Friday, September 28, 2012


Since so much of every day in this publisher’s life is spent sending and receiving emails, it occurred to me that these three, being of particular interest to me, might be of interest to you as well, for they all provide insights into the business of books.

The first came from Ivan Goldman, whose last novel. ISAAC: A Modern Fable, has to do with the trials of a writer. You must read his blog, below, before you continue reading my response.

The second email, from me to Charles McGrath, Greg Cowles, and Scott Heller, was a way of clearing my mind of disputatious attitudes. McGrath was a wonderful and much appreciated editor of the Book Review who I had met on several occasions before he was replaced by Sam Tanenhaus, but who still writes occasional reviews and columns. Greg Cowles is one of the assistant editors there now, a friendly, literate and interesting guy. I used to meet with him twice a year to present advance galley copies and occasionally have lunch with him. Scott Heller, in charge of the weekly Culture Desk, assigns reviews to the two daily reviewers who cover fiction, Janet Maslin and Michiko Kakutani, plus an occasional guest reviewer. That we’ve never had a second review there for the past 32 years cannot be attributed to him, as he’s only been at the Culture Desk since moving from the Boston Globe a couple of years ago.

Enough said. May you find what follows worth your investment of time. And your feedback is always welcome.

Marty Shepard

----- Original Message -----

From: Ivan G.
To: Martin Shepard
Cc: Judith Shepard
Sent: Friday, September 28, 2012 11:56 AM
Subject: Sorry

Marty, Judy–

My piece about the author’s naked pitch left out the fact that you did some expensive advertising for Isaac. I meant no offense, was writing generically, but it was thoughtless – the result of writing fast. I corrected the column.

Best,    Ivan

From: Martin Shepard
To: Ivan G.

Wonderful blog, funny and true. No need to apologize, but your thoughtfulness is still appreciated. Happens to us all the time as well: spectacular reviews are rarely followed by spectacular sales.

As far as promotion goes, much of it is silent, at least here. But I tell you this: We’ve been printing about 500 galley copies at considerable expense for each release and paying Baker & Taylor, then Library Journal and Booklist to do special mailings to a hand picked list of librarians. They send out 300 copies to librarians (it costs us over $1,000 for these 300 extra galley copies. We used to print about 150 copies before we started this project) and about $700 more to ship them to these folks who in turn charge fees for getting them out to the librarians. All this to increase orders and readers, hopefully. Frankly I don’t know if this is profitable or not, for only sales will determine that. The other 200 copies go out to reviewers and bloggers, agents, scouts etc. All this stuff costs a fair amount: fair to say–what with the monthly PW ads, it adds up easily to a couple of grand per title.

But it does get our name around, and our authors names around to those people who are at the heart of the book business.

Random House does not send out 300 galley copies of every novel they do to librarians. Too expensive for them. They will take out full page ads in the NY TIMES for a “Big Book,” but most of their titles are “Little”: It’s a publishing philosophy of “throw out a lot of titles, see which swim better, and follow with ads while the rest sink.” But of course all authors would wish that their publishers would take out a full page in the NY TIMES for about six to ten grand as a symbol of their support.

When we started 35 years ago with a full page in the Times Book Review, announcing our first Second Chance Press list–with some review quotes and a coupon at the bottom to order any of these six titles, the cost was a little over $600. It pleased the authors but only $60 worth of orders came in. I realized that if we kept advertising in the Times we’d be out of business within a year.

I always thought it better to put a small ad in PW, where serious readers read (a publication that has supported us greatly–and who we wanted to support in our own small way as the Big Six conglomerates havecut their advertisements down to a trickle), and putting our books in the hands of librarians where they might place orders for a system, is a much better approach.

We’ll see.

It’s a tough world out there for authors, and for publishers like us who are happy just keeping our noses above water in sharing good writers with those few people who still like to read good novels that aren’t written by famous people (and like Romney, we’re content to forget about that 47% or more who otherwise spend their spare time on smart phones, tweeting, facebooking, or watching television exclusively: the only attitude we share with Romney).

Keep up your drumbeats. They are all readable and, essentially, true as Truth can be.

Sending this correspondence and your blog out to all our other authors who are still alive and have email addresses, to our staff and agents we know – about 300 people. Worth reading it all, I think and sharing the current situations concerning writers and publishers alike.


* * *

----- Original Message -----

From: Martin Shepard
To: scott heller ; greg cowles
Cc: Chip McGrath
Sent: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 9:51 PM
Subject: Making peace with the Times and more fine reviews for DEAD ANYWAY-

Dear people:

You all work at the best newspaper in the country and I've finally come to terms with why my frustration level rises so often when it comes to coverage of our titles at the Times, and it comes down to this: that we have two different agendas.

One of the sustaining things for us is discovering, amongst the 5,000 plus submissions we receive each year, some extraordinary novelists that were invariably turned down by the six major conglomerates and their myriad imprints. There is a thrill that comes from being able to start, in effect, a "book club" of sorts where we can share their gifts with the public. Most actual book clubs recommend books to other members and their choices are usually based on reviews they read in major newspapers and magazines.

I've come to realize, with no bitterness, that the leading newspaper in the country (and one I still subscribe to for daily delivery out here in Sag Harbor) has its own agenda, which does not put great emphasis on discovering gems from relatively unknown--or new writers--published by small independent presses like ours.

So be it, no more harangues. But I do want to stay in touch and let you know what you might be missing. To that extent I attach all 13 excellent reviews we've had for Chris Knopf's 10th thriller, just published two weeks ago, starting with starred reviews in Booklist, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal. Plus, not attached, a 14th recommendation from Nancy Pearl on her NPR Book Lust program.

Whether true or not, I can't help but think that if Hachette, or Random House, or St Martins, or Penguin, or Simon and Schuster published DEAD ANYWAY, it would have gotten major coverage at the Times, both at the Culture Desk and in the Book Review. Being heavy advertisers, which we are not, has to count for something, and there is no use lamenting the way the world works. It simply is what it is.

But our excitement in discovering and being able to publish people like Leonard Rosen and Chris Knopf and David Freed and other mystery writers--as well as non-mystery novelists like Daniel Klein and Charles Davis and Emma McEvoy, and Marc Shuster among many others, remains undiminished, And rather than fault the Times for having a different agenda than ours, it makes me cherish those publications and bloggers and journals that share our values.

Wishing you all well and hope you get to see what others have to say about Chris Knopf’s remarkable new novel.