Monday, October 24, 2011
Not Quite Ironweed
Promoter Garry Austin did his usual above average job on publicity and advertising.Karen and Garry Austin, Mike Daum, Bill Hutchison discuss Mark Twain first edition points
As a result he got a good crowd for the 37th annual Albany Antiquarian Book and Ephemera Fair.
There were no major glitches at setup, and more than 400 people and two dogs kept things busy right through Sunday afternoon. Most dealers reported good results and several said they had very strong fairs. As usual, sales of cheap books predominated. I didn’t sell anything, but lunch at Hot Dog Heaven was to die from. Last year we had snow flurries. This year it felt like we might. Albany remains an interesting, funky town. Seems stuck in the same rut as Hartford.
Now for the interesting news.
My buddy Anthony Weller just got his novel published. This is good news, but not particularly surprising. Over the course of a long career Weller has published six novels and works of non-fiction. He’s also written innumerable articles for the likes of GQ, Esquire, National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. What is noteworthy about Weller’s most recent book, The Land of Later On, is that he sold it to a publisher who’s new on the scene – a company called Amazon.
That’s right, Amazon.
And I am not talking about a self-published text here, one of those vanity publishing products that have become so numerous in recent years. Weller’s agent drew up a contract with Amazon editors. Weller was paid an advance. He will receive royalties. The Land of Later On is a “real” book.
Amazon is now competing directly in the world of trade publishing. They’ve signed up a few high-profile non-fiction authors (this move received considerable publicity a few weeks ago) and they’ve added several novelists, of whom Weller is one, to launch Amazon’s publishing arm.
Under the terms of Weller’s contract, The Land of Later On will appear exclusively as an e-book until December, at which time it will also come out as a traditional hard copy book.
Anthony has been keeping me posted on the details of his dealings with Amazon, and they are fascinating - both in what they say about Amazon and what they imply about our future in the book trade.
Traditionally it can take as long as a year for a publisher to process a book. First, the text is subjected to a “copy edit” which may result in improvements agreed upon by editor and author. A “line edit” ensues, in which the text is fact checked, and spell checked, and the publisher’s conventions of spelling and grammar are applied. Then the text goes to a designer who devises a page layout that will be suitable for the book’s genre and content. While all this is going on, a jacket is designed and, the author hopes, a marketing plan is concocted, fueled by a healthy advertising budget. It is a prolonged process, and rightly so. Decisions about the design of the cover and the look and feel of the book could have a significant impact on sales and need to be carefully considered.
Or so we thought.
In Weller’s case, Amazon turned Land of Later On around in less than thirty days. He is a master of his craft, a meticulous workman, and was able to deliver a very “clean” manuscript. This was a important because Amazon seems to have dispensed with line and copy edits of his book. There were no lengthy conversations with an editor about plot points, no galleys to comb in search of typos. When Weller inquired about this startling omission Amazon told him that, because the text was electronic, changes could be made on the fly - even after electronic publication – at any time, in any quantity.
Usually, as publication date approaches, advance reading copies, or ARCs, are sent far and wide, soliciting reviews that can be used in advertising the book. Feature or starred reviews in trade publications like Kirkus or Publisher’s Weekly have a huge impact because such reviews can influence which other journals will review the book. Thousands of new titles appear every month; it’s damned difficult to get a review – even a bad one – in the New York Times.
Amazon eliminated this problem by eliminating ARCs entirely. No advance copies went out. No reviews were solicited. Weller got a wonderful “blurb” from John Casey, who won the National Book Award for his novel Spartina. This blurb will be the only extraneous text accompanying Weller’s book. As far as the traditional publishing world knows, The Land of Later On does not exist.
No one talked to Weller about marketing plans, book tours, or advertising budgets. The success of The Land of Later On will depend solely on the company’s ability to exploit its vast but hermetically sealed resources.
Weller’s book is a love story that spans space and time. The hero is a jazz pianist and, charmingly, his side kick is Walt Whitman. Much of the story takes place in the Afterlife. Obviously, Amazon will turn to its enormous reservoir of proprietary information about our shopping habits to promote Weller’s book - “If you’re interested in (Walt Whitman, jazz, the Afterlife, etc., etc.) you’ll want to read The Land of Later On.”
There’ll be plenty of reviews (as of this writing the book has already garnered half a dozen), but they’ll all be “peer” reviews, submitted to Amazon by people who have read the book and want to tell others about it. They’ll appear only on the Amazon website.
And if it turns out that Chapter Five was inadvertently omitted from the Kindle version, no problem! They just push a button at Amazon and the electronic text is corrected.
Incredible stuff! But it raises a few questions.
Where, and what, is the author’s manuscript copy of this book?
What constitutes the “first edition” of The Land of Later On?
Will the “first edition” include the Kindle it lives on?
What about later printings? How do we sell used copies of Kindle books?
When the paperback comes out will we be able to buy it at Barnes &Noble?
Will our local book stores carry it? Or will they be afraid of competing against the mighty Amazon?
Just in case to the answer to the last two is “no,” here’s where you can get your own copy of Anthony Weller’s The Land of Later On.
Paperback (available 12/14/11):
I give it a five star review.