Archive for the ‘Publishing’ category

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 13.0: Prelude to Science Online 2010’s Book/Blog session.

January 14, 2010

I’ve been a little slow to update my series of posts about the practice and emotional reality of publishing a (would-be) popular book on science.  (Ya think? — Ed.)

But its time to get back into it for several reasons.

The first is that I’ve got more to say — about what to do in the face of the collapse of serious book journalism within the US mass media; about reviewers and the question of whether and how to respond (no and carefully, if you can go a little Red Queen on me just now); on the kindness of strangers; on the second book crisis, which is a subset of the next book conundrum; and probably some other stuff that will occur to me as I start scribbling all these.

The second is that Science Online 2010 is on hand.  That’s the annual conference that started as a science blogging meeting, championed by the indomitable North Carolina-based duo of Bora Zikovic and Anton Zuiker, and is now, still led by the same pair, with a lot of help, become a vibrant meeting engaging a wide range of questions about the interaction of science and the web.

That’s relevant because Rebecca Skloot (whose book, The Immortal Life of  HEnrietta LAcks, is on the verge of publication, and is fantastic), Brian Switek, (up and running on his first book, born in part of writing to be found here) and I will be leading a session titled “From Blog to Book” at the unFSMly hour  of 9 a.m. this coming Saturday, January 16.

And third, of course, I want to continue to draw attention to the book whose passage to its readers this diary documents.  That would be my true-crime tale, Newton and the Counterfeiter, which as ever, can be found at AmazonPowellsBarnes and NobleIndiebound and  across the pond at Amazon.co.ukWaterstonesBlackwellsBorders, and John Smith & Son — not to mention electronically Amazon’s Kindle store.

As noted above, there’s a lot of stuff I want to cover, and not being sure quite where to start, I guess the context of the Science Online meeting pushes me towards a few scattered thoughts on the enormous problem all of us book-fetishists face in connecting a book to its audience.

As before, any entry on this theme has to be in part a confession of failure.  I began this blog about eighteen months before my book was due to come out, and I did so for several reasons.  Mostly, I felt — and still do, vehemently — that science as a tool for making sense of daily life gets short shrift in the whole range of public and civic debates we have in this country.  My first real post on this blog was on the gap between what neuroscience was telling us about the pathology of mental injuries suffered in combat and the way the US military was dealing with victims of such injuries.

Since then, I’ve written about how important it is to use even the simplest of quantitative tools — grade school arithmetic — to grasp the meaning of reports like casualty levels in Iraq, and the essential nature of a commitment to empirical research to deal with just about any civic issue.

I’ve gotten more purely political at times than I had intended — partly as a result of an almost completely debilitating obsession with the election of 2008. And I have tried to maintain my connection to my core intellectual pleasure, the history of science, but the presenting face of the blog is captured in the tag line:  “Science and the Public Square.”

But there is no doubt that from the start, I knew that I would use this blog to help bring my upcoming book to folks’ notice in any way that I could.

As an aside:  one piece of advice I do have for writers planning to start blogs specifically to aid their upcoming book projects — don’t.  At least don’t imagine that blog created simply to promote a specific book is going to do much for you.  Either your book is already attracting attention, in which case the blog won’t hurt but won’t add much value for the time taken to do it right, or your book is struggling to find traction, and a brand new blog is not usually an immediately effective way to reach much of an audience.  Especially if the blog is explicitly built around the work that already isn’t getting enough play.

Actually, that’s not really a digression:  one of the points of starting my blog long before my book was out, and of using it to stretch my wings over a wider territory than the book itself was to see if I could enter a community of bloggers and readers who would then be sufficiently interested in my take on the world to respond to the book when it became a major focus.

And in that, this effort succeeded, to a great extent, at least as I see it.  I’ve made a bunch of blog friends over the last two years, and a number of carbon based ones as well, a subset of that group.  I’ve interacted with a bunch of different web presences and audiences, and yes, a number of people responded to my book on their websites over the summer and fall.  (I’m very remiss in posting the relevant links with thanks to all who did so.  I will.)

And it succeeded in another way.  One of the odd things about writing a book is that there are long stretches of time in the production process when you are not writing, really. That’s most true after you submit your rewrite to your editors, and the production process really begins.  I find it hard to do more than preparatory work on a next book while one is still in the making — more on that in a post or two — so that leaves me with a lot of days when I don’t have anything I “have” to write.  So from early on I used my blog as a kind of methadone for book writing addiction; not quite the same thing as working out a long form  narrative, but still, every day a venue to fill with words and thoughts.

But I failed to use my blog to best effect.

I mean, I meant well, and I started out on the right track with my “Friday Isaac Newton” blogging.  But I didn’t keep it up, and if there is one thing every blogger knows, (I say, speaking from my one data point, more or less) it is that the blogging marathon requires the stamina and sheer imaginative will to deliver on such promises week in and week out.

And in that I think I lost a significant opportunity to build a community of readers around the core passions that led me to write my book.  I do know that a couple of the posts I did write in that series remain among the most popular of anything I’ve written — especially the one in which I posted my photographs of Newton’s childhood home and the apple tree that may have been implicated in his first thoughts about gravity.  It still pulls in hits every day, and has had almost 27,000 unique views over the last two years.  And while that’s clearly the best performing such single post, I have no doubt that if I had put up some cool bit of Newtoniana most weeks on Friday, it would have both been fun and useful to the project of publicizing the fact that a book illuminating some truly wild facets of the great man’s career was on the horizon.

If you want to see how it works when someone does get this right, or at least more nearly so than I, check out Jen Luc Picard, AKA Jennifer Ouellette, whose book, The Calculus Diaries has just entered the production process.  She will also be presenting at Science Online 2010, as it happens, and in the post announcing that and other bits of excitement in her life, she gives her readers a partial list of links to the posts she used to develop the ideas in her upcoming book.

That’s how to build long-distance buzz.  And what Jennifer did is exemplary in my view because it was real (as I tried to make my Newton posts as well, certainly) —  by which I mean that what she wrote on the blog materially shaped what she came to think about as she wrote her book.

(In my case it was somewhat different — I used the blog to write some of the Newton stuff I loved but did not fit into the sharply defined (I hope) narrative of the book. But the principle is the same:  this was stuff I was thinking about and wanted to express, and not simply puffery for the book to come.)  And at the same time, each of Jennifer’s posts served to whet appetite for the larger work to come.  Good buzz; smart writing.  So I guess my advice to anyone else would be (as always, it’s worth what you pay for it):  do what I say, not what I did.

In my next post I’ll write about why I think this kind of long range preparation is absolutely essential, and yet may never be good enough.  Hint — it’s because the old channels through which book conversations used to pass have mostly gone…and I’m not so sure the brave new world in which we live has figured out how to replace it just yet. There is an alternative hypothesis…but that’s for yet another post.

(Oh — and I do plan soon  to turn to a specific concern I’ve been getting some questions about promotional videos for books — like this one I made about Newton’s London. (Click on the “video” button on the right side of the page if you’re interested.)

In the meantime, see some of you at the Radisson in Research Triangle.  Science Online 2010, here we come.

Image:  Mathieu-Ignace van Brée, “George Cuvier,” before 1832.

Kindle! Newton! Together at Last.

July 27, 2009

The Kindle editon of Newton and the Counterfeiter is now available for purchase/download.

Better late than never.

Not all is perfection, yet.  The dead tree page for Newton at Amazon still shows the Kindle edition as unavailable, and the Kindle page has no cover image nor any of the other apparatus from the main page:  no editorial reviews, no video, no reader reviews.  Ah well.

Still:  at least, if you have a Kindle, you can now get the damned book.  And please do.  (In that context I’ll reveal a little secret, implied in this post:  because of the peculiar economics of this birthing stage of the eb00k transition, my royalty (still paying off my advance, not yet hitting my pocket) is greater for Kindle editions than it is on physical copies.  As royalty clauses for electronic books are still something of the wild west, this is true for many, but not all authors.)

Image:  Rembrandt von Rijn, “Portrait of Titus van Rijn,” 1655.

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 11.0: Kindle edition update

July 5, 2009

The chorus is getting deafening — which is to say I’ve hit double digits in requests/complaints about no Newton and the Counterfeiter (Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound) on Kindle.

It’s pissing me off too, for a couple of interrelated reasons.  The first, obviously, is that I want to have my work reach as many readers as possible in all the formats available.

The second, intimately tied to the first, is that I want this book to make as much money as it possible can…not just to rake it in now (ha!) but to increase the value of my next project.

The third, related to that, is that for the time being, Kindle sales, while they have both advantages and disadvantages for traditional publishers, are a damn good deal for authors and their publishers — and, I think, for readers too.  To make it real, without revealing the precise details of my own particular rights agreement, current royalty rates on Kindle sales are either the same as authors receive for hardcover sales, usually 15% of the cover price,* or some quite healthy percentage of the net receipts per sale that Amazon delivers to the publisher.  The arithmetic on the latter worked out a little better for me, so that’s where I landed.

(Net is one of those dangerous terms in media businesses, but here it remains, again, at least for the time being, a pretty straightforward concept.  The publisher delivers a file — a .pdf — of the book to Amazon.  Amazon preps it for the Kindle store, converting the file into its distinctive .mobi format, and sells it.  There are essentially none of the convenient bolt holes, often called “distribution expenses” into which movie accountants can magically disappear receipts.  So the net royalty is so far a pretty comprehensible offer.)

All that’s background to the question of why there isn’t a !@#$%^&* Kindle edition of Newton…

Partly, the fault lies on my side of the ledger.  I signed the contract to do the book sometime in 2005 or early 2006.  (I honestly don’t quite remember).  No Kindle existed yet, and the contingency was not covered in the negotiation.  So it wasn’t until one of those we tried to send a pre-pub copy for potential review asked for a version for his Kindle that I wondered when/if we would see the title in this format.  That set off a flurry of back-and-forths between my agent and my publisher to work out which variant of the deals outlined above we would do…and it wasn’t until right about the hardcover pub date of June 4 — maybe a little before — that we finished off the agreement.

But all that was done and the files prepared, I was told, by about June 11.  Again, according to those who know, it takes Amazon about a week to process the file and get the Kindle edition up and available for sale….except it’s now July 5 and there ain’t nothing there.

So it’s over to Amazon — and frankly I have no idea what the hold up is there.  I’ve tried to call into the Kindle operation directly, which is difficult, and my publisher has been reaching out to the Amazon folks who deal with them, but nothing much is forthcoming.

So part of  the point of this post is to say to those that want their Kindle copy and want it now (which is, after all, the point of owning one of these) that I’m trying, and I do expect that it will show up pretty soon.

The other point to be made is to say that I do not get the Kindle economic model, and that I suspect it will change in the not too distant future.

What I discovered (or rather, what those who actually spend time working on these things told me) is that Amazon pays the same price to a publisher for a Kindle sale as they do for a hardcover copy of the book.  Now, of course, there are a shipping and handling and warehousing costs that Amazon must escape at the Kindle store compared to a traditional book sale, (though the wireless distribution network is not free, certainly), but still, given a rough guess that the price at which Amazon buys a book from a trade publisher is not going to be less (or at least not much) than 40% of the cover price — for a book like mine, retailing at $25 a copy, that puts Amazon’s cost at $10 — or one penny more than the typical Kindle tab for a  new trade book.

Cue the automatic “but I make it up on volume” joke.

Now, I’d guess that Kindle/Amazon have made more clearly plausible deals for other content — specialized books that go for different prices, some best sellers, newspapers and blogs all come to mind.  And presumably they’ve taken a leaf out of Apple’s playbook and are turning a nice profit on the boxes themselves.  But I can’t quite see how a device built so thoroughly around the experience of reading books can survive if its major source of content arrives at a loss.

So, remembering that any prophesy you read here is worth at most no more than you paid for it, I can’t see the kind of deal I just struck to sell my book on Kindle persisting into the future.  I think Amazon is going to try to alter its payment structure to publishers when/if the Kindle store becomes a sufficiently important sales channel.  I expect, if/when that happens, all author royalty deals to be net deals and that the percentages will fall, certainly from their maximum levels now.

If I’m right — and to assess the probabilities I favor a quarter with the state design of the location in which you find yourself now (non-US readers are on your own…just don’t use a clipped coin) — then my suggestion to authors in the midst of contract negotiations now would be to talk carefully with your agent; if it were me signing to a project to come out in two to four or five years, I’d think hard about going a different way on that deal than I did on this one, and go for the retail royalty, if possible.  But I’m pretty conservative about money matters, and I value predictability pretty highly.  YMMV.

That’s my bit of publishing under-the-hood stuff for the day.

And by the way — if you do want a Kindle edition of Newton and the Counterfeiter, or even if you want to help push this part of the project alongplease do click on this Amazon link and press the button that says “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” — found just below the cover image at the top of the page.

*There are a bunch of specified exceptions to this — no royalty is paid on “deeply discounted” (i.e. remaindered) books, for example.  But basically, when you buy a book at Amazon’s price or in your local story, the author gets 15% of the number printed on the back cover or the inside front flap.  If the author has received an advance (as almost all trade book projects do), that royalty is credited against the advance until enough copies have been sold to pay off the full sum, plus any extras on the author’s account — the fee for indexing, for example.  Only after that can a writer expect to start receiving (months or years past contractual deadlines in too many cases) actual cash money.

Image:   Luis Meléndez, (1861-1932), “Still Life with Watermelons and Apples,”

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 10.0: A Tale of Two Covers

June 29, 2009

A book’s cover is important, for all the false folk wisdom that you may have had.  The more so if you can actually get your local book store to turn your treasured work face out, which is pretty much the only way a casual browser will find it.

But however valuable a striking design may be, the cover is famously one of those elements in book publishing over which authors who don’t answer to Leonard, Gladwell or the like have essentially no control.

I have sought and gained in each of my contracts the right of cover review — thus giving me at least the de jure right to see what some designer hath wrought before it gets set in stone.

Strictly speaking, this right and a token gets you on the subway (showing your age there, eh what? — ed.)  No one at the publisher has to respond to whatever howls of despair and rage I may vent.  But at least I can vent.

But in fact, I’ve had pretty good luck over my career.  My first cover was fine, simple, but graphically effective.  My second, the hardcover dust jacket for Measure for Measure remains my favorite.  I can’t find a copy of it on the web but it was cool, trust me:  Robert Hooke’s flea, over which was superimposed the first page of the score from Kontakte by Karlheinz Stockhausen, a bass clef and symbols Dalton used for his first tabulation of the elements.  Busy, I guess, but I love it.

The two covers for Newton and the Counterfeiter (Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound) capture the author’s difficulty here.  First, note, that unusually I do have two to comment on, as this book was sold simultaeneously in two different markets, the US and the UK.  The US publisher, Houghton Miffllin Harcourt chose a slightly early pub date than the UK’s Faber & Faber — June 4 vs. August 20th, so this is the cover I got to see first:

Levenson.Newton+Counter US cover

When I say “first,” I dont’ mean early…or at least not represented as early.  I think I got to look at this in November, for a June pub date, and I looked at it for a day or two, and liked it, pretty much.  It’s got a good feel to it, an atmosphere of threat, and it is unmistakably a London scene, and the type really pops. (You can’t see it so much in this rendering, but on the book itself the letters are treated to be shiny and a little raised, making them really commanding in person — a nice touch.)

Problems?  A few — and not to few to mention.  It is, IMHO, a little dull, a little generic.  In its final rendering, the atmospheric beige is a little less warm, more washed out…just a bit flat.  On reflection, though the thought did not quite occur to me at the time, it’s all a little Masterpiece Theater-ish:  worthy, respectable, and a little fusty.

But the biggest issue, which did occur to me at the time, came into sharp relief when I got to see Faber’s design:

newton english cover

The obvious, first:  That’s got some punch to it.  Black and white for maximum contrast, swords, coins, crowns and blood — and another image, showing the Tower of London, that unmistakably places the story in its geographical setting.  As far as I am concerned, this is a superior bit of book-art, one that will help sell the book when it appears in its market.

Oh — and one more thing.  It makes sense.  It’s historically accurate.  It draws on an engraving of the Tower that is period appropriate, entirely consistent with the late-seventeenth/early eighteenth century period of my story.

By contrast, the American cover is a Victorian pastiche inspired more by some half conscious memory of Sherlock Holmes than that of William and Mary’s London.  Every  man-made element on view is nineteenth century:  the Houses of Parliament, begun 1836; Big Ben, celebrating its 150th anniversary this year, the Embankment, construction starting  in 1862, Westminster Bridge, the second on this site, also begun in 1862, even — especially — the gas lights.  Gas lights!  That technology spread rapidly once the first gas – producing company got its Royal Charter in 1812 — but Londoners could not possibly have walked the streets in the glow of  gas-lamps before that year.  What was the designer thinking?

What was I thinking, to let this pass?

Well – I did call my editor, and noted, mildly, that the entire cover was anachronistic.  I conceded that the atmospherics were fine, but the actual historical detail was simply wrong.  My editor, still, at that point, Becky Saletan, told me not to worry — no one would notice, and it was the design, the look of the thing that matters. Besides, I was told, it was late in the game to seek a major redesign.

I caved.  I shouldn’t have, but I did. And much as I love Becky, and I do — as you will see if you follow the link above, she was dead wrong too. People do notice, and for those that do, it casts a funny light on the trustworthiness of the book.  I’ve been fielding some e-mails and have been pushing the blame onto my evil publishers, which is mostly fair, but not entirely.

So, just to break into the narrative here:  two morals so far.  One — you must demand right of review, as I did…and you and your agent have to be proactive enough, as I was not, to review at a stage when the design is not all but locked.  I ought to have taken part in some earlier stage, seen sketches, had some chance to push on the importance of historical accuracy for a book in which I took a lot of pains to make as persuasively connected to the past it attempts to vivify as possible.

Second:  don’t do what I did, and cave.  It wasn’t too late. It was November, for crissakes — seven months before publishing, four months or a bit more before the actual final mechanicals were set for the cover.  We could have gone through two or three more iterations…and yet, I caved.  Do what I say; don’t do what I did.

There was one last hiccup to the story.  When Becky resigned and Deanne Urmy took over the project for HMH in January, I told her that the cover was, in historical terms, a mystery wrapped in an enigma — or something like that.  Basically, that it was an anachronistic catastrophe.  She took it in, told her design department, who overnight shot back two new possible covers, both variations on a single theme:  a period – appropriate painting of some detail in a town or village setting, with title and author in type against the monochrome color field that framed the image.   Basically, a sixties era Penguin series design idea.  Not terrible, just aesthetically out of date and desperately ordinary.

I made the choice that interesting and wrong was better than worthy.  I had one last arrow to my bow:  I sent Deanne the Faber cover, saying, how about something like this — and meaning: why not just do a deal with Faber and use their cover, full stop.

I was either (a) too subtle or (b) treading on some incredibly triple top secret designer’s taboo that you can’t just choose the better of two pieces of work and call it done.  There is certainly a lot of investment in the idea that the British and the American markets are different, which is surely true — but I’m not sure if the difference extended to the point of sticking with a design known to be in error, given that the UK version is certainly, purely as a visual experience, certainly (to my eyes at least) striking enough to grab a browser’s attention.

So:  in sum.  I screwed up, and I learned, again, that the right of review is almost no right at all — unless you are prepared to go to the mat.  I should have.

There is one justification for the American cover, and its pitifully weak.  The subtitle of the book “The Unknown Detective Career of the World’s Greatest Scientist” evokes deliberately, the great fictional scientific detective, Sherlock Holmes.  As noted above, it’s that connection that animates this cover.  I guess you could say that the cover is supposed  to make that connection visually — and draw people in to read the historical story that anticipates the fiction.  Or not.

That said — what’s between the covers is a damn fine piece of work, if I say so as shouldn’t, so don’t be deterred by gas lights out of time.  And do, if you are getting ready to publish your own work, make sure that your editor lets you see what will be wrought in your name with enough advance warning to make a difference.  And even then, be prepared for an uphill fight if a fight is necessary.

Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 9.0: Blurbs redux

June 17, 2009

So, when we last left this journal, I promised to get to the point on the dark art of blurbing. 

Newton and the Counterfeiter (Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound) is by far my  best-blurbed book, boasting enthusiastic and generous praise from a very diverse crew of luminaries — (David Bodanis, Junot Díaz, Timothy FerrisBrian Greene, Walter Isaacson, Sylvia Nasar, and Neal Stephenson).

This follows, as I wrote last time, a much sparser field of those who promoted my three previous books.  How — and why — did I go for this level of long-lead pre-publication encouragement?

The how first:  I began to contact potential blurbers as I was finishing the editor’s revisions to my first-submission mss.  That’s nine months before publication — four or five months earlier than I had in the past, following publishers’ schedules of bound galley production.

Again the reasoning behind this can be found in diary entry 8.0 — basically, if you plan to ask busy people for a favor, best to do so in a time frame that gives them more of a chance to say “yes” than plead the press of prior commitments.

What this choice meant was that I was sending a version of my book that was at least two, and really three passes short of being done.  It wasn’t typeset.  It did not possess the form factor of a book.  All of which meant that I was asking a double favor:  that someone should read my work and that they should do so  in an inconvenient form.*

So, step one was simply to render my mss. as readable as possible.  Book Antiqua font, printed double sided at 1.5 line spacing, a photocopy of the cover design to front it inside a Kinko’s black spiral binding with a clear plastic front  — i.e. a pretty standard “I’m trying here” manuscript package.

Step two was to identify a couple of people who might be willing to read with charity — knowing that what they were seeing was still unfunished.  That means personal friends and/or those who have made it clear that they are supporters of my body of work and this project.

Critically:  the ask has to be open-ended, imho:  you enquire of those already well-disposed to you if they are willing to do you an unusually large favor (large with reference to this favor-space), or whether they would prefer to wait until the galleys come along.  Minimize the chance that they will say no to your first ambition, in other words, in a way that will make it more difficult to come back at a later date for help from someone reasonably inclined to deliver.

So that’s what I did, with three folks on my short list.  First up was David Bodanis, author of E=MC2, and much else besides.  David and I met about five years ago at an Aspen Institute event celebrating the Einstein miracle year centennial, and it was one of those instant friendships.  He’s a great, funny, incredibly smart-and-quick guy, and we share a lot of the same interests and personlity tics (for good and ill…but that’s a different story).

He and I are serendipitously-met are personal as well as professional friends, in other words, and that made it possible just to call him and ask him both to read the mss. as a fellow writer, providing a reality check, and, assuming it wasn’t in his eyes a disaster, to give me a very early blurb.

A call from my then-editor Rebecca Saletan made the timing more important than I had first expected.  Despite the usual wait-for-it counsel I had already received on blurbs, when I told her in early September, 2008, that David had liked the mss. she immediately asked for his blurb so that she could use it in her presentation to the sales conference for HMH’s spring list.

And that gets to one of the “whys” of blurbing

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Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 8.0: Catching Eyeballs 1 — freelancing and blurbso

June 11, 2009

Apologies for the gaps in this series — let my advise any would-be writers not to try to close on a house whilst publishing their books. (As for the wisdom of buying a house at all amidst global financial meltdown…that’s another story. If I could count I wouldn’t be in this business…;)

There are a lot of stray threads on publishing as a general proposition and some specifics as to what’s happening right now with Newton and the Counterfeiter, (Amazon, Powells, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound), so my plan for the next couple of days is to mix some background with some of the right now in a few, hopefully shorter posts.

This one is about the most basic task an author has to accomplish, besides writing the thing in the first place.  You have to put your book in the best possible place to secure an audience.

That’s it.  Books unread are books forlorn.

I don’t write for myself.

I do the writing for me.  The play of language, the pleasure of finding things out, the puzzle solving, the sheer daunting “I’ll never get this done” terror to be overcome, all of it — this is what gives me happiness on every most some one or two working days.

But the work once written is for others, and if those others don’t see it in sufficient quantities, what’s the point?  A journal and a commonplace book would be enough for solo pleasure.  I write to engage in conversation with others, and for that  you need eyeballs.  And they can be hard to find …which is what this series is all about.

So, first, full disclosure:  on the record so far, I’m crappy about doing this part of the book-writer’s job well.  My books have emerged to a whimper of public outcry for the most part.  I have all kinds of excuses.  (Have I mentioned that you shouldn’t publish a book of serious trade non-fiction about Albert Einstein three weeks into a then popular war?  Oh, I have?  Sorry.)

But excuses aside, not only am I reasonably bad at attracting attention to my own work, so are almost all authors, and, increasingly most publishers.  I’ll write more about my experience with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on Newton, but the short form is that while I think they are working hard and are ahead of some others in making the transition to a publishing marketplace in which the power of print reviews has waned enormously, they have some way to go yet.  (And I’ll promise you that’s about the most measured a sentence as you will ever get out of an author about the amount their publisher is doing for their book.)

But that said, it’s still pretty clear that there are some things that always benefit a book.

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Diary of a Trade Book (Newton and the Counterfeiter) 7.0: Pub Day!

June 4, 2009

So, Newton and the Counterfeiter is officially published as of today.

It has, to be sure, been shipping from Amazon for a couple of weeks now, and has been in at least some brick-and-mortar stores for most of that time as well, but the significance of the date is (a) that in theory at least, every bookstore that ordered the title should have it now, and (b) the book trade, and especially the reviewing end of it should be falling over itself to bring my precious box of words to the attention of the reading public.

Or not.

I’m going to step back tomorrow and do a piece about my attempt to think about publicizing the book early in the writing process.  I’ll get to the issues of reviewing from a writer’s perspective as well, if not tomorrow then early next week.  (And I’ll page reviewer/science journalist extraordinaire Rebecca Skloot to weigh in, if she will.)

For now, I just want to do two things.

First, this is a diary, and it is today, and my book is finally out in the world.

It has been quite a haul.

I started work on the proposal in January of 2005; I started researching in earnest that summer, and had most of my material in hand by the following spring.  I completed the bulk of the writing between the summer of 2006 and late 2007.

My manuscript went to my editors for the first time in early 2008, and I received the edits from both my English editor, Neil Belton, and my American one, Becky Saletan by early summer.  I couldn’t finish my response to that edit before a long-scheduled family trip to South Africa, so I bought a netbook (the Acer One, in case anyone cares) and transferred my entire book folder into Open Office from Microsoft Word (worked a treat — Linux forever!)* and in evenings before drinks after a day looking at impala, zebras and rhinos, I’d pound away, finishing in a marathon 14 hour session in an apartment in Johannesburg at the end of August.

Copy editing, galleys, cover comments and the rest took up most of the fall and into winter.  Bound galleys hit in March; I held my first copy of the finished book at the beginning of May (more on that, tomorrow, too).  A couple of early reviews came in, along with a lovely beach-read notice in New York magazine, and now it’s out.  I can’t do anything more to what’s inside the outcome of so much effort.  It’s just out there, on its own.

I’ve done this four times by now, and this feeling is the same:  bemused, exhausted satisfaction, mixed with a kind of disembodied terror, a shadow of what I feel as a parent.  My book is in the world, and will have to make its way.

I hope it has a happy life.

That’s all for now…useful stuff, I hope, tomorrow.

Image:  Claude Vignon, “Croesus** Receiving Tribute from a Lydian Peasant,” 1629

*tip of the hat to Neal Stephenson, whose words here got my dander up enough to insist on Linux in my new toy.

**as in that degree of wealth to which writers aspire.