By Campbell Geeslin
Todd Rutherford offers a service that provides glowing “reviews” of self-published books on the Web. The charge is $99 for one review, $499 for 20 reviews, and 50 reviews for $999. All of them will say that your book is terrific.
Rutherford was the subject of a major article in the Sunday Business section of The New York Times. It said that his reviews will say your novel is “shattering.” Or your book is “a classic memoir. Will change your life. Lyrical and gripping. Stunning and compelling. Or words to that effect.”
Have the reviews in Publishers Weekly and the few newspapers and magazines that still review books become irrelevant?
The Times article said: “Consumer reviews are powerful because, unlike old-style advertising and marketing, they offer the illusion of truth.”
Twenty percent of Amazon’s top-selling e-books are self-published. “They do not get to the top without adulation, lots and lots of it.”
The Federal Trade Commission has stated that all online endorsements need to make clear when there is a financial relationship, but enforcement has been minimal.
So forget about the old-fashioned, serious reviews. They are barely clinging to life. From now on, selling a book will be just like selling perfume or breakfast cereal.
ON AUTOBIOGRAPHIES: George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and about all time.”
FICTION DEFINED: “The world that fiction comes from is fragile. It melts into insignificance against the universe of what is clear and visible and known. It persists because it is based on the power of cadence and the rhythm in language and these are mysterious and hard to defeat and keep in their place. The difference between fact and fiction is like the difference between land and water.”
The above is from an essay by Colm Tóibín in “Draft,” a series on writing at nytimes.com/opinionator.
Another quote from the essay: “The story has a shape, and that comes first, and then the story and its shape need substance and nourishment from the haunting past, clear memories of incidents suddenly remembered or invented, erased or enriched. Then the phrases and sentences begin, another day’s work.”
DEBUT: In his media column in The New York Times, David Carr described Scott Rudin and Barry Diller as “two powerful entertainment moguls.” They have started a new company in “the turbulent world of book publishing.”
It is called Brightline. It will publish e-books and, in partnership with a Brooklyn publisher, Atavist, it will eventually put out physical books too. Frances Coady, a publishing executive, is a partner in the venture.
Carr wrote, “The alliance creates a new competitor in the rapidly changing digital book market, one that is dominated by Amazon, the online retailer, which has roughly 65 percent of e-book sales.” E-books now account for more than 15 percent of publishers’ revenue.
“Brightline” Carr concluded, “will pay big advances to compete for big-name authors, but many questions remain, including how the new company will share revenue with its authors and how it will get printed books into stores.”
FOR ADULTS: Eliezer Sobel is an Authors Guild member and the author of Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That Is Heartbroken.
He sent this column an excerpt from his new book, Blue Sky, White Cloud, which he described as a book for memory-challenged adults.
Sobel wrote: “Fairly early on in the progression of my mother’s Alzheimer’s disease, she could no longer follow stories or read books. . . . But one day I had an astounding revelation: Mom was thumbing through a magazine, looking at pictures, and I heard her reading the big print out loud. My mother can still read, I realized.”
So Sobel made an adult picture book of 32 pages. He plans for it to be the first in a series.
JOINING UP: Thomas Pynchon, the shy author of Gravity’s Rainbow and V, finally gave in and allowed his seven novels and one story collection to be sold as e-books. Julie Bosman in The New York Times wrote, “The announcement signals another step toward the ubiquity of the e-book, even for authors who have stubbornly resisted it.”
It is not uncommon now for a new novel to sell more e-book copies than print copies.
Pynchon’s books are often long and have complicated page layouts that made them difficult to convert into e-book form. Ann Godoff, president and editor in chief of Penguin Press, said Pynchon’s slow acceptance of the new trend may have been because “I think he reads in print.”
FROM NORWAY: Jo Nesbø, the Norwegian author of crime thrillers, visited the U.S. and answered questions put to him by The New York Times. Nesbø’s hero is Harry Hole, who uncovered a brutal serial murderer in Nesbø’s latest novel, Snowman.
Nesbø is also the lead singer in a pop rock band and a former stockbroker. He said he is often asked if the dark Harry Hole novels are autobiographical and he said, “It isn’t until characters start talking that you get to know them.
“At first I was pretty sure he [Harry Hole] didn’t have anything to do with me, but then I realized that wasn’t true. All writers write about themselves—that’s inevitable. You put in your basic values, your views on politics and popular culture, the way you think about other people. It’s really hard to have a main character with whom you don’t share these things. But then there are things we don’t share at all. He has an addictive personality, and I guess I can relate to that, but I’m not an alcoholic. And for some reason he’s not a big fan of my band.”
LUCKY: Thirteen is Don Winslow’s lucky number. Savages is his 13th novel and it’s been made into a movie by Oliver Stone.
For years Winslow was a private investigator so his books come out of that experience. He was the subject of an article by The New York Times’s Charles McGrath.
Winslow lives in California, and his novel is about the drug scene.
When Winslow began writing Savages in a pared-down style, he was “tired of people telling me how to write, what’s going to sell and what isn’t. I felt like throwing some elbows.
“Without sounding too presumptuous, I thought I was hearing a new language out there on the West Coast and wanted to see what happened if I put it in a book. I also wanted to play with the fractured way we get our information.”
To the idea that his books suggest he is the brooding type, he said, “I’m actually pretty positive. But I guess it is a pretty dark vision sometimes. I don’t know that I’d want to visit my brain except with a gun and a flashlight.”
FOR KIDS: Niall Leonard, a TV screenwriter and husband of erotic novelist E. L. James (the Shades of Grey author), has written a book of his own. Took him a month.
The title is Crusher, and The Guardian said it was about a 17-year-old boy whose stepfather is beaten to death and the boy is chief suspect.
Leonard wrote the book on a challenge from his wife, who has had her three erotic romance books on the bestseller lists at the same time. Crusher came out in September from Random House Children’s Publishing. It’s for young adults. Murder apparently is okay for kids, but it’s not allowed in Leonard’s wife’s kind of erotic fiction.
SUBJECT MATTER: A cartoon by Michael Maslin in The New Yorker has a writer clicking away at his computer while his wife, in the doorway looking in, tells another woman: “It’s a story of a crusty one-legged captain obsessed with a great white whale who’s friends with a group of young women just out of college and living in Brooklyn.”
HOT TITLES: The Today Show makes an effort to deal with books, and it did a segment about “sizzling” summer reading with two best-selling authors. Charlaine Harris, who writes about vampires, and Janet Evanovich, who has a long-running series starring a female detective, offered effusive praise for a dozen authors and titles.
They named newly-published books as the jackets splashed by on the TV screen. It all happened too quickly to make notes. At one point, Evanovich said, “I love Joan Rivers,” and later claimed, “I love Anthony Bourdain.” The comments were more endorsements (like blurbs for the books) than informative reviews.