So, it’s clearly not always EVERY other Thursday! I skipped the last issue because I just wasn’t feeling up to it, hadn’t been reading much, and didn’t have anything interesting to say as a substitute. Hopefully this issue finds you doing as well as can be. Sign up to get this as a fancy email newsletter every other Thursday: As in Guillotine.
“Writing, and the work of authors, deserves celebration beyond the hard calculus of EBITDA. The atomic unit of trade publishing is the book. Not a book. Or a select few books. The book (s). The lists publishers put together. The tribe of authors who comprise it.”
If you follow me on Twitter — and I’m pretty sure most of you receiving this newsletter via email or reading it on my blog almost surely do — you know a few key things about me:
- I have a love/hate with the book publishing industry
- I openly despise many senior executives in that industry, sometimes by name
- You’re not surprised when I rant about something here that you’ve already seen me tweet about there
Paul Bogaards is an exception to a lot of rules. Most notably here, he’s a rare [former] senior executive in publishing I don’t despise. I actually like him a lot, or at least what I know of him from his online persona as I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him in person, although I’m guessing we rode home on the same train many times over the years. He’s not extremely online like so many of us, but whenever he pops up — whether with a clever tweet or hilarious job posting — it’s always a bright spot of my day.
He recently very publicly left his longtime gig with the biggest of the Big 5 and launched his own business that promises, um… “results, not promises.” As is required these days, he threatened to launch a newsletter, the excellent first edition of which is featured here for your reading pleasure. It’s a candid, insightful first-person breakdown of the current state of the industry that rivals any reported efforts of the past few years, complete with this wonderfully apt metaphor: “There are no cod left in the ocean and so most of the boats are idle.”
*chef’s kiss emoji*
“Nicole Sullivan, owner of BookBar, The Bookies and the nonprofit BookGive in Denver, Colo., member of the ABA Advisory Council 2016-2018 and president of the Mountains & Plains Independent Bookseller Association 2017-2020, has written the following open letter to the ABA explaining why she is ending her membership in the association.”
This “open letter” is so full of dog whistles Vladimir Putin probably heard it all the way in Russia and is adding it to his next diatribe against cancel culture to complement his appreciation for JK Rowling. It was published by Shelf Awareness — one of the primary news outlets for indie booksellers — in their news section, with an intro that offered zero context for why her stance might be a little skewed and problematic.
I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why they would give this unfiltered hit piece such a big platform instead of just interviewing her and providing context, and the only thing that makes sense is they support her stance. It’s not presented as an op-ed, the usual method for disguising support for terrible hot takes, and booksellers are their customers, not their advertisers, so pay-to-play isn’t really an excuse. You’d think after Tattered Cover’s own goal a couple of years ago, Denver bookstores wouldn’t publicly be like this anymore, and yet…
“And yet there is a culture, at least in the worlds I travel, in which it is very bad form to ever criticize an independent bookstore. That’s not good! Making of something a sacred cow is not the best thing we can do for it! And so, some critical notes about independent bookstores that make me nervous to write, because criticizing independent bookstores is, weirdly and dumbly, a scary thing to do in these United States of 21st century America!”
I’ve mentioned Anne Trubek and her excellent newsletter before, partly because she’s not afraid to go studs up on some of the industry’s thornier issues. The only thing thornier in publishing than making fun of millennials who still wear their Hogwarts House as an identity is criticizing indie bookstores, and she goes in hard but fair.
- They are hypocritical
- They don’t reflect American reading preferences
- They depress prices
- They are in bed with corporate publishing
My love/hate relationship with indie bookstores is no secret, so imagine me reading all of this and picture that Jack Nicholson “Yes!” gif.
I’ve only been across the river and into NYC a few times since the world changed forever back in March 2020, all in the past six months or so, no thanks to their current idiot mayor. The most recent trip included a long overdue return to the wonderful Tenement Museum, which has expanded well beyond the few historic tours of cramped apartments they had 10+ years ago, including an impressive storefront that’s the best kind of indie bookstore: focused and well-curated to serve a targeted interest rather than an imaginary target audience.
We went on the “Under One Roof” tour, the first time I’ve done something “historical” that covered my own lifetime and experience. Set in the 60s and 70s, the Saez Velez family’s story could have been my father’s, swapping the Bronx for the Lower East Side. It was a very weird experience on many levels, particularly since a few days later (4/13) would be the second anniversary of his death from COVID — a shock back then, now one of an unthinkable million and counting.
Life can get shaky you blow any second
We forever scared to be punished for sharing
Might even get clowned for opening up now
But I much rather leave you with no room for doubt
If you don’t leave with nothing I hope you get the message
Check in on your strong friends
Check in on your strong friends…