Enter Celebrity Editors

Time magazine, in its 25 June issue, has an article about how celebrities have become editors at the major publishing houses. The article says, “The worlds of fashion and music have long understood the  power of celebrity collaborations, which count on high-profile partners to combine expertise and star power.  Now book publishers are breaking out of their bubble and looking to outsiders – people with name brand cachet and stratospheric social-media followings, and who presumably love books – to curate and helm boutique lists.  ‘Publishers want celebrity stardust, and, let’s face it, most writers don’t have that’, says Claibourne Smith, editor in chief of Kirkus Reviews.”

Sarah Jessica Parker’s new publishing imprint, SJP for Hogarth, released its first novel on 12 June, as the realisation of a longtime fantasy  “I never imagined at this point in my life I’d have the opportunity to turn my lifelong hobby of reading into my work,” she says,

The Time article says, “The proto-celebrity editor might be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who took on a consulting editorship at Viking Press in 1975.  The former first lady oversaw titles on Russian costumes and fairy tales.  ‘Jackie Kennedy is one of the models Sarah Jessica and I discussed when we started talking about the partnership’, says Molly Stern, senior vice president and publisher of Crown, Hogarth and  Archetype  books, who first approached Parker about taking a shot at publishing.  ‘Jackie was a journalist before she was married to the President, and Sarah Jessica was a lifelong reader before she became an actress’.

“SJP for Hogarth will publish literary fiction – Parker’s favourite genre – with an emphasis on multicultural voices.  ‘I’m focused on stories that cultivate empathy and expose us to people whose homes I’m not likely to be invited into,’ the newly minted editorial director says of her mission,”

Sarah Jessica Parker

“Parker say she gets nervous in her new role.  Taking an approach that’s part book nerd and part method actor, she travels to bookseller conventions, doodles book cover ideas and attends Penguin Random House launch and marketing meetings – where she presents her selections in hopes of winning internal support necessary to any book’s success.  ‘I don’t want to look like a lightweight,’ Parker says.  ‘I don’t want people to think I’m dabbling.  I want them to know I take their work seriously, and I try to learn about the trade – I’ve spent a lot of time learning about the importance of bookshelf placement.’  (If it isn’t visible, she notes, it’s not going to be purchased.)

“Kirby Kim, a literary agent with Janklow & Nesbit Associates, has first-hand experience with the soup-to-nuts nature of Parker’s involvement.  In March, when he submitted a novel to multiple houses ahead of the London Book Fair, Parker took a break from fair events to read the manuscript, and her imprint wasting no time coming in with an offer.  ‘Instead of just networking and schmoozing, she actually zoomed through the submission,’ Kim says.  Ultimately, another publisher won the title.  ‘You lose books – that has been gutting,’ Parker says.  ‘It’s tough, but it’s good for me.  I don’t have a limitless budget.  I have to be thoughtful about how we’re spending our dollars,’

“Nearly every major publisher is now in the celebrity business.  Simon & Schuster has Jeter Publishing, a partnership with baseball legend Derek Jeter that launched in 2013.  Random House offered Lena Dunham, the creator of the HBO television show Girls, and her producing partner, Jenni Konner, their own imprint in 2016.  Henry Holt & Co., known for elevated fiction and news-breaking political titles . . . announced in 2016 that it had bestowed Bravo TV personality Andy Cohen with his own imprint.

“Even so, certain authors might prefer the imprimatur of a literary institution over a celebrity’s.  ‘I could see why celebrity imprints would be ripe for derision – critics might say celebrities are trying to look smart,’ says Katherine Fausset, a literary agent with Curtis Brown Ltd.

“Parker, meanwhile, is off to the races promoting her first novel.  Two weeks before its release, she posted a picture of herself hailing a cab with SJP for Hogarth’s debut book in her hand.  It got nearly 167,000 likes.”

Judging a Book by its Cover

In the May/June issue of The Independent magazine, there is an article Converting Book Browsers to Book Buyers by Kristin Fields, Associate Editor.

Kristin Fields

The article is quite lengthy, but the part that I found particularly interesting concerned cover design.

Ms Fields says, “There are two deeply held misunderstandings about the nature and role of a book’s “cover” in trade publishing. First, that its main purpose is to be “liked,” when, in fact, its primary role is to motivate browsing. One of the “ugliest,” least liked covers Codex has ever tested was Tina Fey’s Bossypants (featuring Tina Fey with what appear to be massive, hairy, man arms), and yet it had phenomenal browsing impact and became the #2 overall bestselling book on Amazon for its publication year.

“Second, it’s essential to understand book buyers use the cover as the book’s message, relying heavily on it to tell them what the book is, why they should be interested in it, and to judge if it’s worth the effort of browsing—very similar to the role of a strong campaign slogan in politics—conveyed through word and image combined.

“Book publishers consistently make the mistake of undervaluing the cover as simply a piece of decoration, when in fact the data is very clear that it’s the combined impact of title, subtitle, reading line, author name, blurb, and design that together either move, or more often dissuade, a book consumer from browsing. We have to continually remind ourselves that book people are “word people”; they love and respond to words first and foremost. Nearly 15 years of Codex testing has consistently shown that a book’s title, subtitle, or reading line copy are in fact almost always the most important conversion factor in a book’s cover, not the art. While great cover art brings a very important added dimension, amplification, and visual recall to a book, great cover art alone rarely drives the book consumer to act, except in breakthrough examples like Bossypants.

“Here are some examples of past Codex Preview testing case studies to provide additional insight into some key findings on book conversion (buying decision):

“In a rebranding project on the For Dummies series, for example, two message options were tested: Staying Young for Dummies and Healthy Aging for Dummies. Because the Dummies brand audience skewed 55+, the “Healthy Aging” message spoke more powerfully to that audience, best fulfilled the brand’s values, and had the highest conversion.

 

“In another Preview test, when it comes to blurbs, less can be more. While one test version of the cover for The Freedom Broker by K.J. Howe was plastered with over a dozen “blurbs to die for” from some of the biggest names in thriller writing, category fans were skeptical, less hype with a single quote and an emphasis on the title.

 

“Using faces on a book’s cover can also be unpredictable. The biography of Apple co-founder and inventor of the personal computer, Steve Wozniak, is a good example. Codex results confirmed that few book buyers were even familiar with the author’s name, let alone his face. One test treatment featured a photo of a young Wozniak from the 1970s, which motivated far less browsing than a text-based presentation that emphasized the message “The Inventor of the Personal Computer Speaks at Last” highlighted by Apple’s iconic rainbow stripes. Faces can be unpredictable conversion drivers because of they may be unrecognizable, distracting, or unrelateable. It’s best to pre-test before committing if you’re unsure.

“While publishers and designers are deeply involved in a cover’s development over weeks or months at a time, it’s important to remember that a book browser typically relies on just a split second gut reaction to make a browsing decision.”

For the indie author, whose books do not usually appear in bookstores, the issues are slightly different, because decisions are not quite so instantaneous.  But, the indie author should still be trying for a cover which says, “Here’s what I’m about” and “Read me!”

“Publishers Live in Marble Palaces”

That is the title of an interview in The Daily Telegraph of James Daunt, the managing director of Waterstones by Jake Kerridge, journalist and art critic.

James Daunt

Kerridge writes: “When HMV sold the Waterstones book chain to the Russian businessman Alexander Mamut in 2011, the company was hurtling towards the knacker’s yard. But Mamut made an inspired decision when he appointed Daunt as his managing director. The 54-year-old, the founder of the small but much-admired independent chain Daunt Books, has transformed the company, brought it back into the black, and defied predictions that the mighty Amazon was going to stomp bricks-and-mortar bookshops into oblivion.

“Now, though, the much-loved book chain faces another threat to its existence – from a ruthless hedge fund. Elliot Management, owned by the controversial New York billionaire Paul Singer, announced at the end of last month that it was buying the company from Mamut, sparking fears of asset stripping. Anne Stevens, CEO of British engineering firm GKN (in which Elliott has a stake) has complained that Elliott does not “give a crap” about long-term outcomes, and Singer himself was once described as a “financial terrorist” by the president of Argentina for his ruthless pursuit of debts.

Kerridge asks Daunt what he thinks about the prophesies of doom that blossomed at the acquisition by Elliott.  Daunt says: ‘We’re opening more shops than we’re closing. Some people have this notion that we’re always about to close shops – if we close one we must be going to close a hundred – which I simply don’t understand.’

When asked about future plans from Elliott, Daunt says, “I obviously have asked them why they’re buying us and what they expect, and the answer has been: ‘Carry on as you’re doing. We think that you can grow, and if you do grow, we’ll sell you for a profit’.”

“What Daunt has been doing has certainly been successful.  At the beginning of this year, Waterstones announced an 80 per cent jump in its annual profits.  The stores have become nicer places to visit, with more flowers and comfy furniture. He insists that staff make their own decisions about how their branches are run; every shop has a different customer demographic, so all key decisions – what books to stock, pricing structure, layout – have been left to branch managers. At the same time, readers have fallen back in love with physical books, something Daunt believes has to do with the power of the book as a decorative item.

“I ask him if he is bothered by reports of a crisis in “literary” fiction, with sales reportedly plummeting.  , ‘I’ve been nearly 30 years a bookseller,’ Daunt says, ‘and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything different. We sell astonishing numbers of whatever the latest literary bestseller is, and our bestselling book almost every year is a novel, and a literary novel at that. Publishers wring their hands and say woe is us and the end of the world is nigh. Nonetheless, when I started as a bookseller they were all in small buildings with rickety staircases. Now they’re in marble palaces along the Thames. I shouldn’t mock, but they really aren’t doing badly.”

“He is sanguine about the threat to reading posed by competing forms of entertainment, be it Netflix or social media. ‘Any parent, of which I’m one, who watches their children flick between a million things, thinks: are they going to sit down and read? But then I just think back to my childhood, and my parents were convinced that television was going to be the end of reading. I’m not so worried because books do provide astonishingly good entertainment.’

“After talking to him I have a quick look around and end up so beguiled I spend too much money and am late for my next appointment. Millions of people have the same experience in Waterstones’ branches across the country.”

I think it’s a welcome relief to hear that a major bookseller is growing and making money.  A retail, brick and mortar, bookstore can give us an up close and personal experience of books that no internet site can match.  And it’s nice to hear that publishers aren’t suffering as much as they would have us believe!

 

Why So Few Prizes for Female Writers?

In her Guardian article on 23 January, Stephanie Merritt argues that female authors ‘rule literary fiction’, but receive few prizes.  This complaint, while it may be justified, is poorly documented.

Ms Merritt, born in 1974 in Surrey, is a literary critic, author and feature writer for the Observer and Guardian.  She read  English at Queens College and graduated from Cambridge University in 1996.  Her first novel, Gaveston, won the Betty Trask Award from the Society of Authors in 2002.  She has since written six historical novels featuring Giordano Bruno under the pseudonym S J Parris, and a memoir called The Devil Within, which was shortlisted for the Mind Book Award, about her experience coping with depression.

Stephanie Merritt at the 2016 Hay Festival

She says: “On the face of it, the revelation that female writers dominated the UK bestseller lists in 2017 might seem cause for celebration.  According to the Bookseller, only one man, Haruki Murakami made it to the top ten that saw a generation of female writers, including Sarah Perry, Naomi Alderman and Zadie Smith displace venerable fixtures of the literary landscape such as Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro.

“But does this really represent a dramatic shift in the recognition of female literary talent?  The Bookseller list was compiled, by its own admission, according to a narrow definition of ‘literary’, limiting its choices principally to authors who have won, or been shortlisted for, major awards.

“Given the well-documented bias of the big prizes in favour of male authors – in 2015, the author Kamila Shamsie established that less than 40% of the titles submitted by publishers for the Booker in the previous five years had been by women – this results in a very small pool of eligible names.

“If you were to take at face value the discrepancy in coverage in major newspapers and journals, you might conclude that men are simply producing more ‘serious’ fiction than women.  But, as Francine Prose pointed out twenty years ago in her essay Scent of a Woman’s Ink, this is largely to do with an inherent bias in the way men’s and women’s wok is perceived.  When a male author writes about a family, it is regarded as social commentary; when a woman does, it’s a domestic tale.

“As recently at 2015, the author Catherine Nichols wrote about the experience of having her first novel universally rejected, only to meet with a very different response when she resubmitted it under a male pseudonym.”

I understand Ms Merritt’s complaint, and it is probably quite just, but this article doesn’t prove it.  She says that 9 of the top ten literary writers in 2017 were women, but women don’t receive a fair share of prizes.  Yet she says that one has to be a prize winner or shortlisted for a prize to make the list at all.

She says that less than 40% of the titles submitted for Booker consideration were by women.  All things being equal, this number should be 50%, and therefore, in my opinion, 40% does not result in a ‘very small pool’.

She refers to the ‘well documented bias’ of big prizes in favour of male authors.  It would have been useful to her case if she had cited some specifics.

That said, the points made by Francine Prose and Catherine Nichols appear to point to an injustice.

The Espresso Book Machine

There is an article in the September, 2017 issue of the IBPA Independent magazine, ‘Can the Espresso Book Machine Save the Indie Publisher?’  It is written by Peter Goodman, the publisher of Stone Bridge Press in Berkeley, California, and a member of the IBPA Independent Editorial Advisory Committee.

The article tells us that “the EBM is a self-contained, on-demand printing and binding machine that can produce a single perfect-bound book from a digital file in 5-8 minutes.  A product of On Demand Books in New York City, the EBM promises ‘Books Printed in Minutes at Point of Sale for immediate Pick-up and Delivery’.

“Currently there are about a hundred EBM’s installed in stores and libraries, mostly in the US and Canada, but in other countries, as well.  Through On Demand Books’ own servers and tie-ups with other publishers and with Google and Lightning Source, over 7 million titles are currently available in multiple languages for on-demand printing at these locations. ”

The article also mentions that the machine can be promoted to anyone who simply wants to get unpublished written material into a printed and bound format: family cookbooks, memoirs, school projects first novels, etc.

“An EBM prints books – perfectly bound only – one at a time on an integrated Xerox D95 toner-based printer.  Available formats range from 4.5″ x 5.0″ to 8.25″ x 10.75″ with page counts from 40 to 830 pages.   Covers are produced on heavier tabloid-size stock using four-colour digital printing.  As the book pages print, the cover is output and positioned below the book block.  The EBM then scrapes and applies glue to the spine of the block and presses the  block down onto the back surface of the cover.  The book is finished as soon as the block and its attached cover are turned and trimmed on the side and front edges.”

Espresso Book Machine

“Publishers contract with On Demand to make books available through the EBM network database.  The finances are straight forward: the EBM operator arranges with On Demand  for leasing and maintenance, and then pays a licensing fee for each book printed.  The publisher receives 25% of the price of the book to the customer; the publisher sets the price, as long as it exceeds a calculated amount to cover production costs, licensing and profit to the bookseller.”

Turning now to an article from Publishers Weekly, On Demand Books emphasize that the EBM is “not a POD ( print on demand) solution: it is a sales solution”

“Another reason that book machines have started to come into their own is that publishers are looking for ways to support bricks-and-mortar stores. Publishers cannot afford to lose retail distribution. So they also see this as a mechanism for the distribution model.  The desire to keep indies in business is translating to a new willingness to make content available. To date, most of the books that the machine can print have come from deep backlists.  Most frontlist titles are from smaller presses and open source publishers.

“A question put to attendees at Xerox’s first Thought Leadership Workshop about the EBM in Rochester, N.Y., last month indicates another possibility for the machine’s growing popularity: Amazon. “We need to compete with Amazon,” says Linda Gregory, who handles Web site and order fulfillment for Colgate Bookstore in Hamilton, N.Y.

“Statistics from On Demand are tantalizing: within the first three months of having a machine McNally Jackson Books in New York City has gone from zero to 1,000 books a month. At Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Mass., which added a machine in October 2009, owner Jeffrey Mayersohn expects to surpass 2,000 books a month this summer. “Digitalization is the salvation of the neighborhood bookstore,” he declares. He regards Amazon’s infrastructure as “20th-century” and believes that the key competitive issue is inventory, not price. With the EMB, Mayersohn says, “The store becomes a well-curated showroom with books published to specification—and a manufacturing operation in the backroom.”

In doing some research for this post, I found that the price of an EBM is $185,000, but I feel sure that On Demand’s preference is to enter into lease and maintenance agreements.

Lessons from a 20-Year Career

In the IBPA Independent magazine, December 2017, there is an article by Ron W Mumford about the lessons he has learned on his 20-year path through the industry.  He certainly has a sense of humour and some good advice to offer, so I’ve quoted excerpts below.  Ron has written a non-fiction book, Finding Your Soulmate, God’s Way, a thriller, Gray Justice, and a fantasy trilogy: Wayne’s Angel, Betwixt, and Z-Gen.  As a businessman, before his started writing books,  he had taken a company public on NASDAQ, become a licensed financial consultant with two of the largest brokerage firms in the US.

Ron W Mumford

He says, ” During the 1990’s I wrote my first novel: 800 pages double spaced, 200,000 words.  I was so proud of myself.  The work was sure to win the Pulitzer Prize!  Sound familiar?  After my first edit by a professional editor, the work was cut in half with a notation from the editor, ‘Ron, you have written two books in one and you ramble.’

As regards the publishing industry, he says, “What a new and different industry full of well-wishers, scammers and instant-success gurus, all looking to take your money while promising the bestseller list and delivering nothing.  I queried literary agents for two years, finally found a couple, and, again, got nothing.  Finally I decided I would become a literary agent and go to New York and Hollywood to learn first hand how this crazy industry worked. I picked up several writer clients and headed to New York City with client manuscripts in hand.  All the Big Five publishing companies rolled out the red carpet to a new literary agent from Texas.  I spent half a day at Simon & Schuster and even met Stephen King’s editor.  I asked each editor, ‘What are yo looking for?’  They all replied, ‘Great writing.’  I asked, ‘Define ‘great writing.’  Again, each editor replied similarly, ‘We’ll know it when we see it’.

‘”What a cop out!  What they should have said in complete honesty was, ‘We are looking for well-known authors and celebrities with a huge following so we can sell hundreds of thousands of books.  Your chance of being published by us are about 100,000 to one.’

“My last stop in lower Manhattan was at Warner Books, where I was granted an appointment with a vice president/editor.  When I entered his office and gave him my card, he snapped, ‘What gives you the audacity to think you can be a literary agent?’  This guy did not know Texas audacity.  I took a deep breath, leaned on his desk and replied, ‘The same audacity that told me I could swim with the sharks on Wall Street.  Do you want to talk books or what?’  Needless to say, Warner and my literary agency didn’t do any business.”

Ron says that he sent out 100 client manuscripts a month to small and medium sized publishers and he managed to get 12 books published.  He mentions that he got one client a seven-book deal, and that the client later got a five-book deal with HarperCollins.  “After my money and my passion hit new levels of low, I passed her (the client) on to a great literary agency.  There are good lit agents out there.

“I sent emails to every IT/social media guru that I personally knew, asking them, ‘How do you mass market books?’  I got no replies.  I talked to one guy that guaranteed a best seller.   I asked him how he does his marketing and how much he charges.  Answer, ‘For 30 days, I send out tweets on Twitter, I charge $3000.’  I passed on that offer, even for a ‘guaranteed bestseller.”

Unfortunately, Ron does not offer any sure-fire solutions to the achievement of mass book marketing at an affordable price.

 

Publishing Industry Standard

Angela Bole, CEO of the Independent Book Publishing Association, has introduced an Industry Standard for a Professionally Published Book in the July issue of  IBPA Independent magazine.

Angela Bole

In the article, she says: “IBPA has been championing independent publishers, big and small, self and otherwise, since 1983.  That’s over 30 years of advocating for indie voices in the traditional publishing industry.  Over this time, we’ve seen a thing or two.

“Recent changes in the publishing industry have created enormous opportunities for self-published authors.  It’s now possible to produce a professional-quality book outside of the Big Five conglomerates.  Unfortunately, this opportunity has come at the cost of a deepening divide between how traditionally-published and self-published authors are treated.  Too often, IBPA has noticed a bias against self-published authors, independent publishers and hybrid presses when it comes to choosing titles or authors for review consideration, book award contests, association memberships, and inclusion of independent bookstore shelves.

“There is no reason for this bias.  While it is true that not all books are created equal, when they are, it’s important that the industry treats them as such.  That’s why the IBPA’s Advocacy Committee recently published an Industry Standard for a Professionally Published Book – a two-page document developed to support independent publishers and self-published authors, but also to urge an industry in flux to acknowledge that books ought to be judged on their substance ranter than their business model.  If used appropriately, the checklist gives both authors and book industry professionals an at-a-glance method by which to gauge the professional presentation of a book.  The goal is that the checklist becomes a future guide that reviewers, contests, membership associations and bookstores turn to when deciding which authors merit consideration.

“You can download the checklist at: ibpa-online.org/standardschecklist .

“During BookExpo last June, I had the privilege of discussing the checklist with other industry organisations.  I met with the American Booksellers Association, the Authors Guild, Publishers Weekly, Foreword Reviews and many more.  I’m glad to say that the reception was warm.  Those industry professionals paying attention know they’re missing quality books be using gatekeeping tactics attached to business models; they just haven’t figured out how to consider books without opening the floodgate to unprofessionally produced content, as well.  They seemed to appreciate that the checklist is a needed first step toward figuring this all out.

“Today’s independent publishers and self-published authors represent a diverse array of voices and backgrounds, often speaking about specialised issues that are marginalised by larger presses, often because their books are being judged on the business model and not on what matters, which is the content of the books.  Just as publishers, self, or otherwise, are responsible for producing books that adhere to industry standards, the book industry as a whole is responsible for creating an environment that allows for equal evaluation of all published works.”

Amen!

Is Amazon Helping Pirates ?

Angela Bole, chief executive officer, Independent Book Publisher’s Association, implies as much in the lead article of the June issue of the IBPA Independent magazine.  She takes issue with Amazon’s change in policy on its book buy box.

Amazon’s Buy Box

This is the method which Amazon has used in the past to say that the book in question is new and is supplied by the publisher.  Now, Amazon is offering a priority spot in the buy box the third party suppliers who offer the same book as new, but at a price significantly below the publisher’s list and Amazon’s Prime price.

For example, a hard cover version of The Bestseller Code has a publishers list of $25.99.  Amazon is offering it at $14.29 Prime.  There are eight third-party sellers offering the book at prices lower than Amazon’s.  The worry, of course, is that publishers and authors are not receiving their due compensation on these cheap books.

In the article, Ms Bole asks: “Where might these third-party sellers be getting the books that they sell that don’t result in any author compensation?  Any number of ways, including donated books, closeout sales, sidewalk sellers, remainder and overstock dealers, ‘hurts’ from distributor stock, promo copies and ARC’s” (advanced reader copies –  f0r reviewers).  An Amazon spokesperson wrote to Publishers Weekly to say that books obtained in one of the preceding ways wouldn’t qualify, because the books must be ‘new”.  Amazon defines ‘new’ as ‘brand-new, unused, unread copy in perfect condition.  The dust cover and original protective wrapping, if any, is intact’.

“The problem is that Amazon does nothing to enforce the ‘new’ policy.”  The third-party seller gets to declare that the book is ‘new’ by simply choosing the ‘new’ option. . . . .

“Karla Olson, director of Pantagonia Books, said, ‘We received a comment on one of our books that it was riddled with typos, and the captions were all the same for the second half of the book.  It took us a few reads to figure out that the customer had bought an ARC, from Amazon. . . .

“And Cynthia Frank, president at Cypress House pointed out another problem. ‘We’ve learned that some of the third-party sellers who have won our Buy Boxes are actually fly-by-night sellers who have only been in the business a few months.  Some likely don’t have even a single copy.  On various listservs and forums, including LinkedIn, I’ve read that some customers pay for a book, but it never arrives.  Amazon, because they take good care of their customers (as opposed to their vendors), ends up holding the bag and has to pay a refund.”

“According to Ian Lamont, founder at 130 Media, in a written statement, ‘Even before the policy change, there were several recent cases of counterfeit paperbacks being co-mingled with legitimate inventory at an Amazon warehouse (as reported by No Starch Press) and taking over the Buy Box (which happened to Author Dave Burgess).  Knock-offs taking over the Buy Box has been a massive issue for manufacturers for several years (as reported by Forbes).  And it’s clear that Amazon can’t control this new policy if they can’t solve the counterfeit problem.'”

Why would Amazon want to introduce a policy like this?  I don’t know, but I suspect that it is driven by Amazon’s commitment to offering goods at the lowest possible price.  What Amazon has apparently failed to consider is that the goods are different at the lowest price from the ‘same’ goods at the more reasonable price.  They have also failed to consider the interests of the people who try to earn a living from the goods Amazon sells.

If you would like to reach a wider audience with your comments, you may want to add a comment on the IPBA website:

http://www.ibpa-online.org/news/349854/An-Amazon-Buy-Button-Call-to-Action.htm

 

 

The Bestseller Code

The Bestseller Code, by Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, St Martin’s Press, 2016, comes to some unexpected conclusions.  The book was reviewed by Sandra Elliot in the June issue of The Florida Writer.

“Through an analysis of recent best sellers, Authors Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers claim to have identified the elements that move a novel to the top in sales.  They begin with an overview of what makes people read, including insights and quotes from Stephen King’s On Writing.  He says no one really knows what makes a story a hit, and advises would-be professionals to choose topics they know and blend in others like relationships, sex and work.  The Bestseller Code authors arouse reader interest by debunking King’s adages.  No sex in popular novels?  No, they say, and use their research findings to support their statements.

“. . . One of their first questions: themes that promote or limit a story’s commercial popularity.  Sex, drugs and rock and roll are among those tested and found wanting.  Few bestsellers are based on these themes.  What about Fifty Shades of Grey?  . . .  Not the sex, they say, but a living, breathing side of the narrative that readers feel it like the thrum of nightclub music.  The Da Vinci Code is the only other book to have such a powerful rhythm, they add.

“. . . (The book) identified John Grisham and Danielle Steel as authors who used themes of interest to many readers.  Grisham’s signature theme is ‘Lawyers and the Law’, Steel’s ‘Domestic Life’.

“Overall, bestselling authors allocate a third of their novels to one or two themes; less successful authors include more. . . . These findings are particularly relevant for debut writers who tend to write about too much.  An in-depth story is easier to follow than writing heavy with description and detail.  More women than men gain popularity with their debut novels.  Does a feminine writing style have payoff?  No, it’s not gender but an understanding of audience and language that pays, that, and the nurturing of skills through practice.

“Gender differences were noted.  Protagonists in recent female-oriented novels are internally complex and externally challenged, odd or different gals with power and motivation.  Characters in bestselling novels, male or female, are high-energy people who set out to achieve what they want to be.”

A three star review by EVS on Amazon.com says, in part: “I found myself simultaneously impressed with the depth of the research and disappointed with the triviality of the findings. Moreover, as much as the authors hope that their formula will open publishing industry to new writers overlooked otherwise, I have a feeling it will only serve to build more, higher walls, imprisoning writers in even tighter cells. Ironically, what would mediate the potential for abuse is making the formula available to the public in the form of a readily accessible test. It’s just the question of time until application of this or similar math becomes obligatory among agents and publishers. If the potential success or failure of an artist’s project is going to depend on a formula, the artist should have the right to face his accuser.”

I tend to share EVS concerns about agents and publishers using this, or a more ‘perfect’ algorithm in selecting works for publication and thereby building higher walls and imprisoning writers in even tighter cells.  But, I also guess that it will indeed be helpful in coaching overlooked authors to better hit the mark.  And I suspect that, in any case, there will always be a writer who finds a route to success that the algorithm overlooks.

In view of all this, I am motivated to get a copy of the book and report to you in more detail.

Backwards Books

Qualifying for an obscure facts about books award, is an article in The Daily Telegraph with the title ‘How Book Lovers Turned Things Around’ by Anita Singh.  Appearing on 19/4/17, it said:

“If you want to display books on shelves the traditional way, try turning your books back to front.  Placing books on shelves with the spines facing outwards is a relatively recent phenomenon, according to Mark Purcell, former libraries curator for the National Trust who now oversees the research collections at Cambridge University Library.

Mark Purcell

“‘Until fashions changed in the 18th century, book titles and authors were not printed on the spine but written in ink on the edge of pages.  The turnaround happened when the wealthy decided having titles embossed in gold leaf would add a certain cachet.  If you’d gone to almost any library in England, Wales or Scotland until 300 years ago the books were kept backwards,’ Purcell said at the Hay Festival.  ‘In those days the cultural supposition was that books had the title printed on the edges of the pages in ink.’

“The first known English book with a title gilded on the spine was printed in 1604, he said, and that was considered ‘cutting edge’.  Then followed, in the 17th and 18th centuries, what historians call ‘the great turnaround’, where the method of display was reversed.”

I suspect that a change in binding technology may also have been partially responsible for this change.  It may have simply been more difficult to print the author’s name and the title of the book on spine of the book.  But, judging by the picture above, it is easy to see why book owners preferred to display their possessions with the title and author’s name on the spine.