"If these stories are in fact the work of a young lady, they are indeed remarkable."

- Evelyn Waugh, speaking of stories written by Flannery O'Connor
Remaking TNR in Their Own Image

Chris Hughes, the owner of The New Republic, and new CEO Guy Vidra apparently don't care nothing for the history and style of their magazine or the people who have worked for it most recently. Both men are relatively new to the organization. Last Friday, the two arrived at the Washington office, having previously announced its closure and moving to New York, and were greeted by the mice and a few orphans.

I'm joking only a little. Ten contributing editors resigned over the firing of leading editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier. Foer had been given repeated assurance that his job was secure until the day he read in Gawker.com that he had been replaced.

According to multiple sources, Hughes came to think of his writers and editors as “spoiled brats,” and especially disliked the flamboyant, feud-prone, white-maned Wieseltier, who was more than twice his age. Much of Hughes’s distaste was telegraphed in his body language; he strikes many TNR staffers as passive-aggressive and averse to confrontation.

The friction escalated with the arrival of Vidra, who is said to have complained to Foer that the magazine was boring and that he couldn’t bring himself to read past the first 500 words of an article. According to witnesses, Vidra did little to hide his disrespect for TNR’s tradition of long-form storytelling and rigorous, if occasionally dense, intellectual and political analysis—to say nothing of his lack of interest in the magazine’s distinguished history—at an all-hands meeting in early October.
Vidra said to someone in the room, “Your brain is as dry as the remainder biscuit after voyage.” To which that someone replied, “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” They saw the writing on the wall at that point but did not leave until last week.

Hughes has been described as “a most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality.” I didn't get any sources for these quotations. In fact, you could say I made them up, but let's keep it nice, thou cream-faced loon.

Le Guin: 'Resistance and Change Often Begin in the Art of Words'

Author Ursula Le Guin received the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at this week's National Book Awards and inspired the crowd by holding up freedom as an author's best prize. "We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality."

She said many things needed to change, and that change often begins in art, specifically the art of words. Writing books according to marketing formulas for corporate profit is a rotten idea, she said. We need artists.

Her speech was short, so you can easily watch the whole thing here.

In an interview, Le Guin said, “If you’re going to create a world out of whole cloth, that is to say, out of words, then you better get the words right.” You can read about her and her many books in The Guardian.

New Catholic Literature Prize

The new George W. Hunt Prize, sponsored by America magazine and Yale University's Saint Thomas More Chapel, will recognize a variety of accomplished literature from Roman Catholics. The judges appear to be looking for good, expressly Catholic works by authors who lead moral lives.

“We’re trying to promote new creative thinking,” Beloin told The Washington Post's Ron Charles. “Catholic theology is a very wide umbrella — or at least it’s supposed to be.” The Hunt Prize will be awarded to an author who is “trying to write things that are true — to bring a fresh language to theology, to bring real creativity to intellectual life and Catholic imagination.” (via Literary Saloon)

Authors Union Seeks Investigation into Amazon.com

The Authors Guild met with the Justice Department in August to request a federal investigation into Amazon.com's actions against Hachette Book Group in their ongoing dispute over ebook prices and service fees. They say the earth's largest bookdealer is using anti-trust tactics against publishers like Hachette. Authors United is also preparing to ask the DOJ to get involved. Does this make you want to find other bookseller options, or is this all so inside baseball you don't care?

Self-Publishing: Too Many Little Fish in a Huge Sea

Ron Charles, editor of The Washington Post's Book World, asked Roger Sutton, editor in chief of Horn Book magazine, about reviewing self-published books.

Charles asked, “What do you say to the indie writer who reminds you that Walt Whitman was self-published?”

“You are not Walt Whitman,” Sutton said. “The 21st century is different in so many ways from the 19th that the comparison is meaningless. No one is forbidding you from self-publishing, but neither is anyone required to pay attention.”

Charles reviewed Sutton's recently expressed concerns over the glut of self-published books vying for place in our hands. Are there bound to be some great books out there? Yes, but there are too many bad one that look like it from a professional reviewer's outpost. The school of the self-published will only grow, and perhaps a new system of reviewing and judging will be organized to help readers find good books. Sutton isn't convinced it will matter. "People are more interested in writing self-published books than in reading them."


Many New Bestseller Lists

For years, the New York Times has curated the most coveted bestseller lists of our day. Now they are building on that strength by adding such topics as Travel, Humor, Family, Relationships, Animals, Politics, Manga, and many more, each list bound to occupy literary banterers and book ballyhoo-ers for an hour or so. These won't be published every week. Some will rotate through the month.

Melville House has dug up even more lists to be introduced by everyone's friends at the New York Times Book Review. Here are some of the lists you will want to keep on eye on.

Most Fully Realized: Every week, The New York Times Book Review describes dozens of books as being “fully realized.” This lists ranks the top ten fully realized books from “Most Fully Realized” to “Least Most Fully Realized.”

Bestselling Young Adult (Cancer): The most successful books for teenagers that include cancer as a major or minor subplot.

James Patterson: The 10 bestselling James Patterson books released this month. (BTW, Patterson has outsold every other living author and holds a Guinness record for most books on the NY Times Bestseller List.)

Bestselling Non-Sellers: Amazon gives lots of books away for free. The “Best Non-Sellers List” will rank the top books downloaded by Amazon users for $0.00.

Literature: No genre fiction. Unless, of course, genre is employed ironically.

Are Books More Fact-Checked Than Other Media?

Craig Silverman, the author of many words on media accuracy, said people generally believe books are more reliable than magazines or newspapers. "A lot of readers have the perception that when something arrives as a book, it’s gone through a more rigorous fact-checking process than a magazine or a newspaper or a website, and that’s simply not that case," he said.

Why don't publishing houses spend time and money making sure they aren't publishing the next fabricated memoir? Kate Newman suggests they don't pay enough in repercussions when an author slips them a phony victim story.

“Maybe there should be a warning, like on a pack of cigarettes,” said another author. “‘This book has not been fact-checked at all.’ Because when I realized that basically everything I had read until that point had not been verified, I felt a little bit lied to.”

Of course, I should warn you that I didn't verify any facts stated in Newman's article. No, I did verify one, but that's it. Who knows if they rest is true?

Death's Doors

Dateline: Minneapolis

My new novel, Death's Doors, is now available for download for Amazon Kindle.

In the near future, suicide is a constitutional right. Tom Galloway is an ordinary single father, just trying to keep his rebellious and depressed daughter from going to the Happy Endings Clinic.

The last thing he needs is a ninth-century Viking time traveler dropping into his life.

But Tom is about to embark on the adventure of his life. One that will change the world.

Amazon: "Lower Prices!" Hachette: "Profit Margin!"

The Amazon.com dispute with Hachette continues with full page ads in the New York Times and emails aplenty. Hachette's Michael Pietsch writes, “This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves.

“Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.”

Many authors are throwing their weight into the fray. "As writers--most of us not published by Hachette--we feel strongly that no bookseller should block the sale of books or otherwise prevent or discourage customers from ordering or receiving the books they want." Amazon argues that when paperbacks came out, publishers hated them just like cheap ebooks.

In related news, Amazon is disputing its contract with Disney and withholding pre-orders on select movies.

You know, when you find everyone around you acts like a jerk, the reason could be the common denominator--you.

eBooks Projected to Outsell Print/Audiobooks by 2017

Amazon owes 2/3 of the eBook market in part because they have followed their dreams to reach the unreachable star. Now we all may get burned.

Fantasy author Brent Weeks says the reality for many readers is that if they don't see a book on Amazon, they assume it isn't available. With eBooks, they may not know where to else to go to buy them. Amazon is also attracting authors as a publisher, not just a distributor. with promises of high royalty percentages. This and other factors are hurting big and small publishers alike.

“We're at the point now where the publishing houses are being undercut by the river of indie publishing, and at some point in time the front porch is going to drop in the river. At that point maybe they'll have to acknowledge it, but right now they just don't want to,” attorney David Vandagriff said.

Alton Brown, Media Mogul

At least twice on my current list of regrets is that I have not learn enough from Alton Brown. The man is the mad scientist of culinary delight. Grade school kids should have classes based on Good Eats. Here's a recent morning interview he did that briefly mentions his many media products.

The Changing World of Publishing

Philip Yancey writes about this many years of experience in publishing.

I had an enlightening experience with e-books in 2013. In April I finished the book The Question That Never Goes Away, based on my visits to three places of great tragedy. My traditional publisher wanted at least nine months lead time to publish it, the typical schedule for a new book, yet new tragedies such as the Boston Marathon bombings, tornadoes, and school shootings were occurring almost weekly, the very situations my book addressed. So I signed on for an Amazon-exclusive program to publish an e-book for 90 days before the hard copy book came out. Leaning on my friends for email lists, I managed to sell about 3,000 copies. On September 11 and Thanksgiving weekend I offered free downloads and 40,000 people downloaded the book! The moral of the story, as many have learned: things can quickly go viral on the Internet but it's a tough place to generate income.

How Orthodox Must a Christian Publisher Be?

The National Religious Broadcasters has pressed WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, to resign from its organization over the publishing of a book under a new sister imprint, Convergent Books (for more on that book: "'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality"). Convergent is a little more than a year old. I could care less about this, because I've been ramping up to lead the Lars Walker's Awesomest World Publishing Group for the last few months. Soon that will be the only label you'll want to watch for. You heard it here first.

But seriously, NRB President Jerry Johnson explained the problem in a letter to his board. According to Christianity Today:

"Unfortunately, while the Multnomah Publishing Group is separate from Convergent, as a legal and business entity, the staff of the Multnomah and Convergent operations are substantially the same," Johnson wrote. "Most notably, Steven W. Cobb serves as the chief publishing executive for both groups. … Other Christian workers do so as well. … This issue comes down to NRB members producing unbiblical material, regardless of the label under which they do it."

I understand how the book in question is unbiblical, but what about other books? For years, thoughtful Christians have criticized Christian bookstores for selling pablum and heresy. Are these publishers accepted in the NRB? It's one thing to sell The Prayer of Jabez; it's another to sell Joel Osteen's Break Out. Jabez was a mid-90s book from Multnomah. Osteen is published by Faithwords, a division of Hachette.

The publisher's About page shows its diversity: "Based near Nashville, Tennessee, FaithWords has grown dramatically by acquiring a solid list of faith-building fiction and high-profile authors with edifying messages, including bestselling authors Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, John Eldredge, and David Jeremiah. Several FaithWords titles have appeared on national bestseller lists, most recently Every Day a Friday, by Joel Osteen, Living Beyond Your Feelings, by Joyce Meyer, and I Never Thought I’d See the Day!, by David Jeremiah."

Two sister imprints to Faithwords target mainline and "uplifting" divisions in the broadly based spiritual book market, and none of them are members of NRB.

A Debut Novelist: 'Subject Matter Matters'

Ted Thompson, author of The Land of Steady Habits, talks about his business in ways that make him uncomfortable. "I feel like I’m bordering on saying something sacrilegious here, but here it goes: There’s a common strain of thinking among writers, particularly literary writers and the institutions that foster them (conference/colonies/workshops), that insists a book is only as good as its writing."

Although he still believes in the preeminence of good writing, he know believes subject is very, very, and also very important. "Once a manuscript leaves your desk, subject matter is the primary (and often only) way it is discussed. So if you haven’t figured out a quick way to answer that cringe-inducing question 'What’s your book about?' in a way that interests other people, somebody else will. And that will be how the book is sold..."

He goes on to say how surprised he was that people in publishing actually want to love your book and that the slowness of the whole process is understandable.

Rediscovering the Excitement of Reading the Bible

"I remember, as a teenager, reading through the books of Samuel and, upon finishing, thinking to myself, 'This story is as invigorating as any story I’ve ever read, seen, or heard.' What is strange to me now is how surprising a revelation that was. Having grown up with the literature, why didn’t I already think of it as engaging?"

Mark Bertrand interviews Adam Lewis Greene on his plan for an alternative reading experience for the Bible. Bibliotheca will be a four volume edition of the Bible made for readers with beautiful book design.

Tolkien Had Words To Say to Nazis

When The Hobbit was to be published in Germany, the publisher asked for Tolkien's Aryan street cred. Tolkien's personal reply to this English publisher began like this: "I must say the enclosed letter from Rütten & Loening is a bit stiff. Do I suffer this impertinence because of the possession of a German name, or do their lunatic laws require a certificate of arisch origin from all persons of all countries?"

By way of accommodation though, the author wrote two letters which could be sent to the German publishers, one a bit more harsh than the other. That letter, marked July 25, 1938, began:

"I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people."

Publisher Put a Hold on Mark Driscoll's Next Book

"Tyndale House confirmed to The Daily Beast that it does not plan to reprint Driscoll’s 2013 book, A Call to Resurgence, and have put his forthcoming book, The Problem with Christianity, on hold. Once slated to be released this fall, The Problem with Christianity now has no publication date scheduled." (via Prufrock)

Hachette Buys Perseus, More Clout Against Amazon

Hachette, one of five largest U.S. publishers, has acquired the imprints of Perseus Books Group, giving it more clout in its dispute with Amazon, though that's not the reason they made the deal. It follows the pattern of a major merger 2011 of Random House and Penguin. The new publishing megagroup is said to have the most bargaining ability with Amazon, which controls a third of bookselling market.

What Is the Dispute Between Amazon, Hachette?

James Stewart asked someone at Hachette about their dispute with Amazon. "This person said that Amazon has been demanding payments for a range of services, including the pre-order button, personalized recommendations and a dedicated employee at Amazon for Hachette books. This is similar to so-called co-op arrangements with traditional retailers, like paying Barnes & Noble for placing a book in the front of the store."

Stewart report describes the efforts Third Place Books has made to capitalize on Amazon's refusal to pre-order a popular book. They offered The Silkworm at 20% off with free, personal delivery the day it was released. The owner, Robert Sindelar, "along with several other store employees, delivered the books (although a surprising number of customers said not to bother — they wanted to come into the store for their copy). He also handed out what he called 'Hachette swag bags' with a T-shirt and advance copy of a coming Hachette novel. Some buyers also received a surprise visit from a local author, Maria Semple, who wrote the best-selling book Where’d You Go, Bernadette."

Sindelar calls the promotion successful. He sold 60 books that day. Normally, he doesn't believe he would have gotten any pre-orders and maybe a few sales on the day of the release. (via Shelf Awareness)

Horwitz Not Thrilled with Digital Bookselling

Tony Horwitz, author of Confederates in the Attic and Midnight Rising: John Brown and the Raid That Sparked the Civil War, writes about the thrills and spills of being a digital bestseller.

I finished writing in late January, just as the State Department prepared to issue a much anticipated report on the Keystone XL. If I were writing for a traditional publisher, I’d have to wait months to see my work in print. This time, I’d be read within days, right on top of the news!

Exhausted but exhilarated, I headed to the liquor store for a celebratory bottle and returned to an urgent call from my editor in Sydney. “Mate, we’re [bleeped],” she said. The Global Mail’s backer had had a bad financial setback at his firm and evidently decided he could no longer afford a folly like quality journalism. He’d abruptly pulled the plug just hours before I filed my copy, making The Global Mail a dead letter.

Worse still, for me, Byliner hadn’t yet inked its deal with the Aussies. Suddenly I had no platform for a very long story on a subject that was about to be all over the news. And I’d yet to be paid anything beyond my original travel budget (which I’d overrun, in any case).

At this point I called my literary agent, whom I’d foolishly failed to involve in the project. (Another fantasy of the digital world: Writers can do it themselves and dispense with all those middlemen.)
And there's more.

Apple Settles Its Ebook Case

Apple has been fighting the accusation that it conspired to fix ebook prices unfairly. I believe I remember this class action lawsuit being wage on behalf of Capital Hill politicians who hadn't felt properly, shall we say, appreciated by Apple over the years. Had a little more corporate lobbying taken place, maybe they wouldn't be having to answer for themselves.

Now Apple is settling. The company is "also appealing the antitrust ruling against it for the same issue of price-fixing."

Amazon vs. The World: Next Episode

A few days ago, we pointed out the news that Amazon was not taking pre-orders and delaying orders for books from Hachette. We're talking books you have heard of, possibly read already, or may be looking forward to, such as J.K. Rowling's next crime novel. (Read an excerpt through that link.)

Here's a quick fact list on the Hachette dispute.

Now Amazon is refusing to take pre-orders for The LEGO Movie and other DVDs from Warner Home Video because of a contract delay.

Writers David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy suggest the biggest bookseller on the planet actually needs the money: "Amazon hasn’t really explained what it is after, but here’s one compelling theory: The company just doesn’t have enough money to finance everything it wants to do. Rather than trim its ambitions, it is putting one side of its business through the wringer to pay for another."

Amazon Plays Hardball with Publisher Hachette

In 2010, Amazon disputed its arrangement with Macmillan on ebook prices and removed the publisher's books from its site. Today the largest book dealer on the Internet is refusing pre-orders on new books from Hachette and delaying shipment on existing titles. Stephen Colbert is one of the authors with un-new books on the shelf, and he isn't amused by the delay of what he says could be 30 of his books sold in a year. J.K. Rowling's new book is coming out soon, which means thousands of readers would have pre-ordered it through Amazon by now, but cannot--not for ebook or print.

Since Amazon has 65% of the ebook market, working a deal with them is important to any publisher, but they aren't the only ebook dealer. Barnes and Noble, Powell's, and others are available, and maybe conflicts like this will make any argument for DRM pointless. If I have a Kindle and want to buy an ebook, do I need Amazon to sell it to me?

Help Launch "The Pastor's Kid"

Barnabas Piper is asking for help launching his new book, The Pastor's Kid, due out in four weeks. You might consider reading it too.

6 Ways Publishing May Not Be Dead

Mage's lonelinessAlastair Horne observes some things happening the science fiction world that may point to good ideas for publishers. In brief:

  1. Crowd-funding cross media: Publisher Gollancz contributed to a Kickstarter campaign for the video game "Elite:Dangerous" on the contingency that they have the rights to publish tie-in novels.
  2. Bundling ebooks with print and perhaps book-selling location.
  3. Digital conversion of mid-list books: Again Gollancz has taken an impressive lead for its readers.
  4. Dropping DRM on ebooks: Baen and Tor have already done it.
  5. Accepting fan fiction.
  6. Publisher subscriptions for a year of books, something Cruciform Press has been doing since the beginning.

John C. Wright on the death of freedom in Science Fiction

By way of our friend Anthony Sacramone (I'd link to his blog, but he's in one of his hiatuses. Hiati?) an excellent article from Intercollegiate Review, "Heinlein, Hugos and Hogwash," by John C. Wright concerning the sad state of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, an organization from which I have also withdrawn:

The purpose of all this hogwash is not to aid the plight of minorities. The purpose is power. The purpose is terror.

One need not ignite a suicide-bomb to enact a reign of terror. One need only have the power to hurt a man’s reputation or income, and be willing to use the power in an arbitrary, treacherous, lunatic, and cruel fashion. For this, the poisonous tongue suffices.

At one time, science fiction was an oasis of intellectual liberty, a place where no idea was sacrosanct and no idea was unwelcome. Now speculative fiction makes speculative thinkers so unwelcome that, after a decade of support, I resigned my membership in SFWA in disgust. SFWA bears no blame for all these witch-hunts, or even most; but SFWA spreads the moral atmosphere congenial to the witch-hunters, hence not congenial to my dues money.

Read it all here.

Christian Book Awards

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem, by Kevin De Young wins the Christian Book of the Year Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Ron Charles of the Washington Post gives a brief rundown of the book and lists other awards given out yesterday at the ECPA banquet.

Do Literary Writers Succeed in Digital Publishing?

Do literary writers find readers and make money in digital publishing? Not yet. Porter Anderson writes:

Literary fiction, by contrast, has no content guidelines, makes no promise of one topic or another, varies vastly in style and form. Not surprisingly, then, it’s perennially difficult to define without a fight. Claims of serious intent and/or artistic achievement may be asserted by fans of literary fiction. Its detractors love to charge that it focuses on language over plot; “navel gazing” poetics over entertainment; precious reflection over storytelling.
But Jane Friedman says you can see some successful writing if you look beyond the book length form. She says, "Thoughtful, intelligent 'literary' work is doing quite well digitally if you step away from book-length or novel publishing and into journalism-driven or nonfiction-driven publishing. Most of the following outlets and platforms include some fiction, too, just not a lot." These platforms include: Byliner, Atavist, Medium/Matter, Symbolia, The Magazine, Storybird, and Hi.

In general, she says, people don't want to read short stories or poems on no-name sites like Brandywine Books. Big name sites, like The Poetry Foundation, get readers, but not others. I think the field may still be in flux as more readers read everything onscreen. I also think literary writers should reflect on the poverty of our recent literary traditions and develop a new perspective based more on Shakespeare and Milton than on Freud and Beckett.

Important publishing news that will change your life!

The good folks at Nordskog Publishing have made my novel West Oversea available in e-book format now.

Your Kindle version is here.

Your Nook version is here.

Happy Easter.

'Biblically Based' Author Argues Against Biblical Morality

Matthew Vines is not a new author. He has been around for a few years, arguing that Christianity and homosexuality are not incompatible. He has a new book coming out next week making the same arguments, but the bigger news may be who is publishing it. It's Stephen W. Cobb, the chief executive of both WaterBrook Multnomah and the new imprint Convergent.

Cobb says the two imprints do not have the same audiences and editorial guidelines, so they aren't the identical, but he does call the final shots for both. With Convergent, those shots are "nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith," such as Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian.

World Magazine makes a big deal about these imprints being unified under one corporate umbrella, but what strikes me as odd is Cobb's insistence that he isn't publishing heresy under the Convergent label. He claims Vines' "believes in the inerrancy and the divinity and the correctness of Scripture," so his book is "biblically based." He says he intends to publish only biblically based books through Convergent.

How orthodox does a "biblically based" book need to be in order to remain based on the Bible? The Book of Mormon and the Koran are literally based on the Bible, but would we call them "biblically based"? If this is the main criteria, then I would understand a wide variety of views being published, but we expect more, don't we?

How much orthodox stock do you put into this publisher or any publisher? Do you notice the publisher of a book and believe the topic, whatever it is, has been thoroughly vetted? Do you believe WaterBrook is still committed to "creating products that both intensify and satisfy the elemental thirst for a deeper relationship with God," as their marketing people say?

« Older Entries