Posted tagged ‘Publishing follies’

We Pause for this Commercial Interruption: Newton and the Counterfeiter/Kindle redux edition

December 28, 2009

Well, that was an annoying ride.

I mean the seemingly endless saga of achieving the possibilty of Kindle/ebook sales for my poor but honest offering, Newton and the Counterfeiter. (Dead tree versions here:  AmazonPowellsBarnes and NobleIndiebound and  across the pond at, and John Smith & Son.)

Loyal readers may recall that it took more than six or seven weeks between delivering the file to Amazon (a bit late, but not that late, in the context of the hard cover pub. date).  Amazon is, apparently, notoriously slow and creaky around at least some of its interactions with publishers.  (I do know that it took a very long time to get this book-promo video up on the US site…and that the interaction between my British publisher Faber & Faber and Amazon UK went much more smoothly than the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/ pairing did.)

But then came an email from old friend and former MIT colleague (not to mention tech/net education guru, Phillip Long, who complained that he could not get a Kindle edition of the book until next April, coinciding with the paperback release.

Apparently Amazon got its algorithm in a twist once HMH uploaded data about the upcoming new edition of an existing title.

Somehow — and I truly don’t understand how this could have happened, because it’s not exactly a new phenomenon in publishing to have a soft cover version follow a hard cover one into the wide world — my poor little book, highly praised though it may be, had to be denied the chance to take part in the day Kindle sales beat dead tree versions on the Amazon site.

Not for lack of effort on the part of HMH’s team, I must say.  I notified my peeps over there as soon as Phil let me know of the glitch, and they’ve been working on it for at least three weeks.  And today, I’m happy to say, HMH electronic stalwart Sanj Kharbanda was able to report success.  Now, at last, you can get your Kindle edition of Newton and the Counterfeiter.

So: all of you gifted (that unlovely neologism) with Kindles (or the Kindle app on your iPhone, and soon, on your Blackberry!) in recent memory may now load up your new gizmo with your own personal copy of that thrilling true crime tale that both tracks Newton as he tracks the dapper don of his day — and that tells a tale of how the scientific revolution got mixed up with the financial one — to our continuing gain and sorrow.  Seriously, it’s a great read, I’ve been told, and if you want to test that claim electronically, by all means, be my guest.  (Not for a a moment to disparage dead tree versions of course, for those (like me) that still love that sense of time measured in turning leaves.)

There.  I think I’ve shilled enough for one day.

Image:  Rembrandt van Rijn, “Two Old Men Disputing,” 1628.

Some self-indulgent keening: Publishing is a mug’s game department

December 3, 2008

Friends of the blog may have noticed a slackening of posts over the last couple of days.  It’s because I’ve been in a funk, a publishing induced malaise.

That is:  as I’ve trumpeted a number of times here (and will again, more than once), I’ve a book in the works on Isaac Newton in his role as cop and prosecutor.  It’s called Newton and the Counterfeiter and it will be coming out in June. That’s the good news.

Here’s the rub:  the book was initially acquired by Rebecca Saletan, then of Harcourt-as-was, and followed her after the merger/acquisition of Harcourt by Houghton Mifflin.  Becky won the top job in the combined company, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt — head of adult trade publishing — and everything looked sweet…

Until the leverage required by the acquiring Irish software/private equity firm that put the two publishers together did what too much debt usually does in bad times.  So last week we learned that HMH had decided — temporarily they say and I hope — to stop acquiring books, and this week Becky came to the conclusion that trying to run a publishing house that wasn’t planning on publishing much — if at all — was a thankless task.

Which means I’ve got a book — a good one I think, and early readers agree — that is due to come out in a few months that will be missing its editor (and believe me, Becky was/is as good as you can get in the business), and from a house that may be leaving the business. Not a combination that propels work into the public eye; I’ve seen similarly orphaned books before.

(Anyone remember Richard Preston’s excellent second book, American Steel?  I didn’t think so.  It was the lead book of a house bought just before publication by Simon and Schuster who just released the title and let it sink or swim on its own.  It sank.)

I musn’t grumble.  There’s six months to go before publication.  HMH has not in fact disappeared, and there is plenty of publishing talent still hanging in there.  I’m being handed on to a first-rate editor, and while no one is as strong an advocate for your book in a house as the person who bought it in the first place, it’s not as if the project or its new guardians are unknown quantities.  There are rumors that the trade operations of HMH will be sold, which could be good news or bad — who knows? — and there are plenty of actions I can and will take to get the word out as we approach publication. I’ll certainly be calling on all you reading this for help on that score.

More than that — no one died. I’m pre-emptively bewailing the fate of a book, not a person.  I’ve got a decent day job, so no one in my house will be wanting shoes if the book doesn’t sell.  I can’t read the news, or hear the reports from someone I know very well who spent two hours the morning of Thanksgiving Friday trying to get their unemployment claim handled, and see the outcome for my story about strange doings at the heart of the scientific revolution as hugely consequential.

And yet, though I do know that and believe it, I’ve been living with my man Isaac for three years (actually much longer).  I’ve tried to craft words and sentences and whole passages that can carry readers into a sense of the daily experience of the world Newton inhabited and did so much to transform.  It does gravel me to think that that work might not find its audience.  I fully understand that this is a small pang amidst the various miseries of the world, but it’s mine.

That said, “might” is not the same as “will”, and so, with my gall thus vented, let me (mixing images with the best of them) allow the fickle finger of fate, having written, to write on.

Real blogging to commence….


Image:  William Blades, “Cherubs on a book” from Pentateuch of Printing with a Chapter on Judges, 1891.