Category Archives: publishing

Victorian Secrets: Publisher

No, I’m not talking about lingerie, so keep your smutty thoughts to yourself.  I’m talking about a publisher I recently came across and I wanted to spread the word:

VICTORIAN SECRETS

A small, independent UK based company obviously going against the flow, and for that reason alone, they deserve some support. My regular readers know that I read, reviewed and thoroughly enjoyed two novels by George Gissing: New Grub Street and The Odd Women.   I was lucky enough to have long-ago purchased print copies of these books on my shelf. Yes, if you have a kindle, Gissing is available FREE, and while there’s a lot to be said for e-versions, these new Victorian Secrets critical editions have their advantages too. Some of us like to read those 19th century multi-plot Victorians in a print version with introductions and notes.

Victorian Secrets have several other Gissings in print:

Demosdemos

Thyrza

ThyrzaWorkers in the Dawn

workers in the dawnVictorian Secrets has some interesting non-Gissing titles too, so I encourage all you 19th century fanatics to take a look. Some of their titles are pleasantly and tantalizingly obscure. And here’s their latest release:

Not wisely but too well

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Matador Serial by Ray Banks: A Novel Idea

Partly because I’m a fan of Ray Banks, and partly because I want to see how this plays out, I signed up for MATADOR: a 7-part serial available on the kindle. Total cost: $1.99. Beginning on November 20th 2012, one episode out of seven will be published, and the subsequent six episodes will be sent in two-week intervals. Subscribers receive e-mail notification when each new episode is available.

According to Amazon, episode one is 55 pages and the blurb says this:

A man wakes in a shallow grave next to a corpse to find himself shot, amnesiac and in deep trouble. Meanwhile, an expat drug runner finds out that he’s not the killer he thought he was.

In some ways this has been done before. I’m thinking of the Cornhill Magazine which in 1860 (according to some sources) began featuring the works of many notable writers in serial form, but the reading of novels in carefully parcelled out sections has been passé for years. The world of the ‘printed word’ is changing, and here’s someone grabbing an opportunity in the new still-shifting paradigm. Perhaps I’m easy to please, but I can’t help but be excited about this new serial. Since e-readers open up worlds of possibilities for readers and writers, will we see more of these in the future?

Watch this space…

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Bookshops & the internet

I came across an article, written by Elaine Sciolino in the New York Times which included a number of facts and figures regarding some of the differences between the publishing industry in America and France. One of the main differences is the Lang Law–a law which addresses the discounting of books, and due to this law, book prices cannot be discounted more than 5% below the publisher’s list price. Another point the article makes is that e-book sales in France are 1.8% of the market compared with 6.4% in America. Apparently 13% of French books were purchased from the internet last year. On another note, an article in the Telegraph says that the number of bookshops in Britain halved in the years 2005-2011 shrinking from 4,000 down to 2,178.

Interesting reading which of course raises the question: is the demise of the independent (or even chain) bookshop (thinking Borders here) inevitable? Amazon often comes out as the villain in these ruminations, and I’m sure that if I owned and operated a bookshop, I’d feel that I was fighting in a price war I couldn’t match. But as a reader there are other considerations.

Before the arrival of the internet, I liked nothing better than to head my car towards a book-friendly town and spend the day browsing through the shelves of a number of used book shops. Santa Monica had the added attraction of the British pubs, of course, and I always came away from these forays with a decent amount of plunder. Some of the titles I bought came from the continually overhauled list of books I wanted, and some titles were a complete, delightful surprise as I stumbled across books on the shelves by pure accident. At the time (pre-internet), I typically read books by favourite authors, books recommended by friends or work colleagues, and the occasional unexpected title excavated at a bookshop. I also picked up names of books from magazines such as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.

Then came the internet…. I came across more and more obscure titles, books from small publishers, and the trail led deeper and deeper off the beaten path. Then came blogging, my reading community expanded, and now I’m reading recommendations from all over the world, including: AustraliaCanada, Britain, France, and the very multi-cultural Caroline. I still love book shops, but they simply cannot stock the vast number of titles available via internet outlets. Here’s an example, I recently visited a used bookshop sure that I’d find at least one title by John O’Hara, but alas no. I ended up buying a book for someone else so that I wouldn’t leave empty-handed.

All this reminds me of the days when video shops were the only way to go for VHS and then DVD rentals. I remember picking over the sad little foreign film section at a local Blockbuster and then learning about Netflix….

It’s not that I don’t want to buy from bookshops. I love bookshops. But they simply cannot offer the inventory of online book sellers. It’s not all about pricing and discounting and cut-throat tactics. It’s also about selection. I recently read a review of a Peter Stamm book on Tony’s Reading List. Fat chance of my local used bookshop having that in stock.

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The Back Story to the Lost James Cain Novel

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about the discovery and upcoming 2o12 publication of a James M. Cain novel. Thrilling news for fans. Last night, thanks to The Rap Sheet’s newsletter, I got the back story to just how this novel was found. Here’s an interview conducted by author Duane Swierczynski on his Secret Dead blog with Charles Ardai, founder of Hard Case Crime.

I read Swierczynski’s book Fun and Games a few months back–it’s the first of a three-parter about Hollywood Starwhackers. I’ll be reading part II, Hell and Gone soon.

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A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse–A book that gave me ideas about…books.

I recently read A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse, and if you want to read the full review, go to Mostly Fiction.

Just a brief synopsis. The plot concerns a bookshop in Paris which sells only ‘good’  books. A marketing strategy you cynically ask? Well perhaps, but the shop is the brainchild of two idealistic, avid readers, Van and Francesca who are both disillusioned with the publishing industry and bookshops. From this disillusionment, the idea grows to open a bookshop  called The Good Novel that sells “All the books no one is talking about”–this boils down to selecting titles that may or may not be in print but are some of the best books out there.

I initially felt a bit uncomfortable with this idea. I could see an elitism forming right before my eyes, and I bristled at the idea of people telling me what is and isn’t good. Of course it would be naive to think that this isn’t already taking place in the book world, and so I empathise with the frustration of these fictional characters. After all, I recently went to what is considered a decent book shop armed with a list of books published by the smaller publisher houses. I came back empty-handed. The idea of elitism, by the way, is addressed by the comparison of The Good Novel to any niche bookshop–let’s say a shop that sells only SF or mystery novels.

I relaxed when Van and Francesca asked 8 mostly under-appreciated writers to form a secret committee with each member submitting a list of the best 600 books they’ve ever read. The books are crossmatched, a master list is generated, and the bookshop is then stocked from the master list. The plot follows what happens to the shop and its owners, and as you can imagine some people (rejected authors) are rather pissed off when they discover (the horror, the horror) that their books are glaringly absent.

OK, now to the stuff I want to mention here. The story is a mystery, but underneath the mystery are some really interesting ideas about publishing; hence this blog post.  The bookshop creates a place that readers naturally gravitate to for their books. Van says:

“We are aiming to reverse the precedent between supply and demand. It’s not demand that’s going to lead, but offer. People will come through the door of the bookstore because they know they can find a rare selection of novels there, in addition to the regular titles they might be looking for. And then they’ll visit the website in a similar frame of mind.”

I chewed that over. Supply and demand…supply and demand…and then I started thinking about how, in the last few years, my spending habits have changed when it comes to the books I buy and read. For example, I rarely buy in bookshops anymore. Why? Because the ones I go to don’t stock what I want. While I still enjoy the small poky bookshops, the bigger chains are nightmares for readers like me. There are kids running around screaming, piles of sticky unshelved books, and there are far too many copies of books I know I’d loathe being shoved in my face. Plus the fact that even though there’s lots of stock, there are very few books that actually have much appeal.

I used to go the library and look for favourite authors or through the new releases. My local library has become an unpleasant place to hang out, and the selection seems narrow. Part of this explanation could be that at this point we are talking about sheer cumulative reading. Here’s an example: I read a lot of Simenon. My library has a few volumes on the shelf but I’ve read them all.

That takes me back to the sorts of books I am looking for.  These days when it comes to new releases I seem to be most interested in the books from the smaller presses. Just as I know Harlequin does not publish anything I’m interested in, over time I’ve identified publishers who consistently produce books that match my tastes.

Europa Editions published A Novel Bookstore. It’s a French book and according to those in the know, only 3% of the books sold in America are books in translation. Perhaps the current wave of Scandinavian crime thrillers will change that number. I hope so. Not that I am interested in stories of women who get sanitary towels shoved down their throats, but I think that it may cause publishers to ease up a bit and start looking for other books that might sell as well.

Bitter Lemon Press, Serpent’s Tail, Pushkin Press, OneWorld, Dedalus, Hesperus, Europa Editions, and New York Review Books Classics are all publishers I try to follow. I know I’ve left out some names. The smaller presses don’t have the money or the clout of the big houses, and what’s even more annoying they sometimes don’t even appear in the bookshop. So publishers if you read this, GET A SUBSCRIPTION NEWSLETTER GOING through your website. If you want us to buy your books, then connect with us.  I don’t buy every book that comes from NYRB, but when I get their newsletter, chances are I’ll buy something.

Another idea that came through in A Novel Bookstore was the idea of subscriptions (as in a type of book club)–customers sign up and then are automatically sent titles from the bookshop . In the case of the fictional Paris bookshop, this was a bit dodgy as people could feasibly have already read some of the titles on the shelves. But again, this got me thinking. Hard Case Crime had a book club (Hard Case Crime is on hiatus at the moment as Dorchester moved solely to e-book format). I was a member of the Hard Case Crime book club, and it was a really great idea. I never knew what they would send me every month, but I can tell you that I was never disappointed.

And now a final observation. I read a fair number of crime books. I’m not in publishing so I’m not in the know  but I can tell you that something is happening in the world of crime fiction. I hope it’s a movement. Crime publishers are connecting with crime writers and crime readers. Are readers of crime fiction more organised or are they just more devoted? Here’s Stark House Noir who are producing some classic noir that’s largely forgotten along with their first exclusive novel Johnny Porno by Charlie Stella.

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I didn’t know that Mick Jagger reviewed books….

From the 2011 Soho Crime catalogue & from the CB editions website, a celebrity blurb (I wonder if it pays well?).

Rules of Play by Jennie Walker

Very original. I loved it.”  Mick Jagger.

And now I’m in the mood to play Beast of Burden.

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