Category Archives: Michael

1

Manufacturing a bestseller

There’s been a lot of hubbub recently about authors gaming the bestseller lists, spurred by this story in the WSJ last week. While the company mentioned in the article may be new, the phenomenon is not. Business book authors, in particular, have used similar tactics in the past, hiring companies that would have copies of their books purchased from stores that report to the New York Times to get onto their list. Publishers do their own version of this, sending authors out on tour to pump up first week sales in select markets in the hopes of getting on regional and national lists.

The ubiquity of Nielsen BookScan data has made gaming lists harder, since it’s no longer just newspapers calling around to certain stores and asking what’s selling. Sales are much more easily verifiable, so pumping up an underperforming book isn’t as easy. Then again, when you can order copies of your book online, you no longer need buyers in different cities to make yourself look good. All you need is a credit card!

All this talk reminded me of an amazing story I read on The Awl a while back about a radio DJ named Jean Shepherd who orchestrated an amazing media hoax back in the 50s. He enlisted the help of listeners of his late-nite show to try to get an non-existent book onto the bestseller list. There are a lot of twists and turns, and I’ll let you read the story instead of summarizing. It’s worth the time.

And, it just goes to show, nihil sub sole novum.

1

Random thoughts from this week

Yesterday, I know I had a great idea for a blog post. Perhaps it was the Novocain at the dentist, but today I have no clue what that idea was. I know for sure that it was genius, perhaps world-altering, but alas, it is lost like Atlantis. Instead, some random thoughts from the week:

  • I really liked this “7 Things I’ve Learned So Far” post from Melanie Gideon over at Writer’s Digest.  The question of to-Google-or-not-to-Google is always a big one, and I tend to agree it’s best to let a trusted friend or spouse filter through all the information and present just the important things–both good and bad.
  • Speaking of Google, their Valentine’s Day doodle is quite possibly my favorite yet. Too cute!
  • B&N’s Nook news isn’t good. I wonder if they should go back to selling books?
  • The DOJ cleared the Random House/Penguin merger in record time and without any conditions. Maybe they’re being lenient since Penguin (and now Random House, as part of Penguin Random House) agreed to the e-book settlement.
  • And, finally, if you want to feel old: Scholastic announced a new cover for the first Harry Potter book to coincide with the 15th anniversary of its first publication.  I think Kazu Kibuishi did an amazing job. That’s one brave dude to tackle such a daunting challenge!
3

Reading in the new year

January has been off to a busy start! I don’t know about you, but I’m excited to have an extra 24 hours this holiday weekend, in part to catch up on some work reading, but also to do some reading for fun, too.  Last night, I was excited when Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief downloaded to my iPad, and despite it being late and me being exhausted, I had to crack it open for a bit. I pre-ordered the book ages ago, and have been dying to read it. I’ve always been interested in religion in an academic way, though my interest has primarily been in classical religions and early Christianity. But when I read the Paul Haggis profile piece Wright did in The New Yorker in 2011, I knew I wanted more. All of this is to say, the book was definitely my most-anticipated of the very early new year.
With most of the year still ahead, I’m curious to know what you’re most looking forward to. Which books will you be adding to the TBR pile in 2013?
6

The Times it is a-changing

For the first time since 2004, the New York Times has made changes to their children’s bestseller lists. Up to this change, there were picture book, chapter book, paperback and series lists, with ten titles on each list (see here, though you’ll have to scroll down and click on the link for each list individually). There were complaints about the list (there are always complaints about the list), and publishers had been pushing for more space, especially as children’s sales increased dramatically. For comparison, the adult hardcover fiction list has fifteen slots, plus twenty on the extended list, for thirty-five slots total. In addition, many of us in the industry have complained about non-fiction titles dominating the chapter book list, particularly some licensed, toy-based books. The bestseller list is an important sales tool, not just an indicator of sales, and we know that the “New York Times Bestseller” designation for a book and author mean more attention from stores, libraries and consumers. Those of us bothered by the inclusion of those books felt that there were other titles that would benefit more from the attention that making the list brings, whereas these branded books would sell the same number of copies, with or without the designation. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be on a list; the chapter book list just seemed an odd fit.

So, when I heard from a source that the lists would be changing, I was hopeful. Sadly, this is definitely a case of “be careful what you wish for.” In their statement that proceeds the new list, the Times says they’ve made these changes in the list to reflect the changes in the book world, i.e. e-books. So now they have a picture book, middle grade, young adult, and series lists. The lists are format agnostic, so all hardcover, paperback and e-book sales on a title are included in the count. In addition, the MG and YA lists now include a short, five-slot extended list.

This all seems like it should be positive. I’ve been arguing that e-book sales should count towards the list, and there are ten new slots. But looking at the results for the first week, it’s disappointing. In splitting the books onto MG and YA (I can’t wait for when the Times puts a book on the “wrong” list), all of the children’s non-fiction, including those licensed books that drive me nuts, moved to the MG list. As such, eight of the top ten are nonfiction, and only two of those are narrative. The YA list is free of non-fiction, which is great. And it’s nice to see the quality, depth and breadth of the books on the list. But digging into the sales numbers a bit, it’s clear just how disadvantaged MG books are. Without the non-fiction to compete with, the YA list features titles on the main list that aren’t selling as well as some of the titles on the MG extended list. I’m basing this on one list, but from what I can see, it’s going to be much more difficult to have a MG bestseller than a YA one.

Though we know the times is now tracking hardcover, paperback and e-book sales for each title, it’s also unclear how the sales are weighted (and the Times guards their formula closely). The biggest question in this regard are about e-books. Are they tracking self-published books that are categorized as YA or MG? Does the price of the book effect the weighting? Could a publisher put an e-book on sale and watch their book jump onto the list? Making the list has always had an element of gamesmanship (colleagues and I like to joke about which book will magically land in the #10 spot, oftentimes despite dismal sales), but I think we’re in for an intense period of experimentation to see how e-book sales impact recognition.

And, I have one last complaint. With the start of the new MG and YA lists, the Times has reset each title’s “weeks on the list” count to 1. That means that Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF went from 272 weeks on the list back down to 1. It’s going to make it awfully tough for the next few months to easily see which books have been successful in the long run. Over time, this would cease to be an issue, but I hope the Times figures out a way to restore those “weeks on” counts.

End of rant. Any thoughts about the new lists and their impact?

6

Literary Spirits

Halloween is just around the corner, and as usual, it’s only increased my appetite for ghost stories. I’ve loved them since I was a kid and had my own paranormal experience while at my grandmother’s house. That incident seemed more likely due to my overactive imagination than supernatural forces, but it only increased my fascination with the specters, ghouls and the like. Two books in particular, though, solidified my love of all things macabre: A House with a Clock in Its Walls by John Bellairs and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, and its many sequels, by Alvin Schwartz with art by Stephen Gammell. The former made me sleep with a light on for the days I spent reading it–I swore I could hear ticking! And the latter was the most passed-around book in second grade and one that terrified me even in broad daylight. I’ll admit, I’m pretty easily frightened, but I have a feeling those books will be terrifying children for years to come.

What got me thinking about all of this, though, was a list of haunted restaurants here in LA, which then got me searching for a list of haunted libraries. And I found it! It’s helpfully broken down by region, so there’s sure to be one near you. It turns out I have a handful to go see right here in Southern California, and I’m going to go exploring my next free weekend. Sadly, the one I most one to go to, the Brand Library in Glendale, is closed for renovation. Here’s hoping the spirits stick around through all the construction noise!

Do any of you have haunted library tales or favorite scary books?

12

Film-to-book

I’ve been on a movie kick recently. I’m not a huge fan of going to the movies these days, as I don’t like crowds and hate having to deal with other people talking, coughing, chewing, kicking my seat, texting, etc. But I’ve been making more of a point to go, because there are still some things I want to see on the big screen. I was very eager to see The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest epic. I’m a fan of his work (except I absolutely hated Punch Drunk Love, though I feel like I may need to see it again), and especially loved There Will Be Blood, which was, in my opinion, the best American film of the last decade (and one of the greatest movies ever made, period). I’m still sorting through my reaction to the movie, and like a really good book, I actually want to go see it all over again to view it differently and see what new conclusions I can draw. Plus, it’s one of the most beautiful movies, having been shot in 65mm, and I want to see it again at that scale. I also finally saw Weekend, a great, small indie film about a relationship that takes place over the course of a weekend. I watched that one at home, and the setting somehow felt right for the intimate, cramped feel of the film. I’m not dying to see this one again–I think I got what I needed in one viewing–but it’s the kind of simple storytelling that packs a punch.

I go through these movies phases about once a year, and I find it’s always the time when the most book ideas come to me, too. Though reading other books and listening to music can have a similar effect, there’s something in my brain that reacts very strongly to moving images, and it gets my creative juices flowing. I have an author who’s the same way and sees just about every movie imaginable. And, like me, he gets really inspired by them, and often comes up with fantastic new ideas after seeing a great movie. But in the end, he and I take those ideas and bring them back to book form–the opposite of how it usually goes, when books are adapted for the screen. 

I’m curious if any of you are as inspired by the film world as you are the book world. Or is there some other art form that inspires your writing? 

2

When all else fails…

I started a longer blog post on communication between authors and agents earlier, but it’s going to have to wait, as our book club meeting quickly approaches and I won’t be able to finish. I promise to follow up on the topic at some point in the future.

Whenever I’m under pressure for blog content, I think, “Cats!” So, for your reading pleasure, a link to these 19 photos of cats and books from Buzzfeed. Frankly, it’s probably more entertaining than what I was working on. Enjoy!

6

Just read the @&$%#*! book

I represent a lot of children’s and young adult authors, which puts me into contact with more children and young adults than I have in my real life. I don’t know much about children. I understand that they start out as cute, sweet-smelling bundles of joy that never let you sleep, morph into walking, talking time bombs, then get cute again for a few years, then get an influx of hormones and only communicate via text message. Correct me if I’m wrong.

I set Google alerts for my clients so that I can keep up with what the internet is saying about them, which is like a great, free news clipping service (if anyone remembers those). But the internet doesn’t just have news, and I get a lot of junk links, too. But my favorite links are the ones that pop up at least weekly on Yahoo! Answers, that go about like this: “What is the theme of X novel? Who are the main characters and what are their motivations in Y? I need to write a book report; what happens at the end of Z?” This is Cliff’s Notes for the 21st Century. Sadly, it gets worse. Sometimes these same poor souls email the authors directly, begging for help on a paper. They really can’t figure out the central conflict of the book, but you can surely help, author! Amazingly, I have even gotten such emails from students, imploring me for help getting the answer from my author. I’ll give this to teenagers: they’re ballsy!

So, I was tickled today to find this link (via PW Daily) about author D.C. Pierson’s answer to a similar question about his book. I’ve been dying to find the appropriate response (please see title for what I’m tempted to say) for students who ask me such questions, and now I have an answer I can point them to. It won’t be the one they’re looking for, but it just might be the one they need.

What do you think was the theme of this post? Can you identify the central conflict? Let me know if the comments, or just find out on Yahoo! Answers.

2

Twitter chat at 9:30 EDT/6:30 PDT

A quick reminder that I’m doing a chat tonight on Twitter. Bring your questions, and maybe an adult beverage, and we’ll have a good time. Just follow the hashtag #dglm. I’ll do my best to keep up!

3

Talk to me on August 2!

It’s that time, friends: time for another DGLM Chat Live, and this time, I’ll be answering your questions for an hour. I considered having a theme or focus to the chat, but then realized that sort of defeats the point of letting you direct the conversation with your questions. In other good news, the chat will start at 9:30 Eastern/6:30 PM Pacific time, which I hope is when most of you are home but not yet asleep.

The other difference this time around is that I’ll be holding the chat on Twitter, with the hashtag #dglm. (If you’ve never followed a chat on Twitter before, go take a look at TweetChat, which provides a really easy way to do it.) I’ll be moderating the chat myself, and the questions that have the best chance of being answered are the ones that apply to the most people. The more people will benefit from the answer, the more likely I am to pick the question. I’m really hoping that this will be helpful, informative and fun, and I’m looking forward to seeing your questions.

So, mark your calendars: 8/2 at 6:30 PM PDT. See you then! (Thanks for the suggestion, Jaclyn!)