Wednesday, August 18, 2010

History of Publishing: Part Two

I was recently asked why it’s so important for writers to know about the history of publishing. My reply was, would you buy a house without knowing its history? A house is a big investment, so you’d want to know if the plumbing and electrical work was sound, if the roof leaked or the basement flooded every time it rained. Only a fool would buy a house without first having it inspected for problems.

Likewise, a writer invests a great deal of time and money in a book. It’s difficult to estimate the cost of time spent writing, but marketing a novel certainly isn’t a cheap enterprise. Websites, bookmarks, mailings to stores and libraries, and author tours can quickly drain away a writer’s earned income. Understanding how the publishing business got to where it is today, and using that knowledge to plan for the future, are vital for predicting an author’s success.

As related previously, Harper & Brothers (today simply called Harpers) set the foundation for modern day publishing back in the 1800’s. Colonial and post-Revolutionary printers most often acted as paid publishers, charging authors to print their work and sometimes helping to disseminate that work to the public. Harpers was one of the first companies to use its own money to publish books, paying authors after they recovered the printing costs. With the emergence of the royalty system proposed by George Palmer Putnam in 1846, authors began receiving 10 percent of the cover price of every book sold. (More on royalties in a later blog.)

Following a fire in 1853, Harpers financed two new buildings to house its publishing company. One building was reserved for management, inventory, and wholesaling operations. The other six-story building served as the manufacturing plant with each floor dedicated to a separate task. Overseen by male managers, women manned the steam presses on the first floor. One story up, boys hung the printed sheets to dry before they were folded, sewed, and stitched by workers on the next levels. Higher up in the building, workers fitted the books with covers, pasted down the flyleaves, and trimmed the edges.

This early pattern of assembly line mass production of books ensured the continued rise of Harper Bros. in the publishing business. Labor was cheap in those days, with wages amounting to ten cents per hour in manufacturing, or $1.00 for a 10-hour day. At the same time, hardcover books sold for $1 or more apiece.

To examine the impact of these figures on income, consider how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was published in 1852 by John P. Jewett & Company of Cleveland, Ohio. The book numbered 340 pages. If Jewett used a cylinder printing press of the type invented by Richard Hoe in 1846, his company could print 8000 pages per hour, or the equivalent of 23.5 books per hour per printing press. In a 10-hour workday, Jewett could print approximately 235 books per press.

At a retail price of $1 per book, the gross income per press was $235/day while the cost of labor for running that press was $1/day. Add to that the labor costs for binding, etc. and the overhead costs of ink, electricity, etc. and the cost per book rose some. Despite initial costs to publish a book, the resultant income to a company could be enormous. All that mattered was operating enough presses to do a major print run.

An old picture of Harpers’ manufacturing plant shows the first floor press room where each printing press stands cheek by jowl with another press. Given the number of presses owned by Harper, it’s little wonder they were the big boys on the block when it came to American publishing companies.

Harpers would reign as “king of the hill” until the 1927 when Random House was founded by Bennett Cerf, Christopher Coombes, and Donald Klopfer. Sold in 1965 to RCA for $40 million and then again in 1998 to German private media corporation Bertelsmann AG for an estimated $1.4 billion, today Random House is the largest English language book publisher in the world.

Next: Publishing Goes From Privately-held Companies to Multinational Corporations


Monday, August 16, 2010

Monday Reviews

I'm delighted to once again present two fine book reviews by Minnesota author, photographer, sailor, and all around good sport, Carl Brookins.

The Anteater of Death
by Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press
December, 2008, Hard cover
230 pages, $24.95,
ISBN: 9781590585603

This is the beginning of a new series for this veteran author. Just look again at the title. Somewhere in the back of my head there's a Shakespeare quote. Ms. Webb is an accomplished writer with several excellent novels to her credit. This one is a distinct departure for her, and it seems she is almost unable to restrain herself. There are a great many asides and some tongue-in-cheek humor that sometimes distracts the reader from a rather thin plot, although the setting is intriguing and Webb uses it well.

Theodora Bentley, the central character in this drama, is a zoo-keeper in a private enterprise somewhere in Southern California in an old seaside town interestingly named Gunn Landing. This zoo is the private plaything of some very wealthy families who have deep roots in the community. The situation is made more complex because some of those family roots are deeply entangled in their own history. Thus there is a darkness to this novel which offers some opportunities for the author to move in directions which would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

One of Teddy Bentley's responsibilities is the giant ant eater of the title, in the wild, a fearsome creature indeed, equipped with razor claws designed to rip logs open in search of ants. The book opens in the mind of this anteater, improbably named Lucy, in a highly unusual approach which has the potential to cause a number of readers to immediately close the book. I suggest that such readers persevere. Pregnant Lucy is disturbed when a male human enters her enclosure and she goes to investigate. Her investigation leads to an accusation that the animal has killed the man, a director of the zoo.

This accusation against Lucy rouses anger and frustration among the zookeepers especially Teddy. Gradually Teddy becomes snarled in the murder investigation, complicated by her own roots in the community and her past relationships with the Sheriff and several others. Eventually the smoothly written and complicated plot gets sorted out and Teddy receives lots of help from a substantial range of off-beat and even strange characters, not all of whom are caged in the zoo. Funny, ironic and sometimes irreverent, the book will give readers an inside look at zoo keeping, animal protectionism and the often distorted lives of wealthy idlers.

The White Garden
by Stephanie Barron
Random House/Bantam TP
2009, 318 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-3877-9

I scarcely know how to begin, not something a reviewer should admit publically, I suppose. This wonderfully realized and written novel is a first class literary mystery. It deals with a three-week period in l941 that marks the end of a troubled life, the life of Virginia Woolf. It is serendipitous that this novel comes to my hand at a time that epitomizes a good deal of what she was all about. In a word, independence. Independence for women and independence for writers.

Virginia Woolf was an English writer, essayist and literary critic of the early Twentieth Century. Her parents did not send her to school. She was entirely self-taught and apparently randomly tutored by her literary critic father. She was a major influence on the kind of novels being written today, yet she was always, always, self-published. Hogarth Press, established by Woolf and her husband, Leonard, a political theorist of that era, in their kitchen, published Virginia's writings along with those of E.M. Forester, and Sigmund Freud, among many others. Growing up she knew people like Henry James, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot. Her father, Leslie Stephen's, first wife was the daughter of the novelist
William Makepeace Thackeray.

In addition to her literary credentials as an accomplished novelist, she was a prolific essayist who published over 500 essays. Virginia Wolf helped coalesce the famous (or infamous) Bloomsbury Group, a collection of social, political and economic theorists of varying stripes, including artists, critics, philosophers and writers who wrote, debated, loved, married and argued life throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Woolf was sexually abused by a relative as a child, and clearly had mental problems during her lifetime. Her companions through life, including relatives, were mostly liberated intellectuals who ignored social constraints. On March 28, 1941, she disappeared from her home. Three weeks later, her body was discovered in the nearby river Ouse which had already been extensively searched. Her body was promptly cremated and there was no funeral ceremony, public or private.

Which brings us to this novel. Sixty years after Woolf's death, master garden and landscape designer, Jo Bellamy arrives in England. She is doing research for a wealthy client who wants her to recreate a famous garden of white flowers and plants at his Long Island Estate. Jo is trying to recover from her grandfather's sudden suicide. The celebrated White Garden of the title is located at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. It was created by Woolf's friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West.

What Bellamy discovers at Sissinghurst has the potential to set decades of literary analysis and speculation on its collective ear. Whilst grubbing about in some boxes in one of the garden sheds, Jo comes upon a diary which appears to have been written by Virginia Woolf. Well and good, the problem is the first entry is dated the day after Virginia Woolf is supposed to have drowned herself. Moreover, there appears to be a connection between the castle, the garden, Woolf and Jo's dead grandfather. Shocked and amid a growing desire to learn more about her grandfather's youth in Kent, Jo Bellamy sets out on a cross-country odyssey to try to authenticate the diary and uncover her grandfather's connection to one of the most famous feminists
and literary icons of the past century.

The novel is wonderfully written and mostly moves at an ever-increasing pace as Bellamy encounters an array of character who are far more interested in their own aggrandizement than in helping Jo. The diary is stolen, Jo has help from several people with questionable motives and engages in some pretty far-fetched antics in order to follow some tantalizingly obscure clues.

Ultimately of course, some of the questions surrounding the diary and the last three weeks of Virginia Woolf's life are resolved, but not all. The author, skillfully evoking a past era of English letters and philosophical thought, has provided a rich and thought-provoking experience.

The novel is written with grace and is rich in atmosphere and history. It is presented as a carefully wrought piece that could be true, and that climaxes in a stunning and most satisfying conclusion.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!


Friday, August 13, 2010

Fun Friday: New High School Exit Exam

Yep, it's Friday the 13th, and to celebrate this spookiest of Fridays, here's a blood-curdling test for you. This is a new "High School Exit Exam". You only need 4 correct answers to pass. I dare you to try it!

1) How long did the Hundred Years' War last?

2) Which country makes Panama hats?

3) From which animal do we get cat gut?

4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?

5) What is a camel's hair brush made of?

6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?

7) What was King George VI's first name?

8) What color is a purple finch?

9) Where are Chinese gooseberries grown?

10) What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane?

Remember, you only need 4 correct answers to pass!!!!!!

Check your answers below ...


1) How long did the Hundred Years War last? 116 years
2) Which country makes Panama hats? Ecuador
3) From which animal do we get cat gut? Sheep and Horses
4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution? November
5) What is a camel's hair brush made of? Squirrel fur
6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal? Dogs
7) What was King George VI's first name? Albert
8) What color is a purple finch? Crimson
9) Where are Chinese gooseberries grown? New Zealand
10)What is the color of the black box in a commercial airplane? Orange (of course!)

What do you mean, you failed???

(Me, too! And if you try to tell me you passed, you LIED!)

We both should have done our homework! Pass this on to some brilliant friends, so they can feel useless, too!:)


Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Short History of Publishing in the U.S.

“He who first shortened the labor of copyists by device of movable types was disbanding hired armies, and cashiering most kings and senates, and creating a whole new democratic world: he had invented the art of printing.”
(Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1833)

Publishing as we know it today got its start back in 1450 when German goldsmith Johannes Gutenberg, best known for the Gutenberg Bible, began printing poems and tracts using his newly invented movable-type printing press. Two centuries later the first printing press to hit the shores of the American colonies arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1638.

Although still hand-operated, this up-dated version of the Gutenberg invention could print up to 240 pages of one impression in a single hour. Stephen Daye put the press to good use when, in 1640, he printed The Whole Book of Psalmes, the first English-language book to be published in the colonies.

Philadelphia joined the Boston-Cambridge area as a center of American publishing when, in 1685, master printer William Bradford established a printing company there. His publication that year of Samuel Atkins’ almanac Kalendarium Pennsilvaniense led to one of the first cases of government censorship of the press in America when it drew the ire of Governor William Penn. Bradford was directed to print only material approved by the Pennsylvania Council.

Two years later Bradford again ran into trouble with the authorities. This time he was ordered not to print anything about Quakers unless they approved it. When he was officially reprimanded in 1689 for publishing William Penn’s original charter for Pennsylvania, Bradford threw up his hands in disgust and left the colony, returning to his birthplace in England.

In 1690 Bradford returned to Philadelphia, resumed his print and publishing business, and built the first colonial paper mill to service his printing needs. It wasn’t long before the long arm of the law descended once more on the spunky Bradford. In 1692 he published a tract, or pamphlet, that incensed the city’s Quaker community. Quaker leaders soon demanded the arrest of Bradford and John McComb, a tavern keeper who distributed the pamphlet. Both men were jailed and Bradford’s press was seized.

Bradford’s arguments for freedom of the press resulted in a split decision by the jury at his trial. Released from prison, Bradford left Philadelphia and moved to a more hospitable New York where he began publishing books as well as printing the city’s first newspaper, the New York Gazette.

Probably the best-known colonial printer/publisher was Benjamin Franklin. Franklin opened a printing operation in Philadelphia in 1728, publishing English novels in addition to the Pennsylvania Gazette and Poor Richard’s Almanack. A lover of the printed word, Franklin set up the Library Company of Philadelphia, the colonies’ first lending library, in 1731.

Although Franklin was out of the printing business by 1748, it’s fair to say the American Revolution couldn’t have taken place without the help of Philadelphia printers who published political pamphlets written by men like James Otis, John Adams, John Dickinson, and Thomas Jefferson. Stephen Hopkins’ The Rights of Colonies Examined and Thomas Paine’s Common Sense are two of the best-known works published in the form of political pamphlets prior to the Revolution.

Following the Revolution, New York City quickly became the leading publishing center in the country. In 1817, brothers James and John Harper extended their NYC printing company into a full-fledged publishing business called J & J Harper. They were joined by two other Harper brothers in the mid 1820’s, and changed the name of the company to Harper & Brothers in 1833.

Much of Harper’s early success was due to their publishing of pirated copies of books by British authors. While American authors were covered by a federal copyright law enacted in 1791, it wasn’t until the Berne Convention of 1886 was followed up by the International Copyright Act of 1891 that foreign copyright holders were protected in the U.S. Thus, British author Thomas Babington Macaulay didn’t make one cent in royalties when, prior to the 1891, Harper published and sold 400,000 copies of his History of England from the Accession of James II.

Charles Dickens was another British author who fell victim to Harper’s pirating. In 1842 Dickens journeyed to New York in an unsuccessful attempt to secure royalties from the Harper brothers. While he returned to England no richer than when he left, Dickens did gain enough material during the trip to write American Notes for Circulation. Like with his other books, Harper also pirated this one.

At the same time Harper was prospering in New York, George Palmer Putnam and Charles Scribner opened their respective publishing companies in that city. The introduction of Richard Hoe’s steam powered rotary printing press in 1843 and the change over to rolled paper for continuous feed to the presses gave these publishers an advantage over other local book printers. The three firms could print millions of pages in a single day, which meant they could mass produce books like never before. Combined with the ability to use the Erie Canal for shipping to western markets, mass production reduced overhead costs for the three publishers and allowed them to lower prices on their products.

Similar to what's happening today in the bookselling trade, the competition provided by Harper, Scribner, and Putnam put many smaller printing companies out of business. At the same time, these companies were responsible for New York out-powering Boston and Philadelphia to earn the title in 1850 of “Publishing Capital of the Nation”.


Next Wednesday: U.S. Publishing from Civil War Times to Now


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Every Writer Should Know About Publishing

Last night I read an article about a woman who complained she felt cheated after self-publishing her novel with a large online company. The woman admitted to being “very ignorant about the publishing industry” when she agreed to a proffered contract, but said she believed the hype on the company’s website, including a promise that her book would be available through major bookstores.

The hard truth hit her when she tried to set up a signing in a popular chain bookstore. The store’s assistant manager keyed the title of the book into her computer, but after one look at the publisher’s name, immediately nixed any talk of a signing. Why? Because the publishing company would not accept returns.

Try as I might, I couldn’t summon up a whole lot of sympathy for this woman, and I’ll tell you why.

Despite all the information available both in public libraries and on the Internet, she didn’t do her homework before signing away her rights to a company that many in the writing business call an ‘author mill’ for unsuspecting novices.

A little digging on the ‘Net would have revealed that the company in question has a checkered past that includes lawsuits by disgruntled writer clients. While calling itself a ‘traditional publisher’, it provides few of the services furnished by legitimate presses large and small, like comprehensive editing, access to wholesalers and distributors, and accommodations for bookstores to return unsold stock. In short, this ‘author mill’ survives by publishing anything sent to them, then pressuring the authors to buy their own books for resale through ‘special author’ deals.

The uncomfortable truth associated with the above story is this: like the woman featured in the article, too many ‘wannabe’ authors toil for years writing and rewriting their novels while devoting little or no time to learning the ins and outs of publishing.

I was once a wannabe author. Unlike the woman in the article, I began to educate myself about the business side of writing long before my first novel hit the bookstores. I didn’t learn all I needed to know at the time, but I made a good start at it, and I continue to study the publishing industry as it evolves into a much different animal than the one I first became acquainted with fourteen years ago.

I certainly don’t claim to be the last word on publishing; there are people who have been writing for decades who could expound on the subject much better than I. But just as others in the business have shared their knowledge with me, I’d like to share what I’ve learned with those who hope to someday see their work in print.

With that objective in mind, I’ll be writing a series of blogs on “What Every Writer Should Know About Publishing”. I’ll be covering topics such as the history of publishing in the U.S.; the consolidation of publishing companies by multinational corporations; the rise of the small press world wide; understanding publishing statistics; royalties and advances; publishing terminology; services provided by agents and editors; e-book and print-on-demand technology; book promotion and niche marketing; contracts; bookstores and libraries; and media savvy re print and Internet advertising.

I welcome all comments and suggestions from readers of this blog. Please add to the discussions here by sharing your knowledge of the publishing industry with us. Feel free to correct me if I occasionally make a blunder; mystery is the genre I work in, so romance, fantasy, sci-fi, and horror writers – among others – may look at some aspects of publishing differently than I do simply because of the varying demands of their genre.

I'll be making new posts to “What Every Writer Should Know About Publishing" on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Mondays on Cicero's Children are reserved for book reviews while the week still ends here with "Fun Fridays".

Hope you can join me on Thursday when I open this series with a brief history of U.S. publishing.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Monday Reviews

Once again I'm happy to welcome author and reviewer Carl Brookins to Cicero's Children. Carl has chosen to review two recently released titles from Poisoned Pen Press for us.

Final Approach
by Rachel Brady
Poisoned Pen Press
HC, 250 pg, October, 2009
ISBN: 9781590586556

A fine debut novel with an unusual plot line. Emily Locke is recovering from the loss of her husband and infant daughter. It is clear from the get-go there is something askew in that whole incident. Now four years later, the detective who was disgraced and dismissed from the local police department as fall-out from that calamity, is back in Emily's life. He wants her help on a case he's working on. A leap of faith is required of readers here. Is she the only person in the country the detective can count on to infiltrate a questionable sky-diving club located over a thousand miles away?

And why is Emily so available? After all she has a full-time job and is still pretty fragile from the loss of her daughter and husband. Still, the detective, not her favorite person, presses the right buttons and off she goes to Texas.

What follows is a tension-filled emotional novel of exquisite detail about sky-diving in all the right places, introduction of necessary and useful characters and enough action to satisfy the most ardent thriller aficionado. Emily is strong and distressed at all the right places; there are no real down sections of the novel.

This is a fast read, and although some of the danger Emily faces doesn't reach my punch level, Emily is an interesting woman and the sky-diving is an unusual platform on which to build a crime novel. One of the more interesting aspects of Final Approach is that readers will, from the beginning, feel as though they have been brought into an ongoing story. There is occasionally a feeling of the need to catch up with background as a way to evaluate current happenings. It's a style that adds to the tension and pace. A satisfying novel with a fine twist at the end.

by Peter May
Poisoned Pen Press
Hardcover, 312 pages,
ISBN: 9781590586068

Fourth in the author's China Thriller series to be published by this press. Make no mistake this is one scary and thrilling book. So thrilling, in fact I had the sense toward the end of being carried just a bit over the top. The novel brings back two of May's most endearing characters, forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell, American, and Beijing detective, Li Yan. But they are no longer in China. Campbell is now the county medical examiner based in Houston, Texas, and Li Yang is learning about and dealing with America's multiple and complex law enforcement agencies as a member of the Chinese Embassy staff in Washington, D.C.

Until a major tragedy brings them together, Campbell is not even aware that they are again in the same country although still thousands of miles physically and culturally apart. The tragedy that brings these two together are the deaths of scores of illegal Chinese immigrants being smuggled to the United State via the same pipeline and organization which smuggles drugs from South America to the U.S. In this incident, the dead are found in a refrigerated truck abandoned in Texas. Those deaths appear to be accidental until it is discovered the bodies have all been injected with a dangerous virus that has no known antidote.

Now the race is on to determine what the virus is, who is behind the multi-million dollar smuggling operation, the Snakehead of the title, and Li Yan and Margaret must try to set aside their own emotional difficulties in order to help literally, save the nation from a devastating plague.

The pace is fast, the writing always to the point, the characters are genuine in their language and their emotions, and most worrisome of all, the science is real. This is a novel with the potential to scare the pants off you. It's timely, international in scope, a whirlwind of a thriller.

Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!


Friday, August 6, 2010

Fun Friday: Our Yearly Senior Citizen Test

A friend of mine sent me this. As a dues-paying member of AARP (just call me Mrs. Senior Citizen), I couldn't resist passing it on here. Have fun!

Our Yearly Senior Citizen Test

It's that time of year for us to take our annual senior citizen test.
Exercise of the brain is as important as exercise of the muscles. As we grow older, it's important to keep mentally alert. If you don't use it, you lose it!

Below is a very private way to gauge how your memory compares to the last test. Some may think it is too easy but the ones with memory problems may have difficulty. Take the test presented here to determine if you're losing it or not.

The spaces below are so you don't see the answers until you've made your answer.
OK, relax, clear your mind and begin.

1. What do you put in a toaster?

Answer: 'bread.' If you said 'toast' give up now and do something else..
Try not to hurt yourself.

If you said, bread, go to Question 2..

2. Say 'silk' five times.. Now spell 'silk.' What do cows drink?

Answer: Cows drink water. If you said 'milk,' don't attempt the next question. Your brain is overstressed and may even overheat.
Content yourself with reading a more appropriate literature such as Auto World.
However, if you said 'water', proceed to question 3.

3. If a red house is made from red bricks and a blue house is made from blue bricks and a pink house is made from pink bricks and a black house is made from black bricks, what is a green house made from?

Answer: Greenhouses are made from glass. If you said 'green bricks,' why are you still reading these???
If you said 'glass,' go on to Question 4.

4. It's thirty years ago, and a plane is flying at 20,000 feet over Germany (If you will recall, Germany at the time was politically divided into West Germany and East Germany ). Anyway, during the flight, two engines fail. The pilot, realizing that the last remaining engine is also failing, decides on a crash landing procedure. Unfortunately the engine fails before he can do so and the plane fatally crashes smack in the middle of 'no man's land' between East Germany and West Germany ... Where would you bury the survivors? East Germany, West Germany ,
Or no man's land'?

Answer: You don't bury survivors.
If you said ANYTHING else, you're a dunce and you must stop. If you said, 'You don't bury survivors', proceed to the next question.

5. Without using a calculator - You are driving a bus from London to
Milford Haven in Wales . In London , 17 people get on the bus.
In Reading , 6 people get off the bus and 9 people get on.
In Swindon, 2 people get off and 4 get on.
In Cardiff , 11 people get off and 16 people get on.
In Swansea , 3 people get off and 5 people get on.
In Carmathen, 6 people get off and 3 get on.
You then arrive at Milford Haven ..

Without scrolling back to review, how old is the bus driver?

Answer: Oh, for crying out loud!
Don't you remember your own age?
It was YOU driving the bus!!

If you pass this along to your friends, pray they do better than you.

PS: 95% of people fail most of the questions!!