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Thursday, Aug 26, 2010
With publishing numbers taking a nosedive, the industry is scrambling to find a way back to profitability. Could ads in books be the answer?

Last week, MediaBistro’s GalleyCat and The Wall Street Journal reported on what may soon be a disturbing new reality for readers everywhere: ads. But advertising directly in books, print or otherwise, offers its own particular set of problems which may keep publishers from calling up their buddies in the biz anytime soon.


Advertisements and sponsored content are nothing new. As Ron Adner and William Vincent point out over at the Wall Street Journal (somewhat ironically, from behind a paid content wall),


Even though periodicals like the New Yorker and the Atlantic [sic] have printed ads alongside serious fiction and nonfiction since their founding, purists will surely decry ads in books. But historically, the lack of advertising in books has had less to do with the sanctity of the product and more to do with the fact that books are a lousy medium for ads. Ads depend on volume and timeliness to work, and books don’t provide an opportunity for either.



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Thursday, Aug 19, 2010
TV parents are popping up everywhere, but in young adult books, parents are a near-extinct breed.

Earlier this year, WSJ’s Amy Chozick, wrote about television parents making a comeback:


For decades, TV has depicted teens as angst-ridden and rebellious, and parents as out-of-touch and unhip… [but the] less-defiant generation is influencing plots, changing what types of shows get made and prompting networks like MTV that have long specialized in youthful rebellion to rethink their approach. The new, more-sanguine shows still broach racy topics like sex, drug use and teen pregnancy, but they appease parents by always presenting consequences. Parents typically have prominent roles and just as many tawdry story lines as the teens—and look almost like older siblings.


Over the past few years, Gilmore Girls style fare—shows families can discuss and use to find common ground—have been more popular than the glitzy Gossip Girl style dramas most adults associate with teens (though GG is really focusing on parental drama lately). Although television and literature coexist rather than correlate, TV’s spotlight on the parent-child relationship presents a stark contrast with the absenteeism of parents in YA literature, where more and more teen characters tackle their issues alone, or with marginal, keeping-up-appearances style parenting


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Monday, Aug 16, 2010
Trends might seem to appear out of nowhere, but with a little know-how, it's easy to see where they come from. And where they're going? Um...

Vampires. Zombies. Sea monsters with an unfettered love of double java chip frappuccinos. In the book world, trends appear to come and go quickly—the Twilight vampire boom is already coming to an end, just five years after Meyer’s book hit shelves the world over. Five years? Although that may seem a long time, it’s really only two to three publication cycles. But where do trends come from? Do authors band together to write books of the same ilk? Or are they the result of a rare and spectacular cosmic boom?


The short answer: it depends. Few trends appear fully formed from the cosmic ether (or Zeus’ head). Most come from a combination of cross-media pollination, cycling, and what I think of as the trickle-down effect.


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Friday, Jun 25, 2010
Is the publishing crunch killing midlist authors? Or just forcing them to move on?

If you’ve ever walked around a bookstore, chances are you’ve picked up a midlist book. Midlist books take up the majority of the shelf space, filling in the gaps between bestsellers and popular books we love to hate (*cough* Twilight Saga *cough*). According to James McGrath Morris over at the Huffington Post, though, e-books are killing midlist authors everywhere, rearing their ugly, easily read e-ink heads to take chunks out of the reader-bookstore relationship. Fortunately, the slow death McGrath Morris predicts may never come to pass, if e-books and e-rights are handled with care. In fact, e-books could well be the savior of the midlist book, perhaps even the writing life itself.


Midlist books are exactly what they sound like—the middle sellers, middle catalog books that make up the bulk of a publisher’s output. If you imagine publishing as a cake (as I often do), bestsellers are the frosting, midlist books are the cake itself, and poorer, unpopular books are the burnt bottom crust. Midlist books are the titles which sell well (10,000 - 20,000 copies), their authors the arguably lucky folk who make their living writing, though many still need to supplement their income with day jobs.


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Thursday, Jun 17, 2010
We've all done it -- bought a book based on a good review, passed over another because of a bad review. But why do reviews affect us? And how do they do it?

Once upon a time, only professional reviewers wrote book reviews. The greater the number of publishing credits and letters after your name, the greater your chances of being taken seriously. Of course, it doesn’t take a degree to work out if you like a book (though in the case of Edward Bloor’s Storytime, you might need an MFA to work out why). And a good review is still a good review—whether it’s over at your friend’s blog, or in the Books section of The New York Times.


Recently I wrote about the Internet killing professional book reviews, ending with my hope that pro reviews stick around. In my book (pun gleefully intended), the difference between a pro reviewer and a casual reviewer (“amateur” is unfair—how can you be an amateur at deciding if you like/love/hate a book?) is the amount of time spent thinking about the volume in question.


Casual reviewers read a book, write up a hundred words in the space of half an hour, and move on. Pro reviewers make notes, flag pages, talk to authors, find connections, and consider the bigger picture (how the book fits into a certain genre, if it makes any particular leaps or bounds etc.). Both kinds of review are valuable—few people have time to read a pro review every time they’re on the lookout for something new to read, and short, casual reviews are handy for readers trying to avoid spoilers.


But how does a book review work? What is it that makes a book review useful? Why care what reviewers think? Who cares what reviewers think?


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