Sci-Fi, Women Leading Audiobook Consumption

18 October 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a new study released Tuesday (October 16), BookNet Canada is reporting a strong leading interest for science-fiction and fantasy among surveyed Canadian audiobook listeners. Publishers, the report says, have almost quadrupled their production of audiobooks since 2015.

. . . .

BookNet content revealed that 61 percent of Canadian publishers say they’re producing audiobooks, an increase of 24 percent over the 2016 response and “nearly quadruple” the 16-percent response of 2015. Of that 61 percent of publishers who say they’re producing audio, 40 percent of them say their production is managed by a third-party producer, 43 percent is made in-house, and 10 percent is handled by retailers.

. . . .

Publishing observers will note that in Canada, female consumers seem to be leading the way in audiobook consumption, while in other markets male consumers are the main audio listeners. In June, for example, a report from the Publishers Association in the UK indicated that audiobooks there are most popular with men aged 25 to 44. This male interest could be a bright spot in the international industry, which at many points has been over-reliant on women in the marketplace for a consumer base.

Another key data point . . . has to do with a decline in book consumption among audiobook users’ surveyed responses. While the general industry position is that audiobook listening can and does increase book consumption, BookNet’s responses this summer showed that while in 2016 46 percent of respondents said they consumed five or fewer books in a year, 55 percent said that in the 2018 survey.

And as in United States reports from the Audio Publishers Association, one of the key advantages that audio fans cite about audiobooks is being able to listen while doing other things. Those multitasking headphoned consumers always seem to list doing chores around the house as a big moment for listening, and Canadians seem well onboard with that concept.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Amazon adds 5 Indian languages to Kindle Direct Publishing

16 October 2018

From Digit:

Amazon has now added five Indian languages to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and now authors can now self-publish their books for free in Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati and Malayalam using the service.

. . . .

I have been a KDP author for 5 years,” explained author Sundari Venkatraman who has all of her eBooks on Amazon. “Having KDP support for Indian languages is fantastic. I have published in English and planning to release my books in Hindi and Tamil. KDP has given me a way to make my stories available to a wider audience.”

According to Sanjeev Jha, Director of Kindle Content in India, “We launched Indian language eBooks in 2016, and with the addition of Indian languages to KDP we will offer readers a wider selection of titles. We are excited to bring the work of Indian language authors to millions of readers in India and across the world.”

Link to the rest at Digit

Booker judges shouldn’t blame editors for overlong novels

10 October 2018

From The Guardian:

Every year, there is a controversy at the Man Booker prize; this year, it is all about the work of editors. Or rather, the supposed lack of work that editors are doing.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges, implicitly blamed editors for the poor quality of some of this year’s submissions while announcing the 2018 shortlist: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one, sometimes a thinner one, wildly signalling to be let out.” Fellow judge Val McDermid went further by suggesting modern editors don’t know what they’re doing. “I think,” she said, “young editors coming through are not necessarily getting the kind of training and experience-building apprenticeship that happened when I was starting out.”

As an editor, my immediate reaction was to bite back. Yes, I’ve read a few saggy titles over the past few months. (Two of them crime novels endorsed by none other than Val McDermid.) And when you read a book you think is overlong, it’s hard not to wonder why it wasn’t cut into shape. But I’d still caution against the reflexive tendency to blame editors. A title belongs to an author, first and last. We at the publishing end are there to make suggestions, not to implement changes with an iron rod. If an author is determined to save a few darlings that we want to slaughter, it’s their call. We can’t force a writer to do anything. Nor should we try.

I’m yet to meet an editor who doesn’t work hard on the books they take on, and who doesn’t take pride in that work. But I can see how problems arise. Editing takes effort and skill, and it’s carried out by humans – and we all make mistakes. Maybe those mistakes multiply if you have a large number of titles on your list; I’ve certainly heard enough complaints from editors at the Big Five about being forever distracted by spreadsheets and meetings, ending up as much a product manager as an artistic facilitator.

. . . .

We’ve spent months, sometimes years, editing novels, trying to check the flow and sense of each individual sentence, as well as working on all the wider questions of structural flow. We’ve laboured long over obstacles that lie between the reader and the author’s vision. Most importantly – and enjoyably – we’ve had endless back–and–forth with our writers as they carried out improvements.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

How (Not) To Start a Publishing Company, a Case Study

9 October 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

A few weeks ago, a press release was issued to announce the startup of Mensch Publishing, resulting in this coverage at Publishing Perspectives and elsewhere.

I received an extraordinarily large and gratifyingly positive mailbag, although appended with the occasional comments from experienced publishers and good friends along the lines of “You must be mad.” I suspect quite a few others were too polite to say that, including my wife.

Why would anyone want to start a publishing company? Least of all an un-literary 69-year-old just retired from executive positions in publishing after 46 years?

Why indeed? As usual, there was no single trigger. After 46 years of working for others, I fancied working for myself. I feared being bored. I didn’t want to lose touch with the industry (although there was little danger of that, given my many other roles). I wanted to put into practice some of my theories about how publishing could be better.

What I hadn’t anticipated was just how difficult it is to start a publishing business and how much I had to learn about an industry I thought I understood.

. . . .

The name Mensch was first discussed some 20 years ago with a novelist friend and we agreed on Mensch as the umbrella name with sub-imprints such Menschkin for kids, Ubermensch for fitness fanatics, Menschmunch for cookbooks, and Menschdench for drama. You get the idea. I have nothing so ambitious now.

. . . .

I was told I needed ISBNs before anything else.

How do you get an ISBN? Nielsen of course.

Did I want one ISBN, 10, 100 1,000? I went for 100. More money.

But we needed a first book and for once luck was on my side. I was aware that novelist Guy Kennaway was writing the nonfiction story of his mother and her husband (his stepfather) trying to recruit him to help with their joint suicide before they became too infirm.

. . . .

I found an excellent copy editor who has done a superb and timely job.

I found a publicity firm—probably the most important part of marketing the book—which is developing a publicity plan for Time to Go and for Mensch Publishing (although I really want the effort to go on the book not the company).

. . . .

But perhaps the most difficult bit is simply ensuring that sales and distribution systems are fully working; and that metadata will be correct and that typesetting will enhance the book, not add errors; and that printing will be on time such that copies can reach Australia, the USA, Ireland, Waterstones, Amazon, etc. on time and correctly billed.

. . . .

We publish our first book in February 2019. I shall have invested some £20,000 (US$28,184), and my fingers are firmly crossed that we have at least a good seller if not a bestseller and that the author (and his mother) are happy; that all my helpers, including Bloomsbury, which is my sales and distribution partner, do well out of the book; and that Mensch can build on a successful launch.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Journey to Armenia

8 October 2018
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From The Millions:

In 1922, the same year the USSR entered the world, the poet Osip Mandelstam moved to Moscow, hoping to establish himself as a leading voice of the Socialist utopia he’d supported since his teens. Instead, he found himself an outcast. In early Soviet Moscow, writers as daringly erudite as Mandelstam were dismissed as the vestiges of a corrupt, decadent era. The Stalin regime would later invent a phrase for these types: “rootless cosmopolitans.”

The phrase was a dog whistle for “Jewish intellectuals,” a great many of whom—Mandelstam included—had supported the Bolshevik uprising in the hope of ending centuries of state-sponsored anti-Semitism, only to find themselves the national scapegoats once again. By 1933, Mandelstam’s disillusionment with the Soviet state was complete. He composed a piquant satirical poem, suggesting that Stalin (Mandelstam called him “the Kremlin mountaineer,” but everyone knew what that meant) had rendered all of Russia rootless:

We live without feeling the country beneath us,
our speech at ten paces inaudible,

and where there are enough for half a conversation
the name of the Kremlin mountaineer is dropped.

His thick fingers are fatty like worms,
but his words are as true as pound weights.

his cockroach whiskers laugh,
and the tops of his boots shine.

Around him a rabble of thick-skinned leaders,
he plays with the attentions of half-men.

Some whistle, some meow, some snivel,
but he just bangs and pokes […]

Inevitably, word got out, and by 1934, Mandelstam had been banned from every one of the USSR’s largest cities. Even after he’d relocated to the provincial town of Voronezh, the newspapers continued to call him a dangerous traitor. The secret police arrested him in 1938, one year into the Great Purge that would claim a million lives; that August, he was sentenced to five years of hard labor in Siberia. By December, he was dead.

. . . .

In 1930, exactly halfway between the end and the beginning of the end, Mandelstam traveled to Armenia, at the time a semi-autonomous arm of the Soviet Union. The Stalin regime was then in the process of sending writers to freshly annexed parts of the country; it was Mandelstam’s job to “discover” the triumphs of Socialism out west, proving that the territory’s belonged under Moscow’s thumb.

The report he would complete in 1933—available in a beautiful new edition from Notting Hill, translation by Sidney Monas—ranks among the weirdest and most enchanting works of 20th-century Russian literature. In an era of crudely complaisant books that trumpeted their patriotism on every page, Journey to Armenia dared to be uncategorizable: a travel journal that barely mentions traveling, written in a form that isn’t quite prose or poetry, by an author who hasn’t quite made up his mind about Socialism’s promises. By emphasizing these ambiguities instead of drowning them in propaganda, Mandelstam captured the USSR at a crossroads in its grim history, when Stalin’s crimes were already clear enough to many but the utopianism of the 1910s hadn’t worn off completely—to put it another way, at the last time when something like Journey to Armenia could be written and published, albeit in a censored form.

There are times in the book where Mandelstam still sounds like the card-carrying Bolshevik he’d been 15 years earlier. Replace “Armenian” with “proletariat” in the following sentence and you could be reading the transcript of one of Lenin’s early speeches:

The Armenians’ fullness of life, their rough tenderness, their noble inclination for hard work, their inexplicable aversion to any kind of metaphysics, and their splendid intimacy with the world of real things—all this said to me: you’re awake, don’t be afraid of your own time, don’t be sly.

Journey to Armenia contains too many beautifully composed passages like this one for the sentiment to be altogether phony. Mandelstam didn’t only travel to Armenia because the Soviet Union forced him; he genuinely admired the land and he saw in its proud, strong people a glimmer of hope for international Socialism.

Yet he also fretted over his own hopefulness. Unlike many of the great travel writers he alludes to in his work—Goethe, Delacroix, Gauguin—Mandelstam had the presence of mind to wonder if he wasn’t simply seeing what he wanted to see from the USSR’s outer territories. “Am I really like the dreadful child,” he wrote in an early draft, “who turns in his hand a pocket mirror and directs into all the places he shouldn’t the dazzle from the sun?” When the book was published, his question was, naturally, cut.

Link to the rest at The Millions

Library hours across England slashed by austerity

7 October 2018

From The Guardian:

Library hours have been slashed across England since the introduction of austerity, new figures reveal.

Data gathered by the Labour party shows that over the past eight years 117 local authorities have jointly cut access to books and other public services by more than 230,000 hours. And more than half of the 2,208 libraries that submitted information admitted they had shut their doors for 21% of the time they were normally open in 2010.

. . . .

“Every lost library hour is a lost opportunity for learning and this data reveals that Tory austerity is taking its toll on libraries up and down the country,” said Kevin Brennan MP, the shadow culture minister. “The decline in opening hours is a travesty this government should urgently remedy. Libraries Week is a time to appreciate all the things our public libraries do for us; providing welcome support to everyone, from toddlers to pensioners.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Consider the Wombat

6 October 2018

From The London Review of Books:

‘The Wombat,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1869, ‘is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!’ Rossetti’s house at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea had a large garden, which, shortly after he was widowed, he began to stock with wild animals. He acquired, among other beasts, wallabies, kangaroos, a raccoon and a zebu. He looked into the possibility of keeping an African elephant but concluded that at £400 it was unreasonably priced. He bought a toucan, which he trained to ride a llama. But, above all, he loved wombats.

. . . .

He had two, one named Top after William Morris, whose nickname ‘Topsy’ came from his head of tight curls. In September 1869, Rossetti wrote in a letter that the wombat had successfully interrupted a seemingly uninterruptable monologue by John Ruskin by burrowing its nose between the critic’s waistcoat and jacket. Rossetti drew the wombats repeatedly; he sketched his mistress – William Morris’s wife, Jane – walking one on a leash. In the image, both Jane and the wombat look irate. Both wear halos.

It isn’t difficult to understand Rossetti’s devotion. Wombats are deceptive; they are swifter than they look, braver than they look, tougher than they look. Outwardly, they are sweet-faced and rotund. The earliest recorded description of the wombat came from a settler, John Price, in 1798, on a visit to New South Wales. Price wrote that it was ‘an animal about twenty inches high, with short legs and a thick body with a large head, round ears, and very small eyes; is very fat, and has much the appearance of a badger.’ The description implies only limited familiarity with badgers; in fact, a wombat looks somewhere between a capybara, a koala and a bear cub.

. . . .

It is not always enough to be loved. Rossetti’s wombats did not thrive in captivity. His last wombat sketch is of himself, his handkerchief covering his face, weeping over the dead body of a wombat. Below he wrote a mournful quatrain, riffing on Thomas Moore:

I have never reared a young Wombat
To glad me with his pin-hole eye
But when he was most sweet and fat
And Tail-less; he was sure to die!

Link to the rest at The London Review of Books


On Not Being a Reader

6 October 2018
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From Nerdy Book Club:

Long ago and not so long, I drove over to have a look at the little village of Whiteleaf in the Chiltern Hills where I was born and lived until I was sixteen.  A huddle of cottages crouching under a majestic hill, surrounded by beechwoods, magical as all childhood places (or at least our memories of them) are.  My climbing tree with my initials cut into it. . . the mysterious trenches deep in the woods, dug by soldiers during the First World War. . .  the secret lane leading to the only place where white violets grew. . .  all present and correct!

Then I wandered down the quiet village street, once a prehistoric pathway known as the Icknield Way, to visit our little library, housed in an old wooden barn.

But the library had gone.  The barn had gone.  The thatched cottages, two on either side of it, looked just the same as usual but the library had vanished.

‘Where is it?’ I asked a villager.  ‘What happened?’

‘Burnt down!’ the old man said.


‘It was only books.  What’s that to you?’

In truth, I must have borrowed books from our village library no more than a dozen times – and the last one I never returned – but the loss of our library shocked me.  I kept worrying away at it like a gap in one’s mouth between two teeth.

. . . .

True, my father used to enchant my sister and me by coming into our little bedroom with his small Welsh harp, and sitting beside our bunk bed, and singing-and-saying wonderful Celtic folk-tales, full of mystery and magic.  How many nights did his gentle voice calm the rampant tigers on our bedroom curtains, and soothe the storm beating outside?  How many nights did we fall asleep to the ripples and arpeggios of his harp?

But not even this was sufficient to turn me into a reader.  And neither was college, really, where I chose to major in English Language and Literature, in the hope of beginning to catch up, and catch fire. . .

. . . .

What about publishing?’ said the voice.  ‘Would you like to work in publishing?’

My girlfriend’s father was a director at the venerable House of Macmillan – and so it was that, as number three in the publicity department, I was hired by the publishers of Lewis Carroll and Charles Kingsley and Rudyard Kipling and W.B. Yeats and Thomas Hardy and and and. . .

. . . .

Rather late in life, it has been my great good fortune to find a home with an independent publisher who really cares about every aspect of a book – concept, word, image, paper, font, sales – and who welcomes author and artist into the family of the firm:  Walker Books in the UK, and Candlewick in the USA. Do you know Jack Gantos’ hilarious Dead End in Norvelt in which the hero builds a book igloo and loves ‘to sniff the insides of books. . .  because each book has its own special perfume’?  Quality not only of content but production – this is surely the way to go, and what will enable the printed book to survive despite the ocean of tweets and twitters and computer games and social media.

Link to the rest at Nerdy Book Club

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