Category: On Publishing

Writerly tips for last days of summer

By Midge Raymond,

August is the month in which Nothing Happens, generally speaking, in the publishing world, which is why I’ve been fairly silent on this blog lately. The other reason is that I’m taking advantage of the quiet and am writing, writing, writing. A few wintry days last week helped … and now that the sun is back, this means means Notebook in the Park instead of Sitting at Computer.

A tip for making the most of these last days of summer: Self-imposed deadlines. Give your self a few of them. Whether you take baby steps or set longer-term goals — a scene a day; 10 pages a week; a chapter a month — be sure to do these two things: 1) tell someone about your goal; and 2) follow up with this person. Nothing helps you meet a deadline like having to report to someone about it, and, if you didn’t meet it, having to explain why you didn’t.

And with September right around the corner, it’s also a great time to dust off your stories, essays, and poetry, as literary magazines that have been dormant all summer will soon be accepting submissions again. Visit New Pages for a good list of magazines as well as submissions updates.

I also ran across this excellent book publishing glossary, which, if publishing jargon is still mysterious to you, will help you become fluent in the industry’s language.

And finally, I love this new publisher out of London: To Hell with Publishing. Its goal is to “to revive the role of the independent press in the UK’s literary scene,” and its innovative style and impressive mission include magazines (To Hell with Journals) and awards (To Hell with Prizes). And how can you not love the name?

Happy writing.

Links for a Friday afternoon

By Midge Raymond,

For a good compare-and-contrast of Amazon v. Barnes and Noble in the e-book department, read David Pogue’s excellent NYT piece, which lays out each company’s offerings in the clearest way I’ve seen yet. It’s like reading all the fine print without having to squint.

And on another topic altogether, this blog post by Lauren Baratz-Logsted (a guest post on Nathan Bransford’s blog) is for writers who need book blurbs, which we all do eventually. It includes a lot of important dos and don’ts, from basics such as spelling an author’s name correctly when you ask for an endorsement to how use blurbs strategically to best position your book. Great stuff.

And on yet another topic altogether (can you tell it’s Friday afternoon?), check out Lively Words … not just because it features a session from Forgetting English but because it’s a creative collection of many writers reading from their work, in interesting places, in all sorts of weather conditions. And it’s highly addictive, which is perfect for a Friday afternoon.

Happy weekend.

More on book v. Kindle

By Midge Raymond,

Check out this recent post on Booksquare about quality control in electronic publishing — an interesting piece that raises concerns for readers and should raise concerns for publishers. I have to admit that of the few Kindle items I’ve read, I’ve had no complaints about quality — and as far as Forgetting English is concerned, we actually fixed a couple of typos, so in that sense we’ve improved the quality. (However, many of the Tongan words are not properly spelled because the Kindle doesn’t support Unicode, so that’s a problem — most likely only for native Tongans and fluent Tongan-speaking readers, but still. And there were a few formatting issues that had to be ironed out.)

For another take on the book versus the Kindle: San Francisco’s Green Apple Books is doing a 10-part video series on The Book vs. The Kindle — they’re pretty goofy but also bring up some interesting points. As of this writing, they’re up to Round 3 … with a day off for an interesting post about self-published authors from a bookseller’s perspective.

All the news that’s fit to blog

By Midge Raymond,

This is going to be one of those random posts about stuff I think is cool.

First, there’s today’s LA Times blog about a unique call for submissions: editors are seeking photos of literary tattoos. By this they mean sentences or drawings that have so moved readers that they’ve permanently affixed them to their bodies: in other words, Tattoo Lit.

Also, there’s a lot going on in the world of publishing — in particular, news and talk about all things “e” in publishing, but I’ve just noticed that Nathan Bransford’s blog has covered everything I was going to chat about, so check out his blog. There are some good links to agent info, too.

And finally, Red Room has named the Seattle Times review of Forgetting English its Best Review this week! I’m very grateful for Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett’s review and for Red Room’s featuring it. My favorite line of the review: “Parts of these polished stories, if read aloud, would sound like a smart patient describing a dream to a psychoanalyst.” My second favorite: “This isn’t Chick Lit.”

Creative Destruction in Book Publishing

By Midge Raymond,

This is a fascinating article on book publishing in the era of digitization — it deconstructs the industry, showing how the pie is divided (as writers know, it’s not so great for writers), and how this will likely change with increasing digitization; the three big waves currently hitting the industry; and what a future of e-products might look like for authors, agents, publishers, and bookstores.

In this forecast I see some good news and some bad news.

  • Good news for most/bad news for Stephen King: The end of advances
  • Good news: Authors getting a bigger share of the pie
  • Bad news: Authors creating the finished product (Sorry, we’re not all designers, and I’m betting there are plenty of very good authors out there who have no idea what a comma splice is.)
  • Good news/bad news: Online marketing replacing book tours (Yes, they can be “the bane of the author’s life,” but some of us actually like to meet our readers; does it always have to be about money? But online marketing offers opportunities above and beyond and clearly will and should play a larger role.)
  • Good news: Retail bookstores might look more like community hang-out spots in future (We all want independent bookstores to survive, and to do so, the article suggests, they must offer coffee and snacks, free wi-fi, a few best-selling books and DVDs, and a way for patrons to order any book in the universe, while taking a cut of the transaction.)

Speaking of book tours, check out this essay about literary escorts in the weekend’s Sunday Book Review.

And speaking of the future of publishing, check out this article on book reviews of the future.


By Midge Raymond,

So, I normally think of myself as pretty (okay, very) old-fashioned. I was the last person on earth, I’m convinced, to have gotten an answering machine, and about the last to get a cell phone. (Or maybe I’m just more antisocial than old-fashioned). Nine times out of ten I’ll chose a book with pages and a cover over an e-book; an independent bookstore with a coffee shop and resident cat over Amazon; and editing with hard copy and red pencil over electronic editing.

But times are changing. And one must also think of the environment. So I’m embracing all things e.

I’m happy that Forgetting English is now on the Kindle. And I’ve also discovered the free iPhone app that will allow me to read my Kindle books on my iPhone — and clearly I’m just about the last person to discover this as well. So far, more than 2 million users have downloaded this app, and there have been more than 12 million book downloads.


So far, I’m still reading more actual books than e-books, but so far, I’ve enjoyed the e-reading experience, even if so far it has been limited to New Yorker articles and proofreading my own book. For someone with aging eyes, the text is extremely readable, and reading on the iPhone is fantastic — particularly when it comes to airline travel or standing in line at the post office, i.e., places where a paperback or even a Kindle can feel too cumbersome.

I’ll never give up my library, even though it’s becoming a serious earthquake and fire hazard … but it’s nice to know I can store a few good books in small boxes every now and then.

The e-book debate continues…

By Midge Raymond,

The Wall St. Journal reports today that the independent publisher Sourcebooks is delaying an e-book version of one of its popular new releases due to pricing: “‘It doesn’t make sense for a new book to be valued at $9.99,’ said Dominique Raccah, CEO,” who worries that e-book sales will undercut lucrative hardcover sales.

This, of course makes sense for a book that has an initial 75,000-copy print run in hardcover, as this one does. For paperback originals, though, or books with smaller print runs, I think it still makes sense to offer a Kindle version.

Have I mentioned that Forgetting English is now available on the Kindle?

I suppose I might be more into my hardcover sales if a) my book was in hardcover, and b) if I had an initial print run anywhere near 75,000 copies. But for many (if not most) authors, making their books available in this format is simply good marketing. As the WSJ article points out, “Of the top 15 fiction books on the July 19 New York Times best-seller list, only Catherine Coulter’s novel ‘Knockout,’ which ranks No. 4, is unavailable in the Kindle format.” Coulter’s agent says, “It’s no different than releasing a DVD on the same day that a new movie is released in the movie theaters” — which makes sense, but only for longtime bestselling authors like Coulter. The analogy is completely different if applied to lesser-known filmmakers whose films can only be seen at festivals and on DVD … and this is where many writers fit in as well.

Publishers have been trying to keep prices for e-books similar to traditional books, but as Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps tells the WSJ: “Publishers are in denial about the economics of digital content … consumers are not willing to pay as much for content that is separated from its physical medium.”

And with an entire generation growing up digitally, I fear the day may come when few are interested in the “physical medium” at all — i.e., books. When was the last time you heard someone under the age of twenty-five talk about the feel and smell of a new book? Having recently read a storybook to a pair of five-year-olds, I can report that this age group still loves a good story, and even a good printed book. But these little ones enjoyed my iPhone even more, and they can operate a digital camera better than I can. And these are our future readers.

What’s in a name? Well…

By Midge Raymond,

I remember when I was starting up my writing/teaching/editing business in Southern California — and how, with everything else that had to be done, what drove me the most insane was choosing a name. With the help of friends, family, alcohol-soaked brainstorming sessions (a few sober ones, too), and random surveys, I came up with Metropolitan Writing Works, with the domain

That’s a lot better than Pen Island, whose domain is Yikes. (Then again, I’m sure that site saw a lot more traffic than Metro Writing ever did.)

This article shows some of the reasons why we really do need to stress over a name more than just about anything else (and also be aware that if something seems just fine in one language, it may be quite the opposite in another). Check it out for yourself — and keep this in mind when you’re thinking of titles for your novel.

“Fiction writers are gossips”

By Midge Raymond,

…says author Joshua Henkin in this Daily Beast blog, The Book-Club Hustlers, adding “What fiction writer doesn’t want to be invited into a stranger’s living room?” Not just for the gossip, mind you, but for the book sales.

This is a great post on authors doing book clubs — which these days is one of the major ways for a writer to sell books. (Author Mickey Pearlman, a professional book-club facilitator, goes as far as to say, “The only thing that’s going to save publishing is book clubs.”) As a first-time author, I knew book clubs were going to be essential to Forgetting English sales, for many reasons, among them: it’s a short story collection from a small press with limited distribution, and we had very limited resources for promotion. Basically, I rely on word of mouth. Almost entirely.

And I’ve been so fortunate to be busy with book clubs this summer. Thanks to wonderful readers who have enjoyed Forgetting English and suggested it to their book clubs, another handful of readers will then read and (I hope ) enjoy the book, and then (I hope) talk it up to a few more people. And so it goes.

I like the stories included in this post — how Joshua Henkin got up to 175 book club visits, how Chris Bohjalian began phoning into book clubs after his book tour was canceled after 9/11, how Julia Glass received book club requests through her still-listed phone number. And most of all it shows what’s increasingly important (and necessary) for us as writers these days — reaching out to our audiences. Which is only a natural extension of why we’re writing in the first place.

The Bookstores of the Future

By Midge Raymond,

This Boston Globe article on a Vermont independent bookstore offers a glimpse of what our future bookstores might look like — and it actually paints a pretty nice picture.

Imagine your local indie bookstore with “all the classic trappings: exposed beams, wood tables stacked with hardcover bestsellers, comfortable leather chairs nestled into alcoves” — as the Globe describes the Northshire Bookstore. Then imagine being able to get virtually any book you want on demand, while you wait. That’s what this bookstore does, with “Lurch,” a giant machine that creates books for customers by downloading them from an online catalog.

The publishing world is “closely following the experiment at Northshire, the first independent bookstore in the United States to install the clattering book machine” — and if it succeeds, it could solve a lot of issues at once. Those of us who love independent bookstores will still have them. Those of us who love trees will be happy knowing that only as many books as we need will be printed. No book will ever go out of print. Bookstores won’t have to deal with returns. It’s all good.

Granted, the bookstore does use the machine for a lot of local self-published authors. But so far, Northshire sees the experiment as a success … and it’ll be interesting to see what happens next, with the big bookstore chains as well as other independents that want to stay competitive. When the Globe asked Northshire manager Chris Morrow whether he thought one day every bookstore might have a print-on-demand machine: “Maybe not every bookstore,’’ he replied. “But every smart bookstore.’’

(By the way, this link features a video demonstration of how a book is downloaded and printed by the Espresso Book Machine. Pretty cool.)

And for anyone who’s mystified by book sales and what they’re all about, check out literary agent Nathan Bransford’s blog (this post was actually written by an excellent guest blogger) Book Sales Demystified. It’s a good read for anyone who’s got a book out there (or hopes one day to have one out there), as all writers need to pitch in when it comes to sales, and writers with new books should always know what to expect (or not to expect) from their publishers. A case in point: “Any time you see a title on a major front-of-store display, it’s because that book’s publisher paid the account for the promotion. Stephenie Meyer doesn’t magically get her own table, and those “New Release” tables aren’t populated by the store staff’s personal favorites. The publisher and the account agree on time tables, promotions, and monetary reimbursement, and the account is paid upon completion of those promotions.”

For questions and comments, visit the blog; it’s a great one to follow in general, and I’m looking forward to the other guest posts this week.

On New and Emerging Writers

By Midge Raymond,

On Angela Fountas‘s  wonderful web site for writers, Write Habit, she offers a great list of literary magazines especially for new and emerging writers.

What got my attention was her definition of new/emerging writers — “emerging meaning writers who have not yet published a book, and new meaning writers who have not yet published in journals” — which I was glad to see, since I’ve never really been clear on the whole thing.

When asked by students, in my cluelessness I’ve quoted Tobias Wolff‘s definition, which is “anyone not yet famous enough to enjoy the certainty of publication” —  wonderfully vague, yet completely appropriate. Even the Emerging Writers Network defines its mission as connecting “emerging writers, established writers deserving of wider recognition, and readers of literary books,” another broad description that, to me, confirms that the ideas of new and emerging are nebulous at best, at least when it comes to writers.

While by Fountas’s definition, I may no longer be an emerging writer, I have to admit I still feel like one. But for me, this is a good thing. I can’t rest on my laurels, as I have none. I write for the joy of creating, not for a paycheck. And because I still need to work and teach and weigh the benefits of spending money on food vs. alcohol, I’m deeply immersed in a world that gives me constant sources of material. With all this in mind, I’m happy to be an emerging writer … and hope that I’ll still feel the same energy even if/when I no longer am.

Twitterature: It’s what’s on the syllabus.

By Midge Raymond,

This Wall St. Journal blog begins with “Do you hear that? It’s the sound of Shakespeare, rolling over in his grave.” That’s because it’s about a new book, Twitterature: The World’s Greatest Books, Now Presented in Twenty Tweets or Less, forthcoming from Penguin Classics, which is, according to its web site, “A humorous retelling of works of great literature in Twitter format written by two 19-year old University of Chicago freshmen.”

Why can’t college freshman just get drunk and pass out somewhere, like we used to?

Just kidding. But still, as the author’s web site states, their book is “the beginning of a literary movement,” which scares me just a little. Don’t get me wrong: I use Twitter (and sometimes I even like it). But not as a substitute for reading (!!!). As the authors write on their web site, “as great as the classics are, who has time to read those big, long books anymore?” Well, let’s hope a few of us still do.

To be honest, I can’t wait to see this book. I’ve already witnessed the changes in undergraduates’ ideas of what writing (and spelling) is in this new digital era, and this book promises to be even more enlightening. For today’s students, “Twitter is the hip, the young, the everything,” according to the Twitterature authors, and they envision the book as “hipster’s Cliff Notes.”

Of course I’m (just barely) out of their demographic (18 to 35), but this does make me wonder if anyone under the age of 35 actually reads books anymore. What’s interesting is that these two authors, despite the fact that they want to reduce great literature to tweets, seem to have strong literary backgrounds — and I can’t help thinking how much I’d rather see new work from them rather than tweets of work we already know and love. Then again, they know what we all do: that this project is going to be far more lucrative.

Not to beat a dead horse, but …

By Midge Raymond,

I know I spend way too much time bemoaning the state of publishing — but hey, it’s my life, after all. And it worries me quite a bit. I’m quite literally trying to decide whether to go back to school and get into, say, nursing, or whether to keep writing. So far, I’m still writing (but that’s mostly because I’m squeamish and the sight of blood makes me feel faint).

So I’m finally reading last week’s edition of The Stranger, and I loved Paul Contant’s article on BEA, with the sadly apt subhead “Here’s a report from the funeral.”

Constant wrote that a larger number of journalists was the only sign of growth at BEA, and yet: “No one was asking editors why they didn’t think twice before tossing out seven-figure deals for books based on zany blogs that anyone with half a brain could read for free on the internet. No one seemed to notice that major presses like HarperCollins weren’t asking booksellers what they wanted to sell or what their readers wanted to read.”

And then, of course, there’s the Kindle, which for some reason still inspires wrath among writers (the article details Sherman Alexie’s outrage upon seeing someone reading from a Kindle on his flight). Am I missing something here? Authors need readers. Readers like Kindles. Hence, we need to welcome the Kindle.

Constant writes, “It’s easy to imagine that this collapse is a happy ending for publishing: Picture a world of small, good regional publishers like Two Dollar Radio, Seattle publisher Chin Music Press, and Akashic Books printing beautiful books with high literary merit and authors making good, honest blue-collar salaries (instead of grossly overinflated six-figure book deals). Frankly, that sounds like my dream industry.” Mine, too.

Yet Constant also makes the point that if no publisher can afford to publish John Grisham, readers won’t flock to literary novels but simply won’t read anymore. But surely there are other options for writers. Stephen King has already ventured into self-publishing with “The Plant,” his serial e-novel (it didn’t exactly turn out very well, but that was a long time ago). The point is: once you’re a rich, bestselling author, the stigma of self-publishing goes away and you can publish your own books and become even richer. (You’re probably thinking, A rich, famous, bestselling author won’t want to be bothered with details like editing and book design — but trust me, having worked in publishing, I can tell you that as a rule, these rich, famous, bestselling authors usually are more into the process than most other authors.) Right now in publishing, there’s less and less room (i.e., less and less money) for new and/or literary authors — and this is something I hope will change.

And as for those six- and seven-figure deals … I’m still trying to think of another industry that gives you that kind of money before you actually earn it. Yes, you’ve written the book, but you haven’t yet sold the book — and if you get a gigantic advance, your sales numbers will most likely not catch up to the amount of your advance, which puts you in that awful position of being a money loser for the publisher. But authors have come to expect the big advance, and this is part of the problem. I always tell aspiring writers that a small advance is a good thing: If your book sells well, you’ll publish your next one (and yes, then you’ll get more money). If you get a huge advance and your book doesn’t do well, then you’ll have a very hard time getting that next book deal. It’s cold but true.

It’s not that I’d turn down a huge advance — I’m not insane, after all — but I’d certainly be a little stressed about my book earning up to it. And it’s not that I want the publishing industry to disappear — with only one book under my belt and literally hundreds of new ideas, it’s quite the opposite: I want the industry to be sustainable. I want to see my next book in print, in independent bookstores, and on the Kindle — in short, I want it to reach as many readers as possible. Is that so wrong?

What’s in a Title?

By Midge Raymond,

Today’s New York Times’ piece on book titles is about capitalizing on trends in the hopes of creating a(nother) bestseller … and about the often absurd titles that result (Obamanomics and Slackonomics appearing after the original Freakonomics, for example).

But this attempt to capture readers by trendy title “has a long pedigree in the publishing industry,” the article notes, and it traces several examples, going as far back as the eighteenth century. “Essentially it works until it doesn’t work,” said Eamon Dolan, vice president and editor in chief of the Penguin Press, “and you hope you’re on the right side of that line.”

In the spirit of attracting a broader audience for my own book, I’ve come up with a few new titles for Forgetting English, based upon some of the titular trends mentioned in the article:

Forgetting Englishomics
Forgetting Nation
The End of English
English: A Book of Forgetting

Send me your thoughts (though something tells me this won’t be a lovefest).

Mini-Interview with ABC

By Midge Raymond,

I loved doing this mini-interview with Andrew Scott of Andrew’s Book Club.

And while you’re visiting the book club, stay a while and check out ABC’s previous selections, as well as many other author interviews, among them Josh Weil, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Robert Boswell, Tracy Winn, Kevin Wilson, Paul Yoon, and Antonya Nelson.

And, as always, remember the rules of Andrew’s Book Club! Here are the first two:

1) The first rule of Andrew’s Book Club is you should talk about Andrew’s Book Club.
2) The second rule of Andrew’s Book Club is you should talk about Andrew’s Book Club. Spread the word.

Enjoy … and start talking.