Welcome to the blog of the Consulting Editors Alliance. This is our forum for sharing views on the wonderful, bizarre, enormously frustrating and satisfying (depends on the day) world of book publishing and our roles in it as freelance editors, writing collaborators, and ghostwriters. Please join the conversation!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For All YA Lovers!

The line-up for the Teen Author's Festival has been posted! Panels, readings, and signings abound. (and yes, I'll be signing my graphic novel Resistance at Books of Wonder on March 20th.)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Would-Be Book Banners Are Feeling Their Oats

Depressing news--the adoption of new, more aggressive organizing tactics by people who want to censor books in schools and libraries.  In the words of an ALA spokesperson: “Traditionally, when books are challenged, it’s usually a single parent. But we have found that groups are organizing around the principle that professional librarians don’t have the expertise, that they’re pushing porn on our kids.”

Most of the new book banners focus on works that relate to sex (especially of the gay variety), although I was particularly appalled to read about efforts to ban Barbara Ehrenreich's important social-economic book Nickel and Dimed on the wholly spurious ground that it contains "anti-Christian themes."  I guess if you think Jesus would be a big fan of forcing poor women to work under degrading conditions for minimum wage in order to maximize the income of chain-store companies, then, yes, Nickel and Dimed could be considered anti-Christian . . .

One more thing.  The author of the linked article succumbs, unfortunately, to the widespread habit of throwing in a criticism of liberals, in an apparent attempt to make the article feel "balanced."  In this case,  he refers to Huckleberry Finn as "long a target of the left."  But this assertion turns out to be evidence-free.  Follow the link to the supposed source article and you discover that it describes the exclusion of Huck Finn from the library in Concord, Massachusetts, in 1885--more a matter of Victorian squeamishness about "coarseness" than any "left-wing" political objections.  The article goes on to mention subsequent bannings in Des Moines, Denver, Omaha, and Fairfax, Virginia--not exactly a list of liberal strongholds.

Let's get real about this.  The danger to intellectual freedom in America comes overwhelmingly from the right wing, not the left.  That's the truth, and saying so reflects honesty, not "liberal bias."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Who Will Pay for the Cheese Sandwiches?

Hilarious, charming, with an edge of perception. How many people can couple childlike drawn images of dead pantaloon-clad authors, blood-dripping knives, and a puffy-topped "publishing pie" with references to Elvis's shoelace, cheese sandwiches, and "the anchovies are restless"--and make a serious point about publishing, books, writing, and the future of it all--and what it means for authors, traditionally published and self-published alike? Only Margaret Atwood, in her talk "The Publishing Pie: An Author's View" at last week's O'Reilly TOC Conference/Tools of Change for Publishing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Turow, Shakespeare, and Copyright Law: Huh?

I join blogger Matt Yglesias in finding this op-ed piece by Scott Turow, which invokes the ghost of Shakespeare to defend copyright, quite bizarre.  (Check out some of the many all-over-the-map comments Yglesias received in response to his blog post and you'll see that lots of other people found Turow's comparison confusing too.)  Turow writes about how men with moneyboxes stood outside the playhouses in Shakespeare's day, collecting a penny admission from audience members.  Then he continues:
Money changed everything. Almost overnight, a wave of brilliant dramatists emerged, including Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, Ben Jonson and Shakespeare. These talents and many comparable and lesser lights had found the opportunity, the conditions and the money to pursue their craft.
The stark findings of this experiment? As with much else, literary talent often remains undeveloped unless markets reward it.
Okay, I guess . . .  except that Turow uses this historical circumstance to highlight the importance of copyright law--which didn't exist in Shakespeare's day--and to decry piracy of texts--which was plentiful then.  (Printers or their assistants would attend plays at the Globe, take copious notes, memorize speeches as best they could, and then print the haphazard scripts that resulted, vexing Shakespeare scholars centuries later.)

So if Turow's historical analogy proves anything, it is that the great Elizabethan playwrights were amply rewarded and "incentivized" in the absence of copyright and despite widespread piracy--precisely the opposite of the cause-and-effect relationship Turow tells us to expect.

Funny, I had the impression that attorneys were supposed to be experts at logic . . . 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Financial Reporting, Book Promotion--Or Both?

I saw something in yesterday's New York Times that I've never seen before. In a fascinating article by Diana B. Henriques, a financial correspondent for the Times, Bernard Madoff said, among other things, that some banks had to have been at least passively complicit in his Ponzi scheme.

But what really got my attention was the information—right there, in a paragraph all its own--that the piece, which was based on an in-prison interview and a series of e-mail messages, is part of the reporter's research for her book on the scandal. That's one thing. But the book's title, publisher and that it will come out this spring all were included. I was torn between feeling that this is somehow unseemly—there was a whiff of quid pro quo about it—and wishing that other worthy authors could be so lucky: free advance promotion on the front page of the NYT. Wow. The only thing missing was a link to Amazon for pre-ordering.

The Secret Of Our Brilliance Is Out

Via Boing-Boing, here is "The Secret of the Million-Dollar Briefcase"--an old comic-book style public service announcement about the wonders of books and their most convenient and affordable source, your public library.  A nice reminder that, in these days of budget cuts and anti-government mania, our libraries deserve and desperately need our support.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Light in the Dark?

Every month, more indy bookstores close their doors for good. Recently it was Cody's in San Francisco and Davis-Kidd in Nashville, and soon it will be Bethel Avenue Book Co. in Port Orchard, WA, and The Muses Bookstore in Morganton, NC. But not all news from the world of independent bookselling is bad.

Oblong Books, a small bookstore in picturesque Rhinebeck, NY, was the subject of a front-page feature story in USA Today last Thursday. The 2,600-square-foot store is being increased by 1,000 square feet to make more room for children's books, educational toys, and touring authors. Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of the bookstore with her father, Dick Hermans, reports that 2010 revenue for both Oblong stores (the original, founded by Dick Hermans in 1975, is located in nearby Millerton, NY) was $2.5 million, up 2% from 2009. "We'll happily take that," the younger Hermans says. She credits customer service and her stores' popularity as a community gathering spot for the stores' strong sales. A growing "Buy Local" movement doesn't hurt, either, nor do the stores' vibrant series of author readings; last fall Stephanie Meyer visited Millerton for an Oblong-sponsored event.

In a forward-thinking and perhaps counterintuitive move, Hermans is embracing e-books. Her customers are able to buy them via a link on the stores' websites to the Google eBookstore.

The e-book offering is certainly something that could never have been foreseen when her father opened the first store thirty-six years ago and its stiffest competition was the Book-of-the-Month Club and other mail-order book clubs. "Back then, Amazon was only a South American river, Barnes & Noble sold college textbooks in New York City, and Borders was an independent bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan started by University of Michigan students and brothers Tom and Louis Borders."

While she is clear-eyed about the growing popularity of e-books and the ever-present shadow of Amazon (which accounts for an estimated 22.6% of the book market, according to Albert Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor who studies book retailing), Hermans is also clear about the role of the physical bookstore in today's world. "People may think they can live online, but in reality they live in real towns and cities, and physical bookstores help enrich those places."

No doubt the people of Rhinebeck and Millerton would agree.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Publishing By Subscription: Everything Old Is New Again

Here, via Boing Boing, is a new/old twist on the self-publishing model: Fantasy novelist Diane Duane has financed her latest book, The Big Meow ("third and last in the Feline Wizards sequence") by soliciting advance subscriptions from readers.  The completion of the book was delayed by health and other problems, as Duane explains on her website linked above, but it has now been written and will be made available to subscribers, primarily in ebook format, after it has been edited and designed.  I can't tell from her site how much subscribers were asked to pay, and Duane hasn't disclosed how many individuals took her up on the offer, so there's no way to know how successful the venture was.

This way of publishing books, in which the "author's advance" is generated by direct sales to readers without the intervention of a publisher middleman, goes way back: Samuel Johnson's Dictionary was financed this way in the eighteenth century, and Mark Twain raised money for the publication of U.S. Grant's autobiography by sending salespeople door to door to sell advance subscriptions.

Today, of course, marketing, payment, and delivery of the finished product can all be handled electronically, which saves time and money.  But it would seem that attracting a sufficient number of readers willing to fork over cash months or even years before the product is ready will be a difficult challenge, except perhaps for the handful of authors who already boast an avid fan base.

In the years to come, we'll be seeing more and more experiments with new business models for publishing, and I for one am hesitant about predicting with any assurance which ones will work and which won't.