Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Snapshots from the publishing game

One of sweet pains I've experienced as an author concerned a book two colleagues and I did with St. Martin's Press. I liked everything about that experience: I was proud of the book, we had an acquisition editor and copy editor to die for, St. Martin's was a great operation--and our editor's office was in the Flatiron Building! I mean, seriously--does it get any better than that?

But St. Martin's was also, to my chagrin, the first out of the gate with a biography of Monica Lewinski, authored by Princess Diana biographer Andrew Morton. SMP announced its February 1999 publication date only the month before, while the impeachment hearings were still going on.

I comforted myself with the thought that the money to be made from trashy Lewinski bios from the trade division made it possible for obscure yet high-minded works like ours (jointly published by the scholarly/reference and textbook divisions) to exist. I confess that there's a darker side of my nature, too, and it enjoys the thought that the original edition of our book, which later came out in a revised edition, still commands a decent used price, while stacks of Morton's Lewinski bio sit unread on the under-$10 table. (Yes, it's true: authors can be that nasty.)

Which brings me to a couple of items about the current state of the book biz from this morning's readings:


Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, has finished her memoir just four months after the book deal was announced, and the release date has been moved up from the spring to Nov. 17, her publisher said.

"Governor Palin has been unbelievably conscientious and hands-on at every stage, investing herself deeply and passionately in this project," said Jonathan Burnham, publisher of Harper. "It's her words, her life, and it's all there in full and fascinating detail."

And if you're worried that copies of Palin's book (titled "Going Rogue: An American Life") will be gone before you can buy your copy, you needn't be:

Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins, has commissioned a huge first printing of 1.5 million copies. Sen. Ted Kennedy's "True Compass," published by Twelve soon after his Aug. 25 death, also had a 1.5 million first printing.

As with the Kennedy book, the digital edition of Palin's memoir will not be released at the same time as the hardcover. "Going Rogue" will not be available as an e-book until Dec. 26 because "we want to maximize hardcover sales over the holidays," Harper spokeswoman Tina Andreadis said Monday.

That's a lot of copies hitting the remainder tables in time for Christmas 2010. But I digress.


Tina Brown's The Daily Beast is also wrestling with the digital copy/hard copy puzzle, and they've decided to go the opposite direction:

In a joint venture with Perseus Books Group, The Daily Beast is forming a new imprint, Beast Books, that will focus on publishing timely titles by Daily Beast writers — first as e-books, and then as paperbacks on a much shorter schedule than traditional books.

On a typical publishing schedule, a writer may take a year or more to deliver a manuscript, after which the publisher takes another nine months to a year to put finished books in stores. At Beast Books, writers would be expected to spend one to three months writing a book, and the publisher would take another month to produce an e-book edition.

Whichever way book publishers finally go, they're clearly adapting to the digital world much better than the music publishing industry has so far. If the music industry ran the print publishing houses, they'd have teams of lawyers laboring around the clock to repeal the invention of the photocopier.

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