Little Black Dress? Yes. Little Black Penguin Classics? Also Yes!

Some things are so classy they just never go out of style. Like little black dresses, and little black classics from Penguin Books. Here’s another gift idea for this holiday season (along with Edward Gorey).

Eighty Penguin Classics, presented in bite-sized form (i.e., novellas, short essays, selections of poems, or excerpted passages from longer books).

Yes, it’s a bit of a commitment ($75 or so), but that’s cheap for what you’re getting, and think of the possibilities here. Close your eyes, grab one, tuck it into your pocket, and head out to face the day. Give yourself a little surprise: a bit of Chekhov, maybe, or a touch of Sappho. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,: Suetonius, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Montaigne.

Will it work? Can I make my year better through this strategy of randomizing my brain expansion? Stay tuned!

Amazon description:

The Little Black Classics feature works by Jane Austen, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Coleridge, Edgar Allan Poe, John Milton, Nikolay Leskov, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Glaubert, Nikolai Gogol, Samuel Pepys, Washington Irving, Henry James, Christina Rossetti, Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Oscar Wilde, Boccaccio, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas de Quincey, Apollonius of Rhodes, Robert Louis Stevenson, Petronius, John Peter Hebel, Hans Christian Andersen, Rudyard Kipling, John Keats, Thomas Hardy, Guy de Maupassant, Aesop, Joseph Conrad, Brothers Grimm, Katherine Mansfield, Ovid, Ivan Turgenev, H. G. Wells, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Michel de Montaigne, Thomas Nashe, Mary Kingsley, Honoré de Balzac, C. P. Cavafy, Wilfred Owen, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Plato, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Giorgio Vasari, Friederich Nietzsche, Suetonius, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Dante, Henry Mayhew, Hafez, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Ruskin, Pu Songling, Jonathan Swift, Walt Whitman, Kenko, Baltasar Gracián, Marco Polo, Matsuo Basho, Emily Bronte, Richard Hakluyt, Omar Khayyam, Charles Darwin, Catullus, Homer, D. H. Lawrence, Sappho, Virgil, Herodotus, Shen Fu, and others.

Blog Fail! Worst Post of the Year #3

It’s the Blogiversary here on the Jacke Blog. One year of bringing you the hits. And the duds.

We’re counting all of them down. So far we’ve seen a pair of Objects grabbing spots five and four on the list of most popular posts.

On the list of duds, we’ve seen a hopeless pen review and a half-hearted commentary on a new name for ebooks.

(Really, those pen reviews are hard to beat. “The dream dies.” That was my dream? I’m tempted to write an Object about those two posts.)

I’m not sure what to make of the next one. I put a lot of effort into it. I thought I had something important to say about an important and timely topic (i.e., the changes to the publishing world). I linked to an article at The New York Review of Books. 

I even used the phrase “Skirt-Chasing Poobah.” Is Google not indexing my site? That must be a phrase that people are typing in.

I did all these things and more. This was a serious commentary on a serious review of a serious book! I spent half a cross-country flight putting it together!

And…you hated it. Your indifference was humbling.

Ah well. Perhaps we don’t need stories about the Kings of Publishing and how they’re dying out. Maybe we just need to look forward. Maybe we’re too busy creating our own new paths.

The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged!

Or rather – the Revolution will be blogged. But the ancien régime will not.

Or rather – the ancien régime will be blogged. But no one will care!

Failed Blog Post of the Year #3

The Kingdom of Publishing

The Magic of Storytelling

Any writer who heads out into the marketplace soon realizes that the marketplace is carved up into sections, organized by genre. Is your book science fiction? Fantasy? Steampunk? Women’s fiction? Literary fiction? Romance? Creative nonfiction? Biography? Historical fiction?

Roughly you can think of this as “Where would you look for this in the bookstore?”

This can be frustrating. Many authors of science fiction will claim, rightly, that their books have the same devotion to character and language that “literary fiction” does.  And authors of literary fiction will say that their books have enough mystery, or romance, that they shouldn’t be lumped in with the highfalutin’. Most if not all authors believe that their books have at least a couple of these elements, and can appeal to readers accordingly.

Aha, you say. Bookstores are no longer physical spaces! We don’t need to choose one shelf on which to place a book. Online, every book can be in multiple categories!

But that’s not how it works. Online bookstores organize things into lists. Forums dedicated to books and reading focus on particular genres. Reviewers have preferences for genres they like to read. And most importantly, readers look for books in their genre (or avoid ones they don’t like). For an author, declaring a genre serves a purpose in a) getting readers to consider your book and b) setting their expectations for what they will find.

I don’t know if this will ever change. I’m just saying that it hasn’t yet.

All of this is a lengthy prelude to what I really want to say. Because there is a different way to think of this. There is hope, people! Continue reading

Amazon v. Hachette (or Whatever v. Whatever)

By “whatever v. whatever” I don’t mean to imply indifference. I know people care passionately about this. And they’re right to! It’s their livelihood, their passion, their art that’s at stake.

No, by “whatever v. whatever” I mean “traditional v. indie” or “print v. ebook” or “established v. new” or however else you view the transformations in publishing.

I’m not taking sides (except to say I’m on the side of readers and writers). And I’m not an expert in this debate. Frankly I find that most of the commentary reveals more about the person making the argument than it does about the issues. (Hello, Laura Miller!)

But I wanted to point out something I mentioned a year ago, when the debate was about gatekeepers and independent authors. It’s a story with a point, even a moral, but I’m not going to be so heavy-handed as to explain it. It’s offered here for you to take or leave, as you wish.

Here’s the post, in all its glory. Onward and upward, people!

*

This is a true story:

So the author writes a 30,000-word story and finds himself in literary limbo. Even though he’s achieved some success with his previous books, magazines aren’t willing to publish a story this long. They only have so many pages, after all, and adding extra paper will be expensive to print and ship. For traditional book publishing it’s too short. Asking readers to pay hardcover prices for such a slim novel does not seem viable.

What can he do? The story is what it is. It’s the length it needs to be. The author doesn’t want his readers to get a version that’s been chopped down or padded out. The other alternative is to leave it in the drawer. The readers get nothing. Continue reading

Self-Publishing Update: Reading on a Smartphone

Ugh, is there anything worse for today’s author than to think about someone reading their book on a smartphone? We like the image of a reader luxuriating with a stately hardcover, a sleek paperback, or—in a pinch—an e-reader. But a tiny-screen phone? Is no tradition sacred? Why not throw words out too, while we’re at it?

Ah, reader. You probably know me well enough by now to know I am a positive thinker. (When I’m not cowering in fear of my Dark Lord.) So I direct your attention to Clive Thompson, who points out that 18th-century books looked like smartphone screens:

Image Credit: Google Books via Clive Thompson

 

Thompson explains:

That small-page format was quite common back in the 18th century. It’s known as octavo with pages that are about 6 inches by 9 inches. The entire Conjectures is only about 8,000 words long, but it was common to print essays in this pretty little style, because it had great ergonomics: It made for easy one-handed reading and portability.

Thompson has much more on his blog, including a brief history of printmaking (explaining the size) and photos comparing it with today’s smartphone screens. He even offers this personal benefit of the format:

In fact, one of the oddly useful things about reading War and Peace on your phone is that the octavo-like format makes the epic enormity of the tome less intimidating: It’s just one little page after another, each one oddly inviting. I tend to blow up the font on my phone to quite large, so each page has only a few hundred words on it, precisely the way that [an 18th-century book] is laid out…

Fascinating. And of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that my books The Promotion and  The Race are available in a variety of formats, and from a variety of booksellers. Happy reading!

Small Press Shout-Out: Bobbledy Books!

I might be wrong, but I think we’ve only had one small press so far that was specifically dedicated to children’s books. (That, of course, was B-Corp pioneer Little Pickle Press. Go check them out if you haven’t yet!)

In any case, I’m happy to add another small-press-for-kids to our list of shout-out recipients. And what a fun one this is!

Bobbledy Books is run by a husband-wife writer-illustrator combo who “live in a barn on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with our three small kids, a rickety old cat, and a goofy blue dog.”

Is there a better photo for what you’d want from your kids-book creators than this one?

Okay, maybe this?

And this?

The Bobbledy Duo explain their background:

Over the past six years, we’ve worked together to publish more than 40 picture books for adults, including one for Chronicle Books. Now that we have three kids (Alden, 4; Kato, 2; and August, six months), we’ve decided that it’s high time to start making children’s books.

And indeed they do, with books like these:

And the unforgettable:

They also run a souped-up book club for kids, in which purchasing an annual membership gets the child “seven stuffed envelopes” a year, including three Bobbledy Books, a birthday card, a CD of children’s music, a partially completed book that kids are encouraged to finish for themselves, and other goodies. Members of the club can also write, illustrate, and submit a book of their own to a special contest. Bobbledy Books picks one to publish and send to all the other members of the club.

Here’s the winner of their first contest, Gorillas in the Kitchen, which gave lucky (and talented) child author Spencer his (presumably) first professional publication:

Bobbledy Books puts out great-looking books and their enthusiasm for what they’re doing is contagious – just what you want from two people running a small press and kids’ book club. You can put a Bobbledy smile on your face by checking out their website, their club, or their catalog.

No need for an onward and upward pick-me-up today—Bobbledy Books has my juices flowing! You can read about my own adventures in publishing, including my tips on e-book formatting for 2014, or you can travel to my new author page at Amazon.com to see the latest results.

Who am I missing? What other small presses deserve some attention? Let me know in the comments or shoot me an email at jackewilsonauthor@gmail.com.

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Small Press Shout-Out: The New Press!

One of the most gratifying aspects of giving small presses a shout-out is that so many of them have a strong sense of purpose. Whether it’s becoming a B Corporation, or providing us with passports to international crime fiction, or building a community around works about identity, or helping to put more Asian and Pacific Island diaspora literature on the shelves, or simply reminding us of the beauty of handmade books, small presses bring us a step closer to the dream bookstore.

Okay, so maybe America today isn’t exactly the Soviet Union of the samizdat era, but it’s true that new or unusual voices aren’t always heard above the cacophony of popular or mainstream culture. Enter the small presses, to add a few grace notes to the monolithic drone.

Today’s shout-out recipient is no exception.

The New Press “publishes books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world.”

And just what are these vital issues?

I’m going to let their website’s topic list speak for itself:

  • African American
  • Arts/Culture/Film
  • Asian American
  • Criminal Justice/Law
  • Current Affairs
  • Ecology/Health
  • Economics/Globalization
  • Education
  • Fiction/Literature
  • For Parents
  • Gender Studies
  • Human Rights
  • K-12
  • Labor Studies
  • Latin America
  • Media/Journalism
  • Middle East
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Religion
  • Sociology
  • U.S. History
  • World History/WWII

Awesome. They publish Pete Seeger! They expand on their mission statement on their website:

Underlying The Press’s editorial program are three aims: to broaden the audience for serious intellectual work, especially by reaching out to audiences intellectually red-lined by commercial publishers; to bring out the work of traditionally underrepresented voices; and to address the problems of a society in transition, highlighting attempts at reform and innovation in a wide range of fields.

Intellectually red-lined! What a great phrase. I’ve never felt so excluded and immediately included at the same time.

This is the kind of press that traffics heavily in subtitles, which I’ve highlighted here:

The New Press has been around since 1990 and brings out around 50 titles per year. And while many of our small-press shout outs have been remarkable for the beauty of their website, the New Press’s site is all business. I would even characterize it as “workmanlike,” which I hope they take as a compliment. They’re not messing around at the New Press. They’re too busy delivering useful information.

You can check out their Spring 2014 Collection, including works by Alice Walker and Eric Hobsbawm, here. It also appears as if they recently lost someone close to them, founding editor André Schiffrin, who led an amazing literary life before passing away last December. A good time to send the Press some well wishes by browsing their titles and picking up a book or two.

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or my latest e-book, The Promotion! And do give Little Pickle Press (our B Corp shout-out) a little love as well!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Don’t Be Discouraged: You Are New!

Editor’s Note: In honor of springtime, I thought I’d rerun this post from last year, which remains one of the most popular posts we’ve had. Hope wins!

In an interview with Tinhouse’s J.C. Hallman, Walter Kirn refers to a common anxiety among writers:

J.C. Hallman: Do creative writers have an obligation to act as critics, to offer up alternatives to traditional critical methodologies and assumptions?

Walter Kirn: Creative writers have no obligation do anything, including their own creative work.  That’s what makes them “creative” in the first place, not merely productive.  That being said, a novel or a short story is an implicit piece of criticism.  It suggests that the job – some job; that of telling a story, say, or representing reality with language, or torturing reality with language – can be done better, or at least differently, than it has been done before.

Kirn’s right, of course – but at the same time, we all know how paralyzing this can be. There have been so many authors! Every story has been told! Everything’s been said! Blogging’s one thing, but who am I to presume that I can enter the world of writing a book that belongs on a bookshelf with all those authors I love and respect and admire?

Even the great Dr. Johnson suffered from a version of this internal narrative, giving up on writing poetry out of a belief that Alexander Pope had perfected the art, not to be surpassed.

(Ack, I hope I haven’t misremembered this – I can’t find the quote. In any case, I think the point still stands. Moving on…)

So what to do? You write spooky supernatural tales – good lord, there’s Stephen King dominating the field. You write historical novels set at sea during the Napoleonic Wars – but how can you top Patrick O’Brian? You feel drawn to write a story set in Dublin on a single day – well, hello there, Mr. Joyce! And on and on and on.

But guess what? Poetry didn’t end with Pope and Dryden. Spooky supernatural books don’t begin and end with Stephen King. There’s plenty of room for new stories, new books, new voices. And that’s where you come in: you can add your creative skills to the mix. And find your readers! They’re waiting for you.

Don’t internalize the gatekeepers. Break on through!

Small Press Shout-Out: Les Figues Press!

Okay! We’re back from our foray into the world of B-Corporation small presses and are in the more familiar world of nonprofit small presses. This week: Les Figues Press!

Les Figues Logo

The first thing that jumped out at me on their website is that they have a link for membership. Become a member? Of a small press? Hmmm. Something’s going on here. Something about this press must personally resonate with people.

And indeed it does! Les Figues has a clear mission:

Based in Los Angeles, our mission is to create aesthetic conversations between readers, writers, and artists. Les Figues Press publishes five to seven books a year and favors projects which push the boundaries of genre, form, and general acceptability. We also curate and host literary events, including readings, conversations, performances, and art salons.

Excellent! Now I now why membership makes sense. The press is only part of a larger drive toward building a community of like-minded, forward-thinking people.

How does that translate into the works they publish?

Les Figues Press embraces a feminist criticality and editorial vision. We are interested in work that is aware of itself as a textual body within a history and culture marked (like physical bodies) by constructs of gender, race, class, and sexuality.

Cool! I read a ton of books and essays like this in college, and I’m glad I did. Although I admittedly have gotten away from works like that since then, I wish I’d known about Les Figues, out there fighting the good fight, surrounding intellectually challenging works with context and community.

This is what small presses can do! They can slide themselves into society, helping to make the world a better place. All this in addition to helping writers get heard. And of course, impacting readers. Bravo, Les Figues!

Here’s the other thing that jumps out at me from their website: the size of their books. Take a look at +|me’S-pace by Christine Wertheim:

That’s a 9.25″ x 4.25″ cover! (And yes, I’m noticing these things because of my own recent experience in trying to get a book out there.)

Here’s another one, the cover for By Kelman out of Pessoa by Doug Nufer, which stands proudly and invitingly on the page, like a tall, cool glass of something fun to drink:

“By Kelman out of Pessoa”? Not sure exactly what that means, but I know I like Pessoa! I’m intrigued!

Suffice it to say, there’s a lot going on over at Les Figues. You can keep up with their announcements here. And of course, check out their full catalog.

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or my latest e-book, The Promotion! And do give Little Pickle Press (our last shoutout) a little love as well!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs:

Small Press Shout-Out: Little Pickle Press!

Here we go, people. Ask and ye shall receive. We were looking for a small press brave and bold enough to venture into B Corporation* waters.

*A fuller explanation of a B Corporation is here. The nutshell version is that it’s a legal entity that enables a company to adopt a broader mandate than the traditional for-profit corporation. Whereas traditional corporations are required by law to maximize profits for their shareholders, a B Corporation is allowed to include goals such as giving back to a community or helping the environment.

And now we have it!

Striving to be the change it seeks, Little Pickle Press has proudly become a B Corporation.

Awesome! And what are they planning to do with the power that the B Corporation affords them?

Little Pickle Press is a 21st Century publisher dedicated to helping parents and educators cultivate conscious, responsible little people by stimulating explorations of the meaningful topics of their generation through a variety of media, technologies, and techniques.

In an effort to reduce our impact, we print and distribute our materials in an environmentally-friendly manner, using recycled paper, soy inks, and green packaging.

Got it? So when you’re reading Spaghetti is NOT a Finger Food (and other life lessons)  or What Does It Mean To Be Green?, you can be happy knowing that there’s more behind the cool artwork and sound message than some corporate behemoth looking to prey on your do-gooder tendencies. There’s actually a do-gooder corporation behind it! With real people! Doing good!

Naturally, Little Pickle is as excited as I am about the promise of the B Corp, proudly describing their B Corp community on their website (which is beautiful, by the way):

B Corps are certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

Today, there is a growing community of more than 600 Certified B Corps from 15 countries and 60 industries working together toward one unifying goal: to redefine success in business.

And how’s it working out for you, Little Pickle?

We are thrilled to announce that for the second year in a row, Little Pickle Press has been named among the “Best for the World” B Corporations. The second annual “Best for the World” list recognized 66 companies across 20 countries and 25 industries, and we are honored to share this distinction with other dynamic, socially-responsible companies.

Spectacular news. Good luck to you, Little Pickle! Thanks for helping to save America!

You can check out my own adventures in small pressing, or indie publishing, or whatever it should be called, by picking up a copy of The Race: A Novella, now available in paperback, or the latest e-book, The Promotion!

Previous Small Press Shout-Outs: