concept to publication

Month: September 2008 Page 1 of 2

The free market


The free market isn’t really free.
But it’s not worth much.


My Bookhouse


Call me Kirk: my house is being overrun with tribbles. Well not tribbles really, but books, which amounts to much the same thing. They seem charming at first — each one is unique — but they show up in every corner and never give you a moment’s peace.

To address this we are putting up two outbuildings, each 10 x 12 feet, partway down our fairly steep south-facing hill; they are separated by a small deck. (I’ve got the roof rafters up but still need to do the doors and windows, sheathing, and roofing.)  Much of the library will move out here.

Over the years I have made a lot of bookcases like the one shown above. Four of them can line each wall, so the two buildings can hold 16 bookcases on the long dimension (and still have some room left over). Each bookcase is about eight feet high and about 32 inches wide; most provide about 20 linear feet of shelf, so that’s 320 feet in all (about a tenth of a kilometer), not counting the top, which is in effect another shelf and provides pretty much additional space at the high end.

I still want to go through the library and cull many of the books. I see no virtue in hoarding. The problem is that each one requires individual review. I will do that at my leisure as I finish this up.

Below is a view of the first bookhouse in progress, looking past the garden that used to be a swimming pool.



More bookhouse photos at Flickr.


Friday roundup | Duly quoted

“Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil

Why didn’t I post on David Foster Wallace’s death?

  • Because I already read four dozen posts on the subject.

Duly quoted

  • “There is nothing more frightening to behold than bold, dynamic ignorance in action.” -Harry S Truman


What is the optimum length of a query letter?

How long should a query be? Surely it depends on the nature of the work, competing editions and the book’s market segment, your publishing history, whether you know the agent or publisher, and things like that, right?

And it seems likely that queries these days would be shorter than they used to be, since new media, along with the decline in public education, has helped to bring about an age of information snacking, in which we have largely lost the habit of extended continuous reading.

But agent Nathan Bransford says it’s simpler than that. He recently did a survey of 180 queries he received. Looking at the length distribution of the queries, and considering the mss. he called for, he concludes that the “sweet spot” for query letters is 250-350 words.

So now you know.

BTW, I did a check of the last query letter I wrote, and it came in at 325 words.



When kerning goes bad

bad kerning


via Cosmopoetica


Two covers, one image

It’s not unusual to see two or more books that use the same image. After all, professional designers tend to sample from the same stock image pools. What I find interesting about these two is the way the different crops and tones seem to adjust the dynamic between the figures.

two book covers that use the same image

Would you be more likely to pick one up than the other?


via Book Design Review


Saving endangered words

Quote of the day — and a call to action –from Times Online:

It may appear agrestic to ask, but The Times is calling on its readers to come to the rescue of words that risk fading into caliginosity.

Dictionary compilers at Collins have decided that the word list for the forthcoming edition of its largest volume is embrangled with words so obscure that they are linguistic recrement. Such words, they say, must be exuviated abstergently to make room for modern additions that will act as a roborant for the book….


Python poetry


via Robert Peake


Photography the hard way

John Chiara demonstrates his process.


via photodoug


Literary Prizes

booker prize collageHaving served on several literary award committees, ranging from local ones like the Northern California Book Awards to national gigs like serving as an NEA panelist, I recognized something of the process revealed in forty years of recollections of Booker Prize judges, as reported in the Guardian recently.

If you are going to participate in this sort of thing you have to focus on the promotional benefits, the advantages to the winning and shortlisted authors, and the value to readers of having good books brought to their attention. Because if you focus on the process or the fairness of the results, you will go mad. As one of the judges, Hillary Mantel, says, “I’m glad I was a Booker judge relatively early in my career. It stopped me thinking that literary prizes are about literary value. Even the most correct jury goes in for horsetrading and gamesmanship, and what emerges is a compromise.”

James Wood adds: “The absurdity of the process was soon apparent: it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins.”

Ah, the horse trading. “The choice of PH Newby’s Something to Answer For, Frank Kermode reports about the 1963 prize, “was the result of a compromise. Dame Rebecca [West] didn’t dislike it as much as nearly all the others.” Beryle Bainbridge recalls of the 1997 process: “All I can remember of the final meeting is that I got terribly tired, I literally sank lower and lower under the table. Brendan Gill, who I thought was American, went towards the balcony saying he was going to throw himself off, he was so fed up. Philip Larkin was completely silent most of the time. Nobody dared say a word to him and he never said a word back.”

Of course there were judges such as Saul Bellow who dealt with the process with aplomb. Antonia Fraser says, “I shared a taxi back with fellow judge Saul Bellow on a long, long ride from somewhere in the City: he was nattily dressed in a pale green shantung suit, blue shirt, green tie with large blue dots on it; his silver hair and slanting, large dark eyes made him look like a 30s film star playing a refined gangster. Suddenly he leaned forward and asked: ‘Has anyone ever told you that you’re a very handsome woman?’ I pondered on a suitable reply, modest yet encouraging. But having spoken, the Great Man closed his eyes and remained apparently asleep for the rest of the journey.” And George Steiner seems pleased with his experience, humbly noting of the panel of which he was a part, “It was the most illustrious panel in the Booker’s history.”

But on the whole the process appears remarkably random. As Jonathan Coe says, “How very arbitrary it seems, in retrospect. There was nothing wrong with our shortlist, and nothing wrong with our winner (Last Orders, by Graham Swift), but at 12 years’ distance, it feels as though we could easily have chosen another six novels altogether.” Which leads Paul Bailey to conclude, “There are many things I regret doing, and being a judge for the Booker prize is one of them. For some years after I was associated with two novels I absolutely loathed and would not have even started reading in other circumstances.”

David Lodge’s judgment is worth giving the final word to: “the overtly competitive nature of these prizes, heightened by the publication of longlists and shortlists, takes its psychological toll on writers; and, given the large element of chance in the composition and operation of judging panels, the importance now attached to prizes in our literary culture seems excessive. A committee is a blunt instrument of literary criticism.”


Image via the Guardian


American and European dust jackets, 1926-1947

queer books

The New York Public Library’s amazing and ever-expanding digital collections includes more than two thousand book jackets from 1926 through 1947. The library routinely removed jackets from books in its collection– no doubt because they quickly would become damaged or lost — but during those years some of its librarians kept interesting examples in a collection of scrapbooks. As the library website notes, “Ranged side-by-side within years, the dust jackets provide an overview of the graphic design taste and trends of the time, while helping to reconstruct the atmosphere of the annual panoply of an era’s published works, with classic titles alongside their less enduring contemporaries”


Friday roundup

“Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil

Duly Quoted

  • “In the last two election cycles, the very notion that the facts matter seems to be under assault. Candidates and their consultants seem to have learned that as long as you don’t back down from your charges or claims, they will stick in the minds of voters regardless of their accuracy or at a minimum, what the truth is will remain murky, a matter of opinion rather than fact.” — Michael X. Delli Carpini, University of Pennsylvania, Annenberg School for Communication. “


A brief history break

original pledge of allegiance

If it [the Pledge of Allegiance] was good enough for the founding fathers, it’s good enough for me. — Sarah Palin

Pop quiz! What historical event is associated with the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance?

  1. The American Revolution, 1775-1783
  2. The Declaration of Independence, 1776
  3. The Constitutional Convention, 1787
  4. The swearing in of George Washington as president, 1789
  5. Attempted secession of southern states, 1860-1861
  6. Lincoln assassination, 1865
  7. World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair), 1892

Answer after the break.

For bonus points, when did we start to print “In God We Trust” on our currency?

A story of a sign



A Spanish Renaissance calligraphy manual

Arte Subtilissima, por la Qual se Enseña a Escreuir Perfectamente' (The most delicate art of teaching a perfect hand), 1550 by Juan de Icíar

The resourceful peacay at BibliOdyssey, who seems to spend most of his waking hours rummaging through the online archives of libraries and museums searching for scans from old books, has found another gem in Arte Subtilissima, por la Qual se Enseña a Escreuir Perfectamente (The most delicate art of teaching a perfect hand), 1550, by Juan de Icíar (Juan de Yciar) with engravings by Jean de Vingles.

Iciar’s Arte Subtilissima, peacay observes, introduced the chancery script (cancelleresca corsiva) to Spain “and although it is described as a copybook, it is more intended as a manual for an engraver rather than the hand scribe.”


More illustrations from the manual here


What the heck is the past tense of spec?

Believe it or not, this comes up all the time, and after all these years I have yet to decide what’s right.

For example, I e-mailed a print rep earlier today to ask, “Would the 60# Natural Smooth paper be cheaper than the one I had speced?”

Should it be specked? speced? specced? spec’d? or something else?

And no, no one would say “the one I specified.”


Illustrating Lennon

Jerry Levitan, working with direction Josh Raskin, illustrator James Braithwaite, and digital artist Alex Kurina, has produced an animated version of an interview he made thirty-eight years ago with John Lennon. Levitan was fourteen at the time, and Lennon was generous in answering his questions.


via crap detector


Friday roundup

“Every separation is a link.” — Simone Weil


Palin and book banning

According to the NYT today:

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”


What kind of accent does Sarah Palin have?

She’s got a piercing voice, that’s for sure. Maybe you develop that to be heard over five children during howling blizzards.

But what about her accent? There is a discussion going on over at Mr. Verb. Apparently native Alaskans don’t hear characteristic Alaskan cadences in it. Some people hear Chicago and the upper Midwest, but how would that get there? Others note that she was born in Idaho, and speculate that she may have grown up with others sharing that dialect.

I suppose if she spoke in a mountain west dialect it could help the ticket in Western states, leaving everything else aside.


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