Monday, December 04, 2006

Did anyone notice the Publishers Weekly announcement today that have installed machines to print copies of books 'on demand' in several of their locations - ie warehouses? This means that amazon can make PDF files of existing books, and apparently, print up to several hundred copies of a book. How on earth will authors and publishers know when they are selling a copy? The only way to police this is to not give amazon the authority to scan a book for Look Inside The Book, so that there is no argument. And for publishers to order a copy of any book which they know to be out of stock which becomes mysteriously available...

It's all too much - the simple publisher with a large back list which they faithfully reprint and keep in stock will have to don a policeman's helmet.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I get all fired up about book design, and in particular cover design. I'm completely in favour of using adventurous design on covers, illustration, photography that transports you to the particular world of the book, via a colour or a mood rather than a real scene.

But one thing that I have learnt is, it's no good expecting recent graduates from art school to know about typography. I really wish I didn't have to tell the ones I meet all this, but I can't think of a way around it.

So - should we write a book, and produce it beautifully? There are plenty of books on typography, the history of type, modernism, but I don't know of one that gives you everything you need to design a commercial but beautiful book.

So, if you are involved in book publishing, and you don't know about the following, maybe I should....

x heights
ascenders and descenders
widows and orphans
what Eric Gill got up to
Augustus John and family
who designed the London Undergound map
what imposition schemes are and how they work
burst back
the link between modern type design and liberal politics emanating from Europe
serif and sans serif
reading a's and g's
condensed type faces
small caps
paper bulk
why endpapers print differently to text pages, and what illustrators should do to compensate
screen ruling
base line grids and where the InDesign term came from
ems and ens
point sizes
page folios and conventions
why some book formats are cheaper than others to print
why some thinner papers and in fact heavy, very heavy,and your postage bills for review copies will be massive
coated papers
trace papers
recycled papers - and where and how they are produced
why you shouldn't put coloured paper into your paper recyling bag
what happens at the paper mill when you do
making paper and the magic moment it 'jumps' across a cylinder
why Fleet Street fell apart
why with modern computers we could all be making really beautiful books if we just took a few minutes to look at what was achieved in the past with a few bits of metal...

Friday, November 17, 2006

A slightly crazy two weeks - Summer Reading returns from Waterstone's focus the mind but don't put us off sending five books to print. Happy to see that our Greek author, Vangelis Hatziyannidis' FOUR WALLS was the one that did the best and had very few returns - as we are bringing out his second novel, STOLEN TIME, in January, it seems it was a good idea to do a two book deal two years ago. Publishers just use their instincts - who could not want to read atmospheric Greek novels in which people disappear in lightning storms, and secrets are kept in concealed hotel basements.

Parties - we went to the Dedalus Decadent Handbook launch at a subterranean night club off Regent Street. The side streets were full of parties, including an open brazier where a wild boar seemed to be being barbecued. The bouncer was happy to direct me to the Dedalus party when he knew I wasn't another gate crasher. The Gin and Absinthe were free, but the wine and beer wasn't. The Burlesque dance show, after Rowan Pelling's introduction, was entertaining. But I was in the middle of a training course on InDesign so had to leave a bit early...

Then there was the goodbye party for Gary McKeone and his stalwart colleagues at the Arts Council. A very crowded gallery off Cork Street, but actually good to see so much support for the Literature Department, which has done some very good things over the past ten years. Reading initiatives in libraries, support for new Orange Prize writers, translation prizes - too many to note.

And, yes - I think I have finished doing the royalty statements. This bugs me every November - so many sums, but after a good year, it's quite nice to see how much money I owe our authors....

Friday, November 03, 2006

So, fiction is king in the Guardian First Book Award short list - really good news. I really, really hope that Harbor by Lorraine Adams wins - I rate it as the best book I have read this year. It's about an Algerian stowaway who swims to the shore in Boston harbor, and then follows his life and that of his fellow Algerian room mates as they try to survive in the USA. Some of the things they try are bizarre and comic, like writing Algerian proverbs on coffee cups and selling coffee in the streets. Disaster when a wind blows up and they all disappear.

Portobello were brave because -

they kept the US/Canadian spelling of Harbor on the cover
they used a very minimal design cover - just suggestive of the book's content
they started with a £7.99 paperback

I hope this means

lots of people will buy the book as it is only £7.99
other publishers can do artistic covers they like rather than garish ones they feel forced to adopt
spelling and conventions which are seen as perfectly OK in the movie world can sometimes be adhered to in books

We have a transatlantic policy here. If an author is American, we use American spellings, and on our title page we print
NEW YORK . LONDON instead of LONDON . NEW YORK - this kind of makes the nationality of the author something of note, we feel.

But what do you do when an author has an Irish and a US passport, as Maureen Freely does? As she lives in the UK, we changed her American spellings of math, center, color etc to the English ones. But why should it matter so much in books - is it because you read the words rather than hear them?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I spent last week in New York, meeting with Random House/Broadway Books to discuss Chocolate & Zucchini (now on our web site - can't wait to really start work on this book) and seeing Bob Silvers and Katherine Tice at the wonderful New York Review of Books. I also went to a lot of museums and did a great deal of walking in Manhattan - including two accidental wanderings into the Rambles in Central Park - we emerged unscathed.

We also went into a lot of bookshops - and I was left with a few overwhelming impressions. There are now far more paperbacks in the USA than a few years ago - in this way they are catching up with the UK. But, the covers seem to be printed on really thin paper, and in one shop it felt like being greeting by the Armada in full sail - every cover was warped and looked like it was moving fast in a breeze. Did all the American publishers decide to downgrade their cover spec. at the same time? Copies of our Hubert Selby Jr and Elif Shafak books seemed fine - the covers are on 240 gsm board which is standard acrossthis list.

The thing I liked was the Barnes & Noble table of Loved Books which we Recommend (or something very similar). I bought some I had not read, and felt very happy. But then someone told me this space is paid for. What a shame....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Last night we had a rare thing - a dinner party. But it was a dinner party with a mission - to test out some of the Chocolate & Zucchini recipes. Chocolate & Zucchini is a book we will be publishing next May, by Clotilde Dusoulier. Her web site has wonderful comment on French life (yes, markets and old Le Creuset cooking pots, all mixed together with wry comment, and absolutely no berets or strings of onions).

But as the book will be coming out in America first, we had to convert the cups to grams, and some of the ingredients are pretty different. So, I baked a 'cake' with chorizo, pistachio nuts and sun dried tomatoes - perfect for picnics or to eat warm on a chilly October night, cumin gruyere choux pastry puffs, and a huge chicken udon noodle dish - enough for eight hungry people. But the piece de resistance was the wine - a bottle we had owned since 1996 - covered in cob webs, unreadable label, tasting of black currant, full of broken cork which Rhidian Brook carefully sieved out, and dark, dark red. Our other guests were Alev Adil and Barbaros Altos, who have helped us with all things Turkish. Hope they were impressed. Of course, we do this every week in London....

Monday, October 16, 2006

Independent publishing is all about choices, and choices mean risk. Sometimes, the risk it too great, and we take a back seat on a book, and then watch its progress. One such choice was WATER FOR ELEPHANTS by Sara Gruen. Published in the USA by Algonquin, I have watched it become a Book Sense pick, and slowly, a Barnes & Noble bestseller.

We were offered this book, but felt the advance they wanted was too great - we would have had to sell at least 10,000 copies in one season, and that's a rare achievement for us.

Instead, Hodder in the UK bought the rights as an extension of the Australian rights, and I believe the hardback has been published. But I have not seen any reviews yet, for this October 5th title.

We thought it had similarities to another title we passed on, Gaetan Soucy's VAUDEVILLE. But Sara Gruen's book has a tight plot and some very telling characters, as the circus weaves its way across America, with one elephant on board (lazy, no tricks except eating and defecating), various horses who end up being fed to the big cats, and lots of crazy performers.

Will our recommendation on this blog get this book moving? Will Hodder enter it for the Orange Prize next year? I hope so. And why am I in love with Turkish literature? Perhaps it is because no one can accuse us of aping American sentimentalities. We have a new novel by Latife Tekin for next Spring, Swords of Ice. When I first read Elif Shafak's The Flea Palace, I came to it having published two books by Latife, so I was familiar with the Turkish syntax and drawing of characters. It's so different to anything else. You should try The Flea Palace or The Gaze by Elif Shafak, or Latife Tekin's Berji Kristin: Tales from the Garbage Hills. Yes, Turkish fiction is risking it - but the risk seemed so great that it was worth taking. Not sure if even I can work that one out.