Monday, March 16, 2009

Inside Baseball for Books

I found a couple of interesting articles to share today, if ya don't mind...

I'm pleased to see that Sara Nelson, once of Publishers Weekly fame but recently laid off in their restructuring, has placed some nice insider articles elsewhere. The online publishing world - meaning online people writing about somewhat traditional book publishing - has responded in kind with links and mentions (I suppose, now, this includes me!). Her recent article over at The Daily Beast on Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger and his whopping $3 million deal for two books, including a poetry book, certainly found ample reaction online.

Nelson has a new piece up at WSJ that is old-school book publishing news analysis, all about how the new HarperCollins imprint, It Books, and its subimprint Igniter, reek of Judith Regan's influence - though no one at HC seems to be saying that outright. Nelson discusses the folks running these new imprints to make her case:

Now, two years later, we're may be witnessing Regan Redux, in the unlikely person of Neil Strauss. A thirtysomething onetime pop culture reporter for the New York Times, Strauss appears to be nothing like his muse. Except that he is a master of the kind of high-low books that were her hallmark.

In fact, the titles that have made him a famous and successful author -- "Motley Crue: The Dirt, Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band," "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star," a memoir with Jenna Jameson and the pick-up guide "The Game" -- were all Regan projects.

Add to that the rise, within Harper, of Carrie Kania, who was relatively new to publishing during Regan's tenure but is herself the kind of passionate, tough-talking woman a less politically-correct generation would have called a "dame." Then factor in Cal Morgan, who was one of Regan's longest and closest lieutenants, and still very much employed at Harper. Presto: The company had found a way to fill the hole left by Regan's demise.

My favorite part, of course, is her line about Kania being a "dame." What an honor! (I don't know Kania but I hope she sees that as a compliment.)

Nelson makes a valuable point but she doesn't go as far as I would to position this all as sexist. I mean, isn't it? Yes, Judith Regan made her share of enemies, but get this, from Nelson:
And while he never invoked her name, when Strauss said he planned to be involved in every aspect of the choosing, designing and marketing of Igniter titles, down to where, for example, the author's bio should appear, I could feel Ms. Regan's presence -- she was ostracized and maligned for being, among other things, a "control freak" -- in the room. Design, book jacket, font type: "They all affect the reader," he says. "I think a book needs to be like a show."

Will Strauss be considered a control freak, or merely committed to his product? Women in control still make folks nervous, even in an industry like publishing where women are in abundance - at least outside of boardrooms.

But yes, I find it a bit awkward to be defending Regan, who published absolute tripe. I say that about her as an Editor seeking out the lowest common denominator, not as a woman who should have every right to make bad executive decisions as any man.

It just seems over at HC, they've cut off the head only to have the same spring up again, from Regan to Strauss, but now we'll see if a man can make a go of peddling this garbage better than a gal.

I also don't want to be in a position to help salvage any kind of massive corporate undertaking, as I'm more interested in this story out of Ann Arbor (via Shelf Awareness): Some folks are getting together to speed up the process wherein Shaman Drum Bookstore, a legend amongst independent bookstores nationwide, goes non-profit. The owner has incorporated the bookshop into the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center as he seeks non-profit status, and some profs from the University of Michigan are trying to help. Once done, the shop could, for one, offer shares or memberships to community folks to raise revenue. The owner Karl Porht has been discussing the financial struggles of the store for some time. Of this idea, he says,
"What I am interested in is what the new model for bookshops will look like. This is an opportunity to try and invent it. And it's not a lone ranger thing. This is collaborative.''

Exciting stuff! I'm interested to see what develops, as well. Going non-profit and engaging the community that fully is one way to salvage local independent stores. Good luck to Porht and company!

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