Archives for category: Book publishing

Jenifer Wightman is trying to get an addendum, adding scientific information to the account of the creation, into all 48 surviving Gutenberg Bibles. Pacific Standard has the story (sent via Literary Hub). Her blog recounts various “installations” of the addendum.

The addendum can be seen in this photo from Ms Wightman’s blog, in situ in the Cambridge University Library’s copy of Gutenberg’s Bible.

Here is a copy of the sheet from Ms Wightman’s site which you can click on and enlarge.


I’m not altogether clear why libraries are agreeing to this. If Gutenberg’s Bibles need to have this addition what about the millions of other Bibles lying around here and there?

The accounts lay stress on the use of letterpress printing and a version of Gutenberg’s Textura typeface, which is oddly just used in the red printing — the red letters in the original were hand written by scribes. I find it inexplicable that this sort of quest for quasi-authenticity should be accompanied by a casual decision to set the body text in an unattractive sans serif type.

Is this in fact just a bit of conceptual/performance art? See Ms. Wightman’s blog for the performance.


Susan Ferber, Executive Editor at Oxford University Press, is quoted by Dr. Syntax: “I think we have taken for granted what an incredible development print on demand has meant for publishers, authors, and readers.  There is no need to declare books out of print anymore; we can literally make work available forever, which is a development on par with the printing press in my mind.  I think the death of the print book has been the most overhyped negative in the publishing world.  This has been augured and feared for so long, and for new generations of readers, it is so heartening to see that they love the print form.  It is enduring and old technology can and does have value.”

As a long-time POD evangelist, I can enthusiastically agree. Susan’s in charge of history, and OUP’s American Office has a rich history in history publishing. One of my regrets about stopping work is that I hadn’t been able to bring all of these old classics back into print. We did manage quite a few though.

The always contrarian French (Le tiers livre ) appear to disagree, reporting via a tweet by Jose Afonso Furtado, that print on demand is dead. But hold on: it’s only dead because it’s become so much a part of the scene that we no longer need a special name for it. Those French: so witty and full of paradox! François Bon tells us that when the annual sale of a book drops to 500, Hachette will switch it over routinely to POD. I don’t know, but I’d bet US trade houses haven’t made such a radical across-the-board decision. University Presses and academic publishers may effectively have done so, but of course for them a sale of 500 a year is nearer the top than the bottom end of the sales range, so the potential switch point will be very different. Mr Bon’s article focuses primarily on the difference POD can make to authors and their relationship to the book emphasizing the POD book as part of a digital continuum. One cannot disagree that the arrival of digital publishing has given authors great freedom in both the ebook and the print book arenas: and good thing too.

Of course the fact that a publisher need never put a book out of print now that it can be printed one-off in response to whatever orders trickle in, does mean that authors’ rights will never revert to them. Thus the freedom authors have gained in being able to print their books on their own (self publish), appears to bring with it a loss of freedom in their relationship with their publisher. While I am sure there are cases where this has resulted in real loss, the problem strikes me as one more of theory than reality. If the author wants their rights back for one of their old books surely just asking for them would result in most cases in success. In the future contracts should (and no doubt in many cases already do) contain a reversion agreement not couched in terms of “out of print” or “unavailable” but in terms of a sales volume or a finite number of years. You don’t chose a publisher in order to have a fight with them: in most cases it’s quite easy not to.

Shelf Awareness alerts us to this Bustle post on 19 books to read based on your drink of choice. Though I have no principled objection to either drinking or reading I’m not sure how good an idea this is. Too many drinks might tend to slow you down rather than enhance your reading experience — unless you’re one of those who read in order to fall asleep. Certainly the idea shouldn’t be used as encouragement to open a bar/bookstore. The risk of spilling coffee on unsold books must haunt owners of bookstores with coffee bars; but spilled liquor would be an almost certain result of encouraging boozy browsing. Rings from the bottoms of beer mugs do not enhance the value of a novel. But could an aroma of mint julep coming from that copy of Absalom, Absalom! perhaps work as a subliminal sales enhancer?

Not sure that this concept is worth much: choosing books appropriate to the drink you are consuming seems like mixing apples and oranges, or maybe grape and grain. A book takes so much longer to read than any drink to consume. If you persist in downing vodka shots while reading War and Peace you will never finish the book, and may possibly die in the attempt. Maybe it’s an insidious plan by the liquor industry to make us all to go on benders.

The Wine Society advises us that Robert Louis Stevenson called wine bottled poetry, which frankly seems a bit naff to me — but it was a long time ago. They provide a few literary wine references. No doubt you can come up with lots more (but some would say these are already too many).

The idea of a book-of-the-month + wine-of-the-month club does seem to have potential. A package of a book plus a bottle of wine related in some way to this month’s book selection would be a welcome sight. I’d sign up for such double serendipity. The problem however is that book publishers are not allowed to ship wines, and wine stores don’t need to bother with such troublesome procedures to sell their wares. If you see Penguin Random House buying a liquor store, keep your eyes open.* Might it be called Random Public House?

The nearest we effectively get to a wine/book club is a book club (in the sense of a reading circle) which meets to discuss the month’s reading over a bottle of wine. I dare say there are some such groups which strive to make a link between the wine served and the book read.

If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then go ahead, drink up while reading away. Just chose something that doesn’t demand your full attention. However well it all starts off, you won’t be able to bestow it for too long. Chose a thriller rather than a philosophical tract perhaps. Maybe short stories would be best: see Pub lit.

See also Writers and the bottle.


* About a week after I drafted this along comes the news, via Publishers Lunch, that Penguin Random House has acquired T-shirt company Out of Print Clothing. The new building-annex will be reporting in to the VP of publishing innovation development. PRH indicates that this signals “its intent to greatly expand its author- and imprint-brand-based merchandising capabilities.” Can that liquor store be far behind? After all brands expand.

In a related (?) story Publishing Perspectives also tells us Bertelsmann (PRH’s parent) Education Group has acquired the Idaho-based WhiteCloud Analytics, which specializes in performance management in healthcare.

Atlas Obscura reveals the existence of The Brautigan Library, where only unpublished works are shelved.

They tell us this library was founded in tribute to Richard Brautigan’s 1971 novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966, in which the protagonist works in a library of unpublished manuscripts. In that novel no visitors are allowed into the library, but you can visit the real one in Vancouver, WA (a suburb of Portland, not that Canadian place). You’re not allowed to take the books out, but you can sit there and read them. It would seem a great place to send your old PhD thesis: apparently the only constraint on submissions is that they must be in English.

One might speculate that with self publishing becoming so easy the supply of material for this library might dry up. The curator has boldly expanded the library’s remit to include ebooks.

But what after all does unpublished mean? In the olden days when you got a book published by a publisher there was no doubt on the subject. Lots of copies would printed and you could go and look at them as proof of publication; the book had been made public. But does being available to the public actually suffice to define publication? After all, my translation of Heine’s Das Buch le Grand is “published”  even though nobody (apart from) me has apparently read it!* Has Mr Barber fatally undermined Brautigan’s original conception by allowing readers actually to see, and even worse, read the books, thereby inadvertently publishing them?

As it happens Brautigan’s best-known novel Trout Fishing in America is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary Literary Hub tells us. Masterpiece or naïve relic? they ask. The New York Times review said “His dialogue is supernaturally exact; his descriptive concision is the prefect carrier for his extraordinary comic perceptions. Moreover, the books possess a springtime moral emptiness; essentially works of language, they offer no bromides for living.” Trout Fishing in America is an example of “shameless fictional show boating,” and that’s fine coming from someone “crazy with optimism.” I remember quite liking it.


* Shockingly I’ve just discovered this may no longer be true. One sale was made in May!

“’For one glorious evening, the book and its author are fully alive. And then, the morning after, everyone can get on with their lives . . . The printed book is a democratic object’, they argue, but one being ‘pushed to the margins’ as some publishers are trying to save the book ‘by turning it into a luxury item’; a desirable object prized for its commercial value rather than its contents.”

Such is the justification of Icelandic publishers Dagur Hjartarson and Ragnar Helgi Ólafsson for their policy of printing only on the night of a full moon; printing only 69 copies; and then burning all copies which remain unsold after that one night. The Guardian story doesn’t disclose how many copies they actually do manage to sell on the night, or their pricing policy. Despite their claim that the author on that night is also “fully alive”, we do not see any hint that writers are encouraged to join their unsold volumes on the brandy-fuelled pyre.

Giving the books to the hungry so they could benefit from the calories they contain does not unfortunately seem to be an option. Quora calculates that a 500 page paperback contains a mere 0.53 calories. Clearly not worth the effort of biting into: better to release those calories as heat.(Link via Shelf Awareness for Readers.)

Tunglið, the name they have chosen for their company, actually means moon in Icelandic.

This story seems to be very popular: I suppose it is quaintly odd — one of these stories where I automatically checked the date to make sure it wasn’t 1 April.

I also did a post about Icelandic writer’s itch a few years ago. Getting rid of books like Tunglið do may help alleviate the “over-writing” phenomenon by stimulating more publishing activity as a result of creating space in the marketplace.

Sent via The Digital Reader, this infographic comes from Global English Editing.

If you find it hard to make out, click on the link to Global English Editing above where you’ll be able to read a larger version.


I’ve inveighed before about the mania people have for expecting us all to innovate all the time. If you’re not innovating they suggest, you’re probably dead. I cannot agree: if we’re not innovating, I’d suggest, we’re probably getting on with our main job — publishing books.

My response tends to be to dismiss the criticism. Kathy Sandler, a much more analytical person than me, has responded with some solid research documenting enough innovation in publishing to satisfy even the skeptics. Her paper, to be published in Publishing Research Quarterly in September 2017 can be found here. Her own blog, here.

“What happens when the amount of books available to read exceeds the market’s ability to read them?” Martyn Daniels asked at Brave New World a couple of years ago. He seems to see the arrival of the ebook as a threat to our ability to cope.

I’m not sure why that would be a worry. In so far as it means anything, wasn’t that point reached long ago anyway? More books are available than any one person could ever dream of reading. However if we lined up all the readers in the world and set them, in a organized way, to read every book available, dividing the books up between the readers, I guess we could get the job done quite quickly. Is Mr Daniels worrying about a situation where there’d be too many books for us to be able to do even that? We are told there are a billion illiterate people in the world, which leaves about 6⅓ billion who are literate to some extent. Let’s assume half of those are children, and about a billion are only functionally literate: that might leave about 2 billion readers standing ready at our starting gate able to cope with a book. Apparently Google has calculated that 130 million books have been published in modern history. Let’s double that to cover the time before “the modern era” and we can see our available readers outnumber the supply of books by almost ten to one. This hardly seems a problem worth losing any sleep over.

Is he worried that publishers will go out of business when we have published more books than can be purchased? We are already in that situation and always have been: publish books which nobody wants and you will end up bankrupt. But the fact is books are not like washing machines. If you have one, you are quite likely to want another. If you publish good books, lots of people will want more of them. How many books would we need to bring out for our world of readers, and the libraries serving them, to find there were just too many for them to want another? “I’ve got fifty thousand books I’ve got to read in the next few years. I can’t possibly be expected to buy another — just go away.” Come on Brave New World, it doesn’t work like that: just because you can’t find time to read it yourself doesn’t mean that you don’t want a book to exist. Or can’t con yourself into thinking you’ll find time for it.

I suspect that oversupply is simply impossible when it comes to books. Even if there is a book which nobody (apart perhaps from the author) is ever going to read from start to finish, what’s wrong with that? If someone just looks inside it and looks up one thing, it may have performed a valuable function. And even if that never happens: what’s the harm?

We habitually refer to anything appearing at the top of the page, other than the folio, as a running head. Properly speaking, though, a running head is one that changes as we go through the book, giving a description of the material appearing on that page, or spread. Usually a running head will appear only on the recto, with the verso carrying the Part title, the Chapter title, or at a pinch the book’s title. This unchanging head should properly be termed a page head or headline.

We rarely use real running heads nowadays: they cost extra, since you can’t decide what they should say until the book has been paged, so they lead to an extra step in the proofing process. As a compromise we occasionally use the section titles as a sort of running head. Dictionaries usually have proper running heads, telling you the range of words covered on that page. Bibles also tend to have truly descriptive running heads, providing a sort of commentary on what appears on the page. A careful publisher will give you a running head in the endnotes section, providing the text page range for which notes can be found on each page of notes. This makes the endnotes much easier to use, and I wish it was always done.

As Judith Butcher points out in Copy-editing: The Cambridge Handbook for editors, authors and publishers “Running heads are unnecessary unless they help the reader to find a particular part of the book”. Thus most novels will not have anything at the top of the page unless the publisher has wanted to waste space to make a short book seem more substantial. A page head giving you the book’s title only doesn’t provide you with any information — we can assume, I think, that the readers are aware what book it is they are reading! If that’s all you can think of to put up there, keep quiet. Innocent publishing novices may assume that a book needs to have running heads in order to look like a book: wrong — it will only need running heads if it needs running heads to provide navigational help to the reader. But try telling that to some enthusiasts.

See also my raised nose on the subject of running feet.

Amazon is taking over — and why not? They seem to be taking over everything. They obviously know more about what books sell than anyone else, though they have always been reluctant to provide details. Maybe you got this email (pictured above) from them the other day. Their site gives a bit more information.

Publishing Perspectives has a piece about Amazon Charts as they are calling it. I see no reason why Amazon’s lists shouldn’t turn out to be more “authoritative” than the Times‘s. Heck, they even know the names and addresses of the people who bought the books, and in the case of ebooks, know how many pages each of their customers have read. (This forms the basis for their Most Read category, I assume.)

The New York Times lists have been showing their age. The fact that they are not really measures of sales but more of sales velocity makes them a bit fickle, but the belief persists that they sell books.

“Many people determine what book to buy based upon seeing the phrase, ‘New York Times Bestseller’.” says Rob Eagar in his piece How to Kill a New York Times Bestseller at BookBusiness. While I might doubt the validity of his bald statement, (I just don’t agree that 5% of responses in one small survey represents a lot) I have to agree that a publisher who fails to mention Bestseller status in their promotion is missing an obvious marketing opportunity.

But some of Mr Eagar’s criticism is just over-eagerness. Amazon and Barnes and Noble are responsible for their websites. Publisher uploads may form the basis of their copy, but these uploads happen well before the book is lucky enough to become a bestseller. Amazon certainly have a tab which takes you to “The New York Times® Best Sellers” and they naturally have no reason to hide any book’s light under any bushel. I suspect that much of the problem Mr Eagar identifies results from timing. You just have to get the change in the on-line copy made. It doesn’t happen by magic. And of course if the book hits the bestseller list only briefly, the on-line claim may end up being outdated as soon as it has been got up there; though of course that’s not a reason to suppress the historically interesting fact.

Mr Eager, rather innocently, states “Simply adding ‘New York Times Bestseller’ to the book cover art isn’t enough in most cases.” It isn’t even possible in most cases! The books on hand are the books on hand. If the publishers expected the book to be a bestseller they will have printed thousands of copies, and till these copies are sold there’s no opportunity to update the jacket. I bet that publishers do get a “Bestseller” note up on their own website pretty quickly, and create a cover image including the words, but it takes a reprint of the book to get the notice onto the jacket. Yes, they could of course print up a sticker — but who’s going to stick them on the books? Don’t think B&N is going to divert staff to do the job.

But whether there really are people who buy books solely based upon their being in a bestseller list — one has a fond, if outdated, image of Auntie Muriel wondering “What exciting book shall I get for young Billy’s birthday” — these listings clearly are a help in sustaining sales. Circularly of course a book only gets to be a bestseller by being a bestseller. For some, hitting the list coincides with the peaking of sales. In an earlier post I mentioned the Times‘s adding 12 new lists. Now they have reduced their lists by 10. Reaction as shown in Tolulope Edionwe’s piece at The Outline suggests the end of the world is at hand.

I expect that we will rather quickly transfer our loyalties from “New York Times bestseller” to “An Amazon bestseller”. Amazon’s ability to tell you more about the sales, (e.g.”More readers listened to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry on Audible than read the book on Kindle this week.”) adds significantly to the bare listings we’ve become used to. Could this reduce tensions between self-publishing aficionados and the traditional industry? One assumes that Amazon isn’t excluding self-published and indie-published books from consideration.