For discussion: do you support this view of publishing and writing?

from PEN America

PEN AMERICA RESPONDS TO ‘AMERICAN DIRT’ CONTROVERSY

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(New York, NY) – Following news that the publisher of American Dirt plans to cancel its book tour, PEN America issued the following statement:“We have been closely following the debate concerning American Dirt, which implicates concerns at the heart of PEN America’s mission. Our organization has long been committed to the vital work of amplifying lesser-heard voices, and we are staunch advocates of increased diversity, equity, and inclusion in publishing. In our public programming, we strive to present the broadest array of writers from across the country and around the world. We have dedicated programs focused on fostering writing among individuals who are incarcerated, undocumented immigrant youth, and others who might be locked out of the literary community due to resources, background, or other factors. And we have engaged deeply over the last two years in combating online harassment, and recognize its particular silencing impact on women writers and writers of color.“As writers, we believe in the necessity of reasoned discourse across differences. The breadth of passionate perspectives unleashed by this controversy has sparked an overdue public conversation. We urge that this dialogue unfold in the realm of ideas and opinions, and avoid descending into either ad hominem attacks or caricature. As defenders of freedom of expression, we categorically reject rigid rules about who has the right to tell which stories. We see no contradiction between that position and the need for the publishing industry to urgently address its own chronic shortcomings. If the fury over this book can catalyze concrete change in how books are sourced, edited, and promoted, it will have achieved something important. It is past time to equip, resource, and elevate a wider group of voices to speak for themselves and about their experiences. As a nearly 100-year-old organization, we have our own historic legacies, blind spots, and challenges to reckon with. We look at this debate through the lens of how we can continue to evolve to better fulfill our mission.

“Finally, we reject all threats of violence, as well as vitriol aimed to shut down discussion and enforce silence. In our digital discourse, harsh invective too easily gives way to threats and intimidation that have a chilling effect not only on their targets, but on entire topics or points of view. We believe such approaches impair, rather than advance, what is an urgent and essential debate.”

###

If you haven’t been following the “American Dirt” controversy, you can find information here.

Gurus say authors need websites

In previous posts, I’ve noted that sites for name authors and sites for little-known authors are often quite different. The main difference is that prospective readers are searching for name authors’ sites and, I suppose, stumbling across little-known authors’ sites. Name authors can do less to promote their sites because people are coming there anyway.

Little-known authors seem to do better with sites featuring non-fiction than fiction because non-fiction usually focuses on subjects people are trying to learn more about and, in fact, are often just a portion of a larger site that promotes the business itself.

Fiction is a bit harder to sell because it’s tied so strongly to author name (or evolving notoriety), to reviews from major sites, and genre. Little-known authors seldom get reviews from major sites, so nothing “out there” is providing any help for their sites.

I’ve never sold books directly off my website because I don’t have time to handle a business where time spent getting paid and then driving to the post office with a book isn’t worth it. Non-fiction sites seem to be better equipped to deal with direct sales.

Some years ago, I gave up my original website provider because they had two versions of their website publishing software, ultimately keeping the version that was probably easier for them to support, but that had fewer features. The provider offered enough analysis of visitors’ behavior for me to see that the website also wasn’t earning its keep. By that, I mean, that there were too few click-throughs to my books’ links on Amazon and elsewhere.

My current site’s software is cheaper but has no analysis. But, based on the visitor counts (which aren’t too bad), I see little evidence that people are being influenced enough by the information on the site to buy the books.

So now, as the time approaches for me to decide whether to renew or delete the site, I’m leaning toward deleting it because Amazon algorithms and associated book advertisement newsletters have made it harder to sell books; I find that keeping the site is likely to cause me to run at a loss in 2020.

If you’re an author, do you have a website? If so, can you tell whether it’s helping you sell books or not? If it isn’t, do you keep it because it’s rather expected for authors to have a site–or for some other reason?

Just wondering,

Malcolm

Being “underrated” might be the good luck the writer is hoping for

“The realisation usually comes slowly. First, there is the conspicuous absence of reviews, publicity spots and invitations to literary festivals. Then there is the all-too-swift removal of your title from the glamorous New Release section of the bookstore, and its relegation to the densely packed Australian fiction shelves in the bowels of the shop. Lastly and most humiliatingly, you see that the single copy of your book has been turned perpendicular to the wall, now only visible by its spine. At this point, you know your novel has lived its short, inglorious life and there will be only a few more spluttering sales before it passes into the annals of the entirely ignored.” – Ilka Tampke in Writing is tough. My book went so unnoticed I won an award for it

Tampke says she was embarrassed about the award. Her family thought it was a joke. She didn’t even want to tweet about it because that would imply her publisher hadn’t done a good job when she thought they had.

I have mixed feelings about this award and also about lists that come out about this time every year about the most underrated books of the year. Excuse my cynicism, but most small-press books never become well known enough to be considered underrated. An entire segment of the bookselling industry is so far off the RADAR of the all-knowing and all-powerful movers and shakers that we’re totally ignored when sighs and whispers for underrated books are handed out.

At least, when a book is called “underrated,” much less getting an award for it, it is getting some publicity. Finally, somebody has noticed it. I understand the author’s embarrassment because I feel it with every book I write. It’s not my fault, nor my publisher’s fault because it’s an industry-wide problem: completely apathy from mainstream reviewers and publications about small-press (sometimes called boutique-press) books. The result is a real or imagined collusion between those who write about books and the big presses that control the industry.

If your book is labelled as “underrated,” you might have a chance because calling it underrated causes people to hear about it. Not that anyone really wants their long-time writing effort to end up in that category.

While Tampke is quick to point out that a writer’s primary motivation is not recognition, she adds that “The gift of the Most Underrated Book Award is that it gives my idea a second life. It says that the conversation begun by my book is worth continuing. It is a quietly handsome, yet sensitive man, walking over and finally asking my bespectacled girl to dance.”

I also don’t think writers write because we’re seeking gushing reviews and hefty monetary prizes. However, writing is a business and so a certain amount of recognition is required for that business to be profitable. That doesn’t happen when reviewers and off-book-page article writers ignore small-press books. There’s just no level playing field here.

I am happy to be with a wonderful small press, Thomas-Jacob Publishing, a Florida based publisher that releases books on the premise that “Readers want quality books that stimulate thoughtful discussion and debate.” My colleagues and I write books about issues that matter, so we’re always pleased when they find an audience. All we need now is for a major publication like The Guardian to come along and say, “Wow, look at these underrated books.”

Malcolm

 

 

Where Should I Buy My ISBNs?

“But wait a minute,” you say. “I saw a site on the internet selling really cheap ISBNs. Why can’t I buy one of those?

”You can, but I wouldn’t. While Bowker does have a very select few legitimate ‘Channel Partners’ with whom they work, such as Amazon, those fly-by-night companies you see all over the internet selling cheap ISBNs are almost certainly not affiliated with Bowker, and thus are not authorized to sell you an ISBN. So why do they do it?

Source: Where Should I Buy My ISBNs? | Celebrating Independent Authors

Look before you leap; there are a lot of scammers out there targeting aspiring writers who are trying to cut costs. Yet, those authors might actually be cutting their throats.

I’m happy to have a publisher who writes for Indies Unlimited. She does a lot of research and that saves us money. ISBNs don’t grow on trees. So, if somebody is selling them cheaply, there’s a reason and it probably ain’t good. If you’re into self-publishing or are running a small press for your books, this is a must-read article.

–Malcolm

Book Bits: ‘Ninth House,’ Mordicai Gerstein, Leslie Jamison, Quentin Tarantino, Margaret Atwood

Many of my sources for books and authors links for this occasional feature have become politicized and/or issues-oriented. By that I mean, the links support authors and books speaking out about U.S. politics and/or the primary issues of the day. They’re not “bad,” they’re simply more commentary than literature.

In general, I try to avoid those links because I don’t want to appear to have an agenda, nor do I want to get away from the purpose of this blog: in part, providing books and authors readers might find interesting.

  1. Review: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo – “Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story…With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.” Kirkus Reviews.
  2. Obituary: “Mordicai Gerstein, author and illustrator of dozens of works for young readers, among them The Night World, Sleeping Gypsy, and I Am Pan, died September 24. Gerstein provided the artwork for numerous works by other writers, and was awarded the 2004 Caldecott Medal for his picture book The Man Who Walked Between the Towers.” Shelf Awareness
  3. Jamison

    Interview: A Conversation Between Leslie Jamison and Kaveh Akbar – “Leslie Jamison makes her life more difficult than it needs to be. In her most recent essay collection, Make it Scream, Make it Burn, the subjects she chooses—the world’s loneliest whale, Second Life devotees, the Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia—could carry the pieces with their propulsive novelty alone. Certainly, Jamison is brilliant enough as a sculptor of language that we’d happily oblige her. But what makes Jamison one of the essential essayists of our generation is her rigor. She renders her subjects, the world that made them, and her own gaze all within the same frame.” Paris Review

  4. Quotation: “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” ― J.D. Salinger
  5. Books to Film: Tarantino’s Next Big Project Is… a Book About a Guy Who Loves Movies – “Quentin Tarantino may follow through with his plan to stop making movies after his Star Trek one or his horror movie one or Kill Bill 3, but that doesn’t mean he’ll stop making other things. The filmmaker will probably shift over to directing plays or extremely long movies that Netflix will awkwardly chop up and pretend are miniseries, or maybe, he’ll just reinvent himself as a novelist—since the guy has already started on a book, apparently.” Vice
  6. Lists: The 10 Best Debut Novels of the Decade – “Friends, it’s true: the end of the decade approaches. It’s been a difficult, anxiety-provoking, morally compromised decade, but at least it’s been populated by some fine literature. We’ll take our silver linings where we can.” Literary Hub
  7. Feature: Book Gallery: Margaret Atwood and Octavia E. Butler – “Few authors get our pulses racing like Margaret Atwood and Octavia E. Butler, and luckily enough, our friends at The Folio Society have just released gorgeous new editions of important works by both.” Flavorwire
  8. Lists: Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Winterson, Lerner, Díaz, Walbert, and More – “Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Jeanette WintersonBen LernerJaquira Díaz, Kate Walbert, and more—that are publishing this week.” The Millions.

Book Bits is compiled randomly by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of the comedy/satire Special Invetigative Reporter.

The Long, Winding Road to Publication 

I have given a lot of thought to those 15 years, and what I learned from that huge mistake of turning down the offer from HarperCollins. I’ve wondered why I would have been so willing to subject myself to being treated like a commodity, as the major publishers tend to do, rather than working with people who value your work for what it is. And one thing became clear. It’s not the money, although that certainly helps. It’s more a matter of being taken seriously, of having your efforts validated. It’s about avoiding that feeling of meeting writers you admire and having them dismiss you because you’re an unknown author. I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve experienced this, and it’s an awful feeling.

Source: The Long, Winding Road to Publication – The Millions

Most published authors can tell you a story like Russell Rowland, if not worse. Editors quit, agents move on, publishers change directions, reviewers only pay attention to big houses and big books, it goes on and on. If you’re an aspiring author, Rowland’s long, winding road is a cautionary tale.

Readers, who enjoy his books are likely to say, “He should have been treated better than this,,” or “If a successful author has to fight to a contract, what chance to those of us right out of school have in this business?” The answer is always “Slim to none.”

A friend on my Facebook list, who is very well known, honestly reports on her weekly writing activity, including rejections. Rejections? What’s wrong with the people who are reviewing her work for possible publication. She is more well-known than Roland but still has to fight for every sale.

Publishing has always been this way though, it appears to me, it’s much harder today than it was 25 years ago to have a manuscript considered by either an agent or a sizeable publisher. I don’t know why. Perhaps publishers were losing too much money considering everything. Or perhaps it’s more difficult now because profit margins are smaller and everyone wants to be a writer.

Dorothy Parker once suggested that if you have any friends who want to be writers, one of the best things you can do is “Shoot them now, while they’re happy.”  When I was a college teacher, several students asked about their odds of becoming successful authors. None of them liked my response and (so far) I haven’t seen any of their names on a bestseller list.

I like writing, but it’s somewhat of a curse; as long as you know that, you’re ready to go.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell’s most recent novel is a mystery/satire.

 

 

 

 

Tinkering with the blog and the website

One never knows for sure what works.

So, this weekend, I got rid of two of the pages on this blog and updated the “About Me” page. One new page will rotate through a series of excerpts from my novels. The other will have related pictures of all kinds. Right now, it’s showing examples of the page proofs for the dust jackets when we came out with the hardcover editions.

When I first came out with Conjure Woman’s Cat, my website included a page about conjure. I decided that after adding two more conjure novels to the series, I really didn’t need a “conjure page” per se. Initially, I thought such a page would attract people interested in conjure who would then discover the novels. I don’t think that happened.

That page is now a page for excerpts. There are three there now. I hope to remain organized enough to change them from time to time so that there’s always something new on the website.

My publisher tells me that Thomas-Jacob Publishing’s hardcover books are selling. That’s certainly good news. My colleagues at T-J and I thank you.

My website is always in a state of flux. Frankly, that’s because I never know what information there attracts readers and what doesn’t. I also debate (with myself) how long something should stay there. I want more people to see items, but I don’t want them to come out to the site a few weeks later and find the same stuff. I’m winging it on this but usually, try to include something new every week.

My blog posts and tweets have feeds on the website. I have no clue whether that’s bad or good. At the very least, those feeds represent “new material.”

Most days, I think that bookselling is more of a gamble than either an art or a science.

Malcolm