See You In September.

Jeff Drew PW

See you in September? No, I’m not going anywhere.

But that is the title of a recent Publishers Weekly lead article from Vice-President, Editorial Director Jim Milliot reporting on NYC publisher surveys regarding plans on when and how their offices might reopen. Like so many businesses there and in other cities nationwide, the “Big Five” plus Abrams, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Kensington, Norton, Scholastic and others responded with cautious and flexibly phased plans, none of which involved employees returning before Labor Day. Till then, work-from home, Zoom conferencing, digital manuscripts, galleys and review copies will remain the norm.  In some cases, senior management is even reassessing long term office space needs, anticipating that some portion of their staff will continue with WFH at least in some capacity. To a degree, it may be less about reconfiguring office spaces and work schedules, and more about the logistics of getting to and from work, those challenges all too apparent to any city dweller. Bus, subway, El and train commuting are still scary prospects. Further, how will crowds navigate elevators up and down hi-rise office buildings?

The following week’s issue included the first in a series of independent publishing columns, that one by past chair of the Independent Book Publishers Association, Peter Goodman, who speculated that the pandemic’s impact will likely reshape independent, hybrid, micro-press and self-publishing with increased adoption of e-books, a regrettable but likely inevitable shakeout among indie retail bookseller accounts, and the growing influence of distributors and their print-on-demand capabilities. Myself, I’m all for that last one, a crucial component in keeping indie press and backlist titles available, particularly if retail bookstore upfront orders are publication go/no-go criteria. Goodman also acknowledges what many have fretted over or even joked about: The sheltering-in’s sudden proliferation of budding writers. “…A lot of smart, creative people who are spending more time at home will be producing more books,” Goodman states. “Is this a good thing? Not entirely, as it crowds the marketplace and may again create an unfortunate line between ‘real’ and ‘hobby’ publishing.” Will retail bookstores – indie or chain – get serious about stocking some of these self/hybrid/micro published titles, or will the nearly non-navigable and overpopulated online maze remain their only marketplace?

stef van der laan marie claire france 2015 by robert nethery

A second entry in this series the following week, this one from Ed Nawotka and Claire Kirch, reported a mixed bag of business results and planning among independent publishers. Topline: Nearly all endured a brutal March and April with drastic drop-offs in orders, though sales have steadily picked up since. Back to normal? Not exactly. Nor are independent and smaller presses racing to get back to their offices just yet, even if they aren’t in the same types of workplaces the majors are.

Along with Publishers Weekly, a number of book sites/blogs I follow have been reporting on the plight of booksellers throughout these sheltering-in months, now transitioning to updates about their slow and cautious re-openings. But the entire industry hit pause back in March or thereabouts, and if publishers and retailers aren’t up to speed, then agents won’t be either, so writers will have to make their own individual decisions about queries and submissions. Myself, I hate to think of sitting on my hands till Autumn (though Summer has always been considered a notoriously bad time for querying/submitting anyway), but I’d already concluded it might be prudent to do so, and reading reports from industry insiders simply reinforces that.

Oh well, Fall’s always been my favorite season.

Publishers Weekly cover illustration: Jeff Drew; Bookstore photo: Stef Van Der Laan by Robert Nethery, 2015.

Words & Pictures

The Brass Cupcake 2

Book titles have been on my mind lately. While doing some routine computer housekeeping to finally read, file or toss the zillion things I collect, I found myself marveling at so many retro mystery/crime fiction novel and pulp magazine story titles. Say what you want about vintage genre fiction, but those writers sure could concoct some terrific titles.

The fact is, I’d been struggling with titling my own projects, originally doing some querying with just a working title (Surprise: “The Stiletto Gumshoe”) but then fretting that the title might give the wrong impression. Considering that queries and subs often garner no more than a few seconds of a busy agent or editor’s attention – if that – did I really want to stick with a title that sounds more like a ‘mystery-lite’ novel or shopaholic mystery about a modern-day well-heeled dilettante running down clues in her Louboutins?

Sure, cover art ultimately brings a book’s title to life and telegraphs the novel’s message. But in the manuscript stage, the ‘cover art’ is 12 pt. Times New Roman type on plain white 20 lb. bond or much more likely a screen…or something even more generic keyed into online submission/query forms.

Publishers Weekly

Jim Milliott reported on the importance of book titles in last week’s Publishers Weekly: “Judging A Book By Its Title” (link below), sub-headed with, “A recent test found that titles can be more important than cover art in attracting prospective readers”. Milliott writes about a Codex Group research study presenting over 50 upcoming titles to some 4,000 participants in order to probe what piqued readers’ interest or might impact purchase decisions. Book buyers being word lovers by nature, it might come as no surprise that titles, not cover art, prompted decision making, at least according to the Codex Group study. Reading Milliott’s article further, though, I’m not so sure, particularly when he quotes an Amazon creative director, who recognizes the importance of “the interplay between the title of the book and the visuals on the cover”.

The Brass Cupcake Barye Phillips 1958

If you’re reading this and follow or visit here, you already know I’m fixated on cover art…contemporary or retro, photo or illustrated. I pondered some mystery/crime fiction titles I’ve always loved…John D. MacDonald’s The Brass Cupcake came to mind as just one particular fave, for example, and I peeked at different editions of that book, from what I think is its first release from 1950 (at the top of this post) to what may be the best known, a 1958 edition with a Barye Phillips illustration (just above) and various other editions. Each says something a little different, accurate or not.

Brass Cupcake - Montage

If you’re a published writer, you may have books on shelf with covers so beautiful they could make you weep, and others you prefer to hide in your sock drawer. Or, if you’re still looking forward to the day when your name will be emblazoned on your first book, you’ll have ample time to fret about the cover art…and little voice in what it ends up as, no doubt. And if you’re an avid reader squandering too much dough on books (like me) you know how titles and cover art have lured you in…happily, sometimes…and sometimes not.

I’m experimenting with titles right now, sending out with “Title A” vs. “Title B” to see if it matters, naturally petrified that the options are awful. “The Stiletto Gumshoe” doesn’t have the zing of The Brass Cupcake. But then, what does?

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/82381-judging-a-book-by-its-title.html

 

PW’s Book Shopping List.

PW

A mid-November issue of Publishers Weekly was stuffed full of interesting things, particularly two special features on mysteries, thrillers & true crime in, “Out Of The Shadows” by Michael J. Seidlinger, and “Open Wounds” by Bridey Heing. The thrust of those two meaty multi-page articles: Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl has sold nearly four million copies in seven years, during which time the mystery/crime fiction/thriller marketplace might feel overtaken by a glut of domestic thrillers helmed by similarly imperfect narrators. But the genre, its subsets and offshoots are an incredibly rich and diverse landscape of distinctive voices, inventive plot devices and milieus, so both Seidlinger and Heing showcased a wide selection of now-debuting and soon-to-arrive novels and true crime titles that aren’t necessarily Gone Girl derivatives (or even include ‘Girl’ in the title, which so many new releases have been doing). I was pleased to spot some I’d already ordered, reserved or even had in hand. And, just as pleased to see more in Seidlinger and Heing’s articles and the adjacent ads for books I mean to get, including:

After All -

After All by Robert Arthur Neff

Are Snakes NecessaryDouble Feature

Hard Case Crime’s Are Snakes Necessary by Brian DePalma and Susan Lehman, and Double Feature by Donald Westlake

Bonita Palms

Bonita Palms by Hal Ross

That Left Turn At Albuquerque

That Left Turn At Albuquerque by Scott Phillips

The Wrong Girl

The Wrong Girl by Donis Casey: ‘The Adventures Of Bianca Dangereuse’

The Beauty DefenseAnd for some non-fiction, The Beauty Defense – Femmes Fatales On Trial by Laura James

 

 

A Matter Of Perspective

PW Montage 1

So maybe you can think of better ways to spend $250. That’s the cost of an annual subscription to Publishers Weekly magazine (well, shave off a buck – it’s actually $249). Maybe I could too, but I still consider it an investment and I’m certain that I squander way more than $250 every year on a lot of foolish things.

Some writers consider Publishers Weekly mandatory reading while others see it as far removed from their interests or experience, particularly when sitting all alone in front of their keyboard. As for me, I’m closer to the ‘mandatory reading’ side, and actually feel a little adrift when I’ve let my subscription lapse (I’m not lapsed these days). Is it because I want to daydream about big deals and mega-star author status? Absolutely not. In fact, it’s the exact opposite.

Reading Publishers Weekly grounds me.

PW Montage 2

Six and even seven figure book deals and film/subsidiary rights along with business news about corporate mergers, paper prices and distribution networks provide me with perspective on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Skimming those articles reminds me that I write simply because I want to (or have to, depending on the mood), not because of any naïve expectations that it’ll pay off with meaningful contributions to my income, or invitations to pontificate about whatever in high-profile interviews and genre-con panels. Once you realize that agents, editors, publishers and booksellers alike may be much more worried about Ingram buying portions of Baker & Taylor, or do the math in your head about just how much dough Michelle Obama’s book really brought in at retail — well then, it’s a lot easier to deal with any normal writerly frustrations and indignities.

There are purely pragmatic reasons to subscribe to Publishers Weekly. The extensive weekly reviews are tagged with the agent/agency for each, which is helpful to note when you’re querying projects. Even self and hybrid author/publishers are no longer ignored, the magazine acknowledging an evolving marketplace with a monthly multi-page “BookLife” feature dedicated to that segment of the industry.

This week’s issue includes articles on Spanish audiobook production, social media’s effects on poets and poetry, and a feature on new books by and about TV, music and sports celebrities…not one of which interested me in the least. But that’s not the point. When my fingers start pounding the keyboard tonight, I’ll know why I’m doing it, and I’ll be at peace with the teeny-tiny part I play in a vast marketplace and the shared endeavors of countless people like me. And I’m cool with that.

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