Friday, November 28, 2008

Author Stranded in Bangkok

While the fray in Mumbai is grabbing all the headlines, another tense situation is developing in Thailand, and one of my authors is stranded there as a result. Shawn Graham is stuck indefinitely in Bangkok because protesters have shut down the airports. He is blogging about it here. If you have any suggestions for how he can pass the time there, or get out of the country, please drop him a comment on his blog.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Power of Lunch--in New York

The New York Observer has a fascinating article on how all the economic turmoil is causing a lot of editors at the big houses to not be able to expense fancy lunches with agents every day. There is some protest because many old-timers see this as the only way to get agents to notice and know you, and send you book proposals that fit your list.

Here in the Midwest, of course, we had no idea this was going on. I think it puts us at a slight disadvantage that we've never wined and dined an agent. In fact, I spend most lunches eating leftovers in our tiny kitchenette--or kvetching with coworkers over fajitas at the strip-mall next door. But the most enterprising agents know how to do their research and target their c-list authors to specialty publishers outside Manhattan.

This is just another reminder that there is relatively little excess in independent nonfiction publishing. Times might be painful for the bigshots, but we already know how that feels.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Author Freaks Out over His Book Cover

I just ran across a thoroughly enjoyable blog post from Kenneth Whyte, editor-in-chief of Maclean's, Canada's only national weekly public affairs magazine. He is the author of the soon-to-be-released The Uncrowned King: The Sensational Rise of William Randolph Hearst. During the editing process, his editor at Random House's Counterpoint imprint showed him a few cover options and asked for his input. He gave it, and the editor should then have been able to proceed with getting the cover produced.

But Whyte, who knows how much a cover can affect magazine sales, couldn't let it rest. In his post he details how he increasingly got so far under his editor's skin that she decided to feign an e-mail outage to avoid further contact with him. I like, though, that he is able to make fun of himself in the post.

Have I seen this happen? You bet. Of course, author input is great. But when it starts to interfere with the production schedule and cost a lot of money in redone designs, somebody has to draw the line.
And as for the "atrocity" of a cover that the publisher decided to go with? I don't see anything wrong with it. Of course, you want a picture of Hearst on the cover. And in this one, he looks like he's sitting on a throne with kingly bearing. The black-and-white and the antiquated font fit nicely on a book about a newspaper baron from the late 1800s. It's simple, it's elegant, it fits. What do you think about it?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Random House Freezes Pensions

Oh, here's some news that will surely make your morning. One of the best known divisions of one of the world's largest publishers, Random House, announced today that it's stopping contributions to its employees' pension plan.

On the surface, this news made me queasy. But then I stopped and thought: Really, who in this country even expects a pension anymore? Certainly independent publishers don't offer them. We've all been moving toward the 401(k) model and away from the idea of a pension. Hardly anyone stays at a company long enough to build up a pension, anyway. But I suppose that's cold comfort for the people nearing retirement age who were planning on theirs continuing to grow.

The AP article goes on to cite more instances of layoffs in the industry, as well as the latest gloomy wimper from B&N.

On the other hand, I was watching Good Morning America this morning while getting dressed and Mellody Hobson had a short list of companies that are hiring now. Borders was mentioned (seriously, buy books from them if you can--if they go under, we'll have only one major chain left). Also mentioned was FedEx, which has to pick up the slack from DHL's exit from the domestic shipping market (good news for my sister who works there; bad news for the 9,000 people who are being laid off from DHL).

Anyway, more bad news to keep us awake at night. I think I'll go drown my sorrows in our company's snack day festivities. Cheese balls, veggie trays, brownies, and more await!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Give the Gift of Books

Last week I mentioned that various book bloggers are starting to promote the idea of buying and giving books as Christmas gifts. Of course, we always want people to do that. But this year it's even more important than ever. B&N chairman Len Riggio has warned his employees of a grim holiday season (I'd give you the link to his company memo, but WSJ has taken it down), and every time you turn around you hear stories saying that 51% of consumers plan to spend less on Christmas this year.

Personally, I think it's good to see people backing down from the wretched excess of years past. So what's a more perfect alternative to "Kitchen Aid mixers for everyone" than a thoughtfully chosen little book? Or two? Or a dozen?

To help get the word out about how cool books still are, a coalition of book bloggers has started the Books for the Holidays blog. Go there, sign up, start spreading the word, and start buying those books. For more help, see the Books on the Nightstand blog, which is featuring holiday gift book ideas every day between now and Thanksgiving.
I've always wondered--do people give job search and career books as Christmas presents? I mean really, aren't they a bit too utilitarian to fit in with the spirit of the holidays? Let me know your thoughts. Obviously, people need them now more than ever. But are gift-givers still shying away from sending a message like "instead of sitting there eating another piece of pie, shouldn't you be working on your resume?"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs

Once in a while, the stars align and a publisher puts out a book at just the right time. Finally, that's happened for JIST with the October publication of Laurence Shatkin's 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs. I claim no credit whatsoever for this book, except that when it was proposed, I said "How quickly can you get it out?" Who knew back last year that the book would come out at the precise moment that the U.S. economy appeared to dive into an irreversible downward spiral?

Lo and behold, the media are going gaga over this book's premise. Where can people shift their skills to avoid unemployment in a market that sees new casualties on a daily basis? Laurence is happy to shed light on that question, as he did yesterday on ABC News NOW (find a link to the video here). Education and health care are his top picks, as well as transportation.

In case you're curious, editors made the list, checking in at #96.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Monday Funnies

What better way to start the week than with a laugh or two? First, we have this report from BookCatcher's Book Publishing News blog that one enterprising publisher has the economic downturn all figured out. They've decided to declare that they are a bank:

"The economy is in a bit of a spot now and this makes it very difficult to sell books," said Mark Young, president of Dolyttle & Seamore. "Rather than take a chance by publishing books that may not sell, we've decided to take the easy route and ask the government to bail us out."

Of course, this is a joke. But it might also be a brilliant way to get some viral attention for their book.

And now for something completely different, but still funny. The Michael Palin for President campaign might have lost the election, but I think they are still happy with the outcome. They recently released this photo taken in front of the U.S. Embassy in London's Grosvenor Square on election day:

Friday, November 14, 2008

Predicting What the Media Wants

Funny thing happened this afternoon: Fox News called one of our authors wanting him to speak on camera today about the "workplace dynamics" that might come into play if
  1. Barack Obama offered Hillary Clinton a cabinet post.
  2. She accepted.
  3. And an older, more experienced person ended up working for the young superstar.

Our author didn't feel qualified to speak on the subject. Our publicist Selena is out of the office this afternoon, so it fell to me and my boss to try and track down someone else. I've made a few calls. So far, nobody's biting. We might have to let this one go.

The lesson here: Always be on the lookout for a way to peg your book to the latest events in the news. You never know when one of your authors could be tapped for a big media appearance.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kaplan Offers Acquisitions Internships

Kaplan, which bills itself as one of nation's leading publishers of academic and professional development resources, has posted an advertisement for acquisitions internships in NYC. Kaplan is one of those publishing hydras with divisions all over the place, including its training centers.

This particular internship program looks very interesting. You'll get the chance to learn about the research that goes into making publishing decisions, assist editors with projects in various subject areas, and, of course, get to make copies and distribute mail. Woo-hoo!

Here are the skills and qualifications that the posting requests:

  • Excellent oral and written communication skills.
  • English or Communications major preferred, but not required.
  • Strong attention to detail.
  • Ability to multi-task.
  • Microsoft Office proficiency.
  • Proofreading/editing experience and familiarity with Macs are pluses.

Skills/Knowledge Developed:
  • Research skills.
  • Presentation skills.
  • Understanding of acquisitions and publishing process.
  • Ability to identify the market for a book.
  • Ability to position a title for a competitive advantage.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Get Your Manuscript Critiqued by Writer's Digest Editors

If you're writing a book (and really, these days, who isn't?), here's an event you might want to check out. Writer's Digest is hosting its first ever Editors' Intensive on December 13-14. For $199 you get a Golden Ticket into the F+W headquarters in Cincinnati, where you will attend workshops and have your manuscript or query letter critiqued by one of four WD editors. You'll learn how to find an agent, write a killer query letter, and more.

All this emphasis on writing query letters should tell you something: The pitch is everything. If you can hook me in one page or less, your chances of getting published are greatly increased. That hook needs to be able to travel down the line and hook everyone else--the editorial board, the publisher's salespeople, the marketing department, the media, the chain bookstore buyers, the librarians, and, ultimately, the book-buying public.

via Jane Friedman's There Are No Rules

Friday, November 7, 2008

Editorial Ass on Publishing's Bloody October

First of all, love the blog title. Second, this blogging editorial assistant has put together the most cogent explanation I've seen yet of why it sucks to be a book publisher right now. Again, lots of blame goes to the inexplicable model of bookstores being able to send back the inventory they don't sell, and essentially using publishing companies as interest-free loan brokers.

Read the whole post and you'll get a better idea of how the sales and returns processes work. And take Moonrat up on his/her suggestion to buy books--now, and as Christmas presents.

On a tangentially related note, I'm getting anecdotal reports from friends and family of several people losing jobs (non-publishing) they've held for decades and their homes are in jeopardy. I feel like we are poised on the brink of an ever-widening sinkhole. Hang on tight.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Powerful New LinkedIn Apps

I got an e-mail from LinkedIn yesterday about a new set of applications they've added which enable you to use the online networking tool in some interesting new ways. True, they're still not letting us feed people to the zombies like they do on Facebook, but these tools sound infinitely more useful.

There are a few tools that enable you to collaborate online with your network. I don't see me using those anytime soon, but somebody might like them.

The BlogLink tool enables you to link your blog into your profile and see an aggregation of blog posts from the people in your network. I just did the former but had trouble getting the latter to work. It says nobody else in my network has their blog URL on their profiles. I find that kind of hard to believe, but whatever.

And here's a good one for Jason: TripIt lets you tell your network where you're traveling so that maybe you can meet up with them on the road.

Probably the coolest new app is ReadingList by Amazon. You can put up covers and comments about the books you've read, are reading, and plan to read soon. Pearson's John Pierce and I have already a book on our profiles. He's being smart and featuring a book from his own company. My choice reveals that I like to read lighter things in my spare time than I do on the job. Anyway, this feature makes it easier to find people who have read the same books you have, get suggestions for the next book to read, and even go straight to Amazon to buy books.

Check out all these features and more here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Joe the Author

On this most glorious morning, on which I can proudly say for the first time in my life that I live in a "blue state," comes word (from Fox News, no less) that Joe the Plumber is writing a book:

"Everyone came at me to write a book. They had dollar signs in their eyes. '101 Things Joe the Plumber Knows' or some stupid s---- like that. Excuse me, I am sorry," he said. "You know I will get behind something solid, but I won't get behind fluff. I won't cash in, and when people do read the book they will figure out that I didn't cash in. At least I hope they figure that out."

The book, called Joe the Plumber -- Fighting for the American Dream, is to be released by a group called PearlGate Publishing and other small publishing houses.

"I am not going to a conglomerate that way we actually can get the economy jump started. Like there is five publishing companies in Michigan. There's a couple down in Texas. They are small ones that can handle like 10 or 15,000 copies. I can go to a big one that could handle a million or two. But they don't need the help. They are already rich. So that's spreading the wealth to me," he said.

Noble sentiments, yes. But I hate to tell him that his media chuckwagon has already rolled on past him. If he had that book done and ready to go the night he became the star of the last presidential debate, and had some big distribution behind him, he could have made some money off the idea. But his 15 minutes are up. Despite his intention to stay active and work toward charitable causes, I don't think anyone's going to remember him a year from now. I suggest that he give Rupert Boneham a call and get some advice on extending your 15 minutes for the good of others without expecting to jump-start the economy or make an independent publisher rich.

Oh, and can we get a little sympathy for his ghost writer?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Amazon Stands Up to "Wrap Rage"

Few things have made me happier recently than Amazon's announcement that it is starting a multi-year initiative to work with its suppliers to provide products in packaging that's easier to open. As the mom of a preschooler, I feel that freeing the world from impenetrable packaging is a worthy goal for so many reasons.
First off, have you tried to open a Fisher-Price playset of any sort recently? All those crazy twist ties and fasteners are even more of a challenge to work through when you have a little person standing over you chanting "Open it now, mommy!" And seriously, all that wasted material can't be doing the environment any favors.
But now my anguished cries of "why?" will begin to be silenced. (Why indeed, I ask? I worked in a toy store 23 years ago and we got along just fine without the twist ties.) Amazon is offering an opening slate of 19 products with frustration-free packaging. I am so going to buy that Polly Pocket Ultimate Party Boat from them. I was going to have to buy it anyway, but the new initiative makes me happy (or less unhappy) to fork over my money to them.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Job Action Day 2008: Jobs, Baby, Jobs

Popular career advice site Quintessential Careers has declared today Job Action Day. They've devoted their site to articles on all aspects of improving your career situation, bracing for layoffs, and finding jobs.

"To rally those who have lost their jobs or are facing possible job loss in the current devastated economic climate, Job Action Day 2008 aims to empower workers and job-seekers to take proactive steps to shore up their job and career outlook," say Katharine and Randall Hansen of Quintessential Careers. "Our challenge to you, our readers, is to ask you to do at least ONE proactive thing TODAY, Job Action Day 2008, to improve your job and/or career situation. Whether you update your resume, develop a backup plan in case of job loss, or add contacts to your network, take at least one action Today for Job Action Day. As our regular contributor Joe Turner says, 'Don't let all the hype about the economy spook you into a state of panic and inaction.'"

The very timely articles include the following:
In addition, a whole host of career bloggers is joining the effort with Job Action Day-themed posts:

In the spirit of Job Action Day, read all of this great free advice and do something proactive today. Then go vote tomorrow, and as the QC team says, hold your candidate's feet to the fire over job creation.