Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Zeitgeist

One of the great joys inherent in our annual Virgin Gorda vacation is letting go of schedules, waking when the mood suits us, reading on an uncrowded beach, snorkeling over one of the finest reefs in the Caribbean, watching incredibly beautiful sunsets and naming what we see in the cloud formations. The biggest decisions to make concerned where would we go to eat each night and what would we order. Judy and I could get away and know that The Permanent Press was in excellent hands, with our dream team of Rania Haditirto at the helm, aided and abettted by Susanne Gustafsson, our extraordinary intern from Sweden, and Stefanie Beroes, who heroically kept up with orders and collections. But I must say after 12 days of rest and recuperation, returning home and getting back to work was equally exciting.

Rania, who is 31, and Susanne, who is 27, provided a file containing more more than a dozen new reviews for upcoming titles, including two fine pre-publication reviews in Kirkus and Publishers Weekly for Hard Stop, Chris Knopf's fourth Sam Aquillo mystery due in May (to see these latest accolades and others go on to Chris's website: http://www.sameddie.com/), and filled us in on the continuing success of Efrem Sigel's The Disappearance (now in its third printing) and Daniel Klein's The History of Now (ranked at 20,000 at Amazon.com earlier today). They also decided we weren't "hip" enough, so they've put The Permanent Press on Face Book. Frankly I don't understand the benefit of all this, but I'm not autocratic enough to say "Enough." Maybe they are on to something that I fail to see.

This possibility occurred when I read in today's New York Times that HarperCollins--a month after closing down their Collins imprint due to the implosion facing all of the conglomerate publishing giants--was starting a new imprint, It Books, that would focus "On pop culture, style, and content derived from the Internet, like a planned collection of Twitter posts called Twitter Wit." Another title for their 21 title fall list includes "The Style Strategy by Nina Garia, a judge on Project Runway." If that is "hip," I want no part of it.

It seems to me that "publishng" is a broad term that consists of two very different approaches that are increasingly apparent during this economic mess: a situation more aptly called "The Great Depression 11," rather than pretending we are in a "Recession." In one corner are those marketeers who seek to commission or hook on to something they believe to be trendy. And in the other corner are those who prefer to discover exciting writing that is more timeless. If I were a betting man, I would predict that It Books, headed by Carrie Kania will fail despite the blessings of Michael Morrison, president and publisher of HarperCollins, who said that "I think we've pulled together the best people wihin our company who are really interested in this and are targeting them to all work together to tap into the Zeitgeist."

Please, Michael, let me give you Webster's definition of Zeitgeist: The spirit of the time, the intellectual and moral tendencies that characterize any age or epoch. If Twitter and Style represent the moral and intellectual tendencies of today, I think you are simply trying to dress up dross with the lipstick of a "hip" German noun. Listen, if you are simply seeking to boost income, why not try starting a "Zeitgeist" greeting card line, like Hallmark, charge $5 for an envelope and a folded card, and stop pretending that It Books is some sort of novel approach. Here's another approach: Why not just try to discover more original books?

Whatever you do, Michael, here's my blessing for you: gesundheit! Or, as Danny Klein quipped, "There's nothing so dated as avant garde passe."

Marty



6 comments:

  1. Great response to Harper Collin's new limited IT Books market Marty!
    It would seem if you want to broaden your readership during an economic recession you would not limit the subject of your original books to a specific subject. Reading that the books to be published, would be limited to entertainment and pop culture sounds like a narrow approach. In fact, this viewer isn't exited about the in book imprint that sounds more exclusionary. Perhaps a better choice would be the in club imprint.
    In these troubled economic times, wouldn't people chose to tap into the free services available to save money? For example I know bloggers are promoting library visits, recycling books, visiting second hand stores and online sources like Daily Lit. All publishers offer original writers and remain as The Permanent Press is...open to the original ideas of all writers. What is the target audience Marty? Is it pop culture or as suspect a general population of dedicated readers.
    Just my two cents....

    Yeah! I'm excited that PP is now on Facebook.

    Congratulations to Daniel and Efrem on the continued success of The History of Now and The Disappearance.

    Welcome back Marty,
    Wisteria

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  2. Marty you write such a wonderful blog, and when Friday comes I really enjoy being able to read something that is insightful and light.

    Vacations are fun and let me share with you that when living in Arizona, as we do, on a secluded mountain, everyday is like one.

    I was perusing my books to see what to write next and thank you for the blog, I now know where to turn. Picking up one title I started reading a few pages and realized, this was not for me. Then I remembered, because of your blog, Marty has such great books coming down the Pike that I better select another for review!

    Have a great weekend and remember, I shall surprise you with which one of the several which are waiting to be opened.

    Regards,

    Clark

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  3. Welcome back!

    It Books makes me think of a blog-to-book "memoir" I was tricked into reading. Perhaps "tricked" is too strong a word, but I was expecting a thoughtful, reflective memoir, and instead barely managed to slog through an endless-seeming array of blog entries, a barely edited rehashing of this woman's every thought. Ugh. When I reviewed it, I used the phrase "the reality television of literature." I'm hoping it's a fad.

    As for Facebook, it doesn't have to dumb down your imprint! I'm on Facebook and just joined the group. My friends on Facebook who also value good literature will see that I've done so, and become aware of the excellent works you publish. It's free word-of-mouth, which can't be a bad thing.

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  4. Terrific blog, Mr. S. Turns out you know more about the zeitgeist than Hegel, and certainly more than Harper.

    Danny Klein

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  5. I can see where HarperCollins is coming from with this new imprint -- they're looking to produce catchy, trendy books that people will be able to purchase and consume quickly and not really have to think about too much. I'm a Twitter user myself, but have no interest in a 'best of' book. To me, that just smacks of bathroom reading material: something you can pick up and flip through for a couple of minutes and, again, not have to think about it too much -- certainly not something that I'd want to curl up with for a couple of hours at the end of the day. I can't imagine passing one of the It books along to a friend and telling them that they *must* read it.

    Keep up the good work, PP -- with HC offering books like these, readers are going to need your good taste more than ever.

    Side note: I'm glad PP is on Facebook! It's an excellent way to quickly reach a large fan base -- and also to expand that fan base.

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  6. Zeitgeist? How about dreck! What a pretentious not to mention hypocritical rationale for hustling to get in on so-called trends. HC, sans C, is not going to succeed because, ironically, they're late in the sleaze game.

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