“Marry me!”: Scenes from a Durjoy Datta book launch

26 July 2015


It’s not every day that one gets to see hundreds of Indian girls between the ages of 16 and 24, all dressed as if for a first date, break into a riot for the sight of a writer. And yet it’s a scene so common for Durjoy Datta, 28-year-old author of romance fiction who’s as adored for his rakish looks as he is for capturing the pulse of young India, that he can only look at it with distracted amusement.

The female adulation had started with the very first novel Datta wrote as a 21 year old, Of Course I Love You …! Till I Find Someone Better, the title unveiling the code of love in contemporary India. It grew manically as he went on to write one paperback after another drawing from the world of hookups and breakups around him: Now That You’re Rich!; She Broke Up, I Didn’t!; Ohh Yes, I Am Single!, You Were My Crush… With every new book, there were more Facebook friend requests, more likes on his gym selfies, more declarations of undying love on the fan pages.

. . . .

Datta’s good looks and their effect on young female readers are now at the core of marketing strategies for his books. Just after the release of his last book, When Only Love Remains, he asked his female fans to post selfies with their copies of the book on his Facebook page.

To promote his latest novel, World’s Best Boyfriend, the marketing team of his publisher Penguin Random House organised a contest in participation with the dating website OK Cupid, whose winner is shortly to enjoy exclusive online time with Datta.

At the Delhi launch of the book at the Oxford Bookstore last week, his editor described him to me as “hardworking”. Not every writer, she implied, could go on a 14-city tour, each swarming with hundreds of fans dying to tell him how much they loved him, and not complain once of exhaustion.

. . . .

I asked her what she liked the most about the book. “His dimples,” she said without wasting a second. For a group of 16-year-olds from a posh Delhi school, the most amazing about Datta’s writing was that he seemed to have “experience of love and relationship. He really knows what goes inside a girl’s head.” Also, they added, he was “very cute, damn hot.”

. . . .

The collective cry of “Marry me!” that followed was so loud that the representative from the publishing house had to call for complete silence. The girls were asked to organise themselves in a queue for “book signing and selfie” with Datta.

The anticipation of being up and close with Datta was ripe enough by this time that instead of lining up in a neat order, the crowd broke into a scramble, arms and legs flying about in every direction. In the middle of the mayhem, original groups reformed and plotted strategies to get to the front.  “See, you are short, so you will not be noticed squeezing your way to the stage,” the girl standing next to me advised her friend.

Link to the rest at and thanks to Dave for the tip.

A lament for modern publishing

22 July 2015

From The Irish Times:

The critic Christopher Ricks gave a superb talk in London last week. At a Poetry Society marking of the centenary of TS Eliot’s The Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock, Ricks focused on the practical exigencies of writing faced by Eliot in 1915. It was against the pressure of these literary givens that the revolutionary Prufrock poem reacted, because in 1915 the prevailing obstacle to good poetry was poesy, Ricks said. Eliot’s Prufrock is obliged to make “a face to meet the faces that you meet” in the guise of editorial/critical expectations, stylistic tropes, sentimental banality. A hundred years on, the nature of publishing throws up a more impenetrable façade: marketing. Publishing is a corporatised, market-driven, bottom-line privileging of the blockbuster in a world where, as Will Self puts it, “market choice is the only human desideratum”. Like any of the giant conglomerates, the publishing megalith is maintained by low-wage drudgery; in this case it is writers who toil for poverty-line rates with no security and few rights. The figures speak volumes.

In 2014-15 the British and Irish publishing industry turnover was £4.6 billion, up from £3 billion in 2013. Against this apparent boom the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society warns that author’s incomes have collapsed. The median income of established professional authors is £11,000, down 29 per cent since 2005. But the typical median income of all writers is less than £4,000 and declining yearly. Output of books is rising steadily: 185,000 releases this year in the UK and Ireland. The writer’s share of this benison is about 2.8 per cent – that’s 28 cents on a €10 book.

The disparity between a seemingly buoyant industry and third-world income- streams for those generating the product is deeply puzzling, concerning, appalling, actually.

The Big Five publishing giants – Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin/Random House and Simon & Schuster – point to the techno revolution, evidencing their struggle with even bigger monoliths such as Amazon as the problem, rather than their own exploitative tendencies. But it is in the nature of corporatism to externalise costs wherever possible. The costs of living as a writer get passed on – writers teach, edit, review, ghost-write, cab-drive, put out in myriad ways so that they may write the books that support the global corporate entity that is modern-day publishing.

. . . .

The crude reality is that publishing went corporate, gobbling up small and medium-sized independent publishers, creating ever-widening conglomerates, 25 years ago already – a lifetime for young writers. Corporations such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp impose a bottom-line imperative of steely profit-focus, rendering careful dependencies between writer, agent, editor, critic and, ultimately reader, futile.

Shareholder interests are in sales, period, not style or syntax; publishing houses are the cosmeticised façade of private equity groups.

So the age of the professional writer and critic is obliterated by balance sheets. What remains is a genteel representation of the critical role whereby writers review writers, but it is gradually absorbing the advertising code: do not offend. And why would you? In a shrinking pool where big sharks are sniffing for bestseller blood, where agents act like pilot fish, cleaning the teeth of publishing objectives, setting in play a penumbra of spin that shadows many a nudibranch-like writer/critic as she taps out her 500 words? And after all, she may well have, or want, that agent; the pool is incestuous and co-dependent.

. . . .

 Little wonder if writer/critics put themselves to use as handy klaxon service for publishing houses, agents and even their mates – how can you diss a piece of work toiled over for years, likely to earn no more then the cost of “a toast and tea”? Christopher Ricks argues that “literature is, among other things, principled rhetoric.” The problem is that the literary industry is marketing principled.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Self-published title competes on Polari longlist

21 July 2015

From The Bookseller:

A self-published author will compete against books published by small and large presses for this year’s Polari First Book Prize.

The longlist for the prize, awarded to a writer whose first book explores the LGBT experience, whether in poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction, was announced last night (20th July) at the Polari Literary Salon in London’s Southbank Centre.

Among the longlist are Al Brooks’ The Gift of Looking Closely, which Brooks has self-published. The book is about a woman coming to terms with the death of her mother.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Throwing the book at sexism in publishing

20 July 2015

From The Irish Times:

I have experienced sexism at the loveliest parties. At a reading or a launch, during a perfectly nice chat with very respectable people, I’ll suddenly find that my blood is boiling. It’s always a shock to witness actual, articulated sexism, so it takes me a while to process the fact that I have just been told by the guy I’m talking to that he doesn’t read female writers. He doesn’t see why he should. Likewise, it took me a while to regroup after my business partner Lisa Coen and I were told that publishing a literary novel written by a woman, with three female protagonists, would be very difficult.

. . . .

Every year a literary arts organisation called Vida conducts a simple count of the gender of the authors whose books are reviewed in major publications (including the Times Literary Supplement, the New Yorker, The Paris Review, Harper’s, the London Review of Books and so on). The numbers are really worth checking out, but the bottom line is that the large majority of literary fiction reviewed is written by men. The Vida count shows that reviewers too are more likely to be male.

. . . .

Meanwhile, a study published by novelist Nicola Griffith concerning literary prizes found that books with male perspectives by male writers are more likely to win awards. The more prestigious the award in question, the likelier it is that the protagonist and the author will be male.

Just a few days ago, writer Joanna Harris talked about her experiences of sexism in the industry in a series of tweets. Her experiences seem depressingly familiar: being marginalised by male reviewers: being told by a group of men at a party that they don’t read female writers. Harris has also been assured that there isn’t a problem with sexism in publishing, by a man who doesn’t work in publishing – unfortunately there’s plenty more where that came from in the comments section.

. . . .

Last week Tramp Press received its 1,000th submission. Over the last couple of years Lisa and I have read more than a thousand pitches, a thousand cover letters. With a number this large, certain patterns become obvious. On our submissions guidelines on the Tramp website Lisa and I ask writers to talk about their influences: it’s always interesting to see what people are reading and being informed by, and where a particular writer would place their work in terms of style or theme.

Inspired by the other counters – the people working at Vida; Nicola Griffith – I conducted a tally of my own. Out of the last 100 submissions, 148 influences have been referenced. Only 33 of the writers listed as influences are female. 33 out of 148. I read letter after letter from well-meaning, perfectly nice men and women who list reams of writers they admire, without apparently noticing that the writers they are listing are all of one gender.

This hapless exclusion of the writing and experiences of women is really disheartening. If a writer lists two influences and they both happen to male – well, fair enough. They never both happen to be female, though, and receiving list after list of five, seven, 10 or more male influences is disturbing. It points again to the larger issue in the industry: our habitual, unchecked dismissal of the experiences, viewpoints and brilliant work of women.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

PG says the computers that host Kindle Direct Publishing don’t care about your gender. If you want to avoid sexism, stay away from traditional publishing.

Mockingbird fans lose the plot! Amazon sends out copies of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman with crucial lines MISSING from final chapter

20 July 2015

From The Daily Mail:

It was one of the most anticipated books of the last century.

So when eager fans noticed that lines were missing from their copy of Go Set A Watchman they were understandably disappointed.

Thousands of people across the UK had pre-ordered Harper Lee’s follow up of To Kill a Mockingbird before its release last Wednesday.

. . . .

But, for an unlucky few who had received one of the first books printed, they would have to wait just a little bit longer to find out what happened to Scout and her family.

Amazon, which supplied some of the misprinted books, promptly issued an apology and told customers that they would receive a new copy free of charge.

But at the weekend the company decided to make sure eager readers could finish the book – and emailed out the missing lines.

. . . .

Just hours after the novel was released fans went online to share images of their copies which seemed to have several paragraphs missing from the final chapter.

The printing error in the first run of books in the UK is spread over six pages.

Customers initially received an email last week telling them they would get a new book, before getting a second email at the weekend.

The subject line read: ‘Missing lines from Go Set a Watchman – Please only open after reaching page 252.’

The email then states: ‘Warning potential spoilers. Please don’t scroll down before reaching page 252.’

. . . .

An spokesman said: ‘It’s been brought to our attention by the publisher of Go Set a Watchman that some copies of this title may have lines or text missing. We have already informed customers affected, and are working with the publisher to deliver replacement copies as soon as possible.’

The first time readers became aware of the error was in the middle of an argument between Scout, who is now mainly referred to by real name Jean Louise, and her father Atticus Finch about his views on a changing society.

Just before the passage cuts off Jean Louise says: ‘You’re the only person I think I’ve ever fully trusted and now I’m done for.’

Amazon’s email continues the argument with a reply from Atticus. It reads: ‘I’ ve killed you, Scout. I had to.’

Link to the rest at The Daily Mail and thanks to Lexi for the tip.

PG understands The Daily Mail wanted to use Amazon’s name because it’s better clickbait than HarperCollins’ but HarperCollins’ mistake doesn’t speak well for the professionalism and careful curating to which Big Publishing claims to be so deeply dedicated.

If a traditional publisher can’t get the biggest book of the year right, some authors will wonder why they should give up so much of their books’ earnings to pay for the layers of editors and proofreaders that supposedly make certain their books will be perfect.

Perhaps a misprinted first edition of “Go Set a Watchman” will be worth something on the used book market.

The tortured artist myth: how creativity really works

19 July 2015

From The Irish Times:

The only way to make any kind of real art, apparently, is to suffer for it. This is how a real artist lives, or so I’ve been taught. The artist as a black hole of despair, spinning art out of a state of destruction, passion and reckless abandon. A self-hating creative, driven by an unquenchable need to make masterpieces and then burn out, like a dying star.

It’s a sexy concept. Thousands of books have been written about Van Gogh’s ear, Marilyn Monroe’s death and Billie Holiday’s heroin addiction. Slinky starlets wear T-shirts portraying Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse, members of the famed 27 club – the age at which all of them died. Like most myths it’s an attractive idea to buy into.

But that’s exactly what it is: a myth. A concept we’ve invented to turn people who create into demigods. As a result the idea of one of us lowly ones making art, or even attempting to, seems absurd.

How could I possibly write, or act, or dance? If I’ve come from a nice home, with supportive, loving parents, and a relatively comfortable start in life, where do I begin? Do I have permission to make art? Or will everything I make be too pleasant and insipid? According to the trope, I have no great depths to plumb, no searing pain I can mine for inspiration, not even a touch of childhood trauma. How dare I even begin to think that I have anything great worth saying?

. . . .

There is rarely any discussion of the minutiae of daily life as an artist, dancer or writer. About the empty blank page, or the first line in a script to be read out loud. The tiny, terrifying steps it takes to begin, reshape and then present any type of creation to a casually dismissive world. But each of those tiny steps is where the joy lives – the strangely challenging joy that convinces us to search for the next change in pitch, to sit for hours waiting for the right word to arrive, to repeat a page of lines out loud over and over until something about it clicks and then flows. It’s that moment that gives you the momentum to push forward, further into discovery.

Some days it comes more easily, some days it doesn’t come at all. Those days are where the famed torture lurks. But the decision to keep searching, not the suffering, is what makes an artist. It’s not as seductive as a concept, the artist as hard worker, but it’s more approachable, more doable, than the artist as inspired genius.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times

The book world need not fear Amazon

19 July 2015

From The Guardian:

he 20th birthday of Amazon this week should, in my view, be a cause for celebration in the book world. Amazon has made more books available, more cheaply, than ever before. It kick-started the ebook revolution. It has enabled aspiring authors, who until recently might have been ripped off by vanity presses, to publish their books at little expense, or even for nothing. It has a website that is a pleasure to use, and it offers outstanding customer service. Yet in certain quarters Amazon is seen as the nastiest, most threatening company since the heyday of Microsoft.

Talk to publishers, and you’ll struggle to find one with a good word to say about the online giant. Even those who are not hostile regard Amazon as a male tarantula must regard a female – mating tempts, but you may get eaten afterwards.

. . . .

Some publishers believe that, essentially, Bezos’s company despises them: they are unnecessary intermediaries between authors and the reading public.

. . . .

Perhaps Amazon will destroy literary culture. Or perhaps in 20 years’ time we’ll find it hard to remember, as we do with Microsoft, why we were so afraid of it.

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Dave for the tip.

Reviewing Irish books: the good, the bad and the ugly truth

18 July 2015

From The Irish Times:

When in their Irish Times reviews earlier this year Joseph O’Connor praised Sara Baume’s Spill Simmer Falter Wither and Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies to the heights and John Boyne did the same for Belinda McKeon’s Tender, it seemed to confirm the return of the feel-good factor to an Irish literary world that was not immune to the economic downturn.

Last Saturday, however, the warm glow turned from Ready-Brek to radioactive as readers and writers took to social media to respond to an excoriating review of Paul Murray’s new novel, The Mark and the Void, by Eileen Battersby, the Literary Correspondent of The Irish Times.

The negative review perhaps came as a particular surprise, given that the same critic had been such an enthusiastic champion of his much-loved previous novel, Skippy Dies. As Róisín Ingle reminded her Twitter followers: “So Man Booker wanted a comic novel? This was it & twice as funny as The Finkler Question.”: Eileen Battersby on Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies.”

. . . .

Others condemned the review as vicious and nasty, offered up conspiracy theories about it being a Trinity College thing (eh?) or speculated that the unflattering portrait of a female literary critic in the novel, Mary Cutlass, may have played a part.

However, the spoken word poet Brendan McCormack was representative of those who took a different view of the outcry: “Irish novelist gets bad review on home soil. Nepotists up in arms. Quelle surprise”.

. . . .

 Part of the problem, in my view, is that there is a tendency among some reviewers in Ireland to pull their punches – heck, some even refuse to get into the ring in the first place or duck back under the ropes as soon as they read a few pages and realise their subject has a glass chin. I don’t think any reviewer punches below the belt, certainly not intentionally. But occasionally they come out swinging from the first bell, or sentence, and just keep on punching to score their points, even when their opponent is already helpless on the floor, which entertains some but upsets many others.

. . . .

So, in an attempt to clear the air and open up the subject for debate, I asked a wide cross-section of authors and critics who review for The Irish Times these questions: How honest can you be reviewing books by Irish authors in a country like Ireland, where the literary scene is so small? And as a writer, how do you respond to a bad review? Is it possible not to take it personally?

Perhaps the most telling – and ironic – response was this, by an author who by necessity must remain anyonmous: “Actually, as I try and write this, I realise I probably can’t say what I really think – both because [redacted] and for the sake of my future as a writer! So, interested as I am, I’ll pass – what I could actually write would be so mealy-mouthed you wouldn’t want it anyway. And my agent advised me against it.”

. . . .

Fintan O’Toole

I’ve worked as a critic in both Ireland and the US and Ireland is much harder. It’s an intimate place and the number of people directly involved in fields like theatre or fiction is small. Over time, you’re bound to meet most of them. That puts a huge premium on honesty. People come to expect that the critic is somehow part of the scene and therefore obliged to be supportive. Praise is increasingly considered as the default setting and anything less must be motivated by some personal grudge or conspiracy.

Link to the rest at The Irish Times and thanks to Edmond for the tip.

CanLit’s $100,000 controversy: Canadian writers and publishers react

16 July 2015

From The Province:

What price do you put on culture?

That’s the question Canadian writers and publishing professionals have been asking in the wake of comments by Brad Martin, the head of Penguin Random House Canada.

“I’m not interested in a book that is going to generate less than $100,000 in revenue unless the editor or publisher has a compelling vision for the book and/or the author,” Martin told The Globe and Mail’s Mark Medley in a recent column about the merger of Penguin and Random House — a seismic shift in the publishing landscape.

The merger has been followed closely by nervous writers and agents, who fear it will result in less competition among publishers and thus lower advances. Martin’s comments only increased the anxiety level among the literati, who have been spreading the story on social media and trying to interpret what it means. Does it signal a shift toward more commercial, mainstream fiction at the expense of developing and nurturing Canadian literary talent? The Province reached out to a number of Canadian writers, publishers and agents to get their perspective on things.

Brian Kaufman, who heads up Vancouver’s feisty Anvil Press, says the only thing that surprised him about Martin’s comments was the fact that people were surprised.

“To me, it was the new order blatantly stating their position: sales, volume and revenue,” Kaufman says. “[Penguin Random House] is a behemoth; it needs to be fed. I think Martin is just being honest.”

That said, Kaufman thinks the $100,000 threshold is unrealistic.

“Most books in Canada simply don’t sell anywhere near those numbers,” he says, especially literary fiction.

“The more niche, literary works aren’t going to drive those kinds of sales figures,” he says. “[PRH] only care if you have the thing that’s going to sell like Fifty Shades of Boredom … or whatever the next big bewilderment is.”

. . . .

While the $100,000 comment is a source of contention for many, most industry professionals agree it is increasingly important that publishers have a vision for the books they acquire.

“There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of books published every year that have no vision, no plan,” Kaufman says. “They spend their four months out in the market only to return to the warehouse where they’ll be remaindered or, worse, pulped. I don’t think ‘filling’ lists does any good for the writers or the industry on a whole.”

. . . .

So what happens to the authors who are unlikely to earn $100,000 in revenues for their publishers?

“I think imposing that kind of a calculation on acquiring editors at the big houses will definitely mean a shift of mid-list (and even emerging) authors from the multinationals to the independent Canadian presses,” Degen says. “And make no mistake, the multinationals have excellent acquiring editors in Canada — it’s not like they don’t see the literary value of the books on which they pass.”

. . . .

Swayze says she often places her writers at smaller presses to good results.

“No author should be ashamed of being published by one of the smaller presses,” she said. “We have numerous books with Coach House Press, Greystone Books, Douglas & McIntyre, Goose Lane Editions and with ECW Press. We value and appreciate them for the care they demonstrate toward the authors. We have been able to negotiate good contracts with them.”

. . . .

There’s no question that smaller presses can’t pay as much as the multinationals, though, which is bound to affect writers’ ability to create. You can’t write if you’re too busy working your day job to pay the bills.

“The real question, for me, is will there remain an ecosystem in Canada that is truly supportive of authorship as a profession?” Degen asks. “Without large advances or sustaining multi-book contracts (and those things are, for the most part, only going to come from the multinationals, when they do), authors are being asked to take on too much financial risk for their art. Many won’t, and that will be our collective cultural loss.”

. . . .

What’s a writer to do in this harsh publishing climate then? Degen says more authors are turning to self-publishing or abandoning publishing altogether.

“Book publishing itself is walking dangerously close to a line of unsustainability because it is endangering the economic viability of those who create its product,” Degen says.

“What sector can survive a 27 per cent downward trajectory for long? Talent will leave this business for television, gaming, etc. — publishing is already being poached by other media. What’s more, self-publishing services grow and improve and offer better terms to authors every single day.

“I have heard of at least one Governor General’s Award winner reclaiming her backlist and self-publishing it to keep it in print. That, to me, is the story of an industry giving up, and it will keep happening unless serious investment returns to traditional publishing in the form of sustaining advances and contracts. To build the independents to that level, that will require a serious increase in public funding.”

. . . .

Galloway is more pessimistic about bypassing Canadian publishers.

“It’s not like publishing in the U.S. or U.K. is any healthier,” he says. “If anything, they’re in worse shape. The PRH merger is not a Canadian thing, it’s a global thing, and it’s a response to market pressures that affect everyone. It’s good and fine to be published in the U.S. and U.K. and Australia, but Canadians should be published at home, and read by Canadians. We aren’t Americans, or Brits, or Aussies, and it’s vital for our country to tell our own stories to our own people. Even if they’re not set here, or about here. Having a rich and vibrant literature is an essential component of any nation.”

Link to the rest at The Province

New Publisher Canelo Offers UK Authors Strong Incentives

14 July 2015

From Publishing Perspectives:

In the UK a new digital publisher called Canelo releases its first titles this week and will discover over coming months whether its bold, innovative approach will work. It is operating in a different way to most publishers in that it is not paying advances, but offering its authors much higher royalties, starting at 50% and going up to 60%. It is also signing titles on short, five-year licenses, giving authors the option to take titles elsewhere if they wish, and is rediscovering old authors and backlist titles, presenting them afresh to a new audience.

. . . .

“One of the reasons we started Canelo is that there aren’t a huge number of digital publishers in Europe,” he said. “We certainly think the sector has a long way to go and we want to be at the forefront. Our offer is completely different. We are making the case to agents that we are offering a different model, which has all the same levels of investment, editorial attention and expertise, design, marketing and publicity, but offers the author a better deal and much more flexibility. They aren’t locked in. Generally, people are receptive, as they can see that authors can make more money this way and have more freedom, whilst being published to the highest standard.”

. . . .

Agents have had something of a battle with UK publishers on ebook royalties and point out that to find the higher rates Canelo is offering they often have to look overseas. One commented: “We have more success in securing higher rates for ebooks from European publishers, than we do from the UK or the US — and that is significant because these publishers are often paying for the translation too.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives and thanks to Dana for the tip.

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