Category Archives: trends

3

Less is more

I judge books by their covers. Literally. And so does everyone else.

Lately, I’ve handed down some pretty harsh judgments. Not many covers have really called to me in recent months. In fact, the covers that catch my eye tend to be the least obnoxious, the ones with the simplest designs and quietest colors.

For instance, check out Boris Kachka’s HOTHOUSE.

 

 

I mean, c’mon. That’s a pretty cool cover. Nice color contrast and some fancy text. This book has absolutely everything going for it. Check out Jane’s post, and you’ll see what I mean.

 

What about this one?

 

 

Chad Harbach’s THE ART OF FIELDING has a pretty similar style to Kachka’s HOTHOUSE, and again, I love it. When in doubt, you can’t go wrong designing a book cover with some nice colors, and flowing script.

 

Once again, less is more:

 

 

One of my all-time favorite reads, too. But I’ll get to that in another blog.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: this guy just doesn’t like book covers with pictures. Wrong!

 

 

One chair leaning against another chair: that’s some real stuff. Simple yet beautiful.

And the minimalist cover to end all minimalist covers:

 

In case you missed it:

 

Who wouldn’t want to pick this book up and see what it’s about? ONE RED PAPERCLIP by Kyle MacDonald may just have the best cover of them all.

So I guess I’m a minimalist. (What would my parents think?) How about you guys? What are some of your favorite book covers?

Let’s think about the ladies

Let’s think about the ladies

There’s a really thought-provoking piece published this week in The Atlantic about books that are focused on women finding or yearning for love in fiction rather than other things in life like career or themselves. I think teens and younger adults are so focused on boys and love that it’s obvious to look to a love interest for drama, and I think there is a perception that most books need a “love interest” to work in the market.

I think the expansion of the children’s market, YA in particular, over the last few years have produced a great number of smart, thoughtful books with female protagonists grappling with real emotional issues other than love, including my own Brianna on the Brink by Nicole McInnes, which begins with a sexual liaison but evolves into so much more.  The author of The Atlantic piece, Kelsey McKinney, also points to a coming-of-age family drama with no love story that sounds terrific called Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. It was published decades ago.

Cheryl Klein over at Scholastic tweeted the piece and said that she too is looking for this kind of material. In her words: “I would LOVE more YA about young women finding careers, or their life’s work & own worth, exclusive of love interest. Tho I love love too. I was obsessed with my future as a teenager: what college to attend, what career would suit me. Not things I see a lot in mss.” It’s rare to find that kind of direct feedback from an editor who reads for a living and sees a lot of submissions. The message is that there is room in the market, which is the opposite of what agents and editors  are usually saying!

And I agree that there is room for growth here. As McKinney says in her smart piece: “I wanted to drive On the Road and stop off in small towns and drink more than was probably appropriate. I wanted to question who I was and be my own Catcher in the Rye. There are no Jack Kerouacs or Holden Caulfields for girls. Literary girls don’t take road-trips to find themselves; they take trips to find men.” What about a modern female-driven version of On the Road? I’d love to read that, and I’d love to sell it too and pass it down to my four daughters.

So, if any of you aspiring authors have books with strong female protagonists contemplating their futures in a unique and independent way, please send them along.

Creatures of Habit

Over the weekend my roommate was showing me an app on his smartphone, one that analyses your sleeping pattern. You place your smartphone in bed and by charting your movements the app is able to determine whether you are in a deep sleep state or a light sleep state. The app then programs your alarm to wake you up in the light sleep phase closest to the time you wish to wake up, thus ensuring that you will start off your day bright eyed and bushy tailed.

What interested me about this device however is that its output consists of graphs, numbers and statistics, data which does not visually reflect the more subjective and emotional side of sleep, which is dreams. Does the empirical complement or explain the ethereal? Can raw data explain why I always miss the last minute winning goal for my boyhood soccer team? (It’s a recurring dream, so I’ll always get another chance).

With this swirling around my head, I was drawn to this article on the Guardian. The article posits that e-books are a different genre from print books because, “With the book, the reader’s relationship to the text is private, and the book is continuous over space, time and reader. Neither of these propositions is necessarily the case with the e-book. The e-book gathers a great deal of information about our reading habits: when we start to read, when we stop, how quickly or slowly we read, when we skip pages, when we re-read, what we choose to highlight, what we choose to read next.”

To link my personal anecdote with the article – will the e-book and its possibility to trace and digest our preferences change the role of our relationship with books? Much like the alarm being set to suit the sleeper, will the e-book become malleable to the reader’s preferences?

I am still chewing this over and over. I see the journalist’s point, that by being able to extrapolate a reader’s reading habits through an e-book we would be able to see what kind of reader we are through a set of data, that can then be used to adapt the text, “If 50% of readers stopped reading you postmodernist thriller at page 98, the publisher might recommend that for Version 2.0, the plot twist on page 110 be brought forward.”

It is indeed an interesting perspective to the future , but is not yet the reality, which is why I am still mulling over the possibilities over private vs. public reading habits. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this article. Is this the way you view e-books? I’ll get back to you in a future blog post with more thoughts on this debate and I’ll let you know if I ever score that winning goal!

5

Lincoln Love

I can’t say that I’m much of a history buff, but there was an interesting article that caught my eye in the Wall Street Journal last week about the overwhelming amount of books there are in the market about President Lincoln. Of course it’s clear that books about Honest Abe sell nicely—just take a look at Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s Killing Lincoln or Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals. And according to the article, a minimum of 20 more books about Lincoln are set to be published in the next year!

But what I hadn’t thought about before that the article explained so well is how one subject—or one person, really—can reach such a wide audience. Besides for the obvious fascinating and fatal historical events, Lincoln as a man was beyond extraordinary. For one, he’s the perfect example of someone who achieved the American Dream, all while experiencing personal tragedies. But, part of what makes him so interesting is that, as the article points out, he is still mysterious: “Scholars continue to debate how and when he came to the decision to end slavery.”

But, if you’re already sick of him, the buzzed about Lincoln movie with Spielberg directing and starring the masterful Daniel Day Lewis is sure to rekindle the flame!

What about you all? Are you a Lincoln buff or is there someone else in history that you prefer to read about?

4

Television and Novels: A Love Story

I came across this fascinating article in The Chronicle of Higher Education and simply had to share it. It  accounts for the evolution of arc television (ex. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones) and highlights the similarities between these types of shows and other creative media. I have to admit, the title, “Storied TV: Cable Is the New Novel,” threw me for a loop at first. I thought this piece was going to propose that these wildly popular and critically acclaimed series are on the road to replacing novels, but after reading it, I don’t think this is what the author intends to suggest (even if some of the people who commented disagree). In fact, it seems that the author is comparing the television vs. motion picture dispute (until now, films have undoubtedly beat television in terms of status, merit, and praise) to that of the new journalism vs. novel debate from the 70s.

In fact, the author of the piece, Thomas Doherty (a writer, among other things) points out what makes these television shows as enthralling as a great novel: “Like the bulky tomes of Dickens and Dreiser, Trollope and Wharton, the series are thick on character and dense in plot line, spanning generations and tribal networks and crisscrossing the currents of personal life and professional duty.” In the comments, someone even points out that several of these shows were actually based on novels. This brings me to my question for you, the readers: Think about your favorite novel. Would you rather see it as a television show following the format described above or as a big screen debut?

7

Serial for dinner

One of the great things about the digital revolution is that it’s opening the market to different kinds of formats, some new, some old. One of the most successful and most interesting companies to take advantage of the opportunity is Byliner. They got off to a great start in 2011 with the publication of Jon Krakauer’s damning reporting on author Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute and his book, Three Cups of Tea. Entitled Three Cups of Deceit, Krakauer’s more-than-article-length, less-than-book-length work proved that people were willing to pay for great investigative, long-form journalism, even if it wasn’t 80,000 words. They’ve continued with other similar successes, blazing a trail in this rather new format.

But they’re looking to revive old formats, as well, and I was thrilled to read that they’ve decided to delve into the publication of serial fiction. I was just discussing with an author of mine her desire to publish serialized fiction and lamenting the lack of outlets for it. (Or, rather, the lack of money-making outlets for it. As she said, the world of fan fiction is almost entirely serialized storytelling.) I predicted that serialized fiction would become a viable model, but not until a major name got the ball rolling and proved that there was a market. And Byliner made my prediction come true both quickly and rather spectacularly: they’re publishing two serialized stories, Positron by Margaret Atwood and 15 Gothic Street by Joe McGinniss. Atwood’s sounds very, well, Atwood, and McGinniss’s story was described as “Law & Order set in Lake Wobegon.” Both authors’ followings seemed primed for an experiment like this, and it’ll be interesting to see how they perform. I, for one, am a big fan of experiments in underused formats, and I’d love to see this become another venue for authors’ work. And, as someone whose reading time is limited, I’d love something that’s easily digestible and doesn’t require a huge investment of time in one sitting, while also providing a over-arching story.

What do you think?  Will we see a return to Victorian-era serialized novels? Or is this just another passing trend?

3

Pinterested

Lately, my life has been a wild ride of work and planning. Planning what, you might ask? In the next four months, I’ll be moving into a new apartment and getting married (yep, I haven’t even sent the invitations yet). I mention this, because I have been hopelessly obsessed with Pinterest, an alarmingly fast growing social media site that I’m pretty sure was made for the bride-to-be. Nothing makes an hour+ commute go by like discovering all the cool stuff you can do with…well, anything. A sponge. An egg. A newspaper. Then, one day, I discovered Random House’s site. Jane Austen nerds rejoice–there’s a whole “board” full of neat Austen related ideas! There’s really no sense in me listing every last board (Literary tattoos! Amazing places to read!), because let’s face it, if you don’t see for yourself, you’ll seriously regret it. My two personal favorites are Literary Wedding (for obvious reasons) and Bookshelf Envy. What are yours? Do you know of another literary inspired board I should follow?

19

Helping ourselves

So, as we do around here, we’ve been talking lately about what book categories are thriving and which are tanking.  As Jane mentioned in her post earlier this week, categories wax and wane (and so do we).  The other day, during a staff meeting, Jane and I were fondly remembering the self-help boom of the late ‘80s to late ‘90s.  All those Women Who Love Too Much and the Men Who Find Them Annoying bestsellers, along with the mystical/empowerment titles like Women Who Run with Iron John, made for fat royalty statements back in the day.

Not so much any more.  Aside from the inspirational/health/nutrition/lifestyle books by any of the Real Housewives and the occasional Let Me Tell You How You Can Fix You book on the New York Times list, the self-help category seems sadly quiet at the moment.  We are clearly in need of help as a culture—individually and collectively, and this piece in The Hairpin points out the kinds of situations some of us could use  guidance with.

All kidding aside, though, what happened to the self-help category?  Why are those books not making the kind of splash they did 15 or 20 years ago?  Certainly, we’re not any more well-adjusted.

So,  really, what happened?   Serious question here, why do you all think that the self-help bubble went bust?

7

Hurry up?

New York Times book reviewer Dwight Garner is generally a pleasure to read, but this week’s “riff” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/18/magazine/dear-novelists-be-less-moses-and-more-cosell.html?_r=2&pagewanted=1&ref=books struck me as pretty fatuous. In it, Garner argues that writers need to publish more than one book every ten years lest we, their reading public, learn to “live without them.”  Of these parsimonious producers he opines:

“Suddenly our important writers seem less like color commentators, sifting through the emotional, sexual and intellectual detritus of how we live today, and more like a mountaintop Moses, handing down the granite tablets every decade or so to a bemused and stooped populace.”

Really? Sure there are slow writers—in his essay he singles out Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen and Donna Tartt and contrasts them unfavorably with the prolific John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates and Saul Bellow—but given the pressure any published writer is under to deliver and publish on a set schedule in order to build an audience, I’m skeptical that we’re in the midst of a diabolical slow-book movement.

Garner continues: “Surely they’re in flight from the shackling apparatus of modern publishing: the long press tours (“Hello, Cleveland!”), the much-hated publicity stops.”

In this era of bare bones publicity budgets, the press tours to which he refers are hardly the norm (indeed, the “tedium” of cities like Cleveland seem like some fond, golden age memory, when book tours had not been supplanted by “twitter campaigns” or “targeted mailings”). Most authors are keen for more promotion, not less.

Garner also seems to imply that the time between books is a willful act of withholding, or worse yet, some dark means of artificially controlling the market, like DeBeers with diamonds. Perhaps Franzen and Tartt follow some strict writers’ diet, where by sheer force of will, they stop after a paragraph when they’d rather churn out pages, but I doubt it. The speed at which different people write seems to me as individual as their styles. What do you think?

Do you think that novelists have a responsibility to their readers to write more quickly? If they are slow, do they, as Garner says, forfeit their place in the cultural conversation? Or alternately, do you, like this Guardian blogger, think that these “Moses” style writers are unfairly accorded prestige because of the time in which it takes them to hand down their stone tablets http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2011/sep/19/literary-productivity?

1

Thoughts on BEA

Book Expo America, the book industry’s annual convention, opened this morning at the Javits Center here in New York, and Steph and I went across town to check out the fun. I’ve been going to BEA for as long as I can remember, and naturally, every year is a comparison to prior shows. Hence, for the purposes of keeping score:

1.       Crowds—check plus. Boy, was it a zoo this morning—getting out of the Harper booth was like Times Square at rush hour. Granted, the largest crowds are usually opening morning, but I’ve seen years when the attendance was noticeably down. And the lines for author signings, both on the floor and in the signing area, were impressively long. Will be curious to hear how well-attended the breakfasts and panels are.

2.       Galleys—check minus. Seems like every year, there are fewer and fewer galleys, or at least ones that are worth taking. Scholastic had out the new Maggie Stiefavater, and I snagged Sylvia Nasser’s new book (author of A Beautiful Mind)¸ but that was about it. Yes, there have been years where I came home empty handed, but there are also years when “big books” were plentiful—this wasn’t one of them.

3.       Buzz—meh. I know, this is totally subjective, but it just didn’t seem like there was a lot of excitement about specific titles or categories. Not that 2010 was a big year, but I remember seeing a huge banner hanging over the entrance for Keith Richards’s Life—this year, it was for the new Alex Cross novel, and while Alex Cross is great and all, it’s still a little… meh.

4.       Mood—gold star! Despite a lack of buzz, on the whole the publishing folks seemed much more upbeat than in recent memory. Again, maybe it’s opening day fever, but I got a collective sense of optimism that’s been lacking recently. Considering all the hue and cry over electronic publishing since last BEA, it’s great to see so many people excited about books!

So, overall, a good visit to the Javits Center. I’m sure there’ll be plenty more on BEA in this blog over the next few days. Hopefully my colleagues will have positive reactions as well—and hopefully better galleys, too!