Random Penguins Seen in New York

A lot of love and a little  levity for my friends on the East Coast.  Stay warm, safe and dry!

Editorial Penguins

Libraries, Ebooks and Common Sense

Do you care about the book biz?

Read ALA President Maureen Sullivan’s open letter to publishers.  Here’s the first bit:

It’s a rare thing in a free market when a customer is refused the ability to buy a company’s product and is told its money is “no good here.” Surprisingly, after centuries of enthusiastically supporting publishers’ products, libraries find themselves in just that position with purchasing ebooks from three of the largest publishers in the world. Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Penguin have been denying access to their ebooks for our nation’s 112,000 libraries and roughly 169 million public library users…”

Libraries? They’re for Toddlers and Grandma! Right?

 I have to admit it–I’m a book pro who, until recently, hasn’t paid a whole lot of my professional attention to libraries. I’ve written, represented, sold, edited,acquired, published, promoted, branded; I’ve lectured, ranted and lunched.  My bias–keep it real, keep it calm, keep standards high.

Libraries?  Well, they’re always there, right?  For folks like my mom? [Read more…]

Open Letter to The Department Of Justice

Keywords: Amazon. Cats on a Keyboard. Civil society. Books.

So you’ve heard that major publishers colluded to fix ebook prices. I say the related DoJ ruling misses the whole point and will turn more American brains to mush (in the long run) than Moonshiners and Glee combined.

Anyway, here’s  the settlement.  Now is the time to write the Department of Justice.  The AAR wrote a great letter, not yet public.  Simon Lipskar of  Writers House wrote such a fantasic letter I’m linking to him and the letter in a couple places–check it out at Digital Book World, also reprinted on the AAR website.

My own letter is here.  Your comments appreciated.  Reprint if you think it helps.

John R. Read
Chief, Litigation III Section
United States Department of Justice
450 5th St NW
Suite 4000
Washington DC 20530                                                                                       May 8, 2012   


Dear Mr. Read:


The Board of the Association of Authors’ Representatives recently sent you a letter regarding the proposed settlement between the Justice Department and three publishers with respect to e-book pricing.


In that letter, the AAR board urged you to “reject the proposed settlement” and “allow the market to return to one that protects the value of our clients’ intellectual property from unfair and predatory discounting.”


I also urge you to reject this settlement. I am a former executive editor (for both Morrow/Avon, which is now a division of HarperCollins, and Bantam/Doubleday/Dell, which is now a division of Random House), and am currently a literary agent and publishing consultant.


If you accept this settlement, you will, I believe, abet in the destruction of thoughtful intellectual discourse in America. Well-researched nonfiction books are the optimal vehicles for the dissemination of new ideas. Well-written novels inspire other writers, and encourage imagination, organization, creativity and the pursuit of everything that goes along with intellectual advancement.


Such books fortify a civil society.


The current system of traditional publishing is not a business with high profit margins, and it is far from perfect. But it does enable multiple companies to pay a variety of editors, writers, designers, and marketers to discover, perfect and promote a broad mix of written works that merit publication. The money that supports this system comes through the individual purchase of commendable books, reasonably priced. It is not a business sustained by advertising revenues, by the sales of other vehicles (such as e-readers), or by a system of patronage.


In other words, the book publishing business relies on reasonably priced individual products, sold to individual readers, for its survival.


Amazon is a behemoth. If it is able to set any price it wants for the products it distributes–books published by companies with whom it is competing, through the Amazon Publishing Division–Amazon will drive book prices so low reputable publishers will go out of business.


Book prices have been consistent for many years; standards have evolved through natural and real market forces weighed against the actual costs of doing business, whether or not [Read more…]



Jeff ZaslowYou know that teeny pang—a bit of envy, resentment maybe, self-doubt–you get when a friend makes good? Especially when you’re feeling a little low yourself?

I know I do. When my own life’s road has been bumpy—and I’m not proud of this—I’ve too often confronted those ugly emotions bubbling up from a self I don’t want to be.

Except when it comes to Jeff Zaslow.

Jeff Zaslow, who, until yesterday, caught that “lightening in a bottle” brand of exceptional success not [Read more…]

Traditional Books Light the Kindle Fire

Traditional Books Light the Kindle Fire

Picture of Nook with Bestsellers

Traditionally published books sell Kindles and Nooks.

Does that seem crazy obvious to you?  Maybe–but think about what it means.  People buy e-readers  to read, at least initially, bestsellers like The Hunger Games Trilogy, Game of ThronesThe Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.  It’s the big and the beloved books that drive e-reader sales.   Books that have been acquired, edited, designed, published and promoted by traditional houses.

Think about that the next time you see an ad for an e-reader–I do.

Much as I support self-publishing in some cases, I must ask:  how many people, do you think, [Read more…]

Bookstores vs. Amazon Blog War

Istanbul BookshopBookstores vs. Amazon Blog War

There’s a blog war going on about the future of the independent bookstore, and it touches issues very important to me, so I’ll weigh in.

In a Slate blog I felt seemed inadequately researched, Farhad Manjoo raged against the “high prices” of books in bookstores, termed the marvelous essay by Richard Russo in the New York Times “hectoring,” and called books published by major houses all “mass-manufactured.”  Mr. Manjoo displayed  [Read more…]

8 Jobs of Modern Writers–Plus One: DOGGED TRUTHSEEKER

8 Jobs of Modern Writers–Plus One:  DOGGED TRUTHSEEKER

Spotted an excellent essay on the consistently fine My Name is Not Bob blog by Robert Lee Brewer, in which he lists these 8 Key Jobs of Modern Writers: Writer; Editor; Copywriter; File Clerk; Negotiator; Accountant; Marketer; Speaker.  I believe Bob left out one key skill:  RESEARCHER (or, more accurately, “Dogged Truthseeker).

ALL writers must be master researchers. This is harder than it looks (and it looks pretty darn hard).  Today, information is everywhere and truth is hidden.  The online world is filled with hamster-wheels of mock expertise.  Yet without [Read more…]

Literary Agents Closed to Queries: Is the Sky Falling?

Literary Agents Closed to Queries:  Is the Sky Falling?

 Who knew?  I’ve just learned I led the literary agent crowd when I closed my doors to new queries several year ago (for me it was to find time to develop software and hang with my family).  But now I hear that’s the norm–yet another mega-contraction in the world of possibilities for the unpublished writer. (If I listen closely, I can hear the

[Read more…]

Romance Writers Enough with the Rules Already!

Romance BooksRomance Writers Enough with the Rules Already!

Just stumbled on a short and funny essay by Avon’s romance blogger Lucia Macro.  From her opening lines:

“I’ve been seeing a lot of rules lately about romance writing. My advice today: stop. Please stop. Honestly, I’m not sitting around looking to see if your book has a prologue, if your pov shifts around a bit, or if [Read more…]

Sweating the Exception: An Exhaustingly Bad Idea

A worthy hit

Today my friend Michael Larsen, probably the menschiest literary agent on the planet, and I were talking about The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  That book, published by the admirable Little, Brown, was a buzz book last BEA.   A first novel acquired for scads of money & published with great enthusiasm–but both Mike and I were underwhelmed by the read relative to the ransom.  Mike pondered:  What does this mean? Is character [Read more…]