We’ve (meaning me, mostly) been observing the ongoing debate over whether the Newbery award committee has focused less on finding compelling books for children and more on literary risk. The controversy has flared again in anticipation of the Newbery committee’s upcoming medal selection for 2009, which will take place Jan. 26. Will they select a book that appeals to children? Or push boundaries of what is considered literature for the core readership? Pins ‘n needles, y’all. (Thanks, Therese, for the ht!)
Paul Greenberg muses that perhaps a bailout of writers is what’s needed:
What would such a bailout consist of? In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt started the Federal Writers’ Project, under which some 6,000 out-of-work writers were hired over a period of several years to write guidebooks, oral histories, ethnographies and the like, and in the process “describe America to Americans.” The program not only kept American writers alive but seems to have helped them multiply, to the point where there are now, according to a survey released last summer by the National Endowment for the Arts, approximately 185,000 people in the United States who support themselves primarily as writers of books, plays, poetry, speeches and other literary matter. Thanks to this group, America has been described and redescribed so many times that I fear a kind of word-based Strategic Defense Initiative is taking shape above us, shielding us from harsher but more realistic foreign words and creating resentment among our allies.
I think he’s only partially tongue-in-cheek.
In the wake of a huge jump in demand for Amazon’s Kindle, even A-list publishers are taking e-publishing more seriously (PubMktplace, subcription required) and ready to “embrace risk”:
In “a challenging year,” Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy’s year-end letter is mostly focused on taking “time to celebrate our industry and our company, to remember and be grateful for what makes publishing an exciting and wonderful business and Simon & Schuster a special company within it.”
She also suggest that “this is precisely the moment – when established routines do not yield the customary results – that we must take chances and embrace risk.”
In digital news, like Random House, Simon & Schuster will “nearly quadruple eBook sales this year” even with a delay in their initiative announced at BEA to digitize another 5,000 titles. In January they will relaunch their website, “offering visitors a multitude of new and exciting ways to find out about our books, stay connected to their favorite authors, share their enthusiasm with fellow readers, and remain engaged with our content before, during, and after reading our books.”
Juno Books editor Paula Guran (right) digs into the Nielsen Bookscan numbers to find some encouraging news about genre fiction sales:
“Fantasy mass market paperbacks sold 102,660 units last week,” she reports. “A year ago, in the 49th week of 2007, fantasy mass market paperbacks sold 62,761 units… Romance, always the industry leader in [mass market paperback], sold 202,667 units for the week in 2007 and this year: 310,689.”
Guran adds that the top seven fantasy paperbacks are Charlaine Harris novels, followed by urban fantasists Kim Harrison and Jim Butcher. In the romance category, Nora Roberts is at #1, but some of the other big sellers also have strong fantasy components; see Sherrilyn Kenyon, Heather Graham, and Katie Macalister.
But what about year-to-date sales, you ask? Overall, fantasy sales are down 18 percent compared to the first 49 weeks of 2007, but mass market paperback sales are up 14 percent—and overall romance sales are up 83 percent, with mass market paperbacks alone experiencing a 50 percent boost. And that’s not even considering how many romance books might, in a different climate, have been categorized as fantasies…
Maybe prognosticators are right: people need cheap entertainment in times of trouble. Books could be the one sector of escapism that will thrive. Hopefully, the collective freak-out taking place in publishing boardroom will ease with this good news.