Tuesday, August 12, 2014

SEEKING THE TRUTH


Imagine, seeing a page one story in The New York Times on Friday, August 8, written by David Streitfeld, announcing that there would be a $104,000 ad that would be placed in the paper on Sunday, two days later, signed by 909 writers and bankrolled  by the wealthiest of the several best-selling  novelists.  At least that’s what Streitfeld reported.  When the ad appeared on August 10 it was listed as paid for by “Authors United, P.O Box of 4799, Santa Fe, NM, 87502.” There is no way of identifying who, in fact paid for it, or even if one of the Big Five conglomerates (if so, most likely Hachette)—who are waging a splendid PR campaign against Amazon—actually financed the ad. In any event, leading the charge against Amazon is Mr. Streitfeld.
The last time I blogged about Streitfeld on May 27 (Whose Afraid of Amazon. Com?) and June 3 (The Amazon-Hachette Controversy, Part Two) I commended him for being relatively honest for acknowledging that his anti-Amazon “reporting” was based on “rumors and hypotheses” even though the overall effect was damaging to Amazon and intoxicating for the big five conglomerate publishing cartels.

This time Streitfeld writes about how a letter composed by best-selling thriller writer Douglas Preston, a Hachette author, “spread through the “literary community” leading to this ad.” But this time he doesn’t even talk about rumors and hypothesis, but simply spills out disinformation.  For instance, there is no “literary community” per se, but only the conglomerate community whose positions he echoes. Having established our own reputation over the past 35 years as a leading literary press and knowing other small and independent presses who share our contrarian position, we are simply unaccounted for or ridiculed.
Streitfeld reports how Amazon, is rapidly transforming itself “into an empire that not  only sells culture but promotes it, too, while two paragraphs later he  reports that, according to The Wall Street Journal, Amazon may  lose 800 million in this quarter, wiping out profits for the past three years. Does anyone other than Streitfeld believe that “Empires” lose three years of profits in four months’ time?  I’m not bothering to read the Journal for who knows the accuracy of Steitfeld’s quote. Nor can I do anything more than point out the contradictions in Streitfeld’s claims or expect to transform Streitfeld from being a propagandist into a balanced or fair-minded, serious reporter. As I said in my last blog, (No Expectations), what Is, Is, and I can’t imagine this will ever happen.

Having read the Times regularly for over 60 years, I’ve always considered them to  have high-standards for news reporting, yet I can’t recall a single news story based on a forthcoming ad—much less a page one story. It seems to me that Streitfeld damages the reputation the Times has for unbiased reporting.
I urge everyone reading this blog to also read Barry Eisler’s February 8th blog. Eisler, a highly respected and best- selling novelist himself, presents an even more damaging, gloves-off report on Streitfeld’s article. In it he deconstructs, with wit and constant examples, all the peculiar, biased, absurd and illogical constructs Streitfeld uses in order to make his case. He also suggests that readers write to Margaret Sullivan, the public editor at The New York Times to register their complaints.

What case does Streitfeld relentlessly try to make? That Amazon is a bully and the Big Five world-wide conglomerates are defenseless sheep, despite the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. owns Harper Collins; that CBS owns Simon & Shuster; that Penguin/Random House is also a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, based in Germany; that MacMillan is owned by another German publisher, Holtzbrinck; and that Hachette is owned by the French company Lagardere, and that these corporations are all powerful global media companies who own radio and television stations, magazines, newspapers and offices not only in America, but  throughout the world. Plus he tries to make the case that Amazon should be compelled to order and showcase their books when no other bookstore in in this country is compelled to do this, nor are other on-line retailers. And he ignores the fact that any reader can order copies from any bookstore without difficulty. Doesn’t Streitfeld realize that if he had his way it would put additional pressure on the survival of independent bookstores?
If I were a reporter covering the book industry rather than a publisher, I’d want to balance things out, not only having All the News That’s Fit to Print, but also far less of All the News Unfit to Print, and here are two questions I’d like to see addressed:

What came first in this story, the $104,000 ad or Streitfeld’s page one story, and who bankrolled the Authors United ad (even Douglas Preston, who was chosen to head Authors United, says he has no idea how that happened)?  And will anyone at the Times be interested in investigating that?

I invite your comments,

Marty

Friday, July 25, 2014

NO EXPECTATIONS!


Part I

Twenty years ago, at the  1994 American Booksellers Association meeting in Los Angeles, in our 18th year as publishers, we planned to do something to attract attention to some newly published authors of ours—many of whom were pretty good musicians—and for our press. John Okas, a gifted tenor saxophone player who lived in the Hamptons and wrote Routes, Jean Warmbold, a native of the Bay area, who wrote her first Sarah Calloway mystery, June Mail and had an aptitude for drumming, Pete McCormack, a young Canadian and good guitar player who wrote Shelby, and Bruce Ducker, who wrote Marital  Assets, hailed from Denver and was a gifted jazz piano player who played regular gigs (as well as being  a lawyer and a pilot) collectively decided to form a group. Then there was myself, who lived in Sag Harbor, played the alto sax and often jammed with John, who had already cut a CD.
We were going to challenge the Rock Bottom Remainders, a rock & roll band whose members consisted of best-selling authors. They started their group two years earlier and for the days of the convention, dressed up and played nightly outside the convention floor. They consisted at that time of Stephen King, Dave Barry, Amy Tang, and Barbara Kingsolver among other—aided and abetted by a couple of pros and, in later years other famous authors came in and out, including Scott Turow and Mitch Albom. They may have charged admission for some good cause (though on this point I’m only guessing, for I never watched them play). What I do know is that they were all wonderful writers and had a blast. They also had a sense of humor for on their own website they wrote this:  A write-up in the Washington Post described it as “the most heavily promoted musical debut since the Monkees.”  Hailed by critics as having “one of the world’s highest ratios of noise to talent,” the Remainders have no music videos, no record contract, no Grammy nominations—but do have over 159,000 hits on Google.”

On the other hand, none of us were famous—though all were talented writers. We felt we were a “people’s band,” set up on the convention floor near our stand, and played for the last hour of the Fair every day. We called ourselves No Expectations, and decided to play jazz standards. I doubt that anyone from the Rock Bottom Remainders came to hear us play either.

Day one, May 26, we had what was more rehearsal than  performance, since everyone had been practicing by themselves for a week or two—except for John and me— in different parts of North America, and our timing wasn’t the best. And we were sorry to hear that there were complaints from other exhibitors. On day two, the music improved, and there were no complaints. By day three we were in a groove and received many compliments.

Did we wind up having a best-seller come out of it? Certainly not, but I’m sure we had as good a time playing together as did the Remainders.


Part II
There’s a line between Expectations and No Expectations that’s quite tricky. To quote the Buddha, “Desires are the cause of all conflicts. When you want something and cannot get it you become frustrated. Learning to be free from desires is learning how to stay peaceful.” In my shortened version, “Desire causes pain, End desire and lose unhappiness.” Or even more specifically, let me change the equation slightly to read that “There’s a difference between Hopefulness and No Expectations,” for I think this makes for a better balance. Still, it’s not always been easy for me to .walk that tightrope.

In our first 17 years, turning out 12 books a year, we published some very good writers, among them Berry Fleming, Marco Vassi, Richard Lortz, Harry Bloom, Clifford Irving, Halldor Laxness, Sandra Scofield, Larry Duberstein, Randall Silvis, Howard Owen, and Charles O’Neil, to name just a few. One was a Nobel Prize nominee, another a Nobel Prize winner, a third a National Book Award finalist, and three writers had their novels turned into successful films. There were a host of other lesser awards for these and other writers. Yet none of their novels were best-sellers in the United States either. 
During the next two decades (1994-2014), bringing our output up to 16 books a year, we’ve had even more critical success, paralleling a significant output of literary thrillers written by the likes of Leonard Rosen, Chris Knopf,  Domenic Stansberry, Jaden Terrell, Connie Dial, David Freed, Gwen Florio, J.J. Hensley, and a continuing output from Howard Owen. Over the last two years our thriller writers have been finalists or winners of every major mystery prize: two finalists for the Best First novel from the International Thriller Writers (Gwen Florio and J.J. Hensley), two finalists for the Shamus Award (Jaden Terrell and Gwen Florio), Chris Knopf, winner of the Nero Award, Howard Owen, winner of the Hammett Prize, an Edgar Award finalist in Len Rosen who also won the Macavity Award...with a lot of less well-known awards as well.

While no other publisher, on a book by book basis, has come anywhere near us prize-wise, and while we’ve been successful in selling lots of international rights, none of these book were best-sellers in the States either.

How does one account for this? The answer seems obvious to me. There is a marked imbalance between the five large international publishing cartels and a small independent press when it comes to print reviews in major metropolitan newspapers and in national magazines. In the past few years this absence of major coverage took me away from my tranquility and caused me to write critical blogs about all this—and  some unfair blogs to boot, for we are not in a position to tell individual critics or newspapers what to review or not review. Since we get about 5,000 submissions a year we only want to choose books we love. When the big print media has such restrictive and vanishing review space, why do critics review so many books they dislike?

But again, this is a critic’s choice, not ours to make, and as long as “Desire” ran through my blood, frustration ruled, along with a barbed tongue.

By and large my approach for the last couple of years has been to publish books with “Enthusiasm,” coupled with “No Expectations.”

If you stay the course in this wonderful and absurd world-of-books it’s not hard to come to some important conclusions: one being that most artful fiction often sells the fewest copies. Another coping device is keeping a sense of humor and turning disappointment into a positive thing. The best example I can think of is this: that our first and last full review in the Culture Section of The New York Times (the daily and Saturday review section) occurred in 1980, when Anatole Broyard glowingly reviewed Richard Lortz’s The Valdepenas. That was 34 years ago, and when I talk about this now I refer to  it as a record-setting performance with a certain perverse pride—akin to the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team losing 26 games in a row this past season, setting a National Basketball Association record.

Records do end, of course, and in the past year or so we’ve had some very satisfying interaction with some lovely critics at the Times. I won’t be unhappy when our losing streak runs out. But whenever it does, we will still have far surpassed that of the ‘76ers.

 
Marty

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

THE AMAZON-HACHETTE CONTROVERSY: PART TWO


After posting my last blog, WHO’S AFRAID OF AMAZON.COM?, on May 27, it immediately went viral, appearing on Business Insider, Forbes, Bloomberg News, and Yahoo Financial, and included interviews in Forbes and Business Insider, which gave me an opportunity to expand my comments. Amazon.com also posted it. The Cockeyed Pessimist received over 30,000 hits, I had countless email responses, and God knows how many others read it from these various sources. The Financial Times of London asked me to write an Op-Ed piece, which was published on June 2 and sent to their 300,000 subscribers.


That blog was written in response to a business article in The New York Times written by David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy, which seemed to contradict the reality of our own experiences with Amazon. No sense repeating them here—all you need do is go back to that previous blog to follow the argument. One of the things I’ve learned since then is that over 85% of the small and independent publishers who responded to my blog had the exact same experiences with Amazon that I had and shared my viewpoint.


It also appears that Streitfeld and Eddy have dug in on their position, for they continue to present a mixture of hypothesis and  rumor (which, to their credit, they report as such), but also adding dollops of innuendo by painting Amazon as the villain in the dispute with Hachette and the other four publishing conglomerates. These huge multi-national corporations may be filled with fears and uncertainties, but the reporters ignore the fact that there are over 3,000 publishers in the US (according to a recent report in Literary Market Place).  What works for the Big Five does not necessarily work for the other 2,995 of us, any more than the richest 1% of our population represent what the other 99% of us desire.  In fact, Amazon has provided huge benefits and advantages to small, independent publishers, unprecedented in my 35 years as a publisher.


On May 30, two separate articles appeared in the Times. They cite “rumors” that Amazon is willing to alienate customers because it is selling Kindle titles at too low a price and are willing to lose money in the process. In a second article Hachette author Michael Gladwell was interviewed, who by his own account has earned millions of dollars for his books and goes on to describes Amazon—along with his publisher –as “partners.” He wonders why his partner Amazon, who must also have earned millions from his book would abandon him by not taking pre-orders well ahead of publication date for his next book.


I know that Amazon won’t take pre-orders from us unless we can ship books within the time frame of expected delivery.  Perhaps they have a different deal with the Big Five, but I’m not privy to their negotiations. What I do know is that the Department of Justice ordered that discussions between Hachette and Amazon be held   in private, without commentary from either side. Still, in one of Streitfeld’s postings his final line was “An Amazon spokesman declined to comment.”  He didn’t refer to the DOJ injunction, which also applies to Hachette, leaving the impression that Amazon alone is intentionally hiding something dishonorable. 


I’ve read that another Hachette millionaire author stated that pre-orders from Amazon help determine print runs. I do know that pre-orders of books, before knowing how many copies are destined to be sold, puts an impossible burden on all publishers, since this is the only industry that sells on consignment, allowing bookstores (and Amazon is an on-line bookstore) and wholesalers to return books for full credit, and most publishers—large and small—receive returns of 20% to 80%.  Nonetheless, it’s been a blessing to be able to address media reporting that not only seems one-sided, but is doubtlessly bringing great joy to the Big Five’s well-staffed PR departments. 


I can also tell you that on-line journalists and bloggers have been generally far more supportive of my views than most print journalists. But change seems to be coming in print, too. On the OP-ED page of the New York Times on Saturday, May 31, Bob Kohn, who represented the Big Five and failed to win their case when the Justice Department found them guilty of collusion was at it again, writing a difficult to follow screed, How Book Publishers Can Beat Amazon,  while the columnist Joe Nocera  dismissed all of this as nonsense in a beautifully  rational, and balanced way in his article, Amazon’s ‘Bullying’ Tactics, which I’d urge you to read.

What all this does is get a conversation going where everyone can have their say, not just the privileged few.


Marty

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WHO'S AFRAID OF AMAZON.COM

Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor,  NY


On May 24, The New York Times ran a page one story “As Publishers Fight Amazon, Books Vanish.”  In their alarmist zeal reporters David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy conjure the dreadful threat that Amazon has inflicted upon the “literary world,” causing a kerfuffle of rage and fear as exemplified by a dispute between the electronic superstore and one of the most robust publishers in the Western World. Their first paragraph states “Amazon’s power over the publishing and bookselling industries is unrivaled in the modern era. Now it has started wielding its might in a more brazen way than ever before.” Their second paragraph states that “The literary community is fearful and outraged—and practically begging for government intervention.” They then cite three publishers, none of which I would consider great examples of the “literary” community—or even the larger community of book publishers to prove their thesis. 

As far as this literary publisher is concerned this article is poppycock. It starts with the assumption that Amazon is bad and gathers meagre material to prove its point. The last time I checked, Literary Market Place listed over 2,000 book publishers in the United States. Yet Streitfeld and Eddy quote only one independent publisher in paragraph three (Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House) saying, about Amazon, “How is this not extortion? You know, the thing that is illegal when the Mafia does it?“

Who are the other publishers that are crying out? Hachette, the fourth largest of the five conglomerate publishers (who together, through all their more than a hundred imprints sell  85% percent of the books sold to the general public in America). Eddy and Streitfeld then makes passing reference to a third publisher, Bonnier, based in Germany, known primarily for publishing magazines throughout the Western world and far fewer books. As for the outpouring of social media they cite two of Hachette’s best-selling writers:  James Patterson, a writing factory, who, in 2013, “wrote” 13 Alex Cross thrillers alone, using numerous co-writers, which is why one out of five hardcover books sold bears his name. Though he reportedly earned $80 million dollars last year, he described the confrontation between Amazon and Hachette as “a war.“ The other social media complaint about Amazon came from Nina Laden, who writes and illustrates children’s books.


And what is this all about? Disagreements between Amazon and Hachette plus one independent press over Amazon’s electronic pricing of their books; this dispute resulting in Amazon’s not posting hardcover books coming out by their leading authors this summer and fall. Even Eddy and Streitfeld concede that it has nothing to do with actual books being sold, but that Hachette and Melville want more of the electronic pie, and if they can’t get it howl and rage about it. Hats off to a PR coup for the people who managed to get the Times reporters to serve up this poorly researched and badly distorted piece. From my point of view, Amazon is the very best thing any small independent press could ask for, while the scariest thing is how The New York Times allowed this unchecked article to appear. Mistakes happen, I suppose, for this is one news story not “Fit to Print”—just a one sided expose that only exposes poor journalism.


In truth, everyone wants more of the pie. We’ve been publishing literary fiction for 35 years, and in the past found that the chain bookstores took few if any of our titles, that distributors like Ingram demanded bigger discounts from us than they charged the conglomerates, or that despite winning more literary awards per title than any other publisher in America we could not match the print review coverage afforded to authors of the five big conglomerates. But we’re not calling these other organizations Mafia inspired or asking for government intervention. Surely one  must come to recognize that all these companies are—and should be—free to set their own terms based on their bottom-lines, and publishers like Hachette might consider tempering their  complaints about Amazon’s discrimination or restraint of trade. Jeff Bezos didn’t create Amazon for Hachette, and Hachette isn’t forced to use Amazon for distribution. What is Amazon anyway, other than an incredibly successful on-line store that sells almost every product  one can think of.


I give Amazon a four star review for not only their efficiency and  work they do, but for leveling the playing field, and here are the four reasons why.
1)    When you send orders to a store, distributor or wholesaler, publishers can count on returns of 20 to 80%. If Amazon orders books (which they do in increasingly larger numbers) it’s rare to get more than one or two percent returned. They are masters at this and consequently enable us to cut-down on our print runs.

2)    Amazon makes it easy to post reviews of our books, whether they are online or print reviews. Nor is there any discrimination, space-wise, between the coverage we get for individual titles or Hachette gets. Additionally, when one of our books is ordered, they list other titles of ours that might be of interest, proving themselves to be great marketers.

3)    Earnings from Kindle sales are excellent as both publisher and author find more profit (especially when we, as publishers, split eBook income on a 50:50 basis with our writers) with virtually no production costs. I've heard that most of the bigger houses don’t do this, writing contracts giving most authors only 25% of electronic income. Perhaps some of the authors complaining about Amazon on social media, would be better served if they complained to their publishers, like Melville or Hachette, if they are not getting 50% of this pie.

4)    Amazon generally pays us within 30 days, with wire transfers to our bank.  Nobody else in the industry come anywhere close to them  and enables us to keep up with printing costs and salaries.
I always have a lingering suspicion that when one of the large publishing cartels complains they are being treated unfairly by Amazon, it’s probably good for most all of the smaller, independent presses. When the Times allows a poorly researched, inaccurate anti-Amazon screed to appear, it makes me want to stand up for Jeff Bezos and Amazon, and present a very different point of view which I hope will balance out what I consider blatant propaganda. And I would encourage other publishers who feel similarly to email me and speak out as well.

-Marty

shepard@thepermanentpress.com


Martin Shepard, co-publisher, The Permanent Press, Sag Harbor,  NY

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

CHRIS KNOPF HAS ADVICE FOR WRITERS SEEKING MORE SALES AS THE COCKEYED PESSIMIST OPENS ITS BLOG TO OUR PARTNER.

When asked the difference between sales and marketing, I usually say that sales are something you do face to face, like the Fuller Brush man showing up at a person’s door and showing his wares.  Or a stock broker passing along a tip, leading to a million dollar investment. No matter the scale, the exchange is intimate and personal.  Marketing is what you do when the number of people you need to reach is too large to afford a one-on-one engagement.  So you have to call upon intermediaries to convey your selling story, and many times, complete the sale.  Though not always.  Often, the sale occurs at another place and time. So how do you know if your efforts through intermediaries are actually responsible for the ultimate sale?  Short answer to a big question:  You don’t.

In theory, then, the more you can have your marketing resemble the intimacy, and presumably the effectiveness, of a one-on-one sale, the better.  Right?  Not necessarily.

If that were true, we wouldn’t have advertising and publicity, all marketing would be delivered through what we call “direct”, such as direct mail and infomercials. But it turns out that most people don’t actually like to be sold directly.  They’d rather come to their buying decisions without the pressure and confrontation inherent in a direct sales pitch, and by extension, a direct marketing appeal.  They don’t call it junk mail for nothing.

So what we’re stuck with, if we want to sell a product or service, is to find a mixture of direct selling and indirect marketing (also known as branding) that exploits the advantages of both in a balanced and mutually reinforcing way. 

This is why the advent of digital communications has the world of sales and marketing in a tizzy. For the first time in history, it’s possible to combine the transactional power of direct sales/marketing with the indirect benefits of agreeable engagement (in other words branding) in a single medium.    

Meet Amazon. They sell everything these days, but they got their start selling books, and now they’re really, really good at it. 

Whether or not physical book stores will ever disappear (I don’t think they will, but that’s another essay) or Amazon perpetuates its hegemony, digital marketing is where the action is.  So, while authors may decry the fact that promoting their books now largely falls on their shoulders (even major best sellers – ask them how many miles they log a year and how many talks they give), we’ve never had more ways to manage the task, giving us at least a fighting chance when competing with the rich, powerful and established. 

You can find lots of advice on how to do this online and in physical books, but let me offer here a broader perspective.  When one of our own, William Gibson, popularized the term “cyberspace” in the 1980s, I wonder if he knew how accurately he was predicting the future.  When you go online, whether it’s on a desktop or laptop computer, or mobile device, you are entering a world that is different from the one we live in offline in one crucial way.  Everything in cyberspace is connected.  Intimately, immediately, accessibly and permanently.

So when authors ask me if it’s worth writing a blog I say, Yes.  Send out emails?  Yes.  Start an online newsletter?  Yes.  Get on review sites?  Yes.  Reviewer blogs?  Yes.  Launch a website, get on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, join online discussion groups, get reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and Library Thing, the answer is yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

Is it possible to do all these things, well, and write books and hold down your day job?  No.  Nonetheless, the more online things you can do the better, because of another concept in our business known as “integrated marketing”.  It’s a bit of a misnomer, but the idea is that a message is amplified considerably by appearing in different media channels.  So, if people see the Geico gecko on a billboard, on TV, in a print ad or a rich media banner ad, the ultimate impact is greater than the sum of the individual messages.  Likewise, if you’re in a blog, write a blog, get reviewed by your local paper, score a reading at a regional writers conference (that puts out an online newsletter), rack up reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, optimize your website with keywords connected to your book’s theme, etc., the sum total is greater than appearing in any individual outlet could possibly achieve.

Because in cyberspace, everything is connected.  And the connectors are these clever little things that roam the Internet like voracious bacterium called Google Bots.  They feed on semantic relationships and your job is to make a feast out of you as a writer and the books you write.   

More to come.  

Chris      chrisknopf@mintz-hoke.com

P.S. For the latest Permanent Press updates check out our
May 2014 Newsletter

Monday, January 6, 2014

FICTION IS OUR MISSION

Following up my last blog on  December 11 ( AN OFFER THAT YOU CAN’T REFUSE, I Hope ) I wanted to end any suspense about who will be joining Judy and me as a working partner at The Permanent Press. It’s Chris Knopf, one of the most respected, and award-winning mystery writers in this field, a part-time neighbor, and a friend going back nine years after we read his first manuscript, The Last Refuge. Jim Milliot, broke the story in Publishers Weekly on December 23. We couldn't be happier, for Chris—being 17 years younger than we are—has all the skills to carry on after Father Time and Mother Earth conspire to put us underground.

Another item of significance concerns David Schmahmann’s novel The Double Life of Alfred Buber, which we began giving away in electronic format two weeks ago (and will continue to do so if you email us at info@thepermanentpress.com). Over two dozen people availed themselves of this offer and are passing it out to others they know. But there is now another significant development: in an email addressed to David on December 22, Victoria Alexander, who heads the Dactyl Foundation, wrote that “I am very pleased to inform you that your novel The Double Life of Alfred Buber has been chosen to receive the 2013 Dactyl Foundation Award for Literary Fiction. At Dactyl Foundation we understand that literary fiction is slow-growing and takes time to find its audience. Unfortunately, award competitions favor new books; they do not consider three-year-old novels, and reviewers are not generally interested in what came out last year. To help remedy this situation, Dactyl Foundation created Dactyl Review to provide exposure for and to award undersung works of literary fiction, those books which have not been properly recognized by the existing award / review / publishing system. Your $1,000 prize will be sent to you in care of your publisher. Thank you for accepting this award.


“Charles Holdefer nominated your novel by submitting a very nice review to Dactyl Review, our literary fiction community website. We hope that you will participate in the Dactyl Review community by nominating an author whom you admire by submitting a review.  Our goal at Dactyl Review is to build a community of literary writers who support each others’ work.”


How unusual—and proper, I think—is their take on awards without limiting it to year of publication. I urge any of our novelists(and others as well) to support them by sending in reviews of literary fiction they admire, and ultimately offer your own literary fiction for review. If interested, go to their website www.dactylreview.com and contact Victoria at alexander@dactyl.org.


Just days ago, Judy and I were wondering how it was that we eventually came to publish novels 95% of the time. My belief is that in any culture, at any age, the vast majority of the great books that are handed down, decade after decade and century after century are fiction. Following  Homer’s The Iliad and his sequel, The Odyssey, came the great novelists of  yesteryear: Dostoyevsky, Chekov, Gogol, Dickens, Chaucer, Jane Austin, Fitzgerald, Boccaccio, Umberto Eco, Dante, Italo Calvino, Rabelais, Hugo, Stendahl, Balzac, Halldor Laxness, Cervantes, Márquez, Kundera, Mark Twain, Faulkner, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Poe…the list is endless. So if one’s interest lies in discovering novelists who have the talent to write exceptional fiction, why not cultivate and publish them and hope some of them will make a contribution to our culture—which surely needs a lift, given the great decline in fiction in general and the astronomical rise in non-fiction, which includes celebrity bios and countless “How-To” books—how to lose weight, make money, find partners, find serenity, find God, evaluate collectables, write screenplays, prevent aging… this list is endless, as well, and unlikely to survive the test of time.


Judy’s take is quite different, and her reading interests more eclectic than mine (she’s currently reading the second volume of Robert Caro’s Pulitzer Prize series about Lyndon Johnson, each over 600 pages in length), But she sees a decided difference between fiction and non-fiction. Reading non-fiction she is a more detached observer, but when reading a good novel, she “enters” the world of the book and become more emotionally involved with the characters.


Judy suggested that my next blog should list some of our favorite Permanent Press titles published over the past 35 years, and I think that should be a worthwhile challenge.


As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, in mid-2013, three of our mystery writers received impressive awards: Jaden Terrell’s Racing the Devil was a finalist for the  Shamus Prize, Howard Owen’s Oregon Hill won the Hammett Prize, and Chris Knopf’ s Dead Anyway won the Nero Award. But last year was even more rewarding than that since, as the clock ticked down on 2013, there were several more honors in store for our authors. In addition to the Dactyl Prize for The Double Life of Alfred Buber, Amy Steele, in her blog Entertainment Realm, listed her Top 20 Books for 2013, and three of our novelists were on it: Emma McEvoy’s The Inbetween People; Daniel Klein’s Nothing Serious, and Gwen Florio’s Montana. Hallie Ephron listed Leonard Rosen's The Tenth Witness as one of the Top 8 Mysteries of 2013 in The Boston Globe. This was followed up by Montana being listed among the Great Falls Tribune as among the Top Ten Montana Books (only three of which were novels), and, Library Journal choosing Chris Knopf’s Cries of the Lost as being one of their Five Best Mysteries of 2013.


Marty




Wednesday, December 11, 2013

AN OFFER YOU CAN'T REFUSE (I hope)

Back in 1978, when Judy and I started publishing, we had two imprints: The Permanent Press (for original titles) and Second Chance Press (for books we reprinted after they had been out of print for over 20 years). Our biggest successes way back then were for Second Chance Press releases, for these were written by some very artful writers, starting with Richard Lortz, Mitchell Goodman, Haywood  Hale Broun, Dola DeJong, Charles O’Neal, and Julian Schuman, who came to us after Thomas Lask, in his “End Papers” column in the New York Times Book Review, repeated a letter we sent out to the Authors Guild, asking Guild members to consider sending us titles written two or more decades ago, which guaranteed that most readers were unaware of these still timely and exceptional books… which we still have in print.  

The other day it occurred to me, “Why not do that with a recent novel that many thought was as good as it gets, yet failed to get any significant readership?” The book that immediately came to mind was David Schmahmann’s The Double Life of Alfred Buber, which we published in 2011, alongside Leonard Rosen’s All Cry Chaos. To me, Buber was “The best novel Vladimir Nabokov NEVER wrote.” Many other critics had similar reactions, as just a few of the following excerpts attest:

 "Buber reads like a lost Nabokov novel; the prose is meticulously wrought, the plot deeply complex and psychologically layered. Where some novels radiate outward, this one spirals in on itself, turn by fascinating turn, exploring the inner life of a man distanced from both himself and reality by his own lies and a soul full of secret, shameful desires."  —Small Press Reviews


"An unusual morality play whose artful style veils the depravity of its protagonist."  —Kirkus
“Schmahmann has created a character with the vividness of J. Alfred Prufrock or Humbert Humbert. Buber’s obsessions and the carefully-guarded secret life make a compelling novel.”    —Arthur Golden, author of Memoirs of a Geisha

“Captures the desperation and love between unequals.”  —Publishers Weekly

Yet the publishing business is always full of surprises. Len Rosen’s All Cry Chaos went on to have over ten thousand book and Kindle sales in America and 12 foreign subright sales, while The Double Life of Alfred Buber has sold only 448  hard cover copies to date, and has had no translations at all, though Judy and I thought Buber had equal literary value. So here comes the offering:

If we’re not selling this book, why not give it away and allow you to pass it on to others you know. It would surely make a great holiday gift to any thoughtful reader. All you need do is send an Email asking for Buber, and we’ll send you a Pdf file that you can put on your Kindle or any other electronic device.

David deserves more readers and his novel more admirers.

Marty