on this. But let’s check out a few highlights. Considering how backward the publishing industry has been for the past about century and a half, it should be no surprise that “15 percent of respondents report that they’re still getting into Web 1.0.'”

No, for me what jumps out is that, while “twice as many [respondents] wrote in with complaints as praise” for the industry, almost 40 percent claimed to find gratification in “contributing to literary culture.” There is a clear disconnect here, as only a minority of titles are published with any intent whatsoever to contribute to culture. Most books are cynical (and usually belated and futile) exercises in pandering to the popular zeitgeist.

It’s no wonder publishing types tend to be a little mixed up and ethically challenged, considering that their personal values and their actual work are so disconnected. Compounding their problems, most are poorly paid, and “cite compensation as the worst aspect of the industry…. After compensation, the unstable market (38.4%), job insecurity (14.8%), and a competitive/unsupportive work environment (11.4%) worry the most.”

Those in marketing are the most satisfied and the least likely to leave. This is not surprising, because they are among the highest paid, and at least professionally they are not living a lie. They admit their goal is to to move books, and that’s what they do. Honest enough work, like editing used to be.

Of course, there are still quite a few dedicated editors and publishing houses who are doing heroic work. (Among California book publishers one thinks of CAT, City Lights, Green Integer, Mercury House, and Shoemaker and Hoard, among many others.) But they are swimming against the tide of an industry that is weighed heavily against them, that takes idealistic interns and turns them into burnt-out cynics who have lost much of their joy in literature.

Well, let’s not stop on a down note. Remember, these are simply problems of the book industry, not of the book itself. The book will continue to survive and flourish. Great books will continue to be published and read. Books are a perfected technology. They are proven survivors.

The Word

I found myself next to this vehicle on the approach to the Bay Bridge the other day. It reminds me a bit of the artworks of Xu Bing and Wenda Gu. The Word dwells amongst us.

word car

Writers’ rooms

as byatt's writing room

The Guardian has an ongoing feature displaying writers’ workrooms. The common features tend to be clutter, piles of books, and undistinguished furniture. Shown is the room of AS Byatt, who says:

The objects in the room are in a way a metaphor of my mind. They are brightly coloured, or transparent, and are about intricate patterns and structures. I collect glass paperweights. There are also stones. A piece of the chalk cliff at Flamborough Head in Yorkshire, a bit of pumice from an Icelandic lava field. Rose quartz from Norway and rose quartz given to me by a Korean friend. My favourite is fantomqvartz (the Norwegian spelling) one crystal growing inside another. On the wall there is a Matisse poster of Leda and the Swan and three watercolours by John Houston – watercolour is bright and transparent too. There is a case of South American insects I found in a Conran shop, and a glass dish of snail shells. There is also a reproduction mediaeval print of Babel Tower. Snails, towers, DNA. I like spirals. It looks like clutter but it’s a kind of order.

Via NamasteNancy.

A.S. Byatt books at Powell’s Bookstore 

Typographic humor


via Veer: The Skinny

Portuguese libraries, photographed by Candida Höfer

library in coimbra, purtugal

Candida Höfer‘s photographs of Portuguese libraries, now on display at the Sonnabend Gallery, 536 West 22nd Street in NYC, presents libraries as places of opulence. In these settings the books, clearly precious objects, convey an almost religious authority.

Shown is Biblioteca Geral da Universidade de Coimbra VI 2006.

Via If:Book.

Disappearing hyphens?

Since a big deal is being made about supposedly disappearing hyphens, let’s apply a little perspective to the discussion.

The first thing to realize is that the furor is the result of a promotional campaign for a new edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary; the sixth edition has omitted 16,000 hyphens that were included in the previous edition. The popular press has blamed e-mail for this, but the trend toward reduced hyphenation has actually been going on since at least the middle of the twentieth century.

What makes this a nonstory for me — besides the “who cares” aspect — is the source. If you are using the Oxford English Dictionary as a guide to spelling, all I can say is, stop now. The OED has no equal as an etymological and historical dictionary of English usage. But as a guide to spelling it has always been decades behind the times, and that’s exactly what we’re dealing with here. The sixth edition of the Shorter is playing catch-up with other dictionaries, and now is hardly the time to make a fuss about hyphens that perished half a century ago.

Check out these examples — not chosen by me but just picked up from the press reports — of words that according to SOED6 have changed from being hypenated to being spelled open or closed:

  • Words that the SOED now spells open:
    • fig leaf
    • hobby horse
    • ice cream
    • pin money
    • pot belly
    • test tube
  • Words that the SOED now spells closed:
    • bumblebee
    • chickpea
    • crybaby
    • leapfrog
    • logjam

Okay, now compare those to versions from a dictionary that people actually use as a guide to spelling, Websters New Collegiate. Just to make things clearer, I’ll use the ninth edition, published in 1983.

  • fig leaf
  • hobbyhorse
  • ice cream
  • pin money
  • potbelly
  • test tube
  • bumblebee
  • chick-pea
  • crybaby
  • leapfrog
  • logjam

You see? This has nothing at all to do with e-mail. Already a quarter century ago — in the real world if not in the OED — there was only one hyphen remaining in the entire lot that is now being used to support this story. Congratulations to the Oxford folks for successfully framing this story as one about disappearing hyphens. But the real story is that the OED is beginning to take its head out of the sand and move closer to the practice of real contemporary dictionaries.

RELATED: Typophile: What’s your favorite hyphen?

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