Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Glad I’m not Brian Cashman

branch-rickey1Acquiring for an imprint is, I think, a little like being a baseball general manager. They field a team to win; we field a list to make a profit. In so doing, there’s a fair amount of analysis of who/what is available coupled with, hopefully, a thorough understanding of what the team/house already does well. We have varied relationships with agents. And it behooves us to be dispassionate right up to the point where we have to be crazily, contagiously passionate about our choices.

File:Maxwell Perkins NYWTS.jpg

Like GMs, we too make our acquisitions and place our bets in public to a degree (they’ve got ESPN et. al. and “hot stove”; we’ve got Publishers Marketplace), but fortunately readers, unlike fans, rarely develop a rooting interest in a house or an imprint, and thus I will never have to read something like this on a blog after I buy or decline a manuscript.

So, best wishes for you on getting a new left fielder, Brian Cashman. Hope Javier Vasquez works out the second time around. Me, I’m off in search of more first person YA aimed at the younger end of the genre.

For those scoring at home, that’s Branch Rickey (Dodgers, Jackie Robinson) on the top and Maxwell Perkins (Scribner, Hemingway and Fitzgerald) below him.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sometimes, it’s those little additions…

…that make all the difference.

Before:

image

After:

image

Because it’s important for a chapter to end well.

I love my job.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The End of Kirkus

There’s no shortage of post-Kirkus commentary on Twitter and in blogs. I’ll limit myself to a couple of observations.

First, forgetting that it’s Kirkus, a 25 percent reduction in population of universally acknowledged professional review sources is bad. Period. I’ve seen comments from both the forgivably uninformed (aspiring author on Twitter) to the extremely experienced (agent with decades in the biz in excellent Observer article) that Kirkus was irrelevant anyway. I cannot understand this perspective. Certainly, there is some small fraction of books for which journal reviews are meaningless. But to generalize based on those books is like a first-class passenger saying a 25 percent reduction in legroom in coach is irrelevant. Libraries and bookstores will stock these first-class books regardless of journal reviews. For a significant percentage of the rest, though, journal reviews are life and death, simple as that. Libraries in particular are simply not going to buy in any meaningful quantity a book that isn’t reviewed by at least one of the formerly four, now three.

Second, remembering that it’s Kirkus, the demise of the “Simon Cowell” of review journals is bound to be met with mixed feelings. I’ve certainly had occasion to shake my fist at a bad Kirkus review I felt was unjust and to carp about an otherwise decent review undercut by a sneering final line. But there is no circumstance under which no review would have been preferable. (Snarky reviews are not the enemies of authors or of book sales, and anyone who says otherwise has never seen how books get sold first hand. Obscurity is the enemy of authors and book sales, and obscurity just got more likely.)  What’s more, Kirkus had a quality we appreciate in all writing: voice. Yes, it was often irritating (and I hated the anonymity), but at least it was recognizable and strong. I think we’ll come to miss its particular timbre in the now-diminished review choir.

“Accomplished”

Adj. (15th c.) – established beyond doubt or dispute. See also, Walker, Sally and Carlson, Nancy.

It’s my great privilege to have worked with many people who can wear the adjective “accomplished,” but this week Sally and Nancy have worn it particularly prominently.

We recently got word that Sally Walker’s latest book, Written in Bone, is one of the five books nominated for YALSA’s new Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults Award. Sally is the proud owner of a pile of awards, including a Sibert, and a galaxy of starred reviews. This is another feather in her well-stocked cap.

We also received word that Nancy Carlson, whoseNancy Carlson Picture Books association with Carolrhoda dates back longer than perhaps any other active author, has won the Kerlan Award, bestowed annually by The Kerlan Collection, one of the foremost repositories for knowledge about the history of children’s books in the world. The award is for “singular attainments in the creation of children’s literature.”

Congratulations Sally and Nancy. You make us all proud.

Monday, December 7, 2009

More book futurism

It makes me very happy to read these two news items in the same day. The future is going to be interesting:

According to a report cited on Gizmodo, iPod Touch usage is growing faster than iPhone usage by some measures. One interpretation of this data is, according to Giz, that many iPod Touch users are young—too young to have iPhones—and that the Touch is a gateway drug to iPhone usage as soon as the iPod user is old enough to be an arm and a leg for the data plan. If this is so, then it’s another signal of the direction we ought to be headed for ebooks.

Meanwhile, those same iPod Touch users are apparently buying a whole lot of vinyl according to the New York Times.*

“Rachelle Friedman, the co-owner of J&R [Music, in New York], said the store is selling more vinyl and turntables than it has in at least a decade, fueled largely by growing demand from members of the iPod generation.”

Implicit in the report is that they also own digital version of the same music.  (I guess “Vinyl is reborn into a complementary, mutually beneficial relationship with the MP3” wouldn’t fit on a T-shirt.)

The only media I can think of where a marriage of a well designed tactile product with a convenient digital complementary version is books.

Dammit, make it so!

 

* Ironic source, when you think about it.

The Future of the Book

[reprinted from The Lerner Books Blog]

Where will we read and on what is almost as big a question these days in publishing as what we will. Everyone is placing bets, and the last few months have been very interesting. Actually, I think the last few days have been extremely interesting on the future of the book front—maybe it’s just post-black-Friday electronics overflow—so I’m going to do a round up of the data points as I see them:

1.The indispensable public radio program On the Media occasionally trains its gaze on the book industry for a whole show, and they did so again last weekend. It’s all fascinating, but I really liked hearing this rebroadcast of a segment on a woman who read Little Dorritt in four formats, audio, Kindle, iPhone, and trade paper, and called iPhone the “revelation.” Couple this with anecdotal comments about the superior sharpness and clarity of smartphones that have come out since, and I begin to wonder about

2. Speaking of indispensible, Fuse #8 has some interesting comments on iPod/iPhone picture books. I remain skeptical, even if the execution is excellent. I handed my iPod Touch to my 21-month-old son in the airport last weekend in a moment of desperation (Chicago, Thanksgiving, enough said), and he loved clicking the button and watching the screen change, but there’s no way could he would suffer me to hold it and moderate the interaction as he will with a book. I’m not sure if an older kid wouldn’t simply insist on a movie or a game (for which the device is better suited). Sure, parents might insist on a book as the “healthier” alternative, but I suspect most iPhone-to-kindergartener handoffs will be born of back-of-minivan frustration.

3. I think the market for kids books on cell phones is much older. Now that every carrier has what David Pogue calls an app phone on one of the three major platforms (Apple, Android, and Blackberry—four if you count Windows Mobile) and now that they’re competing on price, I suspect we’ll see more teens with phone capable of downloading ebooks from retailers and libraries. Teens are used to text on LCD screens, and I don’t think they’re likely to respond to the “it looks like paper” appeal of Kindle’s epaper nearly as much as they’re going to respond to the “it’s already in my pocket” appeal of a smartphone. Even more interesting than this (and less idly speculative) is this NPR report on minority use of smartphones. The gist:

“About a third of Americans have gone online using a cell phone or other hand-held device. And an increasing number of people are using the devices for activities such as texting, sending e-mails, playing music and instant messaging. According to a new report by the Pew Hispanic Center, most of those hyperusers are young Latinos and blacks.”

Why not ebooks? We just have top reach them with the right books.