Category Archives: Publishing

What does Borders bankruptcy mean for the book?

By Melanie Yarbrough

I love new Twitter followers, particularly non-spammy ones who have connected with me for the things we have in common. Today Josh Cook, or InOrderofImport started following me. Upon browsing his blog, In Order of Importance, I stumbled upon this little gem of a thought on the recent Borders bankruptcy:

Like pretty much everything else, the bankruptcy of Borders isn’t just one thing; its recent changes in technology, long term shifts in American culture, and the particular decisions made by Borders. Prices at Amazon. Supermarkets selling Harry Potters at next to nothing. Erosion of book coverage in the media. Hopefully something positive will come from the Borders bankruptcy. Maybe publishers will become more assertive against Amazon. Maybe more book buyers will shop at indie bookstores. Maybe the book as objects sold in bookstores will continue to diminish and eventually be replaced by something else. It is far too early to tell, but as with all news making events, the Borders bankruptcy gives a chance to ask big questions. The question here: how important are books to society? And, since we’re asking: what are you willing to pay to make sure there are books around for your grandchildren.

Head over to Josh’s blog on food, sports, politics, and books for more of his insight into Borders bankruptcy then share your own.

What discoveries have you made this week?

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Who’s Afraid of HarperCollins?

By Melanie Yarbrough

It’s true, I haven’t been the biggest supporter of e-books since the whole revolution began. I understand the benefits: Going green, lower upfront costs for fledgling publishing companies, fewer wasted resources, fewer copies returned to publishing companies, fewer copies destroyed and wasted once returned, unique opportunities for unknown and hardworking writers. The list is long and convincing.

I am also a romantic when it comes to books, a steadfast supporter of the hard copy, of the scribbled notes in the margin, of the cursive notes in the front flap of how the book was acquired. I love bookstores and libraries: The aesthetic, the smell, the possibilities of discovery. When I know what I want, I am grateful for digital catalogs, Google searches, and library networks online. When I’m in a writing rut, and all I want is to be inspired by someone doing what I want to do with my life, I want to go into the basement of the Cambridge Public Library and not surface until I have a stack of books to leverage my way out of creative purgatory.
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Slippery slopes: The Great Huck Finn Debacle

By Melanie Yarbrough

Censorship is back in the limelight. I’m not talking about WikiLeaks or any of its backlash, but one that’s been discussed in the literary world for half a century. (You know it’s political when Colbert’s covering it.)

I was talking to a friend as I wrote this, and I told her I was struggling with it. It feels too big, I said. There are so many things I want to talk about. She said I was over thinking it.

But am I? Many people, including those at NewSouth Books publishers, have their personal and idyllic reasons for either changing the 219 instances of “nigger” to “slave,” and the rest of us have our personal or idyllic reasons for not. When I first heard about the whole thing, my immediate response was, “No, absolutely not.” But it isn’t that simple, is it?
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My God, McSweeney’s is cool.

They’ve done it again. And again, and again. I’ll never lose hope as long as McSweeney’s is around. Check it out, McSweeney’s 36:

What are some of your favorite epic lit mag issues?

- M

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A Follow-Up to Greg Schutz’s Bookstore Love Letter

By Melanie Yarbrough

This past weekend I visited my sister in Virginia, where I spent two very short days playing with my nieces and nephew, cooking, eating and watching TV. Over the years of visiting and an increasing child to adult ratio, I’ve learned to stop packing multiple books (I was an optimistic youngster). Now I just bring some stories or a Ray LaMontagne playlist for the short plane ride there and back. This past weekend, in my TV-induced withdrawals from my daily dose of literature, I was caught vulnerable by multiple Nook color commercials. In one fell swoop I caved and decided I want a Nook. I began daydreaming about all of the literary mags I could read, the diminishing piles of papers and folded magazines on my floor and on my bookshelves. No longer would I be a potential candidate for Hoarders!

It was this unexpected dive into sudden want for an electronic device I have so adamantly declared I would never need that caused a bit of introspection. And this morning, I was reminded that I do still, and will always, save the biggest part of my heart for bookstores.
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Publish or Perish #2: Is Richard Nash Our Guy for Pub3.0?

By Shane Solar-Doherty

Richard Nash is an intelligent dude. There’s no other way of putting it. The guy played a major role in revitalizing Soft Skull Press, which had been “weeks from liquidation” before it merged with Counterpoint. At the time that he decided to resign from his posts and embark upon his own ventures in early 2009, Nash was Editorial Director of Soft Skull Press and Executive Director of Counterpoint. During his tenure, which began in 2001, Nash had witnessed Soft Skull in its days of greatest hardship, as well as in its flourishing times, and surely learned the intricacies and obstacles of the publishing industry in that span.

Since leaving both entities in March 2009, Nash has caused a big stir in publishing. With his creation of Cursor, he’s challenged not only what publishers have known for decades about creating and selling books, but also what publishers are just now adapting to and learning. He’s seen Publishing 1.0 (print) lose its grip, knows that Publishing 2.0 (e-books) isn’t the be-all-end-all, and is already on his way to leading the Publishing 3.0 revolution: tight-knit communities, centered around publishing imprints, where writers and readers can engage in dialogue with one another.

Ask me and I’ll tell you that Nash is on to something. It’s easy for me because I’m not working in the book industry, I’m just writing about it on a blog, so nothing for me is at stake. Like Nash, I’m eager to anticipate what’s coming next, or as he puts it, to forecast “where the puck is going two years from now.” Only I imagine it must be just a tad more difficult for Nash, who is actually trying to bring his ideas to fruition.

It’s clear that Nash has deep ties in publishing; he used to be in theatre, but left the stage for the page because he felt he could be more influential in publishing by “facilitating the spread of ideas” and “lubricating a conversation.” And to that effect he has been very influential, and it doesn’t seem like that will change. But as much as I admire Nash’s enthusiasm and innovative qualities, the businessman in him doesn’t sit well with me.

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One Small Step for Publishing, Giant Leap for Bad Authors?

Smashwords

We’ve all seen them: the sketchy ads lining the margins of websites or the grainy back pages of the free dailies that serve as street decor rather than news sources. They tell us: “Get published!” “Become a model!” “Lose 100 Pounds Fast!” If the hyperbolic promises punctuated by exclamation points don’t tip you off that they’re gimmicks (polite word for “rip offs”), their faux-humble request for money should. If not that, then the bogus testimonials that seem describe the Second Coming rather than a realistic product should. If not that, well, then, you’re out of luck, my friend.

However, now one of these once-outrageous promises is backed up and carried out by Smashwords, an e-book publishing company. Launched in 2007 by Mark and Lesleyann Coker, spouses and co-authors of a novel set in the behind-the-scenes world of daytime soaps, when they couldn’t get their novel published. (It is said that the manuscript wasn’t picked up because “[it was] questioned whether soap opera fans read books.” Wow.) Frustrated by such arbitrary obstacles in a world that seems to have eliminated most hurdles via the digital age, Coker decided to take the decision of what’s readable out of publishers’ hands and place it back into the hands of the readers. Enter Smashwords.com.

Boasting “175,430,897 words published,” Smashwords’ website is well-organized and simple, allowing readers to search by author, genre, or publisher. With so many authors that the general population is probably unfamiliar with, there’s also a section for the most downloaded, best sellers, most viewed authors and publishers. It’s also simple to publish with them, which can be a blessing or a curse. Now that practically anyone can publish their original material, it’ll be harder to filter the bad from the good. But the philosophy behind Smashwords is that the filter be handed over to the reader rather than the publisher. The harm of bad writing getting published online is much smaller than if everyone were able to publish physical books. Especially in a setting such as a website, it’s easier to scan and skip. Rather than clogging up the bookshelves of a bookstore, you don’t have to see or move around books that don’t interest you. Also, the prices for the books are cheaper because of the format, some of them even offered for free.

The question at hand, raised by the release of the Kindle, SonyReader, and the more recent Nook, is the quality of the reading experience when it’s done online or in any medium other than the traditional physical book. Of course, the answer to this question is a personal one; my own answer is that nothing, not even the satisfaction of lowering our carbon footprint, will replace the pleasure of holding a book in my hands and flipping through its pages, setting it down (if I can), and picking it back up again. But from the perspective of a writer rather than a reader, assuming you can separate the two, this opens up so many possibilities for creativity and experimentation that the traditional world of publishing doesn’t always embrace. Not only can I find books and authors that might have been overlooked because of circumstances completely unrelated to the quality of writing, I am also allowed to reach an audience without having to navigate the exclusive world of book publishing.

However, this also raises the question of self-editing. Do I, or the general public author using this publishing platform, have the ability to put my best writing out there without the help of all the backstage hands in the publishing world? Nothing of what we read has been published without going through many hands and minds to make it what it is. Without all of those influences and filters, can Smashwords really be a force to be reckoned with? Can I?

Image courtesy of caribbeanbookblog.com.

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