Publishing’s Summer of George

The publishing landscape is in flux. Yes, we know. There are tons of panels, conferences, articles, blogs, etc. that remind us everyday. Not to say that any of these do not have any merit because some of them do inspire and provide new ideas. I know that Twitter is a great place for publishing peeps to share articles, ideas, and even keep others updated on what is going on at these numerous conferences that seem to say the same thing over and over. It is to the point where I am not even slightly intrigued to attend many of the conferences because I can get most of the pertinent talking points live, via Twitter. I know that the main point of most conferences is to get a chance to socialize and meet with people about the ideas that are being discussed and shared—blah, blah, blah. The point is that there are too many ideas and talking heads out there discussing what is wrong with the industry and even discussing how to fix it[1]. But therein lies the problem, it is just discussion for the most part. This is the issue I have with Twitter. While it allows for many interesting and great ideas to be discussed and shared in a fastidious, real time manner, these ideas seem to go no further than the typical RT.

With BEA coming up, I know there will be many panels discussing what has already been talked about ad nauseam. Enough talk. Let’s start doing[2]. It is a great and exciting time to be in publishing. Thanks to Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Google, and the “death of print media” more people than ever are discussing books and the future of publishing. Now is the time to take these great ideas and have at it.  I think it is important that we keep discussing and sharing ideas openly but it is vital that something becomes of these ideas otherwise it is just intellectual masturbation. We need to take action and do the things that we always said we wanted to do. That being said, I am self-proclaiming this summer, the publishing industry’s Summer of George (HHL is a huge fan of Seinfeld and there is an episode when George gets a 3 month severance and decides to spend his summer doing all of the things he has talked about but never did).

With that in mind, I have decided to focus on a few exciting businesses that will be kicking of this summer that you need to look out for (for various reasons I did not include Open Road Media but love what they are starting to do):

The Literary Platform:

This is site is already out but I am really excited about it as it is “showcasing projects experimenting with literature and technology. It brings together comment from industry figures and key thinkers, and encourages debate.”

This is taken directly from their “About” page. You might be thinking the last sentence about debate might contradict with what I have been saying above, but you would be wrong. The debate would center around projects, meaning something that was made or some action that was taken from an idea.

Cursor:

I have been waiting anxiously for Richard Nash’s new business venture to come to fruition for a while and it looks like this summer the wait is over. Nash recently wrote an article the aforementioned Literary Platform about his new project, Cursor, “a portfolio of niche social publishing communities.” The thing that really intrigues me about Cursor it will have three-year contracts. I was excited about each community being its own imprint but the three-year blew my mind in the best way possible. Any new publisher should consider adopting this model for their contract if they want to be a destination for authors.

Figment:

After researching the cellphone novel phenomena in Japan, Dana Goodyear, formerly of the New Yorker, started Figment to try to bring the excitement of cellphone novels to American teens. There is no doubt that with blogs, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, ereaeders, iPads, etc. that people are reading more than ever. Teens are seem to be texting every chance they get. It only makes sense that there should a site where anyone writing YA can share their work, not only on the Internet but on the devices that the YA market uses more than anything, cellphones. What I really like about Figment is that it is not just for novels written via phone, as in Japan, but also computers. With the popularity of fanficiton, mash-ups, and other self-publishing sites, not to mention the popularity of YA with adults at this point and how that is another market for Figment as well, Figment could possibly be a game changer in the YA world. Be sure to check out Jacob Lewis of Figment at the 7x20x21 panel at BEA.


[1] Yes, I know. I see the irony in pointing out this by doing a blog post.

[2] I realize that it takes time to have ideas come to fruition and that many ideas being discussed via Twitter might be in production as we speak, but you get my point.

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Are we focusing too much on adult books?

I recently attended the Independent and Small Press Book Fair at the NYCIP where Richard Nash gave the keynote speech. Amongst the numerous true and thought-provoking statements that Mr. Nash made that night, there was one item that he brought up that got me thinking. While discussing the amount of time it takes to read a book, he pointed out (excuse the paraphrasing) that adults who have jobs, work later than they used to. He used Mad Men—if you don’t know what this show is and you are on the internet, stop, go to Hulu or AMC.com or wherever you can and watch it—as an exemplar for this. In the show, the men get off at 5 and by the time they drive home, eat dinner, and put the kids to bed it is around 8 pm. This leaves about 3 hours of free time for the adults to read, watch tv, or do whatever they wish before they go to bed. Today’s, average working adults does not get off at 5 and by the time they get home, eat, and put the kids to bed it is more likely 10 pm. Granted, this is an extreme generalization, but the point is that adults do not have as much free time as they used to. As publishers, how do we get these adults with no, or limited, free time to read rather than watch tv, play a video game (yes adults play video games), or surf the internet. There are enhanced ebooks such as the iPhone app for Nick Cave’s The Death of Bunny Monroe, which keeps track of where you are in the book and the reader can toggle back and forth between audio and ebook. Something like this allows for busy parents on the go to read and continue “reading” while they are driving to soccer practice. But this is just one example out of how many books that are out there. After thinking about this issue for a while, the question came to me: Are we focusing too much on adult books?

I look at something like Scholastic Book Club’s Facebook page which is nearing 60K fans and has developed a great community with great conversation, it is something any publisher would love too have in their social media pocket. All of the fans are parents, teachers, and people who have nostalgia for the long time provider of children’s books. What do most of these adults have in common besides their love for Scholastic Book Clubs? Most, if not all, have kids. They read with their kids and like to discuss books that they read with their kids. If they are reading with their kids and not reading in their free time, should publishers be publishing as many adult books as they do? Should there be a focus be more on YA and middle grade books that families can share and read together?

I also think the rising popularity in YA books with adults is something that should be looked at when considering these questions. I only have a few friends who have yet to read The Hunger Games series. How many people do you know who have read the Twilight series? I went into a Barnes and Noble the other day and the fiction section was dominated with YA on all of the tables. As I was writing this, I saw a tweet linking an article in the LA Times talking about adults reading YA.  Should there even be a distinction between YA and adult books? Should books that will appeal to everyone be marketed as such, or is there just nostalgia about reading YA novels as an adult? What is “adult” and what is “YA” and who is reading what?

Me personally, I think good books are good books and should be marketed as such.

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Reading Infinite Jest on an eReader?

I am currently reading The Mezzanine by Nicholas Baker—a great read which I would highly recommend to anyone who is a consumer, has worked in an office, or has, when alone in an elevator, pretended to walk like a windup toy into a wall. The Mezzanine is a short, dense read with multiple footnotes. I am not sure about you, but it always takes me a while to get into the flow of a novel with footnotes—mainly to figure out when to consult the footnote. If the footnote is in the middle of a sentence, do I finish the sentence then go to the footnote? Finish the paragraph or page, then move on to the footnote? After the first 25 pages or so I can get into a rhythm and transition from body copy to footnote seamlessly.

While reading the first 25 pages or so, I began to wonder—how would this reading experience be on an eReader? With the print version of The Mezzanine, I can read footnotes at my leisure. If the footnote continues onto the next page, which happens occasionally in The Mezzanine, I can read the whole footnote and flip back a page and continue reading the body copy. But how would this reading experience work on an eReader? Obviously it would depend on what eReader you have but I think this is an interesting question. I do not have an eReader, other than my iPhone, so I do not know the answer to this question? Has anyone read a book with footnotes on an eReader yet? How was it? I saw that Infinite Jest is available for the Kindle—I would love to know how that reading experience was.

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Best Bar Reads

One of my many resolutions for 2010 is to update this bad boy more often and on a consistent basis.  Unlike my resolution to eat healthier, or my resolution to obtain a jet pack this year—updating this blog is a resolution I plan to maintain. I was waiting for a friend in a bar the other day and was trying to figure out what my first post should be—looking around I couldn’t help but notice a few of the patrons sitting with a drink, reading. I have done this on many occasions as I am sure many of you have, but it got me thinking…what are the best bar reads? Naturally, most people just read what they are currently reading at the time—case in point, I was reading Breakfast of Champions at the time—but what are some books that you would purposely go to a bar to read? What books or authors epitomize sitting in a bar reading? Below, in no particular order, are five of my choices.

1.) Bukowski

– Anything by Bukowski would be the quintessential barfly read—Factotum or Ham on Rye would the first titles of his I would probably read in bar.

Nothing like a shot and a beer with Henry Chinaski by your side.

2.) Jon Fante

– You can’t have Bukowski without Fante, or vice versa. Ask the Dust is my favorite of Fante’s, although Dreams from Bunker Hill has been calling to me lately.

Fante’s alter-ego Arturo Bandini–similar to that of Bukowski’s Henry Chinaski—is a another great character with which to enjoy a heafty drink in a dive bar.

3.) Ernest Hemingway

– A list about drinking and literature would not be complete without Hemingway, just for the fact that he was a renowned drinker and provided some great quotes about drinking:

“Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

– Ernest Hemingway

“An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.”

-Ernest Hemingway

I just picked this title, because this would just be really fun to read towards the end, after a few glasses of whiskey.

4.) Imbibe: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash

-This intoxicating piece of nonfiction by David Wondrich is probably the ultimate bar read.

What better way to spend a night than reading about the history of drinking while getting your drink on. This guy knows:

5.) Dostoevsky or Tolstoy

-Either one of these Russian writers would be great bar reads and something like War and Peace would give you an excuse to come back to the bar a few nights in a row. Of course, one would have to change their drink of choice to vodka.

There are a bunch more which I have yet to mention but what would you read?

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Books Survive “2012”

I had no intention of seeing this movie; however, I had one too many libations the previous night and I was in the mood for watching something that required very little from my brain. The movie itself was what I expected—special effects left and right and a predictable plotline. What I did not expect was the emphasis on books, and print books to be specific, in this movie.

SOMEWHAT OF A SPOILER ALERT!!! John Cusack plays a divorced, struggling writer, Jackson Curtis, whose book, which has sold about 500 copies, is about the end of the world and human nature—crazy I know! One of the other main characters, a scientist working for the U.S. government by the name of Adrian Helmsley—an everyman of sorts, meets Jackson Curtis through chance and what do you know…Adrian is reading Jackson’s book. Stuff happens, the world falls apart, and Jackson is trying to save his family by going to find secret arks that governments have built to save a certain population—blah, blah, blah. Additionally, the president’s daughter, Laura, is working for an organization that places replicas of certain pieces of famous art in galleries around the world—the originals of course will be placed on the arks as well. Obviously because of their status in the government, Laura and Adrian have places on the ark for them, and the following is the part I find intriguing. First, Laura and Adrian are speaking about how they only saved the Picaso’s and DaVinci’s and how they are not saving the everymans’ culture. This is where Adrian interrupts and shows Jackson Curtis’s book and talks about what the odds for a book from a little-known author winding up on the ark are—it is because he, Adrian, happened to be reading it. Then, a few scenes go by and Adrian is opening his bag, Laura makes an observation to the contents of Adrian’s bag…all books and no toothbrush. Now, this everyman could of brought anything with him on the ark…an iPod, a laptop, even an ereader. But no, this everyman brought with him books, and not commercial fiction, but little-known authors that will be the new literary text for humanity. Granted, Adrian is a stretch for an everyman because he is a government official, and I could be reading more into this than there is, but I find it interesting that the character whom represents the everyman—in the year 2012—has no ereader, and of anything that could have been in that bag…it was books.

What do you think?

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Independent’s Day

With New York’s Independent Bookstore Week next week and with the latest addition to the ereader world, the Nook from Barnes and Noble, I’ve been, seeing and having, many discussions about the future of brick-and-mortar booksellers. While I am a believer that print books will always be around, ebooks will begin to play a more prominent role as time goes on. The more ereaders that come out and the cheaper they get, will make ebooks more mainstream. But what does this mean for bookstores though?

There have been many theories within this discourse as to what may happen; many of them have independent booksellers dying out. Looking at this further, this most likely will not be the case. It will be the larger chain retailers that will be affected. Barnes and Noble’s Nook will most likely hurt their brick-and-mortar stores as their digital business takes off. Additionally, with Borders in trouble, one might wonder why chain bookstores will still be around, let alone independents? Chain retailer’s main revenue, as far as books go, consist of the bestselling and mass market titles and authors. Other than the James Pattersons, Nora Roberts, or the latest Oprah book selection, chain bookstores are struggling–midlist titles and authors are definitely not keeping these stores in business. Add in the fact that they are focusing more on the digital market and there is no reason for these chains to carry these smaller titles that only one customer may need once a month. Eventually chain stores will only carry bestselling and mass market authors and won’t be a “bookstore” at all. The more important question is what will a chain bookstore be in the future? As it stands today, chain bookstores have begun to sell much more than books. Music, movies, board games and more fill Barnes and Noble, Borders, etc. Books alone have not been able to sustain their business. What the chain retailers are evolving into isn’t a bookstore at all. Take a look around a Barnes and Noble the next time you go in and see if you notice all the non-book product there is. The presence of non-book product will only continue to grow as the demand for print books decrease and as the focus on digital space for these retailers increases.

In addition to the non-book product, chain retailers are encouraging their customers to use their ecommerce rather than come into the store. Borders just announced an “In-Stock Guarantee” program where if the book is not in-stock, “the store will provide free shipping on any item listed on Borders.com that is not carried in a store where a customer is shopping.” This begs the question, why would a customer go into Borders if they know that the retailer might not have it, especially when they could order it from the website and guarantee that they get it without leaving home? Granted, the obvious answer is the instant gratification of buying a book from a bookstore. But if Barnes and Noble and others are focusing more on ecommerce, the digital space, and selling more non-book product, who is going to deliver this instant gratification of midlist print books?

With the evolution of the chain bookstores, independents will play a lager role and have a chance to become what they once were—the source for print books. Independents can capitalize on the fact that chains will be focusing only on those popular print titles and can make themselves the place to go for print books. With this need for instant gratification, there will be a demand for expertise and knowledge of print titles that will no longer be at the chain retailers. This is something independents already have. There is a great quote from Malcom Gladwell on New York’s Independent Bookstore Week’s site:

“There is a little independent bookstore down the street from my house…where I buy almost all of my books. It’s the size of a small apartment. There’s something special about a place where you know that someone has thought about every book in the store.”

There is something intangible that independent bookstores offer and with the changing landscape they have an opportunity to take advantage and maybe it will be independent’s day again. This is probably an idealistic outlook–what do you think?

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Quite the Character

With Halloween coming up on Saturday, and the recent release of Where the Wild Things Are, I am sure there will be plenty unoriginal ghouls donning  Max’s pjs for this years hallow’s eve. It seems every now and then a literary figure, fictional or real, gets popular through some from of media (i.e. Harry Potter, Max, etc.) and is all the rage for Halloween. This got me thinking…what other literary costumes would I like to see this year, or anytime? Here is a list of a few costumes that I would like to see:

1.) Jay Gatsby – This would be tricky to do in order to make it instantly recognizable, maybe have a green light dangling if front of the costume. A must would to toss money around everywhere you go, makin’ it rain with monopoly money! I think this would be a great group costume as some could dress in 1920s flapper gear.

Who knew that Paul Rudd was in this?

Who knew that Paul Rudd was in this?

3.) Charles Bukowski – Basically for this you could just wear a stained wife-beater and some slacks while carrying around a bottle of whiskey and screaming obscenities! Somewhat similar to Matt Dillon in Factotum.

4.) Ms. Frizzle – If a girl did this it would be amazing!! A crazy dress with crazy hair and a stuffed animal lizard = awesome costume!It would be even more awesome if you got someone to dress up as the bus!

4.) Mark Twain – I don’t think I have ever seen anyone dress up as good ol’ Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  The best thing about it would be that the next year you could use the same stuff and dress up as Albert Einstein.

MARK TWAINS WASHINGTON

5.) Truman Capote – This would be an amazing costume, especially if you had a girl dress up with you as Harper Lee. I am talking Truman Capote from Infamous, not that shitty movie Capote with Philip Seymour Hoffman. Why the hell they cast him as Truman Capote I will never know.

6.) Jane Eyre – There are a number of ways you could do this, but I think the best would be to have someone else dress up as a blind Rochester and a third dress up as Bertha in chains and she could run around being all crazy! Bertha would obviously have to look like Jane since she is Jane’s doppelganger, but she could be waving around a torch or something. Personally, I just think this would be hilarious!

I have a bunch more but this could go on forever, these were the first 6 that popped into my head. Which ones would you want to see?

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