Tag Archives: Publisher’s Weekly

The 10 Best John Ashbery Poems

Picked by Karin Roffman, author of ‘The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life.’

Source: The 10 Best John Ashbery Poems

By Karin Roffman

John Ashbery, who turns 90 next month, published Commotion of the Birds, his 28th volume of poetry, last October. Choosing the 10 “best” volumes from this vast and remarkable oeuvre would be a challenge. Choosing the 10 “best” poems seems well-nigh impossible.

Recently, however, a student asked me: “Which John Ashbery poem would you read first?” Her question offered an approach to this assignment that I particularly liked. So I have decided to pick 10 Ashbery poems that I suggest reading early and often.

I have not ordered the poems chronologically; instead, I’ve arranged them loosely following the arc of a day. In writing the biography of Ashbery’s early life, I constantly returned to these poems for they remind me of how the poet is drawn to familiar moments when we sleep, dream, eat, think, feel bored, see movies, fear death, and fall in love. Taken together, these 10 poems create the experience of a life—from the mundane to the profound—a reading path that I hope will send you back to his poems for more.

  1. “Wakefulness” (Wakefulness, 1998)

This poem begins at the end of a dream, in that moment when one is awake but still partially in the dream. As a young poet, Ashbery found this sensation conducive to writing and kept paper and a pen by his bed. (He wrote “The Painter” in this state.) As the speaker awakens, “[L]ittle by little the idea of the true way returned to me.” The statement sounds like a restoration of consciousness, but, in fact, the speaker is tunneling deeper into his dream-like mood because its sense of unreality sharpens his perception. In this altered state, he has a vision: “A gavotte of dust-motes / came to replace my seeing.” These musical, dancing dust specks are beautiful, and we can suddenly imagine this indoor sight to be as sublimely lovely and inspiring as Wordsworth’s golden daffodils.

  1. “Adam Snow” (April Galleons, 1987) [Library of America Volume I, page 819]

Ashbery grew up in upstate New York near Lake Ontario, in an area full of dramatic shifts in weather and a lot of snow, which he observed closely in a diary he kept for four years in high school. I choose this poem less for its climate references than for its clear expression of an idea Ashbery first conveyed quite simply in these daily diary entries, the notion that the ordinary and the extraordinary exist side-by-side in our mind. “Adam Snow” shifts between these states of thinking, and it also demonstrates how we constantly move between them without even noticing: “That you may be running through thistles one moment / And across a sheet of thin ice the next and not be aware / of any difference, only that you have been granted an extension.”

  1. “They Knew What They Wanted” (Planisphere, 2008)

The poem is a cento, a form made up entirely of quotations. This one consists exclusively of movie titles that begin with “They,” a list both absurd and surprisingly coherent. Ashbery wrote the poem a decade ago during a period when he was indulging in Turner Classic Movies and busy making collages, something he had started doing for fun in college. These whimsical pieces look like visual poems; this cento is also a kind of poetic collage with so many different movie references stuck together. A movie buff from an early age (“The Lonedale Operator” recounts his very first movie-going experience as a kindergartner), Ashbery’s delight in film titles, character names, witty dialogue and even minor plot points has infiltrated his poetry since he was eight.

  1. “Soonest Mended” (The Double Dream of Spring, 1970) [Library of America Volume I, pages 184-86]

The title is a shortened proverb: “Least Said, Soonest Mended.” A young John Ashbery heard it said by his strict Victorian grandparents, and he learned to keep things to himself. Following this precept, the poem avoids making a direct complaint, and the speaker says “we” and not “I.” The poem is, however, an explanation of what it feels like to be an outsider; the first 35 lines describe struggling to grow up and fit in, being conscious of not belonging. Then the poem offers an understated and moving summary of the opening section: “These then were some hazards of the course.” Ashbery once described this poem as his “one-size-fits-all confessional poem,” which is a way of saying that the poem is aware of both the author’s own childhood miseries—growing up gay and artistic in a family and small town that valued none of those things—and that every person has his or her own story, their own “hazards of the course.”

  1. “But What Is the Reader To Make of This?” (A Wave, 1984) [Library of America Volume I, page 742]

Poetry illuminates the shadowy world of the “interior life,” but its finest feature may be that it has no use at all: “this afternoon / Those delicious few words spread around like jam / Don’t matter.” Of Ashbery’s many ars poeticas (including “What is Poetry”), this one is my favorite.

  1. “Syringa” (Houseboat Days, 1977) [Library of America Volume I, pages 534-36]

“Syringa” turns the story of Orpheus’s grief into a familiar and devastating tale. In the classic myth, Eurydice suddenly dies and Orpheus uses his exceptional lyric gifts to convince the gods to let him bring her back from the underworld, but when he looks back to make sure she’s still behind him—something the gods tell him he must not do—he loses her again forever. The tragic tale has inspired many artists since Ovid to retell it, but in Ashbery’s unsentimental version, Orpheus is just a guy who doesn’t get that his problem is insoluble, even with the help of art, gods or heroism. Ashbery writes: “Of course Eurydice vanished into the shade; / She would have even if he hadn’t turned around.” Eurydice is the past, and the past always disappears. How could Orpheus forget something so obvious? Ashbery’s reading reminds us of the pedestrian and brutal facts of time, which no one escapes.

  1. “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1975) [Library of America Volume I, pages 474-87]

While perusing Ashbery’s class notes from college, I found a reference to the 15th-century painter, Francesco Parmigianino—the subject of this intimate and luminous poem written 30 years later—misspelled in the margin. Ashbery quickly forgot about this early encounter, and years later rediscovered the painter’s work as if for the first time. It seems fitting that a poem about the entangling of life and art—or, as Ashbery concisely puts it, “life englobed”—would have a misremembered origin. The poet examines Parmigianino’s process of creation and his own, recognizing that as an artist makes something new from life, he also loses something in the process: “Often he finds / He has omitted the thing he started out to say / In the first place.” The residue of these absent words still exists through art, however, and provides a catalyst for the artist and audience to rediscover life and self.

  1. “The New Spirit” (Three Poems, 1972) [Library of America Volume I, pages 247-80]

Ensconced in the “moonlight,” the speaker reflects on all he has thought and felt before this moment, and he finds new confidence in the possibility that this waning hour actually offers him a chance for renewal. He realizes that the questions he has been asking repeatedly about life ever since “the fuzzy first thought that gets started in you,” are, in fact, the right ones, and that he must continue. Almost quivering with excitement, he begins “a new journey.”

  1. “Breezeway” (Breezeway, 2015)

The poem imagines a bridge—“a breezeway”—to the world beyond this one. It literalizes the idea of life after death and, in doing so, makes the extraordinary seem ordinary. Those in this world are full of thoughts of the next, but how does one get there? You walk, of course. But why would one ever want to leave this world? This life has comic book heroes and weather and amusing misunderstandings, but it is often also rather dull and meaningless. Batman is bored watching mere mortals try to get through their day. Yet even those moments of tedium can have a transcendent rhythm and spirit, which Batman, for all his godlike qualities, just can’t quite perceive.

  1. “Some Trees” (Some Trees, 1956) [Library of America Volume I, page 26]

Written in 1948 when Ashbery was only 21 and a senior at Harvard College, this brief lyric has everything that his later, much longer, poems will advance. It is a love poem that never mentions love directly, but a feeling of being in love infuses the way the speaker sees, feels, and thinks about everything. It makes him feel both small and big, a tiny piece of a greater universe, but nonetheless connected to a world full of mystery and grandeur. A sense of the universe comes from gazing up at those huge trees from the ground while in love and remembering the immensity of that experience of feeling and thinking.


Karin Roffman’s The Songs We Know Best: John Ashbery’s Early Life is the first in-depth biography of one of the 20th century’s greatest poets. The narrative follows Ashbery, who was born in 1927, up to 1955, when W.H. Auden awarded Ashbery’s debut collection, Some Trees, the Yale Younger Poets prize. In addition to providing insight into Ashbery’s personal life and work, Roffman provides wonderful analysis of his poems. Roffman picks 10 of the best Ashbery poems. Links to the poems are provided.


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Danielle Steel Loves the Weather and Elmore Leonard Hates Exclamation Points: Literature by the Numbers

Source: Danielle Steel Loves the Weather and Elmore Leonard Hates Exclamation Points: Literature by the Numbers

by Ben Blatt

The first literary mystery to be solved by numbers was a 150-year-old whodunit finally put to rest in 1963. Two statistics professors learned of the long-running debate over a dozen contested essays from The Federalist Papers, and they saw that they might succeed where historians had failed. Both Alexander Hamilton and James Madison claimed to have written the same 12 essays, but who was right?

The answer lay in how each writer used hundreds of small words like but and what, which altogether formed a kind of literary fingerprint. The statisticians painstakingly cut up each essay and counted the words by hand—a process during which “a deep breath created a storm of confetti and a permanent enemy.” And by comparing hundreds of word frequencies, they came up with a clear answer after so many years of speculation: the contested essays were distinctly the work of James Madison.

Since 1963, similar methods have continued to yield major findings. Take, for instance, last year’s revelation that Shakespeare collaborated with Christopher Marlowe. And in the meantime, the technology involved has leapt from scissors and paper to computer and code, giving rise to a whole new field of study—the digital humanities.

In my new book, Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, I use simple data to whiz through hundreds of classics, bestsellers, and fan fiction novels to explore anew our favorite authors and how they write. I uncover everything from literary fingerprints and favorite words and tics, to the changing reading level of NYT bestsellers and how men and women write characters differently.

If you have a body of literature, stats can now serve as an x-ray. Here are a few fascinating examples from Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve:

Writing Advice

There is a lot of writing advice out there. But it’s hard to test, and it’s often best to judge someone not by what they say but what they do. Novelists may tell their adoring fans to do one thing, but do they actually follow their own advice? With data, we can find out—looking at everything from the overuse of adverbs to Strunk and White’s advice against qualifiers like “very” or “pretty.”

One of my favorite examples comes from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing, where Leonard offers the following rule about exclamation points: “You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.” A writing rule in the form of a ratio is a blessing for a statistician, so I ran with it. Does Leonard practice what he preaches?

From a strict numerical view, no. Leonard wrote over 40 novels which totaled 3.4 million words. If he were to follow his own advice he should have been allowed only 102 exclamation points his entire career. In practice, he used 1,651—which is 16 times as many as he recommends.

But looking deeper, we find that Leonard did follow the spirit of his own rule. Below are 50 novelists, representing a range of classic authors and bestselling authors. Elmore Leonard beats out everyone.

And the picture gets even more interesting when we look at how Leonard’s use changes over time. The chart below shows the number of exclamation points that Leonard used in each one of his novels from the start of the career. He loved the exclamation point as a novice, but he slowly weaned off of it over time.

Interestingly, after he delivered his exclamation point rule in 10 Rules for Writing, his use decreased even further (the one exception was Leonard’s sole children’s novel). He may have been a zealot: no one I looked at uses exclamation points at a rate lower than two or three per 100,000. But Leonard practiced what he preached: he got closer to his magic ratio than any other writer, especially in his final stretch of novels.

He was also on to something. I parsed through thousands of amateur fan-fiction stories online and found they were not only enthusiastic about their story universes, but for exclamation points as well. The average published author relies on about 1/4th as many exclamation points as the average amateur writer.

How Cliché

The book world loves a good list: bestsellers, award winners, “best of the year” lists. But what other superlative lists are there to uncover out there in the literary world? In Nabokov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, I decided to ask: who uses the shortest sentences, the most adverbs, writes at the lowest grade level or relies on the most clichés?

I took all expressions mentioned in the 2013 book by Christine Ammer titled The Dictionary of Clichés. These are phrases like “fish out of water,” “dressed to kill,” and “not one’s cup of tea”—4,000 phrases in total. To my knowledge, Ammer’s book is the largest collection of English language clichés. I then scanned through the complete bibliographies of the same 50 authors mentioned above to see who used the most clichés.

The answer: James Patterson.

You’d expect some recency bias in the dictionary of clichés (Jane Austen’s characters, unfortunately, weren’t ever described as “dressed to kill”). So I also looked at every single book that ranked on Publishers Weekly’s bestselling books of the year since 2000. James Patterson can’t blame his time period alone. Even compared to his contemporaries in genre and time, Patterson comes in with five of the 10 most clichéd books. He’s clearly making it work, though. Of those PW lists, Patterson has 16 books, more titles than any other writer.

Start with a Bang

In response to a question on Twitter about her favorite first sentence in literature, novelist Margaret Atwood answered: Call me Ishmael. “Three words. Power-packed. Why Ishmael? It’s not his real name. Who’s he speaking to? Eh?”

Atwood emphasized the brevity of the Moby-Dick opener, and she is similarly concise in her own work. I compared the median length of her opening sentence to that of the 50 authors in the exclamation point chart above. Only one author, Toni Morrison, beats her out.

Opening sentences are far from an exact science, but keeping them short and powerful by rule of thumb is a smart place to start. Drawing from a range of sources, I assembled a list of the consensus top 20 opening sentences in literature. And of that list, 60% of the openers are short when compared to the book’s average sentence length.

But when you look a much wider sample of literature, most authors in practice opt for long openers. In 69% of all of the books I looked at, the opening sentence is longer than the average sentence throughout the rest of the book. It might be that authors like Toni Morrison and Margaret Atwood are on to something as they keep their openers “power-packed.”

Beach Weather

In one last example, let’s return to Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. His first rule (#1!) is “Never open a book with weather.” Apparently Leonard had strong feelings about this trope, but anyone who’s ever heard too many plays on the old saw, “it was a dark and stormy night,” will know where he’s coming from.

Leonard again lives up to his own advice. But there’s one author who completely flouts it, and it’s an example I love.

Danielle Steel, known for selling hundreds of millions of books, should also be known for talking about the weather. She started her first book off “It was a gloriously sunny day and the call from Carson Advertising came at nine-fifteen.” She’s never looked back.

Nearly half her of introductions involve weather—mostly benign, positive weather (“perfect deliciously warm Saturday afternoons,” “perfect balmy May evening”, “absolutely perfect June day,” or simply: “The weather was magnificent.”). But like Patterson she has made her rule-breaking choice work. It’s a distinctive style that’s all her own—and it’s a quirk that at least this reader would never have been able to pin down without having been able to run the numbers first.



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The 11 Most Anticipated Book-to-Film Adaptations of 2017

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Not Just a Southern Writer: Ron Rash

Ron Rash talks about his latest novel and his attachment to the natural world.

by Kelly Crisp

Source: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/71271-not-just-a-southern-writer-ron-rash.html

Ron Rash has become established as a representative of Southern Literature, although after more than two decades writing poetry, stories, and novels, he transcends the notion of a southern writer. Rash’s works have embraced a universal humanism and naturalism: his characters are both sustained by and compromised by the unpredictable natural world.

The Risen by Ron RashIn his latest novel, The Risen (Ecco, Sept.), the narrator, Eugene, while fishing with his brother during the summer of 1969, sees a naked teenaged girl with flowing red hair in the creek, the vision of her so fleeting that he wonders if he’s seen a mermaid. Visiting from Florida, Ligeia is no mermaid, but she is an exotic and free-spirited creature who introduces the boys to the excitement of the 60s, experiences they keep secret from their small town, and the watchful eyes of their controlling grandfather.

Ligeia vanishes, as does the close relationship between the brothers as they move into adulthood. When her body surfaces 46 years later, so do the memories of that summer.

The mystery is central to this plot, and like many of Rash’s novels, the story is driven by suspense. But just under the surface, there are difficult questions involving poverty, child neglect sanctioned by religion, and abuse authorized by a self-righteous class system. These are challenging themes, and yet, there is nothing forced in Rash. His prose is clean and without affectation.

Describing fishing: “When a rod tip trembled, one of us got out to reel in what tugged the line. Often it was a knottyhead or catfish, but if a trout we gilled it onto our metal stringer.” And when Eugene’s brother would lift the string of fish from the cooling waters: “Through a gap in the canopy, the declining sun brightened the stringer’s silver sheen, flared the red slashes on the trout’s flanks.”

During our conversation on the eve of Rash’s trip to France for an Eco-Literature convention, where the theme was “Enchantment,” he tells me that “One thing that’s important for me in my work is to remind people that there is a natural world. It’s very easy to think we are not connected to it anymore, but we are, whether we want to be or not.”

His easy reverence is in direct opposition to the rendering of the natural world in TV and film as a creepy, possibly demonic, adversary—or at the very least a place to be wary if you wander too far without an iPhone. “It’s amazing,” Rash says. “When anyone goes out in the woods in a movie, you know something horrible is going to happen.”

While there is danger to irresponsible humans, and the body count can be intense in some of Rash’s more tragic works, often the most profoundly felt loss is that of a formerly protected, or undisturbed natural resource.
Family folklore, passed down from his older relatives, gave Rash the idea that the world is fundamentally enigmatic. “I want the world to be mysterious, I don’t want to know everything,” he says. “One of my great delights is when an animal, that is allegedly extinct, fools people. Jaguars have recently come back into the United States; I love those moments when the natural world surprises us, and reminds us maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do.”

To hear him describe childhood summers on his grandmother’s farm near the Blue Ridge Parkway in N.C., it’s clear why he’s a celebrated voice among the eco-engaged. “I was like Huck Finn,” he says. “My grandmother would let me go, let me wander. It was a gift. I was not afraid. I just reveled in it. The connections I made with the natural world stayed with me.”

Rash is aware that writing about the south brings the possibility, as he has said, of being softly dismissed as “just” a southern writer. Southern writing, he says, “is like any writing. It’s either good or it isn’t. It either transcends the region, or it doesn’t. The best writers from the south transcend the south. Ultimately Faulkner’s goal is not to show how exotic the south is. He has deeper concerns, and certainly Flannery O’Connor did too.”

That doesn’t mean the south is not Rash’s territory. His collection of poems entitled Eureka Mill, based on the mill where his grandparents and parents worked, draws attention to the suffering and loss of humanity that rural southerners felt (and feel) when they leave the farm for the mill. Narratives of southern exploitation are seamlessly woven into the poems, as in “The Stretch-Out,” when a girl of seventeen is exhausted from a brutal day at the mill, and miscarries a child during the night. She explains, “I cried but cried quietly/ and let the bed sheets clot and stain, so that my man and me might save/ what strength a full night’s sleep might give/ I closed my eyes and slept again.”

Constructions like “my man and me,” exhibit Rash’s ear for speech patterns. His stories are known for capturing the voice of a region, but, rendering that voice universally, so that it rings true to any ear, takes a great deal of care and modulation. To Rash, Richard Price is one of the best at translating regional voices onto the page. “In many ways I feel a much deeper connection to him than other writers in the United States,” Rash says. “He’s trying to capture the patois of New York cops and young people in the city, and at the same time, he is working toward the universal. People wouldn’t think that, because of what I write, I would connect with Richard Price, but I feel a real kinship with him.”

As exhibited in Eureka Mill and other collections, his finely honed craftsmanship is most salient in his poetry, which has a casual, addictive appeal. Often compared to Seamus Heaney, the association is especially apt considering the Celtic musical, oral, and folkways ties running deeply through the Appalachians. Palimpsest and layered possession are intrinsic realities for rural North Carolinians. Plowing a field in “The Vanquished” from this year’s Poems: New and Selected turns up “pottery and arrowheads/ bone-shards that spilled across rows/ like kindling, a once-presence/ keen as the light of dead stars.”

By situating himself as the faithful observer of the natural world, Rash makes land, and landscape, available to readers. His dramatizations aren’t driven by sentimentality, but rather complex dilemmas usually centered on a question of land exploitation, or the exploitation of former land-workers, like those stuck in North Carolina’s Eureka Mill, fleeced of their land and sense of purpose. With his latest novel, Rash again creates an irresistible conceit that transcends the South. But, of course, the importance of the South is undeniable.

Source: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/profiles/article/71271-not-just-a-southern-writer-ron-rash.html

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PW Picks: Books of the Week, December 7, 2015

This week at Publisher’s Weekly: a bibulous Southern preacher’s perverse quest for sainthood, plus how human perception is changing.

Source: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/68840-pw-picks-books-of-the-week-december-7-2015.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly&utm_campaign=9e2d958a01-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0bb2959cbb-9e2d958a01-304545489



Sophia by Michael Bible (Melville House) – Bible’s short, comic novel, which relates a bibulous Southern preacher’s perverse quest for sainthood, is full of small miracles. The Reverend Alvis T. Maloney is a Rabelaisian figure, the “lazy priest of [the] town’s worst church,” whose irrepressible appetites lead him into distinctly unholy alliances with his parishioners and the Holy Ghost, about whom he has recurring erotic dreams that would make John Donne blush. Whether he is a man more sinned against than sinning is an open question, but his desire to follow his own unorthodox righteous path is undisputed. The plot is almost secondary, though there is an excess of it: a cross-country chess tournament tour with Eli, a prodigy and Maloney’s “redneck Virgil”; an attack on a suburban house involving a hot air balloon; and a game of wits with a blind bounty hunter chasing Maloney and his pregnant lover from “the great Southern Bohemia” to New York City. Bible shrewdly pairs his maximalist comic style with a minimalist form. The novella is composed of short, paragraph-long scenes that are variously poetic, bawdy, and zany.

The Verdict

The Verdict

The Verdict by Nick Stone (Pegasus Crime) – This propulsive legal thriller from Thriller Award–winner Stone (Mr. Clarinet) centers on the arrest and impending trial—seemingly a certain prosecutorial slam dunk—of multimillionaire hedge funder Vernon James, a poor West Indian immigrant’s son, for the murder of the young blond whose strangled body is found in his luxury suite at the London hotel where only hours earlier he accepted an award from the Hoffmann Trust, a liberal umbrella organization, as “Ethical Person of the Year.” James’s predicament should come as catnip to Terry Flynt—at 38 hanging on by his fingernails to a job as a lowly legal clerk—who blames James, his former childhood best friend, for getting him booted out of Cambridge and starting him on the downward spiral of booze and depression that nearly destroyed his life. But, as Flynt is stunned to discover when he’s tapped to work on the defense team, his feelings are significantly more complicated, especially once the evidence he starts to uncover suggests that James might be innocent.

To see other picks: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/tip-sheet/article/68840-pw-picks-books-of-the-week-december-7-2015.html?utm_source=Publishers+Weekly&utm_campaign=9e2d958a01-UA-15906914-1&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0bb2959cbb-9e2d958a01-304545489

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Writing tip Wednesday: “Write for Yourself”

Want to Succeed in Self-Publishing? Write for Yourself: Tips from an Indie Author


Source: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/66636-want-to-succeed-in-self-publishing-write-for-yourself-tips-from-an-indie-author.html

KP Ambroziak 100dpi_3x4K.P. Ambroziak knows the sense of fulfillment and independence that going indie can bring. After self-publishing her vampire novel, The Journal of Vincent Du Maurier, Ambroziak received a positive review from Publishers Weekly, with our reviewer calling her book “fast-paced [and] suspenseful” and saying “science fiction and horror fans alike will anxiously race toward this journal’s end and eagerly request the next installment.”

Ambroziak has studied the indie market, but spends more time writing than promoting. The way she sees it, “without a good story, one that is polished and well-written, you’ve got nothing to sell.” Her response is also rooted in the fact that indie authors must fight against the stigma of “bad” writing. Still, Ambroziak says she was surprised by how good it felt to know someone had read her story. “The first review I received was unsolicited, and the thrill I felt at knowing I’d shared something intimate (my words) with someone (a stranger) was most surprising.”

We asked author K. P. Ambroziak if she had any tips for other self-published authors:

Mistakes are Part of the Process
“The lonely road of self-publishing has both advantages and disadvantages…For instance, you get to choose the cover page, decide if you agree with an edit, you get to name your book, pick your release date and whether there’ll be a second, third, or 11th book in your series. These can seem like daunting choices, but in fact they’re part and parcel of the road, and if you can embrace them, the control they offer bolsters up the whole of your self-publishing venture. You learn with each mistake you make, and self-publishing affords you the opportunity to correct those mistakes and apply them to future projects. Not knowing everything is a good thing.”

Write for Yourself

Reviews Aren’t Everything

Rest of the article: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/authors/pw-select/article/66636-want-to-succeed-in-self-publishing-write-for-yourself-tips-from-an-indie-author.html

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The Case For Libraries

When it comes to books, libraries and publishers should be in it together, argues a leading marketing expert

Source: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/66106-the-case-for-libraries.html

By David Vinjamuri

Publishers are running out of space. Not in their headquarters, some of which are larger and more imposing than ever, but in retail. The number of booksellers has been dwindling since the demise of Borders, and the largest book retailer today is Amazon, which has no physical space at all.

So the question is, where can publishers showcase new books? If only there were a space dedicated primarily to reading that hundreds of millions of Americans visit annually. If only there existed a trusted space, free of the revenue pressure that necessitates displaying lightly pornographic books of debatable quality. If only there were a space largely inhabited by active readers, where publishers could showcase new authors or shine new light on talented mid-listers.

That space exists in the 16,000 public library branches in America. They’re trusted and willing, and they welcome your attention. But libraries receive surprisingly little coordinated help from publishers beyond lip service—in fact, they’re still in the middle of a very public dispute with publishers about the high prices and restrictive access libraries must contend with to lend e-books to their patrons.

The tension between libraries and publishers seems odd in a market where physical space for displaying books is quickly disappearing. How did we get here? And could libraries actually represent a much better opportunity for publishers than they are given credit for?

A History of Indifference

In the beginning, publishers and libraries were interdependent. When modern publishing houses emerged from printers in the late 19th century, public libraries in the U.S. and U.K. were often the first and only guaranteed customer for a title.

Even as late as 1950, libraries were indispensable customers for publishers. The entire output of the domestic publishing industry in that year was 11,000 titles, and the average branch of a public library purchased 14,000 titles annually. The most reliable market for many books was the 11,135 library branches operating then.

Things are different today. Publishers produced nearly half a million new ISBNs in 2013 (with self-publishers included, that total nearly doubles), though increasingly cash-strapped libraries are purchasing fewer titles. According to industry stats, the library market now represents just over 1.3% of publishers’ trade sales. But just as the crucible of the book superstore transformed publishing in the 1980s, the advent of online sellers—particularly Amazon—is remaking it today. And as the conflict between Hachette and Amazon last year proved, Amazon is both indispensable and despised as a partner to publishers.

But a new challenge has emerged from the transformation of sales channels in the past three decades: discovery. Five years, ago in 2010, just under a third of all frequent readers (who purchase 80% of all books and number 43 million) found the last book they bought at a bookstore. This year, that number is down to 17%, according to Peter Hildick-Smith, of the Codex Group—a change that gives Amazon more power than ever.

“A small group of authors control the bestseller lists,” Hildick-Smith observes. “When we indexed the New York Times hardcover fiction and mass market bestseller lists from June 2008 through June 2014, nearly 16,000 spots in total, we found that all those places were occupied by fewer than 650 authors.”

That concentration has created a problem for publishers, which Amazon has ruthlessly exploited. By promoting both self-published and Amazon-signed authors on the Kindle platform, the online retailer has come to exert tremendous pricing pressure on the entire industry. Amazon can now manipulate the products of hundreds of thousands of other authors through price reduction.

Meanwhile, the dominance of bestsellers has also put the squeeze on the marketing budgets of debut and midlist authors. Since publishers can only afford to make a few big bets per year, the route to building new franchise authors is more uncertain than ever.

Author Brands Matter

A great deal of attention has been paid to the question of so-called platform size for new authors. How large is the social media footprint of the author? How active is she on Facebook, Twitter, and

Continued at: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/libraries/article/66106-the-case-for-libraries.html

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