Sunday, February 12, 2012

Soup and Salad: Slinkachu, Sh*t Book Reviewers Say, Hybrid Books, A Commonplace Book, #writerwithadayjob, Book-Spine Animals, Shelf-Conscious, The Legitimacy of Paperbacks

On today's menu:

"They're Not Pets, Susan"

1.  Have you seen Slinkachu?  Good Lord, I am in love with his work ("Abandoning Little People on the Streets Since 2006") in which he creates miniature street scenes on real-life streets using small action figures integrated into "found props."  I want him to design the cover of my next book.  Here's another stunning example of his art:

2.  It's the return of the Totally Hip Book Reviewer!  Ron Charles is "luminous," "stunning," and "unputdownable" in Sh*t Book Reviewers Say.  In fact, he may just be the next Edith Wharton.

3.   Sorry, e-Book Haters, the Kindle may be hanging around for a while (in one form or another).  This report at Publishers Weekly suggests "a hybrid market for books is developing in which readers will buy both print and digital books."  PW crunches the numbers so you don't have to....

4.  Book critic Harvey Freedenberg has been keeping a "commonplace book" for nearly 30 years.  It began as a collection of newspaper clippings and "words scribbled on scraps of paper" and stuffed into his wallet.  "Today," he says, "it’s housed in a battered blue Rite Aid spiral notebook, encircled by a rubber band to secure the cover and the pieces that threaten to tumble from it."  He writes of its value in a moving personal essay at Beyond the Margins:
      The book is a companion in times of both sorrow and joy. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s exhortation to “live your life as if it were a work of art,” provided inspiration for the eulogy I delivered at my mother’s funeral in 2005. The poet Danny Siegel’s vision of a life that “arrays itself to you as a dazzling wedding feast” helped enrich the celebration of the two great-grandsons’ circumcisions she didn’t live to see. And rereading an evocative essay by a writer friend inspired me to include E.B. White’s observation that “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer,” summing up in a single sentence the depth of a cherished friendship.
      There are too many here to name more than a few, so many wise and thoughtful and creative minds it would take several lifetimes to absorb all their wisdom. Walker Evans’ admonition to “Stare. Pry. Listen. Eavesdrop,” urges me to be more mindful of the world I inhabit. Kurt Vonnegut knew that “We are here on Earth to fart around,” encouraging me not to take myself or my daily struggles too seriously. With time I’ve added some personal thoughts, though like Auden, “I have tried to keep my own reflections…to a minimum, and let others, more learned, intelligent, imaginative, and witty than I, speak for me.”

5.  I don't talk much about my Day Job* here at the blog.  It's not that I'm ashamed of it or want to keep my blogging a secret from co-workers (some of them are regular readers of The Quivering Pen), but it's more because I've always considered my writing to be a "pastime."  I keep everything compartmentalized, putting the office and my creative keyboard into two separate cubicles, warning them, "Don't talk to each other.  Unless the building's on fire--in which case, you can say something."  This is one reason I get up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am in order to blog and write creatively before I have to punch the clock at the office.  With the publication of Fobbit, that "hobby" may mushroom into something a little larger (though I still have no plans to quit the Day Job).  For now, I continue to live like Jekyll and Hyde, keeping the two halves of my life from ever meeting.  At her blog, The Practicing Writer, Erika Dreifus talks about why she's grateful for her non-writing employment and why she often appends #writerwithadayjob to her Tweets:
It’s true that the structure and routine of being expected in an away-from-home office–doing work for someone else–every day from 9 to 5 isn’t always a writer’s dream. But the structure and stability of a regular paycheck, health insurance, a retirement account, and paid leave are wonderful things.

6.  Go to your bookshelf.  Look at the spines of the volumes lined up there.  Chances are, you'll see a logo near the bottom of that spine.  Chances are also good that it's an animal of some kind: a penguin, a kangaroo, a seagull, a dolphin.  Ever wonder about the history behind the logos (called "colophons")?  No?  Well, I have.  The Publishing Trendsetter blog enlightens us.

7.  Speaking of shelves and spines, The Paris Review blog talks about writers' libraries and the history of bookcases in "Shelf-Conscious."
There are many varieties of nerd, but only two real species—the serious and the nonserious—and shelves are a pretty good indication of who is which. “To expose a bookshelf,” Harvard professor Leah Price writes in Unpacking My Library, a recent collection of interviews with writers about the books they own, “is to compose a self.”
Nicely said!  One of these days, I'll get around to writing about my own library here in the basement of my house in Butte, Montana.  For now, let me just say this: I have so many books, the thickness of the volumes insulates the walls and keeps me warm in the winter.  One more thing: my wife is a friggin' saint for putting up with my bibliomania for nearly 30 years.

8.  At the Women's Fiction Writers blog, Sarah Pinneo ponders the implications of her book coming out in trade paperback rather than hardcover:
     When my agent began to shop Julia’s Child, it was the editors of paperback imprints who showed the most interest. I’d always pictured the book as a hardcover, and not merely because I was having delusions of grandeur. The women’s fiction I’d read for years—Alice Hoffman, Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult—was always hardback. Soft cover, I assumed, was for chick lit and genre romance.
      So I decided to (very casually) ask my agent about it. “So…” I said, “is this because I’m a loser, and nobody will ever take me seriously?”
I've been asking myself the same question lately since--from what I've been told--Fobbit will be coming out in paperback.  Like Pinneo, I'm just happy to be a published writer.  I get down on my knees every morning and thank my lucky stars for the Grove gods who smiled upon me.  And yet...I wonder if an original paperback release will reduce Fobbit's legitimacy in the eyes of book reviewers.  No matter how many novels debut in paperback these days (and the number is rising sharply), there's still a wrongly-held impression they're somehow second-class books.  But on the other hand, I wonder if a lower cover price will attract more readers.  And that--readers' eyes--is the most important consideration when you come right down to it.  I don't care if they're reading my words printed on the back of dried potato skins with blue ink, as long as they're reading, right?  What do you think?  Does format matter?  Discuss in the comments section.

*If you really must know, I work for the Bureau of Land Management in Montana.


  1. Another wonderful collection of links, David, and, I'm honored to be included. Ron C.'s video made me laugh (what else is new?). But I'm nonetheless grateful for the reviewers who call my stories "gems" and for the single reference to date to my "lapidary prose" (even if "lapidary" sent me to the dictionary).

    Regarding the trade paperback question: You know, I've simply never understood the impression you mention, though I know that it exists. (And, truly, this has *nothing* to do with the fact that my book was released in trade paperback and digital versions only.) As a reviewer, I certainly have no prejudice against books that aren't released in hardcover. And as a reader, I think that I am indeed more likely to buy such books. It has happened, more than once, that a book is released in hardcover, and I tell myself I'll buy it when the paperback comes out. A year later, when the paperback is out, I've lost interest and end up not buying the book at all.

    I'll be interested to see what others have to say in this comment thread.

  2. If "Fobbit" comes out in paperback only, that will be fine. I'll save on postage when I mail copies as gifts and perhaps be able to send them to more people.

    Cliches become cliches because they're usefully true even after they become trite. So: You can't judge a book by its cover. Any reviewer who reviews a book more harshly because it's not in hardcover would have a difficult time making a case that it's relevant. Reviewers who skip books just because they're in paperback are not serving their readers.

    I like a paperback. It hurts less when it hits me in the face if I fall asleep while reading.

  3. I've been arguing for years that first books should primarily come out in trade paper -- asking perfect strangers to cough up $30 for a hardcover novel of someone they've never heard of seems like a dumb strategy to me. Thanks to the glories of a tiny advance, I earned out in hardcover, but then they only kept my book around in paper for about 18 months. Then it was gone! Poof! (And they lost the copies I ordered for myself). Although the hardcover was gorgeous, I can't help but wonder if I couldn't have moved more copies at $13 than I did at $26. Remember how cool the VIntage Contemporaries were? Plus, if the costs are lower, then perhaps we can all sell more copies, and maybe make enough money to go write another book ...

  4. Charlotte, I *do* remember the Vintage paperbacks--and that's how I first read Richard Ford, Frederick Exley, and many others. I hope I wasn't coming across as sour grapes in my comments about the possibility of coming out in trade paper first. Far from it--the grapes are very sweet to me. I was just wondering if it made a difference when the book lands on reviewers' desks.

    Then again, the majority of what I read these days is in galley or ARC format, and those are always trade PB. The other format I read: Kindle e-books. In fact, I'd venture to say less than 20% of my reading is done holding a hardcover in my hands. Gorgeous as some of the hardcovers in my library are, I wonder if they're becoming the second or third choice for readers.

  5. David--thanks for another terrific post! I think trade paper is wonderful for debut writers because it allows them to build a base of readers. Just because Fobbit is in trade paper doesn't mean that your future books will be. Like you, I still harbor dreams of holding my own hardcover book in my hands, no matter how thrilled I was about Harper Perennial's acceptance of THE RUINS OF US. Though I read mostly paperbacks and tend to buy hardcovers only as gifts, hardcovers can be SO breathtakingly beautiful--I just picked up a friend's book, THE GOOD AMERICAN, and the texture of the cover and copper foil are gorgeous. Plus it will weather the passage of time better than my trade paper--the copy I've carried with me on tour is already horribly beat up and torn. So logically, yes, trade paper is awesome, but I completely understand your desire for hardcover--and my agent has said from the beginning that reviewers at major newspapers DO tend to overlook trade paper, so we've had to fight hard for our few major newspaper reviews. Her opinion, as well as my editor's, is that newspaper reviews only sell so many copies, though, as opposed to book club word of mouth, which can end up selling 3,000 copies a week (see Kathleen Grissom's THE KITCHEN HOUSE), which is something paperbacks have a better chance at!

    Can't wait to buy my copy of FOBBIT!

  6. Also, I'm curious as to why it's mostly women who get pubbed in trade paperback. I haven't heard of a single male Iowa classmate who's been published in trade paper (by the big 6), though I know a handful of women who have.

  7. As someone whose first book came out as a $29 hardcover, I think it's a bonus to be published in trade paperback, really. As a first time author, you're mainly out there trying to get people to take a chance on you, and in the middle of a very bad economy, I almost felt bad asking people I didn't know to take a $30 chance on me! I was glad that my book came out as an e-book at the same time--at least that gave people a different price point to work with. As for reviewers, I think hardcover was an issue maybe five or six years ago, but now it's different. I'm a reviewer and I don't care whether it's hard or soft. Usually you get the review copy before it has the official cover on it anyway, so how would the reviewer even know? And think of all the places that just publish in softcover--like Graywolf--and how well the authors they publish do. So go out there and win over a bunch of fans with your nice, moderately priced book!

  8. Caroline Leavitt's PICTURES OF YOU was a paperback original from Algonquin, after years of hardcover/softcover publication of her previous novels, and it has been her most successful book yet.