There have been a number of fascinating things going on in publishing recently. Let me catch you up to date…
1. In October, Esquire Magazine will feature something that's never been done before: an animated cover. Their 75th Anniversary issue, coming in October, will use 3-mm-thick e-paper (the same material used in Amazon's Kindle), and will have images that change and turn on and off. Think of this as a simplified version of the newspapers you saw in the Harry Potter movies. The data and batteries behind all this are actually baked into the paper, but they fully expect hackers to be able to get inside and reprogram the images. Fascinating stuff ahead for the world of publishing. Covers that shift and change. (I was even told the magazines will have to be delivered in refrigerated trucks. Interesting.)
2. New York Magazine
says that book publishing is dead. You can read it all for yourself at www.nymag.com/news/media/50279
— it's an interesting exploration of the current economics of publishing.
3. It looks more and more like Borders could be in serious trouble. They picked a bad time to re-finance, and it looks like they may have to sell the company after all. That's a bummer. Borders is a wonderful company to those of us who work with books and words. As an author, you want them to remain in business.
4. Google has announced they are (finally) making their book previews and searches available to data bases everywhere. And Random House is participating (surprise!). After all the talk of lawsuits and warfare, it looks like publishers are beginning to see the potential benefit of this type of arrangement.
5. One of the most important, but under-reported, publishing stories of this year has been the behavior of some publishers over Sherry Jones' novel, The Jewel of Medina. In case you don't know, it's the story of Ashia, the young girl who was taken as a bride by Mohammed when she was only six years old. Random House had contracted the book and was ready to release it, but then an over-the-top review from University of Texas professor Denise Spellberg referred to the book as "porn" and warned the publisher that releasing the book would expose the company to Islamic terrorism. So what does the publisher do? Stand up for freedom of speech? Brush off the review as one that clearly is a case of both fear-mongering and self-importance? Not on your life. In a shameful move, they announced that they're not going to release the book, even though they admitted they hadn't received any actual threats. So much for publishers taking the high road. Although the author took pains to be respectful of the Muslim faith, the publisher decided the book would be "offensive to some in the Muslim community." So censorship lives in America. It is apparently okay to write anything you want about Christianity, but to offer even an innocuous re-telling of Muhammed's decision to betrothe himself to a young child (a historical fact, by the way) is wrong because it might be offensive to nutjob extremists. Interesting. I hate the fact that Random House caved, and that Dr Spellberg insisted on yelling "fire!" when there was none, thus creating an uproar where none need exist, and putting people's lives in danger.
6. Lest you think I'm exaggerating, this morning the home of British publisher Martin Rynja was bombed by terrorists. He is safe, and the nutjobs are in police custody… but none of this would have happened if Dr Spellberg had bothered to actually read the book and dip her pen in ink instead of acid. She should give an apology to everyone involved (won't happen — she's far too self-absorbed to see the damage she's done to others). The book now releases in America with Beaufort Books. I'm going to buy a copy just to spite the small-minded people unwilling to stand up for freedom of speech.
7. Scholastic apparently announced they're laying people off. Um… this is the company that sold tens of millions of the Harry Potter books, the best-selling novel series in history. The seventh of which released last year. And they're laying people off? Yikes.
8. I recently received a proposal from someone you definitely need to meet. I know this because, when asked to indicate who referred him to me, the author wrote, "The Holy Spirit." Think about that. God himself directed this guy to me. I believe that officially allows me to put "Tool of God" on my business card. Just thought you should know.
9. Famed author David Foster Wallace committed suicide last week — a great talent, dead at 46. Wallace's writing inspired many authors. And while you may not like all of his conclusions, you've got to admit that Infinite Jest had some fabulous writing. His voice was sort of a combination of new and old — new technique, old moral musings. A fascinating writer. Mr. Wallace was a creative writing prof at Pomona College. He shall be missed.
11. You'll be happy to know I've been doing some writing and sharing my ignorance with others. I did the article on "Christian Fiction" in the new Writers' Digest 2008 Guide to Literary Agents, and I penned an article on how to effectively do a "competitive titles" section in your proposal in The New Writer's Handbook, Volume 2. Both books are available at Amazon.com.
12. In case you haven't heard, Zondervan is co-sponsoring a writing competition with Mount Hermon Writers' Conference. It's aimed at first-time novelists, and the winner gets a $10,000 advance on a publishing contract. Check it out at www.zondervan.com/fiction
13. If you've enjoyed Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz,
make sure to visit his blog — www.donmilleris.com
. The guy is a hoot. Thoroughly enjoyable.
14. Last thing: I just received an email from a guy who began his query with these words:
This query is extremely important. Please bear with me in these words. I need to say things before I start my query letter of submission. If it is meant for you to understand and receive the things I come to share with you now, you will to humble yourself to see the great in this gift sent from the Lord God. I say this not to hurt your feelings, but to help you see this truly comes from the Lord and it is way above the thought and comprehension of a mere man.
You must admit, it would be tough to read those words and not start to drink heavily. The author goes on to say he is just "an average Joe," but explains he has been allowed to view "the real truth." Apparently that truth is that word play is fun, since he makes a point of noting that the word "swine" is a form of "we sin," that "hatefulness" is "see half nuts," and that "funeral" is "real fun." It's exactly this type of insanity that keep me in this business. Just sharing the blessing with you all.
Tool of God