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Sites we like: Galley Cat

Galley Cat is the blog to visit for insider news from the NYC heart of the publishing industry. I spent most of my career with independent presses outside of New York. Although I visited the city two or three times a year, I was never really a New York publishing insider. If you want to know what’s the latest from the belly of the beast, Galley Cat may be the best source — and you’ll get some pretty good analysis with your news as well. Click the screenshot to visit the site:

galley cat

Reading tomorrow at Litquake

I’ll be among a group reading translations from Latin American literature. The other participants include Elizabeth Bell, Michael Koch, Anita Segástegui, and John Oliver Simon. The event will be at Encantada Gallery, 908 Valencia Street. We’re in the 8:00-8:45 pm time slot.

10 Questions: Jeffrey Lependorf, Executive Director, Small Press Distribution / CLMP

jeffrey lependorf Ten Questions is an occasional feature in which folks involved in some aspect of publishing kindly oblige my interrogative impulses. Today I’m talking with Jeffrey Lependorf, who serves as executive director of two three different nonprofits, Small Press Distribution, based in Berkeley, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, based in New York City, and the Literary Ventures Fund, a new foundation, also based in NYC, supporting literary works through philanthropic investment. The questions focus on Small Press Distribution, so just to mix things up a bit, let’s have a look at a brief bio of Jeffrey from the press release announcing his hire at CLMP:

Lependorf has a long history working in the field of literary arts. From 1996-1998, he served as the Development Director of the Poetry Society of America. There he played an instrumental role in the national expansion of the Poetry in Motion program, which brings poems to subways and buses. More recently, Lependorf worked as Development Director for Creative Capital, an innovative foundation providing direct grants to experimental artists working in a variety of disciplines. He has also served as a consultant to a number of CLMP member publishers, including The Hudson Review, African Voices, and Open City, helping them secure foundation grants and develop individual donor campaigns.

For a longer and more current bio, including information on his work as a composer, check out jeffreylependorf.googlepages.com.

Okay, on to the questions and answers.

1. I was a member of the board of SPD about 15 years ago. My impression is that the organization has grown considerably since that time. If that is true, to what do you attribute the growth? Do you foresee continued growth, and if so would this become problematic at some point?

SPD has indeed experienced tremendous growth in recent years. In terms of how many books we represent and how many we sell that is; our staff has stayed the same size. Not only do we add approximately 1,000 new titles a year, but we also continue to reach larger and larger audiences of readers. Some of this growth reflects the growth of the community of independent literary press publishers that we serve. Some of this may be attributed to new technologies that allow anyone with a laptop and some good design and editorial savvy to put out a beautiful book. Similarly, many publishers are learning that though they may lack the marketing dollars of their larger commercial counterparts, viral marketing through the internet and often closer relationships with their writers allows them the possibility of reaching readers sometimes even more effectively. I think the explosion of MFA programs has certainly had something to do with more manuscripts finding their way to publishers as well. On the SPD side, much of our effectiveness comes from our ability to provide better data to our largest customers: booksellers. As we have been providing better and better data, our sales to some of the largest booksellers has increased dramatically, including our sales to libraries. At the same time, we always work to deepen our relationships with independent booksellers—particularly those that specialize in the types of books our catalogue best represents—and by doing so we’re able to sell more books with fewer returns.

I’m delighted to report that SPD has recently received major funding from The Irvine Foundation for a significant upgrade of our data systems. This will allow, for example, a potential bookbuyer to seek out books by California authors, or to see reviews of books. This should lead to an even greater growth in sales as well. That said, we do have physical limitations for the number books that can fit in our warehouse. At present, natural attrition (either from publishers who cease to publish or who move to larger commercial distribution) has allowed us the ability to represent the presses who should be with SPD. I suspect that in a longer view of the future, as more presses take advantage of constantly improving print-on-demand technology, that the nature of what the SPD Catalogue covers may change. I think that we’ll always have beautifully books printed in small runs, but perhaps in the future SPD will also offer books to be printed on demand as well, or deliver them in formats not yet imaginable. Regardless, we will continue to change with the times and we look forward to what the future has to offer.

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Social Book Cataloguing Sites

Publishers Weekly compares three book cataloguing sites: LibraryThing.com, Shelfari.com and GoodReads.com. These sites allow users to keyword tag and comment on books they own or have read. The oldest of the sites, LibraryThing, has been around for a couple of years — a long time in internet terms — and publishers and book retailers are finally beginning to take an interest, either by investing in the sites or by providing members with advance review copies of forthcoming titles.

The PW article tries to make distinctions between the three services (the unfortunately named LibraryThing has by far the most members) but for me largely fails to do so at the user level. Below are screen shots of the sites’ intro pages.



>> A previous post on LibraryThing


Colleagues Remembered

The images are of people who have been laid off from the staff of the San Francisco Chronicle. They come from a feature at the newspaper’s website called “Colleagues Remembered.”


Who are these people?

Or to put it another way, what do they have in common?

Make your best guess. Answer tomorrow.


Dharma Bummed

memory babeGerald Nicosia asserts that Viking Penguin and the estate of Jack Kerouac are “deliberately removing my name from books on the Beat generation and Jack Kerouac.” The Kerouac estate was passed to his third wife, but Nicosia had supported a failed claim to the estate by the author’s daughter, who argued that the will in question was forged. Nicosia also criticized the estate for selling off portions of Kerouac’s archives, such as the original On the Road typewriter scroll, which was sold for $2.4 million.

Nicosia published Memory Babe, his biography of Kerouac, with Grove Press in 1977 (the book was reprinted by University of California Press in 1994). He says that Viking Penguin is deliberately suppressing references to his book. “What Viking Penguin is doing,” he adds, “violates the spirit of the Beats, who stood for openness.”

The truth of the matter appears difficult to establish, but it does appear someone is lying. According to Nicosia, John Leland, author of Why Kerouac Matters, confessed to him in a phone call that Penguin editor Paul Slovak pressured him to remove or change citations to Nicosia. But Leland says that “No one at Viking Penguin ever asked me to remove his name,” Leland said. “I told Nicosia that there were several citations to his book in Why Kerouac Matters. There is one in the text and one in the bibliographical essay. That’s all there ever was.”

The fiftieth anniversary of On the Road‘s original publication will occur September 5.

Information in this post is via an article by Heidi Benson in the San Francisco Chronicle.

More on Mutanabbi

mutanabbi streetI mentioned before the reading planned in San Francisco in support of the literary community of Baghdad (follow the link for a video; the contact to offer assistance is Beau Beausoleil at overlandbooks [at] earthlink [dot] net).

From London come details of two parallel events. The text of an e-mail announcement follows after the break.

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Showing Support for Mutanabbi Street

Mutanabbi Street, a winding street filled with bookstores and book stalls, is the historic center of Baghdad bookselling. It is the present heart of one of the world’s oldest and most distinguished literary and intellectual communities. On March 5 a car bomb was exploded there, killing more than thirty people.

In support of the Baghdad literary community, a reading will be held at the main branch of the San Francisco Public Library in August. Readings are by invitation, but to contribute or volunteer, please write to Beau Beausoleil of Overland Books (overlandbooks [at] earthlink [dot] net).

Publishing Wiki

publishing wiki

To help answer people’s questions about the publishing process, and I hope to provide a forum for collaborative thinking, I’ve started a publishing wiki. Follow the link on the welcome page that leads to the overview of contents to get a sense of the probable content. (Please bear in mind that this is just in the beginning stages at this point.) Some items are already links, others are just placeholders. They are listed more or less in the order in which they would occur in producing a book.

This is not a public wiki like wikipedia — unregistered users can’t edit content. But I’d like to collaborate with some people on this, so if you have experience in the publishing industry and you’d like to help out, send me an e-mail.

Those who don’t want to register and participate can still follow the link from the welcome page to this post and leave a comment here.

The Dead and the Unknown

Recently I was doing a loooong overdo update of my rolodex (actually a filemaker pro database these days). The file began, as I recall, as an Alpha4 database back in the day, and I’ve been porting it over into new programs as I’ve upgraded over the years. (I needed it as a database because I used to do a lot of mail merges.)

I never really thinned the list out the way I should, and as I worked on it I discovered that it still contains the directions of a lot of people who have passed on. There’s something poignant about deleting these names, such people as Marlon Brando, William Burroughs, John Cage, Guy Davenport, Allen Ginsberg, Thom Gunn, Joseph Heller, Pauline Kael, Hugh Kenner, Ken Kesey, Arthur Miller, Frank Zappa, and many more – not necessarily people I knew well, or even at all: often they got into my rolodex when I was requesting blurbs for a book or some similar reason.

Another disturbing feature of the rolodex pruning was encountering names for which I drew a blank. Who, for example, are Jacklyn Green, Stephen Bankier, Anne Dorsey, Janet Fries, Ken Frith, Cecile Kaufman, Jack McClosky, Ben Ragner, Julian Monsarrat, Tony Reveaux, and Anne Roipe? In some cases the names sound familiar, and I feel I should be able to remember these people, but in others it’s as if I had never heard the name
before. In either case I tried to be ruthless and take them out.

How do you keep your rolodex lean and up to date?

Hell no, she won’t go!

Eighty-eight-year-old Sally Heriot lives in this one-bedroom apartment in a retirement community in Palo Alto. To live here she paid a nonrefundable entrance fee of $180,000 in 1991, and she has paid monthly fees of $2500 to $3500 since. In addition she pays for 24-hour private aides to assist her with tasks that have become difficult for her to manage. (San Francisco Chronicle photo by Christina Koci Hernandez)

sally heriot's apartment

Administrators at the facility, however, want to move Sally into a “room” like this one (Photo by Robert Herriot, appeared in the SF Chronicle):

chronicle photo

The administration says Sally will get better care in the “assisted-living unit.” She and her son dispute that, and they have hired lawyers to fight the move.

Good luck to you, Sally Heriot!

(via the San Francisco Chronicle)

Angry Black People Not Welcome at Wikipedia?

angry black womanThe Wikipedia gestapo have struck again. Some idiot named “Acalamari,” who is a big Christina Aguilera and Star Trek fan, believes that “having race and an extreme emotion in one username … is likely to cause problems.”

Shortly after signing up for Wikipedia ABW found her name the subject of an extensive discussion. Read all about it in her post “the people over on Wikipedia is crazy, yo.” I hope that Acalamari‘s activities on Wikipedia will henceforth be thoroughly scrutinized by concerned citizens.


This item via Exloding Aardvark, an “irascible woman of indeterminate ethnicity.”

NoFollow revisited

Wikipedia announced recently that it is going back to adding the “nofollow” attribute to its outbound links in an attempt to keep people from gaming the system to leach linkjuice off the the site for personal gain.

According to Google, “when Google sees the attribute (rel=”nofollow”) on hyperlinks, those links won’t get any credit when we rank websites in our search results.” So the theory is that by denying linkjuice Wikipedia will stem article spam.

NoFollow has always been controversial, and the response to Wikipedia’s decision has been mixed. Rand Fishkin at SeoMoz (which has also instituted NoFollow) says Wikipedia has finally made the right decision. But he offers surprisingly little to defend that position.

Peter Da Vanzo at blog.v7n.com says the decision has scant significance:

Here’s a question: why do people assume that if Wikipedia adds nofollow, then the links won’t count in search engine calculations? It wouldn’t take much for the search engines to make Wikipedia a special case, and ignore the nofollow tag, if that isn’t the case already.

And another: How do people know that Wikipedia was passing any (real) PageRank or authority before? There are many pages which aren’t using the nofollow tag that also aren’t passing any measurable PageRank and/or authority, probably due to some hand tweaking.

Barry Welford thinks search engines are running up against Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle:

In a sense, Wikipedia is correcting the fallacy in the whole Google PageRank approach. It’s like Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. There are some things you can’t measure. If you try to measure them then they’re not the same. Once Google says inlinks will boost a web page’s relevancy, then of course everyone, often supercharged with dumb computer programs, generates as many inlinks as they can.

My opinion? I don’t like NoFollow. I think it amounts to trying to get a free ride by benefiting from links without paying the cost for them. In fact, I’ve added a plug-in that removes the default NoFollow from my blog comments. If anyone wants to comment, I can approve or deny the comment, so the onus is on me to decide whether the link should stand. If commenters have added something of value then I think they deserve any link benefit I can give back to them (my home page, btw, is currently PR6).

I also feel that NoFollow will have little if any effect on the value of Wikipedia contributions. Even with NoFollow, links still bring traffic, and since Wikipedia is likely to continue to rank high in the SERPs, scam sites will still benefit from Wikipedia links if they can get them. In fact, a lot of the spam links submitted to this blog already have the NoFollow tag embedded. By instituting NoFollow, Wikipedia probably hurts honest sites more than scammers — just the sites that took Wikipedia to the top of the SERPs by linking to them in the first place.

So put me in the camp of the sensible Philipp Lenssen who writes at Google Blogoscoped:

What happens as a consequence, in my opinion, is that Wikipedia gets valuable backlinks from all over the web, in huge quantity, and of huge importance — normal links, not “nofollow” links; this is what makes Wikipedia rank so well — but as of now, they’re not giving any of this back. The problem of Wikipedia link spam is real, but the solution to this spam problem may introduce an even bigger problem: Wikipedia has become a website that takes from the communities but doesn’t give back, skewing web etiquette as well as tools that work on this etiquette (like search engines, which analyze the web’s link structure). That’s why I find Wikipedia’s move very disappointing.

Perhaps the most interesting response to the news came from Andy Beal at Marketing Pilgrim. He is adding NoFollow to links to Wikipedia from his site.

UPDATE, 24 JAN. Andy Beard has made a Wikipedia NoFollow plug-in, and Aaron Pratt offers a good commentary.

MyBlogLog, yes or no?

MyBlogLogYahoo recently purchased MyBlogLog for $10 million. Some blogs I read have been touting the service. The idea, I guess, is to put a face to the sometimes invisible communities of blog readers. You could say it’s a kind of Facebook or MySpace service for blogs. For example, a MyBlogLog widget puts the images of subscribers on their blog posts, or enables the blog site to show visuals of the most recent visitors.

I have kind of mixed feelings about this. I can see its value if you’re really trying to develop a network. (And why spend time on a blog otherwise?) At the same time, I like to retain some degree of privacy. Well, I signed up, but that’s about it so far.

I know some of my readers use MyBlogLog. Are you happy with it? Should I be spending time on this? (I sure don’t want to work as hard at this as this guy does.) So, should I build a community? Install the widgets? What do you think?

The basics: The Complete Guide to MyBlogLog(ing)

UPDATE: I’m not a big user of such sites, and I should probably work harder at network building. But I dabble a bit in Technorati, MyBlogLog, and BUMPzee, and I’ve come to like MyBlogLog the best; recently I put a “recent readers” badge on this blog. The statistics MBL offers are a nice feature, and I prefer the interface.

Amy Arbus’s NYC in the 80s

amy arbus photoThe Morning News is showing some of Amy Arbus’s images of New York City fashion, 1980s style. You know, when the city actually had a sort of alternative scene. Or, as interviewer Rosecrans Baldwin says,

Now that Manhattan is only habitable for the rich, New Yorkers love to look back to the mad ‘80s, when the Bowery was dangerous and apartments were affordable…. Between 1980 and 1990, The Village Voice ran photographer Amy Arbus’s “On The Street” photo-column, a page documenting downtown’s most vibrant, creative dressers and personalities, and now the greatest hits have been published by Welcome Books.

Sample photos and interview here

More about StumbleUpon, and stumbly friends

Earlier I mentioned that I was getting a lot of incoming traffic from StumbleUpon (about 1500 visits each of the past few weeks, to be numeric). So I’ve been doing a bit of stumbling myself, and I like the diversity of topics and sites that are represented (compared, for example, to something like digg, which has an exceedingly narrow focus and is ruled with an iron first by a ruthless cabal of YTMs (young tech males). As a next step I’d like to add a few stumbling friends and see how that goes. Any takers? I’m called xensen.

By the way, StumbleUpon rates some profiles “R,” for what seem to me kind of silly reasons, so you have to put an age in your profile to “prove” you’re eighteen and see those pages. I was feeling a bit Laozi when I did this, so I put in the oldest age they would allow, which turned out to be 90. So, what would happen next year, when I would turn 91?

Packaged Goods Media versus Conversational Media

That’s the distinction John Battelle makes in an interesting piece. The “pillars” of PGM, he says, are

  1. Ownership or control of Intellectual Property by the corporation.
  2. Ownership or control of expensive distribution networks.
  3. Established business models based on highly evolved approaches to advertising and subscription models.

The attributes of CM, on the other hand, are

  1. Conversation over dictation
  2. Platform over distribution
  3. Service over product
  4. Iteration and Speed over Perfection and Deliberation
  5. Engagement over Consumption

Battelle writes

When I read traditional media interpretations of “user generated content” (last weeks New York Times piece proclaiming 2006 the year of “You Media” comes to mind), I feel extremely dissatisfied. These pieces focus on the wrong thing – they judge Conversational Media by the standards of Packaged Goods Media, then find themselves smugly satisfied that CM doesn’t measure up. However, it’s clear that CM is here to stay, so writers from the PGM world struggle to make it fit their worldview. “Now we have to figure out what to do with it,” The Times piece sniffs. “Ignore it? Sort it? Add more of our own?”

“A line,” Battelle observes, “clearly written by someone who doesn’t engage much in the world of Conversational Media.”

An interesting, well-balanced piece that respects the different character of both PGM and CM, and doesn’t try to assert that one is better than the other.


Link: Packaged Goods Media v. Conversational Media


Famous Last Words

famous last words

I should finish up the press check I’m on tomorrow and have Thursday free, or maybe I’ll just proof the cover on Thursday morning. God, I hope so. I’m about to go mad trapped in this industrial park just, frustratingly, outside the lovely city of Bruges.

But those aren’t the “famous last words” I meant by the post title. I was referring to my web page of that name, which made StumpleUpon‘s “buzz” page, bringing a bunch of visitors. So this is a place where people can leave suggestions for more “deathbed bon mots and strangled prose,” or make comments à son gout.

Lately 75 percent of my non-search engine traffic has been coming from StumbleUpon. I’m not sure what to make of that, other than to say thanks to the stumblers who have bookmarked my pages.


Is SEO the new protection racket?

It’s beginning to seem that way. As soon as anyone says anyone negative about search engine optimizing, the SEO community (or, to be fair, one faction of it) jumps all over that person and tries to inflict punishment by driving down the offender’s pages in the SERPs.

First there was the unfortunate Kimberly Williams — a case more of scraping than SEO per se, but the response came from the SEOs when she tried to prevent her content from being scraped. Next came Ted Leonsis, whose mild comments about being his own SEO made him the object of an SEO contest with a $500 cash prize. Now Jason Calacanis is the latest to have offended the SEOs.

I find search engine optimization interesting. I subscribe to a number of SEO feeds, and several of the people in the industry are clever and creative. But some are starting to seem like bullies.

I think I might be rooting for Ted Leonsis to win the Ted Leonsis SEO contest.


Link: Wikipedia on protection rackets

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