January 14, 2020

‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ Was Top Seller in 2019

Publishers Weekly

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens was the bestselling print book in 2019 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Owens’s debut was one of the biggest-selling novels in recent years and easily topped one million copies sold in the year, a rare occurrence for the print edition of an adult fiction book. In 2018, The President Is Missing by James Patterson and Bill Clinton was the top-selling novel, selling more than 703,000 copies. Michelle Obama’s Becoming, the bestselling print book in 2018, finished in second place on the 2019 bestseller list, selling 1.1 million copies. The third book that topped the million-mark level last year was Dog Man: For Whom the Ball Rolls by Dav Pilkey.

Pilkey had three books among the top 20 print bestsellers in 2019 and led a great year for Scholastic’s trade group. In addition to Pilkey’s three books, which are published by Scholastic’s graphic novel imprint Graphix, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, also published by Graphix, sold nearly 444,000 print copies last year, landing it in 17th place on the 2019 bestseller list, while The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith, released by Scholastic Paperbacks, sold 498,326 copies in 2019, putting it at #14.

Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem

Camestros Felapton

The repeated spamming of Patrick S Tomlinson’s unpublished book with fake reviews continues on Goodreads. Looking at the long list of reviews (currently 124 ratings) it is clear that some have been removed, presumably after being flagged by multiple people. However, with the trolls targetting the book easily generating new accounts the net number of fake reviews continues to grow.

This kind of coordinated pre-emptive spamming of negative reviews isn’t new. The film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes had to take steps last year to curtail a right-wing attack on the as-the-time unreleased Captain Marvel. [see https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/5/23/18637464/rotten-tomatoes-audience-verified-score-trolls-brigading-review-bombing]

Preventing reviews of unreleased properties seems like a minimum first step in limiting the capacity of coordinated campaigns to hijack a review site. While it won’t prevent other coordinated attacks on released books, unreleased (but listed) works are more vulnerable as they have no natural reviews being written.

OverDrive Reports Record Digital Borrowing in 2019

Publishers Weekly

Public libraries around the world generated a record level of digital content circulation in 2019, providing patrons access to more than 326 million e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines, a 20% increase over the previous year, according to a report by Rakuten OverDrive, a digital distribution vendor for libraries. Late last year, Rakuten agreed to sell OverDrive to the private equity firm KKR.

According to the report, 73 public library systems in five countries each loaned over 1 million digital books over the past year, including eight systems that hit the million loans mark for the first time. Among the top digital library lending systems are the Toronto Public Library (6.6 million digital loans), Los Angeles Public Library (the top U.S. library with 5.9 million digital loans); and the National Library Board of Singapore (the top lender outside of North America with 4.2 million loans).

January 10, 2020

A History of Buying Books onto the Bestseller List

BookRiot

In November, Donald Trump Jr.’s Triggered hit number one on the New York Times bestsellers list—with an asterisk. Or more accurately, a dagger (†). This is the first time many people noticed this dagger and learned that it means the NYT believes the book has made it onto the list with the help of bulk purchases. It is, however, far from the first book to do this.

8 Podcasts That Will Make You a Better Writer

Electric Literature

From a sex advice column to a murder mystery, learn how to improve your craft by listening to these live storytelling episodes.

December 29, 2019

Control Or Creativity?

Fiction Notes

Who’s in control of the publishing process? Once the contract is signed, does the author have any say in what happens to the story? Traditional contracts specify that the publishing company will publish as they see fit. In other words, control is given to the publisher by the contract.

One criticism of indie authors is that are control freaks. Indeed, many indies will say that control is one of their main issues in choosing how to publish. And that’s seen in a disparaging light, as if the indie author isn’t a team player. From this perspective, the indie author doesn’t understand of the publishing process. Editors edit, illustrators provide the art, and each does their professional jobs as part of a team. An author’s professional job stops when the text is finished.

Let’s examine this issue of “control” in the publishing process. To do that, I want to look at an interview on Terri Gross’s Fresh Air NPR program with Marielle Heller, director of “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Born of Friendship, the Book Group Is Making Its Mark as an Agency

Publishers Weekly

Walking into the offices of the Book Group, housed in a small (by Manhattan standards) building on West 20th Street, one is greeted by the standard design trappings of literary agencies. Posters of book jackets line the walls and dozens upon dozens of books sit on shelves hanging above desks in cubicles and offices.

In the conference room, where the books of clients sit spine out on shelves that stretch from hip level to the ceiling, the vibe is unusually positive. Those who work in publishing can tend toward glass-half-empty. The eight women who work at Book Group (four principals, one senior agent, one agent, and two assistants) seem different. It feels a bit like stepping onto the set of a TV show about book publishing—one cast by the creators of Friends, featuring characters written by Aaron Sorkin.

Founded in 2015 by Julie Barer, Faye Bender, Brettne Bloom, and Elisabeth Weed, the Book Group marked the coming together of four highly regarded agents. (Each either left her own firm or a position as a principal at another firm to form the Book Group.) It also marked the union of four friends. This might explain the congenial atmosphere in the conference room. And, according to Bloom, the creation of the agency was, to some extent, a long-term goal.

November 6, 2019

Who Gave You the Right to Tell That Story? Ten authors on the most divisive question in fiction, and the times they wrote outside their own identities.

Vulture

A few years ago, a writer named Ashima Saigal from Grand Rapids, Michigan, witnessed an incident on a bus in which a group of black kids were mistreated by the police. She was disturbed, and soon after, she wrote about it. Later, reading over what she’d written, she realized the story wasn’t working. She’d tried to write from one of the kid’s perspectives, but Saigal, who is Indian-American, wasn’t sure that she had the skill or knowledge to write from the point of view of a black child. She decided to sign up for an online creative writing course called “Writing the Other.”

The course was founded by the speculative-fiction writers Nisi Shawl, who is black, and Cynthia Ward, who is white, nearly twenty years ago. They’d met a decade or so earlier, at a fantasy and science-fiction workshop, and were inspired to design their own writing class after a conversation with another classmate, a white friend who’d declared that she’d never write a character who didn’t share her background or identity because she’d be sure to get it wrong. “My immediate thought was, ‘well that’s taking the easy way out!’” recalled Shawl. While imagining the lives of people who are different from you is virtually a prerequisite of most successful fiction writing, the consequences of doing it poorly have grown more serious since the pre-Twitter, pre-woke ’90s, as the conversation about who gets to tell whose stories has moved from the fringes of publishing into the mainstream. J.K. Rowling, Lionel Shriver, and Kathryn Stockett have all caught heat for botching the job. In the young-adult fiction world, a number of books have been pulled in advance of their releases for clichéd and problematic portrayals of minorities. The conversation is often depicted in the media as a binary: On one side are those who argue that only writers from marginalized backgrounds should tell stories about people who share their cultural histories — a course correction for an industry that is overwhelmingly white — while on the other are those who say this wish amounts to censorship.

John Sargent’s Math Just Doesn’t Add Up

The Digital Reader

Today is the 30th of October. In two days Macmillan will enact its new policy embargoing ebook sales to libraries, a policy which is so unpopular that John Sargent has sent out another letter defending the policy.

Today’s letter makes just as little sense as the one Sargent sent out back in July (PDF). Sargent is apparently convinced that library ebooks – but not the print books in a library’s collection – negatively impact retail ebook sales.

I have already previously shown that the idea that only library ebook usage can hurt retail ebook sales doesn’t really make sense given what we know about library patron behavior. To put it simply, when patrons browse libraries, we are looking for availability, not a specific format. Make the ebook more difficult to access, something the publishers have been doing for the past 8 years, and we’ll check out the print book instead.

October 29, 2019

Will Robots Make the Next Big Bestsellers?

Publishers Weekly

In November, around 100 coders and creative writers are expected to take the National Novel Generation Month (NaNoGenMo) challenge, for which they’ll build computer programs, specialized artificial intelligence, and other digital tools capable of generating 50,000-word novels. According to a survey of 352 AI researchers, AI will be writing bestselling novels 20 years from now—and NaNoGenMo offers a very early glimpse of that future.

NaNoGenMo began in 2013, when author and creative programmer Darius Kazemi saw thousands of human writers drafting 50,000-word manuscripts for November’s National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge and instead invited his Twitter readers to “spend the month writing code that generates a 50k word novel.” Between 100 and 200 people take part each year, a tiny crew compared to the more than 798,000 active NaNoWriMo writers. Nevertheless, according to NaNoGenMo participant Zach Whalen, the coding marathon has generated around 400 completed novels and nearly 45 million words.

“Seeing people in NaNoGenMo use AI and scripting in creative ways has been really illuminating,” said author Janelle Shane, who has participated twice. In November, she will release You Look Like a Thing and I Love You, a nonfiction book from Little, Brown’s Voracious imprint describing her AI writing experiments. For NaNoGenMo 2018, she shared a collection of Dungeons & Dragons character descriptions created by her homemade AI. “AI is going to be used as an increasingly sophisticated tool,” Shane said. “But if you give 10 artists the same tool, they’ll come up with 10 very different things. NaNoGenMo highlights this ingenuity and all the different things we can draw out of the same base model.”

October 21, 2019

The Little-Known ‘Slow Fire’ That’s Destroying All Our Books

Lit Hub

It’s called a “slow fire,” this continuous acidification and subsequent embrittlement of paper that was created with the seeds of its own ruin in its very fibers. In a 1987 documentary on the subject, the deputy Librarian of Congress William Welsh takes an embrittled, acid-burned book and begins tearing pages out by the handful, crumbling them into shards with an ease reminiscent of stepping on a dried-up insect carcass.

The destruction is inevitable. Depending on how a book was made and how it’s been stored, embrittlement can happen in as little as 30 to 100 years. Already, books have been lost, and the methods of preservation are too limited, time-consuming, and expensive to address the scale of the problem. Mass deacidification, where an alkaline neutralizing agent is introduced via a spray or solution applied to paper, once seemed like the golden solution; but while it can be used to prevent slightly acidified paper from deteriorating, it doesn’t reverse the effects of prior damage. The fallback is digitization—a fancy way to say mass-scanning, and the most used method of saving the content of a text, but not the book itself. In an article about the Library of Congress’ digitization efforts, Kyle Chayka reports that it would take literally decades of scanning to preserve the institution’s over 160 million object collection. At our existing technology’s current scanning pace, preserving the prints and photographs division alone would take about 300 years.

Self-Publishing Grew 40 Percent in 2018, New Report Reveals

Bowker

According to the latest report from ProQuest affiliate Bowker, self-publishing grew at a rate of 40 percent in 2018 – and shows no signs of slowing down.

Bowker’s annual study, “Self-Publishing in the United States, 2013-2018,” highlights self-publishing trends based on the number of ISBNs registered in the Bowker Books In Print® database. A book’s ISBN is a 13-digit product identifier used by libraries, booksellers, publishers and internet retailers for ordering, listing, sales records and inventory.

The combined total of self-published print books and ebooks with registered ISBNs grew from almost 1.2 million in 2017 to more than 1.6 million in 2018. The vast majority of those books came from the top three independent publishing platforms.

“The self-publishing landscape continues to improve, creating more and more opportunities for authors to manage their own path through the process,” said Beat Barblan, Vice President of Publishing and Data Services at Bowker and chairman of the board of the International ISBN Agency. “As more authors take advantage of the abundant tools now available to publish, distribute and market their own books, we expect that self-publishing will continue to grow at a steady pace.”

September 30, 2019

It’s a Fact: Mistakes Are Embarrassing the Publishing Industry

The New York Times

In the past year alone, errors in books by several high-profile authors — including Naomi Wolf, the former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, the historian Jared Diamond, the behavioral scientist and “happiness expert” Paul Dolan and the journalist Michael Wolff — have ignited a debate over whether publishers should take more responsibility for the accuracy of their books.

Some authors are hiring independent fact checkers to review their books. A few nonfiction editors at major publishing companies have started including rigorous professional fact-checking in their suite of editorial services.

While in the fallout of each accuracy scandal everyone asks where the fact checkers are, there isn’t broad agreement on who should be paying for what is a time-consuming, labor-intensive process in the low-margin publishing industry.

“The standard line from publishers is, ‘We rely on our authors,’ and, well, that’s not good enough,” said Gabriel Sherman, a journalist who paid two fact checkers $100,000 from his advance for his 2014 book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room,” about Roger E. Ailes and Fox News. “I wish publishers did see the importance of fact-checking as essentially an insurance policy.”

Pen American Report Explores Pernicious Practice of Banning Books in Nation’s Prisons

Pen America

In a new policy paper, the literary and human rights organization PEN America showcases the impact of the nation’s most pernicious book ban: the system of restrictions that exist across U.S. prisons, jails, and other incarceration settings. Some 2.2 million people are currently incarcerated across the country. Against that backdrop, Literature Locked Up: How Prison Book Restriction Policies Constitute the Nation’s Largest Book Ban details the types of book bans prisoners face, the arbitrariness with which they are implemented, and the lack of transparency and oversight that leads to bans on titles from Nobel Prize winners and leading historical figures. The publication of this paper comes amid PEN America’s Literature Locked Up initiative for Banned Books Week 2019.

“This year, as the country focuses on unfair and arbitrary book bans nationwide, we wanted to focus on the pernicious ban on books in the nation’s prisons,” said James Tager, author of the report and PEN America’s deputy director of free expression policy and research. “Literature offers a lifeline for incarcerated people in the midst of a dehumanizing system. We should be promoting access to literature in our prisons. Instead, our policies today are arbitrary, irrational, and at times needlessly cruel. We urgently need a course correction that upholds the right to read behind bars.”

September 16, 2019

What is hybrid publishing?
Nathan Bransford

In the last twenty years there has been an explosion of new publishing models that take advantage of new opportunities afforded by the internet and advances in printing on demand. There’s also been a corresponding rise in scams. So what is “hybrid publishing” and how does it fit into all of this?

Hybrid publishing isn’t quite traditional publishing and it isn’t quite self-publishing. Essentially: A hybrid publisher takes on some or all of the functions of a traditional publisher, but the author shares in more of both the initial investment (in the form of fees) as well as the upside (in the form of higher royalties).

It’s tough to generalize about hybrid publishing because there are so many different models with so many differing levels of legitimacy. Many scam artists out there have taken advantage of the hype around hybrid publishing in order to put a glossy spin on exploitive practices.

Why Angry Librarians Are Going to War With Publishers Over E-Books
Slate

If I wanted to borrow A Better Man by Louise Penny—the country’s current No. 1 fiction bestseller—from my local library in my preferred format, e-book, I’d be looking at about a 10-week waitlist. And soon, if the book’s publisher, a division of Macmillan, has its way, that already-lengthy wait time could get significantly longer.

In July, Macmillan announced that come November, the company will only allow libraries to purchase a single copy of its new titles for the first eight weeks of their release—and that’s one copy whether it’s the New York Public Library or a small-town operation that’s barely moved on from its card catalog. This has sparked an appropriately quiet revolt. Librarians and their allies quickly denounced the decision when it came down, and now the American Library Association is escalating the protest by enlisting the public to stand with libraries by signing an online petition with a populist call against such restrictive practices. (The association announced the petition Wednesday at Digital Book World, an industry conference in Nashville, Tennessee.) What’s unclear is whether the association can get the public to understand a byzantine-seeming dispute over electronic files and the right to download them.

September 2, 2019

The new literary tastemakers: can they be trusted?
The Bookseller

Last week, Barack Obama released his annual summer reading list, receiving 250,000 Facebook reactions and 26,000 comments. The ex-president is certainly not the first public personality to tout their literary nous; everyone from Emma Watson to Kim Kardashian West has opened their bookshelves to the world. But how are these celebrity tastemakers transforming what we read, and what does it mean for professional literary criticism?

To answer this, we need to understand why these public personalities choose to share what they’re reading. While all profess some form of altruistic mission, epitomised by Oprah Winfrey’s desire to “get the whole country reading again”, there are secondary benefits to having a successful book club.

Trade Sales Rose 3.8% in First Six Months
Publishers Weekly

Sales of trade books rose 3.8% in the first six months of 2019 over the comparable period in 2018, according to figures compiled by the AAP as part of its StatShot program.

AAP includes sales of adult books, children/young adult titles as well as religious presses in its trade group, and the religion segment had the biggest gain in the period with sales up 11.4%. Sales in the children/YA segment rose 7.4% in the first half of 2019 over 2018, while adult book sales increased 1.4%.

August 19, 2019

The Hazards of Writing While Female
The Atlantic

Why has the literary world gone crazy for Sally Rooney? Is it her age—28? Is it her two acclaimed novels, Conversations With Friends and Normal People? Or is it her “sensuous lips”?

According to the Swiss critic Martin Ebel, it is all three. In a recent articlepraising Rooney’s work, he wrote that the hype around her was helped by “promising” photographs where she “looks like a startled deer with sensuous lips.” The phrasing prompted a Twitter hashtag—#dichterdran, meaning “that’s more like it”—that was full of sarcastic suggestions for how male authors could be written about in future reviews.

Ebel’s piece points to a larger problem in the media: an asymmetric value system where men do, and women are. Elif Shafak, the author of 10 novels including 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, told me that she was once interviewed by an American writer in Istanbul. They had a wide-ranging conversation about literature, history, and politics, “and then when his travel book was published, I saw in horror that he had mostly written about what he thought I looked like.” In Shafak’s telling, “a male novelist is primarily a novelist. Nobody talks about his gender. But a woman novelist is primarily a woman.”