Friday, November 11, 2005

Karon's Father Tim to leave 'Mitford'
By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

Best-selling author Jan Karon, 68, is closing the book on her popular Mitford series, with the ninth, Light from Heaven (Viking, $26.95), out this week.

I have no more stories to tell about Mitford," she says of the novels that chronicle the escapades of the affable Episcopal priest Father Tim Kavanagh in the charming village of Mitford, N.C.

There are 25 million copies of her 15 books in print, including two children's books. Her work, which has Christian overtones, has a devout following.

Although it was time to leave Mitford, Karon won't leave Father Tim behind. She'll continue to track the life of the 70-year-old priest in three new books, called the Father Tim Novels, launching in fall 2007.

"I'll go straight from this series into another, which is rather like having a baby on Saturday night and waking up pregnant on Sunday morning," she says, laughing.

In the first novel, Father Tim will return to his hometown of Holly Springs, Miss. "He's going to learn something that will change his life forever."

The next two will take him to Ireland, then to England. But throughout, he'll be in touch with people in Mitford by e-mail and cellphone so that readers "will know of any significant happenings," she says.

Karon thinks Father Tim has helped redeem the tarnished reputation clergy have gotten in novels.

"Ever since Elmer Gantry was published in 1927, we have had very dark clergy in literature," she says. "They've been melancholy, depraved, greedy, godless, grasping. They've been the most miserable creatures. I wanted to show there are also wonderful, God-loving clergy out there."

Karon weaves parts of her own life into her books. She's an Episcopalian who, until a few years ago, lived in the Appalachian Mountain town of Blowing Rock, N.C., which is similar to the fictional town of Mitford. She now lives on a farm outside Charlottesville, Va.

Like Father Tim, Karon is ready to travel and slow down. "I want to enjoy all that God has given me."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Name Blame: Authors Take Aliases To Cover Up Flops; With Stores Tracking Sales, One Bad Book Is Poison; William Becomes Diana

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg
Wall Street Journal

Reed Farrel Coleman had six mystery books under his belt but sales were steadily weakening. His then-agent made a startling suggestion, he says: Take a new name.
Mr. Coleman, or as he's now known, Tony Spinosa, says he's just "doing what the market expects me to do: Play the game." The first book in his new series, "Hose Monkey," will be out next October, published by Bleak House Books. "Do I have some bitterness?" he asks. "Yes. But what good will it do me?"

Now that retailers can track books sales speedily and efficiently with point-of-sale technology, the entire publishing world knows when an author's commercial performance takes a dive. For these unfortunate scribblers, such a sales record makes it hard to get good advances and big orders from bookstores. So some are adopting an unusual strategy: adopting an alias -- even one of the opposite sex.
Two decades ago, the book industry largely relied on guesswork as it decided what to publish and sell. Editors could keep promoting promising authors, even if sales were weak. When they finally wrote a "breakout" title, their catalog of older books would become valuable.

These days, publishing veterans talk about "the death spiral" of authors' careers. A first novel generates terrific reviews and good sales, but with each succeeding book, sales get weaker and the chains cut their orders until they don't stock any at all.

"You're only as good as your last book's sales to much of the retail market," says New York literary agent Richard Pine, a principal in Inkwell Management LLC.
Dean James has published seven novels and six nonfiction books under his own name but hasn't earned enough to give up running a Houston bookstore. Rather than risk being cut off by his publisher, Mr. James offered to publish his latest work under the androgynous name Jimmie Ruth Evans. The book, "Flamingo Fatale," is a mystery involving a woman who lives in a trailer park, published in July by Berkley Prime Crime, a unit of Pearson PLC.

"I knew I'd have a better chance under a different name because I know how the book business works," says Mr. James.

A few months ago the author spoke to a book group at a private Houston club. Many of the members knew he was writing under a female- sounding name but one man was clearly stunned, expecting to see a woman. "When I walked into the room his jaw literally dropped," says Mr. James.

Natalee Rosenstein, Berkley Prime Crime's senior executive editor, says nobody asked Mr. James to change his name. Nonetheless, since his new protagonist is a woman, it made sense to give him a female moniker, or at least an ambiguous one. "You want to create a fresh start," she says.

William P. Kennedy went one step further. By the early 1990s, the military thrillers that had made his career were no longer selling well. Determined to reinvent himself, Mr. Kennedy sent his publisher a novel involving kidnapping and high finance called "The Trophy Wife." His editor at St. Martin's Press thought the book would appeal to women if it was written by a woman. He pressed Mr. Kennedy to change his name. An amused friend of the author suggested Diana Diamond.

The book, published in 2000, was a success. So was a subsequent title, "The Babysitter." The third, "The Good Sister," hit the best- seller lists. TV talk-show host Kelly Ripa invited the author to appear on "Live with Regis and Kelly." He wore, as a joke, a wavy, blond wig. Although Mr. Kennedy revealed his true identity during the program, it didn't hurt his sales. As Ms. Diamond, he has published six novels.

Mr. Kennedy has some regrets about becoming Diana Diamond, mostly because the literary career of William P. Kennedy appears to be over.

"I still submit books under my own name but it seems to be the consensus that they won't sell," says Mr. Kennedy. What irritates him most, he says, is that he's now acclaimed as the "Queen" of a genre known as the relational thriller. "If I was a sensitive person I'd be suicidal," he says.

Terrill Lee Lankford's literary agency was urging him to take a pseudonym even before his book, "Blonde Lightning," hit the shelves this summer. He declined the advice. His earlier title, "Earthquake Weather," was a critical, if not commercial success. But since it wasn't a big seller, orders from bookstores for the follow-up were lackluster. Mr. Lankford's editor at Bertelsmann AG's Ballantine imprint was enthusiastic about the sequel but the author's agency said his name was a liability.
Mr. Lankford says switching monikers is unethical. "If somebody didn't like my book under my own name it would be wrong to sell another book to that person under a different name," he says. "Just to defeat the computers at Barnes & Noble and Borders isn't a good reason for doing this."

Barry Martin, co-owner of Book'em Mysteries, a bookstore in South Pasadena, Calif., agrees with Mr. Lankford that the practice is "deceitful." He adds: "Publishers will do anything to sell a book."

Others make the point that poor sales may reflect bad marketing decisions rather than negative reader reaction. "A book could have a bad dust jacket," suggests Jack Rems, owner of Dark Carnival, a science-fiction and mystery bookshop in Berkeley, Calif. "I don't think my customers care that much about an author using a new name. It's about getting around the chain-store track record."

Pseudonyms have a long, established historical pedigree. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Eliot because writing was considered a man's job in the 19th century. Sometimes authors have an itch to try something new but don't want to disappoint or confuse fans. Romance writer Nora Roberts, for example, writes a futuristic crime series as J.D. Robb. Stephen King created the pseudonym Richard Bachman to publish several books written early in his career. But not until recently was a pseudonym considered a marketing necessity.

In today's market, some successful writers might not have survived. James Ellroy, author of "L.A. Confidential," is one example, says his former publisher Otto Penzler, who owns The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. The first three of Mr. Ellroy's books published by Mr. Penzler sold cumulatively less than 5,000 copies in hardcover. His fourth book, "The Black Dahlia," was a massive best seller.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Want 'War and Peace' Online? How About 20 Pages at a Time?

In a race to become the iTunes of the publishing world, and Google are both developing systems to allow consumers to purchase online access to any page, section or chapter of a book. These programs would combine their already available systems of searching books online with a commercial component that could revolutionize the way that people read books.

The idea is to do for books what Apple has done for music, allowing readers to buy and download parts of individual books for their own use through their computers rather than trek to a store or receive them by mail. Consumers could purchase a single recipe from a cookbook, for example, or a chapter on rebuilding a car engine from a repair manual.

The initiatives are already setting off a tug of war among publishers and the potential vendors over who will do business with whom and how to split the proceeds. Random House, the biggest American publisher, proposed a micropayment model yesterday in which readers would be charged about 5 cents a page, with 4 cents of that going to the publisher to be shared with the author. The fact that Random House has already developed such a model indicates that it supports the concept, and that other publishers are likely to follow.

The proposals could also become bargaining chips in current lawsuits against Google by trade groups representing publishers and authors. These groups have charged that Google is violating copyrights by making digital copies of books from libraries for use in its book-related search engine. But if those copies of older books on library shelves that have long been absent from bookstores started to produce revenue for publishers and authors, the trade groups might drop some of their objections.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild, which filed a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against Google in September over its Google Print program, called the Amazon announcement "a positive development."

"This is the way it's supposed to work: to give consumers access to books and have revenues flow back to publishers and authors," Mr. Aiken said. "Conceptually, something similar might be possible for the Google program."

Amazon said yesterday that it was developing two programs that would begin some time next year. The first, Amazon Pages, is intended to work with the company's "search inside the book" feature to allow users to search its universe of books and then buy and read online whatever pages they need of a given book. The second program, Amazon Upgrade, will allow customers to add online access to their purchase of a physical copy of a book.

Jeffrey P. Bezos, chief executive of Amazon, said in an interview that he believed that, for a vast majority of books, consumers would be able to download, copy and print out whatever portions of the book they buy. But, he added, that decision would ultimately be up to the publisher or the author.

Google is working to develop a similar system, said executives at three publishing companies who were briefed by Google on its efforts. Using the Google Print site, readers would be able to search Google's digitized library of books, then buy either an entire book or the relevant parts.

A spokesman for Google, Nate Tyler, declined to comment yesterday on its plans, saying only that the company was "exploring other economic models, but we don't have anything to announce yet."

Mr. Tyler said Google welcomed the Amazon program. "Amazon is a valuable partner," he said, "and we link to Amazon so people can buy books they've found with Google Print. We're glad our users will have additional ways to access the books they've found using Google Print."

Google and Amazon would each seem to have some advantages over the other in the development of their programs. Amazon already has the credit card numbers of a large population of potential users of the service and is familiar to people looking to buy books and other goods.

Google is the first stop for most people searching electronically for anything. And Google has the potential to have a far greater collection of materials, given its program to copy digitally much of the collections of five major research libraries and make that content searchable on its site.

Currently, the Google Print program provides free online access to the full content of books no longer under copyright, but only limited viewing of parts of books that are still protected. Under the plans being developed by Google, publishers say, those older, copyrighted books could be bought in whole or in part.

"We've had conversations with both Google and Amazon over the past few months" about their search and purchase systems, said Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House's corporate development group. By creating a financial model under which the Amazon and Google programs could work, Mr. Sarnoff said Random House was "planting a flag, trying to establish some ground rules that we are comfortable with to create this new kind of commerce around book content."

The Random House model calls for consumers to be able to buy access to a book for, say, 5 cents a page for most books and higher amounts, like 25 cents a page, for cookbooks and other specialty publications. It calls for users to gain online access, though not to be able to copy or print the page. But "if consumers absolutely demand certain kinds of access," like the ability to print, Mr. Sarnoff said, "it would be important to provide that."

David Steinberger, chief executive of the Perseus Books Group, said he welcomed the new initiatives and believed it would be better for consumers if several companies developed these services, giving readers more choices and types of material available.

"This is a much more significant development than we saw during the Internet boom," when scores of companies were rushing to develop e-books - complete books that could be downloaded onto an electronic reader. Those plans were largely shelved as consumers found the electronic readers unwieldy, and the Internet boom collapsed. "This time," Mr. Steinberger said, "it looks like this really might happen."

Search This Blog