Readersforum's Blog

March 29, 2013

Books aren’t dead yet

stephen_king_kindle-620x412Self-publishing fans and the tech-obsessed keep getting it wrong: Big authors want to be in print — and bookstores

By Laura Miller

Without a doubt, book publishing is an industry in a state of flux, but even the nature of the flux is up for grabs. Take a recent example of the traditional tech-journalism take on the situation, an article by Evan Hughes for Wired magazine, titled “Book Publishers Scramble to Rewrite Their Future.” The facts in the story are indisputable, but the interpretation? Not so much.

The news peg is the success of a self-published series of post-apocalyptic science fiction novels, “Wool,” by Hugh Howey. Available as e-books and print books from Amazon, the series became a hit, and Howey recently sold print-only rights to a New York publisher, Simon & Schuster. Print-only because Howey and his agent determined that they were making plenty of money selling the e-books on their own.

Wired characterizes this as a “huge concession” on the part of Simon & Schuster, and in one sense it is: The publisher won’t receive any e-book revenue, and it is in e-book format that “Wool” has seen its success so far. On the other hand, “Wool” is not only already very popular among the genre fans who made it an e-book bestseller, it’s also an object of curiosity for the many otherwise-uninterested people captivated by Howey’s rags-to-riches story in the Wall Street Journal. (By far the best-selling e-book by self-publishing exemplar John Locke is not one of his thrillers, but “How I Sold One Million E-Books.”)

Yes, it’s notable that Simon & Schuster shelled out a six-figure advance for this deal, but publishers have been known to offer similar advances for books that they only hope will find a large audience. “Wool” is that rare thing in book publishing, a known quantity, and a series on top of that, so there are multiple titles to sell.There is surely a sizable untapped market for print editions of “Wool” because e-books remain only 25 percent of the book market.

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Julie Myerson: a life in writing

The-Quickening‘I don’t like to call it a breakdown, but I went to pieces and have only just got my confidence back’.

By Susanna Rustin

Exactly four years ago, novelist Julie Myerson found herself at the centre of a media storm. Over the course of a few weeks her family and career became the subject of intense scrutiny as it emerged, via a series of newspaper articles, that she was not only on the verge of publishing a memoir about what she described as her eldest son’s addiction to cannabis, but was also the author of the anonymous Living with Teenagers column that had just stopped running in the Guardian’s Family section because one of her kids guessed it was about them.

Over tea in a London hotel, Myerson says she is still getting over what happened next. “I don’t know if you would call it a breakdown, I don’t like to call it a breakdown, but I went to pieces after it and have only recently got my confidence back. I lost my ability to do lots of things that I needed to be able to do, like drive and so on. It really knocked me. We’d had the most difficult two or three years you could imagine, there was a lot of stuff I haven’t written about. And so all of us, including me, were very vulnerable and when you’re in the middle of something you don’t always see that.”

Myerson, who had been a regular on the BBC’s Newsnight Review, stopped doing live television. “I couldn’t even do radio,” she says. She still hasn’t driven a car – the family got rid of theirs to be green anyway – and for the past two years has used meditation techniques learned on a course recommended by her GP as a way to control her anxiety.

In professional terms she got quickly back on track, publishing a novel, Then, two years after The Lost Child, and from a glance at her backlist you would never guess there had been a crisis.

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Expression of emotion in books declined during 20th century, study finds

The use of words with emotional content in books has steadily decreased throughout the last century, according to new research from the Universities of Bristol, Sheffield, and Durham. The study, published today in PLOS ONE, also found a divergence between American and British English, with the former being more ’emotional’ than the latter.

The researchers looked at how frequently ‘mood’ words were used through time in a database of more than five million digitised books provided by Google. The list of words was divided into six categories (anger, disgust, fear, joy, sadness, surprise) previously used by one of the researchers, Dr Vasileios Lampos, to detect contemporary mood changes in public opinion as expressed in tweets collected in the UK over more than two years.

Dr Alberto Acerbi, a Newton Fellow in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Bristol and lead author of the paper, said: “We thought that it would be interesting to apply the same methodology to different media and, especially, on a larger time scale. We were initially surprised to see how well periods of positive and negative moods correlated with historical events. The Second World War, for example, is marked by a distinct increase in words related to sadness, and a correspondent decrease in words related to joy.”

In applying this technique, the researchers made some remarkable discoveries about the evolution of word usage in English books over the past century. Firstly, the emotional content of published English has been steadily decreasing over the past century, with the exception of words associated with fear, an emotion which has resurged over the past decades.

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Bestselling Authors Help Promote Straw Paper

14430-v1-338x338By Leigh Anne Williams

Random House of Canada has published special collectors’ editions of Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and Alice Munro’s Dear Life printed on paper made from straw rather than trees.

The Vancouver-based environmental organization Canopy worked with Random House and its imprint McClelland & Stewart to produce the special editions as way to raise awareness of alternative papers and to encourage the development of commercial-scale development of straw-based papers.

“Now more than at any other time in our history, we need to bring our intelligence and imagination to sustain our life support systems,” Munro commented. She praised Canopy for working “with a pure passion and unwavering conviction” to protect forests and inspire innovation.

Martel said,“Using straw paper for my book demonstrates that there are elegant solutions that keep the world’s towering trees standing.”

The signed special editions are printed on paper that combines chlorine-free wheat and flax straw with post-consumer recycled content. The flax-straw came from and was processed by Canopy’s technical partners, Alberta Innovates. The paper was produced by Quebec’s Cascades. The printer for Life of Pi was Friesens in Manitboa and Toronto-based Webcom produced Munro’s Dear Life.

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Three Books About…The Road

the-roadBy Cath Murphy

Books can be about anything – elephants, antimacassars, milk cartons – but generally they are not. Books tend to cluster around certain subjects, old favorites cropping up time and time again, like regulars at a bar. But unlike barflies, who all seem to have learned the same hard luck story by rote, writers (good writers) can take the same base material and make it into something entirely original.

Contrast three writers on the same subject and what you end up with is not just interesting—what you end up with is inspiration.

For example: three books about roads. On the Road by Jack Kerouac, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and The Famished Road by Ben Okri

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Derek B Miller: is it frivolous to be a novelist?

Filed under: Authors — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:36 am

Derek B Miller: 'Is being a novelist – however exciting or romantic – still somewhat frivolous?'

Derek B Miller: ‘Is being a novelist – however exciting or romantic – still somewhat frivolous?’

Novelist and international affairs specialist Derek B Miller muses on which of his two jobs is the more important – and the role storytelling plays in both.

I was tired and staring listlessly out of the airplane window as I flew back from Somalia to Kenya. I’d been to Hargeisa – Somalia’s second largest city – for work. I’m an international affairs specialist and had been looking at how the UN can learn from local communities, and apply that learning to the design of security and development projects. But I wasn’t thinking about work, I was thinking about the interesting people I’d met, and the stories they’d told me.

In fact, one personal observation I made while undertaking the policy design project was how dependent we all are – across cultures and through time – on telling stories. We certainly do not tell the same stories, or make sense of the world in the same way: The form is universal but the practice and meaning are not. Nevertheless, we all tell them, and this felt consequential.

I am also a novelist. While I was in Somalia, Faber & Faber was gearing up to publish my first novel, Norwegian by Night, in the UK. It is partly a chase-through-the-woods thriller, and partly the story of an old man coming to terms with the tragedies of his life while trying to save a young boy. I’d been asked in interviews whether my writing was taking me away from my seemingly more important “day job”. I’d been wondering that myself. Is being a novelist – however exciting or romantic – still somewhat frivolous? This observation about the universality of storytelling seemed to hold some promise of an answer.

If my novelist career is “fiction” and my day job is “non-fiction,” and storytelling is essential to both, what is the difference – if any – between them? After all, if writing in one area is “important” and the other “frivolous” than surely the differences must be stark.

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Austen, Emma, and the Prince

Filed under: Today in Literature — Tags: , , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:23 am
jane-austen-emma-tell-me-135x209On this day in 1815, Jane Austen completed Emma, the last of her novels to appear in her lifetime. That it appeared with a dedication to the Prince Regent, a person whose debauched lifestyle Austen had condemned, and a type she would normally satirize, is a story that might itself have stepped from one of her books — all of them written by “laughing at myself or other people.”

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March 28, 2013

Kate Tempest wins Ted Hughes poetry prize for ‘spoken story’

Young poet was recognised for Brand New Ancients, which reincarnates the gods of old in members of two London families.

By Claire Armitstead

Kate Tempest – one of the few well-known poets to have performed at Glastonbury and with grime MCs – has pipped six others to win the Ted Hughes award for innovation in poetry. The 26-year-old Londoner, who started out rapping on night buses and at raves, is one of a new generation who are bridging the divide between poetry and theatre.

She won the £5,000 prize with Brand New Ancients, an hour-long “spoken story” with orchestral backing, which – in the spirit of Hughes’ own engagement with classical myth – reincarnates the gods of old in members of two London families.

The award was presented at a ceremony at the Savile Club on Wednesday by Carol Ann Duffy, who funded it with her poet laureate’s stipend as part of a mission to “recognise excellence and innovation in poetry – not just in books, but beyond”.



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Gone Girl: what makes Gillian Flynn’s psychological thriller so popular?

GoneA tale of marital meltdown has Hollywood hot under the collar and is up for its first literary award – and deservedly so.

By Alex Clark

It’s a pretty impressive comeback: less than five years after the financial crisis brought Gillian Flynn’s decade-long career at Entertainment Weekly to a close, she has hit the jackpot. Gone Girl, published in the US in June 2012 and out in paperback in the UK at the beginning of this year, has now sold more than 2m copies throughout the world – 300,000 of them over here. It stormed the New York Times bestseller list and the film version is set to be produced by Reese Witherspoon; it will feature in this spring’s Richard & Judy Book Club and, less predictably, last week saw its inclusion on the Women’s prize for fiction longlist, where Flynn is keeping Hilary Mantel, Zadie Smith and AM Homes company. As she might tell her former employers, that’s entertainment.

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Protests Continue Over ‘Persepolis’ Ban

PersepolisBy Claire Kirch

The controversy over the Chicago Public Schools restricting access to Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of her youth in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, continues to roil the nation’s third largest school district, as free speech advocates weigh in.

Friday evening, the National Coalition Against Censorship joined together with five other organizations that advocate for freedom of expression and sent a letter to CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett and the CPS board of education, condemning last week’s order issued to school principals throughout the system to immediately pull Persepolis from their classrooms. The letter was re-sent Monday morning.

Books under challenge cannot be pulled from CPS library shelves without undergoing a formal process.

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