One-Minute Book Reviews

March 5, 2012

‘The Average American Author Earns About $9,000 a Year’ / Quote of the Day

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 3:51 am
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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.

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August 18, 2009

‘Typos Are Worse Than Fascism!’ — Quote of the Day / I. F. Stone

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:11 am
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A lot of publishers seem to be trying to save money these days by skimping on copyediting and issuing more books with felonious typos. What’s wrong with that? I love this comment by one of the great muckraking journalists of the 20th century, which reflects the sentiments of many of us who have worked for daily newspapers:

“Typos are worse than Fascism!”
– I. F. Stone, as quoted by his daughter, Celia Gilbert, at his funeral in 1989

July 17, 2009

Should Writers Be Loyal to Their Publishers? Is ‘Loyalty’ a Virtue? (Quote of the Day / Diana Athill)

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:30 pm
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Scott Turow recently jilted Farrar, Straus & Giroux, his longtime publisher, for Grand Central Publishing, for the sequel to Presumed Innocent due out in 2010. Turow is one of many authors who have cut editorial ties in a grim economy, and some people say writers are becoming “less loyal” to their publishers. Is that a bad thing? Is loyalty a virtue?

Diana Athill, the English writer and former editor for the firm of André Deutsch, says in her elegant new memoir, Somewhere Towards the End:

“Loyalty is not a favorite virtue of mine, perhaps because André Deutsch used so often to abuse the word, angrily accusing any writer who wanted to leave our list of ‘disloyalty.’ There is, of course, no reason why a writer should be loyal to a firm which has supposed that it will be able to make money by publishing his work. Gratitude and affection can certainly develop when a firm makes a good job of it, but no bond of loyalty is established. In cases where such a bond exists – loyalty to family, for example, or to a political party – it can be foolishness if betrayed by its objects. If your brother turns out to be a murderer or your party changes its policies, standing by him or it through thick or thin seems to me mindless. Loyalty unearned is simply the husk of a notion developed to benefit the bosses in a feudal system.”

March 5, 2009

Imprint Blight in American Book Publishing

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The colophon of the respected Margaret K. McElderry imprint.

On this site I focus on the quality of the writing in books and generally avoid reporting on unrelated publishing news or gossip. But an article in today’s New York Times involves a trend that’s been on my mind for years: the proliferation of imprints at major publishing firms.

Many of the new imprints bear the names of their editors. And — to oversimplify a bit — they allow the editors to go out on a limb and buy books that reflect their tastes even if others at their firms dislike them. That freedom is in theory a good thing, because it allows editors to acquire worthy books that may be too narrow to appeal to staff members who might otherwise have to sign off on them. And some imprints have a longstanding reputation for high quality, such as the Margaret K. McElderry children’s imprint at Simon & Schuster.

But named imprints can also remove some of the checks-and-balances at publishing firms. And recently they have produced at least two books so tarnished by questions of credibility that they should never have been published in the form in which they reached stores: James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (from Nan Talese Books at Doubleday) and Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone (from Sarah Crichton Books) at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

I won’t belabor this point here, but if you’re interested in imprint blight in book publishing, I’ve put up a series of tweets about them on my Twitter feed. Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

February 2, 2009

How Great Books Got Their Titles — When ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ Was ‘Angry Raisins’ — André Bernard’s ‘Now All We Need Is a Title’

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:07 am
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F. Scott Fitzgerald took his editor's advice, but many authors didn't.

Alfred A. Knopf urged Dashiell Hammett to change the title of The Maltese Falcon because he thought “falcon” might be hard for people to pronounce. The staff at Harper Brothers protested when Eugene O’Neill handed in Mourning Becomes Electra, a trilogy that later helped him win the Nobel Prize, because they believed the reference to Agamemnon’s daughter was too obscure. And the editor Max Perkins talked F. Scott Fitzgerald into calling his greatest novel The Great Gatsby instead of Trimalchio in West Egg (or at West Egg), perhaps fearing that few would recognize the name of a character in Petronius’s Satyricon.

Stories like these abound André Bernard’s ‘Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way (Norton, 127 pp., $11, paperback), an engaging collection of anecdotes and commentary about how well-known books got their titles. A former Book-of-the-Month Club editor who worked in publishing for 25 years, Bernard covers more than 100 books that range from classics to late 20th-century bestsellers like Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone mysteries, each of which has a letter (“A” Is for Alibi, “B” is for Burglar) in title.

Many of the stories in Now All We Need Is a Title involve misguided efforts by editors to overrule authors. But Bernard shows that translators, book clubs and others can also do damage. John Steinbeck loved the title of The Grapes of Wrath, inspired by a line in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” He didn’t live to see the translation published in Japan, where his widow, Elaine, found the book being sold as Angry Raisins.

This is the first in a series of posts that will appear this week on some of my favorite books.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

November 20, 2008

Why Were So Many More Nonfiction Books Than Novels Nominated for the 2008 National Book Awards? (Late Night With Jan Harayda)

It costs $125 to nominate a book for a National Book Award. Why were so many more publishers willing to pay it for nonfiction than for fiction or poetry?

Do recent nonfiction books outshine novels? Many critics think so. And publishers seem to agree, based on their willingness to pay the $125-per-book entry fee for the National Book Awards.

The prize sponsor reports that in 2008 publishers nominated the following numbers of books by category: 540, nonfiction; 274, young people’s literature; 271, fiction; and 175, poetry. Publishers may have submitted nearly twice as much nonfiction as fiction because more of it gets published. Yet that explanation begs the question, because publishers presumably buy books for the same reason they nominate them for awards: They think they’re good.

More evidence of the superiority of nonfiction might seem to come from Wednesday night’s fiction winner: Peter Matthiessen’s Shadow Country, a reworking of an earlier trilogy. If this year’s novels had been stronger, would the judges have considered a book that includes previously published material? Was Matthiessen’s shortlisting a sign of desperation in judges who wanted a strong book on the final list even if it meant exhuming some work published as long ago as 1990?

Probably not. It’s more likely the judges wanted to reward a distinguished author in his 80s for his fiction and didn’t know if they’d have another chance. (Matthiessen won the 1980 National Book Award for nonfiction for The Snow Leopard.) It’s also possible that the judges just didn’t like some of the novels that many critics ranked among the best of the year, such as Netherland.

Then why did publishers nominate so much more nonfiction? Two possible explanations. One is that nonfiction books have more opportunity to catch fire in the media or elsewhere: They don’t depend on reviews as much as novels do. And publishers know that momentum can affect judges. In paying those $125 entry fees, some may have invested in what they considered the safest bets.

A related explanation for all the nonfiction nominees is that fiction has two main genres: novels and short stories. Nonfiction has many — including history, memoirs, biography, essays and journalism — and more ways to make an impact. This year’s nonfiction shortlist reflected some of them: The Dark Side (exposé), Final Salute (feature writing), This Republic of Suffering (social history), The Suicide Index (memoir), and the winner, The Hemingses of Monticello (family history).

Yet nonfiction dates faster than nonfiction. This is why novels tend to define their eras better than works of nonfiction do. So the answer to “Were this year’s novels better than the nonfiction books?” rests with history. Decades from now, this year’s best nonfiction books may have yielded to others that have more recent reporting or more up-to-date research, while some of the novels may seem as fresh as ever, just as Jane Austen’s do nearly two hundred years after they appeared.

For a list of the National Book Awards entry fees and eligibility requirements, click here www.nationalbook.org/nbaentry.html.

Janice Harayda is a former judge of the National Book Critics Circle Awards for fiction, nonfiction, biograhy, poetry and criticism.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

September 20, 2007

Great Small Presses #4: CavanKerry Press

Fed up with the quality of so many books from major publishers? This is the fourth in a series of posts, appearing each day this week, on small or independent presses that have shown consistently high standards. The series will continue after this week on an occasional basis.

Publishing “gifted though unrecognized” poets and others in attractive books

By Janice Harayda

CavanKerry Press www.cavankerry.com is a not-for-profit literary press that specializes in attractively designed books by “gifted through unrecognized poets,” though it also issues anthologies, essay collections and other works. Based in New Jersey, it has a network of outreach programs that bring art to “underserved communities,” such as prisons, public schools, underfunded libraries and homeless shelters. These efforts include donating a portion of each print run to groups or individuals who might otherwise lack access to books. Noteworthy CavanKerry books include the poetry collection Common Life www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/04/05/, by Robert Cording, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and many other magazines.

One-Minute Book Reviews was the seventh-ranked book review site on Google www.google.com/Top/Arts/Literature/Reviews_and_Criticism/as of Sept. 6, 2007. It does not accept free books from publishers.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.janiceharayda.com

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