Jun 142006

Scholastic Books and Yankelovich have released a study on reading trends among kids and families.

This is important reading for anyone who wonders about the future generations of readers. You can find the pdf and the press release linked here.

Critical takeways:

While more than 40% of “kids ages 5-8 are high frequency readers,” that drops to “29% among kids aged 9-11.” (High frequency readers read every day)

“Children of high frequency reading parents are more likely than other youth to regularly engage in reading for fun.”

Age 8 seems the critical drop-off point, according to the study.

I don’t know what the larger solution is but I come from a reading family where books were something like our religion, and for me access was one of the main drivers of my reading habit. That meant lots of trips to the library, and lots of books all over the house, and time spent quietly reading as a family.

Today that somehow seems quaint and old-fashioned but my fondest memories of growing up include scenes of sitting around and reading with my parents.

The main point of the study is that parents can set a better example, Read every day for pleasure yourself and you’ll teach your children the importance of a good reading habit.

  •  June 14, 2006
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Jun 012006

Via The Book Standard, get your Book Expo of America Podcasts here.

I’m listening to John Updike’s talk.

I’ve been to BEA 8 or 9 times but I’ve never sat in on one of the bookseller breakfasts! Very cool.

  •  June 1, 2006
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May 252006

Here’s an interesting Lulu.com press release via Boing Boing,

Life Expectancy of Bestsellers Plummets

In a lovely bit of PR framing Lulu founder Bob Young says “The plummeting life-expectancy of a fiction bestseller reflects the way that the publishing industry is unravelling, in an age of over-production, plus media fragmentation and now disruptive new technologies such as the Internet and print-on-demand: ‘The publishing revolution is nigh.'”


I’m as much a fan of the Long Tail as anyone, and I think that the internet is creating all sorts of new opportunities for authors (including self-publishing authors) but I’m not really looking forward to a universe of 2 million new books published each year that go on to sell 1000 copies each, and I think that this Lulu statistic is shallow and misleading.

Why look at only the time spent at the top by the #1 book? Why not include figures like total books sold as a percentage of population? The time each novel spent on the top ten? Foreign rights and overseas publishing success? The number of movies or TV shows hatched from books? Overall author royalties?

There are so many other metrics of publishing success.

I’d see an abbreviated reign of books at #1 as being maybe something right with the industry, an improvement in distribution and opportunity, and evidence of a more interesting, and varied, culture, and a sign that the publishing industry despite all sorts of challenges (TV, the Internet, Gaming) is competitive and healthy.

Lulu seems pretty cool compared to many of the POD presses, they don’t seem to over-promise and they have a book that I’ve actually seen on an Amazon category bestseller list, but blockbusters are alive and well, and I think that the larger than 10 million copy laydown of the last Harry Potter might be proof of that.

A more cogent analysis might suggest that culture moves more quickly these days, fads expire quickly, people read the next big thing more quickly.

Even more evidence of cultural fragmentation, didn’t I hear somewhere that Pink Floyd fell off the billboard chart? No, Dark Side of the Moon has been on the chart for a (non-consecutive) 1500 Weeks! That’s a while, eh?

  •  May 25, 2006
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May 222006

I knew that Amazon had purchased BookSurge and I also knew that that they had plans to launch their POD (print-on-demand) service but today is the first time I’ve seen

“I own the rights to this title and would like to make it available again through Amazon.”

Which takes you here.

I know that a few other players really pushed for the OOP (out-of-print) market but I would venture that Amazon has a pretty good footprint for this kind of thing. I’m only surprised it took them so long.

Of course, they’re offering the same POD service to publishers, The recent BEA news release is covered here.

  •  May 22, 2006
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May 172006

I recently read The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century, by James Howard Kuntsler, a grim analysis of what may happen to our modern civilization after we hit peak oil (which we may already have). The book feels flawed near the end where he spins off into all sorts of possible dystopias but in spite of that the message is often terrifying.

I also read John Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, a sort of Avian flu preview which was a great and again a scary read, and Jared Diamond’s Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, another great book though plodding in places and not as compelling as his Guns, Germs and Steel.

I’m not sure why I’m in the mood for these bleak books but I’ll make the publishing note that each has a great sub-title.

I had trouble sleeping while I was reading the The Great Influenza, and I slept even less while reading The Long Emergency. But which of these books is scariest?

If you check Amazon’s “Customers who bought this item also bought” you’ll find that only the readers of The Long Emergency are buying how-to books like When Technology Fails, or The Encyclopedia of Country Living, while readers of Collapse and The Great Influenza seem content to read a broad swath of popular non-fiction, like 1776 or Blink.

The Long Emergency wins.

Surprisingly, there’s no activity on this book’s wiki or forum though there’s plenty of back and forth in the review section.

I’m going to read something light-hearted next.

  •  May 17, 2006
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May 102006

Via yesterday’s Publisher’s Lunch, Bowker has a preliminary report that shows an 18,000 title drop in 2005 U.S. book production (the U.K. was up).

From the press release

“Based on preliminary figures from U.S. publishers, Bowker is projecting that U.S. title output in 2005 decreased by more than 18,000 to 172,000 new titles and editions. This is the first decline in U.S. title output since 1999, and only the 10th downturn recorded in the last 50 years. It follows the record increase of more than 19,000 new books in 2004.”

That’s a pretty big drop and might illustrate what Tim O’Reilly discussed in regards to recent tech book market trends: sales growth is concentrated among bestsellers, and publishers are being more conservative.

Note too the comment about the rising price of paper impacting publisher decisions —

“In 2005, publishers were more cautious and disciplined when it came to their lists,” said Gary Aiello, chief operating officer of New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker. “We see that trend continuing in 2006. The price of paper has already gone up twice this year, and publishers, especially the small ones, will have to think very carefully about what to publish.”

I wonder too if this reflects some of the passage of a pent up demand for self-publishing and POD that helped to account for a 19,000 increase from 2003 to 2004. I have to imagine that plays a part.

Here’s the rough stat sheet but the numbers don’t exactly match the press release.

  •  May 10, 2006
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Mar 302006

I don’t represent poetry or even fiction at this point but I remember Copper Canyon’s name very well from my days buying poetry for the Boulder Bookstore in 1986: I always thought that poetry was an important category in the town that hosted a great seasonal surge in poets for the readings at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics!

There’s a great profile of Copper Canyon in the Seattle Post Intelligencer today, linked here. (I’ve stolen this directly from Publisher’s Lunch, which always has the best daily round-up of publishing stories across the web.)

We should all have a soft spot in our hearts for small publishers who prize quality, craftsmanship, and patience, and I think it’s a great testament to the press that W.S. Merwin chose Copper Canyon over Knopf for his most recent book of collected poems. It makes for an inspirational read. In fact I liked the story so much I went ahead and ordered Merwin’s Migration, which is probably not a bad idea for anyone interested in poetry, as it won the 2005 National Book Award.

  •  March 30, 2006
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Mar 142006

My good friend, former client and Waterside colleague Chris Van Buren is living a dream that many folks have: moving overseas to an exotic locale while still managing to make a living.

Chris first visited, then moved to Brazil, and continues to make his living there as a writer and artist. His new book, Moon Handbooks Brazil, was just published in January, and I thought he’d be up for a short interview to discuss his move and also what it’s like to write a travel guide, especially in relation to tech titles, of which he’s written quite a few.

How did you find yourself moving to Brazil?

A friend of mine, after traveling to Brazil, told me this was a place that I would really like — not just Brazil, but a specific historical town called Ouro Preto, in the middle of the country. She was right. I fell in love with Ouro Preto right away and within three years, I had moved to Brazil completely, tapered down and finally quit my activities as an agent, and went back to writing — together with a new and fledgling (but promising) profession as a fine artist (something I studied in college but never did professionally).

It wasn´t as easy a transition as I would have liked. Book projects have been getting harder and harder to land and my profession as an artist suffered major setbacks during the economic crisis that began in 2003 (nobody wants art when they´re worried about war). So I supplemented my two professions with a third — and began teaching English to Brazilian students.

Had you planned to write a travel guide? Did you solicit many publishers? How did you come to choose Moon (or vice versa, how did they come to choose you?)

I routinely check for writing projects on various online boards, in addition to keeping my ears to the publishing world as best I can from abroad. When a Brazil travel guide popped up on one of the boards, I quickly checked out the publisher and related publishers. I decided then that I was going to do whatever it took to get this contract. I spent the next four days preparing a proposal. It came to 50 pages including outline and samples.

But I don´t recommend to authors that they sit around watching for projects to appear on the Internet. In most cases, you have to find holes in publishers’ lists and create projects to fill them. You can work the other way around (create the project and then find the publisher for it) if you´re highly specialized and well-known in your field.

I imagine that the travel book process would be very similar to how the tech book market functions. Did the process differ much?

Avalon Publishing is more traditional than most computer publishers. They schedule books way in advance and the process is a bit slower and more painstaking. But there are many similarities–such as the experience of working within a publisher’s existing series, something common in computer publishing. Also, the writing process is similar (the process, not the writing itself). You have to present information in parcels and organize yourself in a similar way. Computer writing prepared me quite well for the sheer quantity of output that is expected in a short amount of time in guidebook writing. I can´t imagine most writers being able to keep up. Only computer book writers and maybe hardcore journalists have the pace and stamina to produce, say, ten finished pages a day for four straight months. Even still, I reached a point where I had to break through my previous levels. Of course, this was also my first travel book, so there was the learning curve too.

Do you have any advice for writers who plan to move overseas? For instance, how to keep paying work going when you’re at greater distance?

It can work really well if the exchange rate is in your favor. But you have to keep a steady stream of work — or set up a couple of regular gigs that you can count on, even if small. And you have to keep a couple of very trustworthy contacts in the states to handle your money issues. The rest is about coping with the new environment and getting yourself installed in the new system. Each system has its little tricks and challenges. I learned a lot of things the hard way.

I know of a lot of free-lance editors working from overseas for the publishing company that used to employ them. I don´t know as many writers doing this (other than journalists) because most writers need part-time jobs to supplement the writing work and that can be difficult to get in a foreign country. More and more, writing is becoming less and less of a paid endeavor. Today, many writers create their books and articles with the sole intention of promoting themselves and their other activities. With all the free information exchange on the Internet, article-sized pieces are not pulling the kinds of per-word payments that they used to. Most go unpaid. This will likely continue as publishers re-position themselves in this new environment. Thankfully, more than 80% of the Internet is still English based–so one can always teach English overseas.

  •  March 14, 2006
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Mar 082006

Marc Hedlund at the O’Reilly Radar has an inspiring post today, Entrepreneurial Proverbs, which has great application to any author thinking about writing a non-fiction book as well.

That makes sense because in many ways writing a book is similar to creating your own start-up. His entire post is worth reading in this vein but I’ll recast a few comments for authors.

Pay attention to the idea that won’t leave you alone. Great advice for authors, and taken from Paul Hawken’s highly recommended Growing a Business. Find an idea that won’t let you sleep at night.

If you keep your secrets from the market, the market will keep its secrets from you. Too many prospective authors believe they have an entirely unique idea that maybe agents or publishers will steal wholesale from them. It’s just not true, agents and publishers are bombarded with a huge number of proposals on a daily basis and your up front request for an nda probably won’t help your cause. The idea and the execution are both key and if you’re afraid to talk to anyone for fear of losing your idea, you’ll never see it realized.

Your ideas will get better the more you know about business. For publishing this is true in the extreme, your ideas will get better the more you know about publishing. I’ve seen too many proposals that tell me “this book will sell great if you shelve it at the cash register” without any appreciation at all for what it takes ($$$) to be shelved next to the cash register. It’s critical that you understand as well as possible not only your reader, but where they will buy your book, why they will buy your book, and how the channel works. Sure, your agent may (and should) fill in some of the details here for you, but a solid appreciation and knowledge of how and where books are sold is critical to your ultimate success and even governs the flavor of your pitch.

Build the simplest thing possible. Here’s advice that I’ve ignored many times myself to my own peril and it goes right back to the last point, if you don’t know where and how your book is going to be shelved you’re at a huge disadvantage. Combining genres is tough in this business and while certainly some books break out, you’re going to have a hard time if your book doesn’t really belong specifically in humor or travel. Narrow it down, solve a unique problem or question and be specific about your audience.

That’s just a snapshot, I’m sure readers can find many more gems of wisdom in Marc’s post.

  •  March 8, 2006
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Jan 262006

Well, James Frey is on Oprah today and Oprah is angry after all. That’s more what I would expect. She can’t very well sell her show on the premise that her guests are probably lying.

Still, I wouldn’t go so far as to sue Frey and Doubleday for “lost time,” as some folks in Seattle are doing. C’mon, it’s a book. We all should lose some time in books. These readers just want to get on TV themselves. Sheesh. Write your own book. If you want to sue someone, sue the government for violating our civil liberties, sue big tobacco, sue somebody worthwhile.

I’d file both episodes under “not cool.”

  •  January 26, 2006
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