Thursday, July 07, 2005

With Covers, Publishers Take More Than Page From Rivals

When a book hits stores with a cover nearly identical to another's, it's the publishing equivalent of arriving at a party wearing the same dress as the hostess. But while book jacket look-alikes may chafe publishers, it happens more often than you might think.

The image on the cover of Todd Hasak-Lowy's short-story collection, "The Task of This Translator" (Harvest Books, an imprint of Harcourt), released in June, shows a hat floating over a necktie-wearing headless man - nearly identical to the one on a 1999 story collection, Barry Yourgrau's "Wearing Dad's Head" (Arcade Publishing).

The hall of mirrors continues: both books appear to riff on Fred Marcellino's celebrated floating-bowler-hat illustration for Milan Kundera's novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being," which itself appeared to be a homage to the Belgian Surrealist painter René Magritte, who frequently depicted men with bowlers.

Sometimes the photographs on book covers are not just similar, but exact duplicates. Rather than pay photographers' day rates, most book designers turn to stock-photography agencies. Top agencies charge $1,200 to $1,500 a photograph, and twice that for exclusive rights, a premium publishers are loath to pay.

That's where the trouble starts.

Seven years ago, an edition of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka's "Raising Your Spirited Child" featured on its cover a stock photograph, from the Photonica agency, of a girl running with outstretched arms. Five years later, another parenting book, "Children at Promise," by Timothy S. Stuart and Cheryl G. Bostrom, featured the identical photograph, as does a recently released paperback version of the book.

Mary Schuck, senior art director at Harper Perennial, which published the first title, learned of the latter only recently, when directed to it on the Internet. "Oh, wow," Ms. Schuck said. "They used the same photo. It's just a huge mistake for this publisher to have done this."

At that other publisher, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, the look-alike cover also came as news.

"It's in all our best interests to make sure that image isn't already being used in the same medium," Jean Morley, Wiley's vice president of creative services, said in an e-mail message. "When our designers use stock art, they routinely ask if the image is being used for other purposes, and most stock houses will volunteer that information."

She added, "I suspect the reason this happened was probably because that information wasn't shared or possibly because we thought that first book was outdated or not directly competing in the marketplace."

"Raising Your Spirited Child" hardly appears outdated: the book was recently No. 38 on Amazon's parenting and families top-seller list; Wiley's "Children at Promise" didn't make that Top 100 list. (The older book's overall sales rank was 645; the newer was 314,488.) It's unclear how many bookstores stack them near each other; both address parenting, but only "Children at Promise" is Christian-themed.

David Neilson, the chief executive of Photonica, said in an e-mail message that "it's likely" Wiley was warned of the previous book cover: when a "client calls in to request a photo, we will check the image's history automatically."

In any case, neither publisher has any recourse against the agency, as neither paid for exclusivity. Ditto for Bloomsbury and Doubleday, which paid Photonica for nonexclusive use of the same photograph of a knee-socked woman, though used upside down in one case. The books - Melissa Pritchard's "Disappearing Ingénue" (Doubleday) and a British edition of Jeffrey Eugenides's "Virgin Suicides" (Bloomsbury) - were both published in 2002, in May and October, respectively. Mr. Neilson said "crossover is likely to have been minimal," as "The Virgin Suicides" cover in the United States differs from the one in Britain. In British bookstores, however, the covers are likely to be the same: Amazon's British Web site shows the Pritchard and Eugenides books with the identical images.

As the covers of "The Task of This Translator" and "Wearing Dad's Head" suggest, photo agency rates do not explain all such cases. Book designers can wade into familiar waters even when they choose different photos. The cover of "The Task of This Translator" is "similar enough to other projects that someone should have a red face about it," said Giles Hoover, a book designer who with his wife, Amanda Smith, runs the book-design blog Foreword (

"If I had done that, I would be super-embarrassed," Mr. Hoover said.

Jennifer Gilmore, director of publicity at Harcourt, publisher of "The Task of This Translator," said she had not been aware of the cover of Mr. Yourgrau's book. She said the similarities were "strictly coincidental."

With Covers, Publishers Take More Than Page From Rivals - New York Times

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

I read Julie & Julia and absolutely loved it - can't wait for the September pub date!

Anatomy of a Buzz: Julie & Julia
June 29, 2005
By Anna Weinberg

Julie Powell’s cooking memoir, Julie & Julia, could easily have gone the way of so many other blogger memoirs. (Anyone remember Save Karyn?)

Instead, Powell’s account of her year-long cooking project, in which she prepared every recipe in Julia Childs’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking while blogging about it, is one of the most highly buzzed books of the fall season. For those unfamiliar with the story, in 2003, Powell was a secretary living in Queens. Nearing 30 and hating her job, with little (she thought) to show for her life, she embarked on her epic cooking project in order to, as she wrote, “save myself from giving up entirely to dreariness and mediocrity.” With her profanity-laced blog detailing the daily struggles of cooking like Julia, Powell soon won the hearts of thousands of readers, and, by the end of the project, was fielding interview requests from NPR, CNN, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. With that kind of built-in media attention, a book deal was inevitable.

Little, Brown and Co. acquired the memoir in September 2003, just after the completion of Powell’s project on Aug. 26, 2003. “Everything kind of came together at the same time,” recalls senior editor Judy Clain. “I’d been reading Julie’s blog, then I read the Amanda Hesser piece in the New York Times on Julie’s project, and then I found out she had signed with Sarah Chalfant at the Wiley Agency—twelve hours later we were making an offer on the proposal.”

Following a bidding war involving several publishers, on Sept. 22, Powell announced triumphantly on her blog, “I have landed a book deal. A really obscene book deal. I am, in fact, officially What's Wrong With Publishing Today.” And they were ready to go. The only problem: How could they keep Powell’s story from spoiling during the two years from project end to book publication?

One way was to keep Powell blogging, albeit less frequently than she had been at the height of the Julie/Julia project. On her website, Powell continued to post for her loyal “bleaders” (blog readers) right up until Aug. 13, 2004, when she posted a moving tribute to Julia Child, who had died the day before. That post alone drew 113 comments from readers—nine months after Powell had announced she would be posting no longer.

The next step was to “put the galley in as many people’s hands as possible,” says the imprint’s associate publisher, Sophie Cottrell. “At BookExpo in early June, we gave out 3,000 galleys to booksellers and publishing industry folks, and the response was phenomenal.” (A Little, Brown luncheon in Powell’s honor was one of the higher-profile midday dining events of the convention.) Originally slated for February 2005, Julie and Julia was positioned instead as a Big Fall Book “because of all of the amazing in-house reaction and reaction from our sales force,” says Clain. “We decided to push it to September and have it open the catalog with a double-page spread.”

A Nexis search shows that Julie & Julia has been featured in the media at least eight times since May 9 (five months before its publication date), and the Internet is atwitter with talk of Powell (who—by the way—finally quit her secretary job) and her book. As Cottrell says, Julie & Julia has “such wide appeal that we’re expecting it to cross all types of reader demographics, but we have been getting a lot of early interest from women’s magazines, the hipper/edgier media outlets, and, of course, food-related media.”

Powell, who’s re-launching the blog this summer to reconnect with her readers, will also be going on a “sizeable” author tour in early October. Though Little, Brown hasn’t confirmed cities or stores yet, “response from booksellers has been extraordinary,” says Cottrell. “In as many places as possible, we plan on having bookstores collaborate with a local restaurant. The restaurant may even serve a Julia Child meal featured in Julie & Julia. Booksellers are embracing the idea of very special, unique events for Julie, which we love to hear.”

Even with ample and fulsome early praise, Cottrell and the publicity team at Little, Brown continue to hustle for the book. “The fact that Julie’s book had a platform and an awareness that most first time authors don’t have is extremely helpful,” says Cottrell. “We’re expecting to get major media coverage for the book, but we take nothing for granted—it still involves a lot of hard work.”

Anatomy of a Buzz: Julie & Julia

Major publisher makes ancient forest vow
Wednesday 06 July 2005

Publisher Random House UK has announced that it is to become ‘ancient forest friendly’ in its book production, in a move that has been widely welcomed by authors and green campaigners.

As one of the largest publishing houses in the UK, Random House’s pledge represents a significant victory for Greenpeace’s Book Campaign, which was instrumental in the company’s decision. To meet the requirements of the move, Random House will work with suppliers to use Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) accredited paper in its books.

Over 70 publishing houses around the world have now made the commitment to stop using ancient forest sourced materials in their books.

"The selection of the right paper is of vital importance from an environmental as well as a commercial perspective and I look forward to working with our suppliers to increase the availability of FSC certified paper,” explained Stephen Esson, Group Production Director at Random House. “Of course, any development of recycled grades more appropriate to the practical and commercial requirements of the book market would also be welcomed."

Greenpeace’s Belinda Fletcher praised the voluntary decision, and hoped that it would encourage other companies in the industry to adopt similar policies. "This commitment is the most comprehensive commitment developed by a UK publisher to date and sets a good example for other publishing houses to follow," she commented.

Major publisher makes ancient forest vow

Monday, July 04, 2005

Dear Blog: Today I Worked on My Book

When he has writer's block, John Battelle, author of the forthcoming book "The Search: The Inside Story of How Google and Its Rivals Changed Everything," keeps on writing. But not his book manuscript. Instead, he goes straight to his blog (

Mr. Battelle, a founder of Wired and The Industry Standard magazines, sometimes makes quick notes on the blog about a topic related to his book, and other times posts longer essays. "Writing for the blog is more like having a conversation," Mr. Battelle said.

For years, book authors have used the Internet to publicize their work and to keep in touch with readers. Several, like Mr. Battelle, are now experimenting with maintaining blogs while still in the act of writing their books.

"It is very satisfying to write something and get an immediate response to it," said Mr. Battelle, who calculated that last year he wrote 74,000 words for his book, and 125,000 words on his blog. "It is less satisfying to write a chapter and let it sit on the shelf for six months."

Instead of simply being a relief from writerly solitude, these blogs have turned into part of the process. Mr. Battelle said that he was surprised by the number of people who read his journal and offered feedback, correcting mistakes, making suggestions of people to interview or articles to read and contributing ideas that are finding their way into his finished manuscript.

"It has provided such a wealth of sources," he said. "The readers pointed me to things I might not have paid much attention to."

Authors' blogs also change the solitary mission of writing into something more closely resembling open-source software. Mistakes are corrected before they are eternalized in printed pages, and readers can take satisfaction that they contributed to a book's creation. The blogs can also confer some authority: Aside from drawing on the collective intelligence of its readers, Mr. Battelle's site has become a compendium of Google- and search-related issues.

Authors who have experimented with blogging in this way - and there are still only a handful - say they hope to create a sense of community around their work and to keep fans informed when a new book is percolating. The novelist Aaron Hamburger used his blog to write about research techniques he employed to set his coming book in Berlin ( Poppy Z. Brite, another novelist, has written about her characters on her blog as though they have a life of their own, not just the one springing from her imagination (

Despite the encouragement some authors receive from their online readers, the steady stream of feedback can be paralyzing. For some, the open process invites criticism and self-doubt when there is research to be done.

David Weinberger, the author of "Small Pieces Loosely Joined," a nonfiction book about the Internet, posted his daily progress online while writing that book. But as he frequently rewrote each section, Mr. Weinberger found it was not the best way to capture readers' advice. For his new book - "Everything Is Miscellaneous," about how information is organized in daily life - he is posting chapters only when they are complete, rather than in fragments ( "And then I will beg for comments," he said.

Chris Anderson, who is writing "The Long Tail," a nonfiction book to be published next year by Hyperion, freely posts his ideas on his blog to solicit responses ( His book grew out of an influential article he wrote - by the same title - last year for Wired magazine, where he is editor in chief.

"The Long Tail" examines the shift from mass markets to niche markets. Taking a cue from Mr. Battelle, Mr. Anderson has made his blog a source for anything related to the topic, whether written by him or someone else. The blog charts new applications for Mr. Anderson's theory since the publication of his article, and helps him collect ideas for the book.

"The conversation is happening whether you like it or not," he said. "To hope that it will pause for 18 months is unrealistic."

By introducing new ideas through his blog and inviting responses, Mr. Anderson is operating on the notion that if you give something away, you will get more in return. "I very much want people to take the ideas and improve on them," he said.

The question for these authors is this: By feeding and engaging their readers' curiosity, are they destroying the market for the books that they, after all, are paid to write?

"Blogs are a way to listen in and find out what people find funny and respond to," said Marion Maneker, editorial director at HarperCollins's HarperBusiness unit, who said it was too early to determine whether blogs would affect sales.

Michael Cader, who is the editor of two industry publications, Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Lunch, said he believed that, based on the limited examples, authors could build a much bigger audience for their work through blogging. While there is no evidence yet that blogs affect books sales, Mr. Cader said, anything an author could do to create a readership was beneficial.

Since the publication of their book "Freakonomics," an economic lens onto human behavior, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner have fielded questions about the book with their blog (, debated topics with readers (anything baseball-related strikes a nerve), and contemplated readers' suggestions (one reader suggested that fluoride in the water may be the root of all evil).

While saying that he was impressed by the depth and complexity of readers' responses, Mr. Levitt added that it was unlikely he would float his book ideas for mass consideration on the blog.

"The concern we have is about having our stuff sound fresh," he said. In addition to the conversation it engenders, the blog is mostly a receptacle for the ideas not spun into magazine articles.

Steven Johnson has used his blog ( to keep readers informed of his appearances and readings of "Everything Bad Is Good for You," his thesis on how pop culture strengthens, not erodes, intellect nonfiction. He has also rebutted his critics, chronicled his book tour, and responded to reader feedback. Mr. Johnson decided not to blog about the book while writing it, however,

Mr. Johnson said that many people who seek out the blog have read his earlier books and are interested in reading about, or commenting on, how his work has evolved. The readers get a behind-the-scenes look at the author's thoughts on the book's reception and other topics.

"There is only so much you can get out of a book signing," he said. "I feel like people don't really go to promotional book sites. They want the live feeling of the author who's out there fending off the critics and confessing his sins."

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