Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Is Springing and the Ides Are Gone: Today's Publishing News

Like the daffodils and crocuses in my front yard, publishing news is bursting forth all over the place, in just as many hues and varieties as my garden boasts.

First things first, of course: Amazon News! What's a day without another digital donnybrook in the headlines? Fast on the heels of their loss by decision bout against publisher Macmillan (or what I like to call "Where's my 'buy' button-gate"), Amazon is coming out of their corner swinging. Today’s New York Times story by Motoko Rich and Brad Stone says “ has threatened to stop directly selling the books of some publishers online unless they agree to a detailed list of concessions regarding the sale of electronic books, according to two industry executives with direct knowledge of the discussions.”

I think we’ve all pretty much got Amazon’s number by now – they’re trying to be the BMOC of the ebook world. With tough competition growing daily (Sony’s Reader was joined by the Nook and more recently the Apple iPad, not to mention the dozens [or hundreds?] of non-Kindle apps proliferating throughout the e-book universe), they’re trying to hang onto their behemoth status and force the publishing world to it’s knees via e-book pricing on their terms (and I can practically hear those millions of writers’ knees knocking together because when the pricing wars heat up, they can expect to get their fingers – or more – burned). Maybe the Amazon folk thought the staid and somewhat antiquated print publishing world would be an easy mark, but as they’ve already proven, the hallowed old halls of NY publishing are filled with visionary types who are embracing digital, and the internet, and publishing business models are evolving even as brand new partnerships are formed (including the “big 5” of the 6 NY publishing houses – Random House abstaining - who huddled up with Apple to carve out the deal for iPad digital book delivery). This is a story that is going to heat up and stay in the headlines for some time to come.

Beyond Amazon there’s lots to cover, so let’s get to it:

New gadgets abound – the Kindle app for the Mac computer is now available (whoops, there’s Amazon again!). And the whimsically named ALEX from Spring Design is now on sale today, though approximately $100 more than the Kindle or Nook or Sony Reader. Its got a 6 inch, E-Ink panel and color touch screen panel, along with Wi-Fi (color was a Nook benefit only, til now – unless you count the $1,000 Japanese gadget).

Another player wades into the “is it history, or fiction”, pool (not to be confused with the plagiarism/copyright infringement pool, or the always amusing “first it was a memoir and then it was a novel” pool): The Charlotte Observer reports that multi-book author Gerald Posner (formerly of The Daily Beast”) told the AP that because of research procedural SNAFUs, his non-fic title, Miami Babylon, might have used text from the book “Clubland” by Frank Owen without proper credit. With bookstores (and James Cameron who’d wanted to film the property) clearing “The Last Train From Hiroshima” off their shelves following the revelations (reported just about everywhere) that not only was author Pellegrino’s source apparently a fabricator, but questions on Pellegrino’s own background making everyone oh-so-nervous (Huffington Post, March 1, 2010) this has gotta hurt all the way around. If these situations keep cropping up, I can envision a vetting process for authors that will feel more like an interrogation in a dark basement room complete with phone books and rubber hoses.

But there’s some upbeat stuff going on, too.

Columbia University announced the winners of their 2010 Bancroft Prize: Linda Gordon for “Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits”; Woody Holton for “Abigail Adams” and Margaret D. Jacobs for “White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940” (which title may also be in the running for longest title and subtitle combo – a real prize, by the by). Congrats to all on their serious, thought provoking work.

Also on the prize front comes the longlist for the Orange Prize, which list includes the recent Booker prize and National Book Award-winning “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel, and perennial critical darling, Barbara Kingsolver with “The Lacuna”, as well as that runaway bestseller, “The Help”. This book is not only Kathryn Stockett’s debut and a reading group fave, but is also a soon-to-be-major-motion-picture from Dreamworks. Good luck to everyone!

And speaking of prizes, word is that the National Enquirer (yes, the one by the check-out register at your local supermarket) is being mentioned in the same breath as “Pulitzer Prize”. They are the ones who broke the John Edwards’ scandal (you might have heard about it?). The times, they sure are a changin’ folks.

No surprise to anyone, Stephanie Meyers and her undead crew are still going strong. Sales of her “Twilight” series (and the accompanying profits from box office of the first two films and merchandising) helped Hachette post a second record year in 2009. And to make sure all markets are tapped? The first “Twilight” graphic novel is here!

(See my post tomorrow for a wrap-up of the amazing paranormal phenom, in which Ms. Meyers is a major player).

For writers looking for publishers, there’s a new “matchmaker” in town. Seems like bunches of publishers have staff reviewing literary magazine, The View From Here, in search of new writing talent. Check out the site for yourself for another market for your fiction that might just be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

E-publisher (and winner for the 2nd year in a row of the Editors and Preditors “Best Publisher” award) The Wild Rose Press has a wide range of romance genres and story-lengths for which an author can submit. They are currently looking for the shorter works, 65,000 words and under, for all of them. They’ve got some Eppie winners in their midst, and some of these shorter titles are available for the new Nook, and all can be purchased direct from TWRP themselves.

Best seller lists abound, in print and on-line. Today here are some of the top place-holders from The Boston Globe, 3/21-27: #1 on the Fiction list is the aforementioned “The Help”. “Angelology”, the recent release by Danielle Trussoni (can you say paranormal’s not dead?) is on the list at #2. Ibid paranormal comment: “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” – and already optioned for film by Ridley Scott – by Seth Grahame-Smith (his follow-up to the wildly successful “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” – which spawned a whole new monster-mash genre of fiction) is number 7. No surprise on the non-fiction list, “Game Change” rules in the top spot. But the serious entries (including “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” and “The Pacific”) are tempered by the #2 title, “Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang” by comedian Chelsea Handler (she of the “Are You There, Vodka, It’s Me, Chelsea?” and “My Horizontal Life”).

On the “people on the move” front, with import beyond the bare facts, Barnes & Noble Inc. has a new chief executive (as reported by Publisher’s Lunch today). William Lynch succeeds Steve Riggio, but of greater interest (to me, anyway) is that Lynch was the president of the B&N website. With their re-launch of the Barnes & Noble e-book store, the new Nook and their collaboration with Google* to provide as much digital content as any e-reader could possibly hold, it seems pretty apparent that they are at the head of the pack as far as the Amazon competition goes, and planning on giving them a run for their money – literally. Who better to lead the race than a tech exec?

And last but not least, for those of you who hope one day for publication, or who are laboring on a project of love that seems to be a long journey, look for the March 23 release of the debut Vietnam era-novel, “Matterhorn”. It was written, over 35 years, by Karl Marlantes, a Marine vet, and he tried to find someone to read it and buy it for decades. And now, thanks to the Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Program, he’s made it. You can too. Hooah!

Getting on my soapbox (it’s had a nice rest, after all) if you don’t already, I’d like to encourage you to read at least one newspaper, every day. I read the New York Times daily and 2 free NYC AM papers daily, and The Long Island Press weekly. But I also juggle The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Daily News, and sometimes splurge for The Washington Post, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Boston Globe (cost is higher for these out of town papers). The NYT has wonderful coverage not only of books, with its daily book reviews, as well as its Sunday Times Book Review section (a fast disappearing animal in today’s newsprint world) – but it has tremendous coverage of the business of publishing and the digital revolution. As authors or publishing industry personnel, knowing how the biz is going gives you a leg up on the competition. Take the time to read some different papers. As a professional resource and research tool they are invaluable, and they can even provide story ideas.

Whew. This was a long one. SO, until tomorrow when I explore the explosive paranormal genre in business and print, may your day be filled with great words – be they yours or others’.

* On the Google settlement front? No word from Judge Denny Chin. Are they taking bets on this deal in Vegas yet?

P.S. I almost forgot! I’m sure all your Janet Evanovich/Stephanie Plum fanatics out there already know, but just in case: It’s finally going to happen! Stephanie Plum’s coming to the big screen. The casting of Katherine Heigl moves the project “One For the Money” forward (options happened, but no production got underway for years and years). Now for the good stuff: Who they gonna cast as Ranger and Morelli? Inquiring minds want to know!

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