Saturday, October 23, 2004

The cover-up Kidd

His flamboyance and bravado -- not to mention those Upper East Side parties -- have made Chip Kidd more famous than many of the authors whose book jackets he's designed, writes GUY DIXON


UPDATED AT 9:40 PM EDT Saturday, Oct 23, 2004

He's been called "the closest thing to a rock star" in the otherwise sequestered world of publishing, a "path-breaking designer" and even, a little oddly, an "inky colossus."

The fact is that Chip Kidd, who just turned 40 and passed his 18th anniversary as a designer at Knopf in Manhattan, is more famous than many of the authors whose book covers he designs. Certainly he has created some of the most recognizable covers of the 1990s, from the dinosaur-bone image for Jurassic Park to the black-and-white photograph of a horse's mane below a white header on the cover of Cormac McCarthy's All the Pretty Horses. He has even written his own novel, 2001's The Cheese Monkeys, as if flouting the notion that he should be contained on a jacket.

The end result is that Kidd is probably the only designer that many book buyers can actually name, giving him a celebrity status, at least in publishing houses and graphic-arts departments, of rock-star proportions. "Oh, were it only true!" says Kidd, with a theatrical quaver in his voice. "Being in New York and knowing several famous people is good because it helps you keep your perspective, and you realize that, no, you're really not all that high up on the totem pole."

Modesty aside, Kidd has said that all the attention can get a little ridiculous -- that it's akin, as he has put it, to being described as the world's most famous plumber. And he hasn't been alone in trying to temper some of it. In a monograph on his work published last year by Yale University Press, Sonny Mehta, editor-in-chief at Knopf, is quoted as saying, "I admire Chip immensely, but I want to be sure that you understand that Chip is not the only great designer at Knopf."

VĂ©ronique Vienne, who wrote the essay and who teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York, where Kidd also taught for six years, notes that his fame hasn't always sat easily with his peers in the tiny New York community of book designers. "On the one hand," she writes, "they envy his bravado and his willingness to be flamboyant in a field that used to be the domain of tweedy practitioners." But then there's the feeling that they now have to act more like Kidd -- and be thought of as equally effusive, multitalented and charming.

In part, Kidd was able to ride a nineties wave of new interest in designers as personalities. Just as he was making his mark with jackets for such bestsellers as Donna Tartt's The Secret History, Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient, notes Vienne, the cult of celebrity turned its eye on designers in general, with major profiles appearing on such people as Fabien Baron, the former art director of Harper's Bazaar (who helped establish fashion retailing's trend toward black-and-white minimalism),and Tibor Kalman (particularly known for his work editing Benetton's deliberately provocative magazine, Colors).

If it were ever traceable, the tipping point in Kidd's own widespread recognition seems to have started with such articles as Janet Froelich's 1996 piece on him in The New York Times, which was perfectly timed to Kidd's work on illustrated books such as Batman Collected (an exhaustive look at Batman memorabilia, which Kidd collects). Then there's the simple fact, as Kidd says, that his subfield "is one of the few areas of graphic design where graphic designers get personal credit for what they do. You open the book, and there it is on the back flap: Jacket design by Chip Kidd."

One thing leads to another, and a reputation gets built. And since young designers -- like every entry-level job in publishing -- start out making barely enough to afford to live in a city like New York, freelancing is accepted, if not encouraged. The work of a tiny group of book designers in Manhattan therefore proliferates across publishing houses, and, if the conditions are right, their exposure quickly grows.

When asked how many covers he has done since arriving at Knopf in 1986, straight out of university, and where he's still a staff designer, his usual response has been in the neighbourhood of 1,200, based on rough calculations. But while helping to amass his past work for the Yale book, and now a larger, more comprehensive retrospective of his work to come in two years from art publisher Rizzoli, he says it's actually closer to 750 book jackets.

Whatever the right number, it's a huge, widely acclaimed collection of work. Some authors, such as Oliver Sacks, have it written into their contracts that only Kidd will work on their books. Kidd is also an editor-at-large at the Knopf imprint Pantheon, where he acquires and edits graphic novels and illustrated books. His own coffee-table book for Pantheon, 2001's Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Schulz, is a highly praised, vibrant appreciation of Schulz's life and work.

Kidd's graphics have a kind of inviting directness, drawing in the reader and summing up the essence of a book, while asking as many questions as they answer. Why, for instance, on the cover of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, is the face on the doll looking so wary, and peering to the side?His metaphors may be a little heavy-handed for some, like the upside-down -- perhaps dropped? -- stuffed bunny on the cover of Paul Golding's The Abomination. But these are covers obviously intended for the bestsellers table.

"I try to avoid having any kind of signature style," he says. "Which is not to say I don't repeat myself. I do. But I try not to. I really try to employ various kinds of techniques and visual approaches to the jackets in order to keep them fresh."

Is that hard after designing so many? "Yes," he says, "you do have to consciously fight it."

A frequent lecturer, Kidd is also known, at least from accounts in New York magazine, for his parties at his Upper East Side apartment. He says it's because his place is conducive to entertaining, simply because it has a terrace, which is unusual in crowded upper Manhattan. Still, it all adds to his celebrity.

In the meantime, he's working on his second novel. Writing doesn't pay the bills, so he can't see it superseding his design work any time soon. But he also doesn't let on that he has much fear of criticism or, for that matter, the envy of peers -- or even any just-trying-to-be-helpful feedback from his partner, poet and essayist J. D. McClatchy.

"The book I'm working on now is in the first person, as was The Cheese Monkeys," says Kidd. "And I remember I worked on a long, difficult passage of it, and he looked at it and said, 'Well, maybe you should be writing in the third person.' Of course that was pretty much the last thing I wanted to hear."

But for all the restraint with which he describes his work, there are clues, too, about how much control he's willing to cede, particularly in his design work. The retrospective book to be published by Rizzoli is largely a response to the Yale University Press monograph, he says emphatically.

"I strangely really wasn't part of the process of putting [the Yale book] together," he says, other than to help collect some of his past works.

But what really got away on him was the book's cover, which has neither a central, straight-on image nor tells a mini, metaphorical story on its own. "I'm not," says the designer, "terrifically crazy about it."

The Globe and Mail

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Publishers Say Weak Borders Sales Could Reflect Fundamental Problems

Borders Group executives earlier this month tied the company's failure to hit its financial targets to hurricanes and elections. But interviews with a wide range of publishers--many at mid-sized houses as well as at some large publishers and micros--found that the problems at the country's second-largest chain may run a lot deeper. A culture shift, the departure of key employees and old inventory systems have led to widespread publisher puzzlement, and sometimes discontent, with the company. They're changes that could have more than just emotional repercussions--they could be responsible for a number of problems at the chain, from lower sales to higher returns.

All the interviewed, understandably, requested anonymity. But the directness of their comments--and the similarity of their concerns--indicates issues that go well beyond the seasonal factors suggested by the company. The reporting forms the backbone of a larger investigative piece in next week's magazine, but in advance of that, we thought we'd run some excerpts.

A recurring theme among publishers was a lack of coordination between headquarters and stores, as well as tension between executives and buyers. One prominent publisher decried what "seems to be a weird disconnect" between Borders's upper management, which of course these days comes outside the book business, and its more traditionalist buyers. "Years ago, in its heyday, Borders was staffed by really knowledgeable book people who cared about each store," said the president of another publisher. "They still have incredible variety in their stores, and the shopping experience is good. But the book buyers are not given the tools needed to get books into the stores right away."

Publishers said much of their concern involved Border's lack of responsiveness--both to interest in executive-level meetings as well as to instances when titles began to move in other accounts. "There's a great deal of frustration within the marketplace about dealing with Borders right now," said an executive. "If you build a culture where you're implementing a system that's above the market and not really interested in what's doing in the rest of the marketplace, then you're going to have a culture where it's difficult for anything to happen quickly." A drying up of publisher summits also proves that Borders has not been "so welcoming" in hearing thoughts and concerns, as has the departure of buyer Dan Meyer (for B&N) and Phil Olilla (Ingram).

Perhaps not surprisingly, one the biggest areas to suffer when relationships deteriorates is backlist. It is, after all, relatively easy to stay on top of the latest bestseller; keeping up with or reacting to subtle changes on older titles requires a more honed form of communication.

While the company does not officially distinguish between front- and backlist, publishers were almost uniform in suggesting that it is the latter where they have seen the steepest drops. One house attributed Borders's weak backlist to its old inventory systems. Another said: "Borders can compete on sales with Barnes & Noble for a certain period of time, and then I don't know what happens."

Publishers are prone to making many unfavorable comparisons with Barnes & Noble. They said that despite uncertainty over the chain's moves into the publishing world, that store remained, at heart, a place where both the culture and executives were primarily about books. Borders, they said, had not always distinguished itself that way in recent months. "When you go out with Barnes & Noble, at some point the discussions always come back to books. That's not always the case with Borders," said one publisher. He added that the lack of faces associated with the company--or with book culture--compounded the problem. "When you talk about Barnes & Noble it's Len and Steve and Bob Wietrak and Antoinette Ercolano, and ten or twelve people I can name right off the bat. Borders is an enigma."--Jim Milliot, Steven Zeitchik and John Mutter

from PW Newsline for Thursday, October 21, 2004

Garcia Marquez book creates frenzy in Latin America, Spain

October 21, 2004


MEXICO CITY -- The first novel in a decade by Nobel Prize author Gabriel Garcia Marquez went on sale across the Spanish-speaking world Wednesday, a launch pushed forward because counterfeiters were already selling copies of Memories of My Melancholy Whores.

The long-awaited novella, called Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes in Spanish, explores love, sex and life by telling the story of a male journalist who decides to celebrate his 90th birthday by having sex with a young virgin.

At a news conference in Mexico City, where the Colombian-born Garcia Marquez lives, editors said demand for the book has been so strong that they were already in the process of publishing a second edition of 50,000 to add to the initial Mexican release of 100,000 in softcover and 30,000 in hardcover.

Street vendors began selling pirated copies of the book last week in Colombia, prompting publishers to push up the Oct. 27 release date.

Braulio Peralta, an editor at Random House Mondadori, said publishers were releasing a first run of 1 million copies for Latin America and Spain. He said the book will go on sale in Spanish in the United States ''very soon,'' although publishers hadn't set a date. It wasn't clear when the book would be released in English or how the title would be translated.

Garcia Marquez -- who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982 -- is perhaps best known for his novels 100 Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera.

His last work of fiction, Of Love and Other Demons, appeared in 1994. Two years ago, he released a memoir of his life through 1955, Living to Tell the Tale, in which he talks about visiting bordellos in Colombia's coastal city of Barranquilla as a young journalist.

In Colombia, Bogota police said Wednesday they arrested three street vendors selling pirated versions of the book. The book's Colombian editor, Moises Melo, said this is the first time illegal copies hit the streets before the official version came out.

Peralta said the early counterfeits differed from the legal version because Garcia Marquez made last-minute changes to the final chapter.

Garcia Marquez book creates frenzy in Latin America, Spain

Little people, big thrills

The best-selling thriller-writer Philip Kerr was nervous about promoting his first children's novel in the US. Would shiny, happy American children take to an ageing, overweight British author?

21 October 2004

As a thriller-writer, I'm quite used to visiting other countries to promote a novel. I've even become reconciled to the new publishing order - that it's no longer enough to write a book; you have to promote it, too. Having spent months in monastic, anti-social seclusion, you suddenly emerge into the light of day, blinking like some myopic mole, and are then required to behave like a cross between Martin Jarvis and Jackie Mason.

Meeting journalists, photographers and the public, shaking hands and signing books while wearing my best grin, I've even learnt a new respect for politicians who do something similar all year round. But nothing prepared me for the rigours of a three-week tour of the United States, as a first-time children's author. Three weeks without uttering a single profanity and without once getting drunk; three weeks of politeness and diplomacy that would have exhausted Kofi Annan.

The first thing I noticed about Scholastic, who specialise in publishing children's books (they publish JK Rowling in America) is how nice they all are. How nice and how enthusiastic. Such a pleasant change from the glum old world of adult publishing where booksellers moan about point of sale (or more likely the lack of it), and editors and marketing people regard you with shifty indifference - as if it must have been someone else's bright idea to have you read to several rows of empty seats and a lost dog at some dismal bookshop in St Albans. Everyone in children's books is smiling.

Beginning my American tour in New York and New Jersey, I decide that dealing with children probably encourages this; and, unaccustomed as I am to public smiling, I fix a Tony Blair sort of rictus on my face and set off for my first speaking engagement - a 50-minute talk to 300 pupils at the Elisabeth Morrow School, in Englewood. Elisabeth Morrow was, it turns out, Charles Lindbergh's sister-in-law and, frankly, I feel like I'd rather have flown single-handed across the Atlantic than what I'm about to do. Never in my life have I spoken to a large group of children - other than the time during my eldest son's birthday party when I told all his friends that the next person to punch or kick someone else would be sent home immediately! (You get the picture.)

Somehow I get through a whole hour with Elisabeth Morrow's kids. They even laugh at my jokes. Afterwards I sign about a hundred books and autographs, and have my picture taken with various kids and even a few teachers before collapsing into the back of the limo. On the way to the next school, and another 250 kids, Charisse, my publicist, informs me that JK Rowling did the same kind of promotional tour for her first and second books that I'm doing now. I can tell that she's only saying this to keep up my spirits because suddenly this feels like hard work. But after two or three more schools I start to feel a little more relaxed.

My book is about two New York twins who discover that they are djinn, and, as well as reading from the novel, which is called Children of the Lamp, I tell the children how djinn sometimes grant humans three wishes. They know all about this part already, the schoolchildren tell me. There's a Pop Tarts commercial running on TV that features a cartoon djinni. I tell the children about my own three wishes and ask them what they'd wish for if they ever met a real djinni. Mostly this goes well. One little boy tells me he wishes he had his own personal sushi chef. Another boy stands up in front of the whole school and says he wishes there could be world peace and no more wars. We laugh when swimsuited young women in the Miss World contest come out with this sort of guff. But it's a different story when a nine-year-old boy says it, and I encourage a round of applause for this particular wish. We need more wishes like that, don't we? Especially in America. A little girl wishes she was the President and everyone laughs when I say that I wish she was, too. Who knows? Maybe there's hope for John Kerry after all.

On one occasion, however - these are children, after all - the unpredictable happens. A boy in Michigan City tells me he wishes he knew where his mother was. Gulp. And a twin in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago, tells me that she wishes she didn't have a twin at all; this provokes a howl of outrage and anguish from the other side of the school gymnasium where the other twin is sitting with her friends. I'm beginning to see what WC Fields was talking about when he aired his prejudices about working with children and animals.

By now I've reached the West Coast, where I speak to my biggest audience yet: 500 kids aged nine to 13. The vast school looks more like a correctional facility, and I half expect to see some scrofulous youth trotting up the endless corridor with a newly legalised automatic rifle slung over his acne-covered shoulder. Here, the principal tells me that some of his girls wept for joy when they heard I was coming; and several with whom I shake hands tell me, improbably, that they're never going to wash their sticky little paws again. All of which persuades me to double-check that the school isn't really some institute for the blind. I'm 48 years old, for Pete's sake. Clearly there exists a real shortage of celebrities in America that is almost as acute as the lack of irony. Either that or these girls were being really ironic and I just didn't get it.

My young male fans don't seem to find any of this as surprising as I do. Cooler, more laid back about meeting a writer than their female counterparts, they and I still manage to strike up an unlikely fraternity. One of them leans toward me and says, "Our librarian thinks you're hot". Thanks buddy, I tell him. "What's the PB stand for?" enquires another youth. "Peanut butter?"

Two weeks into my tour, I'm starting to find all of this rather touching, not to say encouraging. In America, bookshops, publishers and schools work together to promote child literacy. And clearly it works. It must work when an ageing, overweight British author is treated to the kind of adoration that is normally reserved for six-packed boy bands. For years I've lived a monkish, somewhat cynical existence, never really doing very much except reading and writing and watching movies. But in a strange way I'm actually starting to enjoy myself. I realise how important children are. Not just my own. But all children, everywhere.

Arriving back in the UK, I discover that my book has entered the New York Times bestselling children's author's list. This feels good. But it doesn't feel quite as good as the experience I have just enjoyed. The fact of the matter is I feel a little privileged to have been the subject of some youthful awe. I feel like I've been given something really important and worthwhile that I ought to cherish. And far from making me feel old, my contact with children had an opposite, enlivening effect. There's no doubt about it, children are the best elixir of life I've yet discovered.

'Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure', by PB Kerr, is published by Scholastic Press (£12.99)


Tuesday, October 19, 2004

from PW Daily for Booksellers (Tuesday, October 19, 2004)

Naked Justice? Wal-Mart Cancels America Orders

Though America: The Book has been the country's #1 hardcover nonfiction bestseller for three weeks, it has achieved those sales without the help of America's largest retailer.

Warner Books publisher Jamie Raab confirmed today that Wal-Mart had cancelled its orders for the book authored by Jon Stewart and the writers at the Daily Show because of a satirical spread that pastes the heads of Supreme Court justices onto naked bodies.

The images "really seemed to shake people up," said Raab. In addition to Wal-Mart, at least one other significant chain also initially balked at stocking the book, she said, though "they later decided it was going to be big book and they didn't want to miss out."

Wal-Mart is well-known for its refusal to stock albums with explicit lyrics. It has also modified book orders on decency grounds. Last month, stopped carrying The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in response to a complaint from the Anti-Defamation League. In 2003, the site also ceased stocking Varieties of Man/Boy Love by Mark Pascal. In Stewart's case, is carrying the book while brick-and-mortar Wal-Mart stores are not. However, the situation is unusual because the book is selling so well elsewhere, and because its images are intended as satire.

Though the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression holds the position that "offering a broad range of material is essential for democracy," president Chris Finan said that Wal-Mart is acting within its rights. "The First Amendment protects the right of retailer not to stock a book or other product. We would never criticize Wal-Mart for its particular choices."
While sales at Wal-Mart can account for anywhere from 1%-20% of sales for some books, it's unclear how much Stewart's book has been hurt by the chain. "Maybe it wouldn't have sold very well at Wal-Mart, but we'll never know," said Raab, pointing out that sales of genre fiction tend to far outweigh political books at the chain.

Co-author and Daily Show executive producer Ben Karlin said that Wal-Mart's decision came as a blow. "Wal-Mart was the place we wanted to be the most. We wanted America: The Book to reach America, and we thought the flag on the cover would do it for Wal-Mart, since they're fond of selling things with flags on them."--Charlotte Abbott

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