May 242005

By way of Tim O’Reilly’s blog, this piece from the Salt Lake City Tribune.

This flurry of publishing, including the huge growth in POD, reminds me of my experience buying for the poetry and drama shelves at the Boulder Bookstore many years ago. It seemed that everyone wanted to write poetry (and pitch their books to the local bookstore) but that few poets actually bought it.

Also, there’s no doubt at all that DVDs, video games, and the internet are cutting into reading time. I’m an avid reader, and I always will be, but I also watched four seasons of 24 in the last five months, 3 on DVD.

  •  May 24, 2005
  •  Posted by at 8:51 am
  •   Comments Off on More titles published but fewer books sold
  •   Publishing
May 242005

Or, as Bowker (Books In Print) estimates, 195,000, a 14% increase from 2003.

A couple highlights: POD publishers accounted for at least 20,000 new titles; adult fiction grew 43% (I bet much of that is also POD, and this figure doesn’t include literary fiction, which fell); University Presses increased output by 12.3%; religion, travel and home economics grew the most among non-fiction categories.

11,458 new publishers registered with the U.S. ISBN agency. Books In Print covers data from 81,000 publishers in the U.S. Wow.

May 192005

I’ve pitched Quirk Books a couple of projects in the last few months. I’ve had no success with them yet, but I love their list, which includes, most notably, the Worst Case Scenario Handbooks published by Chronicle.

Here’s a nice article about their growth from a packager to independent publisher. They’ve done a great job with non-book outlets such as Urban Outfitters, and Restoration Hardware, where, according to this article, their Field Guide to Stains is the only book featured.

I’d love to see any proposals for “irreference.” Especially those geared toward the hip, urban reader Quirk favors.

  •  May 19, 2005
  •  Posted by at 7:08 am
  •   Comments Off on Quirkbooks, Home of Irreference
  •   Publishing
May 102005

Here’s a nifty page that tracks the moves of execs and editors throughout the publishing industry, compiling info from a variety of sources, Publisher’s Weekly, Publisher’s Marketplace, and others. You can subscribe to a free weekly update.

  •  May 10, 2005
  •  Posted by at 10:45 am
  •   Comments Off on Weekly Publishing Industry Moves
  •   Publishing
Apr 252005

Harold Davis blogs about and links to a few hilarious conversations regarding Amazon’s SIP search phrases. Quoting Harold, “SIPs are phrases that appear with anomalous frequency in the inside content of the cataloged book compared with the entire the rate of occurence of the SIP in the universe of books in general.”

I had to check out a few books I’ve repped in the past and my favorite SIP had to be on Peter Kent’s Search Engine Optimization for Dummies where “rodent racing” was the lead term, followed by “keyword laden, your search engine position,” and another phrase I’ve never heard before, “revenge rodent.”

Collecting SIPs could be a diverting hobby for some. I know I won’t ever look at another Amazon listing without checking out the SIPs.

  •  April 25, 2005
  •  Posted by at 6:50 am
  •   Comments Off on Statistically Improbable Phrases at Braintique
  •   Publishing
Apr 122005

Did Judith Regan read my recent blog entry????

Somehow I doubt it. Still, the big news today is that Reganbooks is moving to Los Angeles.

Of course, they’re going to continue to publish a celebrity and enterainment driven list, while developing film and TV projects on the side, but it would be nice if this leads to a less Manhattan-centric worldview.

It’s apt that a big Hollywood publisher would actually move there, I’m curious to see how it develops.

  •  April 12, 2005
  •  Posted by at 9:54 am
  •   Comments Off on Reganbooks to move to West Coast
  •   Publishing
Apr 082005

I found an interesting interview with Rudy Shur, the former head of Avery and founder of Square One Publishers. Rudy has been a publisher for 25 years and he has lots of solid advice for aspiring writers. And be sure to read what he says about “unique” books, it’s spot-on in my experience.

He represents what I’d call “mid-list” publishing and publishers. These are the independent, entrepreneurial houses that might pay lower advances, but tend to have a long view when it comes to managing their back-list.

The interview is worth reading if you’re thinking that profitable books are only published by the big name houses: it’s just not true, and many smaller publishers have made huge successes with books that started out quite modestly.

A few great examples would include Chicken Soup for the Soul, which was acquired by Health Communications for a reported $2000 advance after being turned down by more than 30 houses, or a book like What Color is Your Parachute, a gold mine for Richard Bolles and Ten Speed Press alike.

Note, the “front-list” titles are the new releases that appear toward the front of a publisher’s catalog and are pushed hardest by the sales reps. “Back-list” titles have smaller entries toward the back of the catalog, and “mid-list,” for me, refers to those books that succeed over time. They might be revised, updated and re-released to the front-list, but tend not to be huge front list titles in the sense of a Juiced, which though it burns brightly today, will not have much of a future on the back-list.

  •  April 8, 2005
  •  Posted by at 8:08 am
  •   Comments Off on Rudy Shur and Mid-List Publishing
  •   Publishing
Mar 282005

One of my biggest frustrations in repping some really interesting (to me) titles with a western bent, is finding a regional bias with New York publishers.

I have one book in particular that would have huge appeal to Californians. The state has an estimated population upwards of 35 million as of 2003, which looks to me like a substantial potential readership, but the biggest trade houses see this as a “regional” title with little national appeal, and have begged off so far. The proposal is great, the author is a very well known journalist and he’s one of the most qualified people to write this story, but so far no go.

California (and the West) has plenty of publishers, but they’re mostly category publishers: computer book, travel, gift book, spirituality, business, novelty and how-to publishers. We have few publishers who do serious narrative non-fiction: I don’t mean to slight U.C. Press or Berrett Koehler, they’re both great houses, but I’m looking for someone with more range.

When a California publisher does rise to prominence, they’re often sold to the bigger houses back east, editors are let go, and the entrepreneurs who founded the companies retire comfortably to their own pursuits.

Nothing against that. I’m happy that Ted Nace (Peachpit, sold to Pearson), Ben Dominitz (Prima, sold to Random House) and Jeremy Tarcher (Tarcher, sold to Putnam) were able to found thriving companies and succeed here. But I do miss having a publisher like Prima that had such a wide range of interests and was not afraid to tackle serious non-fiction, especially for topics that were important to residents here.

I figured I’d share my list of California publishers of note, with the explicit invitation for comments. Anyone can add to this list and/or especially point me to someone who is publishing serious non-fiction on current affairs. This list is in no way exhaustive. Here are the California publishers of note as I see them:

Gift books, novelty, and reference:

Chronicle Books, though to be fair they also publish many artsy titles and some literary fiction. They’ve done a great job with the Worst Case Scenario Handbooks.

Ten Speed Press, is the home of such classics as What Color is Your Parachute and great gift titles like Why Cats Paint. Ten Speed has a phenomenal grasp of alternative distribution and sold books in places like National Parks and Health Food stores long before other publishers saw these markets clearly. They also own Tricycle Press, Crossing Press and Celestial Arts.

Big Corporate Houses:

Okay, Harper San Francisco does still have an office in San Francisco and does a very good job with religion, philosophy, and spirituality.

And Harcourt has a presence in San Diego but I think the California group focuses mostly on the children’s book market, and houses sales and marketing activities.

Inspiration and Health:

The grandmother of the category, Hay House Press, which publishes Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay, is based in Southern California. Hay House is a great innovator, and they’re also doing some interesting things these days with their own internet radio network.

New age heavyweight New World Library, based in Novato, has published Eckhardt Tolle, among others. (Note, I originally included Deepak Chopra here but he was actually published by Amber-Allen, another Northern California publisher).

Travel and Recreation:

Originally a travel publisher, Ulysses Press now publishes much more general reference as well, covering topics such as yoga, health and money-matters.

Computer book publisher Tim O’Reilly co-founded Traveler’s Tales with his brother James, and they’ve published a distinguished list of travel oriented narrative non-fiction for the past ten years.

Former Peachpit ed, Rosalyn Bullas, heads acquisitions at Wilderness Press, which has been in business publishing books for backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds for over thirty years.

Houses that Used to Call California Home:

I’m pleased that we still have the old beat house City Lights Books. A few literary houses that used to call California home: Ecco Press (now w/Harper), Black Sparrow Press (now w/David Godine, a great place to be), and North Point Press (now w/FSG). It’s sad, or maybe it’s telling somehow, that these more literary houses have all moved elsewhere.

Computer Books:

I’ll leave off without going into the computer book publishers for now. I have enough to say about them for an entirely new entry. Suffice it to say that companies like O’Reilly, Sybex, IDG, Osborne, No Starch, A Press, the Waite Group and Peachpit were all founded in California. It’s proven that there’s a wealth of talent here when we talk about high tech and business. I wish we had the same richness of experience and talent working on serious, mainstream non-fiction. And, although I didn’t always get along with him or agree with him, I wish we had someone with the energy of Prima’s Ben Dominitz publishing in California again.

Mar 012005

The eminent agent Richard Curtis has an interesting article at Bookspace that confirms much of what I see happening in the world of publishing: that is, the steady disintermediation of publishers, booksellers, and yes, agents, due to the technologies that allow authors to connect directly at their target market and make a name for themselves independent of the PR machine of the publishing companies.

This might be clearest with the number of bloggers and web authors who have recently signed book deals, but what’s most significant is that these successful bloggers were already cultivating an audience and generating income without ever involving a publisher. The book is the icing on the cake.

Point in case, after my last post I went ahead and purchased Adam Katz’s ebook on dog training, and it was definitely worth the $50 I spent to get the information instantly and also to have the resources of his extensive site and community. I didn’t just purchase a book, I bought into a ongoing relationship with Adam Katz. All in all, this feels like a much better investment to me than five similar books I may have found at the bookstore. And Adam didn’t earn a few bucks from the book, he earned the entire $50, less the credit card processing costs. That’s quite a return.

  •  March 1, 2005
  •  Posted by at 12:56 pm
  •   Comments Off on An excellent article from Richard Curtis
  •   Publishing
Feb 112005

Slate has an interesting article about James Stewart’s DisneyWar. Author Daniel Gross projects great sales for this title, and from reading the New Yorker excerpt, it looks promising to me too, but what’s really startling are the absolutely terrible sales record of many recent “business dramas.” The lowlights are three books about the AOL/Time Warner merger: Fools Rush In, 5,000 copies; There Must Be A Pony In Here Somewhere, 3,744 copies; and Stealing Time, 9,176.

Even the top Enron book did only 70,000.

I can’t verify his numbers, but still…even if this is bookscan data and 30% low, that’s still pretty bad.

Daniel Gross lays the blame on media saturation and the lack of any real news in these books, and suggests that all the scandals and bad corporate decisions of the last ten years have somehow melted together in our minds.

My favorite Disney book remains Carl Hiaasen’s Team Rodent: How Disney Devours the World. Carl’s not a very big Disney fan, and that’s an understatement….

  •  February 11, 2005
  •  Posted by at 7:58 am
  •   Comments Off on Really poor sales for some big business titles
  •   Publishing