Friday, May 28, 2010
Thursday, May 20, 2010
Just this week, there was an event in Cambridge, MA celebrating the life and words of Howard Zinn, whom our own Christopher eulogized here. Zinn was a legendary historian and activist who prided himself on advocating for dissent. He worked with a number of independent publishers to this end, including Beacon Press, South End Press, and Seven Stories.
In the spirit of Zinn, I just have to question the way any voice of dissent against anything "e" - e-books in particular - gets either painted as Luddite whining or seen as conservative, as if the person questioning the e-revolution is some kind of guard against progress. The leading voice of this movement to squash any dissent against e-books et al seems to be Mediabistro's eBookNewser, which obviously has a dog in the fight. (Controversy = content.) Craig Morgan Teicher decided, on this site, to go after City Lights Books, a leading indie publisher, for supposedly calling for the trashing of Amazon Kindles. He based his accusation on the cover of City Lights latest catalog, seen here as eBookNewser displayed it.
Note Teicher's tone:
Monday, May 17, 2010
I have gone on and on about how annoying it is when editors acquire complete CRAP! It makes me crazy. In one post, I talked about blogs that are just blogs but are forced into becoming books, and in another, I discussed lame celebrity books. But today, I just want to briefly post news about a spin-off book that made me practically do a good old fashioned spit-take.
I know.... deep breaths... deep breaths...
I'll just say the trees deserve better, and all the assistants who have to work on this title deserve better, and everyone who gets this book as a GIFT will deserve better, and every 12 year old that wastes their allowance on this book after seeing it at the register deserves better.
For those who don't know, Gallery Books is not some weird fringey opportunistic publisher, like Beaufort Books who published O.J. Simpson's book If I Did It. Nope. Instead, it's an imprint of Simon & Schuster, formed last fall when things got shaken up over at S&S. (We posted on that here, back in September 2009.) So glad they reorganized and are now able to publish such fine literature as a quote book on the lamest, stupidest, most mindless, misogynistic television program, which revels in class-mocking and ethnic stereotypes. Always pleased when a corporate publisher can shake things up for the better, rather than laying people off so it can more efficiently publish trash.
The people that were laid off deserve better too, S&S.
Friday, May 14, 2010
In order to survive, books need bookstores - whether bricks & mortar or online. I've been interested to see what form these stores take nowadays, traditional or otherwise. And I'm always impressed when people go beyond the usual comment, however true, about bookstores being important for a community, and instead are pro-active about getting the community to blatantly support the store. It's the heady mix of capitalism and charity that is becoming a common model in many industries and social services these days.
At breathe books in Baltimore, proprietress Susan L. Weis has asked for help from her customers. She is hoping customers will invest in the store, not so she can merely stay open but so that she may expand. This is a bold move and one that seems in fact quite smart. It's not testing loyalty so much as sharing excitement. She says the store has turned a profit every year since opening and even hired on a full-time store manager. This isn't a plea to save a dying store, but an opportunity to be involved with an asset to the community, that is ready to offer more to customers. She even terms it "a community investment program." I love the simplicity of that phrase, as it seems to hide nothing.
Weis gives the potential donor options: "You can either donate money, invest in the store and receive interest on your principal (2% - 4% - you choose your interest), or purchase gift cards that never expire but have a start date one-year from purchase." Smart thinking - make it easy.
I want to wish breathe books the very best, and I hope other bookstores think through such models. If community's really do want to support bookstores - not just have them there so they can look at the books they might buy at Amazon or elsewhere online, as Mark Lamphier of Harvard Bookstore recounts in the video we recently posted - then it is entirely fair to tell them to pull out their virtual checkbooks.
And just quickly, I want to send out an apology to the woman on the train this morning who missed her stop on the Red line. I was smiling as she kicked the door and cursed, but that's only because she missed the stop due to a particularly engrossing book. Dean Koontz isn't my favorite author - I read one book after my mother took offense to my snubbing of him without having read him, and found it too trite - but I was just so pleased to see how buried she was in a book on the train! Poor gal - she was still cursing by the time we pulled into the next stop, as she ran off to catch the train in the opposite direction.
(Link to article on breathe books from today's installment of Shelf Awareness)
Monday, May 10, 2010
I just received this link from a student in the Emerson College documentary film program. It is about the continuing decline of independent bookstores in the marketplace. Yes, this is familiar territory but the filmmaker gets some delightful footage of Boston area independents and even gets Harvard Book Store general manager Mark Lamphier all teary-eyed about the mission of community bookselling in a very specific way. I am not saying that independent booksellers have more compassion than the giant chains but...well, yes, I guess that is exactly what I am saying.
Enjoy! (Oh, the filmmaker would like feedback so if you have any thoughts on her short film please put them in the comments, please.)
Saturday, May 08, 2010
I admit that I dismissed the Galleycat posting about Seth Godin's thoughts on publishing, and how publishers could do better. For one, aren't we all a little burned out on hearing everyone's opinion on this issue? When some people pipe up, like Richard Nash, I always listen, but many others are just chirping on about something that is ill-informed or so informed I can't follow it. (I fully recognize I'm just another commentator in this realm, btw.) I also got nervous when Godin started talking about the importance of "me" - in the royal sense, so to speak. He starts by talking about how consumers only care about their own interests, which is something I always find so disheartening.
But in my defense, I went back to this post and read the Q&A, and Godin is making some provocative comments that have stayed with me since I read them yesterday, popping back into my head while I'm running through the Common here in Boston, or as I stand in the shower.
Godin is talking about the need for publishers to change perspective, to stop pitching for bookstores and start pitching directly to consumers. This does make for a different way of presenting books and even subject areas. (This is particularly resonant for me, having just recently gone to our semi-annual sales conference to present our new books to our sales reps.) He says,
This is an intriguing proposition, along with other ideas that have been put out there by folks like Nash about publishing to niche readerships.
All this "change in perspective" is making me wonder if there would be room for such a role pertaining specifically to social justice - my general area of interest. If one were to set-up a non-profit agency and focused on writers - journalists, activists, even novelists - who write on social justice issues, and the agency became a kind of clearing house for this information, in article or book form, that agency could become an invaluable resource for a lot of individuals (reporters, activists in other areas looking for allies), organizations (looking for leadership or texts for motivation/education), and media venues (looking for new voices). I'm still wondering, though, how one makes money in such a model. Godin doesn't really address that. If it was non-profit, one could get grants, but keeping afloat with grants means constant treading - ie writing proposals and reports on an endless cycle. The idea of organizing a conference is useful to think through, as that could make money. (One could even use the successful, wildly (and from I hear, justifiably) popular Muse and the Marketplace, hosted by Boston-area non-profit writing center, Grub Street.)
Maybe I shouldn't be voicing my thoughts here, but I can't get too worried about someone stealing them. If they do steal this idea, then hey, some more voices for social justice will get out in the world. But for me, I'm still mulling over the possibilities, even as I continue to enjoy the great fortune of working with intelligent authors who have the skill and confidence to get their voice and their message heard.
Thursday, May 06, 2010
I know I should not look to celebrities to save publishing, or to even contribute usefully to publishing. I mean I suppose they help independent bookstores, since celebrity books can sell billions of copies, and maybe they help the bottom line of some big corporate publisher and that in turn allows said big corporate publisher to take risks elsewhere (the questionable "blockbuster" strategy). But this week, I'm really tired of hearing celebrities mouth off about being stupid, even as they promote some new book.
Drew Barrymore's New Tell-All Coloring Book Hits Shelves
Case in point: Sarah Silverman in the Boston Globe, telling Eugenia Williamson in a Q&A, "I’m not a fast reader and it’s always been discouraging for me. I read everything that was assigned to me at school, but I tended to obsess over TV." Outstanding. She also remembers her father's unrequited love of writing, with the following anecdote: "When I was growing up he would let glimpses of it out. I would get assigned an essay for school, and he would say, 'Take dictation!' and write the whole thing, pacing, while I scribbled down everything he said." She can't remember the name of the teacher who recommended a book that changed her life, though she fortunately remembers the book (John Berger's Ways of Seeing), and one of her favorite books is a Garfield title - yes, the animated cat. I know she prides herself on being irreverent and even openly stupid and offensive, but this is part of a larger trend, one where celebrities get their name on a book, most likely having used a ghostwriter and probably a lot of work from an editor, and then mock any commitment to writing in publicity.
I was in NYC this week for a conference, and I had the tv in my hotel room on as I took a shower in the morning. I came out and Regis & Kelly were on, interviewing comedian Damon Wayans. It seems he has a new novel out called Red Hat, but during this interview, he was telling the sad story about dropping out of school in the 9th grade, and how no teacher ever encouraged him. But he did tell a charming story about a biology teacher who told Wayans that if he let the teacher have control of the class all week, he (the teacher) would give him (Wayans) 10 minutes on Friday, to perform. Did he then commit to the class? No, he just shut up and waited for his opportunity to do a comedy bit, in the 8th grade. Didn't read, didn't learn, didn't respect.
I guess Wayans had a hard time growing up, with a lot of siblings and not much money, and he was in the NYC public school system. Fine. He dropped out. Okay, that's hard. But really, can't he now think about why he did not pay attention, or try to talk up the benefits of reading somehow? I mean, he kind of needs people to commit to reading on some level if he wants to sell his "
Drew Barrymore's New Tell-All Coloring Book Hits Shelves