Book Bits: Harlan Ellison, The Essay, Booker Prize, James Patterson

As “Poets & Writers” reports, this is a busy week in books news:  “Barack Obama’s highly anticipated memoir released today, the National Book Awards will be announced on Wednesday, the Booker Prize ceremony is on Thursday, and the Times will release its “100 Notable Books of 2020” list on Friday.” Seemed like a good day to post my first Book Bits in a while. 

  • NewsAn Epic Week for the Books Desk – “We talked to Pamela Paul, the editor of The Book Review, and Andrew LaVallee, a deputy editor on the Books desk, about how they’ve been preparing for the big week, the impact of the pandemic on the publishing world and what titles they’re keeping on their own night stands.” (The New York Times)
  • Wikipedia Photo
    Feature. Harlan Ellison’s The Last Dangerous Visions may finally be published by Alison Flood- “It is the great white whale of science fiction: an anthology of stories by some of the genre’s greatest names, collected in the early 1970s by Harlan Ellison yet mysteriously never published. But almost 50 years after it was first announced, The Last Dangerous Visions is finally set to see the light of day.” (The Guardian)
  • Interview. What Makes a Great American Essay? by Phillip Lopate – “Talking to Phillip Lopate About Thwarted Expectations, Emerson, and the 21st-Century Essay Boom.” (Literary Hub)
  • Upcoming Title: New Fiction from Robert Hays – “When faced with the end, how does one reconcile the pieces of an ordinary life? Does a man have the right to wish for wings to carry him to a summit he believes he doesn’t deserve to reach?” (Thomas-Jacob Publishing)
  • News: “The New York Times reports on the ongoing bidding over Simon & Schuster, which was put up for sale by its parent company, ViacomCBS, early this year. Penguin Random House and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, are considered leading bidders.” (Poets & Writers)
  • Point of View: Wikipedia, “Jeopardy!,” and the Fate of the Fact by Louis Menand – “Is it still cool to memorize a lot of stuff? Is there even a reason to memorize anything? Having a lot of information in your head was maybe never cool in the sexy-cool sense, more in the geeky-cool or class-brainiac sense. But people respected the ability to rattle off the names of all the state capitals, or to recite the periodic table. It was like the ability to dunk, or to play the piano by ear—something the average person can’t do. It was a harmless show of superiority, and it gave people a kind of species pride.” (New Yorker)
  • Wikipedia Photo
    News: Patterson Was Decade’s Bestselling Author by Jim Milliot – “From 2010 to 2019, James Patterson sold 84 million units across print and e-book formats, making him the past decade’s bestselling author at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Patterson’s sales total was double that of Dr. Seuss, and more than those of Stephen King, David Baldacci, and John Grisham combined, BookScan said.” (Publishers Weekly)
  • Book Bits used to be compiled randomly but now appears to be compiled sporadically by author Malcolm R. Campbell

    New website (yeah, I know, I said I was through with them)

    My first websites were with Homestead. I especially liked their editor which gave me pinpoint control of everything on the page. At one point, when money was tight, I canceled all that. More recently, my website was hosted by GoDaddy. Not bad, though the editor wasn’t as cool as Homestead’s. Like my old Homestead site, the GoDaddy site had a featured domain name and some add on stuff that raised the price over time until, as I mentioned in this blog before, it just got too danged expensive.

    Then, too, changes at Amazon impacted our book sales in a negative way while I was paying $100000000 for cancer radiation treatments and having no luck whatsoever getting another novel up and running. So, goodbye to GoDaddy.

    Okay, the novel Fate’s Arrows is finally in the editing/formatting stages and I think it’s going to be okay. So, hello to Homestead again, this time without a unique domain name and a cheaper package. I’m still working on getting bugs, typos, and other glitches out of the site. If you any problems with it, let me know.

    Will the site sell books? Maybe a few. Readers seem to expect authors to have websites even though most of an authors’ books aren’t usually sold off the site. Heck, maybe it’s a vanity thing. We’ll see how it goes.

    Malcolm

     

    Small Press Publishing

    “Since the profit margins for small presses can be narrow, many are driven by other motives, including the desire to help disseminate literature with only a small likely market. Many presses are also associated with crowdfunding efforts that help connect authors with readers. Small presses tend to fill the niches that larger publishers neglect. They can focus on regional titles, narrow specializations and niche genres. They can also make up for commercial clout by creating a reputation for academic knowledge, vigorously pursuing prestigious literature prizes and spending more effort nurturing the careers of new authors. At its most minimal, small press production consists of chapbooks. This role can now be taken on by desktop publishing and Web sites. This still leaves a continuum of small press publishing: from specialist periodicals, short runs or print-to-order of low-demand books, to fine art books and limited editions of collectors’ items printed to high standards.” – Wikipedia

    Some say that a small press is a publisher with annual sales under $50,000 and/or that publishes ten or fewer titles per year. Jane Friedman notes that they tend to have more flexible contract terms than the giant publishers. Personally, I like small presses because they focus on niche areas, regions, and genres that might make them a better fit for my work than a giant publisher.

    While authors often speak favorably of the staff associated with imprints and divisions of large publishers, I think one is more likely to find a family/community atmosphere at a small publisher. In my wrap party post, I mentioned that the late Pat Conroy said of one of his books that his publisher had assigned some 15+ people to get his book out–from editors to book designers to cover artists to publicists.

    At a small press, those 15 jobs might be done by several people and, as is true with my publisher Thomas-Jacob, by one person with a little bit of contractor help. This tells you that those who own and manage small presses are working out of a strong passion for their specialty areas–a labor of love that’s similar to a two or three-person bookstore as contrasted with chains or major independents such as Powell’s.

    Small Press Listings.

    New Pages, a handy writer’s resource, maintains an alphabetized list of small presses here. Some are sponsored or featured and have more extensive writer ups. The New Pages blog is filled with a large assortment of writing opportunities.

    Poets & Writers maintains a listing os small presses here. You can sort these by genre and sub-genre.

    Bookfox maintains a list of the 30 Best Small and Indie Literary Publishers. This list is annotated.

    Powell’s Books, the largest independent book store in the country, has a list of 24 of Our Favorite Small Presses.

    I like Powell’s introduction to its small-press list: “Most readers are familiar with the big publishing houses, like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, but there are thousands of independent, smaller presses in the US and abroad committed to publishing diverse and debut voices, unconventional narratives, and works in translation, as well as hosting workshops and community programs. In honor of National Small Press Month, and with no small amount of hand-wringing — there are so many excellent choices — we present 24 of our favorite indie presses.”

    I’ve just scratched the surface here about listings and the publishing benefits of small presses. My point is, there are hundreds of opportunities out there for your books if you don’t want to try a so-called BIG NEW YORK PUBLISHER. Big publishers deal in volume, so if you’re sending, say, your second book to one of them, they might expect your first book to have sold 15,000 to 20,000 copies. Some won’t look at your work if they don’t think it can sell 50,000 copies. You need a special kind of writing and a remarkable platform to break into this world.

    A small press is much more likely to leave the porch light on for you.

    Malcolm

    Announcing Bumblehill Press

    I’m very pleased to announce that we’re dipping our toes into the water of publishing with the establishment of Bumblehill Press. To begin with, the press will be focused on bringing some of my backlist of short stories and mythic essays out in ebook editions…but once we get the hang of this, who knows where it might lead?

    The first publication is “The Color of Angels,” a short story about a London artist who flees to the myth-haunted hills of Dartmoor as her life and her health start to crumble around her. The tale is loosely connected to my desert novel The Wood Wife (the protagonists of each, Tat Ludvik and Maggie Black, have been close friends since their university days), but can be easily read on its own.

    Source: Myth & Moor: Myth & Moor news: announcing Bumblehill Press

    I’m a long-time fan of the art and writing of Terri Windling, so the formation of a new publisher is great news. I saw this announcement several days ago on her blog and thought it was worth sharing, especially for those of us who like folklore and fairy tales.

    –Malcolm

    Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign

    Over the weekend, you might have seen a writing-and-money topic trending on Twitter, #PublishingPaidMe, where authors started publicly sharing their advances. Such transparency is long overdue and—in this particular case—is meant to reveal stark differences between what Black and non-Black authors get paid.

    Amidst these tweets, I saw a repeated call to action for Black authors: Before you agree to a deal, ask your publisher about their marketing and promotion plans for your book. Ask how they plan to support you. Ask, ask, ask. (Because their support falls short of where it needs to be, and publishers have to be pushed.)

    Source: Questions to Ask Your Publisher Before You Sign | Jane Friedman

    Many prospective authors think seeking a publisher is passé because they (a) don’t want to go to the trouble, (b) see finding a publisher is a long, hard road, (c) prefer to self-publish their books in order to have “control.”

    Most books don’t sell, but they’re more likely to sell with the editing and support a publisher can provide–even a small publisher. To get the best possible publisher/author match, Jane Friedman expects you so ask questions rather than saying “OMG, a publisher responded to my query letter, so the last thing I’m going to do is rock the boat by doing anything to ensure we’re in sync.”

    This article is long because you have a lot of questions to ask about publisher responsibilities, book quality, bookstores, marketing, and interacting with readers. The article ends with a “cookie-cutter” example of a marketing plan.

    All this is well worth a writer’s consideration before s/he rushes off to Kindle Direct Publishing or Lulu.

    –Malcolm

    Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” a novel about racism in north Florida in the 1950s.

     

    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.