Publishing people get asked this all the time. It’s a toughie: your acquaintance might have written a masterpiece but the odds are the manuscript is not that good, or at least unsuited for any publisher you know. But without looking at it how can you know? We’ve all evolved temporizing answers, most of which, like the Penguin Random House example shown below, tend to take cover behind a literary agent. I’ve never come across a piece of paper like this before, but it makes perfect sense that PRH would feel the need for something they can thrust into the hands of anyone who asks them the dreaded question. The document obviously originates in the UK, but PRH had a stack of them at the recent BookExpo America exhibition in the Javits Center.

“Our company policy is to not accept [boldly split infinitive] unsolicited manuscripts or synopses and we cannot enter into correspondence about unpublished work.” A bit harsh? Not really — it costs a lot to deal with such correspondence and a target as big as Penguin Random House must get boatloads of it. More efficient to focus on your regular source of supply, the literary agency world, rather than rush off down dark alleyways. Sure you may miss the odd wonder, but as a percentage play it’s hard to argue against. Of course as a public relations move it might be seen as a bit less successful.

This sort of document is exactly the sort of thing the commentariat loves to latch onto. Didn’t we tell you those fat cats in their New York ivory towers don’t care about innovative new work or the people who produce it? Just see how they treat aspiring authors — and it’s their job to publish books. Amazing!

Stop and think you windbags. If you were to run a publishing company would one of your priorities be to employ a couple of people, skilled people, who had no tasks other than to write letters to hopeful authors who have invested a postage stamp in sending you their latest stories? Well, you might, but if you’d ever worked in any publishing house where despite such disclaimers unsolicited manuscripts do inevitably creep across the transom, you’d know from bitter experience that the likelihood of an unsolicited manuscript actually being publishable are vanishingly small. Sure it happens, but on no cost-benefit analysis is it worthwhile setting up your acquisition department to focus on the slush pile. Everyone in a publishing house is already doing huge amounts of work with the books they’ve actually solicited. It would be idiocy to wander the streets scouring through local trash bins in the hope of finding another brilliant manuscript. Even in our ivory towers the day has only got 24 hours in it. And while we love to publish books, there can never be (pace the commentariat) a duty to publish every book ever written. So, you have to deflect.

Now, if your name is Ian McEwan you know they’d enter into correspondence with you about anything, unpublished or published: but of course the bit of paper isn’t meant for the likes of him — and PRH already employs someone whose job it is to keep after their authors about unpublished work.

The Book of Riddles by Fabrice Mazza and Sylvain Lhullier is the source of the fascinating puzzle in the video below, forwarded to us by David Crotty at The Scholarly Kitchen.

The Book of Riddles can be found here. It is, according to Amazon, published by Charwell Books, an imprint of Quarto. This can be confirmed by the Look Inside feature, however I can’t find the book on the Quarto site. Puzzle books have long been a staple of the catch-penny end of the trade. Here is a PDF of one example: a 19th century book, published in Portland by Bailey and Noyes. What looks like exactly the same book, this time published by John F. Brown in Concord is available at Project Gutenberg with a publication date of 1846. The PDF of the Bailey and Noyes has an intrusive “Concord” on the second title page. This suggests it came after the Project Gutenberg book, and was printed from the same type with a few corrections.

If you don’t see a video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

I swear I almost got it: well half-way anyway.

If you hire a sharp-elbowed businessman you shouldn’t be too amazed when he uses business tools to attempt to solve his problems. Are you able to add to the cost burden of your competitor? Do it: can’t fail to put you at an advantage. The imposition of tariffs as a substitute for diplomacy is now pretty well established.

Books imported into the USA from China and Mexico will now be subject to import duties. These countries were both at one time looked on as sources of cheap manufacturing by US publishers, though over time the cost advantage has narrowed. The Hong Kong print industry has evolved from what thirty or so years ago was basically a labor-intensive, slightly old-fashioned print business into a slick modern one now with efficiency increases keeping step with rising wages. True you had to wait four weeks or so to get a book across the Pacific but the reduced cost made the deal a good one.

A recent post noted that at a Book Industry Study Group meeting in April it was suggested that publishers deploy international connections to alleviate the capacity problems in the current US book manufacturing industry. Well, that just got a bit harder, didn’t it? There has always been a European option. Italy always had the reputation of printing a handsome book but at a relatively high price. As far as I know France and Germany don’t seem to fish in transatlantic waters. Great Britain has the advantage of speaking the same language as we do. When I was working for British publishers there tended to be a tidal effect under way at almost all times: sometimes books originated here might be printed there, while at other times the opposite effect was under way. The variable was always the £/$ exchange rate. Brexit chaos has surely tipped the price/exchange rate scale in favor of UK manufacturing. Of course, I have no idea what their own capacity problems may look like. Surely there have been plant closures there too.

No tax on knowledge they used to cry, though nowadays in most places sales tax will be added to the price of that book you buy. So why not a tariff too? We’ll all get used to paying more as we wave goodbye to free trade.

Cataloging in Publication data is the bibliographic record that is (usually) printed on the verso of the book’s title page. It is an abbreviated version of the MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging) record in the Library of Congress’ database which is distributed to libraries and book vendors. In Britain the data comes from the British Library. In 1986 I was lucky enough to have both!

Since its introduction in 1971 this form of LOC/BL catalog information has been printed in most books. As soon as the book’s manuscript and title have been finalized, and an ISBN has been obtained, the publisher may submit an application for a CIP record, filling out a form and enclosing either proofs of the book, or sufficient material from the manuscript for the Library to determine what the book is about so they can classify it. Nowadays this is substantially completed on-line. If application is made too late it’s always possible (if less helpful) to print “A catalog record for this book is available”. The Library of Congress offers a separate portal for self publishers as well.

The aim of CIP is that this will make it straightforwardly unambiguous that a potential customer (librarian principally) is looking at the correct book when they consult catalogs. In the olden days there were many fewer books  (and book purchasing agents) and it was possible to get by with identifying a book as Jones: Electronics. If the book you got turned out to be by the wrong Jones, you could always send it back. With so many books now, it becomes hopelessly inefficient to conduct business in such a random method. I kind of miss my early days in publishing where a shout might go up in the warehouse “Two Jones Electronics” and a picker would scurry off into the shelves to get them for you. Now the shout, in the rare cases where a book can be picked without a computer-generated order, is more likely to be “306450” — everyone works off the ISBN now. It’s amazing how quickly workers are able to remember quite a lot of ISBNs which kind of take over as the personality of a book in common demand.

In 2015 the Library of Congress updated the CIP. It now includes a URL link to the Library’s record, and uses signposting labels identifying the various elements. It will also include information about other editions, notably electronic versions. Infodocket has a piece on the changes. Here’s an example, from The Library of Congress’s own book The Card Catalog: Books, Cards, and Literary Treasures. This should show how they really want it to appear:

I’ve sometimes wondered about the name. What does it mean when they say “in publication”? Wikipedia suggests that thinking of publication as a process is misleading here: think of it as “cataloging inside the book” and you get closer to the intention. It’s putting the cataloging information inside the publication — book, journal, pamphlet, whatever — not creating it during the process of publication.

 

Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Jeff Koons’ sculpture of a rabbit has sold at auction for $91,075,000.

Criticism isn’t my bag, but I suspect that this price tells us more about investment strategy than it does about art as a creative endeavor.

The sculpture, which is 33 years old, is made of stainless steel: no doubt a source of relief to Robert E. Mnuchin’s friends who won’t have to worry about inadvertently sticking a pin into it. Mr Mnuchin is an art dealer: does he know of a customer who wants to pay even more for the thing?

It’s a bit like huge bestselling books. Because Tom Dick and Harry want the thing, I’ve got to too.

Hey, although the price of this bunny looks rather extreme, maybe we shouldn’t complain about the high prices paid for art by the wealthy. It all goes to buy lunch for a whole lot of support staff. Bestsellers may often be a bit dumb, but they power the entire business and enable us to bring out books which couldn’t be afforded otherwise. If people want to buy silly books or odd artworks, let’s just rejoice that they are circulating the money.

Well, I don’t know about Your Thos, but My Thos is in need of some help.

You can see what’s gone wrong: the amount of space between the Y and the T is exactly the same as the space between the T and the H. This is unfortunate after the designer decided to tuck the spreading M under the top left arm of the Y. From the detail picture you can see this: a transparent ruler confirms that the end of the lavish serif at the bottom on the M’s right leg is actually about 1/32″ to the right of the similarly extravagant serif on the Y’s left arm.

This tucking in of the M sets up a conflict along the line,  exaggerating the appearance of space between T and H and especially of course between Y and T. What needs to be done to make the whole line one word again is to move the M back to the left, add a little bit of space between H and O, and maybe the tiniest amount between O and S. The rest should be OK as is I think.

Pity really because at Michael Joseph (now part of Penguin Random House) they obviously went whole hog on this cover: the title on the front and that sort of line of cloud above it have been embossed* while title and author on front and spine have been foil stamped. I don’t especially like the design but that’s no problem; in matters aesthetic opinions are bound to differ. Blame the Greeks: it’s probably the fault of Apollo, Hermes, and Euterpe. I expect Epimetheus, Titan of afterthought and the father of excuses, gets a toe in too. No designer is credited — the only credit is “Cover Illustration © Sarah Young”, which please note.

As may be seen, our copy is signed by the author. We bought it at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake last year when Stephen Fry was performing/reading bits of the book on stage. The book is written in a chatty style and doubtless took minimal editing for performance. He covers the ground in an engaging and untaxing manner. The slightly jokey, knowing style ends up being a little hard to take, but whatever Stephen Fry does will forever be OK in my book as a result of this wonderful interview with a really gob-smacked interviewer from Irish television.

If you see no video here, please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

_____________________

* Embossing a cover or jacket involves making a metal die — in this case in the shape of the word MYTHOS together with that grey contrail above it, and, after the covers have been printed, putting them through a stamping machine, thus recessing the paper in the area hit. This is really clear when you look at the back of the paper where the reversed image appears as a raised bump. This hit can be made as a blind hit (i.e. with no foil) or with some foil between the die and the image, as is the case in this instance with the word MYTHOS where a patterned gold foil has been added to the brown tints printed onto the cover.

All this requires quite careful make-ready, which makes it quite an expensive way to obtain an extra bit of texture and contrast.

Depending on how you cut it there have been 21 or 23 British poets laureate. It really got going when King James I (VI of Scotland) started paying a pension to Ben Jonson. Wikipedia tells us that Henry VII had a poet laureate too, a Frenchman named Bernard André. Richard I had a versificator regis, William the Pilgrim. And of course we can imagine wind-swept Ossian-like bards urging on the warriors in the real olden days. John Dryden was the first “Official” poet laureate.

The full list of semi-official and official laureates is:

  • Ben Jonson — 1619-37
  • Sir William Davenant — 1638-?
  • John Dryden — 1668-89
  • Thomas Shadwell — 1689-92
  • Nahum Tate — 1692-1715
  • Nicholas Rowe — 1715-18
  • Laurence Eusden — 1718-30
  • Colley Cibber — 1730-57
  • William Whitehead — 1757-85
  • Thomas Warton — 1785-90
  • Henry James Pye — 1790-1813
  • Robert Southey — 1813-43
  • William Wordsworth — 1843-50
  • Alfred Lord Tennyson — 1850-92
  • Alfred Austin — 1896-1913
  • Robert Bridges 1913-30
  • John Masefield — 1930-67
  • Cecil Day-Lewis — 1968-72
  • Sir John Betjeman — 1972-84
  • Ted Hughes — 1984-98
  • Andrew Motion — 1999-2009
  • Carol Ann Duffy — 2009-2019
  • Simon Armitage — 2019-

According to The Guardian Simon Armitage will receive an annual stipend of £5,750 plus the traditional butt of sack: 600-odd bottles of sherry. The ten-year tenure seems to be a relatively recent development — or the list would have to contain forty names — well maybe with some sort of gap for the Commonwealth. Is it odd that there are just two Sirs? I guess getting the office is considered enough of a reward for a mere writer. The eighteenth century in particular is distinguished by poets we rather ignore nowadays.

In The Guardian Andrew Motion has just written an article celebrating Mr Armitage’s appointment. In the course of this piece he tells us that the ten-year limit was something he insisted upon, which now appears to have become standard. I guess 6,000 bottles of sherry could be seen as sufficient.

See also Poets laureate (US).

We’ve all gotten used to the roller-coaster ride that has been the paper pricing picture over the past few decades. D. Eadward Tree suggests this uppsy-downsy may be over. I wonder.

Pricing marches with the supply/demand cycle. Shutting down a paper-making machine is a big deal, so as owner of a paper machine you will want to delay that decision till the last possible moment. Historically Sod’s law (Murphy’s law to US readers) has usually meant that that moment has tended to coincide with the beginning of the recovery of demand, so that suddenly, just as demand is increasing, supply is dropping. So you turn around and start getting the machine ready to make paper again, which you manage just in time for everyone else to have pulled off the same trick. In other words, as supply peaks, demand plummets, as the next phase of the economic cycle comes around. This isn’t a result of stupidity: it’s an effect of the difficulty of turning on and off your paper-faucet. Taking 14% out of the American coated-freesheet-making capacity by closing a single mill might look like a transformational change, but won’t it just fall into the same pattern after a number of years? There may be a bit more of a lag than before, but after all, if there’s more demand than capacity, surely someone’s ultimately going to be tempted to try to supply it even if being able to charge more for your product may dampen enthusiasm for a while.

It’s undeniable that print runs are coming down, and it’s also true that suppliers’ demand planning has become harder than it used to be because of this ability to print closer to a six-month supply or even less. But it’s individual print numbers we are talking about: not annual gross demand for books, which remains fairly constant even if it’s now achieved by two or three individual printings. If there’s a misfit between print capacity and publishing’s needs, the misfit between that and paper-making capacity is even greater. It’s like publishers want to print books in the hundreds, book manufacturers need to work in the thousands, and paper makers are forced to think in the hundreds of thousands. It’s all a balancing act: matching capacity to demand is an art not a science. Ultimately balance will be achieved; only to be disrupted all over again.

However as book work moves more and more towards digital printing, the “problem” will tend to get less and less “problematic” as papers suited for offset (or even letterpress) printing decline in significance, and the main paper used for books becomes that used for digital print.

The case of Hitler’s Diaries was a  notorious scandal. In 1983 the German news magazine Stern paid 9.3 million Deutsche Marks (£2.33 million or $3.7 million) for the publication rights to recently “discovered” diaries ostensibly lost in the last plane transferring items from Hitler’s Berlin bunker to Berchtesgaden. This plane never arrived, having crashed in a forest near the Czechoslovakian border where it was picked over by locals before the SS cordoned it off. The Sunday Times bought English serial rights to the diaries for £250,000, but even before they were published suspicions as to their authenticity surfaced. The Independent has a nice account. Wikipedia has a very full entry.

Lord Dacre, Sir Hugh Trevor Roper that was, a director of the company at the time, vouched for the authenticity of the material The Sunday Times was about to publish, then had second thoughts, leading to Rupert Murdoch’s immortal courageous-publisher words “Fuck Dacre. Publish”. It turned out in the end that Konrad Kujau, a dealer in Nazi memorabilia, had in fact written the diaries himself using modern ink on sheets of paper stained with tea in order to make them look old. The Sunday Times had already in 1968 been involved in the purchase of Mussolini’s diaries which also were revealed to be fakes. WWII memorabilia is obviously a honey pot.

Kujau signing specimen pages from a cookbook (Photo: Reuters)

 

The fakery was in fact pretty obvious: the diary was presented between a set of covers embellished with Hitler’s initials, stuck on the front, but as Fraktur had gone out of current usage by 1976, the forger got it wrong and pasted FH on the front instead of AH. He used metal-looking plastic letters manufactured in Hong Kong! Superficially it looked all right but was obviously wrong to anyone who knew; which at that time must have been almost everybody. The use of Fraktur had been mandated by the Nazis. When I was learning German many of the books we used were still printed in black letter: almost everyone in Germany who could read, would, one would think, have noticed this boner. Obviously a lot of people desperately wanted these diaries to be real. The initials FH can be seen in this picture of Stern‘s announcement of the discovery: someone there must have surely been hit between the eyes by this obvious error, and decided to suppress the thought in the interest of a scoop.

Surely the times must be ripe for another run at a new “discovery”.

Simon Armitage has been appointed the U.K.’s 21st poet laureate, succeeding Carol Ann Duffy. The position “has its roots in the 17th century, when Ben Jonson was granted a pension by King James I for his services to the crown,” the Guardian reported, noting that Armitage will receive an annual stipend of £5,750 (about $7,480), “along with the traditional butt of sack: 600-odd bottles of sherry.” His tenure will be a fixed term of 10 years. (From Shelf Awareness of May 14th, 2019.) The job doesn’t include any official duties but the incumbent is kind of expected to write something to mark any significant national occasion. Does this mean it will fall to Simon Armitage to memorialize Brexit, and the consequent breakup of the UK?

Simon Armitage could be said to project a sort of blokeish image. The people’s poet kind of thing, though he done plenty of “serious” stuff like translating PearlSir Gawain and the Green Knight, and The Death of King Arthur. “With his acute eye for modern life, Armitage is an updated version of Wordsworth’s ‘man talking to men.’” said the PoetryArchive.org.

Having started out as a probation officer in Manchester, he has been Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield, the University of Leeds, and the University of Oxford. He has written a couple of novels and a handful of non-fiction works. I fondly recall his Walking Home, an account of a walk down the Pennine Way from the Scottish Border to his home in south Yorkshire, during the course of which he supported himself by giving poetry readings in pubs along the way. Getting in out of the rain was perhaps a subsidiary motivation.