Thank you so much Jane for the kind introduction. It is fantastic to be here at DGLM, although I confess, these are familiar surroundings. As Jane mentioned, I began interning here in May 2011 while I was studying for my Master’s degree, so I am absolutely delighted to be a full time member of DGLM’s remarkable team. With e-books and e-readers continuing to offer us new ways to access books, it is an exciting time to be heading up DGLM’s digital publishing program. As a long-time lover of books, I feel incredibly privileged to have the chance to work closely with authors, the people who make us fall in love with books.
Category Archives: news
Brazil made headlines yesterday for introducing a new program to reduce prison sentences, aptly titled “Redemption through Reading”. According to this article from the Huffington Post, inmates in Brazil’s federal prisons can now minimize their sentences by up to 48 days per year by reading one book every four weeks, then writing an essay on it.
While there’s no shortage of literacy programs in prisons all over the world, I thought this was the first case where it actually had a concrete impact on a person’s punishment, but I was wrong. After a little searching online, I found Changing Lives Through Literature, a rehabilitation course introduced in the early 90’s in Massachusetts as an alternative to prison. Created for repeat offenders of serious crimes, this initiative forms reading groups where offenders discuss the classics. It has proved to significantly reduce recidivism rates and violent behavior among participants.
Avid readers know that literature has the ability to change lives, but these programs bring this concept to fruition. By reading about characters and situations they can relate to, convicts get the chance to look at their own lives, and the way they affect others, through a different lens. They also develop skills to analyze, articulate, and communicate more effectively, equipping them with the ability to make more positive contributions to society.
Does anyone here have experience working in this capacity in the penal system?
I’ve been on a bit of a Words With Friends kick lately (okay, more a debilitating obsession than a kick but no one’s kicked me off a plane yet) and one of the frustrating things I’ve found about the game is how it censors what it considers unacceptable words. Not sure what geniuses (or algorithms) decide what works and what doesn’t but when you’re behind by 15 points and you’ve got the letters to wipe your opponent out with a word you know is a word but that WWF won’t allow…well, it makes you a little short tempered.
Thing is, censorship is all around us and, by and large, we tend to overlook minor instances of it as long as the big freedoms aren’t compromised. I can shake my head and keep playing WWF, say, because who cares about a silly app game. But, is that the right attitude? When you hear about Seth Godin’s experience with Apple refusing to carry one of his “manifestos” because there are links in it to the Amazon store, the whole Big Brother thing becomes a bit sinister. This is censorship seasoned with monopolistic bullying, in my opinion.
How much freedom of speech can be guaranteed when behemoths like Apple and Amazon censor what is available to consumers for any reason other than that the work(s) in question poses a real physical threat to individuals? Sure, a privately owned retailer may choose what goods and services it wants to offer, but when you have two or three entities responsible for the dissemination of vast amounts of information, it seems to me that it should not be morally, ethically, or legally okay for those entities to decide what consumers may or may not be able to buy.
Those of us in the publishing business have a rather bedeviled relationship with Apple, Amazon and B&N (especially the first two). On the one hand, we need them in order to place our authors’ wares. On the other, we are increasingly concerned with the practices of these soulless corporations whose only interest is the financial bottom line and for whom books and the entire publishing world are but a blip in their massive spreadsheets. Is it time for the government to step in and regulate how content is served up? What can we do as consumers (and book lovers) to safeguard our ability to buy any book (or story or manifesto) we want? Should we be outraged or should we shrug our shoulders and lump this with the Word With Friends shenanigans?
What’s your take on all of this? Am I over- or under-reacting?
As loyal followers of this blog know, I am a little headlines obsessed. Usually, this takes the form of scanning 1,237 blogs and websites every day before our 8:30 meeting without actually reading a single article (you can learn so much from the right caption). Sometimes, it manifests as trying to come up with the proper headline for an everyday occurrence which is just weird or eyebrow raising enough to merit column inches in The New York Post. But occasionally, the right headline makes me think, “Ooh, what a great novel could be built around ’44-Year-Old UK Man Lives Off Road Kill for 30 Years’” (true story).
So, here’s the gray, drizzly Wednesday challenge: Pick a headline from today’s crazy roster—The HuffPost on Blagojevich’s sentencing is “Big Hair to the Big House.” Positively Postian, no?—on the blogosphere and give us a paragraph on what the book you’d write based on it would be.
(You need to tell us what the headline is and where it came from for authentication purposes. First prize is a cookbook by one of our lovely and talented authors.)
Every once in a while I find myself so enraged, befuddled, or even charmed (rarely) by the news cycle that I can think of little else. This week, like most of you, I’m sure, I find myself filled with ongoing, white-hot, animal rage about Jerry Sandusky and the whole Penn State scandal. Simultaneously, I’m incredulous (and not in a good way) that someone who doesn’t seem to know what’s been happening with Libya lately is seriously running for president. And then, just when I think I need anti-depressants to get through the newspaper, there’s Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, making the media rounds to promote their new book and seeming so courageous and true to each other. Their story is a palate cleanser to chase away the taste of bile the other headlines leave behind.
As immersed in different ways as I’ve been with these events and personalities, I find myself wondering which would work in a fictional retelling. Novelists, from Zola to Grisham have been ripping off ideas from the headlines from time immemorial, of course, but with the relentless coverage of happenings big and small to feed the great gaping maw the Internet has created, I think it’s gotten harder to take a major news story and turn it into a compelling, important novel. Still, I wonder what Tom Perrotta would do with the Penn State tragedy, what Allegra Goodman could make of the Giffords/Kelly saga, and what merriment would result from Carl Hiaasen’s take on the Cain, Perry, and Bachman campaigns.
Perhaps it’s only fiction that can truly make sense of the horror and absurdity. Sometimes, too, fiction is the only way to capture the complexity of love, passion, bravery in a way that doesn’t reduce these qualities to a Hallmark card.
What headlines would you rip off and turn into classic fiction? And what authors would you pair what stories with?
When Dan Slater of Amazon, a longtime friend of DGLM, was visiting last week, I jokingly asked him what new steps his company was taking toward its ultimate goal of world domination. Discreet as Dan is, he did not let on about the new Kindle Fire announcement (although we’d all heard buzz) but he definitely did not deny that Amazon was in the process of taking over the universe (at least the publishing universe).
Well, as the HuffPost live blog of today’s announcement by Jeff Bezos about the new tablet shows, the Amazon juggernaut rumbles inexorably on. Not having seen one of these babies in person, I’ve no idea whether I’m going to rush out and buy the new KF instead of the iPad I’ve been thinking of gifting myself for Christmas. On the one hand, I use my current Kindle quite a bit and, given how lame the Apple book store is, I expect that I’ll continue to get most of my online reading from Amazon anyway. On the other hand, it’s hard to root for the prohibitive favorite in sports or big business. I’m not sure I want to live under an Amazon dictatorship, no matter how benign.
Is it as dire as all that? Or is this all just healthy, good fun on the part of the superpowers? Are they just giving us all more options even as we have less and less time to avail ourselves of them?
It’s finally official: Borders is closing for good. Certainly, it’s not happy news, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that nearly 11,000 employees will soon be out of their jobs. And while Borders hasn’t really been a credible alternative to B&N for some years now, it’s disturbing to think that B&N is now the only nationwide physical bookstore chain.
But on a reading/shopping level, I’m curious—are any of you actually upset to see Borders go?
Personally, I was never a big fan of my local Borders at Columbus Circle. It always felt disorganized, especially in the children’s section, and the author appearance area had all the warmth of an airplane hangar, with acoustics to match. Then again, I’m lucky to live in a big city with a lot of bookstore options—for any of you, was Borders the only convenient bookstore? If so, was it a good place to shop and attend author events? And now that it’s gone, are there other smaller, regional chains you’d like to step into the breach?
FYI, for a more sympathetic eulogy, check out this piece from today’s Shelf Awareness—wish I’d had more experiences like Bethanne!
While stuck on the bus (again) this morning on my way in to work, I was thinking about publishing, and royalties, and authors, and all the things I think about each day as a literary agent. When I finally got to my office, half an hour late for my 9:30 meeting and after over 2 hours of commuting fun, I found this article by Laura Munson who I’ve blogged about before Rejection inspiration when I shared her amazing journey to published, and now bestselling, author. She brings up in a sometimes crass but humorous way questions that many authors have about obtaining sales figures after their book is published. As she puts it: “Any businessperson should be able to see sales reports to judge how to proceed in peddling what she’s peddling, shouldn’t she?” Since publishers still (for now) only report earnings on average twice a year, and usually several months after the statement period closes, and they don’t include any sort of breakdown on where books are selling, how are authors supposed to help tap into new markets or take advantage of popular markets? It seems a basic almost obvious question, and one that doesn’t have a great answer in the publishing model.
In the past, if you had several thousand dollars a year to spend on Bookscan, a database that tracks actual book sales that has been around almost 10 years, or had an agent or editor with access and willing to share numbers, you could access real sales information by location, but it still didn’t track all accounts, only the major retailers (B&N, Amazon, Target etc.). Independent bookstores, for examples, and libraries, don’t report sales to Bookscan. Presumably publishers do have access to more accurate and specific sales data, but they don’t generally share it with authors or agents. I recall hearing that Random House has a ”policy” not to share numbers with authors in between royalty statements. It’s really tough to get answers about where a particular title is selling, and that can be confusing and frustrating for an author, especially a first time author, who is trying to figure out where to focus their marketing and publicity efforts.
The Amazon service which Munson describes, which is pretty cool for authors, especially since it’s free (I wonder what kind of deal Amazon and Bookscan worked out to be able to do this!), offers authors data derived from Bookscan (you can have increased access for a fee). It includes sales figures, updated each week, as well as geographic data, which, as Amazon describes on their website, “can help you plan and measure the effects of your next book tour”. It still doesn’t give you information on which retailers are selling in which quantities, but it’s more than authors ever knew before.
In this highly competitive and difficult market, any advantage you have in learning more about how and where your books are selling is a good thing. It makes me wonder what authors are doing with this information since this program began, and how many are taking advantage of it. If you are a published author, or if you aren’t but can imagine being one someday, what are you doing or what would you do with this sales feedback? Munson talks about considering events in places where her book isn’t selling. Can you think of cool ways to take advantage of this previously proprietary sales data?
It’s hard today to find anything newsworthy to read bout besides the royal wedding over there in England, and while all the pomp and circumstance is enjoyable, I don’t fully understand the huge draw the ceremony has for anyone who has no personal relationship to the UK. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t watch the horribly cheesy, not quite so-bad-it’s-good Lifetime original movie, William and Kate last weekend. I mean. Um. I didn’t say that.
Regardless, I suppose that there is something to the appeal, whether or not these particular nuptials have any effect on my life. It’s the idea of princes and princesses. Despite that in reality modern monarchies are nothing like we read in fairy tales, the charming princess and dashing prince living in a palace in the middle of a valley with a drawbridge and courtiers fresh returned from battling dragons is the image that comes to mind. Especially in America, where there has never been a king, queen or anything of the sort ruling on domestic land, this idea is prevalent. And the allure doesn’t elude me, either!
Despite their non-importance in “serious” literary debate (they are specifically banned for entry for the National Book Awards, e.g.), I will always enjoy a good fairy tale. I had mentioned in a previous post the book, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me, which is a modern retelling of fairy tales and a book of short stories that I read voraciously. There’s just something about the ethereal tone that always surrounds a fairy tale (I wish I could describe in words the voice that automatically plays in my head as I imagine them being read aloud—but probably you know it, or have one of your own, anyway) that makes it ever-appealing. Surely there is literary merit in the telling of a fairy tale just as there is in the creation of any story, but I’m not qualified to judge. It does have something to do with the fact that the sources of inspiration are, by definition, unoriginal—I would think, however, that the retelling itself would be proof enough of creativity and talent.
Loosely based on, or completely authentic, what are some of your favorite fairy tales? (I know the ones of my own that I’ve started to write (and abandoned, of course) nearly always have to do with princesses, but generally the fairy tale of inspiration is merely a backdrop to the story I want to tell.) Is there any serious writing to be found here?
Most importantly, who wore the best hat to see William and Kate tie the knot?