Man oh man. I’m looking at my web browser now and I have half a dozen tabs open just to stories about writing and publishing. And in my history, I’ve got almost a dozen more links I’ve visited in the past week or so. It’s been a busy time for literary news, is what I’m saying. So I thought I’d share some of what I’ve been reading about:
I think the most interesting thing I’ve read this week was Carl Zimmer’s “This Is Your Brain on Writing,” from the NY Times. The study it describes is, frankly, too limited to say anything definitive about creativity and the brain, but Zimmer is careful to acknowledge that, and the study here is an interesting piece of a large and fascinating area of research.
I’ve also been on a bit of an i09.com kick lately. I tend to follow them fairly regularly, but it’s mostly for their movie and science news. Every now and then, though, they publish something really interesting on writing, including this “One Weird Trick For Cutting Down Your Novel” (which I fully plan to use as I work on my new novel this summer) and these “31 Essential Science Fiction Terms And Where They Came From” (because I am a huge language geek).
Publishing news (awards):
Most of what I’ve been looking at lately is in the area of publishing, beginning a few weeks ago with the 26th Annual Lambda Literary Awards. I’m especially proud of my fellow Portland writer, Nicole J. Georges, for her graphic novel win for Calling Dr. Laura (a fantastic book, by the way!).
More recently, I saw news of the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Awards. I don’t know any names on the list — authors or publishers — but I recognize a lot of them, and as an author with two books with indie presses, sunnyoutside press and Columbus Press, I’m very glad to see what else is happening in the world I inhabit!
Publishing news (submissions):
There is also a slew of new openings for submissions — to magazines, to presses, to award . . . . I can’t even list them all here, but the short version would include the launch of Boaat — both the press and the magazine — and its chapbook contest; Augury Books, which is looking for full-length book manuscripts in prose and poetry; Bookfish Books, which is looking for YA novels and novellas; the newly revamped and very slick Writing Disorder website (they published a piece of mine last spring, before the redesign); and, very helpfully, a whole list of other open submissions from the amazing new lit magazine Entropy.
Publishing news (Amazon):
And finally — always — there’s Amazon. Gang, I have mixed feelings about Amazon. On the one hand, I have no qualms with people who shop there, and my chapbook is available through Amazon and my novel will be, and if that’s where you choose to buy my books, more power to you — please do so! On the other hand, that company is killing us. All of us — the writers, the publishers, the readers. All of us.
We’ll start small, with this charming story about an artist who created an “E-Book Backup” of a novel by photocopying, page by page, a Kindle version of 1984 and then binding it in book form. Sounds like clever art, but there’s a deeper meaning here: “‘E-Book Backup’ was inspired by a disturbing action that Amazon made in the summer of 2009,” the artist explains. “One day, Kindle owners who had purchased a certain e-book offered for sale on the Kindle marketplace found that it had been removed from their device by Amazon, who explained that the independent publishers who sold the e-book did not have the rights to offer it for sale. It was George Orwell’s 1984. I couldn’t have asked for a better example of the fragility of this media environment.”
Then there’s the new David Sedaris book tour, which is taking place in small brick-and-mortar stores around the country. To be fair, his tour isn’t explicitly connected to the much-covered public legal battle between Amazon and publisher Hachette. But that hasn’t stopped Publishers Weekly from framing it in those terms, and honestly, these days, anything that happens in a brick-and-mortar bookshop seems a direct challenge to the corporate monster that is Amazon.
Which is why Esquire magazine recently ran a whole advice article on “How to Quit Amazon and Shop in an Actual Bookstore (and why you damn well should).” And I have to be honest, folks, I loved the piece. In fact, I posted it to my author page in Facebook and asked for fans’ favorite local bookshops, and I’m building a fun list! (I’m going to share it on the blog soon.)
The rest of the news is focused on the legal fight between Amazon and Hachette, with news about how the battle is impacting JK Rowling’s new book, how Hachette is fighting back by turning into a corporate behemoth in its own right, and why all of this is spelling out a future of “‘assisted suicide’ for book industry.”
Frankly, it’s grim news. The situation isn’t desperate — the brilliant thing about small, independent presses is that they’re small and independent, so they’re mostly unconcerned about all this corporate warfare; literature isn’t just a big pond, it’s a big ocean, and the small presses will keep printing great work no matter what the Big Fish do. But for anyone who loves books and bookstores, this battle is worth watching, and the outcomes of it are something we all should be bracing for.