concept to publication

Month: September 2007

Che’s notebook to be published

Che Guevara’s personal notebook containing handcopied poems by Pablo Neruda, Nicolas Guillen, Cesar Vallejo, and others will be published by Planeta. He was carrying the notebook when shot in Bolivia forty years ago.

Save Desuetude …

The Save Desuetude movement starts here.

How could the sentence “We’d be no poorer if desuetude, for one, fell into a state of itself” have been written without the word desuetude? It appears in a Straight Dope article that says possible declines in vocabulary don’t matter — “The later the vocabulary test is conducted, the lower the scores across all groups, if only slightly. Whatever it’s called, researchers variously attribute this small drop to less reading overall, the dumbing down of reading material, the demise of intelligent conversation, or the ascent of TV.”

“But even if our vocabulary is dwindling,” the author, Cecil Adams, argues, “so what? English, having by some counts the largest vocabulary of any language, surely contains more words than we really need. We’d be no poorer if desuetude, for one, fell into a state of itself.”

Sure, we can afford to see the odd word go. But how can we be certain those are the ones we’re losing?

Face it, without desuetude the article would fall into a state of statelessness. So let’s save desuetude. It’s okay to let it fall into a state of itself, like some sloth dangling from a distant branch. But let’s not forget what to call it.

Are books irrelevant?

jost amman card of booksAaron Wall says books are irrelevant “for all but true enthusiasts, desperate people seeking a manifesto for life change, or those who read as an escape.”

I don’t think it’s like that. Books and online content are not an either/or kind of thing. Most people “surf” the web and scan pages for an items here and an item there. The web is great for that, among other things. But it’s not so good for reading a hundred thousand words in sequence. Although there was a lot of hand wringing about a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll that showed a quarter of Americans didn’t read a book last year, the real news is that three-quarters of Americans still read books. Historically, that’s a very high percentage. You probably know someone who read a novel or a memoir recently. Did they read it online?

I didn’t think so.

Books are a perfected technology. The earliest books, much more than a millennium old, are still perfectly usable, while your computer files from twenty-five years ago may be useless. But I’m not here to put down the web or computer technology. It’s all good.

The point is, it’s true the book industry is in trouble. But the book itself is not. It’s a proven survivor. No worries.

Language is a virus

From a series by Tom Tomorrow.

language is a virus

via language log

Using Ampersands

Below are a batch of ampersands, arranged more or less chronologically, according to when the original model was created. (Can you identify the faces? They’re all ordinary faces that are among the “standard” repertoire of text faces.) On the left are roman versions and on the right italics.

ampersandsThe ampersand is a kind of ligature. It represents the letters e and t, spelling et, the latin word for and. Ampersands, like all ligatures, can provide a bit of typographic flair (ligatures also prevent unfortunate combinations such as when the dot of an i might crash against the roof of an f, for example). In they days of metal type, however, ligatures performed an additional function — they were timesavers. A typical book these days might contain about a hundred thousand words, each of which represents roughly six characters in English. Over the course of setting six hundred thousand characters, the savings represented by letter combinations could add up.

With the advent of the typewriter, nonmechanical typesetting, and desktop publishing, the use of ligatures declined (perhaps, with opentype and other recent developments, they are making a comeback). But the ampersand has remained popular. If you look at these examples you can see that with early faces there is a big difference between the roman and italic versions. Through example number five I would throw out the roman ampersands and use the italic versions exclusively.

In examples six and seven we see something different. The pen metaphor is no longer dominant in these typefaces, which instead reflect the model of drafting. In these faces there is little or no advantage to the italic. In such modern faces, beginning around the Romantic period of the early nineteenth century, you may well be better off using the roman ampersand entirely. With sanserif faces such as example 8, whatever creates the best color is probably best — generally the ampersand should match the slant of the surround characters.

The examples are 1. Centaur (Venice, 15th c.; Centaur MT Std), 2. Garamond (France, 16th c.; Adobe Garamond Pro), 3. Janson (Netherlands, 17th c.; Janson Text Lt Std), 4. Caslon (England, 18th c.; Adobe Caslon Pro), 5. Baskerville (England, 18th c.; ITC New Baskerville Std), 6. Bodoni (Italy, 18th-19th c.; Bodoni MT), 7. Times (England, 20th c.; Times New Roman PS MT), 8. Univers (Switzerland, 20th c.; Univers LT Std). The figs, by the way, are all Bembo Book MT Pro.

Blog tours for book marketing

If I was still doing trade book publishing I would recommend to my authors that they try blog touring. Conventional book tours have their place, especially for developing bookstore relations and to some degree local media, but a virtual tour via blogs would certainly reach a much larger audience. The return from that audience would be less than from a conventional tour on a percentage basis but probably not as an absolute number, and the cost is minimal.

It does require putting in some time, however. It might be worth hiring and assistant or a professional consultant. M. J. Rose at Buzz, Balls, and Hype offers sensible suggestions. As in any kind of book work, market research is the most important element. The author embarking on such a tour must spend some time researching blogs for sympathetic content and getting to know their authors. Then: “Offer to come and guest blog. Or to do a Q&A. Or to give an except.” That’s sound advice.

The origins of virtual book tours
New York Times on virtual book tours

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

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.

Do computers make students sloppy?

That’s what David Dabner of the London College of Printing says.

50 neglected classics

samuel johnson by joshua reynolds

The Guardian asked 50 writers to nominate neglected books that deserve a second chance with the public. “The majority of books fall stillborn from the press, never living up to their authors’ hopes for recognition or dreams of a large, admiring audience,” Robert McCrum, who introduces the list, writes. “So those bestseller lists and crowded festival appearances create a misleading impression of the true circumstances of literary life. For every book that tickles public taste, captures the zeitgeist and hits the jackpot, there are thousands that do not appeal to contemporary readers, fail to find a sufficient audience and almost disappear.”

The list, strong on the classics, is very different from one that U.S. authors would produce. How badly does Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas need a second chance, and what are the odds that Howard Jacobson’s nomination will be the deciding factor that will put that title over the top nearly 250 years after its initial publication? Do writers such as Flannery O’Connor, Jose Donoso, Julien Green, or Edith Wharton really cry out for renomination over more truly neglected authors?

Still, if you like lists of books as fodder for rumaging through the shelves — and what book person doesn’t — the Guardian list might inspire some new choices.

Image: Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds (detail)

Labor Day

My sites are closed today for Labor Day (and besides, all except Frisco Vista are moving to a new server. Nothing should change for visitors, but it means I can’t update the sites very well for a few hours). Meanwhile, here’s a Labor Day message from Can’t Keep Quiet.

labor day

End of month companion sites round-up

I’ve been a little under the weather, and I haven’t been able to keep up very well with e-mails and comments. I hope to rebound and get caught up soon.

Meanwhile, here’s a review of August. Rightreading is command central, so this roundup gets posted on this site but not on the others (I don’t list what I’ve done here). I try to do this on the last weekend of the month.

FRISCO VISTA (San Francisciana)

BURIED MIRROR (el mundo Maya)


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