Discounted Till We Die

We can't carry on lifing in a Bargain BasementI’m just on the train back from a very interesting (if you are a publisher) Q&A session with James Daunt of Daunt Books and Waterstones (I really miss that apostrophe) fame. In it I learnt three things that got me thinking about the way that we, as publishers, approach publishing, and have come to the conclusion that we may be doing it Poorly.

What follows is a short summary of those three points, followed swiftly by my horribly utopian vision of a better way of doing things (perhaps). I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this, so please do give them to me through comments below, or via Twitter (@robbieguillory). Continue reading

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Ciao!

So, you haven’t heard from me (Robbie) in a while, because I’ve been on holiday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking out interesting gobbets of information to feed you with, one of which to follow. I’ve also got reviews up my sleeve for a whole plethora of books, including Evie Wyld’s debut novel, Judith Schalansky’s The Giraffe’s Neck, and the 1180 page epic tome by Michael Schmidt, The Novel, A Biography (I admit, I haven’t read it all yet, but I will make that clear) and many others that I can’t bring to mind at this moment. For now, though, let me tell you about an Italian publisher who is doing something rather special.

Beautiful sea urchin

There are a lot of sea urchins in Italy (I think this is a different species, however)

Whilst I was on my version of the Italian Grand Tour (going to as few places as possible, and only if they are very quiet) I came across a bookshop, and being of a mothlike bookish persuasion I was drawn inescapably in, even though I struggle to find enough Italian to ask for a glass of white wine. Inside I saw a lot of books, some of which I liked the look of and some that I didn’t, but one particular imprint caught my eye for three reasons: they were brightly-coloured enough for my sun befuddled eyes to be able to see them clearly, they were by ‘canonical’ authors I could recognise easily, and they were cheap. Seriously cheap, and for reasons I will go into in the following paragraph-but-one I will tell you why this is praiseworthy, and why it should be held up as an example to the publishers of so-called classic literature in this country. But before I do that I should give you a picture of one of these books, because so far all I’ve given you is a sea urchin, and tell you a bit about the publisher (I only know a bit).

Dante's Divine ComedyNewton Compton Editori may not seem like the most Italian of names (without the helpful Editori, anyway) but it is Italian through and through, having been started by a Vittorio Avanzini in Rome in the 60s. NC is primarily interested in publishing classic fiction, but have recently moved into contemporary translations, which we thoroughly approve of. They produce two forms of Classic – their paperback, which sells at 1.90€ (about £1.50) and a hardback (3.90€ // £3.10). They have only just put up the prices on their paperbacks, so if you fly out quick you can still swipe copies for only 99 cents (like I did).

Oscar Wilde's the Importance of Being ErnestThe reason I feel like this is noteworthy is that these books are not poorly made, are not going to discolour in a week (I’m looking at you, £2 Penguin Popular Classics). I tested my paperback copy of Bulgakov’s Cuore di Cane in Italy by leaving it in the baking sun whilst taking my siesta, holding it in my armpit whilst walking along the sea wall of the port, and it also spent quite some time lightly folded over in the bottom of my bag on the flight home, where it came out looking pretty healthy. What I am alluding to here is that Classic can be cheap (more on this in a moment) and well made, because you will sell hunners of them so they can be printed in bulk, which reduces the cost of production massively. Flaubet's Madame BovaryRight, cost. I have talked about this in passing before, but this gives me the opportunity to have a good rant. For many of the cannonical classics there is no living author, and often no rights either. Thus, if I wanted to, I could typeset, print, bind and sell a copy of Great Expectations tomorrow and wouldn’t have to pay anyone (If I did all the production). So how is it that companies (Cambridge Modern Classics and Penguin Classics being the big players here) can rationalise a £9.99 price tag (going all the way up to around £17 in some cases) for a book where there is no advance or royalty needing covered?

Bulgakov's Master and MargheritaNow of course, occasionally you will change the cover, or order a new translation, or even deign to actually pay an academic to write a forward, but largely these texts haven’t changes for decades. Just imagine the money being taken, and (in my opinion) taken unfairly.

978-88-541-6972-2I would like to hear any defense of the extortionate prices involved for out of copyright text, so if you have one please let me hear it. I have heard it said that a cheap classic will put people off buying modern fiction, but it just doesn’t wash with me, because what is on offer is a completely different experience.

On eBooks and pBooks

First off, I’d like to apologise for my use of pBook in the title. I could take it away, but I won’t, because it is an experiment on whether it works as a term. I heard it last month at the Publishing Scotland conference, where it fell from the mouth of Faber CEO Stephen Page—

 

pBook

.

And there it lay, quivering as if with a silent mocking laughter. And we took it, folks. We just nodded our heads as if to say, ‘Oh of course, everyone says pBooks these days, we know exactly what you are on about.’ And then, if the rest of the delegates were anything like me, we all felt rather ashamed. Because it is pretty awful, isn’t it? Continue reading

From the author’s mouth

In the first of a new series of posts by Freight authors, Iain Maloney
– whose debut novel First Time Solo will be published on 23rd of June – writes a response to a recent article by Will Self (link below).

Bring out your dead How the Dead Write

On May 2nd in The Guardian, previewing a lecture given on May 6th, Will Self announced the death of the literary novel. At least that’s what the headline stated: ‘The Novel is Dead (this time it’s for real)’. I’m going to give Self the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an over-eager sub-editor who came up with that piece of click bait. Continue reading

Something about Elitism, probably

An article on my RSS feed recently caught my attention, a post by Swapna Krishna on the Book Riot blog entitled On the Perils of Feeling Dumb While Reading. This has now been latched on to by the Guardian, who are doing an open comment feed about Which books make you feel stupid. I think that to some extent Swapna is conflating the issue of not being ‘clever’ enough with not enjoying a book that everyone else seems to rave about, but the main thrust of her argument rings very true with me – for many people the act of reading is not just a pleasurable activity, it is an intellectual exercise. Last week my colleague wrote about the comments of Lynn Shepherd, who among other things said that people shouldn’t read Harry Potter because they should be reading something ‘more stimulating for grown-up minds’. Now, I am in the camp of people who don’t like the wizarding series, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing that this is simply rubbish. Reading is an intellectual act, yes, but it is an intellectual act no matter what is read – the intellectual bit is in the translating of squiggles on a page into brain pictures. This rang small bells inside my head about something I’d read earlier in the year, about people lying about the books they have read. I searched onwards.

Searching for why people read books

In September 2013, the Guardian conducted a poll of 2000 people to discover the books people claim to have read but actually haven’t, with 1984, War and Peace and Great Expectations at the top of the rankings. This in turn seems to be copying (ALLEGEDLY) a poll conducted on Book Riot in July of last year of 828 readers, where Pride and PrejudiceUlysses and Moby Dick triumphed as being the most unread books listed. The one that I find particularly odd is the listing for Ulysees, as I’m pretty sure having pretending to have read that requires you to also pretend to have a solid grasp of about seven European languages, as well as a firm footing in ancient Greek and Latin, and to know your myths like the back of your hand. That would take a whole lifetime of blag. But why do people feel like they have to lie about these things? What is it that we are supposed to think about a person who has read 1984, and what should we think about them if they haven’t? Continue reading

Freight’s Friday Feature

 This is almost veering off into Tell it Like it is territory. But I’m not entirely telling it how it is. I’m more attempting to point out how someone else has told it how it isn’t.

jk rowlingSo I read a very frustrating and provocative article by Lynn Shepherd on JK Rowling’s role as a writer who (shockingly!) didn’t immediately decide to give up writing when she earned a ‘vast fortune’ off the back of it.

Before I go into this in any depth, if you haven’t read this article by Lynn yet, you should do it now: click here.

All done? I know there’s a part of your brain going ‘she has a point kind of, doesn’t she? I mean, big bad mainstream authors do kind of ruin it for the little guys, don’t they?’ I have to admit, I sort of started thinking that way – I was reluctant to jump on the hating Lynn Shepherd bandwagon. But then I thought some more about it. It seems as though Lynn is trying to justify this tyrade against Rowling by asking us to agree that popular, arguably mainstream authors are making it more difficult for struggling authors to find agents, publishers and buyers when the books hit the shelves. That’s fine. You can make that argument, and I’m sure many other authors out there would feel that pain and empathise. What you can’t do is couple a self-righteous comment on the closed community of publishing/journalism with an attack (and I think it is an attack, albeit one that seems to constantly premise with ‘I don’t mean this in a mean way, but…’) on one of the world’s most successful, charitable and charismatic writers. Particularly when you haven’t even read any of her most successful works. Continue reading

Kickstarter for A Bird is not a Stone: Palestinian poetry in translation

A Bird is not a Stone is a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry, translated and reworked by Scottish poets into English, Scots, Gaelic and Shetlandic. The bilingual collection will be published by Glasgow’s Freight Books in summer 2014.

Book cover artwork provided by Raed Issa

Book cover artwork provided by Raed Issa

It is our wish to write a blog that deals with books, book covers and other things unrelated to Freight Books, but we decided it was apt to do a small post on one of our titles, A Bird is not a Stone. This publication, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving, is a stunning collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry translated by 25 of Scotland’s very best writers including Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson, Jackie Kay, William Letford,  Aonghas MacNeacail, DM Black, Tom Pow, Ron Butlin and John Glenday.

Liz Lochhead

Liz Lochhead

Sarah Irving and Henry Bell have set up a Kickstarter page for the project and are raising money to help fund travel between Palestine and the UK for the poets, as well as to supply Palestinian libraries, schools and universities with this unique new anthology. Continue reading

Under the Covers

In the latest of our series of our most treasured book covers, Robbie Guillory brings you Švejk, the (anti)hero from Czechoslovakia (as was).

cover of The Good Soldier Schweik by Jaroslav HasekThe (sadly unfinished) tale of The Good Soldier Švejk (or Schweik or Swejk, depending on your ability to produce accents) is one of the greatest novels of the First World War in in existence. An exploration of the futility of war and the pointless activities acted out in the name of military discipline, Švejk is an exemplar of passive resistance (or stupidity – the arguments flow back and forth). I will review this at some point. But on to the covers, because we will be looking at variations on a theme. Continue reading

A year lost to Mervyn Peake

In what is unintentionally becoming a bit of a series about authors with unreasonable amounts of great reading material, Robbie Guillory herein attempts to get you reading the works of Mervyn Peake.

Mervyn PeakeMervyn Peake was a bit of an artistic polymath; an author, poet and illustrator. It was Peake who introduced me to the Fantastic. Before I’d read Pratchett or Jacques I was given the first of the Gormenghast Trilogy, Titus Groan.

Titus Groan by Mervyn PeakeThough I was far too young to really understand what is, on occasion, prose as dusty and cobweb-ridden as the castle it inhabits and, despite probably not finishing it, I was hooked with the idea of this other world, with it’s endless spires and forgotten rooms, the popping joints of Flay and fetid breath of Swelter. Continue reading

A year lost to the Rougon-Macquarts

In 2010 I read a novel by Émile Zola titled Nana, and loved it. It was funny, interesting in it’s detail (I found out, for instance, about Parmentier, through the most throw-away of comments) and just an all-round good read.

Nana, by Emile ZolaI knew of Zola through his standalone classic, Thérèse Raquin, and through his involvement in the Dreyfus Affair, but had never heard of any of his other work. To be honest, I didn’t think there was any to think about.

Emile Zola - the man himselfNana was in fact just one of a twenty-volume collection of realist novels called the Rougon-Macquart series. I spent the following year tracking down every decent translation from this series. They comprise, in my opinion, of some of the best writing I have ever experienced, and yet are pretty much unknown. In a small way, I am trying to rectify that, whilst being as brief as possible. If you’re fed up with the waffle, scroll ever downwards to very short summaries of the books easily available in English. Continue reading