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As a member of the Author’s Guild, I receive informative posts from them. Used here by permission, is their new insightful message about the current 2012 state of the publishing ecosystem. Read it on the Author’s Guild site.
Before you read this, or after you read this, you might want to have some other input about the state of YA, Middle grade and children’s writing, in general. Here’s a good place to start: Harold Underdown, Purple Crayon site: “Children’s Books in Hard Times:
Our Industry in 2011″
Publishing’s Ecosystem on the Brink: The Backstory
Subtlety is out. Bloomberg Businessweek’s January 25th cover shows a book engulfed in flames. The book’s title? “Amazon Wants to Burn the Book Business.” A towering pile of books dominates the front page of Sunday’s NYT Business Section. The pile starts well below the fold (print edition), breaks through the section header at the top of the page, and leans precariously. Books are starting to tumble off. “The Bookstore’s Last Stand,” reads the headline.
These stories capture pretty well the state of book publishing: this appears to be no ordinary, cyclical crisis that future authors and publishers will shrug off. To understand how the book industry got into this predicament, however, a broader perspective may be needed. The cover story of February’s Harper’s Magazine provides that, discussing a fundamental shift in the federal approach to antitrust law that’s affected bookselling and countless other industries. It’s a story that hasn’t previously been told in a major periodical, to our knowledge.
We’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s set the stage with the other two stories.
Burning Down the Houses
Brad Stone’s Businessweek story discusses Amazon’s campaign to prevent other booksellers from securing a foothold in the booming e-book market and the company’s furious reaction to Random House’s decision last March to adopt agency pricing for e-books, just as five of the other “Big Six” trade publishers had the previous year. (Before agency pricing, Amazon could sell e-books from Big Six publishers at deep discounts, taking losses at a rate that Barnes & Noble could never afford to match. See How Apple Saved Barnes & Noble, Probably for more.)
Mr. Stone writes that after Random House’s March 2011 agency-pricing announcement,
Amazon could no longer run the best play out of its playbook – slash prices and sustain losses in the short term to gain market share over the long term. … “For the first time, a level playing field was going to get forced on Amazon,” says James Gray [of UK bookseller John Smith & Son and formerly of Ingram Content Group]. Amazon execs “were basically spitting blood and nails.”
Amazon’s response to Random House’s move was stunning and swift:
The next month, an Amazon recruiter sent an e-mail to several editors at big publishing houses, looking for someone to launch a new New York-based publishing imprint. “The imprint will be supported with a large budget, and its success will directly impact the success of Amazon’s overall business,” read the e-mail, which was
Just to beat the dead horse a little more
The discussion I brought up yesterday about copyrights of different book formats is really about the only thing going in book news
right now so that is what you get to hear about. This morning's Jacket
Copy was quoting more music industry history lessons. This time dredging up that that before cassettes
were going to ruin the music business it was records...
"That was a time when people thought
records were really bad for musicians,"
said Gary Calamar, the co-author of "Record Store Days: From Vinyl to
and Back Again," a new history of (and unashamedly geeky paean to) the
of the record store. "People were just getting used to electricity, and
artists resented the presence of records. They thought nobody would buy
It's not that the music industry is the only comparison for the book industry; it's just that changes they faced are a little fresher in our minds. Thinking about this makes me wish I could travel back to 1500, just to hear a first-hand
account from monks screaming about how Johannes' device was the work of
Satan, and that the printing press would be the ruin of the written
I'm sorry, I swear I'll be off my soap box any second now...
[Now Reading: Heat by Bill Buford
Aaron A. Abeyta is a Colorado native and professor of English at Adams State College. For his collection, Colcha (University Press of Colorado, 2000), Abeyta received an American Book Award and the Colorado Book Award. Abeyta's other titles, both from Ghost Road Press, are a collection of poetry, As Orion Falls (2005) and a novel, Rise, Do Not Be Afraid (2007). Abeyta is also the recipient of a Colorado Council on the Arts fellowship for poetry. He lives in Southern Colorado where he can remain close to his family and culture, both of which greatly influence his work. Abeyta was born in 1971.
I recently met Aaron through the auspices of El Laboratorio, an exciting new literary project featuring several Colorado-based writers, and he agreed to answer a few questions for La Bloga. Now that I have read his novel I am even more pleased that I was able to do this interview. I think Aaron is a talented writer and that his voice is unique and adventurous: very much Southern Colorado (El Valle de San Luis, actually), and very much in touch with the passions of the Valley gente.
One reviewer of your novel said that the prose is "beautifully rendered" and that each chapter stands alone as a long poem. I agree about the beautiful prose. Do you think of your book as poetry? And I guess I am curious about why a poet would write a novel.
I never considered the book to be poetry, but I did make a very conscious effort to make the book image driven and lyrical, both of which are two of the building blocks of poems (and fiction too, at least the fiction I like to read). So, in that regard, I guess the book has qualities of poetry.
I think it’s a bit odd, however, that the reviewer stated that each chapter was a long poem; that was not my intent at all, but I can’t say that I was upset by those comments; I took it as a compliment.
As for why a poet would write a novel, that’s a very good question. I don’t really know, definitively that is. I do know that I sat down to write one day and it came out as prose (which is typically the way I begin all my poems, i.e. long hand, full margins, get all the ideas down and then go back and cut and cut). The difference this time was that I pretty much left the cuts out of it and went back the next day and wrote another chapter. All in all, I wrote a chapter each day and the novel actually wrote itself, sort of consuming my every thought. I literally dreamed about sequences and characters. I just followed the impulses that came to me. The reviewer mentioned that the village was the character; she alluded to Faulkner in this regard. It was the village of Santa Rita that got me writing in the first place. It is a real place that I loved as a kid; you can’t go there now without permission. The place is completely private and the road in is locked shut by an iron gate. When I saw the gate I knew what I wanted to write about, but the particulars seemed to somehow take care of themselves.
Another reviewer compared your novel, favorably, to Gabríel Garcia Márquez,noting that Santa Rita, the setting for your book, reminds one of Macondo, García Márquez's fictional Colombian town. I was taken by the elaborate levels of characterization, the creative imagery, and the non-linear approach to the narrative. Where did all this come from? In other words, what is the inspiration for your style of writing?
I learned early on, mostly from my abuelo, that a story is a living thing. I don’t ever remember hearing a story that began at A and ended at Z. I didn’t grow up with typical plot structures as a model. My mom didn’t read Mother Goose to me, or anything of the sort. I tell people that and they look at me like I was abused, as if to say that my parents not reading to me was some sort of 20th century crime. I never felt deprived, however. Everyone around me told great stories, and those were my bedtime stories. For example, my abuelito would tell a story and then a few weeks later I would hear the same story from the sheepherder and they were remarkably different, yet essentially the same. The teller of the story was always the heart, the information the blood and the listener the soul. I try and remain true to this model, not only in the novel but in all my writing. I guess my people were born of circles because that’s the way we still communicate.
As for the imagery and characterization, the imagery has always been a matter of paying attention to things around me, little things. I specifically look for things that most people wouldn’t notice and make a mental note to somehow use that somewhere in my writing. The characters, many of them, were based on real people, but a lot of them were dreamt or hybrids of classical literary figures and real people. For example, and I hope I don’t tip my hand too much with this, Nomio is based on some very real people in my life, but the name Nomios is another name for Hermes. Apollonio is Apollo, but he is also human in that some of his characteristics are based on people I grew up around. All in all, every name, well most of them anyway, are allusions to real, literary, religious or historical figures. The names were my way of developing characters that were already familiar but without making them too obvious; they were also a way of paying tribute to all of my influences. Sorry for the long answer. I got carried away.
I think the novel is complicated in the sense that the layers of characterization and interwoven stories require a reader's undivided attention and a commitment to pay attention to the details. This is not a criticism. I think your cast of characters at the beginning of the novel hints that you may agree with me. Do you?
The cast of characters at the beginning was not really my idea, per se. My publishers wanted a family tree, like the one that Gabriel García Márquez used at the beginning of 100 Years of Solitude. The problem, however, was that the characters weren’t from the same family. There would have been about 6 or 7 family trees. As a compromise we decided on the cast of characters option. If it would have been up to me, and in the end I guess it was, I think I would have left the character list out, but since the names of the characters are very traditional and therefore not common we (the publishers and myself) agreed that we should provide some sort of assistance to the reader. I know that one reviewer took exception with this and even hinted at there being too many characters for such a “thin” book.
To answer your question though, I really did want the book to be accessible on a lot of levels. I wanted each story to stand on its own but also to be part of a bigger whole. I wanted allusion to play a major role in the book, but I didn’t want the reader to feel obligated to look everything up. Therefore, yes, I suppose the book is complicated, but I would also hope that on the most basic level it is also as simple as listening to a story being told.
Aaron's website is www.aaronabeyta.com. He wanted me to make sure folks know that his books can be found at bookstores, through Ghost Road Press, and at online outlets such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Thank you, Aaron.
... y más
Abiquiú Studio Tour
There’s a nice article (Georgia On Their Minds) in Lexus Magazine (yes, that Lexus) about the annual Abiquiú Studio Tour, a unique art festival in the heart of New Mexico. Each October for the past 13 years the collective of more than 60 artists opens its work spaces and homes to visitors who are bound to be charmed by the wide-ranging vision and diverse mix of painting, etching, sculpture, weaving, and many other formats. Included in the article are short interviews with several of the artists such as Leopoldo Garcia, described as “a ponytailed Vietnam veteran with a linebacker’s build and a voice that rasps and burbles like a cabin-cruiser at low tide,” and Barbara Manzanares, a weaver who says that her mother always told her “if you learn to weave you’ll never be hungry.” October is one of the best months to spend time in New Mexico and this festival sounds like a perfect way to spend that time. Abiquiú and the Ghost Ranch are indelibly linked to Georgia O’Keeffe as the places where she found inspiration and solace. You can read more by jumping to this link.
José Latour on Selling Culture
The International Association of Crime Writers’ website now offers articles by members. Included in the lineup is an article by José Latour, entitled The Influence of Promotion on the Entertainment and Cultural Markets. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article:
“Ninety- and one-hundred-year-old copies of newspapers and magazines from the U.S., France and Spain prove that books were reviewed frequently, but publicity and advertising were almost nonexistent. Until the 1910s, perhaps the 1920s, the number of copies a book sold and the attendance at cultural events were mostly the result of reviews and word of mouth. Most publishers saw themselves as purveyors of culture; they didn't want to lose money, but making money was not their raison d'être. Bookselling was considered a very dignified way of making a living.
“A hundred years later books are merchandise in the marketplace. In fiction and non-fiction alike, publicity and advertising are determinant. In mass-market fiction, promotion is indispensable. The big chain stores have a single purpose: to make money. Independent publishers and booksellers, among whom, it seems, many idealists continue to exist, also depend on good- and best-sellers to survive.”
The entire article is here.
Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair
The 23d Annual Rocky Mountain Book and Paper Fair will be held at the Merchandise Mart in Denver on August 3 and 4. Over 75 dealers will have on hand “an outstanding collection of books and vintage ephemera for sale” including maps, art and photographs. The press release notes that some of the items on display or for sale include first editions of John C. Fremont’s report of his first three expeditions and his role in the conquest of California (sounds like right up your alley, Sol); L. Frank Baum’s Glinda of Oz; John Arrowsmith’s map of the Republic of Texas, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men; and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Get many more details here.
This is the tip of the iceberg of a huge conversation, but I just want to get it started.
This week at the ABA publisher forums, the first evening was a session where publishers answered questions compiled from a number of booksellers. One of the biggest was, of course, what publishers are doing to make their industry more green.
I admit to being a tad disappointed by their answers up there on the dais -- most of them had to do with making their offices more green, like not using water bottles and not printing out emails. That's good, but obviously the question really refers to the huge impact of the massive amounts of paper used to create their product: books.
I jumped up and made an impassioned (and okay, slightly drunken) plea that publishers start talking about whether we can be proud of where books come from, in terms of both the environmental impact and the labor impact. If books are being made from paper from trees cut down in the Amazon and printed and bound in sweatshops in China, we need to know, and it needs to change.
Nobody really responded to my question/plea (they didn't exactly ignore it -- the conversation just moved on). I wasn't sure whether it's because it was a dumb thing to say, or they just didn't have an answer, or they didn't want to talk about it. In talking the whole thing over later in the week with my buddy Steve, who works both the bookselling and publishing angles, I've realized it may have been all of those. And I also realized how little I know about where the books in my store come from.
First of all, Steve set me straight on the sweatshop printer thing. Most books published in America, he tells me, are printed in American printshops, because it's still a skilled labor thing, not the automated factory monstrosity I'd imagined. In fact, you can usually find out where a book was printed right on the copyright page. I'd never looked. Some books, though by no means all, actually have the name and address of the printer on the title page, and most say "Printed in the USA" or words to that effect. I guess that doesn't guarantee no one's being exploited, but Steve says in his visits to printers everyone seems to take pride in their work and think of themselves as artisans.
(Some glossy art books are printed in Italy, he says, where they have better facilities for that sort of thing. And my boss says that some four-color printing does take place in China, where standards for labor and environmental responsibility are much lower than they are here.)
Well then, where do the trees come from?, I wanted to know, clinging to my righteous indignation. That we couldn't answer, though he promised to look into it.
But he did send me this bit from Publishers Weekly -- talk about impact. "The U.S. publishing industry emits over 12.4 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, or about 8.85 pounds per book." I'm going to have to read more about that in PW this week.
Clearly that number ain't good, and we need to change things if we can.
At the forum discussion, one bookseller (the clearly brilliant Arsen Kashkashian, head buyer at the Boulder Bookstore and proprietor of the blog Kash's Book Corner) asked whether publishers couldn't increase the price differential between returnable and non-returnable books. That would be an incentive for booksellers to buy non-returnable, which would mean fewer books returned to publishers. Returns often get pulped, destroyed -- massive waste of paper and energy. But would that result in fewer initial book sales, as booksellers are more wary of taking a chance on something they can't return?
Another suggestion (mostly posited by those outside the book industry I think) is the move to electronic books -- just get rid of that pesky paper altogether. While I'm intrigued by e-books, I think that's a false switch. Paper, at least, is recyclable and biodegradable (usually). While digital files don't have a carbon footprint exactly, the electronics to read them on are made with metals like mercury that don't go quietly back into the earth -- they're difficult to dispose of and sometimes literally poisonous. And electronics often come with "built-in obsolescence" -- they're designed to be tossed when the next big thing comes along, adding to the massive, scary amount of e-waste.
One thing some publishers are talking about is using paper from sustainable forests -- that is, those that are managed, replanted, not clear cut, and thus better for the ongoing health of the planet. And of course, there's always the option of printing on recycled or partially-recycled paper. But both of those options are more expensive than traditional methods, which might lead to jacking up the cost of the book itself, or a cut in profits to the publishers if not. So the move is happening very slowly, if at all.
All of these solutions are problematic, but it seems as though we've got to start thinking about it.
What do YOU think? Do you have knowledge to share about any of these factors or practices? What do you think makes the most sense for the book industry to do going forward? Any insights or thoughts would be much appreciated. It seems clear that this is the something we need to tackle as an industry, and something we should be better informed about as booksellers. I hope to talk more about this in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, I feel lucky to work in an industry that's got enough idealists that we know we've got to do the right thing, even if it takes a little while to figure out what that is.
Clearly, it's time to read Lev Grossman's article in Time about the future of books. I expect to agree, argue, and quibble in various measures. In the meantime, GalleyCat has a good summary and analysis of the piece, especially as it pertains to us snobby NYers.
In the meantime, Bookninja pointed me to an indie bookstore story from Britain that sounds like something out of a Frank Capra movie. An MP from Lancashire discovered that his beloved, homey local indie bookstore is closing because of economic pressure. So he storms into Parliament and tells everyone it's high time the government started supporting locally owned small businesses. And for good measure, he tells publishers they'd better be careful about relying too much on chains and online sellers, because "it's in their own interests to have a large number of outlets." Since when did a politician get so passionate, practical, and well-informed? Truly it is a new day in politics. Perhaps Kaydee Bookshop in Clitheroe will become our rallying cry for a new politics of supporting the local and independent.
Over at Bookends blog they have been discussing scams in the publishing industry. I was pointed to the blog by an author who wrote this post.
At an SCBWI monitoring workshop, we met an editor from a large publishing house. She requested and eventually read our YA/MG full manuscript. She requested revisions, which we completed and submitted. The manuscript was then “under consideration” for almost a year. (I still do not understand what that means!) During that time, we would see the editor at other events and she would consistently praise our work. Eventually, we got a rejection letter from her saying that the manuscript just needs too much editing for publication at this time. About a month afterward, we found out she’d left the house and opened an independent editing service. We approach her thinking . . . ”Here is someone we know is a professional and has the knowledge to correct any problems.” (At least she did not approach us.) We entered into a contract and pre-paid $750 (out of a $1500 total) for her to edit the manuscript, query letter and synopsis. She gave us a first draft revision date which came and went. We followed up. She responded she needed more time. This went back and forth for awhile. But the bottom line of the story is that in the end we got no editing, no return of our deposit and, now, cannot find her at all. So, here is my question, how do you know who to trust in the industry even with everything on the web? How do we even know we need the editing in the first place and this was not just part of her leaving her house?
If you want this person’s name you can find it in the comment section over at Bookends. http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/
It made me think about how even the most savvy authors can be scammed or treated in an unethical manner. So I called another author who had a different experience with a very reputable critiquing service and asked him to write up his story for you to read.
Here it is:
Approximately five years ago, I engaged a children’s book editor to read, line and copy edit and advise me on a middle grade manuscript. Her fee was in the $600 range, paid up front, that was consistent with her stature as a successful children’s book editor before starting her own manuscript critiquing service.
To be clear, her credentials were excellent: a former executive editor with many years expertise under her belt.
She was initially very professional, providing an engagement contract to commence my work. In turn, I was specific in what I wanted from her: a completely line and copy edited manuscript and a written critique with appropriate suggestions.
Several weeks after submitting the manuscript she emailed to say that she had read the first 30 some odd pages and didn’t feel the manuscript was good enough to warrant line and copy editing. She offered, with reduction in fee, to review just the first 50 pages and provide only a written critique. I declined.
I reminded her of the engagement (line and copy editing the entire manuscript) and asked that she return the manuscript and my payment. I further offered to pay for her time reading the first 30 pages.
She declined and refused to release me from