Monday, April 18, 2011

Not-So-Hidden Pictures

I'm really trying to do some editorial work today, and managing to do some, albeit not as much as I should. The birds in my favorite old pear tree are putting on a show. Here are a few highlights! (btw: If you click on the images, they expand.) 

Friday, April 15, 2011

In Memoriam-Felix Knauth

Many years ago I edited and published a book titled WINGS AND ROOTS by Susan Terris. The book involved a boy, crippled by a childhood disease. Susan later introduced me to a friend who was an inspiration for the book, Felix Knauth. Felix suffered from polio as a child and had a leg brace. He grew up to do many things, all in service to others, and when I met him he was retired and living a full life. In those days I was an avid rock climber and Felix, a veteran and pioneer of Yosemite climbing, invited me to join him for a climb. We met in San Francisco, drove to Yosemite, and headed up the southwest arete of Lower Brother.  It was  a multiple pitch climb, 10 or more if memory serves me (and it doesn't always these days). A memorable moment was when I looked down and saw a Piper Cub flying below me in the valley. Felix led the climb (was first up, the climber at most risk) but, at one point, he suggested I take the lead. We were about to start a pitch up a flake that seemed to be a dead end, with no apparent route forward. The only way to find out what was there was to climb it. I was nervous. Felix looked at me and said, "Gut check time." That meant look into yourself and see if you have what you need to make the climb. I did and I did, but had I not taken that moment to focus, I would have put us both at risk. At the top  of the flake, there was a clear path and we completed the ascent. Trouble was, it was late afternoon. We spent a few minutes enjoying the view from the top and headed down. After a few pitches, I rappelled to a sheer drop to the valley floor. There was no clear route, and I had to climb back up the rope to the ledge Felix was belaying me from.  We made the decision to bivouac for the night. Unfortunately I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts and the temperature dropped to the 40's during the night.  The moonlight was bright, but not bright enough to continue our decent. We spent a miserable night on a shelf half the size of a desktop. Felix was better dressed than I was (he was  a veteran), and he took the lead as soon as the sun came up. We finished the descent in good time but I was suffering from hypothermia. Felix made me jog to our camper where he whipped up a pot of instant oat meal cooked in cheap red wine. It was the best meal of my life.

Felix and I lost touch with each other many years ago. I've just learned that in his 80th year, Felix bought a sail boat—he was a deeply experienced sailor—and headed out on an extended solo voyage. A few days later his boat was discovered, abandoned. An extensive search was conducted to no avail. I'm sure that Felix had a gut check moment. He did and he did.  A remarkable man. Ave atque vale, old friend.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Game Changes

Various sources are reporting two separate developments that, combined, initiate the next stage in the evolution of publishing. Not surprisingly, both involve Amazon. I wrote about self-publishing star, Amanda Hocking, whose four-book YA dystopian series was sold at auction for over $2 million a couple of weeks ago. Apparently Amazon was an underbidder in that auction, losing out, it is speculated,  because Amazon wanted to retain exclusive distribution rights for the ebooks. While Amazon has something like 60% of the ebook market, that leaves 40% untapped by an exclusive arrangement, not chicken feed for an author with Hocking's track in the ebook world. Okay, so you win a few and you lose a few. Amazon doesn't lose many. The other deal that is being reported is that Houghton Harcourt will distribute selected Amazon titles in bookstores! That's right, the world's largest bookstore has arranged with a traditional publisher to distribute its titles, which heretofore were only available from, in bookstores. What these two developments mean is that Amazon is now ready, willing, and able to compete directly with traditional publishers on their home ground, i.e. bookstore distribution. To me that sounds a lot like a bell tolling, albeit quietly and in the distance.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Bologna 2011

The fair is over and the assembled hordes have departed. This was my 30th and, in one word, this fair was noteworthy for its efficiency. I don't know the official attendance numbers, but I do know attendance was way down. Usually the parking lots are full, here they were seldom more than half filled. The restaurant in Hall 29 was closed for the first time in my experience. And the halls were not so crowded that the walk between appointments was a constantly shifting slalom run. But everywhere I looked—all day long, all week—people were sitting across from each other at tables looking at and talking about books. The people who actually do the buying and selling of rights were doing their work, steadily and efficiently. The rest of the bodies that crowd these parking lots, restaurants, and halls are students, supernumeraries, and tourists. The economy has made this a leaner affair, but, I suspect, not less productive.

Generally when an editor is buying, i.e. acquiring rights, she goes to the other publisher's booth. Those who are selling, i.e. licensing rights, are pretty much chained to their own booth, where the books are at hand. This year I roamed the halls, taking appointments here, there, and everywhere. This is my preferred mode and I was able to do so because the namelos list is still small enough to be a movable feast. Next year, however, I will need to spend a large chunk of time anchored to a booth (shared with Lemniscaat), with a shelf of namelos titles behind me.

Two years ago, I was very much a voice crying in the wilderness. Last year, I was more like Dennis Kucinich in the 2008 race for the Democratic nomination for President, i.e. a necessary voice that nobody thought stood a chance in hell of making it to the general election. This year everybody is aware of ebooks and apps and print-on-demand, and the Tools of Change pre-conference was packed. I heard mixed reports about the TOC conference, but a lot of senior executives felt it was necessary to be there. The fair itself is still overwhelmingly print oriented, but the digital pulse is steady and strong and the patient is alert. In my cursory search, I spotted only three booths that were exclusively digital (i.e. no print offerings), but everybody has a digital initiative and spoke about what they were doing with energy and excitement. As for namelos, the agents, scouts, publishers, and authors I met with were as interested in our business model as in the titles we are publishing. The publishing "space" and conversation has expanded to include namelos. We're still on the lunatic fringe, but not quite so far out.