With a Little Help From Her Friends

7 October 2014

Harper Lee’s big break:

…in 1956 Lee was a rather taciturn 30-year-old ticket agent for the British Overseas Airways Company, who, like many aspiring writers, had come to New York City to pursue her dream. But after seven years of struggle, it seemed beyond her grasp. And without further help, and with no Kickstarter for another 53 years, that is perhaps where her dream would have ended.

Luckily, thanks to an introduction from Truman Capote, her childhood friend and neighbor, Lee had made two very good friends in New York: a Broadway composer named Michael Brown and his wife, Joy, a Balanchine dancer.

Lee became a bona fide extension of the Brown family, and any free time she had that was not devoted to writing was spent with Michael, Joy and their three boys at the Browns’ East 50th Street brownstone. The Browns had read Lee’s short stories, and they appreciated her dream — and her immense gift — better than anyone. They also shared her frustration at the challenges of writing while holding down a full-time job.

So, in the fall of 1956, when the Browns came into some cash because Michael had been hired to create a show for Esquire magazine, they decided to do something about Lee’s situation and to give their friend a big break — literally. When Lee opened her Christmas present from the couple that year, she found a note that read: ”You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.

Author nurturing, 50’s style.

Just over a year later, she had a finished manuscript and a publisher. And the result of the Browns’ generous gift (which Lee later repaid in full) and Lee’s newfound freedom was no less than the Pulitzer Prize-winning, best-selling novel of the 20th century, To Kill a Mockingbird .

More detail at OZY.

That Book cover is ugly!

6 October 2014

What Makes for a Brilliant Book Cover? A Master Explains
By Kyle VanHemert at WIRED

If you find yourself in a bookstore, Peter Mendelsund can be hard to avoid. His dust jackets wrap big-name contemporary releases like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. He’s created ingenious covers for reissues of Dostoyevsky, Kafka, and other literary giants, updating a wide swath of the canon with a striking, graphic look. Cover, a new monograph of Mendelsund’s work, showcases the designer’s uncanny talent for capturing entire books with succinct, compelling imagery—a talent that has led some to deem him the best book designer of his generation. What makes it even more remarkable is that Mendelsund started his career with zero design experience whatsoever.


On one level, dust jackets are billboards. They’re meant to lure in potential readers. For a certain contingent of the publishing industry, this means playing it safe. “The path of least resistance when you’re designing a jacket is to give that particular demographic exactly what they want,” Mendelsund explains. “It’s a mystery novel, so you just splatter it in blood, and put the shadowy trench coat guy on it, and use the right typography.” Familiarity, the thinking goes, will always sell something.

Mendelsund does not subscribe to this view. He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one, and looking at his body of work, the thing that holds it together is that nearly all of his jackets have something weird going on, in one way or another.


Of course, catching a potential book-buyer’s eye is only part of Mendelsund’s job. A truly great jacket is one that captures the book inside it in some fundamental and perhaps unforeseen way. As Mendelsund describes it, his job is “finding that unique textual detail that…can support the metaphoric weight of the entire book.” That, of course, requires actually reading a manuscript closely enough to A) determine the metaphoric weight of the book and B) find a handful of relevant details within it. In other words, making a great book cover isn’t just about making. It starts with understanding.


Ideally, every dust jacket is unique to the book it’s wrapped around. But the realities of the marketplace often dictate how experimental a design can be. Mendelsund will have more interpretive freedom for a small volume of poetry, for example, than he does for a hotly anticipated piece of new fiction. “If you spend a lot of money on a book or an author, then you ratchet up the scrutiny the jacket’s under a lot—a hundred fold,” he says. “If this author got a big advance, then you’re going to have to jump through some flaming hoops with the jacket.”

Take The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Such was the buzz around the manuscript that when it came time to design the jacket, there were already a chorus of voices adding their take.


The final version, sure enough, had “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” in huge type. To round it out, Mendelsund did what he describes as the “dumbass thing” of echoing the title visually on the cover itself, putting the text on top of an image of… a dragon tattoo. It was the rare case in which a novel had so much momentum that the best thing a designer could do was stay out of the way. “The book was going to sell well no matter what,” Mendelsund says.

And yet, Mendelsund insists that it wasn’t the most obvious approach he could’ve taken. The design featured at least one small victory against the obvious: the bright yellow backdrop. “Up until that point, I would defy you to find a dark gothic thriller with a day-glow cover,” he says.

For another view, an indie one if I may, I found Derek Murphy

Here’s what’s wrong with Peter Mendelsund’s Book Covers
From Derek Murphy at Creative Indie

A couple weeks ago I saw an article about Peter Mendelsund’s new book on book cover design; and I scoffed. Now I just saw another article on Wired, shared by Tim Ferriss.

Peter is obviously doing the rounds (and quite well) to promote his new book. Kudos to him. Here’s the big problem: Peter’s had a luxurious career as a cover design rebranding already famous and classic works of fiction, and breakout bestsellers – amazing books – supported by a heavy media campaign and a major publisher.

He’s said that he prefers an ugly cover to a cliche one, and looking at his body of work, the thing that holds it together is that nearly all of his jackets have something weird going on, in one way or another.

Looking at Peter’s work, I agree with his own take on his design philosophy. They are all creative, potentially clever, and ugly. And that’s fine – for literary fiction appealing to high brow readers. The tragic mistake is in applauding Peter’s work as a “golden measure” for book cover design, because it absolutely will not work for most books.


You see, most authors start out with no platform and have to catch reader’s attentions. They don’t have a big media or marketing campaign. Readers aren’t going to spend more than a couple seconds looking at their cover while browsing thousands of others in the same category.

The cover has to tell readers, immediately, what the book is about and what genre it fits into.

This can’t be done by being clever or thoughtful. Nobody is going to appreciate the cognitive associations and playful visual metaphors. Not to mention that a vast majority of authors are writing popular genre fiction or non-fiction (not literary) – and while literary authors may want to adopt Peter’s style to ‘fit in’ with other literary fiction, that in itself can be accused of being cliche; in other words, books in the same genre should look similar.


I pick the cover that is going to sell the most copies – and I’ll test it out with paid advertisements if I have to (though I’ve gotten very good at knowing which will perform the best). Selling more copies is all that matters for most authors. If you have a literary career, or are a professor, and are writing a book just to make yourself look good, then sure – go for something smart and obtuse and a little hard to figure out; something most people won’t like but a few people will think is brilliant.

But if you want to make money as an author, don’t be swayed by the sirens warning you to avoid the obvious and focus on something deeper and non-representational. Don’t worry about avoiding book cover cliches. Don’t focus on being creative. Get a damn fine cover that looks professional and immediately broadcasts the right genre. It SHOULD look a lot like the other bestselling books in the same category.

After you get enough people to buy it, read it and love it, and your name is so famous that people will buy anything you write, then you can start having fun with your book cover and taking risks with the design.

I’m not saying Peter isn’t a brilliant cover designer, of course he is. Another designer I like a lot is Chip Kidd.
And I’m obviously jealous of their talents. I’m not saying I’m a better designer than they are; only that, if they had to design covers that would sell popular fiction, they would probably look entirely different – and a whole lot more like mine – than the creative samples they’ve built their careers on.


So you have to decide what kind of author you are.

1. Are you the artist, who just wants to make an amazing book, even if nobody recognizes it in your lifetime and nobody loves and understands it like you do; you get no acknowledgment until decades after you die? Or, are you writing professional literary fiction with an established marketing campaign and recognized name? Great! Your book cover is a blank canvas.

2. Do you want people to read and like your book? Do you want hundreds of reviews? Do you want to make a bunch of money so you can write full-time? Then you better make sure your book fits the conventions of bestselling books in your genre, and appeal precisely to the readers who love that genre, and broadcast the core story message, and most importantly, make an emotional connection (in away that literary book covers almost never do, being purely conceptual).

In other words, the publishing methods that apply to famous authors are not and should not be the same for unknown authors on a small budget. You need to be more careful with how you do things. Your cover needs to look like it belongs in the top 10 books in your category.

While Peter’s new book should in no way be used as a manual for commercial book cover design, as an exercise in creative thinking and design it’s definitely worth perusing.

Peters Book Cover at Amazon

Derek Murphy at Amazon

From Guest Blogger Randall

18 New New York Times Bestseller Lists

13 September 2014

From Melville House:

The New York Times Book Review is one of the last two stand-alone book review sections in the country, or the very last (depending on what you think about the San Francisco Chronicle). This isn’t a particularly interesting fact—though it is a sad fact—but it’s something most people say when they write about theBook Review.

. . . .

[E]very week, the Book Review does a hell of a job covering the country’s bestselling books. Five of the Book Review’s pages are devoted to the various bestseller lists, and what pages they are. In them you’ll find an ecstatic overlap of categories and differentiations—print, e-book, hardcover, paperback, fiction, nonfiction, and on and on. But yesterday, theBook Review’s editors decided that their glorious orgy of lists and information would not suffice and announced that they were adding a host of new bestseller lists. According to Publishers Weekly, the new lists will cover Travel, Humor, Family, Relationships, Animals, Politics, Manga, Graphic Novels, Food and Fitness, Family, Business, Celebrities, Science, Sports, and Spirituality and Faith.

More lists! More differentiations!

Link to the rest at Melville House

PG admits that his first thought on reading about the new NYT bestseller lists was that it would now be easier for publishers and authors to buy their way onto an NYT list so they can forever call themselves NYT bestsellers.

His second thought was that this was tradpub’s response to Amazon’s detailed and ever-growing collection of bestseller lists.

The World’s Top-Earning Authors: Veronica Roth, John Green And Gillian Flynn Join Ranking

9 September 2014

From Forbes:

Watch out Danielle Steel and Stephen King – the kids are coming. The world’s top-earning authors list includes three newcomers who made more than $9 million each in the last year – and were born after 1970. In a ranking long-dominated by stalwarts like crime writer James Patterson (b. 1947) and romance author Nora Roberts (b. 1950), these fresh ink spillers, two of whom write young adult fiction, rank thanks to the increasing commercial appeal of teen literature for readers of all ages.

Young adult author Veronica Roth‘s ranks 6th on account of her “Divergent” trilogy which sold a combined 6.7 million copies in 2013, earning her around $17 million from print and ebook sales between June 2013 and June 2014. She also benefited from the book’s 2014 film adaption, which grossed $270 million at the global box office. At just 26, Roth is the youngest newcomer on the ranking, and one of seven women on the 17-person list.

37-year-old newcomer John Green’s ”The Fault in Our Stars” propelled him to an estimated $9 million yearly paycheck before taxes and fees. The YA love story, which follows the trials of two cancer-stricken teens, has sold well over 1 million copies in the U.S. and spawned a weepy summer blockbuster.

. . . .

A 2012 Bowker Market Research study suggested 55% of YA books are bought by people 18 and older. Adults aged between 30 and 44 accounted for 28% of all YA sales, and the books are purchased for their own reading the vast majority of the time.

“The category has reached adult audiences and really become okay to read,” said Lori Benton, VP Group Publisher at Scholastic Trade Publishing. “Harry Potter was the very first one to reach that audience – it was quickly embraced by children, and just as quickly by adults.”

With $14 million in earnings, the original young adult tour de force, J.K. Rowling, ranks 8th on our list. She continues to earn from back sales of her iconic Harry Potter series, while Pottermore – a proprietary website she setup to sell Harry Potter ebooks – makes her a pretty penny. Unlike most authors, Rowling never signed over the digital rights to her books, so she sells directly to readers, earning far more from these digital sales than most authors do through ebooks.

. . . .

The top-earning authors list is perhaps the world’s most exclusive book club, with very few paths to entry. Most members have sold millions of novels, notched hit screen adaptations and have been doing so for decades. Take the No. 1 ranked author James Patterson, who published his first book in 1976 and made an estimated $90 million before taxes and fees between June 2013 and June 2014.

Patterson produces at an astonishing rate, churning out 14 books a year with the help of coauthors, making him publishing’s busiest (and richest) penman. The author of the Alex Cross and Michael Bennett series, Patterson has sold more than 300 million copies since his 1976 debut and pulled in an estimated $700 million in the last decade. This year, he earned $62 million more than second ranked Dan Brown.

“Rude people occasionally go, ‘Are you going to retire?” but you don’t retire from play, you retire from work, and I don’t work,” said Patterson. “I just do the stuff I want to do and within reason I can get anything I want published.”

Link to the rest at Forbes. Meryl sent this tip with a question, “Did they even ask indies?”

When Not “Earning Out” is a Good Thing

5 September 2014

From author Steven Pressfield:

Here’s how big shot literary agents make a compelling living.

A client brings an idea to the agent who advises the client about its commercial possibilities. It’s important to note that this advisement traditionally means whether or not the agent thinks he will be able to sell the project to a major publisher for a compelling advance against royalties. Not whether there are actual people out there willing to pay money to read such a book idea.

The way the best sale works (meaning to the best advantage of the writer and agent) with a major publisher is to make sure that the publisher’s advance guarantee exceeds the amount of royalty that the writer will actually earn.

For the life of the book.

. . . .

[After detailed calculations showing books sold and royalties earned]

So Ms. Bestselling Writer has earned $4,250,000 but has been guaranteed $5,000,000. So her book does not “earn out.”  She’ll never get a royalty statement with a check in it.

So the publisher lost money on that one, right? Not by a long shot.

The publisher has made a major return on investment even though it has paid $750,000 more than the book earned. How did that happen?

. . . .

[After more detailed calculations showing how much the publisher earned]

So the bottom line for the publisher is gross revenue of $16,550,000 minus the $5,000,000 guarantee to Ms. Bestselling Writer, minus the $2,800,000 to print and ship the physical books. Or a total of $8,750,000 ($16,550,000 – $5,000,000 – $2,800,000) to their bottom line.

Even though the book never “earned out.”

Everyone wins.

. . . .

How far would a publisher be willing to dip into their pool of revenue to overpay for a book? This is the question literary agents enjoy contemplating.

. . . .

The big books from big name writers (who don’t bleed red ink, but don’t earn out either) are the coveted ones for agents. Although it may be apocryphal, agent Andrew Wylie has been credited with having once said, “If my client’s book earns out, I haven’t done my job.”

But here’s the thing…

When I began in publishing in the 1990s, there were at least 20 “major” houses to submit a book proposal or novel. Today there are only 5 major corporations that control the trade book market. Sure, you’ll hear that there are tens of different publishing imprints within the major corps that “compete” with each other for properties. But when the time comes to put money on the table in a book auction, only one of those imprints from each of the five will end up bidding. The most big bids you’ll ever get as an agent today are 5.

And you can never discount the power of negative commentary around a book on submission.  Book publishing is so connected that if an editor at Random House didn’t care for a submission, you can count that an editor at HarperCollins who also received the submission will get that information before his having to make his own decision.  No one likes being the only one to like something.

. . . .

If only there were a way for writers to do their work, find people who like it, and then offer the book to them directly through free distribution networks as well as their own…  Instead of having to curry favor with a big shot literary agent, then hope the literary agent is able to drum up enough interest from the Big Five to make a good deal, and then wait 12 to 15 months for their work to reach the public and then another month to learn whether the book “worked” or not and then hope that their next book will be embraced by their publisher, all the while never knowing who actually bought their book or why…

Link to the rest at Steven Pressfield Online and thanks to Keith for the tip.

Here’s a link to Steven Pressfield’s books

Amazon Can’t Cage ‘The Goldfinch’ Publisher

25 August 2014

From The Wall Street Journal:

Donna Tartt’s novel “The Goldfinch” opens with a series of gloomy scenes—a museum bombing, the death of the narrator’s mother, and the theft of a 17th–century painting. The word admirers often use to describe it is “Dickensian.”

But the book has brought only good news to publisher Hachette Book Group, giving the publisher a much-needed boost this summer as it weathers the fallout from a lengthy e-book contract dispute with Inc.

“The Goldfinch” has been on the New York Times’ best-seller list for 43 weeks since publication last October. Its staying power has translated into sales of 583,000 hardcover copies, according to Nielsen BookScan, although total hardcover sales have now likely topped 600,000 including sales not measured by Nielsen.

That’s a hit by any standard, and would have put it on Publishers Weekly’s top 10 list for best-selling fiction in hardcover for all of 2013.

. . . .

[T]he dispute [with Amazon] hasn’t crippled the publisher. The Hachette Book Group generated about €226 million ($300 million) in the U.S. and Canada in the first half of the year, up 5.6% compared with the same period of 2013, according a filing made by French parent Lagardère SCA. Among the factors Lagardère cited for the gain were sales of “The Goldfinch” and “The Silkworm,” written by J.K. Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Hachette fiction best sellers this summer include new titles by James Patterson, Elin Hilderbrand, David Baldacci, as well as Ms. Rowling’s work, which published in mid-June. Those four authors also wrote best sellers that Hachette published in the summer of 2013. But a difference-maker this season has been “The Goldfinch,” which ranked No. 5 on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list in the issue of the Book Review dated Aug. 31.

. . . .

And unlike many new Hachette titles caught in the crossfire of the e-book dispute, “The Goldfinch” is being offered at a significant discount on Amazon. As of Sunday the online retailer was selling the hardcover edition for $18, a 40% discount from the cover price, and shipping it immediately. The Kindle e-book was priced at $6.99. Both were cheaper than the same editions offered at Barnes & Noble’s online store.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Kindle Unlimited Titles Off the DBW Ebook Best-Seller List

30 July 2014

From Digital Book World:

Kindle Unlimited’s effect on the best-seller list has indeed grown.

Kindle Unlimited titles have been removed from the Digital Book World Ebook Best-Seller list due to an inability to sort out retail purchases from Kindle Unlimited “reads” when creating the list.

After discussing several possibilities with Amazon as to how to include titles that had robust sales but also had reads on the new ebook subscription platform counted toward Amazon Kindle sales ranking, no solution was found.

. . . .

If “reads,” where the user isn’t paying to purchase a book each time, are counted toward best-seller rankings on the Kindle list and they are unable to be separated out from regular purchases, then it would be unfair to include those titles on the list.

Had those titles been included, they would have elevated several Amazon Publishing, self-published and back-list ebooks onto the best-seller list, including MockingjayThe GiverRhett by J.S. Cooper,Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and more.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World and thanks to Richard for the tip.


How Kindle Unlimited Is Changing the Amazon Kindle Best-Seller List

24 July 2014

From Digital Book World:

Kindle Unlimited is minting best-sellers.

According to Publishers Lunch, the number of ebooks on the Kindle best-seller list that are Kindle Unlimited titles has just about tripled since the launch of the all-you-can-read service from Amazon last week. Amazon is counting Kindle Unlimited reads as well as Kindle store sales in its best-seller rankings.

Last week at this time, there were 15 ebooks that would have been part of Kindle Unlimited that were top 100 best-sellers on Kindle; this week, that number has ballooned to 45.

. . . .

As the chart shows, Amazon Publishing titles (which are in Kindle Unlimited), titles by other publishers included in the service, and Kindle Direct Publishing Select titles (those by self-published authors who only sell on Amazon and not other platforms like Nook and iBooks, which are included on KU), seem to have all benefited greatly from being a part of Kindle Unlimited. Books by self-published authors who aren’t exclusive to Amazon and those from publishers not participating in Kindle Unlimited have suffered — at least when it comes to hitting top-100 Kindle best-sellers.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Self-Publishing’s Share of the Kindle Market by Genre

9 May 2014

From author Edward W. Robertson:

I’ve taken a quick whack at looking at what percentage of Kindle ebook sales self-publishers represent by genre. To get there, I simply look at the top 100 bestsellers in each genre—romance, mystery/thriller/suspense, science fiction, and fantasy—and split them up by method of publication. Note that, unlike the Author Earnings study, this is merely a breakdown of the raw number of self-published titles on the bestseller lists, not the number of total book sales within each genre.

Also, instead of five categories of publisher, I use four: self-published, small/medium press, Amazon Publishing, and Big 5 (including, where appropriate, major genre publishers like Harlequin and Baen).

. . . .


Self-published: 49%
Small/medium: 11%
Amazon: 9%
Big 5/Harlequin: 30%


Self-published: 11%
Small/medium: 5%
Amazon: 16%
Big 5: 68%


Self-published: 56%
Small/medium: 9%
Amazon: 5%
Big 5 (plus Baen): 30%

Self-published: 49%
Small/medium: 7%
Amazon: 7%
Big 5: 37%

. . . .

[T]his is just a look at the top 100 in each genre out of hundreds of thousands of total books. It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that a broader look at the data would present different trends. However, it does match up well with the Author Earnings study of these genres combined, so I’m not sure a bigger sample would be that much different.

Link to the rest at Edward W. Robertson and thanks to Mike for the tip.

Tess Gerritsen Sues Warner Bros. Over ‘Gravity’

1 May 2014

From The Hollywood Reporter:

Best-selling author Tess Gerritsen is suing Warner Bros. with the allegation that its blockbuster film, Gravity, is derived from her 1999 book by the same name.

The complaint filed in California federal court on Tuesday doesn’t allege copyright infringement. Instead, it’s a contract claim stemming from a film option she sold when the book was released. Gerritsen’s book is described as featuring “a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded alone aboard a space station after a series of disasters kill the rest of the crew.”

. . . .

A company called Katja picked up film rights to herGravity book for $1 million. Additionally, she was promised that if a film “based on” her book was made, she would receive a $500,000 production bonus, screen credit and, maybe most importantly, 2.5 percent of defined net proceeds. Last year’s film — which won seven Oscars — grossed more than $700 million worldwide, putting potentially a lot at stake in the new lawsuit.

Link to the rest at The Hollywood Reporter and thanks to Glinda for the tip.

PG hopes “defined net proceeds” are well-defined for Gerritsen. The general rule for movie deals is always get a piece of the gross because there aren’t ever any net profits from movies.

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