Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hall of Shame: Elsevier and Elisabeth

I really try not to be judgmental, especially because I know there are always many sides to a story and the media usually spins things way beyond recognition. But today I can't resist pointing the finger of shame at two parties in the book publishing world:
  • Elsevier, which stands accused of offering $25 Amazon gift cards to anyone who would post a 5-star review of one of their books (see here). Sure, we've all wanted to encourage people to post reviews of our books on Amazon because it helps boost sales. Some publishers have gone so far as to send out free books and galleys to get the general public to do just that. But to dictate that it's a good review and to offer a bribe? For shame!
  • Elisabeth Hasselbeck, who stands accused of plagiarizing parts of her gluten-free diet book (see here). I spent one long maternity leave muting her empty-headed rants on The View. Looks like anybody can be an "author" these days. Give us a break. Her 15 minutes should have been up a long time ago.

Okay, I feel better now. I might just have to make this a regular feature on this blog.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tale of Woe from One of Harcourt's Vendors

Freelance editor Katharine O'Moore-Klopf pointed me in the direction of this really depressing article from the New York Times. To sum it up, Inkwell Publishing Solutions did a lot of editorial work for Harcourt's textbooks. Now that Harcourt is in trouble, it's not paying its vendors. So Inkwell has gone belly-up, leaving approximately 50 freelancers scrambling for their very survival.

Something similar happened here in Indy about six years ago. A packager declared bankruptcy and many freelancers got just a fraction of what they were owed. (Somehow I got lucky and got my money just in time.) The lesson we all learned is to never let a client owe you too much. If they owe you money and it's more than a month overdue, you might have to refuse future assignments until you are paid. You have to go with your gut, of course. You don't want to risk being seen as a troublemaker. But you also have to be able to minimize your losses in case the worst happens, as it did for the Inkwell people.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Is Freelancing Drying Up?

I've heard from way too many people recently that their freelancing pipelines are empty. Naturally, publishers that are hurting are going to try to cut back their title lists and pull as much in-house as possible. It makes me nervous for all of those who make their livings this way. Is my anecdotal evidence just that--anecdotal? Or are you having the same experience? What can a freelancer do to adapt and get more work? Will some people have to give it up and go back in-house? Will there be jobs for those people? Is the sky falling?

Monday, June 15, 2009

TitleZ Is Back!

For the past several weeks I have been frustrated and in mourning over the loss of TitleZ, a site that allows you to track and aggregate your books' Amazon rankings. One day it just went down, leaving behind only a simple message that it would return. I worried that it would never happen, given that the site has been in "beta" for several years. I figured it had been abandoned by its creators.

I tried to find a substitute for it, but none of the sites suggested by other bloggers had the power, ease of use, and low price (free) that TitleZ does. So, given that my repeated requests for Bookscan access have fallen on deaf ears for half a decade, I resigned myself to having no daily barometer of sales. And I was bereft. Although Amazon sales are by no means a complete picture of our sales, they were a good indicator of how our PR efforts were impacting things. Also, our trade sales rep appreciated getting top-10-seller reports from me, so that he could compare those results with brick and mortars and look for opportunities.

Just now I discovered that after surviving a nasty virus, TitleZ is back. It lost some data and isn't functioning quite right. But I can at least see my top sellers again. Whew!

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Great Travel Book Controversy

Here's an example of a story I might not have known about had it not been for social media. I am a "fan" of Frommer's travel guides on Facebook because I have edited their books off and on for 13 years. Yesterday Frommer's posted a link to this blog post from Arthur Frommer himself, the nonagenarian who once traveled Europe on $5 a day (these days, that will buy you a can of Pepsi). The problem? A bookstore chain in Britain has signed an exclusive deal with Penguin to stock only Penguin travel titles (including the lovely DK Eyewitness Guides and the Rough Guides).

But what makes this bad is that the chain is WHSmith, which has a monopoly on stores in all British airports and train stations, not to mention its huge "high street" presence (Brit-speak for the stores you see on the main road through towns). So you can see why Arthur is mad. His Frommer's books are being pushed off the shelves of 400 stores.

You can google it and see the media reactions, most of which side with Arthur. The public is being denied freedom of choice (and coverage of many destinations). Many publishers are being hurt and jobs are at stake. Penguin (part of Pearson) acknowledges that it's a sweetheart deal (but at a 72% discount, they are going to have to sell a lot of books to make up for such an unprecedented concession--good thing those Eyewitness Guides are expensive and are probably printed overseas, bringing down their unit costs).

As always, though, it's the comments on the media stories that shed the most light. (You have to love those Brits for their polite, insightful, and grammatically correct comments!) The point has been raised that smart travelers do their research ahead of time and don't buy overpriced books at the last minute in airports. Others have commented that by limiting their selection, WHSmith will lose sales.

However it turns out, you can bet American publishers and booksellers will be watching. None of us would like to see B&N making exclusive deals with the competition.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

More Media Reaction to the New Playboy CEO

Indianapolis is now officially abuzz with the news of former Macmillan CEO Scott Flanders's appointment to the top job at Playboy Enterprises. On Sunday, we saw this jaunty sketch on the front page of the Indianapolis Star's business section. What would be better, it asked: Flanders's new job, or that of a beer taster in a brewery?

And just now MediaBistro linked to yet another interview with Flanders in Folio magazine. What is striking about this is his firm belief that the print version of the magazine will rebound. I'm skeptical.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Another Winner from Not Hired Gets Me Thinking...

Almost daily I have to check in with Not Hired for the latest examples of job seekers who just don't get it. Today's find was a real gem: a misogynistic ex-military actor who thinks a resume is a good place to tell stories about how all his employers, girlfriends, customers, etc. have wronged him.

Wow. At first I was sad, thinking about how many people just have no clue how to write a decent resume. But extreme examples like this turn up almost weekly. It's beginning to dawn on me that people who write resumes like this don't really want a job, do they? In order to continue collecting unemployment, people have to prove that they've been applying for jobs. So what better way to ensure that the checks keep coming (and you don't accidentally get a job) than to send out resumes like this one?

Sometimes I'm slow, but eventually I catch on.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Coveting the Netbooks

Last night I was flipping through the channels and saw that QVC was selling Dell netbooks. For the first time in my life, I actually watched that channel without making fun (except yelling "They're almost sold out of the green ones! Must call now!"). The thought of a thoroughly portable (and oh so cute!) computer really appeals to me. I could take it anywhere!

But I wonder whether a person could really edit on one of those things. Can you even get Word on them? Would the tiny screen drive me insane? I'm wondering whether anyone out there has used one and what they think about it. (Also, has anyone had any success actually editing poolside, or is the glare insurmountable?)

Meanwhile, I couldn't help but notice that it's not much bigger than a Kindle. At what point will all of our various devices morph into one all-purpose thing?

I guess today I'm asking more questions than I'm answering...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Will the Real Bozos Please Stand Up?

Here's your Friday funny, straight from my mailbox to your computer screen (see the third indented, boldfaced line):
You're a force to be reckoned with in the online retail world, Jeff, but they can't get your name right. (Wonder how often this happened to him on the playground growing up?)

The bigger point here is that although I have heard great things about Montessori schools, do you think I will be sending my child to this location? (I'm not even mentioning the random capitalizations and the notion that the young British princes have made a significant impact on our lives as a result of their Montessori schooling...)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Top 50 Book Blogs

Just caught a tweet from @jwikert that led me to this: blog-rank's list of the top 50 book blogs. Blog-rank (spelled several different ways on its own page, btw) used 20 different factors to rank the blogs, including how many people subscribe in a reader, how many incoming links there are, and the blogs' popularity on social sites.

Joe himself is well represented at #14, and there are several others that I've got on my feeds. But what blows my mind is how many of them I hadn't heard of before (like, oh, the one with the #1 ranking). This either shows my spotty attention span, or it demonstrates just how darn many awesome book blogs there are. And Joe says he thinks they've missed a few.

At any rate, I guess I'll be putting a lot more on my feeds.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Scott Flanders: The New "Boy Next Door"

I'm checking the calendar because it surely must be April 1st. Multiple sources, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Associated Press, and the acrid OC Weekly are all confirming that Scott Flanders, former CEO of Macmillan USA, will be taking over as CEO of Playboy Enterprises as of July 1.

Flanders, a lawyer and accountant, skyrocketed to prominence here in Indianapolis in the late '80s and early '90s as president of Que Corporation, which through a series of mergers and acquisitions he parlayed into a 1,500-employee operation that encompassed a dozen imprints under Macmillan Computer Publishing and Macmillan General Reference. It all came crashing down in late 1998 when Pearson bought Simon & Schuster and found itself in possession of Macmillan. Amid rumors of book-cooking, Dame Marjorie showed him the door. We feted him with a washtub full of beers in the lobby of the "castle in the cornfield" offices. I told him he was going to do great things and that I would be watching him.

He's spent the last decade moving among bigger media circles such as Sony and Freedom Communications, and all the while the shadow of new media has continued to overtake his efforts. So now, today, he's landed at the Playboy mansion. Sounds like the folks in the OC are glad to see him go. I continue to watch and wait for those great things.

Thanks for the heads up to my friend Linda, always the best source of inside info!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Falling: Living with Polio and a Peculiar Family in Dayton, Ohio (1938-1957)

I've got a pile of books to read on my nightstand and precious little time to do so. But when I found out that Falling, my late college mentor's memoirs, was available, I pushed everything aside and eagerly dove into reading about his family history and early life.

His purpose in writing his memoirs was to share his experience with having contracted polio at age 8, and to show how it shaped his character. It was a part of his history that was painfully obvious when strangers looked at his twisted body, but one that those who loved him ceased to notice.

Particularly poignant were the memories of his time in the iron lung, from which some of his wardmates did not emerge alive. It was a horrible disease that he believed he contracted through the innocent act of swimming in the public wading pool. And when the vaccine came too late for him, I felt like I was right alongside his sobbing mother.

Of course, the "cheerful warrior" persona that the local media tagged him with stuck with him to the end, and so the book is not maudlin and contains plenty of charmingly odd stories of his Appalachian ancestors and his attachment to his siblings. When his father admonished him "Don't step in anything," I laughed and cried at once. He'd issued that same literal and figurative warning to his own kids--and me.

Another point at which I broke down was when he spoke of a high school teacher who "decided" that he should attend Earlham College with the same force of conviction with which Sam determined that I would attend the University of Evansville. And so I did, and Sam's influence changed my life--and those of countless others.

I am biased about this book because I loved Sam. But I do believe even those who did not know him will be entertained and enlightened by this folksy but learned memoir.