When Authors Go On Tour

Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential campaign, from wikipedia, photo by Brett Weinstein
Hillary Clinton during her 2008 Presidential campaign, from wikipedia, photo by Brett Weinstein

The Celebrity Hardcover Book

The celebrity hardcover book  release is something most of us will never experience unless we survive a shark attack or make it to the White House as Commander in Chief. Despite dwindling sales numbers, people in the news have not given up writing non-fiction tales of their life in the limelight. One such author is Hillary Clinton, who has been around Washington politics since the early 90s.

The Hillary Clinton Book Tour

When you get a multi-million dollar advance for your memoir, chances are pretty good that you can probably afford to do a book tour. I would even go so far to say that it is expected by the publisher. Currently, one such author, Hillary Clinton, who just released “Hard Choices”, is winding up her American swing and will soon be headed across the pond to visit Germany and France. I know this seems like the carefree life of a well-to-do jetsetter, but bouncing around the world in a jetliner can be exhausting and I’m sure nobody is more aware of this than the former Secretary of State, who logged quite a few air miles, while serving in that post.

From the Audience

From the viewpoint of someone who occasionally sits in the audience, I enjoy author talks much more when they talk about how their book came into being rather than when they read directly from the manuscript. For me, nothing is more boring than sitting  through 45 minutes of a writer reading his (or her) own work. This is especially through for poetry, unless of course the bard happens to be a slam poet. That changes everything.

The Numbers Behind Mrs. Clinton’s New Book Release

Over the first three weeks, Hard Choices, sold over 160,000 copies. Sounds pretty good, but in reality, these are not the kind of numbers Simon and Schuster and Mrs. Clinton were hoping for. Based on 1.4 million sold hardbacks for her 2003 title, Living History, S & S gave the former first lady a reported advance of 14 million. Then they printed 1 million copies in advance. However, at present rate, the NYC publisher may have some extra books on their hands come Christmas time. This is because more than half of her sales came in the first week and at present sales numbers are around 20,000 a week. This would be great news for most writers, but the sagging numbers are a disappointment for the NY resident. Still, her book has far outpassed any other current  literary authors, which includes such notables as Elizabeth Warren, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, Rand Paul, Liz Cheney and Chris Christie.

Hillary Clinton visiting Burma while Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton visiting Burma while Secretary of State, from wikipedia

Coming This Week: Can the winner of  next presidential election be pre-determined by book sales?

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The Tree Book Ain’t Dead Yet

Redwood_National_Park,_fog_in_the_forest
Redwood trees in fog, Redwood NP, from Wikipedia, photo by Michael Schweppe

Is This A Golden Age For Writers?

Just recently, Stephen Marche, in his Thousand Words About Our Culture column for Esquire, raised this exact question. To back up his assertion, he put forth numerous graphs and figures, showing that adult readership and book sales are up. Some of the facts are quite convincing; such as increase in both hardcover and ebook sales. For the first half of 2012, adult hardcover sales rose over 8 %, while ebook sales jumped by a whopping 34 %. Also on the increase are the percentage of adult Americans who read literature and the average number of books (of any kind) that are read by individual readers. This is definitely encouraging news.

480px-BarackObamaportrait
Barrack Obama portrait in front of the Capitol building, from Wikipedia, photo source U.S. Senate

A Writer In the White House

Now serving in his second term as U.S. President is Barrack Obama from Illinois, a successful politician, who helped further his political career by writing two widely read books, Dreams From My Father (1995) and The Audacity of Hope (2006). Though most presidents, now publish after they leave office, it is less common to find presidents that used the written word to enhance their political career. John Kennedy and Richard Nixon are two past presidents, who have made it to the White House aided by a successful book publication.

A Good Time To Be A Successful Writer?

Maybe what Stephen Marche should have said is that it is a great time to be a successful writer. Breaking in is still difficult, and perhaps complicated by the huge number of competing writers, all trying for a slice of that same pie that is not nearly big enough to accommodate all those who wish to enjoy some of the sweet rewards.

A Silver Lining For Marginal Writers

One positive development for the struggling  writer is the ebook market, which seems to lend itself admirably to the unknown wordsmith. The ebook does not guarantee success for the upcoming writer, it just levels the playing field a little bit. It still takes a lot of skill and perseverance and perhaps a little luck to breakthrough.

Nathan Bransford Moves On

NGC 4452: An Extremely Thin Galaxy Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA
NGC 4452: An Extremely Thin Galaxy Credit: ESA, Hubble, NASA

In transition:   “It’s with a huge mix of emotions (insert: wonderment, excitement, sadness, nostalgia) that I let you know that this is my last day as a literary agent. I am leaving the world of publishing to work at the tech news/review site CNET, where I will be helping to coordinate social media strategy.”  Nathan Bransford on announcing his exit from Curtis Brown.

The big news in the literary blogging world concerns the sudden departure of Nathan Bransford from the Curtis Brown Agency.  Nathan has decided to leave the world of agenting literary masterpieces and will now work for CNET reviewing electronic equipment and software.

Here’s what Betsey Lerner at “The Forest For The Trees” had to say;

“Anyway, Mr. Bransford, agent and gentleman, we will bid you adieu from the dark side of living off the backs of writers, au revoir to 15% percent commish and enjoy a real salary.” Actually these comments were a little bit tongue in cheek for she continued with these words:

“Your generosity is as infectious as is your love for books and the writing process. I wish you well in your new endeavor. I’m sure your clients will miss you enormously.”

And then there were some comments posted by J.N. Duncan, a client of Mr.Bransford, who has now been picked up by another agent at Curtis Brown;     “It is a sad day today. Today we say goodbye to Nathan Bransford, literary agent. He is leaving us for greener pastures……Secondly, I want to say what a pleasure it has been to work with him and be his client.”

All in all the move seems to be a wise one for the most widely-read, blogger among prospective authors, but his departure does seem to point towards the rapidly changing world of publishing. Maybe Nathan just had a good opportunity that he couldn’t pass up, but I suspect he took a look at the rising success of e-books and the diminishing returns on print and decided it was time to go.

Personally, I think for a person that was already a published writer and likely entertained more ambitions as a writer than as an agent, the move might even be a bit overdue. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading his blog and even got a kick out of the the two “Not for me” rejections he sent me. All in all, I think he just took a big step in the right direction.

The Cat's Eye Nebula Credit: J. P. Harrington (U. Maryland) & K. J. Borkowski (NCSU) HST, NASA
The Cat's Eye Nebula Credit: J. P. Harrington (U. Maryland) & K. J. Borkowski (NCSU) HST, NASA

Buy Your Sweetheart A Book For Valentine’s Day

European Autochrome before 1900
Milksellers with Dogcart, Brussels, Belgium an Autochrome from 1890-1900, Library of Congress via Detroit Publishing Company

Here’s an old turn of the century(1900) autochrome from Belgium that features a dog-drawn cart and some milksellers. Dog-drawn carts are now against the law in most places, as is selling milk in this manner. The picture is  called an autochrome and it is a forerunner of the modern color photograph. The soft out-of-focus background makes the image appear like a painting, as does the dress of the three persons in the picture. All in all it is a remarkable glimpse of a bygone era and oh what a wonderful Valentine’s Day gift this picture would make.

This remarkable image also underscores why the printed page is not likely to disappear any time soon. And in my opinion the reason lies not in the printed word but with the printed images. A picture book with carefully chosen and displayed images, accompanied by good text, is not about to become a thing of the past. Like the intrinsic beauty and simplicity conveyed by this amazingly well-preserved photographic image, books with images have a lasting value. Even the high-tech visual wizardly that comes are way due to software programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks will not undue the paper-based image, in fact the new technology may enhance it.

ueen of Hearts
The Queen of Hearts from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose, source Library of Congress, picture William Wallace Denslow

This is no easily seen that with the growing acceptance of fine art prints made from designs and images created in pixels and then printed on archival paper with non-fading ink. It seems to me very ironic that some of the best compilations of computer-generated art can be found in the bookstore.

Still, images made from the past have a marvelous staying power, as seen in this wonderful rendition of the Queen of Hearts by William Wallace Denslow. It looks great on the internet, but make a calendar from a computer screen and hang it on your wall. (Well actually you can, but like the e-book, I don’t think the digital picture frames are going to replace the paper print anytime soon.)