Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Soup and Salad: Self-Publishing Earns Respect, Premature Obituary of the Big 6 Publishers, Charles Dickens, More Charles Dickens, Even More Dickens, "Julie" and her Nook, "B*tches in Bookshops," Did Oprah Hurt Book Sales?, What Not to Say at Book Clubs, Size Matters, Myfanwy Collins' Thank-You Letter, Hemingway's Favorite Books, More Premature Reports on the Death of the Book, De-Cluttering Manuscripts, Phil Klay Turns War Into Fiction

On today's menu:

1.  Self-published books are still the Rodney Dangerfield of the literary world: They get no respect.  Part of that stems from the fact that we used to call it "vanity publishing," the label implying it was a book whose primary reason for being was to stroke the author's ego.  The times they are a changin' and the rise of e-books makes self-published books a ubiquitous fact of life in the publishing business.  At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Joseph Peschel talks to critics, authors and publishing insiders about whether or not the public is taking "S-P books" seriously.
Editors, reviewers, and even many authors believe that if you self-publish, you’re branded a sinner of sorts. You wear a scarlet S-P, signifying that you can’t get published because your work is inferior. If you promote your own work on the Internet, you must sheepishly precede the phrase “self-promotion” with “shameless.” It’s difficult to quantify the extent of the stigma, but we all know that publishing your own work has been frowned upon by writers for decades. Recently, genre authors Amanda Hocking (who writes young adult vampire novels) and John Locke (pulp thrillers) have had so much success independently publishing and selling hundreds of thousands of their own books that you’d think the self-publishing wall would’ve been kicked down and lying in a crumbled mess by now. But the stigma attached to publishing, promoting, and selling your own written word persists.
But, Peschel adds, "No one ever faulted Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Quentin Tarantino, or Charlie Chaplin for writing, directing, and producing their own movies. No one disrespects musicians for distributing their music without a major label behind them. And poets — think of Walt Whitman, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and the authors of contemporary poetry chapbooks — have long been used to publishing their own work. Why then should independent publishing be regarded any differently?"  Robert Bausch, Ron Charles, Mark Athitakis have some of the answers.

2.  For another take on the whole "e- vs. traditional" debate, check out Mark Williams' essay "Are the Big 6 Publishers Really Dying?"  There are a fair number of hair-on-fire statements tossed around throughout, but overall it's worth your time reading--whether you're an author, editor, or a reader who cares about the fate of brick-and-mortar bookstores.  One of the more interesting portions of Williams' hypothesis comes near the end:
Imagine a book-store where you can still go and browse books, settle down with a coffee or chat with intelligent staff about the latest book from your favourite author. You’ll find the cover and blurb on a book-sized case (think DVD cases) on the display shelves. Want to look inside? Just waive the barcode or implanted chip in front of your personal e-reader or smartphone, or the equipment available in-store, and you can see exactly what you’ll be getting. Not silly sample pages from the first 15% but the full book, temporarily transferred to your device for examination. If you buy, it stays there. If you choose not to it is automatically deleted as you leave the store.

3a.  Of possible interest only to those who are unnaturally obsessed with the life and works of Mr. Charles Dickens (the shoe which, as you already know, fits me and I wear proudly): Gad's Hill Place opens to the public.  Bonus catnip: article includes photos of The Desk.

3b.  The oldest known film of a Dickens work has just been identified.  I use the word "film" loosely since the one-minute silent film from 1901 is just a brief blink of a scene from Dickens' novel Bleak House showing the death of Jo the Crossing Sweeper.  It's about as overwrought as cinematic melodrama can get--outdoing the Inimitable Boz himself--but it's an interesting Dickensian artifact nonetheless.

3c.  When Charles Dickens moved into Tavistock House in 1851, he decided the library there was too large for the number of books he owned.  So he commissioned a bookbinder to create a series of false "book backs" to line the shelves.  Lists of Note has the titles, most of them peppered with CD's trademark wit: Kant's Ancient Humbugs, Bowwowdom, Drowsy's Recollections of Nothing, Miss Biffin on Deportment, and so forth.

4.  Is your name Julie?  Are you between the ages of 25 and 45?  Do you have kids who like to run wild and free in your local Barnes & Noble?  If so, then you probably own a Nook e-reader.

5.  Rap Interlude: "Read so hard, got paper cuts."  I love this parody of Jay Z and Kanye West's "N*ggas in Paris." 

6.  I'm not sure I buy this argument: Oprah's endorsements hurt book sales.  The talk-show queen was a key factor in reviving a reading revolution in America--only the Richard and Judy Book Club in the UK wields as much popular influence.  So how could increasing bookstore traffic hurt sales?  Martha C. White makes her case at
In a new research paper, Northwestern University professor of management Craig Garthwaite labels Oprah's endorsements "business stealing." While sales of titles selected by Oprah spiked an average of 400 percent in the first week alone, and other books by those authors also enjoyed what Garthwaite termed an "economically significant" boost, readers' newfound interest in those authors came at the expense of other writers, titles and entire genres, he said. In the 12 weeks following each of Oprah's Book Club endorsements, sales in the adult fiction category decreased by an average of 2.5 percent, with romance, mystery and action categories showing the largest drop-off. When Oprah endorsed a classic such as Anna Karenina, the falloff in sales of other fiction books was more pronounced. Garthwaite's theory, based on linguistic comparisons, is that the books Oprah chose were longer and more challenging than what people were used to reading. In other words, a reader might wade through Tolstoy's tome instead of blasting through two or three paperback bodice-rippers.
But here's the peak of the article's hogwash:
      "A lot of people do have set reading habits," Garthwaite said. "If people are not increasing the amount of time they're reading, but they're reading books that are longer and harder, then they're consuming fewer books throughout the year."
      "Readers have finite time, and they have finite discretionary budget allocated to books," Peter Wahlstrom, senior analyst at Morningstar, said, a phenomenon Norris called the "overloaded nightstand effect."
You say "overloaded" like it's a bad thing.

7.  Speaking of Oprah and book clubs, here's some advice on what not to say at your next get-together.

8.  The average book has 64,500 words, with Brave New World at dead center of that median.  Fobbit has about 98,000 words, which puts it somewhere between Portnoy's Complaint and Lolita.

9.  I don't know about you, but I got a little choked up reading Myfanwy Collins' thank-you letter to her readers on the day her debut novel Echolocation launched: "I am living in my strength and my strength right now is you."

10.  Ernest Hemingway had a list of 17 books he'd rather re-read "than have an assured income of a million dollars a year."  Among them were Dubliners and Winesburg, OhioLists of Note reveals the rest.

11.  Over at Three Guys One Book, Jason Rice and Rebecca Schinsky talk about the premature reports of the Death of the Book, A Visit from the Goon Squad on HBO, and whether or not the book industry is, as they say, circling the drain.  Rice says: "I agree that the death of the book is greatly exaggerated, but the industry that makes them is about to evolve into something that will fit comfortably on your phone."

12.  Beth Kissileff is getting ready to sell her house.  While trying to "de-clutter" the rooms of her possessions, she started seeing parallels between tidying up a house and tidying up her writing:
In my manuscript, stripping away the extra adjectives similarly allows one to see the beauties of the framework. I often use extra descriptions so the reader will understand the story. Instead, I need to trust the reader’s imagination and abilities. The extra adjectives are like excess knickknacks stored for contingencies, the boxes in the basement that remain unopened after years of collecting dust. A reader will be able to see more clearly without excess embellishment or boxes to trip over and peer around.
Read the rest here at Tin House.

13.  And last, but certainly not least, at his blog, Can't Give This War Away, Nathan Webster chats with Phil Klay, a fellow veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and fiction writer whose collection of short stories should be coming out next year (2013 can't get here soon enough, as far as I'm concerned).  Nathan and Phil were kind enough to give Fobbit a mention during the interview, but what interested me the most were the insights into the mind of how a war veteran approaches the creative art of fiction.  Here's just one small snippet from their lengthy conversation:
Q: What kind of writing did you do while deployed? A journal? Emails home? Did you have a written basis to refer back to for your present-day work?
A: I very slowly wrote incredibly terrible stories while on deployment. More usefully, I took note of the strange, crazy, amusing or upsetting things that happened while I was deployed. I wish I'd taken more notes on physical locations and building types, but I wasn't really planning on writing what I'm currently working on.

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