Few of us would be so gauche as to walk up to an author we hadn’t met at a party and say in front of other guests: “Hey, I just reviewed your book! Let me tell you how much I hated it.” But the digital equivalent occurs on Twitter whenever people tweet links of negative reviews to the authors of the books they’ve panned. David Duhr, the books editor of the Texas Observer, asked six critics, of whom I was one, to comment on the practice. You can see our answers in his post on Publishing Perspectives.
December 18, 2013
Tags: Authors, Books, Netiquette, Rudeness, Social Media, Twitter
May 14, 2013
Tags: Advertising, Authors, Books, Ethics, Publishing
George Orwell called blurbs “disgusting tripe.” What do you say?
By Janice Harayda
A publisher who was trying to promote a book once asked the late novelist Beryl Bainbridge for a quote about it. “Just say whatever you want,” she replied. Few novelists might allow publishers such liberties. But blurbs lend themselves to a host of questionable practices, as George Orwell understood when he called them “disgusting tripe.” Authors trade blurbs. Editors pressure writers they edit to provide them for other writers they edit. Commercial services sell blurbs to authors who have no obligation to disclose that they paid for the praise on their dust jackets.
What’s ethical and what’s not? On Saturday I’ll be speaking about the politics of blurbing and reviewing at the Biographers International conference in New York, and I’d love to know your answers to the questions below. On the following survey, a “blurb” means “praise solicited by an author, editor or publisher before the publication of a book” (not praise extracted from a review after it appears). Please answer any or all of the questions that interest you in the Comments below or tweet them to me at @janiceharayda. Thank you!
Is it ethical for authors to:
provide blurbs for books they haven’t read?
trade blurbs with other authors?
charge a fee for providing a blurb?
accept non-cash favors (such as sex, gifts or meals) in exchange for blurbs?
provide blurbs for authors edited by their editor or represented by their agent?
solicit blurbs from friends, relatives or other groups?
provide blurbs for books they dislike in order to help a friend?
Is it ethical for editors or publishers to:
ask authors whom they publish to provide blurbs for other authors they publish?
add exclamation points or other punctuation to blurbs?
take blurbs out of context in ads – for example, by using only a few words from a long blurb?
Is it ethical for journalists and bloggers to:
quote from a blurb without saying who gave the blurb – for example, by using phrases like “has been compared to” without saying who made the comparison?
review books for which they provided blurbs?
You may also want to read “Backscratching in Our Time,” a long running series on One-Minute Book Reviews that calls attention to authors who praise each other’s books in blurbs or elsewhere.
Janice Harayda is an award-winning journalist and novelist who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle.
(c) 2013 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
January 7, 2013
Tags: Authors, Books, Hype, Journalism
The latest in a series of posts that recognize out-of-control praise for books
Today’s Gusher Award for Achievement in Literary Hype Goes to …
“George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year”
Title of an article in the The New York Times Magazine, Jan. 6, 2013
Reality check: Someone at the New York Times may have been reading too many Cosmopolitan articles with titles like, “The Best Sex You’ll Have All Year.” Ninety-five percent of 2013 books haven’t been published yet. And you might read Shakespeare this year.
April 19, 2012
Tags: 2012 Pulitzer Prizes, Authors, Books, Conflicts of Interest, Ethics
Pulitzer juror Michael Cunningham received help at least twice in his career from Denis Johnson, a novelist he helped select as a 2012 fiction nominee (the term the awards sponsor prefers to “finalist”). Details appear in this update to yesterday’s post defending the Pulitzer Prize Board’s controversial decision to give no fiction award this year.
March 5, 2012
Tags: Authors, Books, Money, Publishers, Writers, Writing
Herman Melville died broke after his publisher refused to give him an advance for Moby-Dick, one of America’s greatest novels. Do contemporary writers fare better? You might wonder after reading a recent essay by Scott Turow, the president of the Authors Guild. Turow noted that American publishers want to pay authors a royalty on e-books that is about half of what they pay for books on paper:
“The problem is that the average American author earns about $9,000 a year from writing as it is. Decreasing the rewards will inevitably drive more people out of the profession. And it is hugely unfair, because publishers do quite well with e-books. They have no costs for paper, printing, warehousing or distribution — and no risk, as is the case with physical books, that the volume will be returned for full credit by the bookseller, which is the great bugaboo of publishing.”
The plight of writers looks worse when you consider what Turow didn’t say: The federal poverty level (the threshold for government benefits) is $11,170 for one person. And the $9,000 a year figure he cited appears to have changed little in the past half century. More than 30 years ago, the American Society of Journalists and Authors surveyed its members and found that they earned slightly more than $10,000 a year from writing. The Authors Guild and ASJA figures suggest that writers earn roughly as much as migrant farmworkers, who have a median annual income of about $11,000.
You can follow Jan on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the right sidebar.
January 26, 2012
Tags: 2012 Caldecott Awards, ALA, Authors, Books, Illustrators, Libraries, Publishing
Kadir Nelson, a four-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, lost the more prestigious Caldecott medal — again — on Monday
By Janice Harayda
Kadir Nelson may have won more honors than any of the most recent candidates for Caldecott medal, given by the American Library Association each year to “the most distinguished American picture book for children.” His paintings have appeared in museums and galleries around the world and on U.S. postage stamps, including two that celebrate Negro League baseball.
But when the ALA named the winners of its 2012 awards on Monday, Nelson didn’t get the Caldecott for his Heart and Soul, as many had expected. He won his fourth Coretta Scott King Award, which only black authors or illustrators may receive. The King award is a high honor but one with less prestige and impact on sales than a Caldecott medal. And Nelson’s award has revived a debate about whether the ALA is ghetto-izing the black authors and illustrators who qualify for the identity-based prizes that it gives out along with honors open to all. Are writers and artists who look like shoo-ins for a King award being denied the Caldecott and Newbery medals that can have a much greater impact on their careers?
The answer should be no. Library-association judging committees deliberate independently. And authors can win awards in more than one ALA category, as when Nelson received a King award and a Sibert prize for “the most distinguished informational book for children” for We Are the Ship. But the reality is less clear-cut, as the blogger and novelist Mitali Perkins noted in explaining why she hoped the library group wouldn’t create an award for authors of Asian descent like her:
“The existence of such an award for Asian-Americans may inadvertently or sub-consciously knock books out of the running for prizes like the Newbery or the Printz. (‘Oh, that title’s sure to be nominated for a Super Asian Writer Award …,’ said the committee member to herself as she crossed Kira-Kira off her list of finalists.)”
Such possibilities may involve a cruel paradox for black superstars like Nelson: The better those authors and illustrators are, they more likely they are to look like shoo-ins for a King award. And the less likely they are to get what they deserve, if judges subconsciously or inadvertently relegate them to lesser prizes. Nelson’s many nonlibrary honors don’t mean that he automatically deserves a Caldecott medal. Designing a postage stamp isn’t the same as creating a picture book that involves the flow of words and pictures.
But author Marc Aronson is right that the ALA is tumbling down “a very slippery slope” with its profusion of identity-based prizes. Aronson notes that when the ALA launched the King award in 1969, “no black artist or author had won major recognition from ALA (Arna Bontemps’s Story of the Negro, a 1949 Newbery Honor Book, aside), and there were relatively few African Americans working in the field.” That situation has changed greatly, he adds: The U.S. now has a “steadily growing group of African-American artists that every important publisher, large and small, seeks to publish” and independent presses devoted to their work. If the Coretta Scott King Award helped to change that, it has also brought new risks for black authors and illustrators and for awards judges. As Aronson notes:
“The danger in every award that sets limits on the kinds of people, or types of book, that can win it is that it diminishes the pressure on the larger awards, the Newbery and the Caldecott, to live up to their charge to seek the most distinguished children’s books of the year.”
In a post that predicted the 2012 Caldecott winners, the influential librarian and School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird wrote that “We all know that Kadir deserves to win one of these days.” It’s fair to ask: Would “one of these days” have arrived by now if the ALA hadn’t been able to give Nelson the Coretta Scott King Award?
This is the first of two posts on the winners of the 2012 Caldecott medal and the three Honor Book citiations. The second post deals with the shutout for women in the awards.
Jan Harayda is an award-winning critic and former vice-president for awards of the National Book Critics Circle. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking on the “Follow” button in the sidebar on this site.
December 27, 2011
Tags: Authors, Books, Conflicts of Interest, Ethics, Publishing
The latest in a series of posts on authors who praise each other’s books in blurbs, reviews or elsewhere:
Lev Grossman on George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire, which he ranked No. 1 on his list of the Top 10 Fiction Books of 2011 for Time magazine:
“The artistry and savagery of Martin’s storytelling are at their finest: he has seized hold of epic fantasy and is radically refashioning it for our complex and jaded era, and the results are magnificent. … in the realm of epic fantasy, there is only one true king, and it’s Martin.”
George R.R. Martin in a blurb he provided for Lev Grossman’s The Magicians before Grossman named him to the Time 10 Top Fiction Books list:
“These days any novel about young sorcerers at wizard school inevitably invites comparison to Harry Potter. Lev Grossman meets the challenge head on … and very successfully. The Magicians is to Harry Potter as a shot of Irish whiskey is to a glass of weak tea.
Via Ed Champion (@drmabuse) on Twitter.
One-Minute Book Reviews welcomes nominations for its “Backscratching in Our Time” series, which has included other prominent authors.
June 3, 2011
Tags: Authors, Books, PR, Publicity, Publishing
This week’s Gusher Award for literary hype goes to Nicole Krauss for a blurb for David Grossman’s To the End of the Land that, even by the forgiving standards of its category, spins out of control:
“Very rarely, a few times in a lifetime, you open a book and when you close it again nothing can ever be the same. Walls have been pulled down, barriers broken, a dimension of feeling, of existence itself, has opened in you that was not there before. To the End of the Land is a book of this magnitude. David Grossman may be the most gifted writer I’ve ever read; gifted not just because of his imagination, his energy, his originality, but because he has access to the unutterable, because he can look inside a person and discover the unique essence of her humanity. For twenty-six years he has been writing novels about what it means to defend this essence, this unique light, against a world designed to extinguish it. To the End of the Land is his most powerful, shattering, and unflinching story of this defense. To read it is to have yourself taken apart, undone, touched at the place of your own essence; it is to be turned back, as if after a long absence, into a human being.”
Walls may “have been pulled down” in the book, but the breathless clichés should have fallen here.
Thanks to the critic and editor Scott Esposito for posting this overheated blurb on his Conversational Reading blog, and to former Publishers Weekly deals columnist Matt Thornton (www.twitter.com/thorntonmatt) for remembering it.
Gusher Awards recognize over-the-top praise for books or authors in reviews, blurbs or elsewhere. One-Minute Book reviews welcomes nominations for them. You can also follow Jan Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.
© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
April 18, 2011
Tags: 2011 Pulitzer Prizes, American Literature, Authors, Books, Pulitzers
Perhaps the most perversely elite club in American literature consists of the great novels that didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Among the members: Main Street, The Great Gatsby and For Whom the Bell Tolls. A list of other losers and the books that defeated them appears here. The winners of the 2011 Pulitzers will be announced today at 3 p.m. Eastern Time. Using the statistical technique of regression analysis, a research scientist and book collector have predicted that Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad will win the fiction prize, finishing just ahead of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom and Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule. A list of their 16 books most likely to receive the award appears at PPrize.com.
March 12, 2010
Tags: Arts, Authors, Bad Writing, Book Awards, Books, Culture, Publishing, Writing
Which authors wrote the most memorably bad prose in 2009? Find out Monday when One-Minute Book Reviews announces the winners of the Fourth Annual Delete Key Awards for writers who don’t use their delete keys enough. You can read the shortlisted passages here, all from bestselling or otherwise well-known books published last year in hardcover or paperback.