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Showing posts from May, 2011

Amazon: the Next Big Publisher?

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Image by freebird4 via Flickr
The evidence is piling up: Amazon is gearing itself to become the next big publisher. Will it make it?

First take a look at the evidence: the drums have been rolling  recently around the birth of two new imprints, Thomas & Mercer for mysteries and thrillers and Montlake Romance, thus bringing the total to five (with Amazon Encore, AmazonCrossing and the Domino Project).

The biggest news last week were, of course, the appointment of Larry Kirschbaum as the new manager, as of July 5th, of a new general imprint yet to be named that will publish an  array of diverse things, fiction and non-fiction presumably known to be high selling. In fact, the announced categories are rather broad: business and general non-fiction, literary and commercial fiction, young adults - to be published in both print and digital formats. Basically this will be the top-of-the-line imprint covering everything except genre. The avowed goal according to Amazon management is to even…

The EURO Crisis: Is Greece the Culprit, a Victim or a Scapegoat?

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Image by rockcohen via Flickr
With the Euro crisis we're back to where we started a year ago: Greece is being battered from all sides.

Let me count the ways:

(1) By the credit rating agencies - but that's no surprise, those agencies are basically in the pay of big banks and multinational corporations all out to cover their backs as investors;

(2) By the biggies in the Euro-zone, in particular France but especially Germany - nothing new here, Ms. Merkel has piled up nasty comments, knowing how well they resonate back home and she needs votes at the next election;

(3) By neighbouring countries, Italy and Spain - and that's something new, although not very surprising: both the Italians and Spaniards are worried that Greece's pains will ricochet to them, as investors realize they share the same kind of troubles (high debt, high unemployment, no or little growth);

(4) By the EU that is asking for Greece to reform asap, in particular pursue privatization of telecommunication…

Young Adult Fiction: is it really a "genre" that sells books?

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Cover of The Shadow of the Wind
The publishing industry has always relied on "genre" as a marketing tool to push its wares, and among them, the most bizarre is YA.

How to reach out to Young Adults is of course a legitimate concern but lately, with Rowlands' winning Harry Potter series, everybody from literary agents to editors to publishers just drools about it. YA is growing fast. YA is where money is made. YA is the place to be. Even as an indie: look at Amanda Hocking and how she became a publishing wonder with her YA trilogy published on the Kindle.

So about six month ago, since everybody seemed so excited about it, I thought I should try to "break out" with a YA novel. But first I did some research to try and figure out what YA meant.

First surprise: YA is not a genre as such. It is a cross-cutting genre by definition: it means different things to different people. A YA novel can be a romance, a dystopian fantasy, a historical, a paranormal laden with vamp…

Genre as a Marketing Tool: Does it really Work?

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Image via WikipediaThe publishing industry is battered by the digital revolution - and in particular by the 99 cent e-book that blows to smithereens the economics of traditional publishing - yet everyone holds on to "genre" as the one, major, solid, reliable marketing tool.

Do you think that's reasonable? Do you really read in one single genre or are you like me, the genre-flitting kind, moving from paranormal to historical to romance to whatever, damn it, is a real GOOD story? Please take the poll (top of the right-hand side column) and let me know!

Yet traditional publishers rely on genre classification not only as a basic way to direct book distribution to the "right" shelves in bookstores - because that's what works best in the real world to ensure "discoverability" of a new title - but to track the size of the market. Everybody knows that romance is the biggest selling genre, it generated nearly $1.4 billion in sales in 2009. That's where…

IMF Chief Arrested for Sexual Assault!

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Image via Wikipedia
Dominique Strauss-Kahn arrested for attempted rape!

Here's a man who had everything. As the Chief of the IMF he had done what was universally asckowledged as a superb job of helping the world to navigate out of the Great Recession (though in my view we're not out of troubled waters quite yet).

As one of the major exponents of the French Socialist Party, he was ahead in the polls of all other candidates for the next presidential election in France (to be held in May 2012). He hadn't yet declared himself, but everybody expected that he would and that he'd be able to trounce Nicolas Sarkozy. People on the left were rubbing their hands in anticipation.

And then, this!

What amazes me is that a 62 year-old man could blow it all away like that. In a single moment of folly, bursting out naked from his bathroom (or so the press reports say). At 62 - and he does look all his years and more --, you'd expect a person to have acquired a certain degree of phil…

To Self-publish or not Self-pub? That is the Question!

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Image via Wikipedia
Is self-publishing a viable alternative to publishing with a big publisher, say, one of the Big Six? For unpublished writers, otherwise known as newbies, that's the big question.

Any new writer worth his salt dreams of publishing in New York with one of the Big Six. But Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing wonder who's suddenly made it big in one single year winning a $4 million deal with St Martin's Press, has changed that dream forever.

Self-publishing has just about lost most of the stigma it ever had, and Barry Eisler, who walked away from a $500,000 deal with a legacy publisher to follow down the path of self-publishing has put the last nail on the coffin.

So self-publishing has become an acceptable option even for published authors, particularly mid-list authors (those that never made it big on the New York Times list of bestsellers but have reasonably satisfactory sales). Also big authors might (and do) find the idea of self-publishing their back li…

War in the Middle East: Libya yes, Syria no, Yemen forget it!

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Violence Image by Rickydavid via Flickr
Western intervention in the Arab Spring is a study in ambiguity.

War in Libya? Yes. Qaddafi is an obvious bloodthirsty villain, worse than Saddam Hussein, opening fire on his own people, using them as human shields, murdering the sick and wounded, women and children. Besides, Libya is just across Italy and Southern Europe - too close for comfort to allow it to go to the dogs. Libya has to be controlled for everyone's happiness across Europe. And Germany's no at the UN Security Council vote on Libya - which led to the establishment of the no-fly zone for humanitarian reasons (to defend the rebels) and NATO intervention - did not help Ms. Merkel and her Foreign Affairs Minister Westerwelle: they have both lost consensus in Germany and their political future is, to say the least (especially in Westerwelle's case) uncertain.

War on Syria? No, Assad is too powerful, his army too well-equipped, his country too central to stability and bala…

Publishing: What makes a Blockbuster?

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Harry Potter LightiningImage via Wikipedia
What turns a book into a blockbuster? 

The chances for a blockbuster are remote, more like Nassim Taleb's "black swan", swooping in unannounced out of a clear blue sky. 

Yet, history overtime and recent history as well, is filled with striking examples. Take a look at the classics: Shakespeare and Dante, as a friend of mine recently reminded me, were best sellers in their days. People flocked to Shakespeare's play, drawing Queen Elizabeth I 's attention. Bocaccio read on street corners Dante's poems that were in vernacular Italian and not Latin: an absolute novelty at the time. Both Dickens and Balzac were first read in installments in cheap papers. 

Closer to us, Rowling's Harry Potter took the planet by surprise - and to think that the ms was turned down by all major publishers and was eventually published by a small press. Ditto for Stieg Larsson's trilogy. Who would have bet on a Swedish noir filled with poli…

Bin Laden Dead: A Victory or More Terror to Come?

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Bin Laden ID confirmed by DNA testing...

President Obama has announced it, the news are all over Internet: bin Laden has been killed and buried at sea.

Understandably, to avoid any political complications, Americans did not want to catch him alive. Big moment for America. A symbolic victory.

Mission accomplished?

Yes, insofar as it goes. But the blogosphere is already abuzz with news of people doubting that he is really dead. Next there will be cries for revenge. Al-Qaeda will get started again on yet another round of terroristic killings. Actually, many Americans expect this, starting with Leon Panetta, the current CIA Director.

So, yes, I'm pleased America has achieved its goal of decapitating al-Qaeda. But will it slow down Islamic integralism and the more extreme forms of violence?

Quite frankly, I don't think so. Since al-Qaeda is a highly fragmented organization, with lots of terrorist cells sprinkled here and there, cutting off its head is not likely to affect its effec…

How would you write about the Frankenstein monster?

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Frankenstein Portrait Image via Wikipedia

Some literary themes never die, and one of them is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein monster. To think she was just a sweet 18 when she dreamt up this horror! It's been visited many times and most recently by  Danny Boyle at the National Theatre in London this spring. But what I wanted to talk about was Peter Ackroyd's The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein that I just finished. I found it a very interesting revisit of the Frankenstein theme, even though I can see Andrew Motion may have had some good reasons to bash it when it came out in 2008 (click here the UK Guardian).

But I think it is largely undeserved criticism. It is still a very good read and a remarkable reconstruction of a kind of gothic early 19th century English that puts you straignt into a dark, ghoulish mood. Peter Ackroyd has had te bright idea of setting up Victor Frankenstein as a real person and writing from his point of view.

He imagines Frankenstein as a mad scientist…