Paula Deen's Yanked Book Deal: A Study in the Amazon vs Retailers Battle

Paula Deen's New Testament: 350 favorite recipes, all lightened up was dropped by Ballantine Books, even though fans pre-ordered it to Amazon's top spot

Paula Deen’s New Testament: 350 favorite recipes, all lightened up was dropped by Ballantine Books, even though fans pre-ordered it to Amazon’s top spot

Paula Deen’s N-word scandal has brought the ongoing power struggle between Amazon and retailers into relief. Though her once soon-to-be-released cookbook  New Testament: 350 favorite recipes, all lightened up shot to the top of Amazon’s list as her fans pre-ordered it in support, her publisher Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, opted not to release it. They have also yanked her five-book contract.

The New York Times reported the publisher’s decision was in response to several retailers refusing to carry Paula Deen products, including the book:

A person with knowledge of Random House’s decision to cancel the contract said, “When Walmart, Target and J. C. Penney all announced they are discontinuing their Paula Deen business, including books, it is awfully tough to stay the course of a publication. It was a business decision.” 

Asked whether Deen will have to return the likely millions of dollars she received in advance, a spokesman for Ballantine told the Times, “That’s why God invented lawyers.”

The decision highlights the leverage retailers still have over Amazon — and the necessity for the two to work together for the good of authors and book lovers. While Amazon aims to solidify itself as a publisher, most recently hosting a Breakthrough Novel competition that awarded the winner a $50,000 book advance, booksellers and big box stores remain the venue authors need to connect with readers one on one, city by city, state by state. The internet amplifies on the ground word of mouth, but there needs to be word of mouth on the ground.

As an author, it’s frustrating to watch this battle play out. While the differing business interests battle, the author’s business hangs in the balance as Amazon and retailers play baseball with reader discovery. Yes, writers need to do the work of building an audience, but one person can only do so much without going on reality TV. There needs to be a support system in place across the chain from publishers to bookstores to Amazon that works to help emerging authors expand their reach. At the end of the day, it’s to the benefit of all involved–most importantly, readers.

Jackie Collins & "Chocolat" Author Among Writers Honored by Queen Elizabeth

Jackie Collins - peoplewhowrite

Jackie Collins

Hollywood Wives author Jackie Collins and Joanne Harris who wrote Chocolat are among 1,180 Brits that received Queen Elizabeth’s highest honors for civilians. Collins was named Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) while Harris received the MBE title (Member of the Order of the British Empire). Kate Mosse, founder of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, also received an OBE. The Bookseller has more info.

New Literature Director Coming to National Endowment of the Arts

Amy Stolls, National Endowment for the Arts - peoplewhowrite

Amy Stolls

After nearly two years as the National Endowment for the Arts’  Director of Literature, Ira Silverberg has announced his departure, effective July 11, 2013. Amy Stolls, Literature Program Officer, will be acting Director until a new Director takes on the role. Read the full story on

Rysa Walker Has Won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award

Rysa Walker has won the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award - peoplewhowrite

Rysa Walker

Rysa Walker’s young adult novel Timebound beat out four other titles shortlisted for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, winning the Grand Prize $50,000 book advance. Her novel will be released by Amazon Children’s Publishing imprint Skyscape on October 22, 2013, according to the e-tailer’s press release.

Amazon opened the call for submissions in January of this year and worked with a mix of judges including reviewers from Amazon’s Vine program and Publishers Weekly to narrow the 10,000 entries down to the top six — one per genre — in May 2013:

It Happened in Wisconsin by Ken Moraff (General Fiction)

The Hidden by Jo Chumas (Mystery/Thriller)

A Man Above Reproach by Evelyn Pryce (Romance)

POE by J. Lincoln Fenn’s (Science-fiction)

Timebound by Rysa Walker (YA)

Each finalist was guaranteed a $15,000 advance and Amazon Publishing contract, but the one who could get the most votes would receive a book advance worth more than three times that amount.

Daphne Durham, Editor-in-Chief, Amazon Publishing said of the winner’s book, “Rysa’s novel is one of those up-til-dawn reads that you just can’t put down, so it’s no surprise Amazon customers gave her this award.” Durham added that “all of the 2013 ABNA winners’ books with readers this fall.”

Former DC Bookseller Says Bad Press & Amazon Have Hurt Bookstores

Presse Bookstore - peoplewhowrite

The former Presse Bookstore

Harvetta Asamoah opened Presse Bookstore in Washington, DC’s Georgetown neighborhood in August 2008. By October 2010, she had to close shop — part of a trend of bookstores that have had to shutter as readers migrate to Amazon and other online discount sites for cheaper deals on books.

“At both Politics and Prose and Busboys and Poets,” she says, referring to two of Washington, DC’s most successful independent bookstores, “they had to tell people not [to] bring in books purchased from Amazon to be signed.” Recounting her own experience with  a customer that tried to order a book from Amazon right in her store, Asamoah says she almost lost it. “I laughed because Amazon was blocked on that computer. …People have lost their sense, really.”

Further complicating matters, Asamoah points out, “the same people supplying [books to] me were supplying, and continue to supply, Amazon and the entire market. There are only two major book wholesellers (non-publishers) in the U.S. Everything is under Amazon’s control.”

Asamoah is not alone in her suspicion of Amazon. In the UK, bookshop owners collected over 160,000 signatures in protest of Amazon’s alleged ducking of corporate taxes “by reporting its European sales through a Luxembourg-based unit”, according to a piece in The Guardian. Most recently, some indie booksellers in the US reported that Amazon reps were trying to get them to sell Kindles in their stores — an affront, considering the online retailer’s position as a competitor. French culture minister Aurélie Filippetti reportedly called Amazon a “destroyer of bookshops”.

It’s not only small bookstores and local governments reacting against Amazon. Big chain bookstore Barnes and Noble has refused to carry titles released on Amazon’s publishing imprint.

Asamoah believes bad press — “constantly reporting the demise of bookstores” — also deserves a sliver of the blame for the wave of closings across the country. “I think that many people just accept what they read in the media. If the NY Times says it’s the end, it’s the end to them.”

That said, Asamoah is careful to note that bookstores can survive these times by focusing on their community’s specific needs. “The success of a bookstore depends on providing outstanding service to a strong local community, building up goodwill and a loyal following.”

Former NYT Art Director Pushed Past Lawyer & Spooked Publisher to Release Book

Jerelle Kraus, author of All the Art That's Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn't) - peoplewhowrite

Jerelle Kraus

For 13 years, Jerelle Kraus worked as the Art Director of the NY Times Op-Ed page, and, naturally, she collected some pretty amazing stories. In her book All the Art That’s Fit to Print (And Some That Wasn’t), Kraus dishes about the characters, concepts, and behind the scenes battles that determined which images were approved to illustrate Times Opinions.

The book’s cover image (pictured below), for example, was to accompany a piece by foreign policy advisor William Pfaff that sharply critiqued former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s war crimes record. Artist David Levine created the caricature of Kissinger which was ultimately killed for “…the excessive midsection flesh.”

Equally as interesting is the story behind the making of this book. A lawyer, and a spooked publisher are just a few of the hurdles that threatened to kill the project, not to mention exorbitant out-of-pocket costs.

What sparked you to start All the Art That’s Fit to Print?
[I] wanted to record a miraculous, historically, and culturally hugely significant phenomenon that would otherwise be lost to history, and to do so with my personal voice.

Did you let the images lead the story or did you let the stories behind the images lead?
Both. I first chose the images to include (extremely lengthy process, since choosing from 50,000) based on the ones that told the most fascinating stories and were also visually compelling. By far the most important, however, was that their stories be the ones I badly wanted to turn readers onto.

Did you consult any of the editors and artists you worked with to fill in memory gaps?
On a few occasions, I consulted them to fill in gaps. I also conducted long videotaped interviews with 10 of the major artists and derived some of the book’s material from these sessions.

All the Art That's Fit to Print by Jerelle Kraus - peoplewhowrite


How long did it take from the initial idea to holding the book in your hand?
I realized in 1983 that there should be a book on the subject but didn’t begin working on it ’til 1993. It was completely finished and ready to be shipped to Hong Kong for printing when the publisher, scared of a NY Times lawyer’s warning to me, dropped the book. Idiotically, instead of suing him for breach of contract, my entire advance, and damages, I gave him back the third of the advance he’d already paid me. It took me years to warm to the project again and, once I got an agent, one year to sell the book. After signing a (terrible for then-naïve me) publishing contract, I quit the Times to write it and finished in about two years (including the mammoth task of gathering and preparing all artwork). The writing took 18 months, but I made my second publishing deadline, and held the hardcover first edition in my hand the day Obama was elected in November 2008.

How did you stay motivated past the euphoria of getting those first words on the page/screen?
‘Twas tough. Very tough. Wrote at night. Relied on gobs of sugarless gum, some wine, [and] emergency assistance, toward the end, from a friend. Did nothing but write. Forced myself to write. Nearly gave up several times.

The book was published in a second softcover edition with a new, much more thrilling cover and review blurbs on the back cover, in fall 2012. Despite receiving annual royalties, if I live six million years, it would impossible for me to come anywhere near recovering the well over $100,000 I’ve personally spent on promotion, since [the] publisher [didn’t] publicize. My intention has been just to get the word out that the book — which I did for love, not money — exists.

Author Lauren Sandler Says Women Writers Might Do Better With Just One Child

Toni Morrisson with her sons - peoplewhowrite

Toni Morrison with her sons

“[If Susan Sontag] had more children to drop off with the in-laws or the babysitters—would she have been the same writer?” Lauren Sandler asked the question in a recent piece on The Atlantic entitled “The Secret to Being Both a Successful Writer and a Mother: Have Just One Kid”. It did not go over well with authors Zadie Smith, Aimee Phan, or Pulitzer Prize Winner Jane Smiley, among others who left comments on the post critiquing Sandler’s thesis.

Smiley wrote:

I am Jane Smiley. I have written 23 books. I won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. My last novel, Private Life, was named best novel of the year by the Atlantic in 2010. I have been short-listed for the Orange Prize (Horse Heaven). I have three children of my own and two stepchildren. 

Smith said:

I am Zadie Smith, another writer. I have two children. Dickens had ten – I think Tolstoy did, too. Did anyone for one moment worry that those men were becoming too father-ish to be writer-esque?

Interestingly, the New York Times ran a similar opinion piece just a day after Sandler’s.  In “Progress At Work, But Mothers Still Pay a Price“, writer Stephanie Coontz highlights research that shows a “motherhood penalty”. Specifically, she writes:

Much of the progress that women have made in income parity has gone to childless women. Motherhood, writes the sociologist Joya Misra, is now a greater predictor of wage inequality than gender in the United States. According to her research, conducted with Michelle Budig at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, motherhood imposes about twice the earning penalty in the United States compared with what women face in countries that have expansive publicly financed child care systems.

Danielle Steele and her daughters - peoplewhowrite

Danielle Steele and her daughters

But the motherhood penalty is not just related to the tendency of mothers to cut back their work hours because of lack of child care or other family support systems that allow them to continue working full time. The sociologist Shelley Correll at Stanford University points out that mothers earn 5 percent less per hour, per child, than comparable workers who are childless women. They are also less likely to be hired if they leave or try to change jobs.

As a writer who doesn’t yet have children, I don’t know what to make of articles like these or others like it. On the one hand, there’s the feeling that “if you make the choice to have children, lady, you are going to pay for it.” The decision, and the culpability for a supposedly lackluster career, lies with the woman.

Conversely, there is little discussion about the realization many women (and men) come to (sometimes right around the time they decide to start a family) that life in the C-suite is not that awesome. In her bestseller Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg notes that many women “lean back” when they begin to focus on finding a partner and/or having children saying they end up creating a situation in which their job is unfulfilling by the time they realize their goal of having family, but Anne Marie Slaughter’s viral article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” highlights the very real workplace demands that often fight with the demands of parenting at the highest tiers of working life.

There is also little respect paid to our mothers’ who had more children on average than we did and were able to get shit done. Said “shit” may not have been running a company or a country, but many juggled jobs/careers with marriage and parenting, and managed to make it work in spite of little to no help from our fathers and unsupportive employment laws.

Either way, it’s time this conversation expands to factor in the men who make us mothers. Whether a couple decides to have one child or ten (like Dickens), no matter what career they’re in, they will have to make adjustments, choices, and sacrifices. Some will be model parents even as they soar to the heights of their careers in spite of the challenges.  Others will be content to leave work at work come quitting time and concentrate on the business of raising their children. Many in between will struggle to find a manageable balance between domestic desire and career ambition. Furthermore, most will find themselves moving between the different states at different times.

But, to be clear, I don’t believe a writer’s success hinges upon how many, or few, children they decide to have. Alice Walker may have believed “with one [child] you can move. With more than one you’re a sitting duck.” But that was Alice Walker. And maybe the same is true for Sandler. But not so for me (when I have my kids). And not so for Smith or Smiley as they reminded Sandler in the comments, or Judy Blume, Toni Morrison, J.K. Rowling, Danielle Steel, Stephenie Meyer, Mary Higgins Clark, Isabel Allende (most of whom are among the most powerful authors in print), et al.

New Blog Crush: "The Fiction Advocate"

The Fiction Advocate blog created a found poem out of Kanye West's New York Times interview - peoplewhowrite

Kanye West to the New York Times: “You know, if Michael Jordan can scream at the refs, me as the Michael Jordan of music, can go and say, ‘This is wrong.'”

The New York Times ran an interview with Kanye West this week that was chockablock with quotables from the artist including “I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things” and “I think what Kanye West is going to mean is something similar to what Steve Jobs means. I am undoubtedly, you know, Steve of Internet, downtown, fashion, culture. Period. By a long jump.”

I am incredibly inspired by the man’s full and assured confidence in himself, but I’m even more titillated by the found poem The Fiction Advocate composed from the interview.  I’ve pasted the first stanza below. You can read the full piece here.


It’s only led me to complete awesomeness at all times.


I think you got to make your case.
I was on the junior team when
I was a freshman,
That’s how good I was.
I’m letting it out on everybody
Who doesn’t want to give me my credit.

Anytime I’ve had a big thing that’s ever pierced
And cut across the Internet, it was a fight for justice.
You know, if Michael Jordan can scream at the refs, me
As the Michael Jordan of music, can go and say, “This is wrong.”

I am so credible and so influential and so relevant that I will change things.
“Did this person have the biggest thing of the year?”
That thing is more fair because I was there.
Respect my trendsetting abilities.
Once that happens, everyone wins.

It’s only led me to complete awesomeness at all times.

There's a New Guggenheim Prize in Town

The Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation has endowed a new literary prize for the best book in military history - peoplewhowrite Starting February 2014, the Guggenheim-Lehrman Prize will honor the best English-language book in military history. The Bookseller reports, the $50,000 award will be presented to the author of the 2013 book deemed to be the best of the genre. Publishers must submit contenders by November 1, 2013. Six finalists will be announced in January leading up to the award ceremony of February 13, 2014. What a lovely Valentine it will be to the winner. This prize is being administered by the Harry Frank Guggeinheim Foundation, not to be confused with the fellowships awarded to artists by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.  Click here to check out additional literary prizes you should know about, if you’re not already aware of them.

Writing Advice from Judy Blume

writing advice from Judy Blume_via Peopledotcom-peoplewhowrite

Judy Blume has been promoting the film adaptation of her classic Tiger Eyes, popping up in unexpected places like Chelsea Handler’s show. Most recently, she did an hourlong live chat session on Answering one reader about narrating her audio books, she shared this nugget of advice: “…read everything you write out loud and listen before you let it go!” Meanwhile, the excitement around Blume’s film, which she co-wrote with her son Lawrence, is proof of the enduring connection readers have with the books we read as youngsters. Publisher Lizzie Skurnick’s new imprint focused on reprinting YA classics could not be coming at a better time.

Read the full transcript of Blume’s live chat here.