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January 17, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Tidbits

Bits and pieces of news and information that I found interesting this week:

Biblio Sold

Via Tuesday's Publisher's Lunch: Small press distributor Biblio is being sold by its parent company, National Book Network, to AtlasBooks, the distribution arm of Bookmasters Inc. There's an announcement on the Biblio website.

NBN, a distributor for independent publishers, started Biblio in 2001 to address the distribution needs of small presses with annual revenues of less than $50,000. Biblio rapidly signed up a large number of publishers--more than 900 at its height, according to PW--but then began to downsize, most recently in August 2007, when it announced that it would "substantially" cut its remaining client list.

Again according to PW, AtlasBooks (which took on 70 clients last fall when small press distributor BookWorld went belly up) has hired Biblio's sales team, and Biblio's inventory is already being shipped to Atlas's warehouses. Atlas doesn't plan to continue using the Biblio name.

What will the impact be on the more than 500 publishers in Biblio's catalog? According to some independent publishers I've spoken with, Biblio wasn't very highly regarded, and had a reputation for being willing to take just about anything. However, it had the benefit of the NBN connection, which enabled it to share NBN's back-office systems. Obviously it has lost that advantage, and AtlasBooks' reputation seems to be similar to Biblio's. My guess is that this is a step down for Biblio clients, rather than a lateral move.

(For anyone unclear on the difference between a distributor such as NBN and a wholesaler such as Ingram, this article by Dan Poynter provides a helpful explanation.)

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest Semifinalists

With breathless excitement, announced Tuesday that the semifinalists in its Breathrough Novel Contest have been chosen--836 of them, to be precise. Excerpts are now up at Amazon, and can be downloaded or read on the site for free. Readers will have until March 2 to post comments. A panel of judges for Penguin will use reader comments as well as short reviews provided by PW to choose 10 finalists.

Readers have already begun to leave commments. PW reviews are not yet in evidence, but according to Amazon, they "will be available soon," along with reviews by Amazon top reviewers (proving, perhaps, that you don't have to be published to be Klausnered).

I indulged in a bit of spot checking in the science fiction and fantasy category, and while most of what I sampled caused my inner editor to hit the "back" button after only a few paragraphs (grammar lapses, stiff dialog, bad descriptions [note to authors: please, oh please, never give your heroine emerald green eyes], implausible settings), I did find a couple of excerpts that made me want to read more.

I don't envy the task Penguin faces in winnowing 10 finalists out of this mass of material, based just on short excerpts, PW reviews, and reader comments--which are not only dubiously reliable, but are likely, given the enormous number of entries, to be serendipitous.

(I blogged about the ABNA last October, and again a couple of weeks later.)


According to the UK's Daily Mail, figures recently compiled by the Office of National Statistics reveal that 25% of Britons didn't read a single book last year. That's right--not one.

Last August, an AP/Ipsos poll showed that Americans did no better.

Amusingly, the Daily Mail article reports that "a third of Britons read 'challenging literature' in order to seem well-read even though they could not follow what the book was about," and that "40 per cent had lied about having read certain books 'just so they could join in with the conversation.'"

So how many books do you read in a year? I read anywhere between one and three a week, depending on length and how busy I am.

When is a Book Like a Pack of Cigarettes?

When it's a Tank.

Tank is "a think tank as well as a creative agency and publishing company" whose TankBooks division took advantage of the UK's recent public smoking ban in an unusual and clever way: it issued a series of classic books designed to look like cigarette packs. Series title: Tales to Take Your Breath Away.

Now, according to the Guardian UK, TankBooks is being challenged by British American Tobacco, which thinks one of the books too closely resembles the packaging for its Lucky Strike brand. Arguing trademark dilution, BAT wants the offending books to be pulped.

TankBooks, in response, points out that "members of the public are unlikely to mistake a Hemingway novel for a packet of cigarettes."

If they read a book last year, that is.


Bill Peschel said...

There's been some discussion on the Amazon boards about why they have 836 when they began with 5,000+ submissions. It'll be very educational to see if they can pull 10 publishable manuscripts out of it.

I've read a few in the mystery category and they're a real mixed bag as well.

What really is bothersome about the contest is that there's been no comment from ABNA officials about certain issues. For example, cover art has not appeared with the entries, although they are promised. Also, if you have a blog with Amazon Connect, you can't link to your entry, because that requires confirmation from the publisher or editor; so how do you get that from Amazon?

All they promise in the rules is that they moderate the discussion boards, but there's been no pronouncements from them for quite awhile.

I understand that they've got a massive job on their hands, and sympathize with the people doing the work. On the reviewers' board, many have talked positively in general terms about their work. Their dedication is commendable.

And, yes, mine novel's in there as well.

Ian said...

I made it on there too in the Sci Fi/Fantasy category with this nugget, Bill. Good luck to you and anyone else who moved on to the next round of cuts!


The Grump said...

Be glad my second novel - probably a clone of Merritt's "Ship of Ishtar" - didn't make the Amazon cut. The heroine had green eyes -- and titian hair. I think I was all of 14 when I wrote it.

You gave me such a laugh when I saw the "emerald green eyes", I almost split my coffee on my keyboard.

Nancy said...

Apparently the 1000 Americans they polled on reading aren't the same 1200+ who have responded to's current poll. Care2 has only 4% nonreaders, with 30% reading 1-10 books, 20% reading more than 10, and 14% reading more than 100 books last year.

Emerald green eyes, indeed! When is someone going to make the heroine 5 foot 1 and 200 lbs?

Anonymous said...

I just love Tank's answer.

A pack of Hemningways, now with 20% less tar!

none said...

Alas, only Americans can compete for the prize. So I guess I won't be adding yet another slush pile to my mountain!

rkfinnell said...

You should seek out the rejects that didn't make it. There are superior works out there that should have made the semi-finals.
I haven't read any of the chosen excerpts and may not. There's no way they could match the quality of the "rejected"
Proud to be happily rejected.

Terri said...

so happy to see this new competition is such a prominent blog! kudos!

i'm a military spouse, mom of three, college student, and full time secretary for the Registrar of the local HS. whew! in my spare time (haha) i write:)

i would really appreciate your consideration of my entry in the ABNA contest: "Someone Borrowed".

thank you so much! have a great weekend!!!!

Victoria Strauss said...

Hey, folks. I welcome your comments about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences with the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest--but this blog is not the place to promote your entry. Thanks.

Dan said...

Penguin doesn't need to choose the top 10 based on excerpts and reviews. They have the whole manuscripts. I think they'll be choosing the top 100 based on excerpts and reviews and then the top 10 based on the whole manuscripts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the reference to ABNA. I am one of the semi's - The Scrapbook - Jody Preister

An emotionally and physically damaged woman finds love and purpose...perhaps there are no coincidences in life?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Victoria...I should have read through before I posted. I sincerely appreciate the reference to ABNA, however. I can't help myself, I am in this "sink or swim" mode right now :o)
Jody Preister

Michelle H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Michelle H. said...

Tales to take your breath away?

*snicker, snicker*

A classic! I'm glad there are still people with a sense of humor in this lawsuit-happy world.

You gotta love them Brits.

Okay, time to plug my Amazon entry. It's about . . . oh, that's right. I didn't enter the contest because I was too busy taking my time in writing my novel so that I could find a publisher without any worrying about a popularity contest that's going to be hard to

Well, never mind. I've got some reading to do. I don't want to become another statistic.

Anonymous said...

The Publishers Weekly reviews are now posted on the ABNA site. Here's the overwhelming consensus of a vast majority of semifinalists posting in the forums:

Most of the PW reviewers appear not to have read the entire books and have made plot assumptions that are contrary to the manuscripts. Many appear amateuristic and have done the author a disservice. In many cases these reviews contradict with Amazon's top reviews.

Julie Ann Shapiro

Victoria Strauss said...

I've had a chance now to sample the PW reviews--obviously, only a small sample, picked entirely at random. I haven't been able to find much info on who PW found to do these reviews--I know they were soliciting National Book Critics Circle members at one point, but beyond that I can't really guess at reviewers' credentials. However, the PW reviews I sampled were reasonably detailed and professionally written, which can't be said of some of the Amazon Top Reviewer reviews. Most of the PW reviews I sampled were negative or mixed (which, to be honest, doesn't surprise me, based on my earlier sampling of excerpts)--though a few were as enthusiastic as any writer could hope for. The Top Reviewer reviews, on the other hand, tended more toward the positive. I'm not surprised that many authors are upset by the contrast.

In any situation, reviews will contradict each other. There are many objective standards that a knowledgeable reviewer can--and should--bring to reviewing, but ultimately it comes down to opinion. Also, it's very hard to adequately sum up plot in a couple of sentences, so a not-entirely-accurate plot summary doesn't mean the reviewer didn't read the book.

Also worth remembering: the Top Reviewers' reviews were based on excerpts and synopses, while the PW reviewers' reviews were full-book reviews. That's bound to result in differences in assessment.

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