Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jodi Picoult's Issues

Whatever you think about "issues" fiction, here's an interesting interview with Jodi Picoult.

-- Miriam

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

No e-books for you

Kindle fever aside, some authors just don't want their books published electronically. Here's an interesting wrap-up of some of the more notable hold-outs.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What makes publishing folk laugh

In this week's PW, publisher Jon Karp wrote a great piece about the 12 things publishing needs to work on. It's definitely worth reading, and though it's funny at times, much of the advice is right on.

Even funnier, Dan Menaker's response, which I found through the HarperStudio blog. Yes, dear readers, these are the sort of things that amuse us.

- Michael

Thursday, April 16, 2009


So The New Yorker has posted a contest to identify some book covers from pretty small details. This week's is a lot harder than last week's, and we're a bit shorthanded around here today. Miriam and I are way too impatient to wait for the answers to be revealed, and we've only got 2 & 4 down. Head over there, check 'em out--if you think you know them, by all means enter to win--and then come back here and put us out of our misery!


UPDATE: You guys are awesome. We knew we could count on you!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Taking the plunge

The timing will probably seem odd, what with #AmazonFail and all, but I've taken the plunge and ordered a Kindle 2. I managed to not order one on the day of the announcement(impressive self-control on my part, really). I didn't order one right after I got to play with the samples that the Kindle team brought to our office. But, events in my life conspired to convince me that now is the time. It arrives on Friday, and I have a feeling I'll spend more on books this weekend than I have in the past 6 months. I'll let you know.

Speaking of #AmazonFail, I think I'm the only one who didn't see it as some vast conspiracy to rid the world of gay literature. Amazon likes making money, and it seemed to me that flagging all gay-related books as "adult" and unrankable was a quick way to lose money. Maybe I'm naive, but the whole situation seemed more like a "glitch" (though that's rather dismissive) than a purge.

Also, can we stop using "Fail?" It drives me nuts!

- Michael

Friday, April 10, 2009

Jessica Papin on "Nostalgia"

A few evenings ago I was talking with an editor who described, quite beautifully, the plot of a novel that he had recently acquired. In doing so, he used the word "reify," which is a wonderful word, but one that seldom shows up in flap copy--usual suspects being adjectives like "luminous," "compelling," "masterful," etc. I said as much, and he laughed good-naturedly, and said that as an assistant (at a venerable and highly serious house, mind you) a marketing director had nixed his use of the adjective "Swiftian" in a book description. I could relate. My first week of work as an editorial assistant, I marveled at the erudition of the editors around me who described the project under discussion, a proposal for a book on meditation, as "very much in the vein of Thomas More." Impressive. In the meeting minutes, which I was taking, I carefully noted the comparison title was the political tract Utopia by the sixteenth century English saint/statesman, which (fortuitously!) I had had to read in service of a survey course. And not, however, Care of the Soul, the New York Times bestseller published a year or so earlier by super-successful spirituality author Thomas Moore. This entry on the widely-circulated minutes earned me some funny looks from my colleagues, plus a gentle but firm recommendation from my boss that I should start updating my comp title frame of reference. Fast.

This was, in fact, not the only moment in which I suspected I might be ill-served by my alternate life as a graduate student in literature. When I had first interviewed for the position assisting an editor who managed the women’s fiction list, I had earnestly expounded on my favorite feminist writers; I cited a veritable Norton anthology of names, which grew longer and more frantic as I noted the editor’s increasingly bemused expression. When she explained that the kind of women’s fiction she was talking about was mostly romance and romantic suspense, I believe I may have mumbled something about reading Gone with the Wind, but probably retreated into stricken silence. How it was that she hired me, I’m not sure. In any case, working in women’s fiction was as good a starting point as any to discover that the business of acquiring books and the business of studying them, did not, apparently, have much to do with one another. As it became obvious that what I had thought would be a felicitous overlap in interdependent fields were in fact two divergent career paths, I took a semester off from the doctoral program, cast my lot with Thomas Moore, and never looked back. Until, that is, the other evening when the editor with whom I was talking used the word "reify."

Whenever I run across it, in a reaction either Proustian or Pavlovian, I am instantly transported back to the days when, as a distraction from wrestling with the works of theorists whose books appeared to be in English but were not, I kept a running list of words that seldom occur outside of graduate school. My favorite was "reify," but others included "problematic" when used as a noun, or "problemetize" (a verb); "vexed" (usually describing an idea), e.g."The narrative is a vexed one…" foreground" but only as a verb, as in "I’d like to foreground the problematic…"and "fraught" but only when unaccompanied by "with," as in "The text is fraught."

Proust had his madeleine cakes and I have my grad-school word list. I wonder if anyone else out there has such nostalgic associations with particular words–if so, I’d love to hear them.

Speaking of nostalgia, I just read Joanna Smith Rakoff’s wonderful debut novel, A Fortunate Age. The book, published by Scribner, is an updating of and homage to Mary McCathy’s The Group, set against the rise and resounding "pop" of the dot com bubble in New York–an era when 24-year-old new media millionaires were poster children for an economy freed from antiquated, mellow-harshing rules, and Williamsburg Brooklyn was the locus of a self-conscious hipsterism and attendant abuse of trucker hats. She captures a time and place I remember well with dead-on accuracy. I’m curious to know if folks reading this have their own nominees for books that capture the zeitgeist of a particular time and place.


Teleread had an item yesterday about Digital Newsbooks, newspapers' multi-part series conveniently repackaged as ebooks for $4.95. It's an interesting idea, and I'm curious to see if they're able to make money. I know I've gone back and read these sorts of series after they ended, and if they were convenient and easy to access, I know I might be willing to pay a fee for them. Newspapers are eager for new ways to make money, and if this allows them to continue or increase their investigative journalism, I'm all for it. And, a successful newsbook could be a signal that a longer, book-length treatment would have an audience. I'll be keeping my eye on this.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Author photos

Let’s be honest: People isn’t the only magazine more likely to review someone’s book if they think the author is attractive.

Do you have to be “attractive” for someone to buy your book? No. Will you get more media attention for your book if you’re traditionally good looking? Possible.

My take is this: if you’re attractive, it can help your chances. If you’re unattractive, it can’t hurt. I’ve never picked up a book and thought, “Yikes! Not gonna read a book by that!” I honestly don’t think author photos make anyone buy or not buy a book in the bookstore. At most, it’s the very last thing that tips a buyer into the “yes” or “no” column.

So for all you gorgeous souls out there, there’s one more reason to thank genetics. The rest of us will carry on depending on our supreme intellect and prodigious talent.