UK Bookstore Waterstones Asks Readers to Share "The Book that Made Me"

I’ve mentioned before that, in this digital age, bookstores need to claim their place as emotional nerve centers for lovers of letters. For this reason, I love Waterstones’ “The Book That Made Me” campaign. Inviting readers to share stories about the stories that changed them, it seeks to get to the heart of why we read–and why we write. The pre-populated videos featuring authors Neil Gaiman and National Book Critics Award winner Ben Fountain are pretty boring. Too long. And dry. When I think about the passionate conversations I’ve had with friends about books, or consider how I feel about the books that changed my mind about something or opened a new world to me, I think about heated exchanges, delivery animated with gesture and widened eyes… but they/we are writers, not actors, so…  But it’s a start in the right direction. I’m eager to see the cross section of readers’ testimonials over the course of the campaign, and to share my own. Visit to share yours.

Cover Love: William H. Gass' "Middle C"

Middle G_cover_William H Gass_nytimes_peoplewhowrite

The New York Times has a slide show up called “Book Covers: Before and After” in which designers explain how they arrived at final book covers. For William H. Gass’ book Middle C, designer Gabriele Wilson says she wanted the cover image to illustrate the protagonist’s “middle” existence, hence the choice to use “the key of C, which is in the middle.” It was not, however, easy to get a C key. Wilson told the Times:

I asked piano-playing friends and piano repair shops in New York for a C key, to no avail. I called Steinway & Sons on 57th Street, and they connected me with Anthony Gilroy at their Queens factory. He was perplexed but entertained by the idea of shipping a single key to Manhattan. The next day I received a beautifully hand-carved ivory key, but I discovered that a full-size key is nearly two feet long. I called Anthony again to see if the factory could cut it shorter and add a black C sharp key. I photographed them from above on a giant turquoise Pantone swatch, aiming to give the ensemble a menacing, lonely mood. Once in the jacket layout, I paired it with the elegant, slightly traditional Sackers Roman typeface so as not to distract from the image. 

Check out the full slideshow here.

For Love or Money: Granta Exits Highlight the Eternal Art & Commerce Conundrum

Granta Magazine - peoplewhowrite

Granta Magazine

There’s always been a rub between the necessary soul-gazing value of art and its general lack of commercial value, and the latest episode of the conflict is playing out at Granta, the prestigious UK-based literary magazine and publisher that has helped anoint the careers of esteemed talents ranging from Salman Rushdie to Martin Amis. Just after a splashy announcement of its “Best of Young British Novelists” list, the magazine’s editor, deputy editor, art director, and associate editor have either resigned or announced they are leaving. The publisher of Granta Books is also exiting.

The Guardian reports, “The situation was described by one insider as a ‘total shit storm’, and by another as a ‘complete bloody disaster’. It is understood to boil down to a desire by Granta’s owner to save money, as the company continues to make a loss.”

Booker prize-winning novelist and magazine contributor Peter Carey lamented the personnel changes saying, “I always assumed the owners were prepared to fund Granta out of love for literature. They got in good people and published good books, and underwrote a fabulous magazine – all regardless (obviously) of profit or loss – and then suddenly there’s this purge.”

As the recession shrinks resources causing more established writers to compete for grants and fellowships once the domain of emerging talent, and publishers feel increasing pressure to turn a profit in a hyper-competitive market that includes digital retailers and self-published authors/marketing wunderkinds, the tension between art and commerce is stretching to the point of rupture. It seems there is an annual threat to the libraries as federal and state funds directed toward the community gem shrinks.

As scribes, we have to figure out how to be financially soluble doing what we love, whether through new crowdfunding services specifically geared toward books/authors and/or demanding a cut of the ad revenue outfits like Google receive when they surface book results in online searches. We literally can’t afford to be naive about this. But as a society, we have to learn to start placing value on those factors in society that don’t have immediate ROI attached. We have to be willing to invest in arts and letters, understanding the long-term value they provide, not to mention the power they have.

There’s a reason imperialists and colonizers sought to extinguish cultures when they conquered peoples. When we lose control of the story and/or the means to create and disseminate it, we lose ourselves.

Katherine Boo Won NYPL's Helen Bernstein Book Award

Katherine Boo won the New York Public Library's 2013 Helen Bernstein Book Award - peoplewhowrite

Katherine Boo

Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers has added the New York Public Library‘s 2013 Helen Bernstein Book Award to the list of prestigious prizes and accolades it has received. The non-fiction title about the lives of residents in the poor Indian neighborhood of Annawadi just outside Mumbai airport earned the 2012 National Book Award, was honored as a 2012 Barnes and Noble Discover Award runner-up, and was shortlisted for the 2013 Pulitzer and the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award.  Mediabistro quotes this snippet of Boo’s acceptance speech: “What this award symbolizes to me is that as a journalist working in the field, you have to report harder and work harder, until you make the American public give a damn. That’s what good writing with a capital ‘W’ is.”

Boo’s book edged past finalists Confront and Conceal by David Sanger, Little America: The War Within The War for Afghanistan by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Spillover by David Quammen and Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale by Tom Wilber for the win.

Bookstores Saw More Foot Traffic in Q1, But Did That Impact Sales?

Barnes and Noble, booksellers since 1873 - peoplewhowrite

According to the report, Barnes and Noble was the 17th-most visited store in the country in Q1.

According to a report by National Real Estate Investor and cited by the LA Times, “brick-and-mortar booksellers saw a 27% increase in shopper traffic in the first three months of 2013 when compared to the same period in 2012.” The question is whether sales improved as a result. In heated competition with Amazon, book stores have complained their stores now act as showrooms for browsers who spy the titles they want in store, and buy online where they can get them at a discount.

New Crowdfunding Specifically for Authors crowdfunds books by giving investors equity in the book - peoplewhowriteIt was only a matter of time. As the traditional publishing model weathers an identity crisis in the age of Amazon, and self-publishing gains inroads and respect, new crowdfunding services are joining Kickstarter (remember when cartoonist Ryan North kickstarted his way to almost $600,000 to bankroll his book?) and Indiegogo to help authors fund the production of their work.  An article on cites, UK-based Unbound, NYC-based PubSlush, and Holland’s own TenPages as examples of new companies leading the trend.

The TenPages model is particularly interesting as it allows people who invest in the work to get a return. “For as little as €5, a user can invest in ‘shares’ of manuscripts that earn money when a book is successful. TenPages has published 47 books so far, including two Dutch bestsellers: Zo Zuidas and De urenfabriek.”

However, the Publishers Weekly post explains, TenPages’ business model is not legal in the U.S. “[B]y selling ‘shares’ in manuscripts, the company would be considered to be selling regulated securities, and it is not licensed to do so in the U.S. But the first major overhaul of America’s securities laws in more than 40 years is poised to change that—and the result could be transformative for authors interested in independent book publishing.” That said, “Last year, a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Congress passed the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act—otherwise known as the JOBS Act. President Obama signed the legislation on April 5, 2012. Perhaps the most far-reaching provision of the JOBS Act is the legalization of “equity” crowdfunding. …The JOBS Act has yet to take effect because the SEC still hasn’t published the rules needed for its implementation.”

In short, agents and editors that aren’t literary insiders, but have exceptional social media and marketing skills could help books they love get the backing they need. Meanwhile, readers could make money for supporting their favorite authors. Of course, this could, and likely would, further destabilize the gatekeeper model of traditional publishing — or it could be a big boon for already established and bestselling authors. “The JOBS Act does restrict the amount raised from ‘nonaccredited investors’ to $1 million, so the really big-name authors would have to tap the “accredited investor” funding market (an individual with more than a million dollars in assets, excluding home and vehicles, is considered ‘accredited’).”

Ash Kalb, founder of ebook crowdfound service Singularity & Co. is skeptical about the TenPages model. “For 99.9% of books, the overhead costs of dealing with a large number of unsophisticated investors are going to be too high, and one lawsuit from a disgruntled investor wipes out the business. But really, it all depends on the bar the SEC raises with the rules, so we shall see.”

Get the full scoop on

On the Awkward Author Photo

Neil Gaiman reading from his book - peoplewhowrite

Reading or signing. That’s the way to get a commanding author photo.

Is there a sexy way to pose with a book? It seems no author is immune to the awkward book shot. Whether holding the book up to the camera, head cocked at a 45 degree angle, standing with arms folded in front of a book case packed with books, or proudly cradling an armful of titles even the most photogenic authors usually look impossibly dorky.

It seems the only antidote to this “problem” is to think of the book as a prop in a Vogue bookworm fantasy, or to get into “writerly” character and costume. One foolproof way to a camera-ready author portrait is to go for an “action” shot, signing or reading from the book.

First Edition "Harry Potter" Sells for A Quarter of a Mill at Fundraiser

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone sold for nearly $250,000 at a London fundraiser benefiting English PEN. - peoplewhowrite

J.K. Rowling

How much would you pay for a first edition copy of Harry Potter marked up with author J.K. Rowling’s personal notes and sketches? On Tuesday, someone dropped $228,000 on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at a charity auction in London to benefit the English PEN writers association.

Time Magazine reports, “Rowling and dozens of other best-selling authors were asked to ‘scribble second thoughts, marginalia or drawings’ on a first-edition copy of one of their books” to help generate funds. After selling Roald Dahl’s Matilda for about $45,500, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day for $27,300, and other titles, the organization raised a whopping $666,310.

Stephen King's New Book Won't Be Available in E-Book Format

Stephen King's new book won't be available as an e-book - peoplewhowrite

Stephen King

No joy for Kindle, iPad and Nook fans of Stephen King. For now, there will be no digital version of the author’s upcoming novel Joyland.

“[L]et people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one,” King said, according to New York Magazine’s Vulture blog. Bloomsbury’s Editorial Director Alexandra Pringle questioned the decision, “[I]s it now for an author to tell his publishers, but more importantly his readers, how they are allowed to read his peerless prose?”

Five Finalists Announced in Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest

Jo Chumas has won the mystery/thriller category for Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest - peoplewhowrite

Jo Chumas, who is from Barcelona, is the only finalist that isn’t from America

Five authors have emerged as finalists in Amazon’s sixth annual Breakthrough Novel Award contest. For a two-week window in January, the e-tailer and publisher invited submissions; according to Amazon’s press release, 10,000 entries poured in to vie for the grand prize of a $50,000 contract with Amazon Publishing.

The authors, chosen by a staggered mix of judges including reviewers from Amazon’s Vine program and Publishers Weekly, reflect the best submissions of their respective categories. It Happened in Wisconsin by Ken Moraff seized the General Fiction distinction. Jo Chumas’ The Hidden won the Mystery/Thriller category. Evelyn Pryce took the Romance honors with A Man Above Reproach.  J. Lincoln Fenn’s POE was judged to be the best sci-fi submission, and Rysa Walker’s Timebound earned the YA prize.

“In the final — and current — stage of the contest, customers will vote to select the Grand Prize winner,” the press release explains, to be announced on June 15, 2013. The category winners who do not gain the popular vote will receive a $15,000 advance and Amazon Publishing contract.