Friday, January 2, 2009

My New Years Wish for You

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
— Neil Gaiman

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Argument for Online Literary Journals

There have been many times when I sit back and think about the shape my industry is in and just scratch my head. How did it get this bad? My answer is always the same: the industry is getting old and tired and the corporations that run it have no idea who readers are and don't seem to care to know. It is all just product to them. Therefore, it's dying.

I also always come up with the same answer to solving this crisis: the Internet and small presses. The Internet has saved us from so much disaster already. The online communities that have been built on it has saved the US politically. It has produced jobs, not enough to save everyone, but a number have been created. It has also saved a lot of people from the loneliness and isolation we've all felt during these rough emotional Bush years.

So how can the Internet save the book industry? Online literary Journals: we need lots of them. Journals akin to The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and io9. Journals with book reviews, short stories from new and upcoming authors, commentary, op-ed pieces, columns/blogs/cross-posts by authors and editors, even insider rumors about the industry, and blogs, lots and lots of lit blogs. I tried to turn into this. Maybe I will try again. Some -- most -- don't see my vision. I'm getting used to this. Sometimes I see into the future too far for others to understand what I'm saying and it comes out sounding like crazy talk. But I know this is the future. A future where new authors are discovered by tons and tons of small online lit magazines. Maybe they will be the frontend of small presses that produce the books of these new writers -- and make a profit.

Someone will start this. That someone will make a little money, not a lot, just a little. And it will catch on. They will discover, just as the SciFi world already knows, that the way to survive in the book industry is to have a constant flow of fresh new authors. To find them you must have open submissions. The new authors are out there just waiting to be discovered.

This will bring excitement and new energy into the book industry that is now tired. The authors in the mainstream are getting old. Yes, Toni Morrison will sell books, so will John Updike, and Cormac McCarthy, but let's be serious these greats can't live forever. The whole industry can't rest on the works of people who are getting on in years. As for younger authors there is Jhumpa Lahiri and Colson Whitehead and the "Johnathan's." But does it make sense that you can count on your hand the number of young authors who can excite people into buying new books?

The corporations that currently own the publishing industry have long given up on cultivating new writers. They think of this as an expense that can be cut in lieu of producing (actually over-producing) books with a "proven market." Mistake, mistake, mistake! Those who love books should follow the lead of people like Wildside Press who produce books for the fantasy industry. Their model is an exceptional one and is forward thinking. They have online magazines that thus give them the authors who write their books and the audience who will read them. It is a smart, good business model. It is a smart good book business model.

This is my advice to the industry for the next year. I wonder if anyone will listen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Return of Samantha Power

Samantha Power is one amazing woman. In her book A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, she dared to ask the question: Why do American leaders who vow "never again" repeatedly fail to stop genocide? (Yeah, why is that?) Her work on human rights, genocide, and war is something to admire. I was thrilled when I found out that she was one of the advisers to the Obama campaign. Actually, that was one of the reasons that made me look at Obama closer during the Primaries.

Then "IT" happened. While being interviewed she made a rookie politician mistake: she spoke her mind. Thinking that she was off mike she called Hillary Clinton a "monster." Oops! Thus ended the Samantha Power connection to the Obama campaign. There is a reason that Obama has earned the nickname: "No Drama Obama." During his campaign (and it looks like during his administration as well) Obama is not very tolerant of personal theatrics. But the guy is smart. He knows a valuable individual when he sees one. So now Samantha Power is back and part of the review team for the incoming members to the State Dept. -- including Hillary Clinton. Interesting.

I'm glad to see Samantha Power back. She is a treasure, if only for her passionate resolve in making human rights a necessary consideration in American foreign policy. A former Balkan war correspondent, founding executive director of Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Critics Circle Award, Samantha Power is a welcome re-addition to the Obama Team.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It looks like Simon & Schuster is in trouble, too

"Layoffs at Random House, Simon & Schuster" —
(From Salon by Hillel Italie)

Simon & Schuster has been helped by President-elect Barack Obama's embrace of Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals," but not enough to save some 35 positions, about 2 percent of the staff. CEO Carolyn Reidy said in a company memo Wednesday that "today's action is an unavoidable acknowledgment of the current book-selling marketplace and what may very well be a prolonged period of economic instability."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Video: Conversation with Toni Morrison

Paper Cuts, the book blog for the New York Times, has a conversation with Toni Morrison about her new novel "A Mercy" and the election of Barack Obama. This is a wonderful and rare treat.

Major Shake-up at Random House

Maud Newton blogs about a major change in the internal structure at Random House:
"What does the Random House reorg. mean?" —

... here’s a trusted friend’s analysis:

even though they say the imprints will maintain editorial independence and their own individual identities, soon enough some will disappear and others will blend into one another. More consolidation also means less competition among publishers for authors and agents. Consolidation on this scale also means big time job cuts coming in all departments - editorial, publicity, rights, etc.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Love to Mumbai

I, like most Americans, was away for Thanksgiving. I turned off the TV and ignored the newspaper for the weekend. So it was shocking to see what can happen in just a few days away. The images I've seen have been horrific. I still don't quite understand what happened, but it is clear that a lot of people died and were hurt in Mumbai. My heart goes of to all the people of India. God bless and be safe.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Last Minute Bush Laws Bad for America

Good, God, when is this man going to leave?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Houghton Mifflin Has Suspended Acquisitions of New Manuscripts

Bad news for all you hopeful writers out there, HM is not accepting new manuscripts for a while. As you can already guess the economic crisis is affecting even the book industry. I know, I know, I'm just as surprised as you are that the book industry is exhibiting financial problems. But it's true, writing books is not the fasted or best way to make money.

"Book Publisher Suspends New Acquisitions" —
(From New York Times by Mokoto Rich)

“There is a freeze-lite,” [Josef Blumenfeld, vice president of communications of HM] said. “There is a way in so it is not a hard freeze but for right now, there is a temporary — call it a freeze if you want.”

He added, “Every new manuscript that comes in is going to be subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny and consideration than has previously been the case.”

He said he could not be specific about what criteria would govern decisions about what manuscripts to buy, but said that editors would have to prove to an acquisitions committee that the book showed concrete evidence of “market interest.”

If you ask me this is all bullshit. Like the big presses have been giving good thought to what they have been releasing on the shelves anyway. They have always thought about the bottom line before they thought about the quality of the books they published. Which is exactly the opposite way to make money in this business long term. Perennials, perennials, my kingdom for a perennial.

But do not despair, my lovelies. There are small presses out there. (Thank God!) So Support them. Buy from them. Send your really awesome manuscripts to them. (And did I say buy from them!) While your at it, support the small independent bookstores, too. These small guys may be the last ones standing after this is all over.

Ann Coulter's Jaw Wired Shut

No, this is not a joke. Whomever wished for this should now wish for a million dollars. Yes, it is true, that horror of a woman has had her jaw wired shut. So we won't be hearing that "golden" voice for a while. Hmm, maybe God has finally had it with these people.