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

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.”

July 29, 2019

Can a Book Cure Mental Illness?
The New York Times

In graduate school, I remember my delight at hearing the word bibliotherapy, a term for the psychological benefit patients get from discussing books in a session. I had always found emotional comfort in books; how healing it was to find myself in fictional characters or in a stranger’s memoir, to realize I wasn’t alone in my particular distress or messy situation or fraught emotional makeup. But to know that this was a thing, well, I was practically giddy.

It’s not clear when bibliotherapy first appeared in the psychological literature, but psychologists didn’t invent the concept. Back in the first millennium, the portal to the library of Pharaoh Ramses II bore the inscription “Healing-place of the Soul.” The term itself was coined in 1916 by the minister Samuel Crothers. It seems a no-brainer, though, that therapists, bookish by nature, would adopt it in their practices.

Not only does reading help people to feel less alone, but also patients often find it easier to confront their own difficult experiences or thoughts in the context of a book. “I just got to the part where Olivia says she’s not sure she still loves her husband,” a patient might say of a character in a novel, as a way of working through her own conflicted feelings before she’s ready to face them directly herself.

Against Style Guides — Sort Of

When Lynne Truss wrote, in her best-selling 2003 grammar screed Eats, Shoots & Leaves, of “a world of plummeting punctuation standards,” she was (perhaps unwittingly) joining an ancient tradition. How long, exactly, have shortsighted curmudgeons been bemoaning the poor grammar of the generations that follow theirs? According to Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style, the answer is, like, forever: “Some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.”

The notion of being taught language has always been oxymoronic because language is in a constant state of flux, a restless, malleable, impatient entity that, like the idea of now, can never be fixed in place. Take, for instance, the journey of the semicolon as chronicled in the delightful, enlightening new book by Cecelia Watson, Semicolon: The Past, Present, and Future of a Misunderstood Mark. The twisty history of the hybrid divider perfectly embodies the transience of language, the ways it can be shaped by cultural shifts that have nothing to do with correctness or clarity. Invented by the Italian humanist and font pioneer Aldus Manutius in the late-15th century, the semicolon was originally “meant to signify a pause of a length somewhere between that of the comma and that of the colon” (hence its design).

Other punctuation marks — such as the “punctus percontativus, or the rhetorical question mark, which was a mirror-image version of the question mark” — turned out to be passing fads, but the semicolon lasted, owing partly to its usefulness and partly to the trends of the day. For much of the early 1800s, usage of the parenthesis and the colon declined drastically. Two grammar guides of the time declared the parenthesis “nearly obsolete,” while another noted, “The COLON is now so seldom used by good writers that rules for its use are unnecessary.” As those marks waned, the semicolon waxed, flourishing to the point of overuse.

Audiobook Sales Jumped 24% in 2018
Publishers Weekly

Publishers’ sales of audiobooks rose 24.5% in 2018 over 2019, reaching $940 million, according to the recent sales survey sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association. Unlike past surveys, the 2018 report features publishers’ sales receipts, rather than estimated consumer sales.

The report also confirmed the role sales of digital audio have played in the growth in the format. Over 91% of audiobook sales came from the digital format, the APA said.

The survey found that the most popular audiobook genres in the U.S. last year were general fiction, mysteries/thrillers/suspense, and science fiction/fantasy. However, the APA noted, nonfiction audio sales have grown and represented 32.7% of unit sales in 2018, led by general nonfiction, history/biography/memoir, and self-help.

June 18, 2019

Does Reading Fiction Make Us Better People?

This exercise in perspective-taking is like a training course in understanding others. The Canadian cognitive psychologist Keith Oatley calls fiction “the mind’s flight simulator”. Just as pilots can practise flying without leaving the ground, people who read fiction may improve their social skills each time they open a novel. In his research, he has found that as we begin to identify with the characters, we start to consider their goals and desires instead of our own. When they are in danger, our hearts start to race. We might even gasp. But we read with luxury of knowing that none of this is happening to us. We don’t wet ourselves with terror or jump out of windows to escape.

Having said that, some of the neural mechanisms the brain uses to make sense of narratives in stories do share similarities with those used in real-life situations. If we read the word “kick”, for example, areas of the brain related to physically kicking are activated. If we read that a character pulled a light cord, activity increases in the region of the brain associated with grasping.

To follow a plot, we need to know who knows what, how they feel about it and what each character believes others might be thinking. This requires the skill known as “theory of mind”. When people read about a character’s thoughts, areas of the brain associated with theory of mind are activated.

How Kickstarter Is Reshaping The Publishing Industry

That inclusion is the big difference between the traditional publishing industry and Kickstarter’s book projects: The latter has gatekeepers and the former doesn’t. The argument in favor of gatekeepers is that they serve to shift the good from the bad. The argument against them? Thanks to systemic bias and prejudices, they winnow out plenty of good as well as bad.

“Kickstarter allows writers to go directly to readers and let them choose which books get made, which has resulted in books being published that speak to experiences that often aren’t represented in mainstream publishing,” Atwell explains. ”The Destroy anthology series is one example of this: it’s a series of speculative fiction and fantasy anthologies dedicated to showcasing the work and stories of People of Color, LGBTQ folks, and disabled people. Mainstream publishers might have looked at these projects and declared them too niche or imagined that there wasn’t a market for them, but these Kickstarter projects have proved that there definitely is an audience for stories centering people who don’t often get to see themselves represented.”

Business is indeed booming for Kickstarter’s “Publishing” and “Journalism” categories, which together are up 6% in dollars pledged YTD over the same period last year, at $8.9 million over 2018’s $8.4 million. Across Kickstarter’s ten-year lifespan, a total of $178.6 million has been pledged to Publishing and Journalism projects by more than two million individual backers.

How Has the Internet Changed Book Culture?
Publishers Weekly

If there was one major takeaway from the evening, it was that all of the panelists believed that the internet has served to expand literary culture and its reach. Straub described literary activity on the web as “a good cocktail party, where it’s always busy and you’re not the only one there,” and Lee noted that readers who might have had a hard time finding others with similar tastes before the age of social media no longer have that problem. “You can really find your tribe online,” she said, adding that this makes the internet an ideal tool for “having a one to one conversation with the people who love to talk about books” in a way that allows authors, publishers, and others to really “zero in on readers.”

Zimmerman agreed. “Historically, being a book lover off the internet was either very personal,” she said, “or very academic. And what the internet allows us to do in changing the way we interact with books is see what people connect with…[,]how people form identity communities, and how those communities affect what they read and how they read it.”

Any big forum has its downside, of course. For Straub, that’s the needless culture of one-star reviews on sites like GoodReads or Amazon. “Is that the best use of your time?” she asked. “To me, rating things is not the point. The point is finding the books that speak to you and finding the other people who those books speak to—if you want to. Or just enjoying the book.”

May 21, 2019

Literature provides shelter. That’s why we need it
The Guardian

As we lurch into the future, in this blitzkrieg of idiocy, Facebook “likes,” fascist marches, fake-news coups, and what looks like a race toward extinction—what is literature’s place? What counts as literature? Who decides? Obviously, there is no single, edifying answer to these questions. So, if you will forgive me, I’m going to talk about my own experience of being a writer during these times—of grappling with the question of how to be a writer during these times, in particular in a country like India, a country that lives in several centuries simultaneously.

A Different Kind of Literary Festival
Publishers Weekly

Audiences packed venues throughout New York City, from an East Village basement to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, May 6–12 to hear more than 200 writers, artists, and activists speak about the blurring boundary between private and public spaces. Now in its 15th year, PEN World Voices has distinguished itself as an international literary festival with a focus on human rights. Founded by Esther Allen, Michael Roberts, and Salman Rushdie in reaction to 9/11, the festival aims to expand dialogue between the U.S. and the rest of the world—a mission that PEN America said “has never been more relevant.”

PEN recruited Chip Rolley as senior director of literary programs in 2017, and last year he began to direct the festival with an approach that links literature and current events. “My hope is that festivals can provide a bridge between the ideas and issues that we’re confronting in the news or talking about with our friends and loved ones with the literature that we’re reading,” Rolley said. “I try to execute a theme that creates a through line so that the festival itself is a kind of a story. I think I’ve done that both years, and this year in particular.”

For the 2019 festival, the theme was “open secrets,” and many authors from around the world described how they’ve resisted oppression to speak the truth and reach large audiences in the process.

May 3, 2019

The State of the Mystery: Part I of a Roundtable Discussion

Once again, the Edgar Awards are upon us—that august night of crime and mystery when honors are bestowed, traditions celebrated, and champions of the genre feted. This Thursday, authors, editors, and crime and mystery professionals will gather in the banquet hall of the New York City Grand Hyatt Hotel to hear the winners announced, and to toast those who have dedicated their lives to crime and mystery, just as the Mystery Writers of America have done for decades.

Ahead of the ceremony, we caught up with 20+ Edgar nominees, including the nominees for this year’s inaugural Sue Grafton Award. We’ve organized their responses into a roundtable discussion on the state of mystery and crime fiction. Because there were an enormous number of highly entertaining and thoughtful responses from the authors, we split the discussion into two parts. In Part I of the roundtable, writers and editors discuss what exactly is a crime novel, the most pressing issues in the genre today, how to build a career as a crime writer, and the best gateway drugs for mystery.

Consumer Use of Audiobooks Continues to Rise
Publishers Weekly

Half of all Americans over the age of 12 have listened to an audiobook in the past year, according to a new consumer survey and research report from Edison Research and Triton Media, conducted on behalf of the Audio Publishers Association. This is up from 44% of in 2018. The further penetration can be attributed to more users listening in cars. According to the new report, 74% of audiobook consumers listen in their car, up from 69% in 2018, and 19% percent of Americans age 12 and older have access to an in-dash information and entertainment system in their (or their family’s) vehicle, up from 15% last year — of those, 62% who have in-dash systems have listened to an audiobook.

Home listening is second most popular way of listening to audiobooks, with 68% of respondents saying they listen at home, down from 71% in 2018. The survey revealed that 42% of audiobook listeners age 18 and older own a smart speaker (Alexa or Google Home device, for example) and of those, nearly one-third are using them to listen to audiobooks.

April 25, 2019

‘It drives writers mad’: why are authors still sniffy about sci-fi?
The Guardian

Ian McEwan’s latest novel, Machines Like Me, is a fiction about science – specifically, artificial intelligence. It is set in an alternative reality where Alan Turing does not kill himself but invents the internet instead; where JFK is never assassinated and Margaret Thatcher’s premiership ends with the beginning of the Falklands war. The near future of the real world becomes the present of the novel, giving McEwan the space to explore prescient what-ifs: what if a robot could think like a human, or human intelligence could not tell the difference between itself and AI?

Machines Like Me is not, however, science fiction, at least according to its author. “There could be an opening of a mental space for novelists to explore this future,” McEwan said in a recent interview, “not in terms of travelling at 10 times the speed of light in anti-gravity boots, but in actually looking at the human dilemmas.” There is, as many readers noticed, a whiff of genre snobbery here, with McEwan drawing an impermeable boundary between literary fiction and science fiction, and placing himself firmly on the respectable side of the line.

Pushing Diversity Forward in Publishing
Publishers Weekly

People of Color in Publishing and We Need Diverse Books, two volunteer organizations focused on making the book industry more diverse, held a joint town hall meeting on April 11 in the auditorium of the Penguin Random House building to mark their progress and discuss plans for the future.

The meeting attracted a crowd of nearly 90 industry professionals for a panel featuring WNDB founder/CEO Ellen Oh that was moderated by POCinPub founder Patrice Caldwell. Along with Oh, the panel featured WNDB executive director Nicole Johnson and WNDB program director Carolyn Richmond. They updated town hall attendees on the impact of WNBD’s programs, as well as on the fast growth and development of POCinPub since its founding in 2017.

AAP Reports Publisher Revenue Up 7.2% in February 2019
The Digital Reader

AAP just issued the February StatShot Monthly report which includes data for the first two months of 2019.
Among the highlights:

  • Overall participating publisher revenue was $754.0 million in February 2019, an increase of $50.8 million (+7.2%) compared to 2018.
  • February 2019 saw strong gains for hardback books, with revenue increasing 18.0% from the prior year to $172.9 million, due to across-the-board increases in each of the trade categories.
  • eBook revenues fell 3.5%, to $$166.5 million.
  • Audiobook revenues rose 36.5%, to$90.5 million.
  • In the first two months of 2019, publisher net revenue for trade (consumer) books was $1.06 billion, an increase of 3.2% from January-February in 2018.

April 17, 2019

The Netflix Literary Connection
Publishers Weekly

Netflix has been on a book acquisition spree over the past year, developing screen adaptations of dozens of novels, series, short story collections, and graphic novels. About 50 of these literary properties are being turned into series projects, while the screening service has announced plans to adapt only a handful into features—a list that includes Button Man by John Wagner, I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid, Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani, and The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry.

Many of Netflix’s deals begin with Maria Campbell Literary Associates. In 2017, Netflix exclusively retained that agency for its book-scouting efforts to find English- and foreign-language titles to adapt from around the world, including from the U.S. “I’m on the phone with them every week, talking about what’s going on in New York, what’s new, and about library properties as well,” Thunell said. In addition, Netflix executives now attend such international literary rights events as the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Campbell’s agency has also helped the company forge deeper relationships with publishers. For example, Netflix is adapting Frank Miller and Tom Wheeler’s illustrated novel Cursed as a series and coordinating release schedules with Simon & Schuster. “That is the kind of partnership that we’re really craving,” Thunell said. “To get in early with publishers and do something that is really mutually beneficial.”