Category Archives: Publishing


It ain’t over till it’s over

As the press has noted, with the passing of Yogi Berra, we’ve lost not only a baseball legend, but a legendary quipster, whose wit and wisdom (real or attributed) applies to so much beyond baseball. And one of his most famous Yogisms, “It ain’t over till it’s over” came to mind yesterday when I saw the front page article on the Times proclaiming that, hey, print isn’t dead after all!

Now, anyone who’s been keeping up with this blog and publishing news in general already knows that e-book sales have plateaued, and that both print and bookstores have had a nice resurgence over the past year. But as they usually do, the Times provides a nice overview, especially when it points out that the ABA counts 300 new independent bookstores since 2010, and that the big publishers are expanding their warehouse space to keep up with demand. And in their even-handed way, the Times does point out that both new e-readers and pricing could lead to an e-book resurgence, though I find it hard to imagine the $50 Kindle will lead the way…

Instead, I wonder if most people will end up as hybrid readers—e-books for travel, work, maybe for certain genres, and print for the rest. You might draw a parallel of sorts to the record biz, where hipsters gather physical vinyl for home listening but use Spotify on the go. If that becomes the new normal, then maybe the more prescient Yogism here would be “It’s deja vu all over again…”

Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Has anyone ditched e-books completely at this point, or vice versa? If so, why? And if you’re a hybrid reader, how do you divvy up your reading between print and e?


A Good Title is Hard To Find

It may be that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But outside the world of doomed adolescent lovers, the names of things matter, and finding the right title is crucial. A well-chosen title reflects and subtly positions the book, but finding les mots justes–that’s always tricky. My client, debut novelist Beth Hahn, blogged about the experience of letting go of her original title—THE SINGING BONE—in favor of DARK EYES.

“I got to keep THE SINGING BONE through editing and even saw the manuscript’s final version with title intact, but then, at some point–I think it happened during tip sheet review–there was a pause, and someone questioned my title, wondering if it were too literary, too mysterious, too–oh, but those were the very things I liked about it. Anyway, the publisher worried that readers wouldn’t know the how to interpret THE SINGING BONE, and truthfully, I had noticed this when I told people. “The Singing what?” was not an uncommon response.

I guess I could have fought for my title, but then, honestly, I sort-of knew why the title was being changed, so I began to think of the title change as a further relinquishing of my book. Yes, THE SINGING BONE was my novel’s title, but when a book is sold, it belongs to everyone–to editors and art directors and readers, too, to libraries, and to strangers who would not get to ask me, “The Singing what?”

Finally, I got an email from my editor: “What about DARK EYES?” he wrote. It was clean, relevant. It screams “Mystery/Thriller.” I’d thought of DARK EYES, but I’d been too literal with it. The darkest character in the book, Mr. Wyck, has blue eyes–light blue eyes. But the song “Dark Eyes” cuts a strange path through the novel, turning up in different scenes and carrying plenty of psychological and emotional weight.”

I’m in the midst of helping another client and his editor come up with a new title for WWII-era narrative nonfiction. Our marching orders are to find: “Something with zing. Something that sounds dangerous and romantic. Something that’s catchy and rolls off the tongue. Especially something that is not generic.” Whew! Settling on a title that both the author and the publisher love can take a while, but the effort is certainly in the book’s best interest.  Sometimes a title emerges from the text itself, a particularly resonant line or quotation.

Where and how do you find your titles? How often in the writing do you switch gears?


The Crowds at BookCon

We hear so much these days about how the book business is in turmoil. Major publishers are merging, budgets are being tightened, and author advances slashed. And we also hear that there is less actual reading of books going on, with people turning to gaming, the internet, and Tivo.

Then something like BookCon comes along and makes you feel a lot more hopeful.

Inaugurated last year as a one-day addition to BEA, BookCon is a consumer fair, not a trade fair like BEA.  It’s held at the Javits Center right after BEA as a chance for publishers to target their readers directly with booths, panels, promotional materials, and appearances by major authors and celebrities. Last year was successful beyond everyone’s expectations—over 10,000 people attended—so much so that this year’s event lasted two days, stretching over the entire weekend. The attendee total for this year is not in yet, but it looks to be even higher.

Bear in mind that all these people paid $40-45 cover charge per day to attend, and they schlepped all the way to the Javits Center, which—as any weary BEA visitor will attest to—is a long, dreary half-mile hike from the nearest subway station through an unlovely landscape of construction zones. Of course, some of this year’s attendees were there for the chance to meet show-business celebrities like Taye Diggs, David Duchovny, Mindy Kaling, Jason Segel, and John Leguizamo, who were promoting their memoirs and children’s books.  But the meat of BookCon was the widely-attended schedule of panels and talks by authors known and soon-to-be known, including Rainbow Rowell, R.L. Stine, James Patterson, Nelson DeMille, James Dashner, Tessa Elwood, and Helen Phillips. And there were panels on just about every genre, including romance, mystery, fantasy, and children’s books.

Anyone who thinks that books are a dying business, or that people just aren’t reading much anymore, should stop by Book Con 2016. They’ll come out of it knowing that reading is not going away anytime soon.

Did you attend BookCon this year? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.


Book Expo America — it’s here!

Every year at this time, the entire publishing industry converges at the Javits Center in NYC for the biggest annual bookseller’s convention in the U.S. It’s a massive endeavor, full of publisher booths that cost tens of thousands of dollars, author events and signings, an International Rights Center where our own Lauren Abramo will be meeting with publishers form around the world, and a whole lot of schmoozing and general conversation about books.


The books that are the focus at Book Expo (BEA for short) are the ones that will be published the following fall, so Fall, 2015 this year. Galleys, or early reader copies, abound and many of us run around sharing stories about who scored what.

Last year, I had a couple of authors at BEA, and even had a client doing a cooking demo from his latest book (photo below, the waffle chocolate chip cookies were delicious!).



The past couple of years I’ve waited to get signed books from children’s authors, and last year I scored a big one with a special BEA edition copy of B.J. Novak’s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES. One of my colleagues saw me and took a picture when I was getting it signed.

BEA BJ Novak

And then of course, there are the parties that precede and follow BEA. Many publishers host parties at their offices, and some rent out space at local restaurants. Last year’s Harper party was epic, and not just because they were promoting their epic reads teen website!

Last year, I even got to see my mom doing an event for her own book at BEA, a fun first.


The past couple of years they’ve also included a consumer post-BEA event called Bookcon, which has generated enormous interest and huge bestselling authors come to events where the public can buy tickets, meet the authors and get books signed. This year the lineup is pretty outstanding, and I suspect it’s going to continue to be a big draw in the years to come.

Thought you might enjoy a sneak peek at what we’re all focusing on this week. If you can’t find us, now you know why!

Take a look at the website links, and let us know what events you’d be most interested in attending, and which authors you’d love to see at BEA. Maybe next year, you can join us.



When publishers compete–or not?

No, I’m not blogging about the highly competitive (hah!) Publishers Softball League, though I do have many happy memories of cutting out early summer afternoons to play left field for the Penguin Penguins, only to get our butts kicked by the NY Times and Time Magazine. Who routinely stocked their teams with ringers, by the way–so much for journalistic integrity!

Instead, I wanted to point you to our friend Mike Shatzkin’s recent blogpost about subscription services, and how Penguin Random House has opted out of the game. Mike makes a convincing argument that PRH is making a mistake here, but what really struck me more than anything else was his opening statement:

“I sometimes feel like I’m the only guy in town… contemplating out loud how Penguin Random House might use its position as by far the biggest commercial trade publisher to make life a bit more difficult for its competitors.”

Indeed, with all the consternation over Amazon, the notion that publishers might actually try to compete against each other for market share seems beside the point. And according to Mike, it seems like PRH is avoiding opportunities for competition, whether by wrongheadedness or design. I’d add, too, that from my agent’s perspective, it feels like PRH is NOT flexing its muscles, whether by limiting submissions or demanding contract concessions. Rather, it feels like they’ve gone out of their way to stress that the merger hasn’t affected business as usual, nor will it in the future.

But how long can that last? Especially now that Amazon and Hachette have come to terms, I would certainly expect PRH to be under more scrutiny. Mike suspects that a competitive move in kid’s ebook subscriptions is coming is coming down the pike, though that seems fairly minor to me. But I’ll be very curious to see in the new year if at some point PRH takes over from Amazon as the publishing industry villain–or at least competes for the title.


Series fatigue

Jane and I had dinner with the delightful and very savvy Abbi Glines last night.  During the course of a delicious meal of tapas-like small plates at ABC Cocina (which, in case you’re wondering, we liked better than ABC Kitchen, its sister restaurant), we talked about a number of interesting topics, from trends in fiction categories—ever elusive and often fleeting—to the lasting power of series.  Abbi pointed out that series can get tired after a while and that readers get tired of the characters right along with them, so an author needs to know when to move on to new pastures.

This reminded me of my love of Patricia Cornwell’s early Scarpetta books and how tedious I found the later ones, Sue Grafton’s alphabet mysteries which I lost interest in at about the letter G, and that by the time my son and I were at the 24th Magic Tree House book, I was ready to chuck them all out the window.  It’s possible that I just have a short attention span, but, Richelle Mead’s wonderful Vampire Academy series, for instance, kept me hooked up to the very last page of the final installment.

Sbook serieso, is it that authors don’t know when to put a cash cow out to graze and so keep adding books to a successful series even when the characters would much rather have retired to their home in Florida?  Or is it the readership that is so enamored of the characters and their universe that they keep clamoring for more even after the passion has faded?

Do you read every book in a series or do you find your attention wandering to that fresh, bright newcomer on the next shelf?  And do your favorite series authors maintain their effectiveness over numerous titles?


Mad, bad and dangerous to know

It took me a while to read George Packer’s endless New Yorker piece about the evil empire.  No, not the Yankees, Amazon!  Most of what he writes about may be news for people outside our business, but all of us much maligned gatekeepers have long known that anyone who doesn’t spout Amazonian corporate-speak like it’s English will feel dazed and confused when dealing with Bezos’ army, and that the company’s strong-man tactics and culture of silence vis a vis the rest of the publishing world seem positively Orwellian.

But what’s interesting about the article is the fact that despite the behemoth’s disdain for publishing as an industry and book readers as a class, Amazon has managed to make books more accessible to a greater number of readers than any entity before it.  It has also, although publishers might deny it vehemently, injected a competitive edge (okay, desperation and rage)  into the book making process that has lifted traditional publishing out of its complacent, vaguely condescending status quo, and challenged it to think about itself and its role in the marketplace in a new way.

Progress?  Who knows?  But, the piece is a must-read for all of us who buy books, often with one click.   After doing so, I hope you’ll share your thoughts about the role Amazon plays for you as a consumer and as an author.


Random is a state of mind

One of the things I’ve always loved about publishing (and which makes saner people twitch with frustration) is how random and illogical many of its systems and processes are.    For a small industry with outsize influence relative to its size, its day-to-day operations feature a lot of crazy shenanigans.  Exhibit A:  This delightful  excerpt from Dan Menaker’s memoir which John referenced earlier this week.

Instead of on sober reasoning and well calibrated risks, a lot of decisions in our business are based on emotional reactions (“I fell in love with the gorgeous prose.”  “The story hit me like a punch in the gut.”  “I couldn’t stop thinking about it after I put it down.”) that a moody, infatuated teenager might find over-the-top, and a measure of wishful thinking that might land normal people in a mental ward (“Let’s give the author of this partial manuscript on goat herding in Tibet a $4,000,000 advance.  We’ll surely recoup most of it in foreign sales—you know how the Brits are about goat herding.”)

As much as we try to be logical and measured, however, the nature of this particular beast is that it is quixotic, mercurial, and hard to pin down using standard measuring tools and equipment.  Just when you think something can’t and shouldn’t possibly, ever, ever, work, it’s a huge bestseller and you and your team look like geniuses for having the foresight to pluck it out of the precariously high piles on your desk, floor,  whatever.  And, just when you think you’ve found the next 50 Shades of Da Vinci Codes, you end up looking at Bookscan numbers in the low four digits.

And, it is precisely that unpredictability, that randomness, that makes what we do so often exciting and rewarding.  It’s gambling, sure, but gambling dressed up in a tux and sipping a martini at a vingt-et-un table in Monte Carlo.  It’s crazy and fun and miserable and painful, but never dull and you have to want to be in the game (as a publisher, agent, author, market  and rights person, etc.) even when it doesn’t go your way.

What say you guys?  Is the randomness fun or is it more anxiety producing and maddening than it’s worth?



Facebook friends pointed me to this new interview with Jonathan Franzen, which is as entertaining as you might expect. But before it gets into the usual topics of Oprah and the internet, I was surprised at how much the interview focused on money—both Franzen’s pursuit of payment (or lack thereof) and how he eked out a living prior to The Corrections. It turns out the source of the interview, Scratch Magazine, is a new e-zine dedicated to the business side of publishing, and I urge any and all writers—unpublished, debut, mid-career, indie, freelancers—to check it out.

There’s a lot of useful information for writers of all stripes, and it’s refreshing how candidly the articles focus on money. In contrast, I was at a book conference this weekend where I did a roundtable talk with a bunch of writers and editors, and while we did talk some about the financial and contractual side of things, it was very much in the abstract. So it’s nice to see the Scratch team breaking down the dollars and cents—including the subscription they hope to charge—though I do hope that in future issues they’ll offer a few more examples for writers than a life of poverty in Tijuana. Or Somerville…


Live from BEA

This post comes from the floor of the Javits Center, where BEA is in full swing, and where—in flagrant contravention of my own plan to  travel light–I have acquired an armload of galleys, posters, postcards, business cards, blads, and countless pieces of candy.  I now have an extra tote bag to lug my swag, deep red welts in my shoulders for my efforts, and a profound sense of contentment  (numb arms nothwithstanding).


As ever, I have far too much reading to do to even consider cracking open one of these new ARCs, but it’s always possible that on the train home this evening, one might slip from my bag, accidentally fall open in my lap, and keep me captive for the duration of the ride.


Book Expo is a terrific opportunity to meet with out of town publishers, say hello to New York colleagues whom I see all too rarely, and survey the coming season of books.  Also to learn a few things (and not just the location of the “secret” ladies’ room with no line). On Tuesday I attended a  thought provoking conference on book marketing, hosted by the online magazine Publishing Perspectives.  I was curious to note that Harper Collins has hired a VP of “Consumer Insight” to better understand—and ideally grow—its audience, while  Jo Henry  of the global market research company Bowker brought me up short by predicting the demise  of bookstores and traditional review outlets inside five years. Gulp.  I don’t actually agree,  but in the event she’s correct, I’d better hurry to my next meeting.