Where’s the Diversity in Books and Publishing?

The US and UK each produce about a quarter of a million titles every year. For readers, that’s an overwhelming amount. Yet often, it can feel as if there’s hardly any diversity in the industry.

Have you noticed the fads that publishing goes through? One season, every hit book will have ‘girl’ in the title. The next, they’re all about vampires. Or childhood abuse. Or more recently, feature dystopias. It seems we lack diversity in content.

Sometimes, it can feel like they’re all by the same authors, too. James Patterson and Nora Roberts, for example, have each written (or co-written) over 200 books. It seems we lack diversity in perspective.

Then, there are times when it feels as if every store is selling, and everyone is reading, the same book. In 2016, charity stores received so many discarded copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, they begged people to stop donating them. (But not before building a book fort in at least one store!)

So how do we reconcile these statistics?

Continue reading “Where’s the Diversity in Books and Publishing?”

One Little Word: With

Any time I’m in an airport, I can’t help but pick up one of those airport bookstore catalogues. They’re usually filled with Crime/Thrillers, and feature one or two of what I call ‘with’ books.

What’s a with book?

With books are those (purportedly) written by big-name authors. And I really, literally, do mean BIG NAMES. The big-name author’s name is literally the biggest thing on the cover. Larger and more prominent than the title. Much more sizable than the cover image.

But that’s not what makes it a ‘with book’. Rather, a ‘with book’ has one additional – much harder to find – feature. A little line that states ‘with’ and then, in a much smaller font, lists another author’s name.

Continue reading “One Little Word: With”

Why Does Garbage Get Published? Profits vs. value

Corporations may not have a legal obligation to maximise shareholder profits. But the belief that they must do everything (within the law) to make money is certainly widespread. Of the ‘Big Five’ publishers, four are public companies. Regardless of their legal obligations, they must keep their shareholders happy. And shareholders are usually made happy through a) increased share price, b) fat dividends or c) a combination of the above.

Smart investors, of course, are those who are in it for the long-term. Who want any increase in share price to be one which reflects an increase in the value of the underlying company. Who want any increase in dividends to reflect an increase in the company’s profits.

‘Surely, increased share prices are good?’ I hear you say. Or, ‘Who wouldn’t want to receive a nice big dividend?’ The answer is responsible investors. Those who care about the company they invest in. Who want it to continue running into the future. Who want its products to remain available. Its employees to remain in jobs. And, of course, to receive sustainable profits from the company themselves.

Continue reading “Why Does Garbage Get Published? Profits vs. value”

Books On Books: How to talk about books about books

I love books. So much so, I even love books about books. And Pierre Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read” is among the best.

It is possible to have a passionate conversation about a book that one has not read, including, perhaps, especially, with someone else who has not read it…

Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read

If, like me, you cannot fathom walking into a bookshop or library without thinking “how on earth will I read them all?”, this book is for you. It is a salve for this precise emotion.

Bayard argues the merits of not reading. In fact, the entire first section of the book describes “Ways of Not Reading“. “Unread” books are divided into books “you don’t know”, “you have skimmed”, “you have heard of”, and “you have forgotten”.

Continue reading “Books On Books: How to talk about books about books”

The Growing Impossibility of Book Perving

One of the few perks of utilizing public transport has always been a spot of book perving. A discreet but leering glance to the side. An ogle from behind the pages of one’s own book, to discern the title and appraise the cover art of another’s. (I don’t go in much for reading-over-the-shoulder though, unless in dire circumstances.)

eReaders and liberation from book perving

It was awareness of my own propensity to indulge in book perving that made me somewhat shy about what I chose to read in public. eReaders, have, of course, changed all this. Now, freed of fear I’ll be the target of a subtle (or even not-so-subtle) book perve, I find myself reading books I would not otherwise have been caught dead reading in public.

Self-help books (that divulge my weaknesses to potential foes). High-brow books. Low-brow books. All these, I avoided in the past (at least, when out and about), in order to escape derision and/or conversation. eReaders have truly freed me.

But what a price there is to pay!

Continue reading “The Growing Impossibility of Book Perving”

Why the Big Five {publishers} are a Big Deal

Recently, I was in Germany, and decided to browse Project Gutenberg. A site named after one of the most important publishers in history.

For those who don’t know, Project Gutenberg is a wonderful repository of books in the public domain. The site takes its name from the famed German inventor, printer, and publisher. Johannes Gutenberg introduced printing, and more important still, movable type, to Europe. This kickstarted the printing revolution of the 1400s. His innovations enabled mass production, laying the groundwork for a knowledge-based economy. Learning spread to the masses, democratizing education.

It thus seems appropriate to name a website devoted to taking advantage of new technology to spread knowledge after this influential German publisher.

But when I tried browsing the site in Germany, I did not see the familiar sepia tones of the Project Gutenberg home page. Instead, I saw big red letters. ‘Your IP Address in Germany is Blocked’.

Continue reading “Why the Big Five {publishers} are a Big Deal”

How Many Publishers Are There, Really?

Most English-language books are published by one of just five publishers.

‘Ha!’ I hear you say – ‘I can name more publishers than that!’

If you’re a book lover, chances are you’re familiar with some of the major names and even logos of publishers. And you’d be right to think that there are far more publishing houses than just five.

But the fact is, the vast majority of these ‘publishers’ are actually just ‘imprints’ of larger publishers. They’ve been bought or merged into the ‘Big Five’. (Until Penguin and Random House merged, it used to be the ‘Big Six’.) How long will it be before there’s the ‘Big Four’? The ‘Big Three’? The ‘Big Two’, or even just the ‘Big One’?

Continue reading “How Many Publishers Are There, Really?”

Is Satire Mean? Parody, satire – and being rude!

Satire must rank among the most misunderstood genres. So often, books and memes and shows that are merely snarky or rude are labeled as ‘satirical’. My guess is this is an attempt to make them seem clever, or less mean.

Good satire, says Carl Hiaasen, comes from anger. ‘It comes from a sense of injustice, that there are wrongs in the world that need to be fixed.’

Satire is also often confused with parody. While both satire and parody are funny (or at least, are intended to be!) they are quite different in their aims.

Continue reading “Is Satire Mean? Parody, satire – and being rude!”

How to Boil Water: An Uncommonly Commonsense Guide

The sound of the kettle boiling in the background has gotten me thinking about the best drink to accompany a read. Although I am, as a rule, a coffee drinker, for some reason, tea particularly appeals to me when I’m reading.

Of course, whether you prefer tea or coffee, the most important ingredient is boiled water.

Fortunately, there there is a book called with this very title. “How to Boil Water”. I kid you not. Unfortunately, however, this book does not actually contain instructions on how to boil water.

Continue reading “How to Boil Water: An Uncommonly Commonsense Guide”

A Life of Loving Language

Language is important. ‘Words are but the signs of ideas,’ wrote the lexicographer Samuel Johnson.

I have always loved words. I remember my father teaching me to type when I was four or five because my pencil couldn’t keep up with my thoughts. (In fact, the computer I used now forms the header for this website!)

My love of languages led me to learn another language and move overseas. To study linguistics and become a researcher of language learning and use. And ultimately, to travel the world and fulfill my longest-held dream of writing.

Continue reading “A Life of Loving Language”