Sunday, April 18, 2010

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, and Boats, or, How I Got to the London Book Fair

So you've probably heard about the eruption of Eyjafjallaj√∂kull, 

which has led to the cancellation of all transatlantic flights leaving travellers stuck all over the U.S. and Europe and prevented hundreds of foreign publishers from getting to the London Book Fair, which starts today.  Your correspondent, however, is not easily deterred. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor airborne particles of sulfurous ash and jet-destroying silicates was going to keep me from schmoozing my colleagues from Britain and elsewhere. Undaunted, I set off on Friday from my office in  the Flatiron

for JFK Airport. There, I boarded a plane for Dublin. This was the flight I had originally booked weeks before--not because I am amazingly prescient, but because I got a cheap ticket on an airline I like, Aer Lingus. The leprechauns were with me, because I took what I believe was the last flight to reach Europe that evening. (A later flight to Dublin got halfway and was turned back.) An Aer Lingus official told me they couldn't promise any flights beyond Dublin--but friends in Edinburgh, my next stop, told me Scottish airports were open as of Friday afternoon.

So they were--but by the time I landed in Dublin Saturday morning, Irish airspace was closed and all flights across Europe were cancelled.  The airport was full of long snaking queues of befuddled travelers. (I must say that airline staff were extremely courteous, and almost every traveler around me displayed remarkable patience in a situation that was obviously unlooked-for by everyone.)

I went to Plan B, and booked the next non-cancelled flight to Edinburgh (the next morning). But that seemed dicey, so it was time for Plan C: the ferry from Dublin across the Irish Sea and train to London. The problem with Plan C was that I couldn't confirm on the internet that there were train tickets available--I was far from the only traveler who thought of the ferry solution. But my friends in Scotland told me there was a ferry from Belfast to the Scottish coast, and volunteered to pick me up at the dock (above and beyond the call of duty, since their house looks out on the Firth of Forth--the other coast of Scotland). Thus was launched Plan D.

I got into Dublin and caught the train to Belfast with enough time for breakfast--coffee was what made this journey possible. From Belfast Central, a taxi to the port, where I boarded the ferry to Stranraer. From there, Michael and Jane whisked me cross country to Edinburgh.

And this morning, after a blessedly civilized evening and a delicious night's sleep,  I hopped the train from Edinburgh's Waverly Station to London. 

I confess I actually enjoyed my trip. It was a beautiful weekend to be traveling around Ireland, Scotland, and England, and by the end of it, I felt like Phileas Fogg.  All that was missing from the adventure was a hot-air balloon. 

Tomorrow, I'll be at Earl's Court Exhibition Centre for the Book Fair, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and hoping to scoop up an armful of bestsellers that my fellow Americans aren't around to see. 

Then I just have to figure out how to get home.

(all photos via Wikimedia Commons. In the train photo I have taken a liberty: I did not ride the Flying Scotsman steam train. But Phileas Fogg would have. ) 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Alice Goes Down Rabbit Hole, Pops Up on iPad

As readers here know I still have some doubts about how desirable "enhanced" e-books are going to be. Nonetheless, as with any medium, innovative people will use platforms like the iPad to create some nifty new content (whether that content is really "books" is another question). One of the most delightful things I have seen amid the iPad frenzy is this specially adapted version of Alice in Wonderland, which is now available as a separate app in the App Store.

This may not be as satisfying for a first-time reader as simply sitting with the old-fashioned printed book--but if you know the book and love Tenniel's illustrations, as I do, seeing them come to life in this way is a new sort of pleasure.

Haven't yet got my hands on an iPad long enough to do any reading, but I will soon, and will give the obligatory report on it as a reading device.

Update: Interesting article by one of Alice for iPad's creators here, on how they did it.  And several other children's books for iPad are already on the market--featured in this CNET article.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Should Book Editors Get Royalties?

At Publishing Perspectives this week, the veteran editor and publisher Ann Patty has written a provocative post titled "The Future for Book Editors: Royalties?" Ann, who was a colleague and then my boss at Crown, worked in corporate publishing for decades, acquiring, publishing--and editing--an impressive string of fiction authors. Now a freelance manuscript editor, she wonders aloud whether, in the dawning new world of publishing, what editors do may be valued more highly--perhaps highly enough for an editor to receive a share of royalties. She writes,
enough lamentation! We all know the publishing industry of yore is long gone. What about the future? In the Internet free-for-all book editors may become more, rather than less important. The editor is the author’s interface with the world at large; the other roles in publishing houses, as they are now configured, may become obsolete in the digital future. Publishers may devalue editors, but writers and agents don’t. As business models change, it’s time that book editors reclaim their essential place in the publishing process, and be appropriately compensated for it. 
Ann's piece has generated a lively, not to say brawling, comment thread, well worth reading. Several editors, and a few authors, have said "right on!" Many other posters have said, more or less, "No way!" A couple of the critics suggest an editor's contribution is unimportant compared to the author's. Some point out quite rightly that while editors may provide invaluable help to a writer, they are salaried employees of the publishing house and don't assume the risk, or make the investment of time, that an author working on her manuscript for months or years does. One author pointedly noted that a writer's royalties are small enough to begin with; peeling them away to pay an editor adds injury to insult. 

My first reaction to Ann's suggestion was knee-jerk disagreement. I do edit manuscripts, and carefully, but that's part of what Bloomsbury pays me for. While many things about publishing have changed in the past century, it still seems to me that working with an author to shape the manuscript is a basic part of the editor's job. I don't necessarily feel that doing so (even for a book that, as Ann hypothesizes, becomes a commercial winner) entitles me to extra compensation. If my titles are successful, presumably that will be reflected in what I get paid next year. 

But on further reflection my reaction was more nuanced. After all, freelance editors like Ann are already receiving, in some cases, royalty shares just as co-writers often do.  Authors accept such arrangements--again, occasionally--without seeing them as an injustice. And in a few cases, as Ann's post notes, editor-publishers who head imprints (myself not included) have some profit participation, though on the basis of imprint results, not individual titles. Furthermore, at some houses a significant share of editors' compensation comes in the form of a bonus, which is almost always related, partly or wholly, to the sales of their books. It's not a share of royalties as such, but it amounts to something similar. (These bonuses usually include other benchmarks including company or division-wide performance.) In textbook publishing this practice is more common, I think, and I know of at least one textbook publisher where as much as a third of an editor's pay came in bonuses. 

There are problems with pegging editors' pay to numerical indices, but it's not wholly unreasonable. As I have written here before, I believe one of the problems of big corporate publishing is that editors' performance is often valued in arbitrary and haphazard ways, which leads to poor decision-making. I'm not ready to advocate Ann Patty's proposal, but if publishers do value editing--and want to tout it as part of their "value added" to authors, her idea would be one way of putting their money where their mouths are.*

* In which case, any editor-royalty should come out of the house's share of revenue (and of course, wouldn't be payable when the author's advance--which the editor negotiated--is unearned).