Shelf Awareness for Monday, August 11, 2014


Yearling Books: Samantha Spinner and the Super-Secret Plans by Russell Ginns

Ballantine Books: Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly

Central Avenue Publishing: Pickle's Progress by Marcia Butler

Bitter Lemon Press: Evil Things by Katja Ivar

Delacorte Press: Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly

Little Simon: Mia Mayhem Is a Superhero! (Mia Mayhem #1) by Kara West, illustrated by Leeza Hernandez

News

Amazon Uneasy: Another Odd Outburst

At nearly 11 p.m. local time Friday night, Amazon issued another strange note about its dispute with Hachette, this time in the form of a letter from the "Amazon Books Team" to Kindle Direct Publishing authors with the subject line "Important Kindle request." (It was later posted online.) The e-mail asked the authors, most of whom are self-published, to support the company and to write to Hachette CEO Michael Pietsch, whose e-mail address Amazon provided. In just a few paragraphs, Amazon reiterated (word for word from other posts) its paper-thin arguments that almost all e-books should be priced at $9.99 or less; gave the usual contextless examples of how lower prices always lead to higher sales (without a sense of how variations in author, genre, subject, author platform, etc., would affect such things); made an inaccurate historical allusion to the rise of paperbacks in the industry; misquoted "the famous author George Orwell"; said it sought better terms only to give lower prices to consumers (without explaining why it was making similar demands of Bonnier Group in Germany, where prices can't be lowered); and took a familiar page from some other wealthy Americans and corporations by setting up a seemingly grassroots organization to support itself.

Perhaps the most striking element of the letter was the sense it gave of Amazon's world view: it apparently assumed that the letter from Authors United that appeared in a two-page spread in yesterday's New York Times and was signed by more than 900 authors was orchestrated by Hachette--and thus required mirror action by Amazon. Since the Authors United ad included Jeff Bezos's e-mail--noting that Bezos "says he genuinely welcomes hearing from his customers and claims to read all e-mails at that account"--Amazon gave out Michael Pietsch's e-mail. (A letter that Pietsch is sending to writers is reproduced below.) The letter also became the main posting on the home page of a new entity called Readers United, a domain name bought by Amazon about 10 days ago.

Io9.com said the letter "reads like a screed from a sincere (and sincerely crazy) ex boyfriend posting on some weird listserv." Stephen Hanselman, founder and head of LevelFiveMedia, wrote: "While I agree on book pricing in general, that Amazon e-mail in my inbox this morning read like a millennial's all-nighter and was a touch insane." The Wall Street Journal quoted Ron Martinez, who has published e-books through Amazon, as saying of the letter: "It's overtly divisive, pitting authors against one another. It's astonishingly poor form to publish an executive's e-mail."

Author George Orwell
George Orwell

Early on Saturday morning, the New York Times quickly pointed out that Amazon had misunderstood--or purposely distorted--the Orwell quotation. (We're not sure which explanation is worse: deceit or an inability to recognize irony or humor.)

Amazon had written: "The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if 'publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.' Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion." (Amazon likes to remind fans regularly that Hachette was one of five publishers along with Apple prosecuted by the Justice Department in 2012 for collusion involving the agency model for e-book pricing.)

The Times countered: "Here is what the writer said in the New English Weekly on March 5, 1936: 'The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.'

"Get it? He liked them."

The Times also noted that Orwell went on to take a different tack toward pricing from Amazon's, writing, "It is of course a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade. Actually it is just the other way about.... The cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books."

(At his blog, Mike Shatzkin has a very nice recounting of the paperback revolution and how it gradually remade the industry.)

The logic of a letter asking Kindle Direct Publishing authors to write to the head of Hachette asking for lower priced e-books was another bizarre aspect of the Amazon letter/post on Friday. Why would Amazon's Kindle authors, who are not published by Hachette, care about Hachette's pricing structure? If anything, wouldn't they prefer titles from the bigger houses to reflect the costs of having professional editing, publicity, sales, marketing and distribution and be more expensive, thereby making their own titles stand out because of their lower prices?

And in a typical bit of poor timing, another Amazon spat with a supplier became public over the weekend: in a dispute over terms with Disney that resembles the battle with Time Warner that took place in June, Amazon is not allowing preorders of upcoming Disney releases. In a story called "Amazon Takes the Muppets Off the Shelf," the New York Times wrote, "Amazon customers are unable to buy DVDs or Blu-rays of movies like Muppets Most Wanted that are coming out in the next few months. Instead, they can sign up to be notified when the movies become available or preorder the Amazon Instant Video.

"In at least one case, there seems to be no product page at all for the physical copy of the movie. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is available for preorder as an Amazon Instant Video, but neither a Blu-ray disc nor a DVD is offered."

The Times noted that preorders for upcoming releases are an important early gauge of demand for Hollywood studios, making this an even more potent weapon for Amazon than removing preorder buttons for forthcoming books.

Amazon's awkwardly written, tin-eared posts and e-mails make one wonder why the company apparently jettisoned what was a highly experienced, effective public relations staff years ago. Paul Ford, tweeting as @ftrain, had the best comment on that aspect of Amazon: "To be fair, I respect Amazon for sticking to their guns and spending only $9.99 for a PR firm."


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Fifty Things That Aren't My Fault: Essays from the Grown-Up Years by Cathy Guisewite


Michael Pietsch: 'Amazon Seeks More Profit, Market Share'

The following is a letter that Hachette Book Group CEO Michael Pietsch has begun sending to everyone who wrote him after Amazon's post and e-mail message to Kindle authors on Friday night:

Michael Pietsch
Hachette's Michael Pietsch at NAIBA's open house last week.

Thank you for writing to me in response to Amazon's e-mail. I appreciate that you care enough about books to take the time to write. We usually don't comment publicly while negotiating, but I've received a lot of requests for Hachette's response to the issues raised by Amazon, and want to reply with a few facts.

  • Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone.
  • We set our e-book prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.
  • More than 80% of the e-books we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower.
  • Those few priced higher--most at $11.99 and $12.99--are less than half the price of their print versions.
  • Those higher priced e-books will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published.
  • The invention of mass-market paperbacks was great for all because it was not intended to replace hardbacks but to create a new format available later, at a lower price.

As a publisher, we work to bring a variety of great books to readers, in a variety of formats and prices. We know by experience that there is not one appropriate price for all e-books, and that all e-books do not belong in the same $9.99 box. Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue. We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish--hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and e-book. While e-books do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book. 

This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves.  Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.

Once again, we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette's authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability.  We are negotiating in good faith. These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.

Thank you again and best wishes,

   Michael Pietsch


Korero Press: The Home Bar Guide to Tropical Cocktails: A Spirited Journey Through Suburbia's Hidden Tiki Temples by Kelly Reilly and Tom Morgan


BookSmart Launches 'Own It!' Fundraising Campaign

Booksmart, Morgan Hill, Calif., has launched an Indiegogo fundraising campaign, offering supporters the chance to become "Honorary BookSmart Stockholders." In an e-mail to patrons, the indie bookseller said it has to refinance or close: "We come to you with serious and sobering news. Despite all our efforts, it has finally come down to this: Without debt refinancing or a drastic change in circumstances, we will be forced to liquidate....
 
"Three years ago, after the opening of our store in San Jose and with the soft economy, we found ourselves in financial trouble. We have continued to struggle and cut costs, but now, after many sleepless nights, we realize that without an infusion of capital we will not be able to go on."

Noting that bank loans are not an option for BookSmart, which is "now behind on our taxes and publisher payments," the bookseller said it has "finally realized that our only hope is to reach out to our fans and loyal customers for help. We have decided to create a group of 'Honorary BookSmart Stockholders' to fund us. We hope that this will raise some real capital, while offering our customers an innovative and fun way to support us."

In an update, the store said any monies received would be apportioned in this way: "If we reach the $60,000 mark, we should be able to make peace with state sales tax agency and set up a payment plan for the remainder. At $120,000, we should be able to satisfy the state and our publishers. The remaining $180,000 would be to refinance the high interest debt that is killing us."


Soho Teen: The Art of Losing by Lizzy Mason - Request It!


PRH Chair Gail Rebuck Appointed to House of Lords

Penguin Random House U.K. chair Dame Gail Rebuck has been appointed to the House of Lords as a Labour peer, the Bookseller reported.

Gail rebuck"I feel very privileged to be joining the House of Lords as I have always seen politics and Parliament as vital forces shaping our national and global lives," said Rebuck, who also sits on the company's global board of representatives. "I hope to make a contribution to debates and legislation based on over 30 years at the heart of the book publishing business. I have campaigned for literacy and literature, the arts, culture and education and I have focused on women's empowerment in the workforce increasing diversity at the top of companies.

"I look forward to championing the issues I have cared about for decades including investment in the arts, opening up access to the professions and supporting Britain's formidable creative industries.

"But my passion has always been books, both as a young editor and then as c.e.o. and now chair of our largest publishing company, so I will continue to do all I can to ensure that the life-changing power of reading is available to all."


Quirk Books: William Shakespeare's Much Ado about Mean Girls by Ian Doescher


Notes

Image of the Day: Identical Show Offs

Warwick's, La Jolla, Calif., sponsored an event with Scott Turow at Qualcomm's headquarters in San Diego, Calif., featuring the author in conversation with Qualcomm executive v-p and and general counsel Don Rosenberg about Turow's latest thriller, Identical (Grand Central). Here the audience shows off their signed copies.


'Murakamania': Midnight Release Parties for New Novel

image: Brazos Bookstore

"I can't think of any other writer of adult novels who would inspire a bookstore to open at midnight to debut a new book, Harry Potter–style, but Haruki Murakami is something special, an international rock star of fiction," wrote Paul Constant, books editor at the Stranger, which is co-presenting Elliott Bay Book Company's Midnight Murakami book release party tonight, celebrating the publication of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, translated by Philip Gabriel (Knopf).

Here's just a small sampling of the many indie booksellers nationwide featuring midnight Murakami events tonight:

Brazos Bookstore, Houston, Tex. is partnering with Asia Society Texas Center and the Japan America Society of Houston to host a "Murakamania Midnight Release Party," with "Murakami-inspired activities and games (The Wind-Up Bird Piñata! Pin the Kafka on the Shore! The Wild Sheep Count!)... Last but not least, we have our very own What I Talk About When I Talk About Coloring, a one-of-a-kind coloring book created by the Brazos Bookstore staff and free with the purchase of Murakami's new novel."

Green Apple Books, San Francisco, Calif.: "We're not saying that it's anything other than coincidence that Haruki Murakami's latest novel... is due out in August, the same month we're opening a new branch of Green Apple. It could be that this is merely a happy accident and not, say, some sort of manifestation of cosmic forces at work to ensure the success of our new endeavor."

Unabridged Bookstore, Chicago, Ill.: "And best of all, the company of other Murakami enthusiasts! Come drink beer and geek out with us, guys! Follow our Murakami-related updates/freakouts (and add your own!) on Twitter and Instagram at #‎ChicagoMidnightMurakami."

Community Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y., is hosting "Karaoke Murakami: A Midnight Release Party," which will include "a limited number of signed copies of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki that will be raffled off to those who purchase a book (you must be present to win). There will be beer, Japanese snacks, and karaoke."

At Square Books, Oxford, Miss., "Participants are requested to do the following things: 1) Think of a color you associate with yourself; 2) Prepare to recite your own haiku composition. Those needing assistance may find a haiku generator (no kidding) here; 3) Reveal a dream you feel has been important to you in some way. (Important: There is a strict 30-second time limit.)."

The Bookseller noted that this is truly an international obsession: "Beyond the U.K., promotional activity is also taking place in Penguin Random House Group companies in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India, as well as in Europe and Asia. Fans in Australia and New Zealand are set to take part in a 'Very Short Film Festival' via Instagram (@murakami_film) where their entries give them the chance to win a travel voucher to embark on their own pilgrimage. In India there will be a 'significant' online advertising campaign, and limited edition prints of the front cover are being given away via retailers and social media channels around the world."


Cool Idea of the Day: Hachette/Authors United Book Sale

Murder by the Book, HoustonTo show its support for Hachette and Authors United in their ongoing battle with Amazon, indie bookseller Murder by the Book, Houston, Tex., announced that, beginning last Saturday "and continuing throughout this whole month, all titles published by Hachette and its imprints, and all titles by the 909 authors on this list are 30% off!"
 
The print book sale includes titles currently in stock or to be ordered, forthcoming titles, books by crime writers or special orders from other genres, all backlist by applicable authors ("which is rarely discounted anywhere!") and the complete Mulholland, Grand Central & Little, Brown publishing catalogues.


NYTBR's 'By the Book' Interview: Garrison Keillor

Garrison keillorGarrison Keillor, author, radio host and proprietor of Common Good Books, St. Paul, Minn., was interviewed for this week's New York Times Book Review "By the Book" segment. Two highlights:

What inspired you to open your own independent bookstore in St. Paul?  
The neighborhood bookstore shut down, and that left a gap in the lives of a lot of people--without it, they had to go to Minneapolis to buy books, and that makes no sense--Minneapolis is where you go to see documentary films or lectures on urban planning or dances with titles like 'Dimensions of Being'; it's not where you go for books--so I felt obliged. I've loved books since I was a kid, loved to hold them, smell the ink, feel the heft of the book.

What's the best thing about being in the bookselling business? The worst?
The best thing is that the employees are really, really nice to you; the worst thing is that you do not get a 10% discount when you buy books. I don't know why. It was explained to me once, and I didn't understand. I mean, I'm the owner, right? But no, that's not how it's done.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Eric Schlosser on Fresh Air

Today on Fresh Air: Eric Schlosser, author of Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (Penguin Press, $36, 9781594202278).

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Today on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter (Spiegel & Grau, $26, 9781400069576).

Also on Diane Rehm: Marc J. Dunkelman, author of The Vanishing Neighbor: The Transformation of American Community (Norton, $27.95, 9780393063967).

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Tonight on a repeat of the Daily Show: Sonia Nazario, author of Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother (Random House, $16, 9780812971781).

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Tomorrow on NPR's Here & Now: Benoit Denizet-Lewis, author of Travels with Casey (Simon & Schuster, $26, 9781439146934).

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Tomorrow night on a repeat of the Daily Show: Helen Thorpe, author of Soldier Girls: The Battles of Three Women at Home and at War (Scribner, $28, 9781451668100).


Movies: The Drop; If I Stay

A new clip has been released for The Drop, based on Dennis Lehane's short story "Animal Rescue," Indiewire reported. The film, directed by Michael Roskam (Bullhead) and starring Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Matthias Schoenaerts and Noomi Rapace, opens on September 12.

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Five clips "designed to tug the heartstrings" are out for If I Stay, which stars Chloe Moretz and opens August 22, Indiewire wrote.


TV: Killing Jesus

BAFTA Award-winner Christopher Menaul (Prime Suspect; The Forsyte Saga) will direct Killing Jesus, a three-hour telepic based on the book Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard for the National Geographic channel, Deadline.com reported. The program is scheduled to air in 2015.



Books & Authors

Awards: Crook's Corner Book Prize

Finalists have been named for the Crook's Corner Book Prize, which recognizes the "best debut novels set in the American South." A shortlist will be announced in November. The winner, who will be named in January, receives $1,000 and a free glass of wine at Crook's Corner Cafe & Bar in Chapel Hill, N.C., every day for a year. This year's longlisted titles are:

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile (Pamela Dorman/Viking)
Byrd by Kim Church (Dzanc Books)
The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn (Norton)
Flying Shoes by Lisa Howorth (Bloomsbury USA)
Remember Me Like This by Bret Anthony Johnston (Random House)
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay (McCabe/Crown)
Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith (Grove Press)
In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve (Hub City Press)
Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend (Norton)
The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker (Viking)
Mother of Rain by Karen Spears Zacharias (Mercer University Press)


Book Review

Review: Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante, trans. by Ann Goldstein (Europa Editions, $18 trade paper, 9781609452339, September 2, 2014)

Those Who Leave and Those Who StayThe third volume of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan novels series opens with the last time protagonist Elena, a celebrated novelist, will ever see her best friend. In My Brilliant Friend, they grew up from childhood; in the second volume, The Story of a New Name, they found husbands. Now they're in their 60s; Lila's hair has turned white. As the two women walk down the sidewalk, they come upon a crowd gathered around a woman who has fallen dead in a flowerbed near the church. Readers of the earlier novels will recognize this character, having watched her grow up alongside Elena and Lila. Naples is changing. In fact, all of Italy is in political turmoil.

Lila was once the brilliant and creative entrepreneur of a handmade footwear company. Now she works a brutal job on the floor of a sausage factory and lives in a rundown building with her son. She urges Elena to leave her out of her writing. Elena does just the opposite. And with that, the story plunges back 40 years, picking up at Elena's book-signing, which concluded the previous novel. When her old flame Nino shows up at the party, Elena is prepared to risk everything for him, including her engagement to another man.

Meanwhile Nino's father has recognized himself in one of Elena's "fictional" characters--a predatory family man--and published a condemning review of her novel. The plot twists and turns as relationships deepen, change and sometimes explode. Children begin to resemble their parents. Lila's son, assumed to be fathered by Nino, starts looking very much like someone else. The two women are growing in opposite directions: Lila gets caught up in the struggle for workers' rights while her friend becomes a famous debut novelist. Elena's attempts to escape the gossip and small minds of the old neighborhood fail as forces of the past drag her home to try to save her younger sister from a disastrous marriage.

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay is as sumptuous as its two predecessors, and the narrative drive here is the strongest yet. The stakes are high, with the introduction of protesting workers, student activists and babes in arms. Ferrante's genius lies in her startling emotional realism and blunt honesty about social interactions. As her series--which is best taken as a whole--moves forward and reflects European history, she seasons the prose with provocative perceptions not unlike the way Proust did, but her neighborhood of squalid blue-collar lives and passionate secrets is pure Italian soap opera raised to a loftier level of literary art. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Shelf Talker: In Italian author Elena Ferrante's third Neapolitan Novel, two lifelong friends are caught up in political upheaval, a novelist's notoriety and the complicated web of the past.


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