Rules for Acquiring Editors

Publishers Weekly ran an article 10 Rules for Book Editors by Jonathan Karp on 20 October 2017.  I’ve rediscovered it and I think it’s worth sharing here partly because of what he says (interesting) and partly because of who he is.

Simon and Schuster’s press release dated 6 March last year says: “Jonathan Karp has been promoted to President and Publisher, Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing, effective immediately.  In this new role, he will have overall responsibility for Simon & Schuster’s New York–based adult trade publishing, which includes Atria Books, Gallery Books, Scribner, Simon & Schuster, Touchstone and their associated sub-imprints and lines, and he will report to President and CEO Carolyn Reidy. Mr. Karp will also continue to serve as Publisher of the Simon & Schuster trade imprint.”

Jonathan Karp

His article is excerpted below:

” I’ve been acquiring books for 25 years, and there are times in the acquisitions process when I don’t even agree with myself! With that caveat, here are some general rules for thinking about trade acquisitions.

1. Love it

This is the most common advice given by acquisitions editors, but it raises questions. Is it possible to love many books at the same time without winding up in a polyamorous predicament? Would it be easier on the editor’s heart to arrange a few marriages of convenience? Some editors fall in love too easily. Others withhold their love with such discipline that it’s an event whenever they want to buy something. The inescapable truth is that each new acquisition marks the beginning of a relationship, one in which you will be reading an author’s work closely and engaging in what is usually an extensive conversation and collaboration. If you don’t begin that relationship with enthusiasm or desire, the project is likely to become a grind or a burden.

2. Wait for Authority

Whether the work is fiction or nonfiction, readers respect authors who deeply understand their subject. It’s apparent when a writer is in command, and this command is the surest justification for asking readers to devote hours of their time to a book. It’s possible for someone who deeply understands a subject to write an authoritative book in less than 12 months, but it’s unlikely. The 2015 and 2014 winners of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, Anthony Doerr and Donna Tartt, each took about a decade to write their books. Editors should learn to recognize when a book will be worth the wait, contractual due date or not.

3. If You Cry, Buy!

I once asked publisher Jamie Raab why she had the confidence to spend a vast sum to acquire a first novel. She responded, “I cried at the last page.” Her reaction was purely emotional, and she was right not to overthink it. The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks went on to become a phenomenon. Often the books readers most enthusiastically embrace are the ones they experience emotionally, not just intellectually.

4. Make a Promise, Have a Purpose

Some altruistic readers out there might hope to better the world through their book purchases, but many potential consumers are probably asking, “What’s in it for me?” The works most likely to appeal to them are the ones that make them the most direct and appealing promise. In 2015 the nation’s number-one nonfiction bestseller was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—an inspired promise, because it is within every lazy slob’s reach and does not strain credulity.

5. Resist the Urge to Acquire in Slow Periods

One of my colleagues, when asked by strangers what he does for a living, tells them, “I read bad books so you don’t have to.” But what happens when the book isn’t bad? What if it’s good but not great? The most frequent comment I hear from less experienced acquisitions editors is “I’m on the fence.” If you’re on the fence, get off, don’t buy it, and find something else to read.

6. Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

Chris Matthews always used to end his Sunday-morning TV show with a segment called “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know,” in which his guests had to offer one piece of news. On an elemental level, books serve the same purpose. On some hot topics, such as abortion or gun rights or immigration, readers can’t be told anything because they’ve already made up their minds. Other topics aren’t urgent enough to require attention. An agent once sent me a proposal for a book on procrastination. I decided readers would never get around to buying it.

7. Know the Audience

One reason editors tend to specialize in certain categories is that they become familiar with the tastes of the most active buyers in those categories. An experienced editor of crime fiction may sense that a novel is too wild or too mild for the intended audience. A history editor will know whether a “new” Lincoln biography on submission says anything distinctive enough to spark commentary. Conversely, an editor who really knows her market may spot a niche that hasn’t been filled.

8. Have Your Own Ideas . . .

Great acquisitions editors are always thinking of books they’d like to publish. Ann Godoff suggested to her author Ron Chernow that he write a biography of John D. Rockefeller. At Random House, Kate Medina pursued Tom Brokaw for a long time before he wrote The Greatest Generation. In the early 1980s, Simon & Schuster editor Alice Mayhew was sharing a cab home with a young magazine reporter. She asked him to write a group biography of the men most responsible for America’s international leadership after World War II. The writer was Walter Isaacson, and that conversation marked the beginning of an editorial relationship that has lasted more than 30 years.

9. Don’t Be Cynical

There are certain books for which there is almost always an audience, but they have to withstand scrutiny. Maybe there’s an author capable of convincing me that The Macaroni and Cheese Diet will reduce my waistline while also boosting my productivity, but the evidence would have to be compelling. Don’t assume that a book will sell because the author is famous or well connected. A personality in search of an idea is a waste of time. Be wary of sequels, too. A literary agent once tried to convince me to pay a large advance for an author’s second memoir. When I asked him to name one author whose subsequent memoir had outsold the first book, the agent’s only response was . . . “Proust.”

10. Have Conviction

Great editors push hard for the works they want to publish. At Simon & Schuster, Editor in Chief Marysue Rucci felt such conviction about a novelist named Matthew Thomas that we did not hesitate to make an offer for his first novel, We Are Not Ourselves. She knew the audience (readers of sophisticated fiction who love books with a strong female protagonist). She had a purpose (to give voice to an indelible portrait of the impact of Alzheimer’s disease on a family). And to top it all off, the novel made Marysue cry, so she was certain of its emotional power. Upon its publication, We Are Not Ourselves was an instant bestseller and one of the best-reviewed books of 2014. If you’re a new editor, your fresh perspective is the one advantage you’ll have over the weathered veterans who have been evaluating manuscripts for years. If a new voice speaks to you, persist in your crusade on behalf of that writer. The lack of a successful precedent is often used as a reason for not publishing a book, but it can also be the reason that a book will connect with the public: precisely because no writer has ever done it quite this way, and quite this well, before.”

All of this, for me, makes sense, except that I would entitle number 9 “Be Cynical Sometimes”.

The Sins of Amazon

There is an interesting article in the 23 June 2019 issue of The New York Times written by David Streitfeld, titled “What Happens After Amazon’s Dominance is Complete? Its Bookstore Offers Clues”.  It is too long to quote in its entirety, but I’ve excerpted it below:

“’The Sanford Guide to Antimicrobial Therapy’ is a medical handbook that recommends the right amount of the right drug for treating ailments from bacterial pneumonia to infected wounds. Lives depend on it.

The guide’s publisher, Antimicrobial Therapy, has, for the past two years, been confronted a flood of counterfeits — many of which were poorly printed and hard to read — in Amazon’s vast bookstore.

“This threatens a bunch of patients — and our whole business,” said Scott Kelly, the publisher’s vice president.

Mr. Kelly’s problems arise directly from Amazon’s domination of the book business  But Amazon takes a hands-off approach to what goes on in its bookstore, never checking the authenticity, much less the quality, of what it sells. It does not oversee the sellers who have flocked to its site in any organized way.

That has resulted in a kind of lawlessness. Publishers, writers and groups such as the Authors Guild said counterfeiting of books on Amazon had surged. The company has been reactive rather than proactive in dealing with the issue, they said, often taking action only when a buyer complains. Many times, they added, there is nowhere to appeal and their only recourse is to integrate even more closely with Amazon.

The scope of counterfeiting across Amazon goes far beyond books. E-commerce has taken counterfeit goods from flea markets to the mainstream, and Amazon is by far the e-commerce heavyweight. But books offer a way to see the depths of the issue.

“Being a tech monopoly means you don’t have to care about quality,” said Bill Pollock, a San Francisco publisher who has dealt with fake versions of his firm’s computer books on Amazon.

An Amazon spokeswoman denied that counterfeiting of books was a problem, saying, “This report cites a handful of complaints, but even a handful is too many and we will keep working until it’s zero.” The company said it strictly prohibited counterfeit products and last year denied accounts to more than one million suspected “bad actors.”

What happens after a tech giant dominates an industry is increasingly a question as lawmakers and regulators begin asking when dominance shades into a monopoly. This month, lawmakers in the House said they were scrutinizing the tech giants’ possible anticompetitive behavior. And the Federal Trade Commission is specifically examining Amazon.

Those who write a popular book open themselves up to being “summarized” on Amazon. At least eight books purport to summarize Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s best-selling account of fraud in Silicon Valley. The popular novel “Where the Crawdads Sing” has at least seven summaries. “Discover a beautiful coming-of-age story without all of the unnecessary information included in the actual novel!” says one that has 19 five-star reviews, all of which read as if they were fake.

“I’m furiou,” the author, Andrew Seen Greer, tweeted after people complained last summer that fakes of his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Less,” were being sold as the real thing. There was a counterfeit edition of Danielle Trussoni’s acclaimed memoir, “Falling Through the Earth,” on the site that misspelled her name on the cover. Lauren Groff said that there was an ‘illegal paperback’ of Florida, her National Book Award nominee, on Amazon.

Dead writers get hit, too. Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” was pirated. So was a volume of classic stories by Jorge Luis Borges. For 18 months Amazon has sold a counterfeit of Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” despite warnings in reader reviews that it is a “monstrosity,” dispensing with such standard features as proofreading and paragraph indenting.

This is not really negligence on Amazon’s part. It is the company’s business model.  “It is your responsibility to ensure that your content doesn’t violate laws or copyright, trademark, privacy, publicity or other rights,” it tells prospective publishers and sellers.

At Antimicrobial Therapy, the first warning that something was amiss with the Sanford Guide came with reviews on Amazon. “Several pages smudged and unable to read,” one buyer said in 2017.  “Seems as the book was photocopied,” said a second. “Characters are smeared,” wrote a third.

The company, whose books were sold to Amazon by distributors, did test buys. It got some copies from Amazon and others from its third-party sellers, including UsedText4u, Robinhood Book Foundation and 24×7 Book. Of the 34 books that Mr. Kelly bought, at least 30 were counterfeit. None of the booksellers responded to requests for comment.

Mr. Kelly wrote to the retailer’s founder, Jeff Bezos, saying, “Amazon is knowingly and willfully fulfilling most orders for our title with counterfeits that may contain errors leading to injury or death of their patients.”

Mr. Kelly got a response two weeks later from “Raj,” a member of “the Amazon Seller Performance team.” Raj said that an unnamed third-party seller had been barred from selling the book but that the seller might now appeal directly to AMT, and that if the company wanted to retract the whole thing, here was what to do.  “They were very reluctant to actually engage with us about the problem,” Mr. Kelly said of Amazon.

In February, Amazon included counterfeiting in its financial disclosures as a risk factor for the first time saying it might not be able to prevent its merchants “from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated or stolen goods” or “selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner.”  Yet the company has such a grip on books that counterfeits do not seem to harm it. They might even increase its business.

“A book takes a year or more to write,” said Andrew Hunt of the Pragmatic Bookshelf, a North Carolina publisher of computer books that had at least one of its titles stolen. “But to steal the book and upload it to Amazon takes only a minute.  And when someone buys a counterfeit, the real author may get cheated but Amazon still makes a sale. You could ask, What’s their incentive to do something?”

Bait-and-switch schemes are common in the Amazon bookstore. If someone wants to title a book of self-published poetry “To Kill a Mockingbird” — and someone did — Amazon will sell it next to Harper Lee’s classic novel. Some customers wrote in Amazon reviews that they felt tricked by the author of the verse “Mockingbird,” whose many other titles include “War and Peace” and “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”

In February, Amazon introduced a plan called Project Zero. No longer would brands have to report counterfeits and wait for the retailer to investigate. Project Zero, Amazon said, would give brands “an unprecedented ability to directly control and remove listings.”

Mr Pollock said Project Zero was a further insult. “Why should we be responsible for policing Amazon for fakes? That’s their job.”

The communications impasse between Amazon and Antimicrobial Therapy was complicated by the fact that they did not have a direct relationship. So in December, AMT opened vendor site on Amazon, with the bookseller getting a commission of about 20 percent on each copy sold. Under this arrangement, Amazon tells Antimicrobial Therapy where the customer lives, and the publisher ships the book from Sperryville.

As AMT was getting ready this spring to release the 2019 guide, it proposed an even deeper integration with Amazon.  “To eliminate the possibility of Amazon facilitating the sale of counterfeit books, we would like to offer Amazon the opportunity to serve as a wholesaler of our titles, cutting out the middle man,” Mr. Kelly wrote to the company. It was, in essence, rewarding Amazon by surrendering to its dominance. “We’d rather not be on Amazon,” Mr. Kelly said. “But we felt like we didn’t have a choice.”

* * *

My view is that Amazon does not want to engage with this problem at the scale that is required.  It would be too costly for them.  But, in my opinion, this is a short-sighted view.  The solution that may be coming is a requirement that any book seller, at any level, must warrant that the books it sells are free of any copyright defects.

Review: I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories

I found this book in a the English section of a book store in Capo d’Orlando, Sicily, and since I’d never read his work – of course, I’ve seen The Great Gatsby – I bought it, a collection of F Scott Fitzgerald’s unpublished short stories.  Perhaps the best feature of this book is that it is edited by Anne Margaret Daniel, and who provides a fascinating picture of the writer and his life through her notes and comments.

Anne Margaret Daniel

Her website says this about the editor: “Anne Margaret Daniel teaches at the New School University in New York City and at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson. Her articles and essays on literature and music have appeared for the past twenty years in books, critical editions, magazines, and journals from The New York Times to Hot Press to The Times Literary Supplement. Anne Margaret has degrees in American history and English literature from Harvard (A.B.), Georgetown (M.A.), and Princeton (Ph.D). She also has a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law. As a graduate student at Princeton in 1996, she gave the keynote lecture at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Centenary Conference held at his alma mater, and has published extensively on his writing, and on American Modernism, since.

There are eighteen short stories in this book, all previously unpublished.  Fitzgerald finished four novels: This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, the Great Gatsby, Tender is the Night,  and, posthumously The Last Tycoon.  But he was a prolific short story-writer, with four collections of stories and 164 short stories published in magazines; he also worked as a screen-writer in Hollywood.  While his writing was popular during his lifetime, and he did achieve periods of financial success, he did not achieve critical acclaim until after his death in 1944.  (He was born in 1896.)  Much of his  writing was representative of the ‘Lost Generation’ of the 1920’s: jazz, flappers and speak-easys.  His short stories often appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, a magazine to which my parents subscribed.  He was an alcoholic from the time he graduated from Princeton; his heavy drinking lead to health problems in the 30’s and his death in ’44.

F Scott Fitzgerald

Most of the stories in this collection date from the 30’s, during the Depression, when Fitzgerald was trying to move his genre away from love stories about pretty, rich girls, parties and high living to the grittier aspects of real life.  During this period, his agent and publishing editors frequently demanded changes to soften the content, or rejected it entirely.  Also, during the period, he had spells of working in Hollywood, which, while financially attractive, was frustrating in that he viewed the literary output requirements as very ordinary and it took time away from his chosen pursuits.

His writing is imaginative and direct, without elaboration, and often involves a young, pretty, somewhat naive and love-struck girl and one or more older men with obvious character defects.  There is no sex, but it is sometimes implied.  The plot doesn’t end as one might expect, but rarely badly.

The first story in the book is The I.O.U. written in 1920 for Harper’s Bazaar which didn’t publish, nor did The Saturday Evening Post.  Fitzgerald was working on his second novel The Beautiful and Damned at the time, and the story was ‘lost in the shuffle’.  Yale’s Beinecke Library purchased the manuscript in 2012 for $194,500 (14 printed pages).  The story is a light-hearted satire of the publishing industry, featuring a stressed-out publisher, a mad-as-a-hatter psychic doctor/author, a war hero and a pretty girl.  The improbable antics are certainly entertaining, and the story ends with the public unmasking of the fraudulent author via an IOU for $3.80.

Gracie at Sea is a screen play scenario written for George Burns and Gracie Allen, who were a famous cinema comic duo at the time (1934).  It is based on the proposition that wealthy father will not allow his pretty, younger daughter to marry until her older, very awkward sister is married.  Gracie is the awkward sister and George Burns in the incompetent PR man hired to make Gracie look marriageable.  Everything goes wrong as one slap-stick scene follows another.  This may have worked in the hands of an able director, but as a screen play scenario written as a serious short story it falls completely flat, and Paramount didn’t buy it.

Travel Together written a year or two after Gracie at Sea concerns a Hollywood writer who is living the life of a hobo in order to gain experience for a screen play he is writing.  He meets a pretty, young hobo girl, with whom he travels to the west coast.  The girl is looking for a woman to whom her rich, senile father gave a large diamond just before he died; she views the diamond as her rightful inheritance.  It is a lovely, imaginative story.

There are plenty of other good stories in this collection; some of them ahead of their time in dealing with taboos like un-married pregnancy, illicit funding of college sports, suicide and criminal activities.  Fitzgerald wanted to tell it like it is, not like his audience might have wanted it to be.  This made his efforts to change genres more difficult, and his finances more strained, while his ventures into Hollywood were frustrating, and his own health and that of his wife were deteriorating.

Bookshops: A Retail Bright Spot

Margareta Pagano’s article in the December 12th issue of the Evening Standard contained welcome news, ending with this: “But the best news of all is that people are buying books again in physical book shops, rather than on line with Amazon.  It’s difficult to get accurate figures, but there is a definite shift back to bricks and mortar: Waterstones, which bought Foyles earlier this year, is making excellent profits and opening new stores again.  And, for the first time in years, there are more new opening of book shops this year than closures.”

ResPublica says about Ms Pagano. “(She) is a columnist and the Independent and the Independent on Sunday. She is one of the UK’s leading financial journalists and has worked for the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, the Times and the Sunday Times. A founding editor of the Financial News, Margareta helped turn this specialist newspaper into one of the City’s premier online news services which is now part of Dow Jones. She also writes for the Spectator and the First Post and appears on TV as a financial commentator.”

Margareta Pagano

The article begins: ” . . . here’s as safe bet; you are going to buy or receive from someone in your family either Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, or The Ice Monster, by David Williams and Illustrated by Tony Ross. . . . To date, Obama’s Becoming is the fastest-selling, hardback, non-fiction title in the UK since Alex Ferguson’s My Autobiography published five ears ago. . . . It is being gobbled up by women of all ages around the country to give to their female friends and relatives.  They also reckon that with two million copies of Obama’s book having been sold worldwide more or less at the full price, Penguin Random House may be close to raking back much of the enormous $65 million (£50 million) advance paid to the Obama couple for their books- the former president, whose biography is out next year, has a job on his hands to beat his wife’s record.

“Like in the jewellery business, December is the Holy Grail for the book trade with u to 40% of all fiction and non-fiction books sold in the Christmas month.

“The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan show that sales for the year up to December 1 are 1.3% up on the year before at £1.3 billion, although volume sales are down a smidgen.  This is still along way off its pre-crash heyday, when sales between 2006 and 2007 hit a record £1.9 billion.  But Tom Tivnan of The Bookseller says the industry is going through a renaissance and reckons that sales this year could be a\s high as £1.6 billion after Christmas is taken into account.

“What is driving this revival? Fewer retailers are discounting prices, digital has opened up new markets and book shops have woken up to the need to host live events with authors and other experiences to attract readers.  Growth is most marked in the childrens’ books market and in audiobooks.  Audiobook sales are up 20% year on year and have created a new market, notably among men aged between 25 and 45, a demographic that traditionally reads the least.  In an era when time is short and the mood troubled, readers are also pouncing on ‘smart thinking’ books and authors who stir debate. That’s quite a contrast to the Ladybird books and adult colouring books which did so well after the crash.”

On a personal note, I should mention that Achieving Superpersonhood: Three East African Lives has been named winner in the Novel category, Pinnacle Book Achievement Awards, 2018.

Re-Releasing a Published Book

There is an article in the December issue of The Florida Writer that i found interesting because some on my older novels could definitely do with a ‘refresh’.  The article was written by Penny Sansevieri, who is CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. and an adjunct professor at New York University.  She is a best-selling author and internationally recognised book marketing and media relations expert.

Penny Sansevieri

She says: “Years ago at a writer’s conference, I met an author who told me about a science fiction book he had published five years prior. “When it comes to book promotion, I wish I knew then what I know now. I think this book could have done considerably better than it did initially.” My advice to him was to re-release his book, updating the cover and modifying parts of the interior. Book lovers are profoundly interested in series, and since his book was 400 pages, I recommended that he split it into four 100-page portions. Turning his book into a four-part series is a fantastic promotional tool and would also provide better exposure on Amazon. The following are just some of the reasons why authors decide to reissue a book, and why it makes sense to your ongoing book promotion efforts.

Your Original Book Promotion Fell Flat
There could be any number of reasons your book marketing didn’t go as planned. Perhaps you picked the wrong type of book promotion or the wrong markets, or maybe you just didn’t have the time to market it. If you believe in your book and want to give it a second chance, then a re-release could revive your title.

Your Book Could Have Been Better
Did your reviews come in less than stellar? Did readers comment on typos? Maybe you targeted the entire book to the wrong market. One author told me that a book that wasn’t intended for the Christian market was pushed there by the publisher and wound up upsetting a lot of readers who voiced their concerns on Amazon.

Current Events, News Items, Seasonal Trends
These days things change pretty quickly. I once spoke to an author who had a book that published five years ago. As luck would have it, her book topic started trending in the news. And while she could have pushed the older title, she thought it could be fun (and better for her book promotion) to reissue it to tie into current events. If there’s a wave of something going on that’s newsworthy, it could make sense to re-release your book to dial into that revived market. The other side of this is that things get outdated. If this is the case, maybe your book could use a refresher, especially if your content is subject to a lot of changes.

Your Brand Has Changed
As our businesses grow, we also evolve and change. Whether we updated our logo, our colors, or our look, perhaps it’s time to refresh our books, too. If your book cover no longer matches the look and feel or message of your business, now’s the time to get them aligned, so everything is consistent and uniform. It can be hard to get a cohesive book promotion message or campaign across if there is inconsistency in the author’s brand.

Your Cover Is/Was Bad
Sometimes we launch a book and think: Well, that cover could have been stronger. Or maybe your book is older, and the cover could use an update. Whatever the reason, a new cover is a great chance to refresh your book—and relaunch it, too.

You Just Got the Rights Back to Your Book
If you published a book years ago with a major house, you might be in a situation where your rights have reverted back to you. In this case, I’d highly encourage you to republish this using the indie publishing model.

What Happens to Your Original Book on Amazon?
If you’ve figured out what, if any, portion of your book needs an update, you may be wondering what happens with your original book on Amazon. Will it stay there? Will it ever go away? And what happens with all of the reviews? Some authors don’t care if the book stays up on Amazon, while others really want it taken down—or want their new book to be published “over” the other title. In other words, the old book goes away, but the reviews stay intact. The answer to that is: it depends. Amazon’s guidelines vary, so I’d suggest giving them a call. However, a rep told me that if the book is updated in excess of 20%, it’ll be considered a new book and will have a new Amazon page. It’s not a consistent rule, because the rep also said if the table of contents hasn’t been altered, or the page count hasn’t changed much, you could have it published over the other, original book. Which means that you essentially retain all of your old reviews. There might be cases where you don’t want to keep these reviews.”

In my case, I would be thinking about my three thrillers, two of which could have better covers. I think I would have to do one re-writing and restructuring, followed by and editorial review, and some further changes before putting it through a final copy edit.  So the costs for me would be:

  • Cover redesign
  • Structural edit
  • Copy edit
  • Printing set up

A fairly considerable expense (~£3k).  Not to mention the considerable time I would have to put into the project.  Probably, it’s not high on my list of priorities!

Freelance Editing

There is an article on the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) website with the title ‘Freelance Editors: Find and Cultivate Top Notch Talent’ by Deb Vanasse who is a reporter with the IBPA Independent magazine.  Wikipedia says that: “Deb Vanasse is an American writer of more than a dozen books, many of which are set in Alaska. Her children’s books include six picture books and two young adult novels.”

Deb Vanasse

While the  article appears to be directed mainly toward publishers, it interested me, because I used an editor for the first time on Achieving Superpersonhood, and while the editor did a reasonably good job for me, I felt that she was sometimes missing the points I was making in the novel.  So, while I’m now committed to using an editor, I need a better process to select him/her.  An editor can help the author see problems in the construction – the substance –  of a novel that an author might miss.  So I am interested in getting some ideas about a selection process.  I should mention that the editorial work to which I’m referring here precedes the copy editing which comes just before preparation for printing and which includes grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc.

I also thought that there is material in the article which could be of interest to readers of this blog who wish to become freelance editors.

Ms Vanasse says, “Within the past decade, market changes have created a healthy supply of freelance editorial talent. But in the wide-open field of freelance editing, quantity is no guarantee of quality.  ‘There are more editors looking for freelance work since the Big Five have let a vast number go from full-time or part-time work,’ says Geoff Brown, acquisitions editor at Cohesion Press. ‘Combine that with the many self-published writers who think they can now work as editors because they put out a memoir or urban fantasy through Kindle Direct Publishing, and you have a lot of freelancers looking for work.’

“Freelance editor Amanda Spedding laments that some in her field fail to grasp the nuances of language or understand how it contributes to storytelling. ‘I know of a lot of authors who have been burned by people claiming to be editors when they have no right to call themselves such,’ she says. ‘It gives a bad name to those of us who have done the study, have put in the long hours, who continue to learn, and keep up to date. I hate defending my profession, but I’ve had to do so more these last few years.’  Some publishers even outsource editorial work overseas, a trend that puzzles freelance editor Kelly Lydick. ‘To me, this is a difficult thing to understand,’ she says. ‘Not just because it affects me personally and narrows the job market, but in particular how a non-native English speaker could have an expert command over grammar in the same way a native English speaker could. It is a genuine concern when the ultimate goal is to honour an author’s work.’  Lydick ranks those in her profession in terms of good, excellent, and superb. ‘A good editor will have a sense of content and how content can be organised so that it’s interesting and sparks something in a reader—hopefully inspiration,’ she says. ‘An excellent editor will have a good sense of audience and how a particular work will be received by a reader—and will tailor the work with this in mind. A superb editor will have a sense of the literary marketplace and how and why a book may do well in the market, knowing that it’s often a tough market to predict.’

“‘Talented freelancers also enjoy what they do’, says Renni Browne, founder of an editing service called The Editorial Department. ‘I’ve been at it for over 50 years, and I’ve never known a good one who found their work boring,’ she says. ‘Every author is different, every manuscript is different, every chapter, paragraph, sentence is different.’  Ms Browne likens the work of a developmental editors to that of an architect, suggesting where to place lines and paragraphs for maximum effect. Ross adds that good developmental editors use diagnostic skills to identify strengths and weaknesses, which they must then convey effectively to the author.  When they work at the line level, Renni likens editors to mimics who recognise an author’s distinct voice and then work to make it shine. Line editors also need a good ear, says Ross, Renni’s son. ‘By ear I mean sensitivity to the way language sounds, the way it flows, to the rhythm between dialogue and narrative,’ he says. ‘They’ll know what sounds real and what sounds phony, what sounds natural and what has a strained literary effect. And they probably won’t think about any of this.’

Internet searches, professional associations, and personal recommendations are among the resources for publishers to tap when seeking editorial talent.  An internet search led Crosstown Publishing’s Jim Laughren to The Editorial Department. ‘I saw they were owned by Renni Browne, author of Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, a book I had read and been impressed with,’ Laughren says. ‘There are good bios of all their editors on the website, so I was able to select an editor who I felt was most appropriate for my particular book.’  Geoff Brown, acquisitions editor at Cohesion Press, discovered Spedding through a professional association of writers. After he confirmed her qualifications and experience and checked references from previous clients, he hired her to handle all editorial functions at his small press.  Professional associations may offer request-for-quote (RFQ) services that broadcast publisher needs to their members, notes Ross Browne. But depending on how the service is set up, he warns that the response can be overwhelming. ‘Editorial Freelancers Association has several thousand members, and you can expect several dozen members to respond to your RFQ,’ he says. ‘Thankfully, EFA also allows you to post a supplemental notice stating you have received sufficient replies.’   Other professional associations of freelance editors include the American Copyeditors Society and the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors.

“Editorial relationships begin with an exchange of information between publisher and editor. Specifying the scope of services, scheduling, and compensation, a formal or informal agreement binds the relationship.  ‘When I’m exploring the possibility of a new project, I first get a sense of how well I communicate with the author and how well the author communicates with me,’ Lydick says. “’ also take a look at the content and see if it’s within my scope of understanding or, even better, expertise—a subject I know a lot about—and also whether I like the style of the writing.’

“At The Editorial Department, the business relationship begins as something of a matchmaking process in which Ross Browne works with the client to choose the best fit for the project from among the company’s 16 editors.  ‘We ask a lot of questions of our new clients at the intake stage about the manuscript and its author, including publication goals and intended readership, the author’s experience with writing and publishing, and where they feel they need the most help,’ he explains. ‘I read some of the manuscript to make sure it’s ready for our process and to get a feel for the writing so I can make a good match to an editor.’  After recommending an editor, Browne offers details of the services, costs, and time frame proposed for the project. He provides formal agreements upon request.

“Lydick affirms arrangements with work orders, project agreements and, if necessary, confidentiality agreements.”

 

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.