Category Archives: Publishing

Milton, Our Contemporary

Milton, as much as Shakespeare, remains our contemporary. As Wordsworth put it in a sonnet from 1802, ‘Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:/ England hath need of thee.’ One half of a nation almost as bitterly — if not as bloodily — divided as in his day needs to understand how the blind, scorned radical, ‘though fallen on evil days… In darkness, and with dangers compassed round’, channelled his dismay at the failure of England’s revolution and the restoration of monarchy into a masterpiece that finds salvation through despair. In 1660, Milton was arrested, imprisoned and might have gone to his death as an impenitent regicide without a few well-placed admirers. His epic, with its aim to ‘assert eternal providence/ And justify the ways of God to men’, climbs from his pit of disillusion to find meaning and hope in calamity. A hero for Remainers, then.

Boyd Tonkin urges us to read Milton today, because he will speak to us if we will listen. April is the 350th anniversary of Paradise Lost‘s publication. (via Prufrock News)

The Window Says Welcome, but the Door Says Closed

Family Christian Stores are closing. The company president said they could not compete in today’s market.

B&N sales are slumping. They report having success with educational toys and games, but still need to grow sales in general. The CEO says they are testing many ideas and some newly designed stores are working well. “He said B&N is ‘on the eve’ of developing a new prototype store ‘that we think will carry us well into the future,'” reports Publishers Weekly.

What do you think about the physical bookstores? Are they yesterday’s shopping venue? Will they go the way of Woolworth? What would you like to see in a local bookstore that would attract your business?

My only thought is that if a company like B&N could gain the reputation (reality aside) of having the book you want when you want it, readers would run to that. That may be too much. Perhaps making the shopping process as easy as walking through the store with your smart phone, but complications will always abound there.

But those are big store ideas. Blue Bunny Books in Dedham, Massachusetts, hopes its unique personal touch will sustain it in the shadow of a brick-and-mortar Amazon store. Its customers seem to think so.

Burned-out Author Forges On, Lands Deal

Nancy Peacock has done well as a novel writer, and her path has been a challenging one. Speaking of her mindset about ten years ago, she writes,

At the time, writing and publishing another book was the last thing on my mind. Although, even as I say it, that feels like a bit of a lie. I think publishing is always on a writer’s mind; I also think we have to forget about it. We have to write without feeding any fear regarding the future of a book, how we’re going to publish, how we’re going to reach an audience, and how the book will be received.

She describes how she soured on traditional publishing, chose to self-publish her third novel with professional help, and the key that turned her back to traditional publishing.

How an Indie Author Landed a Traditional Book Deal

Peacock doesn’t talk about her experience with queries, but whatever mistakes she may have made, I’m sure she didn’t make any of the ones agent Steve Laube lists in this post on odd queries he’s received.  Here’s one of them.

An email proposal with a cover note that reads, “I am sure you get a lot of proposals, but this one is worth your time to read.”
But the author claims they looked at what we agents want and then sent us something we specifically say we do not represent. Then says they followed our guidelines for submission but didn’t follow one of them. And then claims the Holy Spirit told them to write it and gave them the words. They must not have read what I wrote a while back “God Gave Me This Blog Post.”

Should Moby-Dick Be Hyphenated?

Ahab reloaded
“When this interlude was over, Captain Mayhew began a dark story concerning Moby Dick; not, however, without frequent interruptions from Gabriel, whenever his name was mentioned, and the crazy sea that seemed leagued with him.”

Why do we occasionally see Moby Dick with a hyphen? Because that’s how the original title ran. Erin Blakemore of the Smithsonian calls it a Victorian convention, but that doesn’t satisfy many readers.

“Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale” was published in the United States on this day in 1851, having been previously released in the United Kingdom. It didn’t sell well compared to his other books, and critics took a dim view:

The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition. The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English; and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed.

The Girl with the Bestselling Novel

Why do so many bestselling novels have “girl” in their title? Maybe it was inspired by Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and such. But author Emily St. John Mandel says the trend in titles started before Larsson’s books were released. Perhaps it’s a natural phenomenon. Mandel notes this interesting data point:

The “girl” in the title is much more likely to be a woman than an actual girl, and the author of the book is more likely to be a woman. But if a book with “girl” in the title was written by a man, the girl is significantly more likely to end up dead.

Now 75: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine celebrates its seventy-fifth anniversary this year. Bill Morris offers his thoughts on the magazine and an exhibition of it in the Butler Library at Columbia University.

In a land where most magazines have the lifespan of a fruit fly, how is it possible for one magazine to survive — and thrive — for 75 years? Janet Hutchings has a theory: “The great power that Frederic Dannay gave this magazine was its variety and its reach.”

For the first time in American publishing, the magazine published any good mystery it could: “hard-boiled stories, classic English mysteries, noirs, suspense, cozy mysteries, the work of literary writers.” It broke down barriers to what was acceptable to publish. “Now, writers of every stripe gleefully plunder one or more genres, stitching together scraps or horror, pulp, crime, fantasy, ghost stories, mysteries, westerns.”

Mine, mine, mine!

Among the great joys of life, at least for me (I’ll admit that my joys are somewhat circumscribed), getting a nice book for free is among the chief… examples.

Today when I got home from work (late) I found three volumes like this on my porch, all the way from Norway.

Flatey Book

They are the volumes published so far of the Saga Bok translation of the Flatøy Book, which has never been translated in full before – into any language, I believe. Saga Bok is engaged in producing a Norwegian version in full, in seven volumes. But the first three volumes constitute a distinct unit, with a different writer than the rest. This is the chief historical section of the work, and invaluable for a historical novelist like me.

Flatey Book III

Written in the 14th Century, Flatøy Book was originally compiled for the last king of Norway, who died before it was finished. At that point Norway was united with Denmark. In the 17th Century the book was relocated to Copenhagen, where it remained until 1971, when Iceland got it back, to great national rejoicing. It did spend a number of years in Norway, though, in the home of the scholar Tormod Torfæus (1636-1719), who lived at Avaldsnes, Karmøy, where my great-grandfather was born. Torfæus used it as a source for his great Latin history of Norway. So I feel some kinship with the book.

An English edition is planned, but I won’t be involved in that project. An Icelandic translator will, quite properly, handle that important job. But in the course of my ongoing translating relationship with Saga Bok I employed my ninja negotiating skills to request and receive these volumes.

Booty! I got booty! And not in the hip-hop sense.

Books & Culture: “Hurry Up, Please. It’s Time.”

If you don’t like it you can get on with it, I said.
Others can pick and choose if you can’t.

The strong Christian review magazine Books & Culture has announced it will close the bar and usher everyone out the door over the coming months. The next issue will be the final printed issue, and they will continue to publish online for 2017.

Alan Jacobs shares his thoughts, saying many people esteemed B&C.

“Alex Star, a former editor of the New York Times Magazine and now an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, once told me that he read every issue in full. Cullen Murphy, former editor of the Atlantic, told me that John Wilson is the best editor in the business.”

Many years ago, B&C editor John Wilson wrote for the NY Times about evangelicals as they are depicted in literature. “Charmless, ignorant, homophobic and either brazenly hypocritical or obnoxiously sincere, they quote Scripture unctuously and have bad sex.” (Get an excerpt through the link above or read the whole essay here.)

But B&C is closing, and I ask myself what shall I do now? What shall I do? I shall rush out as I am, and walk the street
With my hair down, so.

What shall we do to-morrow?

Personal blather

If I understand the storm reports correctly, if I still lived where I used to live in Florida (near Melbourne-Palm Bay), I’d be evacuated by now.

I am thinking much of the people I knew down there. I pray they’ll be safe and their property will be spared. Although there were many pleasures in living on the Space Coast, fear of hurricanes nagged at me often in the wee hours of the night.

In other news, if you’re waiting for word of the book I translated, Viking Legacy, it’s been delayed again. Sometime next year, I’m told.

It will be all the better for the anticipation.

Big, Beautiful Set of Scripture

The ESV Reader’s Bible, Six-Volume Set — Part 1: Simply Beautiful

J. Mark Bertrand reviews a new, rather different set of God’s Word for readers. “This is a beautiful concept executed beautifully. It’s one of the best editions I have ever covered at Bible Design Blog.”

Google Is Reading to Expand Its Mind

Researchers at Google Brain are having their artificial intelligence read 11,000 novels to improve its sense of language.  At least one author thinks that a weird idea and wonders why she wasn’t asked for her permission before her book was used. The books used were supposedly unpublished and free for download. Should a company like Google be expected to pay for the books its machine reads, or does it matter since the books were all available as free downloads?

Another question we might ask is whether reading all these books will help Google drive better.  It’s language translation skills are definitely improving.

Author Sued, Internet Mocks

“Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Unholy Night (among other titles), is being sued by Hachette Book Group for breach of contract,” reports Locus Online this week. Hachette says they agreed to publish two new books from Grahame-Smith after publishing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter in 2010, and they did receive one manuscript, but the second one, after some months delay, was, according to The Guardian, “too short and substandard, ‘in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public domain work’ (unnamed, but presumably 1897’s Dracula).”

As a result, Twitter users are running with their own ideas for .

More examples:

Status report

I owe you an update. You know I’m done with my graduate work. That’s kind of an annoyance, in a way, because I’d gotten used to using school as an all-purpose excuse. “Gee, I’d like to help you move on Saturday, but golly, I’ve just got so much homework to do!”

Hard on the heels of that consummation, I was asked to do another edit on the Viking book I translated. I did that, and then when I had sent it in I re-considered and asked to have it back for one more pass. Because I like to do these things right. I have an idea that this translation will be a large part of the footprint I leave behind in this life.

Yesterday they sent me a draft cover for the book (to be called Viking Legacy, by Torgrim Titlestad). I’d share it with you, but I don’t have permission to. And it’ll probably change anyway. But I felt a quiet swelling of pride in my chest when I saw it. It’ll be good. Watch for it. This fall. Sometime.

Looks like I’ll be having some more translation work to do in the future too. I’m going to have to work out how to balance that with my novel writing.

I have been working on the next novel too, though. The problem is that this one’s a toughy. Of all the books in the Erling series, this will be the hardest to plot. It involves the lowest point in Erling’s life, and by extension in Father Ailill’s. I’ve got to figure out how to keep this one from combining the optimistic sparkle of Dostoevsky with the cheery fun of Game of Thrones.

Last night one of the characters did something I didn’t see coming. I’m still working out (while time is paused in his world) how Ailill will react.

So I shall not want for work to do.

Jonathan Edwards Wanted Nice, Expensive Editions

Jonathan Yeager tells Thomas Kidd about the great puritan preacher’s desires for the appearance of his work in print. No doubt, he would have loved today’s world of easy publishing.

Edwards was a meticulous author, and wanted his books to look a certain way. He was not the best judge on how his books should be printed, if the purpose was for them to sell well. Edwards wanted his books to have wide margins, generous line spacing, and to be printed on fine paper, with good type, and priced affordably. The model for Edwards was his book Misrepresentations Corrected, published in 1752. Ironically, Misrepresentations Corrected was his worst-selling book! A key reason, I believe, was that it was not economically printed. If a printer allows the use of wide margins and generous line spacing, it follows that it would require more pages, and therefore would be more costly.

Edwards vocalized his disgust with the way that his book Religious Affections was published in 1746, probably because it was concisely printed, with tightly cropped margins and line spacing. Despite his complaints, the printer for this book feared that he had not printed enough copies to meet public demand. In an advertisement at the end of the book, the Boston printer Samuel Kneeland remarked that some 1,300 subscriptions had been taken for Religious Affections, at a time when a colonial author would have rejoiced if 500 copies of a book sold.