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Sunday
Jul062014

It's 'All About the Books' for NEIBA/NAIBA

'Having a great time! Wish you were here!" That's the summer postcard I would have sent out last week from the "All About the Books" event held in the Henry A. Wallace Center at the FDR Library and Home, Hyde Park, N.Y. The New England Independent Booksellers Association and New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association teamed up to host the gathering, with Bookazine underwriting, as it has since All About the Books launched in 2009.

"Hyde Park was an experiment in including NAIBA members and more New York-based authors and I'm glad we did it," said NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer. "As we have done all along, we try to create a balance of fiction and nonfiction, male, female, large publishers and smaller, indie publishers, two children's book authors--one picture book and one YA. Somehow it all works. It isn't anything you can make happen, but when it does it's an amazing two hours."

Mary Beth Thomas, v-p of sales at HarperCollins, agreed: "This is the second event I've gone to and I just see them as a great opportunity to hear from a variety of authors, most of whom I'm not that familiar with, and to learn about their upcoming books. They each have their own way of handling a 5-10 minute presentation, but all the ones I've heard have been funny, or inspiring or scary, or in some cases all three! It's a great way to generate enthusiasm among the booksellers in a more intimate setting than the regional and national shows. Also a great opportunity to connect with booksellers. The venue was lovely as well."

Mandel

The morning program featured authors Peter Ackerman (The Lonely Typewriter, David R. Godine), Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven, Knopf), Justin Martin (Rebel Souls, Da Capo), Cammie McGovern (Say What You Will, HarperCollins Children's), Brian Morton (Florence Gordon, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Brent Ridge & Josh Kilmer-Purcell (The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook, Rodale), Bill Roorbach (The Remedy for Love, Algonquin), Joanna Scott (De Potter's Grand Tour, FSG), Gail Sheehy (Daring: My Passages, Morrow) and Annie Weatherwax (All We Had, Scribner).

The time limit sparked entertaining, concentrated storytelling, with the writers talking about their new books and expressing a little indie bookseller love. For example: "First, I want to thank all of you," said Mandel, noting that her first three novels had been Indie Next picks. Morton observed: "I want to take a moment to talk about what you do.... It's been so inspiring over the years to see indie bookstores not only survive but thrive." Citing the critical importance of locavore and shop local movements to their world, cookbook authors Ridge and Kilmer-Purcell said they are "always so encouraged when we go to your bookstores because we see that that's what is making you successful also." And Scott noted: "You keep the blood flowing in our literary culture."

Sheehy

Perhaps the loudest applause was for Sheehy, who said she was "thrilled to be here today as a foot soldier in the war of independence against Amazon."

The afternoon education session, "Increasing Sales on Your Website," featured NEIBA president Suzanna Hermans, co-owner Oblong Books & Music stores in Millerton and Rhinebeck, N.Y.; Andrew Getman of Politics & Prose Bookstore, Washington, D.C.; and Neil Strandberg of the American Booksellers Association.  

With the surge of social media options, store websites have sometimes taken a back seat, but, Strandberg said, "You need an online presence and I think a homepage is still a useful thing to have. That you cannot be found digitally just does not make sense anymore."

"You have some concept of who you are as a personality, so your website has to represent the story you're telling," Getman observed. Displaying a bookshop site that was highlight its Amazon/Hachette-themed display, he said: "She has this fabulous display, but what's wrong with this picture is you can't click it. You can't buy locally.... Make it a destination people don't get flustered by."

Neil Strandberg, Steve Fischer, Suzanna Hermans & Andrew Getman

Hermans discussed Oblong's "custom content" on its website, including autographed books and the Oblong Insider subscription service for YA titles: "We make sure we have a pre-order link on our website a month before an event," which also allows visiting authors to link to it in advance. "Custom content is really important to me," she added. "That's where the money is.... It's a little bit of a time suck, but it's worth it."

"Are there genres or types of books you are less competitive with?" asked Strandberg, suggesting bookstore websites "present things you won't find on the Amazon homepage. If you've got something that's unique to you, you're more likely to generate sales that a large retailer wouldn't."

Some of the advice was basic, yet often overlooked: Place all social media links at the top of the homepage and use "buy buttons" rather than click-throughs for featured titles. "You don't have to put everything on the website," Getman cautioned, adding that social media platforms are ideal places to showcase event photos and other "ephemerals" that might draw visitors back to the online store.

And then it was over, this very good day for books.

"It was wonderful to host both NEIBA and NAIBA groups in the Hudson Valley," said Hermans. "As a store that spans both territories, it was great to get everyone together in the same room to share ideas. I hope we can collaborate again in the future." --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2289.

Sunday
Jun292014

Discuss: Non-Booksellers 'Reinvent the Bookshop'

Outside perspective can be intriguing, if only to spark further conversation. In his 1888 novel Looking Backward, this is what Edward Bellamy imagined retail stores would look like in the year 2000: "All our stores are sample stores, except as to a few classes of articles. The goods, with these exceptions, are all at the great central warehouse of the city, to which they are shipped directly from the producers. We order from the sample and the printed statement of texture, make, and qualities. The orders are sent to the warehouse, and the goods distributed from there."

Last December, in a piece headlined "Are You Ready for the Store of the Future?" Mark Startup of the Retail Council of Canada's MyStore division told Profit magazine: "It's taking large retailers a long time to figure out all this technology. Independents can change the store environment almost on a dime."

Have you ever wondered how someone completely outside the book trade might envision the shape of bookstores to come? The recent media blitz regarding Foyles' shiny new flagship "Bookshop of the Future" in London inspired Intelligent Life, the Economist's culture magazine, to challenge four leading architecture and design practices to "Reinvent the Bookshop."

Gensler, 20.20, Burdifilek and Coffey Architects were each given the same brief: working with a £100,000 (US$169,836) budget, design "a general-interest bookshop, selling fiction, nonfiction and e-books, in store and online, on a typical European high-street site, with two floors of 1,000 square feet each." Check out the full article for complete details, but here's just a sampling from their designs:

tl;dr (short for "too long; didn't read"): At Gensler's bookshop, "you don't have to enter the store to shop from it: the glass facade is a touchscreen that can be tapped on to download e-books from QR codes," Intelligent Life reported. A vending wall swings onto the pavement, offering a changing selection of paperbacks. To save floorspace, there is no checkout counter; payments can be taken instantly by booksellers with a card reader. Gensler's Owain Roberts said they did not focus on fixtures and fittings, which he called "incidental to the activities taking place," because the retail model is changing so fast that "the days when a fit-out would last five years are long gone."

The Art of Storytelling: Jon Lee, 20.20's creative director, agreed: "People won't go into a shop because the ceiling's beautiful. They'll go in because the experience is relevant to their lifestyle. It's what you do in a space that's really important." This "reinvented bookshop" has a café "with a twist: a Yo! Sushi-style conveyor belt delivering short reads and reviews to consume with your coffee" to act as a draw to the back of the shop, Intelligent Life wrote. Mobile "mid-floor units" carry screens to advertise events, as well as books that fit a frequently changed theme. A staircase and tree lure patrons upstairs. All books are displayed face-out, with just one title on the front of a drawer and the rest of the author's work inside.  

ILB (Intelligent Life Books): "If you just concentrate on books, you're rolling the dice," said Burdifilek's creative director Diego Burdi. ILB "is more of a gallery, showcasing particular books alongside related merchandise.... It's like a concierge service: everything in one place. My frustration [at the moment] is that I buy the book, then I have to go to another store to buy the product. It's a luxury to see and touch the product. That's what the Internet doesn't give you." ILB incorporates a glass roof to highlight the selling space upstairs as well as entice customers to the downstairs. A digital kinetic screen on the back wall spans both levels, lighting up at night like a movie screen.

Craftword: "Can you save the bookshop? Is there any point?" asked Phil Coffey of Coffey Architects "cheerfully" (as Intelligent Life described his tone). Believing that digitization will make print books redundant, Coffey said that what can be saved is the cult of the book as a beautiful object. Intelligent Life noted that Craftword "celebrates the arcane arts of printing and bookbinding" and is the "antithesis of an e-book emporium: niche, retro, social, inky, bibulous, but with only a few books to buy off the shelf. The idea is that you make your own, with the help of floating robots--choosing the paper, ink, font, leather, even gold leaf--on antique presses and binders."

"Design on its own will not save the bookshop," Gensler's Owain Roberts observed. "If you leave the model as it is and redecorate, nothing's going to change. The solution needs to be much more fundamental: informed, strategic and daring."

Agree? Disagree? How would you "reinvent the bookshop"? Maybe you already are. --Published by Shelf Awarenesss, Issue #2285.

Sunday
Jun222014

The Siren Song of a Foreseeable Future 

I recognize the symptoms. My annual bout of late spring future shock is an aftereffect of BookExpo America, attacking an immune system thoroughly weakened by conversations regarding the "foreseeable future" of the book world; ritual harvesting of ARCs (books from the future); and enhanced anxiety about a potential Cyborgian literary dystopia (see McSweeney's "The Future of Books," year 2070).

Scalzi and Preston

This year my future shock began even earlier than usual, during a BEA presentation called "Where Near-future Techno-thrillers and Sci-fi Meet." When the conversation turned to "envisioning" things to come, Douglas Preston said it is "impossible to predict the future," and John Scalzi added: "We expected rocket cars and got the Internet and cell phones."

The symptoms returned this week when Amazon unveiled the Fire Phone. After noting its features in her New York Times piece, Claire Cain Miller deftly played the unforeseeable future card: "Amazon must be thinking: What if, say, a contact lens could do all that? The Fire is Amazon's stepping stone to the future, and for now that just happens to be in the form of a phone." 

Scary though it may be, we love to think about the future, even though rocket cars so often turn out to be cell phones. During BEA, Jacob Weisberg of the Slate Group interviewed Walter Isaacson about his upcoming book The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution (Oct.), which explores the past to explain where the present came from to those of us living now... in a future. My prediction: I will read this book.

"When you and I were first going on the Internet, we probably did it with training wheels," Isaacson said, citing those ubiquitous AOL startup CDs from a couple of decades ago. Cue the nostalgic, infuriating sound of dial-up, a neo-ancient siren song luring us to the Information Superhighway.

Isaacson and Weisberg

Isaacson said the future has traditionally been made by innovators and "the secret of innovation is putting together the right team." Calling his book "a series of lessons in collaboration," he added that the best innovation requires "a diverse set of people working in proximity," where they can bump into each other, work as teams, even "finish each other's sentences.... You need to have that primordial stew that brings people together."

Who leads this team? "If there were one simple answer, we wouldn't have a 500-page book," Isaacson quipped. "Almost every great innovator in this book was somebody who knew how to collaborate." He also emphasized the importance of merging creative with technological: "Joining the liberal arts with technology; that is the great theme of this book."

How does this affect the future of the book business? Isaacson observed that unlike the music and magazine trades, "the publishing industry is quite healthy," and stressed the continuing importance of the organized "team effort" that traditional publishing still represents in nurturing a writer, bringing out the best book possible and getting it to readers.

He utilized an additional team effort while writing The Innovators: "I realized that the Internet was invented for collaborative creativity," so he posted chapters from early drafts on Medium, where the public commented and added margin notes. "I got 18,000 comments," he said. "The good news is a lot of it you can ignore," but many of the contributions, including substantial input from Stewart Brand, improved the final book.

Even that term "final book" may be considered illusory now. Isaacson said he could imagine a "next phase of the publishing industry" in which "we could take this book and say, 'How do we make an enhanced book from that?'... I would like it to be a wikified book in which I get to play curator." He quickly added he saw no conflict between print and electronic books. "I think we've reached the equilibrium," Isaacson observed, adding that when we consider all the things a print book can still do better than a digital one, "it's amazing what a wonderful technology paper is."  

Regarding the Amazon vs. Hachette controversy, he said Amazon "has done a lot of innovation and that's good," but expressed concern that profit appears to be increasingly the motivation for Bezos's moves: "I think he is in danger of losing that sense of putting the customer first.... It's also about the perception that publishing and selling a book is not the same as selling a button-down oxford shirt."

BEA future shock. Weeks later, I'm still slightly dazed, stumbling along in the muddled present, and still no rocket car in sight. Perhaps I'll cede the final words on the subject to an author both Isaacson and I rank among our favorites. From Walker Percy's Lancelot: "To live in the past and future is easy. To live in the present is like threading a needle."

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2279.

Sunday
Jun152014

Books, Writers and the Beautiful Game

"I have come to think that soccer lends itself to great writing because it thrives in the imagination, like so much of life. Great writers put themselves into the possibilities of the sport--pondering." --George Vecsey, Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer

The World Cup began yesterday and I must write about it. I don't mean I've been assigned to; I feel compelled. My connection to the beautiful game dates back nearly half a century to when I played in high school and college, as well as in summer leagues on teams that included Italian and Polish marble mill workers. In 1966, our high school coach took a few of us to Yankee Stadium, where we joined nearly 42,000 fans to watch the incomparable Brazilian legend Pelé and his Santos team beat Inter Milan of Italy 4-1 in an exhibition game.

American fans have taken some heat recently for their dubious "soccer snobbery" and "elaborate affectation," but I think my soccer street cred is still intact. I've loyally rooted for England (my team of choice and of ancestral heritage) since they won in 1966, though I never worry about using the terms soccer, game, field or uniform instead of football, match, pitch or kit; and I don't wear a team scarf.

Thus, from my little corner of the world's most popular sport, I offer a decidedly bookish, American take on the beautiful game. Here's what I've noticed lately:

There's a World Cup window display at the Book Nook, Ludlow, Vt.; and Powell's Books, Portland Ore., is having a 30% off sale on soccer titles.

Three Percent's World Cup of Literature is underway, pitting "representative books from all 32 World Cup qualifying countries against one another in a single-elimination tournament."

You can also back your favorite country's writers in the Penguin Cup. On being named to England's team, Fever Pitch author Nick Hornby commented: "My proudest moment in football and literature. I worry about this team, though. I know for a fact that Zadie has no left foot, and I'm worried that Austen won't give me the protection I need if their left winger has pace. Christie is prolific, though."

"For whom did Arthur Conan Doyle play football in the late 1880s?" This was one of the questions in the Guardian's football in fiction quiz.

"What if writing was like World Cup soccer?" asked Merritt Tierce in an Electric Literature piece headlined "Writers' World Cup."

"The run-up to every World Cup in recent memory has brought a deluge of books," the New York Times noted. "What began as a trickle after the new year has grown to the point where bookcases are groaning under the weight."

BBC offered a "book lover's guide to Brazil," featuring some of the host country's "eloquent and original literary voices."

In writing about Alex Bellos's revised and updated edition of Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life, Jon Michaud in the New Yorker noted that an entire chapter is devoted to Aldyr Garcia Schlee, the designer of Brazil's signature uniform who "went on to become a journalist, university professor and novelist."

Ah, England. British player Frank Lampard, who has written several Frankie's Magic Football children's books, was asked whether he would write another one if England wins. "I have already written Frankie and the World Cup Carnival, but I would be happy to write another one IF we actually won it!"

Reality check: The Seminary Co-op Bookstores in Chicago linked to an Economist article recommending three new books about the host country and pointing out that "holding the World Cup in Brazil, football's spiritual home, sparked many fantasies of samba-infused spectacle. Those illusions were shattered last June when protests swept across the country during a warm-up tournament; a year on the discontent still simmers."  

Writing for ESPN FC, Nick Hornby observed that the "smell of money around this World Cup is more unpleasant and more distracting than it has ever been.... Perhaps we are foolish, naive and self-deluding, those of us for whom the World Cup is an event that results in the glorious suspension of ordinary life for the best part of a month... But in an odd sort of way, everything that is so despicable about the contemporary game is a tribute to its power and continuing appeal."

Why did I feel compelled to add my thoughts to the World Cup frenzy? Maybe it's as simple as the recollection of a precise moment during the Summer of Love in 1967, and the sound of the ball when I caught it just right with my instep on a corner kick and sent it arcing toward the crowded goal area, as if tossing chum into a pool of sharks. One of my teammates executed a perfectly timed leap above the roiling surface to meet the ball, and just a flick of his head sent it to the upper right corner of the goal, beyond the outstretched arms of a desperate keeper. Then the celebration erupted with almost unbridled joy and (for just an instant, in Hornby's "odd sort of way") with love... for the beautiful game. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2274.

Sunday
Jun082014

#BEA14: Translating Great Reads for More Readers

I'm not sure when it first occurred to me that I was hooked. Perhaps on Friday, as I saw a line of people gathering at the Melville House Books booth to meet Mariusz Szczygiel and get a signed copy of Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia (translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones). Or maybe it was Wednesday, during the panel "Case Studies: Successful Insight from Translators and Editors," when moderator Esther Allen cited a 2003 New York Times article headlined "America Yawns at Foreign Fiction." She then pointed out that Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Three (translated by Don Bartlett), was the featured review in that day's edition of the Times.

"There's been a big change in the last 10 years," Allen said. Panelist and Penguin editor John Siciliano added that Entertainment Weekly had recently featured two stories on Swiss author Joël Dicker's The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (translated by Sam Taylor). "That was just astonishing to me."

Probably it was both of these moments, and many more, that drew me again and again to BookExpo America's Global Market Forum: Books in Translation events. What I loved about this year's program was that discussions weren't limited to: "What can we do?" They often focused on: "What do we do next and better?" And while Americans may not be reading enough books in translation (though I only heard the old 3% figure a couple of times, which is a record), they appear to be reading more each year.

"It's definitely a different time. It's kind of eerie," said translator Anthony Shugaar, who noted there is still a resistance to stories that do not fit preconceived notions of a country or culture. "It's definitely a huge change, but it's amazing how much baggage we're still carrying along."

Maria Campbell, owner of an international literary scouting agency, praised foreign publishers for becoming savvier: "How international books are presented to the American market has gotten better.... I think that the actual mechanisms have improved dramatically." She also said "publishers and readers are more adventurous" in seeking out fiction. "I sense even more since 2008... the financial crisis here was the beginning of 'let's look around and see what's out there.' " She added that 9/11 played an early role, as did websites like Words Without Borders.

"We also need a greater recognition of translators," Campbell noted. In fact, translators were at the forefront of many discussions. "It's not about the words; it's about what you get from the words," said Shugaar. Marcos Giralt Torrente, author of The End of Love (translated by Katherine Silver), said authors "need time for writing. We need time to find the right word. Maybe hours, maybe days.... We need translators who have time, too. They need to be paid... You can be poorly translated by a good translator who doesn't have time.... I feel very lucky because I've worked with three stars of translation.... What you ask of a translator is to recognize your own voice. I could recognize my voice. None of them betrayed my voice. None of them betrayed my style."

Editor Sal Robinson, translator Antonia Lloyd-Jones and author Mariusz Szczygiel with publishers Dennis Johnson and Valerie Merians at Melville House booth

"Making Translation Work: The Author, the Translator & the Editor" featured panelists representing two publishers--Melville House, with translator Lloyd-Jones, editor Sal Robinson and author Szczygiel; and Europa Editions, with publisher Michael Reynolds and Marco Malvaldi, author of Three Card Monte and Game for Five (translated by Howard Curtis).

Lloyd-Jones offered a step-by-step explanation of how she puts together a presentation folder and said: "I've seen a lot of change in my career." Noting that she began when translators names were often not even included on a book, she spoke of the "professionalization of translators" and efforts to improve the business by translators themselves. "We have some good organizations.... I'm now mentoring younger translators in Britain."

Robinson observed that, "as an editor, you're a reader first. You ask yourself, Is this something I would pick up?" She also noted that translated genre fiction can have certain advantages when reaching out to an English-speaking readership: "Crime novels can sometimes tell you something about a society you can't get in another novel."

"Discoverability is the real challenge for the industry at the moment," said Reynolds, adding that a translated work "is very complex and takes a lot of effort and a lot of energy. So you have to choose the right author.... If there is an obstacle, it may be in the publishing industry itself rather than among readers."
 
Malvaldi noted that "something common in the country where you write can be new and uncommon in the country where it is published," a point Ann Goldstein, translator and member of the New Yorker's editorial staff, explored later in her presentation "How to Edit a Translation." For an editor, one of the key tasks is to consider obscure or unfamiliar references and decide how much help a reader needs, since translators would naturally be more familiar with the nuances of a particular language and culture. "The main thing is that you're dealing with two authors. The translator is also an author," she said.

"It's an immersion into another culture and a reading of signifiers," translator Allison Markin Powell, founder of the website Japanese Literature in English, told BEA's Books in Translation program coordinator Ruediger Wischenbart during the final event of the show. "I do try to gear toward a general reader.... I work within trade publishing. I'm looking for work an American audience might want to read."

And that, as it happens, is what we all had in common at Global Forum: the search for our next great read.

--Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2269.

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