Friday, April 18, 2008


So two points for today's post, one on bookselling and one on publishing. Does that work?

On bookselling: today's Shelf Awareness includes a short article by Robert Gray about a visit to Melville House Publishing offices in Brooklyn's DUMBO - on Plymouth Street, for those nearby. (Note: Gray link is to archives but this story ain't there yet.) Melville does some cool books, I've watched them for awhile. They seem to be particularly strong in experimental fiction and lefty politics, both things I can get behind. But their offices... I want to visit. And I can, because it's also a bookstore, and performance space, and other things, it seems. To quote the article:
My first impressions upon entering the new Melville House digs were of light, space and words. The storefront, corner location features two walls of windows. A third wall consists of bookshelves, which separate the retail space from the publishing offices. These bookcases swivel--like secret passages in a Gothic mansion library--allowing entry to the Melville House biblio-laboratory. During events, they can be reversed for striking visual effect, with the books displayed face-out through clouded plexiglass.
And later:
Display tables--some on wheels so they can be moved out of the way for events--are arranged with evident care and artistry. The bookshop showcases all of Melville House's titles as well as books from other independent presses, including Verso, Europa, New Press, Akashic, Haymarket and Soft Skull. Soon to join them will be Feminist Press and City Lights. Cutting edge literary journals and magazines are also sold.
So this is about bookselling and publishing all in one, actually. And yes, I am green with envy. I feel like I should be lying on a bed, legs in the air, hands under my chin, staring at the wall dreamily and telling my best gal pals, in their pjs for the sleepover, all about the Melville offices....

The other link was sent from my good friend Erin Meister - I hope that link is the best, scoop! - who works at Time Out New York, aka TONY. (She's also coffee-crazy, and crazy knowledgeable about coffee - hence the link to her business.) So she sent me this interesting article by Michael Miller that TONY did on publishing, wherein he tries to give some definition to what he calls the "nexus of agents, editors and publicists who collaborate in the attempt to push a book toward the tipping point." Like the Rachel Donadio's article in the NY Times on why authors must wait so long for their books, it offers a nice behind-the-scenes peek at publishing. I'd like to offer commentary on the piece - of course!

Some literary agents are great and trustworthy, but others... as an Editor, you have to get to know the agent. So Ira Silverberg at Sterling Lord says: “We are the first line of defense—we keep it safe to read in America, because most of the stuff that people write is shit. That’s not to say that we don’t make mistakes, but at least we vet the writing first, and thus we are trusted by large houses and thus most large houses have a no-unsolicited-manuscripts policy.” I don't know Ira - I don't work at a large enough house to qualify for his submission list perhaps - but not all agents weed out the shit, and some even tart it up so it doesn't look like shit. I suppose that's when agents are like car salesmen, and some sell you lemons.

Then Miller talks to novelist James Hannaham, a man who should get a few bonus points for that surname. He got a publishing contract with McSweeney's without an agent. Now I'm a subscriber to the McSweeney's Book Release Club - I just got the new Chabon! - so I'm no hater, but this isn't going to make him a star most likely, and certainly won't make him rich. This is a small literary publisher, so one would hope an agent would not be involved - it's not worth their time. It's a huge pet peeve of mine when someone with a relatively small but quality project, especially one that could use some editing, has an agent who is driving up the advance. It takes away from the project itself, because resources get devoted to getting this agent paid, when they should go to the author and the project itself.

And I don't know how I feel about Random House Editor Julia Cheiffetz, in this article, both telling the world that her author's book, in proposal form, could find no love in publishing, and then taking credit for turning it into such a sellable product: "My author Karen Abbott’s proposal for Sin in the Second City was rejected all over town, but the book we ended up publishing was substantially different from what she initially proposed. I like fixing things up.” Bit of an ick factor, no?

Since I'm essentially going through this article paragraph by paragraph - sorry, Miller, I don't mean to dissect - I'll just say about the publicity paragraph that it's pretty spot on. I would warn folks about independent publicists: they do a lot of great work, but they are working for you, if you as an author hire them, so they may deliver a lot of radio interviews whcih are satisfying and good practice, but may not sell a ton of books. I'm just putting that out there. Miller quotes independent publicist Lauren Cerand, whom I don't know: “In publishing, so much time is spent only talking to people who are perceived as already sold on the idea of the book, whereas I’m going to try to talk to everyone in the world who has $20.” That's a better spin on it than what I said. It's more a micro-outreach.

Lastly, I had drinks last night with my friend from the great Midwest, Jason: academic publishing insider and blogger and smart guy. Good times!

So that's my low-level round up, people. Back to, ya know, editing and stuff.

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