concept to publication

Month: September 2007 Page 1 of 2

Confused about copyright

There’s a fellow named Kevin Harris who thinks he can copyright a list of comments of Albert Einstein. Gosh, do you think the Einstein estate will have to go to this guy from now on to get permission to use the quotes?

End-of-month companion sites roundup

At Frisco Vista

At Buried Mirror

At Frozen Culture

Chicken Soup for the Kitchen

Has the Chicken Soup for the Soul series been exhausted? I think not! There is one obvious title that has been overlooked, and it’s a book I’ve been threatening to write for some time. If any agents are reading this, sign me up — I promise to do a rousing, inspirational job.

chicken soup for the kitchen

Color names

Chirag Mehta has made a little application that will return a color name if you enter a hex code. Take the html web palette for this site, for example (the blog palette is slightly different). web palette You’d probably get a blank look if you said to someone, “Tom’s site is, you know, DDAA77, 996633, 880000, 819D90.” According to Mehta’s program, what you should say instead is that it’s in “tumbleweed, potters’ clay, red berry, and oxley.” Doesn’t that sound wholesome?

Just for fun, let’s try this with a few other sites, chosen more or less at random (the sites may use additional colors besides the ones I list).

  • Michelle Richmond’s Sans Serif is in “espresso,” “coffee,” and “Lisbon brown”
  • Buried Mirror also uses uses “Lisbon brown,” along with “Saratoga” and “yellow metal”
  • Classical Bookworm is “lonestar,” “brown pod,” and “rosewood”
  • ChezNamasteNancy uses “dusty gray,” “dove gray,” and “wedgewood”
  • India, Ink is “emperor,” “Bali Hai,” and “shuttle gray”
  • Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant is “emerald,” “Portafino,” and “blue zodiac”

Which brings us to the part of this post where we admit that this exercise has proven largely pointless. I don’t think you can visualize the color schemes of the sites very well through the color names offered. That’s partly because the names are inconsistent in nature. “Emerald” might reference an object with a certain color, but “Portofino” is completely subjective and arbitrary. Quick, what color is “lonestar”? (It’s a kind of vermilion red.)

I think that colors largely take their meaning from their juxtapositions with other colors. You can probably give a better sense of a color scheme by describing the response it evokes than by using arbitrary and inconsistent color names.

The word “read” kills clicks

Marketing Sherpa made an interesting study of clickthrough rates of words that people use to encourage readers to continue with an article after a break.

The conventional wisdom of the SEO crowd is that “click here” is wasted anchor text since it doesn’t pump up the keywords you want your site to rank for.

But do you want linkjuice or do you want clicks? Marketing Sherpa found is the following clickthrough rates for the terms they tested:

  • “Click to continue”: 8.53%
  • “Continue to article”: 3.3%
  • “Read more”: (-)1.8%

From the article: “If you publish a content-based newsletter, avoid using “Read [insert any adverb].” We strongly believe that online readers skim far, far more often than they read. So, it makes no sense to sell your idea as an activity they’ve come to instinctively avoid.”

Advice from an editor

Seven rules for winning a MacArthur

To see your genius rewarded, follow these seven guidelines.

Bottom line: “All the rules suggest that the perfect MacArthur genius is still out there: a one-named Berkeley professor who choreographs interpretative jazz dances about how genetically modified food will destroy humanity.”

The end

A Flickr set.

the end

via Swiss Miss

Book sales, book publishing economics, and print on demand

bookmobile book printing quality graphic

If you are quixotic enough to wish to engage in literary book publishing, you might want to take a look at the sales figures for the Man Booker Prize finalists:

  • Ian McEwan, On Chesil Beach: 99,660 copies
  • Mohsin Hamid, The Reluctant Fundamentalist: 1,519 copies
  • Lloyd Jones, Mister Pip: 880 copies
  • Anne Enright, The Gathering: 834 copies
  • Nicola Barker, Darkmans: 499 copies
  • Indra Sinha, Animal’s People: 231 copies
  • UPDATE: The Telegraph is showing these figures: McEwan, 110, 615; Hamid, 2918; Jones, 2802; Enright, 1987; Barker, 1259; Sinha, 1189. (Curiously, no book moved up or down in sales ranking.)

Throw out the anomalous McEwan sales, and the five other Booker Prize finalists averaged total sales of 793 copies. That number would not normally increase hugely, because most books have only about a six- or eight-week window in which they are actively sold in stores. But, for the sake of argument, let’s say their sales will about double, and average 1500 units.

Now let’s do some calculations from the publisher’s point of view. (I’ll be making some arbitrary assumptions for the purpose of illustration.) Those books might be priced around $25 each. But they are offered to bookstores at a substantial discount (we’ll say this is a traditional house for which most sales are through stores). The discount might average around 45%, so let’s see what we have so far: 1500 books x $25 retail price x .55 discount = $20,627 total. If you’re an independent publisher, your distributor will take a quarter or more of that figure (if you’re large enough to have your own distribution operation you’ll still pay something like that in internal expenses), so we’ll multiply by .75, which gives us $15,469.

The Booker finalists range in length from 168 pages (McEwan) to 840 pages (Barker), so the cost of printing will vary greatly. With traditional printing you almost have to print 3000 copies, because such a large percentage of print costs is setup (otherwise you would have to raise the $25 retail price considerably). You’re probably looking at more than $15K in print costs (compared to the $15,469 in income as calculated above). Okay, you’ve got within shouting distance of breaking even, right?

Wrong. Some of the other things you have to pay for include:

  • permissions (such things as cover images, quotations from lyrics or other texts, etc.)
  • interior and cover book design
  • copy editing
  • proofreading
  • typesetting
  • your own salary, your staff salaries, and all your overhead
  • bound galleys for reviews
  • book tours, advertising, co-op ads, and other book promotion
  • postage for all of the above
  • write-offs for hurts, costs of returns, and shrinkage
  • warehousing of excess inventory
  • the author’s advance and royalties (perhaps around $3 per book on a $25 retail price)
  • taxes (for which unsold inventory, which is mostly a liability, is likely to be viewed as an asset)

I ask you: is this a viable economic model? In ancient times — say, the first half of the 20th c.– houses such as Knopf were controlled by editors who felt a cultural responsibility to publish uncommercial works such as poetry and translations (McEwan might pay for Hamid, Jones, Enright, Barker, and Sinha, for example). I used to work with an editor who said he felt he knew everyone in the country who purchased poetry books personally — a small exaggeration that makes a point. Publishers covered the losses from these titles with income from profitable books. Sometime around mid century, and accelerating thereafter, the editors began to lose control of the publishing houses, which became controlled by finance people, and the unprofitable titles were largely let go.

Print on demand could offer some relief from the calculations described above. If the books can be expected to sell in the 1500-unit range, why print 3000? Now, I have used the term “print on demand” because it’s the one most people are familiar with, but a distinction should be made between print on demand proper, in which books are printed to fulfill sales as order come in, and short run printing (which is what I am mainly interested in). Short run printing uses the same digital printing technology as POD, but the publisher prints some quantity of books — 500, 1000, or 1500 perhaps — up front. This provides stock for promotion and marketing, and enables some penetration into the store market. It approaches a more traditional publishing model, but relieves the financial burden a bit on the often small and independent press — who don’t have the advantages of scale in printing or control of vehicles of promotion and distribution that large corporate publishers enjoy — that have largely taken up the torch of publishing limited-sales literary titles, such as five of the six Booker finalists.

The new generation of digital printers — companies like BookMobile, whose graphic is shown — are said to produce a good-quality product. I think this is an approach that is likely to grow in popularity and benefit both independent publishers and the larger literary community. I might even give it a try myself one of these days. (Yes, I just might be that dumb.)

Does anyone have thoughts or experiences about digital short run printing to share?

A message from Mr. D.

Eugene de Salignac, photographer of NYC

photography by eugene de salignac

David Pescovitz of Boing Boing calls our attention to an exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. The exhibit consists of early twentieth century photos by Eugene de Salignac documenting the rise of the modern city. Salignac had been forgotten until New York City Municipal Archives senior photographer Michael Lorenzini recognized the artistry of the photos and catalogued his work. The image above shows painters on the Brooklyn Bridge, 1914. The exhibit will be on view from May 4 through Oct 28.


The NYT has made its archive of articles freely available, permitting some interesting searches. The first mention of the worldwide web, “a collection of computer networks that does a little of what a national data highway would do and that already has hundreds of thousands of computer users,” appears to have been in this article from February 1993.

The Internet is a web of networks with shared software standards, allowing users on one network to reach anywhere into a global thicket. Created by the Pentagon, the Internet was originally limited to academic and corporate researchers and government officials. It began as a simple mechanism for sharing data, using remote computers and exchanging electronic mail. Now it contains large and small, commercial and nonprofit networks that offer a remarkable array of services.

By December of the next year the website that would evolve into this one (at that time the site of Mercury House publishing, on which I kept a corner for my personal stuff) would be live. Its first iteration was created by one of our interns, Joshua Grossnickle, who went on to write The Handbook of Online Marketing Research together with Oliver Raskin; they are the principals of SiteCentric.

Knopf’s rejections

It might be worth considering what you want archived. From Knopf’s archives at the University of Texas come the following judgments:

  • Jorge Luis Borges: “Utterly untranslatable”
  • Isaac Bashevis Singer: “It’s Poland and the rich Jews again”
  • Anaïs Nin: “There is no commercial advantage in acquiring her, and, in my opinion, no artistic”
  • Sylvia Plath: “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice”
  • Jack Kerouac: “His frenetic and scrambling prose perfectly express the feverish travels of the Beat Generation. But is that enough? I don’t think so”
  • Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita): “Too racy”
  • James Baldwin (Giovanni’s Room): “Hopelessly bad”

This was published in a NYT article, but I got it from Three Percent.

Read more about rejection.

(BTW, on the subject of rejection, Madeleine L’Engle’s recent obituaries contained the information that her A Wrinkle in Time was rejected by 26 publishers.)

Call for translations

Two Lines is calling for submissions for its 15th anniversary edition. This volume will be edited by John Biguenet (prose) and Sidney Wade (poetry). The deadline is October 22.

On humanism

There is an interesting discussion on the value of the humanities at Conrad Roth’s “Varieties of unreligious Experience.” It’s curious how insecure humanists can be.

What is this?

It’s not a pipe, we know that.

ceci n'est pas une pipe

It’s the first page of google image results for a search Joe was doing. The most striking thing about it is the variation in color among the different versions of the same image.

In my day job as publications guy at the Asian Art Museum a lot of my time is spent doing color correction of images. Most people are aware that what they see in a book — a reproduction of a photograph, usually made up of different amounts of four colors of ink — is not going to look the same as the object that hangs on the wall. But I don’t think most people realize how great the variations can be. We work hard to be “accurate,” but it’s still sobering to hold the printed version next to the original. These thumbnails are a good reminder of the subjectivity of color and the variability of light and lens and ink — of the photographic and reproduction (print or screen) processes.

A poetry challenge

At the Guardian, John Hartley Williams posed a poetry challenge. Essentially, the assignment was to fracture a proverb and combine it in a poem with at least seven of the following words: beat, mother, fashion, ghost, pool, dance, disturb, knife, croak, shimmer.

The contest caught my fancy, and I gave it a try. I might have missed the deadline, though, unless they cut me some slack for being on the West Coast. Anyway, here’s what I came up with.

Whom God loves his bitch births pigs
A quien Dios quiere bien, la perra le pare puercos
By Thomas Christensen

Light danced round the chicken bus
Wobbling from the village of
San Juan Sacatapequez —
It shimmered from the knife of
The crone who had fashioned a
Blanket around her chest. I
Thought her a nursing mother
Until the blood pooled across
The dirty fabric that had
Clasped the pig to her body.
The beast’s eyes caught mine, disturbed,
It seemed, to be exposed at
Such an intimate moment.
El que quiere baile, the
Woman murmured, que pague
Musico. To dance to the
Beat of this world, sometimes
You have to slay the piper.

In the second line I don’t much like the word wobbling. Can anyone suggest something better (needs to be two syllables)?

(I don’t like “shimmered” either, but it’s one of the assigned words.)


A new service called BlogRush has launched, which promises to drive traffic to your blog. The service requires installing javascript code that loads a widget on your site. BlogRush is supposed to be able to cull links to relevant posts from other participating blogs through some kind of contextual page analysis. As described on their website, the service sounds a bit like a pyramid scheme, in the sense that participating sites will be listed on the widget based not only on your own site visits but on those of others who sign up based on your referrals. I’m not sure how much I’m going to like seeing this widget spreading all over the internet.

Recommended reading

At Frisco Vista I’ve told the story of the Belgum Sanitarium, which was located in Wildcat Canyon above Richmond on the San Francisco Bay. It’s a romantic little narrative, a bit like something out of Lafcadio Hearn. Usually I save references to my posts elsewhere for my end-of-month roundups, but I hope that some of my rightreading readers might enjoy this melancholy little tale.

Fernando del Paso to receive FIL Literature Prize

Fernando del Paso will receive the $100,000 FIL Literature Prize for lifetime literary achievement iat the 2007 Guadalajara International Book Fair on November 24.

An excerpt from del Paso’s Palinuro of Mexico, translated by Elizabeth Plaister, is included in New World / New Words: Recent Writing from the Americas, A Bilingual Anthology, now at the printer.

Palinuro of Mexico on sale at


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