The link below is to an article that looks at the history of the ISBN – the number used internationally to identify individual book editions.
The link below is to an article that considers the impact of coronavirus on independent publishers and booksellers in the USA.
The link below is to an article that looks at the impact of the coronavirus on Chinese publishing.
The link below is to an article with news on the ISBN prefixes.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at fighting publishing piracy.
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The link below is to an article that looks at ‘gatekeepers,’ which in this case are those who keep bad books back from entering the ‘book fold’ – i.e. those with poor spelling, poor grammar, etc. This, I believe, is an important issue when there are so many self-publishing options out there. Sure, I believe in free trade and the right of pretty much anyone to sell what they like – but I also believe in quality and products that are fit for purpose.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the Relief and the Intaglio Print Making Processes.
People across the global book trade have been engrossed by a ripe scandal engulfing one of their own – publisher-turned-author Dan Mallory, whose novel The Woman in the Window was one of the runaway bestsellers of 2018. One tweet summed up the buzz:
The comment from the literary agent Laura Williams refers to a lengthy article in the New Yorker about Mallory, who writes under the pseudonym A J Finn. As the headline explosively proclaimed, Mallory’s life “contains even stranger twists” than his fiction.
These twists, according to the New Yorker, include repeated lies: about his mother’s death from cancer, his own cancer diagnoses, an Oxford PhD, a job offer from a rival publishing company which leveraged promotion. He also, the article suggests, may have impersonated his brother, sent abusive emails, and – most curious of all – left plastic cups of urine in the New York office of his boss (“messages of disdain, or … territorial marking”, speculated the New Yorker – although it went on to quote a spokesperson for Mallory saying he hadn’t been responsible for that).
The article is careful to present evidence for these revelations via both named and anonymous sources, or to state that certain allegations are unproven. The revelations are either denied by Mallory, or blamed in a statement on “dissembling” produced by severe mental illness.
Even more curiously, Mallory’s uncompleted PhD focused on Patricia Highsmith, author of The Talented Mr Ripley – that twisty tale of a man who murders and then impersonates another. His own The Woman in the Window presents its readers with an unreliable first-person narrator who witnesses – or does she? – a crime.
An unreliable narrator – and an unreliable author? Literary liars and impersonators weave their tales through publishing history. Remember the “memoirs” of James Frey, A Million Little Pieces, which presented as fact made-up scenes of drug addiction and alcoholism?
Fiction-writing fraudsters also abound: prize-winning Australian Helen Darville falsely presented herself as the Ukrainian “Helen Demidenko” and wore peasant blouses ti publicise her book: The Hand That Signed the Paper. Meanwhile JT LeRoy’s novelised tales of an abusive boyhood turned out to be entirely invented, their author represented in public by a (possibly) transgender impersonator.
Mallory joins an infamous line of literary hoaxers, then. But what might this torrid tale tell us about the mental and physical health of the publishing industry?
Social media commentators quickly identified an issue beyond the tricksy questions of truth and lies: that of Mallory’s rapid career trajectory. A “Waspy” family background was polished by an elite US college education, employment at a New York publisher, postgraduate studies at Oxford, a London publishing job and promotion. Then back across the Atlantic to a $200,000 salary and a book deal brokered through his professional networks.
As one much-retweeted comment put it, alongside all the tawdry revelations of the story, it also spoke volumes about the problematic pattern of publishing career paths.
The New Yorker has multiple accounts of how Mallory seemingly charmed writers and fellow publishers, and there’s no implication – other than light borrowing of plots and characterisation – that his writing is not his own. Good looks operated alongside that charm, until the beguilement revealed its multiple deceptions. But the question of how to get ahead in publishing, and those who get to make such rapid ascents, remains.
Glass ceilings, whiteness and class
Publishing and the literary world have serious issues of access and inclusion. The roughly equal number of men and women in board positions in UK publishing does not represent the preponderance of female staff lower down company hierarchies – about 66-80% of people in the industry are women, surveys variously report.
Unsurprisingly this glass ceiling creates a gender pay gap: 16% in 2017 and some even worse figures in 2018’s mandatory reporting from larger companies. Publishing also has its sleaze and #MeToo claims.
In terms of ethnic diversity, a 2018 UK Publishers Association survey showed the BAME workforce of publishing to be under 12%. This is marginally below the 2011 census figure of 13% in England and Wales, but it’s far below the 40% of London, where UK publishing is highly centralised (itself presenting issues of regional diversity).
Repeated surveys have demonstrated publishing’s diversity deficit. Scholarship from Anamik Saha and Melanie Ramdarshan Bold focuses on the challenges of cultural production for writers of colour. Over a period from 2006-2016, Ramdarshan Bold identified, only 8% of young adult books published in the UK were by writers of colour.
Like other creative industries, publishing is a middle-class activity, with working-class publishers and writers frequently recounting stories of prejudice and cultural condescension – eg. in publisher Laura Waddell’s Nasty Women chapter, and in Dead Ink’s anthology of working-class essays Know Your Place.
The 2018 report Panic! Social Class, Taste and Inequalities in the Creative Industries shows publishing’s class demographic to be “especially grave”. Less than 13% of publishers are from working-class backgrounds, while more than 33% have upper middle-class origins.
The whiff of privilege
Such individual and statistical accounts of exclusion demonstrate why the wild story of one already-privileged individual bluffing his way higher and higher up the publishing echelons has caused so much consternation. If the story is true, Mallory repeatedly fooled university admissions offices and publishers’ employment processes. But what employment practices enabled him to rise, even when his story had started to unravel? And how did his apparent charm and good taste enable him to fail upwards? The answers to these questions remain in a dysfunctional swirl of rumour, anonymous sources, non-disclosure agreements and myth-making that probably won’t hurt Mallory’s book sales.
But there are wider systemic and institutionalised issues at play here: the urine scent-marking in the editor’s office (whether proven to be Mallory or not) is a metaphor for the regimes of value in operation within publishing. There is a mystique about taste – a whiff of privilege – that prevails unhelpfully and often prejudicially in the publishing industry. Such inequitable practices govern which hot new literary property we pick up next.
The publication of The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien completes a publishing project that began in the distant past of 1977, when Christopher Tolkien edited The Silmarillion, the first volume of his father’s posthumous stories.
When Tolkien senior died in 1973, he left four full length published novels and a mass of uncollected papers behind him. His youngest son Christopher, now aged 93, has spent almost half a lifetime annotating his father’s work and preparing it for publication. The 12 volumes of the History of Middle-earth provide an astonishingly detailed account of the languages and landscapes of Tolkien’s fictional world.
This monument of scholarship allows readers of The Lord of the Rings to gain the fullest possible understanding of the careful preparation which stood behind the handful of books published by Tolkien in his lifetime.
As a literary critic who specialises in archival work, I admire the heroic labours of the Tolkien estate in presenting the author’s private papers, letters and illustrations to a wide readership of scholars and enthusiasts. But not all heirs and executors take the same view when it comes to publishing posthumous work, and there are often ethical problems arising from an author’s drafts and manuscripts.
The Larkin Letters
When the first edition of Philip Larkin’s posthumous Collected Poems appeared in 1988, many readers were dismayed to find that the editor had chosen to include a large number of unfinished poems and apprentice work written when Larkin was a student. Critics of that volume argued that Larkin would never have allowed publication of this inferior work, and the overall effect was to diminish the impact of the poems he valued.
Publication of the Collected Poems was followed in 1992 by a volume of Larkin’s letters (heavily cut to remove libels), which revealed the poet to have been seething with racist prejudices. It took many years for Larkin’s reputation to recover from these deep wounds, which had been administered by his own literary executors. There will be no posthumous edition of Larkin’s diaries, which were shredded shortly after his death, according to his own instructions.
Virginia Woolf’s letters and journals offer a positive counter example. Edited by her nephew Quentin Bell and published posthumously, Woolf’s Diaries have established themselves as an inspiring series of books for everyone who studies her novels. The pleasure of watching over Woolf’s shoulder as she documents the ups and downs of her writing life is immense.
The ‘lost’ works of Auden and Burgess
Other writers have attempted to take control of their reputations more directly. W.H. Auden, who died in 1973, stipulated in his will that no edition of his letters should be published, and he requested that anyone who had letters in their possession should burn them. Fortunately for posterity, many of his friends had already sold their batches of Auden letters to university archives, and other people simply ignored his wishes. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that an edited collection of Auden’s letters will ever appear.
Edward Mendelson, who is Auden’s literary executor, recently wrote an article in which he discussed his own ethical dilemmas as the editor of the Collected Poems. Mendelson’s guiding principle has been to value the poems that Auden chose to include in his two volumes of Collected Longer Poems and Collected Shorter Poems.
But what to do about the poems published in magazines but excluded from Auden’s books? Those appear in the Collected Poems on the grounds that Auden had signed them off for publication. And what about the rejected early work, such as the poem “Spain” – a response to the Spanish Civil War published in pamphlet form but later excluded from the Collected Shorter Poems? That does appear in The English Auden, an edition of poems written in the 1930s, but it is absent from the Collected Poems.
There is another category of “lost” work by Auden, existing only in manuscripts and notebooks, but never collected in book form. Mendelson has recently unveiled his plans to publish some of these poems, carefully edited and contextualised, in a volume of Auden’s “Personal Writing”, which will include poems and verse-letters written for friends. But none of this work will be finding its way into the next edition of the Collected Poems.
Anyone who manages a literary estate faces hard questions about what should or should not be published. In September 2018 Manchester University Press will publish Paul Wake’s edition of Puma, a science fiction novel by Anthony Burgess. The manuscript, completed in 1976, was unpublished in Burgess’s lifetime, but letters in the archive confirm that he was actively seeking to find a publisher shortly after he’d written it. What readers will make of this “lost” novel by Burgess remains to be seen.
The Tolkien example is a story of a son’s devotion to his father’s work and there is much to admire in Christopher Tolkien’s determination to put as much unpublished writing as possible into the public domain.
For the future, as electronic communication becomes more pervasive, it seems likely that writers will find it harder to delete published work from the record, or to edit their past in the ways evidenced by Auden and Larkin. If only they had survived into the age of social media, their Collected Tweets might have been required reading for every diligent student of their poems.