Monday, November 06, 2006

Publishing 102: Publishing is a Business—Advances, Royalties, and Costing

It's time for another Basics of Publishing post! Cue the frenzied crowd.

This started in response to James D. Macdonald’s true but less than explicit statement over at Making Light:

I see that faux-statistic that 70% of books don't earn out, therefore 70% of books don't make a profit all over the place, and it's equally false all over the place. Publishers start making a profit on their books long before that book earns out.

But my explanation got rather long, so I brought it over here, rather than going on and on and on in the comments to Teresa’s post.*

It seems logical that if a book doesn't start earning the author royalties above the advance that the publisher paid, it must not have been a profitable endeavour for the publisher. At least, this seems logical until you consider the costs of making a book.

First, some of what we in the textbook publishing world call Key Terms, and list at the beginning of every chapter:

Royalties are a percentage of the sale price of the book that the author earns for each copy sold. So if a book has a sale price of $20, and the author recieves 15% of that, then for every copy of the book sold, the author will receive $3.

The author's advance is a sum that the publisher pays up front, before the book has been published. It's kind of a bet that the publisher makes that the book will earn more than that—the advance goes against the royalties. So if the author of our hypothetical $20 book was paid a $10,000 advance, he or she wouldn't see a royalty cheque until more than 3,334 copies had sold.

When our hypothetical book sells its 3,334th copy it has earned out the advance the publisher paid to the author.

Most authors’ contracts are more complicated than my example—I chose round numbers because I’m lazy and didn’t want to do too much arithmetic, and didn’t mention anything about sales of subsidiary rights because I wanted to keep the example straightforward—and most books don’t sell for $20, but you can still see that the author’s advance is a cost the publisher pays in order to get a manuscript, and that the amount that the author can earn from his or her work is advance + royalties after the book earns out its advance.

The author’s advance represents only a tiny fraction of the costs the publisher pays in order publish a book. If we just paid the author an advance and never spent any more money on a book, we’d have a manuscript, which may or may not be remotely publishable. In other words, we’d have a Word or .rtf file (unformatted, or possibly weirdly formatted), or maybe (if we’re a really old-fashioned publisher, or we have a much-beloved really old-fashioned author) and possibly some sketches or blurry copies of photos. In order to make a book out of these files or pages, the publisher is going to have to pay some people to work some magic.

These costs fall into two categories**: recurring costs and non-recurring costs.

Paper, print, and binding (PPB) represent the other major recurring cost centres. We have to pay for every copy of a book we print. As the number of books we print goes up, the cost to print each book goes down, because of economies of scale.

Editing (substantive/line editing, copy editing, and proofreading), design (interior and cover), formatting, permissions, and illustrations constitute some of the major non-recurring costs on an edition of a book—once we've paid a copy editor, we can print as many copies as we think will sell for a given book.

Then there are costs for marketing and sales, promotions, publisher's overhead (paying for premises, warehousing, staff salaries—which, I feel compelled to point out, are not extravagant—equipment, and all the other things the publisher needs in order to keep making books), keeping a lawyer on retainer, and probably some stuff I’m forgetting.

When deciding whether to publish a book, how much to spend on said book, and how much to charge the reader (and the booksellers, who get a discount) for the book, the publisher prepares a Profit & Loss statement (a P&L) (see the redoubtable Anna Louise Genoese's breakdown of how this works for trade books) to figure out whether the book is likely to make a profit given what the publisher believes the sales are likely to be (we use a variety of divinatory methods to predicts sales, including looking at sales of the author’s previous books, acquiring advance sales of the book, guessing at the number of potential buyers—in textbook publishing this includes all the schools that offer the course for which a textbook is being created; in trade it’s more nebulous than that—and factoring any external factors that might drive people to buy that book, such as the book’s being about a current hot topic, or the author doing something scandalous that might generate interest). The publisher calculates all the non-recurring costs, then estimates the recurring costs based on how many copies it thinks it should print (based on what the divinations have revealed that sales are likely to be). Overhead or operational costs don’t get factored into the P&L; however, it should be clear that publishers use the profits from their sales to pay their overhead, just as most sales-based businesses do. This is why we want books to make a decent profit: If they don’t, then nobody gets paid, and our computers die and we have to make them work with duct tape and paperclips, and we have to edit in the dark and cold with aged computer running obsolete software, and it’s just miserable. Publishing is a Business.

So, no matter how much an editor loves a book, no matter how badly an editor thinks that the world needs this book, if the editor doesn’t think that they can make it a profitable book, they’re probably not going to publish it. Because we have to pay the author’s advance, and the fees for all the costs associated with making the book and getting it to market, and we’d really prefer to have money left over to pay the staff (like me!), and maybe change the lightbulbs and upgrade some software.

So, as any business does before setting out on a new venture, we look at the probable costs, the likely profits, do what we can to minimize the former and maximize the latter, and hope that good things happen and bad things don’t.

Today’s Lessons

  • An author receives an advance when the publisher agrees to publish the book, whether the book sells or not.

  • The advance against royalties works kind of like a loan to keep the author in cheezedoodles and intarwebs while he or she finishes the book and until the sales start coming in—we all hope that sales will be enough to keep the cheesedoodles doodling after the advance has run out (pace authors, I know that the advance frequently runs out before the royalties start rolling in, if they ever do. It’s not a perfect system.)

  • When a book earns out the advance, that means that the book has sold enough copies to have “paid back” the publisher for the advance, and the author will now receive a percentage of the cover price of each book sold.

  • The publisher starts to make a profit on a book long before the book has earned out its advance.

  • The publisher incurs many many costs in addition to the author’s advance, in order to publish a book. Because Publishing is a Business, publishers try to divine whether a book will earn a profit before publishing the book, and do whatever they can to maximize the profit and minimize the costs.
  • The costs to publish a book can be non-recurring, and need paying only once no matter how many copies of the book are printed, or recurring, meaning that they apply to each copy of the book printed. Similarly, the author’s advance stays the same regardless of what the publisher decides the print-run will be, but the eventual sales will affect the author’s total royalties.

  • The publisher’s profit is only loosely connected to whether the book earns out the author’s advance

  • * About Nicholas Borelli, to whom Jim is responding, and his blog post positing a feminist conspiracy that keeps his writing from being published I will say little, right now. I’ve said most of what I need to say about the Nicholas Borellis of the world.

    ** Three, if you consider overhead a cost, but people generally don’t. Overhead represents several different cost centres, but they float over all the income-generating projects, so don’t get addressed in project-specific budgeting or P&Ls.

    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Miss Snark Sets Everyone Straight

    It seems that Miss Snark's mailbag has been unusually full of imperfect submissions.

    So she's setting people straight, with some advice about submitting and writing that anyone who is submitting a manuscript or writing anything that they intend to publish would do well to study, memorize, apply, and copy onto their bathroom walls so that they must consider the wisdom of Miss Snark. Not being agent, I care especially about the following two:

    2. Sitting in a car/truck/bus, telling me about the weather you're having is not not not compelling. Not now, not ever. Go rent a copy of the movie Jaws. Watch the beach scenes without sound. Not quite as scary is it? Here's the thing about novels. You have to show me the sound effects. Your writing, your diction, your pacing, your POV, your choice of focus, all have to get my attention and point me at the shark. You don't have to show me the shark, but I have to get a sense it's there.

    In general, avoid descriptions of the weather, the scenery, or anything else that doesn't make me wonder "What's going on? What next? Who are these people?" and also make me want to know the answers to these questions.

    7. Look at every use of the word "was" and "that". 90% of the time you can take them out. That edit alone will jump you over about half the stuff I look at every day. Prune ruthlessly.

    In other words: Rule 17*: Omit Needless Words. Scrutinize every modifier: Does it need to be there? Examine every verb: Could it be more lively, more precise? Is it in the active voice? Could it be? Never use three words when you could use one.** Make every word, every phrase work.

    Writing is work. It's hard. It's more than putting words down, as they crawl out from under your fingers. It's a craft, and it can be learned, and if you want to write, you need to apply yourself to learning how to do it well. Nobody wants to read mediocre, overstuffed prose. Trust me: I do it all day, some days, but someone pays me to make sure other people don't have to suffer.

    And Miss Snark knows from writing, so heed her words.

    * Also known as the battle cry of the line editor.
    ** Of course, you should omit only the needless words. Keep the other ones, but make sure they're the ones you need.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Did I Say Write That? I'm Sure I'd Remember!

    Jim Crace was fascinated to discover that his latest novel Useless America was available via Amazon.

    Especially since he had no memory of having written it.

    During the few minutes it took me to access Useless America's details on Amazon's web pages, the novel's sales rank jumped from 70,301 to 69,844. It jumped another 60,000 places when I submitted my own order. Sadly, sales have tailed off a bit in the last few days - down to 219,986 at the last check. Maybe Amazon have sold out and Viking Penguin are reprinting. But my copy must be on its way by now. As the named author of Useless America, I'm looking forward to my first sight of it.

    The only hitch is that Useless America is a phantom book - and its not even a phantom of my own creation.

    Crace explains that he was in talks with Viking Penguin several years ago, to write a novel, and the novel was signed and entered into somebody's catalogue, complete with ISBN. That marketing information made its way to Amazon's database, and there Useless America remains, for anyone to order.

    They're going to be waiting a long time for delivery, though.

    via Bookninja

    Tuesday, October 31, 2006

    Technorati Profile

    TCI has a Technorati Profile.

    It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Important Note to All Authors

    Make your will.

    Neil Gaiman has explained why this is a good idea: While you may not care about your possessions, consider what may happen to the rights to your work after you die. Having your literary executor named in your will helps your survivors respect your wishes with respect to your work.

    Neil's also provided a form that U.S. authors can use to create their own wills. Canadians, consider visiting a lawyer, or, if you're skint, you can buy one of the many kits that are available, or use a free one. Do take into account what will happen to your literary estate (an entity that is, as Neil points out " a separate thing from the disposition of our second-best beds".)

    Monday, October 30, 2006

    And Then There Were ... ?

    I'm a bit behind on noting this: Educational publisher Nelson Thomson is selling off its textbook division. Or, as the biz-jargon-laden report on CBC says, Thomson is undertaking a sweeping revamp, and completing its "transformation into a provider of high-value electronic-based 'workflow solutions.'"

    This leaves the number of publishers providing core materials for the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary markets down to two: Pearson and McGraw Hill Ryerson.

    I think this is very bad for everyone concerned. Well, it might be okay for Nelson, who seem to think that their profitable educational publishing business is limiting their success as a provide of e-solutions, but for schools and colleges, who have few enough choices for textbooks as it is, and for publishing professionals e (both freelance and in-house), who compete for an ever dwindling number of jobs and freelance contracts from an ever smaller number of ever stingier publishers.

    Over the years, the number of educational publishers creating resources for core courses has dwindled, as the survivors gobbled up everyone else. When I was at Nelson, they finished digesting Harcourt, and gobbled up Gage, they've since swallowed a couple of other publishers. Pearson has engulfed several: they publish under Addison Wesley, Prentice Hall, Pearson, Longman, and a few other imprints. Now one of the Big Fish is selling off its publishing division. I can't really see either of the other publishers buying Thomson Learning intact, but maybe someone'll prove me wrong.

    Tuesday, October 24, 2006

    I Don't Think This is What PublisherDude* Means When He Says Our Books Should Be Bullet-proof

    A candidate for State Superintendent of Schools has proposed giving used textbooks to students to use as shields in case of a school shooting:

    "People might think it's kind of weird, crazy," said Republican Bill Crozier of Union City, Oklahoma, a teacher and former Air Force security officer.

    You don't say.

    Crozier and a group of aides produced a 10-minute video Tuesday in which they shoot math, language and telephone books with a variety of weapons, including an AK-47 assault rifle and a 9mm pistol. The rifle bullet penetrated two books, including a calculus textbook, but the pistol bullet was stopped by a single book.

    Might think it's kind of weird? I mean, granted it addresses the problem of what to do with outdated textbooks, and may provide those living in the culture of fear with some illusion of "doing something," but I kevlar dustjackets are not a standard publishing specification for textbooks.

    Memo to PublisherDude*: When you said you wanted our books to be bulletproof, this isn't what you meant, right? 'Cause if so, I need to talk with the printers, pronto.

    * My boss

    via Bookninja

    Monday, October 23, 2006

    From the Mailbag: Publishing Is Weird (Publishing 101, with Helpful Digressions)

    I had an e-mail from an old acquaintance asking for some basic publishing information, which highlit some of the common bits of mystification. Since my response was ... erm ... comprehensive, I figured, I'd share.

    I have an editing/publishing industry question for you from a friend of a friend, and I hoping that you can at least point him in the right direction.

    The guy's an artist and musician with shows under his belt, has a couple of self published books, and is looking to widen his exposure and/or talk to someone about starting to look around for some merch licensing opportunities (yeah, I know whole different ballgame). He lives in [US CITY], but is wondering if it's possible/and or suitable to find a literary rep (or other agent) in Toronto as it's closer than New York.

    I haven't a clue, beyond thinking that New York is a more appropriate place to start as a) he's American and b) dealing with regional or American rights is a better place to start than Canada. I don't know if you're dealing with this sort of stuff in your editing gig. I figured at least you could point him in the right direction.

    Have to admit, I'm kind of curious about the whole process myself. :)

    Friend of jennie's

    My response
    Okay. This is long. Sorry. Publishing never works the way people think it does.

    First: He doesn't want a literary agent. He may think he does, but that's not what a literary agent does.

    A literary agent takes a manuscript and tries to sell it to a publisher. When the agent sells it, he or she negotiates the author's contract and receives a commission on the author's advance and royalties.

    Agents do not deal with sales of already-published materials. They may have something to do with negotiating an author's share of subsidiary rights sales, but that's done at the time the agent, the author, and the publisher negotiate the author's contract. I think. We don't deal much with subsidiary rights-sales in educational publishing, so I'm less conversant with that part of the biz.

    But your friend wants a marketing and sales department.

    Here Begins the First Digression: Publishing 101—Getting Books to Readers

    Publishers employ salespeople to sell books to retail outlets and have warehousing and distribution departments to make sure the books get to the bookstores. This is the unglamorous, hard work of publishing that nobody ever thinks about, and it's why publishers are picky about whom they publish—they're going to have to convince people that this book will sell.

    Some self-publishing outfits offer distribution support (they'll take orders for the self-published author's books and ensure that the books get to the buyers); however, they don't do marketing, publicity, or any of the hard work of sales (any moron, me included, can make a website saying THIS BOOK IS THE BEST BOOK EVER!! That's not what sells books, alas. What sells books is getting the books to where the right readers can find them, and having a good book (where "good" means "what the reader wants to read."))

    Publicity departments comprise the people who think "Gee, I bet this book would sell well if John Grisham wrote a cover blurb!" and have the connections to send it to JG for the blurb (sometimes other networks come into play there, too). They send it to the various trade review outlets (Publisher's Weekly, Quill&Quire, etc.), and to the mainstream review outlets too (CBC, Globe&Mail, etc.), arrange interviews with the author, and do anything else they can to make the public aware of the book, without spending a lot of money to do so (that's the working rule for "publicity": it's free.)

    Marketing departments write the cover copy and ensure that the book gets into the publisher's catalogue; they also come up with marketing plans (possibly getting the book into a non-traditional sales niche), and do all sorts of other stuff that I don't touch (such as arrange for prime placement (face-out, front-of-store, with a display rack, whatever) for the book in the bookstore), designed to make the book attractive to buyers. (Remember that there are two stages of sales for a book: the publisher-to-vendor sales, and the vendor-to-reader sales. Most publishers sell to vendors (bookstores and other retail outlets), rather than directly to readers).

    Salespeople get out there and sell the book to distribution outlets (except in educational publishing, where they sell it to school boards or institutions of higher education. But I'm mostly talking about trade publishing here, because that's what everyone thinks of when they think they want to publish a book). Then it's up to the adoring public and the book itself, assisted by the efforts of the marketing team, the publicist, the cover designer, the blurber, the reviews, and every other bit of incentive the publisher can provide the buyer to pick up this particular book.

    Once the book is a Literary Sensation OMG!!! then the subsidiary rights people at the publisher get to sell rights to other publishers, screenplay people, and tie-in people. If you're Franklin the Turtle's publisher, this will keep your publishing company in interns, your author in cheezedoodles, and your author's agent in letterhead for a very long time.

    Suggested readings for the keen student (actually, if you want a notion of how this crazy industry works, these are damn' near required readings.):

  • Teresa Nielsen Hayden On the Getting of Agents. Actually, everything Teresa's written on Making Light, and probably off, about the publishing industry is well worth reading for anyone venturing into print. While you're on Making Light, don't neglect Patrick's publishing posts (also very useful), and remember that the commenters are often pros, too.

  • [Wah! I can't find the post in which Teresa collected many of her publishing posts! Bother!]

  • Teresa on Neil Gaiman's blog: Everything You Wanted to Know About Literary Agents...

  • Agentobscura's Livejournal: Nadia's a literary agent, and her LJ is the usual mix of personal and professional, with a fair bit of valuable information about How Agents Work mixed in.

  • I've been remiss in not mentioning the redoutable and engaging Miss Snark: Lots of delightful snark and good information on what agents do, and how this particular one does it.

  • Anna Louise Genoese's livejournal: if you click on the "demystifying publishing" tag, she's collected all her informative entries on publishing. I am especially fond of this overview of the publishing industry.

  • End of digression

    So, very few (if any) agents will touch a self-published book, and I can't think of an agent who does the kind of work your friend needs (I would say "no agents do that, but I haven't taken a complete survey. There may be someone out there working on a non-traditional business model, who isn't a scam artist. But it seems unlikely to me). There're no commissions in that. As a self-published author your friend is responsible for his own sales and distribution, which means that instead of having a trained and connected sales department at his disposal and a warehouse and distribution vector, he gets to do it all himself, which, I gather is what he's been doing, and it's a pain, and authors aren't generally salespeople, so he very cleverly wants someone else to do it for him.

    (Short digression: In general, publishers don't do this for self-published material. There have been instances—David Chilton's The Wealthy Barber springs to mind—where an established publisher has bought the rights to a successful self-published book and been able to capitalize on the author's work, and market the book to even greater success.These are rare, and usually happen because the self-published book demonstrated remarkable success as a self-published book.)

    So your self-published author/artist friend needs to find a freelance marketing and salesperson, or get together with other people who have similar books and stuff, and form a sales and marketing collective, or something. Or he needs to enter into some sort of arrangement with a distributor of self-published books, but that's really outside my ken.

    If he thinks he's found an agent, he should tread with extreme caution. I can't think of any legit literary agents who will do the sort of thing you say he's looking for, and there are a lot of dodgy people out there, who will take those who know less than they do about the publishing industry for a ride. But, I repeat, he's not really looking for an agent. He's looking for a publicist, marketing guru, and sales force.

    Given that I've mostly worked in traditional publishing, I don't know where one finds those, other than down the hall, and he can't have ours.

    Second: If he did have a manuscript to sell, it wouldn't matter where his agent was, if they were a good agent. A good agent is connected to the people who buy the kinds of books that the authors that agent represents write. They can be connected from NYC, Toronto, London, or Tucson. Much of the agent's work takes place via e-mail and phone, and at book fairs (Book Expo America, the Frankfurt Book Fair, and others), and if an agent wants to meet with an author, they'll make it happen.

    But, I repeat, he's not looking for an agent.

    Here Begins the Second Digression: Publishing 101—Successful Self-publishing Models, and What Publishing Is

    When an author self-publishes he (or she, but this guy's a he, so I'll stick with the masculine pronoun. Rest assured that what I write pertains equally to female self-published authors.) is assuming the publisher's role. Now, as noted above, a publisher does a lot of things: A publisher finds or creates books to publish, buys those books from authors or packagers, produces the books, and sells the books, and gets the physical books to the bookstores.

    I work in the creating-books end of this process, and this and the supposedly glamorous process of finding books to publish is the part that most of the world thinks of when they think of publishing. However, if I just did my job, and we didn't hire marketing and sales people, I'd be lonely and broke (and probably unemployed) with a pile of books that only a few people knew about, selling, like 20 books a year, even if I had a spiffo website.

    Most self-published authors do the making-book part of the publishing process, with a greater or lesser degree of success. Then they think "I've made the book, my work is done."

    But the self-publishing author is the book's PUBLISHER. That means that his job is just beginning, because if nobody knows a book is there, nobody will buy it. He gets to try to get it into stores and other distribution outlets. He gets to create buzz, he gets to put the book into the paths of people who might want to read the book. He gets to convince retail outlets to take copies of their book (which usually means they'd better be prepared to offer a returns program, the way a publisher does, but that's another long digression, and we're already in the middle of a digression.)

    (Shall I tell you a secret? In most publishing companies, sales people are better paid than editors. This should tell you something about the relative value of our jobs to the publishing company.)

    Stay with me, I'm going somewhere with this.

    In recent years (and possibly longer, but I've only been in the industry for about five years, remember), we've been hearing a lot about how "traditional publishing" is breaking down, and savvy self-published authors are capitalizing on easily available publishing technologies to succeed where traditional publishers are not taking risks. Smart people who have a book in them no longer need to gain the acceptance of some elitist gatekeeper who's only interested in publishing established names. Blah blah blah David Chilton, The Wealthy Barber, blah blah blah, The Celestine Prophecies blah blah blah.

    Inside the hyperbole is a kernel of truth. A savvy marketer with a good idea who takes the time to do it right can publish a book, and successfully get the book into the hands of readers who are willing to pay for it. What these stories often neglect to mention is that these self-published authors are, as I said savvy marketers. Some of them have an established audience because they're well known in their established fields—they have built-in publicity, marketing, and distribution fields (people who are public figures or speakers, for example). Others just devote themselves full-time to marketing their books, and because they have a good book and a good marketing plan, they get the book into enough good distribution outlets that the right readers find it.

    Other successful self-publishing models involve an author who publishes in a field so specialized that it wouldn't be worth a conventional publisher's while to publish for the 1000 people worldwide who care about this book, but in which this author is well connected, and for which this author is writing the book that all 1000 of these people have been waiting all their lives for. Or, in more general terms, when an author is better connected to the small market for his book than a publisher would be (afficionados of esoteric subjects, family historians sorta thing), then the author can do a better job of getting the book to its market.

    End of Digression

    Ummm ... this is a really long-winded way of saying "sorry, I can't help your friend," but I figured that if I could at least tell him why what he thinks he's looking for is not what he's looking for, he'd be better off.

    Today's lessons:

  • Agents do not sell self-published books, usually.

  • Making books is only a small part of what a publisher does. If nobody sells the books, we're left with a pile o'books and no money.

  • Self-publishers take on multiple roles: author, editor-in-chief, permissions coordinator, designer, publicist, marketing department, and sales force. Any one of these jobs is challenging. This is one reason that self-publishing bestsellers are rare (but not unheard of, because some people are just that good, that lucky, or some combination of good and lucky).

  • Publishing is weirder than you think. If you are thinking of trying it, it's a good idea to become acquainted with how it works, and marvel that it does.
  • Monday, June 19, 2006

    Bringing it In-House: Chronicles of a New Managing Editor

    A couple of months ago, I left both the Textbook Mills and the Freelance Lifestyle for a new job as the managing editor of a small textbook company. After fifteen years in the business, my new employer thought he should have an editorial department in-house, and hired me to start it.

    He furnished me with a big desk, a sexy laptop computer, a minion junior assistant, and the formatted, unreviewed, unedited preliminary pages for a secondary school textbook that had be in development for three years and is due to go to press in mid-July, for distribution along with a Teachers' Guide (TG) and Student Activity Book (Workbook) in September.

    Two months in, we're incorporating changes from the reviewers and getting the beast ready for copy editing. Everything takes longer than I want it to. I'm learning a lot, am convinced we're not doing things optimally, and fear the looming deadline. My TG authors are not responding to e-mails. My lead author is also the lead salesperson for my book. My publisher gives me almost unlimited authority. I'm generally exhilerated and terrified.

    And I'm going to share all my learning experiences here.

    Stay tuned.

    Friday, June 02, 2006

    M & S Being Subsumed?

    Do McLelland and Stewart's close marketing and publicity ties with Random House weave ill tidings for independant Canadian publishing? Doug Pepper, president of M&S, (quoted here) says no:

    “We decide on the books we want to publish, how much we want to pay for those books, how much we price those books at, how many to print, how many to reprint, how long to keep it in print. All of those decisions are made at McClelland & Stewart,” Pepper said.

    M&S, which laid off three of its own senior publicists and marketing managers, pays Random House a fee for marketing and publicity services. Apparently, M&S retains editorial control, and merely benefits from the "back room efficiencies" that a large multinational corporation can provide to a cash-strapped Canadian publisher.

    I dunno...some of these "efficiencies" don't sound too efficient to me:

    The logistics can be a little unorthodox, though. As author and Globe and Mail columnist Roy MacGregor noted, his M&S-published Screech Owl children's series is “printed up in Canada for the Canadian market, shipped to the U.S. for storage and shipped back to Canada again when sold.”

    Even though the series hasn't made a dent in the U.S. market, he jokes that he nevertheless has to order copies from a U.S. warehouse.

    Thursday, May 18, 2006

    My New Literary Hero: David Bodanis

    From yesterday's news: David Bodanis, author of Electric Universe—How Electricity Switched on the Modern World and recipient of the 2006 Aventis Science Book Prize has pledged the £10,000 prize to the family of David Kelly.

    From the Grauniad:

    "Science is all about truth. There's one realm where a lot of people feel that truth hasn't come out and truth is known but it hasn't been acknowledged," he told the Guardian. Alluding to Dr Kelly's death following comments he made to a journalist about Iraq war intelligence Dr Bodanis said, "[Dr Kelly] was aware of what was really going on and the government lied and tried to feel they could suppress the truth. Events have clearly shown that they were wrong and he was right."

    The book looks really interesting, too.

    Thursday, May 04, 2006

    "A problem arises, however, when every book is touted as 'brilliant.'"

    "This Book Will Change Your Life" examines "the reckless art of book blurbing," in all its hyped-up, hyperbolic, hyper-adjectival glory.

    Some of the examples cited:

    Adverbs describes adolescence, friendship, and love with such freshness and power that you feel drunk and beaten up, but still want to leave your own world and enter the one Handler’s created. Anyone who lives to read gorgeous writing will want to lick this book and sleep with it between their legs.

    David Eggers, blurbing Adverbs, by Daniel Handler

    The brilliance of Barker’s style is beyond perfection.

    The London Spectator blurbing Nicola Barker’s last novel, Clear by Nicola Barker

    Does anyone really buy a book because of what the blurb said? Granted, if a favourite author has blurbed "This didn't suck too badly," I'm less likely to buy the book. But, in general, if an author I trust has endorsed a novel, I may pick it up, no matter what the endorsements says. If I've never heard of the blurber, then the blurb is unlikely to grab me, no matter how many adjectives it uses.

    And, of course, all blurbs are positive, and most wax rhapsodic. So how valuable is the tool, or do we just use them because the book would look naked without?

    I'll give George Orwell the last word: “when all novels are thrust upon you as works of genius, it is quite natural to assume that all of them are tripe.”

    ...But I bought a little black dress, and everything!

    Apparently, by the time I got here, the day of the book party was over:

    And while they certainly still take place — giving writers and editors a chance to eye one another warily across crowded rooms — book parties are decidedly not what they once were. "I think they're practically passé, book parties, don't you find?" said Nan Talese, the publisher of Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, whose mellifluous voice itself seems to hark back to a more lustrous era.

    And here I thought I was just moving in the wrong circles. You know—the ones where all the junior industry wannabes go to drink overpriced beer, and look warily at each other, wondering who has the better job, who's getting invited to the real parties?

    Guess it's a good thing I can still get cheap opera tix, and air the little black dress every now and again.

    Wednesday, April 26, 2006

    P & L for the Uninitiated

    The redoutable Anna Genoese has undertaken to explain Profit & Loss calculations for trade books to the masses.

    Some background: When an editor acquires a book, he or she sits down with a spreadsheet that calculates the costs for the book and the likely profit to figure out whether the book might actually make any money. Since a large number of variables go into this calculation, it's not an entirely straightforward thing. However, you don't need to be able to do advanced calculus in order to figure it out. Anna's breakdown is much more sunccint and funnier than the one my publishing 101 prof gave.

    The whole thing is excellent. Beyond excellent is Patrick Nielsen Hayden's condensed explanation of how mass-market distribution came about:

    [1890 through 1941:]

    WOULD-BE PAPERBACK PIONEERS: "Stock our 25-cent paperbacks, please!"

    BOOKSTORES: "Nothing doing. Two or three of them take up the same shelf space we could use for a $2.95 hardcover. Begone with you!"

    [Exeunt omnes, pursued by World War II.]

    WOULD-BE PAPERBACK PIONEERS: "Hey, it's the postwar period! Here's an idea: forget the damn bookstores, let's sell our 25-cent paperbacks through the same system of jobbers and wholesalers that distributes magazines and newspapers to every newsstand, drugstore, bus station, and grocery store in America."

    MAGAZINE JOBBERS AND WHOLESALERS: "Okay, Mac, but you gotta make 'em strippable, just like COLLIER'S and LOOK. Also, make your lists monthly. None of this carriage-trade 'season' stuff for us burly, down-to-earth practical men."

    PAPERBACK PIONEERS: "No problem. Here, have a couple of dozen titles."


    Do not drink before reading.

    Thursday, April 20, 2006

    Because I am a Sheep and Sheep say "Baaa!"

    ...and because I respect the work that the fine folks at Making Light, Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors do, I am linking to the 20 Worst Agents list.

    It's a fine list. A lovely list. A list with more than 20 names on it, because some of the alleged agencies have changed names several times.

    This is, of course, not to say that agents are to be avoided. Agents are necessary. Writers need them to find publishers for their work and publishers need them to send them new work of the correct sort (agents do other stuff too, such as explaining contracts to authors, holding authors' hands, and coaching the authors they represent on how to make their books more marketable.)

    Anyone thinking that they might need an agent should probably read Everything You Wanted to Know About Agents, and On the Getting of Agents. Authors aspiring to hook up with an agent could also frequent Ask the Agent at Absolute Write, and Agent Obscura's Livejournal (actually, anyone interested in what a literary agent does should hang out there.)

    So, "Baaaa" say I to scam artists, scam agents, and others who prey on the novice writer's burning desire to be read.

    More on How to Get into This Crazy Industry

    Anna Louise answers the perennial question:

    Q: How does one get started in publishing? (question from jadzia325)

    A: One gets started in publishing by moving to the city The Company Of Your Dreams is located in, and submitting your resume. If you want to work for Tor, you come to the New York area. If you want to work for a company out of Boston, move to the Boston area. If you want to work for a company out of Los Angeles.... you get the picture?

    This echoes what Teresa Nielsen Hayden said in the comments to my answer to the "How does one become an editor?" question, and while it doesn't quite reflect the path that I took, both these ladies work in an enviable corner of trade publishing, so if you want to edit fiction for a living, you should probably heed their advice.

    If you don't want to move to the city in which the Company Of Your Dreams is located, you may have to resign yourself to editing whatever can be found in the place where you live. In Toronto, this means Harlequins, textbooks, magazines, daily newspapers, and a small amount of trade fiction (yes, I know, technically Harlequin has trade imprints. In addition to Harlequins is what I meant), and, if you're freelance, anything else that pays the bills. None of this sucks, but if you have your heart set on editing for Tor, Toronto isn't the place to be.

    The Lexicographer as Keeper of the Word Store

    Via TCI's favourite linguablogger, Language Hat, Erin McKean (whose job is cooler than mine) blogs on lexicography—namely, on how words get into the dictionary:

    Think of the dictionary as less of a Social Register for words and more like a word general store. I am the manager of the word general store. Do I stock only words in my size? Only in the flavors I like? Only the words I wish people would use? No — I provide a wide selection of words for the use of all my customers. And because my customers are such a wide group (basically, all adult readers and writers) I have to make sure to include the words that will serve their needs.

    So how does she decide which words to include in the inventory, given the limited shelf space? "Basically, we check to see if people are using it."

    This, then is lexicography: checking to see which words people are using, how they're using them, and presenting the information so that other people can use the words in a more-or-less agreed-upon way.

    Didn't I just say her job was cooler than mine?

    Thursday, February 09, 2006

    Shall We Conference?

    What is wrong with “confer”?

    Proofreading an education textbook, I learn that students should “conference” with their teachers regarding the topics for independent research projects. I am now faced with a quandary.

    I know that the field of education is rife with jargon, buzzwords, and neologisms, and that it bends words, attributing particular meanings to old words: in this book alone we have students “partnered” rather than “paired” or “teamed up with.” We have “telescoped” curricula, and “authentic problem solving,” and “exceptional students.” We indulge in nounification, and we verb perfectly good nouns.

    And I can see the point, sometimes, in bending an old word when you need a new one, or in verbing a noun that you need to make an action of. But in the case of “conference,” we have this verb—“confer”—that means “to consult or converse” (Oxford Canadian Dictionary). So why do we need to take the noun “conference” (“1. a meeting for discussion or presentation of information, ex. a regular one held by an association or organization.”), and use its sixth definition “to take part in a conference or conference call.”) in place of a shorter, older, more precise pre-existing verb like “confer” or “consult”? What purpose is served, what more precise shade of meaning distinguished?

    "Conference" as a verb, while accepted by CanOx, isn’t really that new, alas. The Compact Oxford lists a nineteenth century citation. So it’s an icky usage with a small pedigree. One doesn’t see “conferencing” discussed in very many usage books. The Careful Writer (Bernstein, 1972) doesn’t mention "conference" as a troublesome word at all. CMOS 15 doesn’t see fit to mention it, and neither does The American Heritage Book of English Usage (1996). So maybe it’s not a big deal among usage nuts. Maybe it’s sufficiently old to be acceptable. Maybe I’m just too damned hyphenated anyway. (Aside: if people who geek out over grammar are grammarians, what can we call people who geek out over usage? Usarians? Usurers? Ill-used?).

    At least one other source attributes "conferencing" to the profession of education. The discussion of the practice, however, does not provide any information that would distinguish this usage from a more standard usage of "conferring":
    The profession of education is perhaps responsible for the origin of the term "conferencing" and its use as both noun and adjective, as well as the use of the term "conference" as a verb. Be that as it may, conferencing skills often spell the difference between successful and unsuccessful teaching and supervision.

    In editing, I’ve let "conference" stand—at least in this textbook. I’d like to conference over its propagation to other disciplines, though.

    all the way down typography

    I’ve noticed a trend in cover typography here at the Textbook Mills: a conscious avoidance of capital letters. If avoiding excessive capitalization, is called "down style," then this might be called all the way down style (atwd for short?).

    That’s right—no capitalization. Having noticed the trend here, I've started paying attention to cover typography in bookstores and at other publishers.

    Sometimes only the book's title will avoid those line-breaking upper case letters. In other designs, everything—title, author’s name, edition statement, anything—except perhaps the publisher’s imprint, will be atwd.

    So, local trend or typographical movement?

    When I asked around, unscientifically, someone suggested that we embraced atwd because it "looks more trade-like." But a quick perusal of Amazon shows a clear bias towards ALL CAPS title pages. In fact, I had a hard time finding an example of a Headline Style cover to link to, (I finally typed the titles of books I seemed to remember having headline-style cover typography into Amazon's search engine; just browsing turned up an overwhelming majority of covers set in all caps), let alone an atwd one. So I must conclude that this typographical movement is a local phenomenon.

    Readers are accustomed to seeing titles, and title page information, in ALL CAPS, and in headline or title style (scroll down page for definition). Despite its popularity here at the Textbook Mills, atwd just doesn't seem likely to eclipse the conventional typography. and the new trend doesn’t seem to eclipse it.

    I don’t know why this is. From where I stand, in the editorial end of the process, it looks like a fad, or a designer's fancy.