I returned home yesterday to find a case of books waiting for me.
This is my translation of poems by José Ángel Valente, considered by many the most significant Spanish poet of the second half of the twentieth century. (Thanks to Eliot Weinberger for the generous blurb.)
The book was published by Archipelago Press, in a lovely edition with a laid-textured cover. Its elegantly simple design is by Dave Bullen (whose mastery of typography is evident in the treatment of the title on the cover).
This curious image, shamelessly copied from Peacay’s excellent Bibliodyssey, is one of several similar images from a 36-page manuscript said to date from the sixteenth century. The provenance and attribution of this work are a bit mysterious. There was great interest in regular geometric solids during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as it was thought that in them was hidden God’s secret design for the universe. Such thinking derived from the ancient lineage of Pythagoreanism.
One researcher who explored this direction in depth, as described in my 1616: The World in Motion, was Johannes Kepler, who in the early seventeenth century produced this somewhat similar diagram of a “cosmic cup” in which all of the regular solids are embedded together (Kepler persuaded the eastern Habsburg emperor Rudolf to commission royal metal workers to construct such a cup, though the efforts came to nothing):
The image reproduced at Bibliodyssey is curious for its lack of context and its early date. As a philosophical/mathematical model it is much less rigorous than Kepler’s version and seems as much the result of private symbolism as of mathematics. Some of the images from the manuscript have something of the quality of origami, which is certainly out of the mainstream even of esoterica, so to speak. I would hazard the guess that the author of this work might have been a forerunner of Rosicrucianism (notice the three-dimensional cross in the center of the image, which has some of the vocabulary of alchemy). If I can learn more about the manuscript I will share what I find out.
Meg Wolitzer raised the issue at the New York Times. Emily Temple at Flavorwire followed up with a sampling of book covers. These authors focus on supposed typographical differences between books by male and female authors. From the Flavorwire sample it looks to me like color and tone might be at least as significant. Is this just random? What do you think?
RIP Barnet Lee Rosset, Jr. (May 28, 1922–February 21, 2012), publisher of Grove Press and Evergreen Review.
In many respects we’ve got a real Stockholm Syndrome around the model of publishing as it’s existed up until now. We just take for granted that it is the way it is because that’s a good way for things to be. And when something diverges from it we look for proof as to why it should diverge. But I’m interested in trying to reframe questions. Why do we think that a person won’t buy a print book because in theory they could read it for free online? What is it that people are buying? What is it that people want?
From an interview with Richard Nash, former head of Soft Skull Press. Read the rest here.
Lately I’ve been exploring the new epub functionality in InDesign CS5.5. One of the things that has previously been difficult is controlling the order of objects in the epub document. If you just exported epub by default you would probably get the story first and then all the images afterward. The new ID makes correcting this much simpler, as explained in this video.
It seems clear at this point that, particularly in genres like romance and science fiction, e-books are cutting into print sales.
Right now we’re in a transitional period where books are simultaneously published in both formats. But, as Eoin Purcell has observed, drawing even a small percentage away from the average book’s print run makes the economics of its publication very difficult.
One solution, which I don’t think Purcell considers, is to price up not the print book but the e-book, to compensate for the skewed economics on the print side. So far, despite some grumbling, there hasn’t been very much sign of price resistance to e-books. Once you own a reader you have a natural motivation for filling it with content (or else your purchase of the reader feels foolish). Of course, if one group of publishers’ prices get out of line with others they will have a problem. Just another area where big corporations have a clear advantage.
In the long run, more books will probably fall into one side or the other — many books will be published in e-format only (not much need for a physical copy of that disposable romance novel). Then there are books like the kind I currently do, art museum catalogues. So far I’m not aware of a satisfactory e-format for such books. This also pertains to my own forthcoming title, 1616, which has a large illustration and layout component. If anyone can tell me how to make this into a good e-book, I’d really like to hear. Really.
My author questionnaire and author photo for 1616: The World in Motion are due this week to Counterpoint Press. My daughter Ellen, who is a brilliant photographer, among other things, took this photo from the roof of her apartment overlooking Lake Merritt in Oakland. It was raining lightly at the time, and later that day ice would fall from the sky.
In Tom’s Glossary of Book Publishing Terms the author photo is defined as “Pictorial fiction. Authors always choose photos that emphasize that quality in which they feel most deficient.” So what does this say about me? I dunno — but I will say, as a guy who has been cutting his own hair for years, that I don’t think the hair looks too bad.
This interesting standoff between Rupert Murdock’s big publishing conglomerate and a little public library could be a bellwether for future digital book disputes. The SSC Library is boycotting HarperCollins. It is part of a consortium of 60 Nebraska libraries that purchase e-books for library patrons. Until recently the libraries could allow an unlimited number of patrons to check out these materials (just as they do with printed books). But HC changed the terms of the library purchases, now allowing a maximum of 25 check-outs — less than half of one check-out per library. HC says unlimited check-outs could hurt its e-book business, library director David Mixdorf says the new policy “hits on us pretty hard.” It will be interesting to see how this shakes out.
One benefit: patrons may be reading better books during the boycot.
Image via El Bibliomata’s photostream.
The NBCC has announced their 2010 award finalists. I used to be a member of this group but there are too many older books I need to read to spend all my time trying to keep current with the new ones. So I don’t know much about a lot of these books. If you’ve read some, please share your thoughts.
An unusual feature of the NBCC awards is a category for “criticism.” This probably comes about because of the difficulty of comparing nonfiction titles, since nonfiction is such a huge, unruly category. They also have a “biography” category for the same reason.
Dalkey Archive was given a lifetime achievement award.
I think the biggest surprise on this list probably is the omission of Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Or maybe it’s that there are still enough book critics around to form a society. Following is the full list.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
To the End of the Land by David Grossman
Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson
Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick
Empire of the Summer Moon by S. C. Gwynne
Apollo’s Angels by Jennifer Homans
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Half a Life by Darin Strauss
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Crossing Mandelbaum Gate by Kai Bird
The Autobiography of an Execution by David Dow
Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens
Hiroshima in the AM by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto
How to Live: Or a Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer by Sarah Bakewell
The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings
Charlie Chan: The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous With American History by Yunte Huang
The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers
Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends by Tom Segev
One With Others by C.D. Wright
Nox by Anne Carson
The Eternal City by Kathleen Graber
Lighthead by Terrance Hayes
The Best of It by Kay Ryan
The Possessed by Elif Batuman
The Professor and Other Writings by Terry Castle
Lyric Poetry and Modern Politics: Russia, Poland, and the West by Clare Cavanagh
The Cruel Radience by Susan Linfield
Vanishing Point by Ander Monson
This ad, which to me sounds more like some kind of stunt than a typical scam, has been removed from Craigslist. Certainly it’s not a “new and better way” of getting blurbs. Blurbing is already largely corrupt, and it’s not at all difficult to get jacket blurbs without going to all this trouble.
Book Reviewer: $150 – $1500 (Telecommute)
Prepublication book reviews needed for literary novel.
I am an Author and Professor of English in Austin, Texas. I also own a small publishing company. I am currently seeking prepublication reviews for a novel set for publication at the end of next month (February 2011). If your review is favorable, I would like to include a blurb from it on the back cover of the novel.
I am an advocate of finding new and better ways to accomplish common tasks. The old way of seeking prepublication reviews is to send galley proofs (Advance Reading Copies – ARC) out into the abyss of the mainstream media to compete in the mailboxes of those organizations with the one thousand other books they received that day. To me, that sounds like the definition of insanity.
If you are a book critic, an author, a university professor, a member of the media, a blogger, a review writer, a representative of an independent bookstore, or anyone with high literary credentials, I will pay you between $150 and $1500 for your review. Those with higher credentials will receive a higher stipend.
Of course, your review should be honest. Just because this is a paid review does not mean that you have to review the novel favorably; however, I certainly hope that you like the book. If your review is negative, I will not be using any portion of it on the back cover of my novel, on my website, or anywhere else.
Although I will not reveal the name of the novel or the synopsis in this ad, I will tell you that it is literary fiction in the vein of Lolita, Blood Meridian, and Steppenwolf. The novel challenges organized religion and is left-leaning, but the overall message of the novel is one of peace, tolerance, and unity. The novel has been described as Less Than Zero meets Dead Poet’s Society.
I would expect you to read the novel and write a thoughtful evaluative review that is somewhere between 500 and 1500 words long. The review should not be merely summative. It should evaluate the novel, pointing out its strengths in the areas of style, theme, narrative, characterization, etc. It should also compare the novel and writing to other major writers and novels. Remember, this is a pre-publication review, so I am looking for blurbs to include on the back cover of the novel accompanied by your name and organization. Keep in mind that you must be authorized to use your organization’s name. I will also use your review and organization name on my website, in promotional materials, and I will ask you to post your review on Amazon.com.
If you feel you are a qualified reviewer and you are favorable to the type of novel outlined above, please respond to this ad with a list of your credentials. If I feel your credentials are adequate, I will contact you with the full details of the novel, and we can negotiate a stipend amount and a timetable for completion.
Although I will have to verify your credentials, the entire process will be confidential. No one will know that you were paid for your freelance review.
Here’s one way to cut down on the stacks of unsolicited manuscripts that are piling up all over the office. Independent Portland publisher Tin House Books has announced that unsolicited manuscripts must be accompanied “by a Receipt for a Hardcover or Paperback from a Real-Life Bookstore.” The program, called “BUY A BOOK, SAVE A BOOKSTORE!” is, despite the combination of caps and exclamation mark, a stroke of genius. It’s a feel-good way to score points with independent bookstores while at the same time providing an excuse to return unwanted manuscripts. Who says there’s no creative thinking in book publishing these days?
Of course, allowances can be made:
Writers who cannot afford to buy a book or cannot get to an actual bookstore are encouraged to explain why in haiku or one sentence (100 words or fewer). Tin House Books and Tin House magazine will consider the purchase of e-books as a substitute only if the writer explains: why he or she cannot go to his or her neighborhood bookstore, why he or she prefers digital reads, what device, and why.
Writers are invited to videotape, film, paint, photograph, animate, twitter, or memorialize in any way (that is logical and/or decipherable) the process of stepping into a bookstore and buying a book to send along for our possible amusement and/or use on our Web site.
I suppose the haiku he and/or she might write for this purpose would go something like this:
Brick and mortar store:
I think I’ll drop in and browse.
Wait! Here’s my package!
This will be a little basic for many but maybe helpful to others. Authors often wonder whether the advance a publisher is offering is a fair one. There is a simple formula that can help you to judge.
Advances are, in theory, a prepayment against expected royalties. Authors are often concerned about whether their books “earn out” their advances — that is, whether royalties from actual book sales are equal to or greater than their advance against royalties. The advance represents a kind of benchmark for expectations of a title, and when actual royalties fall short of that number authors feel their titles have underperformed. There is a degree of truth to this, but it’s not the whole story. There are many factors behind the size of advances, and a book that doesn’t earn out can still be a success — the advance excess is in effect the equivalent of a slightly higher royalty percentage.
Still, authors have to do their best with the information they have, so we will assume the advance is logical relative to expected royalties. This being the case, the best way to judge the advance is to get a sense of the publisher’s sales expectations. To do this, try to find out about how many copies will be printed and about what the retail price is likely to be. Those figures will give you a sense of how the publisher is thinking about the title in terms of sales.
As an example let’s use nice round numbers for ease of calculation. Say the publisher plans to print 10,000 copies and sell them at $20 each and is offering the author a royalty of 10 percent off the full retail price. Now, many of the copies that are being printed will not be sold: copies are needed for reviewers and other purposes (among them the inefficiencies of book distribution), but we are only trying to get a ballpark figure, so we’ll ignore that level of refinement.
With that caveat, sales of 10,000 books would equal a total retail value of $200,000, of which 10 percent would be $20,000. Consequently, a logical advance for this title would be somewhere around $20,000. Woohoo, you’re rich!
They’ve announced a venture called AmazonCrossing. Amazon has the sales data from their international customers to identify promising titles, which they will have translated and publish — probably mainly for the Kindle, since that’s what they think of as their sweet spot. According to Jeff Belle, their Vice President of Books:
The goal of our publishing programs is to introduce readers to terrific authors they might not otherwise have the chance to know. Our international customers have made us aware of exciting established and emerging voices from other cultures and countries that have not been translated for English-language readers. These great voices and great books deserve a wider audience, and that’s why we created AmazonCrossing.
You wonder if they know how to do this right, and whether they will low-ball their translators (duh), but considering the paucity of works in translation in the US market I suppose any new translation initiative is positive.
In recent months a flood of so-called books have been appearing in Amazon’s catalog. VDM Publishing’s imprints Alphascript and Betascript Publishing have listed over 57,000 titles, adding at least 10,000 in the previous month alone. These books are simply collections of linked Wikipedia articles put into paperback form, at a cost of 40 cents a page or more. These books seem to be computer-generated, which explains the peculiar titles noted such as ‘Vreni Schneider: Annemarie Moser-Pröll, FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, Winter Olympic Games, Slalom Skiing, Giant Slalom Skiing, Half Man Half Biscuit.’ Such titles do have the marketing effect of turning up in many different searches. There is debate on Wikipedia about whether their ‘VDM Publishing’ page should contain the words ‘fraud’ or ‘scam.’ VDM Publishing’s practice of reselling Wikipedia articles appears to be legal, but is ethically questionable. Amazon customers have begun to post 1-star reviews and complain. Amazon’s response to date has been, ‘As a retailer, our goal is to provide customers with the broadest selection possible so they can find, discover, and buy any item they might be seeking.’ The words ‘and pay us’ were left out. Amazon carries, as a Googled guess, 2 million different book titles, so VDM Publishing is currently 1/35th of their catalog, and rapidly growing.
. . . in one pretty cool video.
Craig Mod makes an interesting case for celebrating the (supposed) demise of “disposable books” — he elaborates at some length a simple distinction between books where the content and form are integral and those where they are independent — and welcoming the IPad as a reading platform. Here’s a sample:
We’re losing the dregs of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet.
These are the first books to go. And I say it again, good riddance.
Once we dump this weight we can prune our increasingly obsolete network of distribution. As physicality disappears, so too does the need to fly dead trees around the world.
You already know the potential gains: edgier, riskier books in digital form, born from a lower barrier-to-entry to publish. New modes of storytelling. Less environmental impact. A rise in importance of editors. And, yes — paradoxically — a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything in that last paragraph were true! Unfortunately, part of this is fiction writing. Check out the NYT bestseller list and see if you can observe “a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.”
To me the most interesting part of Mod’s argument is his vision for booklike content that disposes of the metaphor of the page, as shown in the image above (the image is Mod’s). In this vision the content metaphor is not the bound book but the East Asian handscroll, on which stories were rolled out continuously from one end to the other rather than proceeding page by page.
The book is a perfected technology, but why should the electronic platform inherit the binding metaphor?
The Bookseller is back with another round of odd book titles. This year the six finalists for the Diagram Prize for odd book titles are the following:
- Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter
- Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
- Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
- Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots
- The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua?
As I mentioned before in this context, as the translator of Frozen Coagulated Cultures in Wine, Cheese, and Sauerkraut Production, I fail to see what’s so funny about these titles.
These are preliminary design pages for a new book about the art of Bali. The font is Garamond Premier Pro. The image is a cool piece by I Ketut Ngendon (1903–1948) called Goodbye and Good Luck to Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, 1938 (Batuan, Bali. Ink on paper. Mary Catherine Bateson).
The pages are the same, except that in one spread the main text block is ragged and in the other it is justified. I’m curious which version people prefer.
After 32 years, the Stanford Professional Publishing Course has permanently closed. The decision reflects the constraints of the economic recession, but it may also signal a general retreat from a commitment to print publishing in the context of today’s online world.
I took the course in 1978 or thereabouts — I think it was the second year it was offered. I was working on my dissertation in comparative literature at the time. At the conclusion of the course I noticed an ad for a marketing copywriter with Jossey-Bass Publishers. I applied for the job and got it. I didn’t work at Jossey-Bass for long, but I did pick up the basics of book publishing and copyediting. The following year I began working as an editor for North Point Press, and I have worked in publishing ever since Thanks, SPPC, for derailing my academic career!
One could argue that with print publishing undergoing its current painful redefinition the course is needed now more than it was then. It looks like Martin Levin will be exploring new possibilities.