What’s in a number?

By Joe Moore

The authors here at TKZ blog write in the mystery/thriller genre. We cover the gamut of action and suspense themes. All our books contain totally different stories and different styles from different perspectives and voices. We are individual writing original fiction.

But there’s one thing we all have in common with each other and every other published writer. Somewhere on the cover of our books is a number (usually displayed with a bar code) called the International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Recently, someone asked me what the number meant, besides just identifying the specific book. I had no idea, so I went searching for a answers.

Here’s what I found.

isbn An ISBN is assigned to each edition and variation (except reprints) of a book.

The ISBN system is universal. So anyone with knowledge of the numbering system can decipher what it means including where it was published.

Up until January 1, 2007, ISBN’s contained 10 digits. Now they have 13.

An ISBN-13 is made up of five parts usually separated by hyphens. The first part is 978 to comply with something called the GS1 global standard.

The second part is a group or country identifier. English speaking countries start with 0 or 1. French with 2. German with 3. Japan with 4. Here’s a list of all the group/country identifiers.

The next part is the publisher’s number. Publishers usually purchase blocks of ISBN’s.

The publisher’s numeric title of the book is the next number.

The final number is called a “check digit” used for error detection and to validate the ISBN. It is always a single digit, so if the formula used to determine the check digit produces a 10, it is designated by the Roman numeral X.

Here’s some additional info on ISBNs.

A new ISBN number is required if you change the title on a reprint, make a substantial revision (approximately 15-20% of the text), and change the format or binding such as going to audio or hard cover to paperback.

There’s no need to use a new ISBN on additional printings or if the price changes.

You can never reuse an ISBN on another book if the first goes out of print. Plus, even if a book is declared out of print, many booksellers such as Amazon are involved in the selling of used books. So the title and ISBN can remain active long after the publisher has stopped printing.

Although it’s a dry topic, the ISBN is a common thread that binds all published authors together. And like so many other elements in the publishing world, we should all be aware of what that little number means on the back of our books.

Coming Sunday, June 21, Paul Kemprecos tells us what it’s like to collaborate with Clive Cussler. And future Sunday guest bloggers include Robert Liparulo, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.


From self publish to self storage

By Joe Moore

My Kill Zone blogmates and I are all professionally published mystery and thriller authors. You can visit your favorite bookstore to find and purchase our novels. We have agents that represent us on a commission basis and publishers that pay us advances and royalties based on our sales. We all have multiple books published. There are literary award winners in this group. Many of us have been on bestseller lists. If anyone asks us what we do for a living, without hesitation, we declare that we are writers. If you’re a writer and you want to get published, in general you have to follow the same accepted publishing business model that we did.

But it’s not the only way to wind up holding your published book in your hands. There’s always the method called self publishing or subsidy press. And getting published in this manner is a subject that comes up often in writing forums, especially with new writers. So I thought I’d use up a few inches of blog space today to comment on the virtues and evils of self publishing.

First the evils.

In general, the world of self publishing is fed by desperation. Someone writes a book, sends out dozens if not hundreds of query letters to agents and editors with no takers. At some point, out of desperation, the writer decides to give up on the normal channels and turn to self publishing his book. He finds that there are many self publishing companies out there with beautiful websites, exquisitely designed brochures, hard-to-turn-down promises, amazing testimonials, somewhat reasonably priced publishing “packages”, and a way to put him on a fast track to finally holding that precious book in his hands. When asked why he is going the self publishing route, he brings up examples of books that were originally self published but went on to become huge international bestsellers such as THE SHACK and THE CELESTINE PROPHECY. If it could happen to those authors, it could happen to him.

But the bottom line is that when a writer turns to self publishing, it’s usually out of desperation.  He’s impatient and misguided, but mostly desperate. These are not the qualities of a successful author. And in most cases, the result will be a disappointed writer with a garage full of boxes of books no one wants. Here are some reasons why.

  • Self publishing comes with a stigma, deserved or not, that the author could not get published in the traditional manner and therefore the book probably sucks. Self publishing usually means weak, unsalable writing. Some people call these type of publishers vanity press because they prey on the vanity of the writer.
  • One of the mainstays of promoting sales is to get your book reviewed by publications such as newspapers and magazines. A self-published book has virtually no chance of being reviewed by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus, the New York Times book review, USA Today, and similar publications.
  • You will not get your self-published book into national distribution channels, and therefore booksellers will not be able to order it.
  • Booksellers must have the option of returning unsold copies of a book for credit. That is normally not an option with subsidy publishing.
  • Pricing is almost always higher with self-published books and cuts into the discount expected by the bookseller. This discourages them from stocking your book even on a local level.
  • The quality of production, editing, printing, and artwork is usually sub-standard. Most self-published book covers are laughable and amateurish.
  • Self publishing companies can and usually charge for just about all phases of the process including cover art, copyright registration, purchase of ISBN number, etc. Writers never pay for these or any charges with normal publishing channels.
  • Despite those rare self-publishing rags-to-riches stories, you aren’t going to sell many books. Once you get past your immediate family and circle of friends, you can expect the numbers to be in the tens, not tens of thousands. Most self-published authors sell 40-100 copies. The rest of the books will wind up in a self storage rental unit to collect dust and grow mildew.

So what are the virtues of self publishing?

The best candidate for self publishing is an author who writes a non-fiction work with limited market interest or appeal. These can include cook books created for church or school fund raising, a family history to be distributed exclusively to a particular family, local or regional historical guides, and supplemental books that accompany a live presentation or motivational program. These are usually sold on the spot at a particular event.

These type of books and others like them may very well be worth publishing, but the number of potential sales are so small and the marketing potential is so limited, that they would not be attractive to a traditional publisher.

There are other reasons to self publish, but they are almost always restricted to a small group or area of interest, and are usually works of non-fiction. Self-published novels rarely earn back the writers investment.

If you’ve written a novel and so far haven’t had any luck getting it published, don’t give up. Persistence is the key, not desperation. If it’s on the page and between the lines, it’ll rise to the top and find a real home at a real publisher. And look at how much you’ll save on self storage costs.

Any experiences out there with self publishing? Can you think of more evils or virtues?


Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Philippa Martin, Eric Stone, Tim Maleeny, Oline Cogdill, Alexandra Sokoloff, James Scott Bell, and more.


What’s Wrong with Publishing

sully So last Sunday morning as I was drinking my coffee and scanning the book review section of the Chronicle, I stumbled across this little nugget:

Chesley Sullenberger of Danville, the US Airways pilot who safely landed his jet in the Hudson River in January, has signed a $3.2 million deal with William Morrow for two books, reports thedailybeast.com. The first will be a memoir; the second a book of poetry.

I nearly spit out my coffee.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have as much respect and admiration for Captain “Sully” Sullenberger as everyone else. Safely landing a plane on the Hudson and sparing all lives? Amazing. If possible, I’d like to have him at the helm of every future flight I take.

But a 3.2 million dollar book deal?

I don’t fly planes, and have no aspirations to learn how to when I retire. Many good friends of mine have managed to spend their retirement in true luxury due to the efforts they put in with sites such as EquityRelease.co.uk to solidify their financial situation, and this may be something that I choose to do too. I think Sully has probably led a fascinating life, perhaps even one worth reading about. But let’s have a show of hands: do any of you think that William Morrow is going to be able to recoup this advance, especially considering the attention span of the average American?

Maybe. We do love heroes, and there’s a chance that if this book gets cranked out quickly and makes it to market by Christmas (which I’m guessing is their target release date), people will still consider springing for the $25 purchase price. But will enough do so to earn back that advance? Or will there be another hero on our radar by then whose story is equally compelling? (And I’m just going to throw this out there: unless there’s a whole bestselling sub-genre of airline poetry that I’m unaware of, I’m guessing they were planning on throwing 3.2 million at him for the memoir, and he asked for the poetry book as an add-on. I’m just saying.)

As the midlist slowly shrinks and more and more authors are being offered advances that amount to less than minimum wage for their efforts, discovering that the octuplets mom, or Joe the Plumber, just signed a seven-figure book deal is octupletsincredibly disheartening. I’m not saying that these people can’t write- who knows, maybe Nadya Suleman is the next Zadie Smith. But the implication is that anyone can write a book, that it requires less effort than other fields of expertise. When I meet a physicist at a cocktail party and they invariably announce that they’re planning on becoming a writer as soon as they retire, I smile and nod encouragingly, when what I actually want to say is that when I retire, I’ll be working on cold fusion. Of course many authors have a second job to support their writing career (hell, with what we get paid, we have to). And when I was a personal trainer, I drew plenty of raised eyebrows at the pronouncement that I was working on a novel. But then, no one ever offered to throw a huge advance at me in a crass attempt to cash in on my fifteen minutes of fame.

So when the publishing industry bemoans the fact that no one is buying books anymore, and that they need to lay off staff and cut expenses to keep themselves afloat, I’m increasingly unsympathetic. Perhaps they should take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves if it’s really worth spending the bulk of their energy and finances chasing the public’s tail. Maybe it’s time they got back to supporting good books by people who have devoted their lives to the craft of writing them.

Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’m off to find something that will draw me praise or scorn in the public arena, hopefully enough to raise my profile. While I’m gone, take a stab at an airline poetry haiku. Here’s mine:

Stuck in the middle seat

No food, no water, on the tarmac

Oh my God someone farted.


Detours on the way to publication

By Joe Moore

You’re writing a novel. Maybe you’ve even finished it. Congratulations. The hard part is over, right?


detour1Now comes hard part #2: getting ready to sell it to a publisher. Even before you start your search, there are some basic concepts you should research first. They can prove to be costly detours on your way to finding an agent and editor if you don’t. Having the correct information by doing your homework can make for a smoother journey to publication.

First, you need to define your audience. It’s important that you know what type of person or group will go out of their way to find and pay to read your book. What are the characteristics of your target reader such as their age, sex, education, ethnic, etc. Is there a common theme, topic or category that ties them together? And even more important, what is the size of your target audience?

For instance, if your book is a paranormal romance set in the future in which the main characters are all teenagers, is there a group that buys lots of your type of book? If not, you might need to adjust the content to appeal to a broader audience. Change the age of the characters or shift the story to present day or another time period. If your research proves that a large number of readers buy books that fall into that category, making the adjustment now could save you a boatload of frustration later.

Next, you need to define your competition. Who are you going up against? If your book falls into a specialized sub-genre dominated by a few other writers, you might have a hard time convincing a publisher that the world needs one more writer in that niche.

The opposite problem may occur if your genre is a really broad one such as cozy mysteries or romance. You’re going to have to put a unique, special spin on your book to break it out of the pack. Or accept the fact that the genre and your competition is a wide river of writers, and you only hope to jump in and go with the current. Either way, make the decision now, not later.

The next issue to consider is what makes your book different from all the others in your genre. Do your homework to determine what are the characteristics of books that your potential audience loves. This can be done online in the dozens of Internet writer and reader forums. And you can also do the research by discussing the question with librarians and books sellers. Once you know the answers, improve on what your target audience loves and avoid what they don’t.

Just keep in mind that you can’t time the market. The moment you sign a publishing contract, you’re still 12-18 months behind what’s on the new release table right now.

Another detail to consider in advance is deciding how you’ll market and promote your book. Sadly, this burden has fallen almost totally on the shoulders of the author and has virtually disappeared from the responsibilities of the publisher. Start forming an action plan including setting up a presence on the Internet in the form of a website and/or blog. Also, is there a way to tie in your theme to a particular industry? How can you promote directly to your audience? For instance, if your romance novel revolves around a sleuth who solves crimes while on tour as a golf pro, would it be advantageous to have a book promotion booth at golf industry tradeshows? If your protagonist is a computer nerd, should you be doing signings at electronics shows? How about setting up a signing at a Best Buy or CompUSA? Follow the obvious tie-ins to find your target audience.

Writing is hard work. So is determining your target audience and then promoting and marketing to them. Like any other manufacturing company, you are manufacturing a product. Doing your homework first will help avoid needless detours on the way to publication.

Are there any other speed bumps and detours that you can suggest avoiding that could cause writers to stumble while trying to get their books published?



Mark your calendar for the following guest bloggers at the Kill Zone:

Cara Black, March 8
Robert Gregory Browne, March 15
Neil Plakcy, March 22
Liz Jasper, March 29


Kindle 2.0

By Joe Moore

We’ve discussed the Kindle e-book reader a number of times here in the past. Even though its market penetration is still modest at best, I think everyone admits it is or will be a factor in the future of publishing. So with 230,000 titles (including mine) available for downloading onto the Kindle, it’s probably worth discussing again now that the product has some significant upgrades.

Recently, Amazon introduced the new Kindle 2. Some of the features in the updated version are a battery kindle2 that will last two weeks, more contrast on the black-and-white screen than the previous version, faster wi-fi connections, more memory, a smaller size that weighs less than the previous device, more storage (1,500 books rather than the current 200) and a speaker with a new function that reads the text aloud. Also, Stephen King’s new novella UR will be available exclusively on the new Kindle. The latest device costs the same as the old Kindle: $359.

The new "Text-to-Speech" audio function has raised some concern with the Authors Guild who stated that it must be considered an “audio right”, but Amazon said that customers would not confuse text reading with an audiobook. (Note: this is not the same as an audiobook where a professional talent is paid to read the story in a dramatic fashion.) I haven’t heard it but I assume it’s done using a synthesized voice perhaps like a dashboard GPS.

Another issue that was raised is the price of e-books for the Kindle: $9.99. Some publishers feel that the price is fine since they are investing in a lot in costly digital technology. And some say that e-books should not be considered of less value than the paper version and assume they would cost less.

With e-books being a very small (less than 1%) portion of book revenue, it would seem to me that having them at a reduced price would encourage buyers to venture into the e-book domain. But I’m sure that publishers don’t want to give up revenue in these hard economic conditions.

So, with the upcoming availability of the new Kindle 2, my questions are: Is it smart of Amazon to price the product the same as the older version? Or should it be priced cheaper than the 1.0 version even with the added features? And is $9.99 a fair price for e-books or should they be sold for less than say the mass market PB version of the same book?


Judging a book by its cover

By Joe Moore

My co-writer Lynn Sholes and I have been very fortunate to have our books published in different languages. Although most of the foreign covers are similar to the domestic versions, we’ve had some interesting surprises along the way. Inside the book, it’s the same story just translated into another language, but outside is a different story altogether. It’s obvious that each publisher must know and market to their unique audience. And in many cases, there’s a huge difference in the visual presentation and interpretation of our stories. Here are a few unique examples:

Our first book in the Cotten Stone series is THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (2005) with a central theme of human cloning. The original cover is on the left followed by Spanish (Latin American), Russian and Bulgarian.






The main object on the English cover is the ancient symbol of the Knights Templar whose descendents are the bad guys in the book. The Spanish version looks like a space ship taking off while the upside down skull chalice is very cool in the Russian cover. I have no idea what’s going on in the Bulgarian version.

Our second in the series is THE LAST SECRET (2006). It deals with quantum mechanics and the ability to be in two places at once. The English cover is followed by Greek, Estonian and Czech.






On the English cover is the emblem of the Venatori, the secret intelligence gathering arm of the Vatican and the oldest spy organization in the world. On the Greek version are a lot of sinister looking people standing around in front of the Venatori shield. Not sure what they’re doing but it appears serious. The Estonian cover is kind of vague, and the symbol on the Czech cover looks Aztec or Mayan but your guess is as good as mine as to what it means.

Number three is THE HADES PROJECT (2007) about a plot to use a quantum computer to wreak havoc on the world’s infrastructure. The domestic cover is followed by the Lithuanian, Bulgarian and Slovakian versions.






The symbol on the English cover is a pentagram because there’s a lot of devilish stuff going on inside. I think the Lithuanian cover is just plain weird like a strange Southwestern fire god, while the Bulgarian is spooky, and the Slovakian looks conservative and regal. Not sure why there’s a compass in the picture.

Number four is THE 731 LEGACY (2008), a scary story about state-sponsored terrorism and the reassembling of an ancient retrovirus that is carried in all human DNA. Here’s the English cover followed by Greek and Dutch (a bestseller in the Netherlands).





The domestic cover shows a modified Japanese war flag since Unit 731 was a WWII Japanese organization that performed terrible atrocities against their enemies. The Greek cover looks like "Stairway to Heaven" and the Dutch publisher decided to change the title to THE KYOTO VIRUS, although they did keep the Japanese flag in the background.

So can we judge a book by its cover? Each publisher must understand their market and audience, and know what kind of visual impression is needed to make a customer pick up a book. I like all the versions of our covers for different reasons and I think it’s really interesting to see how our stories are interpreted in various languages and cultures with the cover art. But most of all, I really like that Russian skull chalice.

If you’ve had foreign language versions of your books published, was the art work similar to your domestic version or did the artist take off into La-La-Land? What was your reaction when you saw the covers?


It’s a Vision Thing

I stumbled across a few interesting articles this week, one in Time Magazine that asked, “What’s the Matter with Publishing?” and another on Shelf Awareness that offered a glimpse of Harper Collins Studio, a new division of the parent company. They serve as interesting counterparts to each other.books

Starting with the Time Magazine piece, I was surprised to learn that literary reading by adults has actually increased 3.5% since 2002, the first such jump in almost a quarter century. So, they postulate, the audience isn’t the problem. The trouble lies in the antiquated business model publishers have been following, which dates back to the Depression. Something like 40% of the books printed today are eventually pulped, which is not only environmentally criminal, but horribly costly for both publishers and stores. And an author who doesn’t sell through a certain percentage of their print run, in the age of computerized ordering systems, either must change their name or hope their publisher offers them another chance. And sadly, the latter doesn’t happen often. Bottom line is this is a business, dictated by numbers. No matter that the publisher printed far more copies of the book than you (or they) could hope to sell, especially if they didn’t back up that print run with marketing, which is generally the case. Authors have no say in how many copies of their book will be printed, making it a frequent topic of hushed conversations at conferences. Did you hear that John Doe had over 100,000 printed and barely sold 10,000? Or that Jane’s publisher printed so few copies she couldn’t get in any of the big box stores?

Actual print runs are a closely guarded secret, I haven’t encountered many authors willing to reveal their numbers. But we all live and die by those percentages. If you sell 5,000 copies of your debut, and your print run was 10,000, you’re in pretty good shape. Conversely, if your print run was 100,000, and you sold 20,000, good luck getting that next contract. It’s madness.

Which is what makes the Harper Studio model so intriguing. No more returns. And no big bidding: they cap their advances at $100,000 (although most Kindleauthors will probably get far less up front). What they do offer is more “creative” marketing assistance and higher royalty percentages (a 50/50 split-wow). And my favorite part: they’ve got a plan to encourage buyers to purchase ebook and audio formats of the same book for only a few extra dollars. Wherein lies the genius, in my opinion. Finally, a publisher that sees opportunity in the ebook format, and not just a threat. I love my Kindle, but it’s hardly ideal for the beach or baths. So how perfect would it be if I could start reading a book on my Kindle while waiting for a train, then continue reading at home in the tub that night, then listen to the conclusion in my car the next day? All for around what I would have paid for the hardcover version alone.

It’s an intriguing idea. I’m curious to see how it turns out. So far Harper Studio is apparently focusing on nonfiction, but if the model works, who knows? Maybe they’ll expand to fiction titles. Maybe more publishers will stick their toes in the water. In truth, anything would be better than how it is now, at least from the author’s point of view. In my experience you’re left with very little input into the production process and even less assistance on the sales and marketing end. It’s sort of the business equivalent of tossing a bird from the nest to see if they’ll fly, and sadly most authors end up plummeting to earth, their dream over before it even really began. And that is truly a shame. So I’m all for trying something new, adapting to the changing world and making sure that people continue to love and read stories. Because in the end, isn’t that what matters?


Hard times for publishers

By Joe Moore

In her post yesterday, my friend Kathryn Lilley asked, "I’m also wondering how the book publishing business is going to survive in general?"

Like so many other segments of American business, publishing is hurting from the economic downturn. Publishing houses are downsizing, merging, laying off employees, and in some cases, temporarily halting the acquisition of new titles. Assuming that a congressional bailout is not in the cards, are there any other ways publishers can take action to save money and stay in business? Here are a few suggestions I think could help.

During the Great Depression, Simon & Schuster was the first publisher to offer booksellers the privilege of returning unsold copies for credit. The idea was to allow bookstores to take chances on new titles and help get unknown authors onto the selves. The practice has been in place ever since. With another possible depression on the horizon, maybe it’s time to change that practice. What if publishers offered stores incentives not to return books? Or eliminated the practice altogether? It would greatly reduce cost on both ends; the house could cut down on the costs of handling returns while the bookstore could take advantage of deeper discounts and rebates to increase their margins. Just because that’s always the way it’s been done, doesn’t mean it’s still the right way.

depression1 How about eliminating ARCs? Rather than facing the small-run, high printing costs of advance copies, put the galleys online and send an email to the reviewers with a private link to download a PDF to their computers. Even better, give the reviewers an ebook reader like the Amazon Kindle and let qualified advance readers download and read as many galleys as they want for free. You only have to give them one reader but it would be good for hundreds or thousands of downloads. It’s a cheap, green solution to the high cost of printing ARCs.

And to attract more readership cheaply, what about publishers using inexpensive social networking to market titles to increase their market share? Set up Facebook or MySpace pages with links to sample chapters of new titles and catalogs along with author interviews and book trailers using YouTube-style videos. Include the ability to click to purchase ebook or order a print version on the spot.

The bailout isn’t coming, but tweaking the publisher’s marketing and selling business model could reap results right away. Any other ideas out there to help publishers survive the hard times?


Gender Bias

There was an interesting article in the Guardian this week asking whether or not young female writers are operating at a deficit when itmorrison comes to major literary awards. Not due to any shortcomings on their part, but because (as the author posits) "the literary industry as a whole – agents, editors, booksellers and critics – currently offer disproportionate encouragement to aspiring male writers to produce the kind of serious-minded, bookish work that gets on shortlists, compared to young female writers." The argument being that for whatever reason, publishers prefer discovering the next Norman Mailer to finding another Toni Morrison.

I’m not entirely certain I agree with this, but it’s an interesting piece, particularly since it was written by a young male author. I also did a quick head count, and during the past two decades only five women have won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Five mailerwomen won the Man Booker Prize. Only with the Pulitzer did women even approach parity, with eight out of twenty taking home the prize.

This got me thinking about gender bias in our own  neck of the woods. When my agent first called to sign me, she was noticeably taken aback. Toward the middle of our conversation she confessed that after reading THE TUNNELS, she’d thought I was a man (though the name "Michelle" was pretty straightforward, in my opinion). Since the subject matter was so dark, she felt it might appeal to more male readers than female ones. She recommended that I consider adopting a pseudonym, or shortening my name to just the initials (sadly, that would leave me "M.A.Gagnon," which doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, and sounds like something the Mayo Clinic might have a specialized treatment for).

In the end, I opted to stick with my full name. Partly because I didn’t entirely believe that gender bias exists, partly because I’m just obstinate that way. But I do wonder. When I meet people at conferences who have read my books, the universal exclamation is, "but you seem like such a sweet girl." I suspect that very few male authors are referred to as "sweet" when they meet their fans, or hear that they seem "too happy to write these sorts of books."nobel

Impossible to say whether or not it affects my sales. Occasionally this question rears its head on one of the mystery discussion groups, and everyone gets up in arms. Most people declare that they will happily read any book regardless of who wrote it. But does that apply to the world at large? Especially since I don’t write cozies (which are marketed more toward women), but thrillers, is my name working against me?

Where do you stand? Will you read anything by anyone? Or does gender bias sneak into your decision-making process, subconsciously or otherwise?


What I’m Thankful For (and a pumpkin cheesecake recipe)

Of course, there’s the usual: my health, my family and friends, the fact that I didn’t have to board a plane today and brave the madding crowd. I’ll be enjoying my turkey right here in (relatively) warm and sunny California, thank you very much.

pumpkin But this year, I do have a little something extra to be thankful for: my new two book contract. Because as many of my writing friends have recently discovered, this is a tough, tough environment for book sales. I share writing space with nine other authors. Two of them had contracts fall through in the past few months. Two others have manuscripts that their agents think would have gone into a bidding war earlier in the year: but as of right now, they haven’t had a single offer.

With the news that Houghton Mifflin has stopped acquiring manuscripts for the time being, many writers’ worst fears are confirmed. Forget the automakers: how are writers going to survive the economic downturn? Is it time for us to hand in our private jets, God forbid? If my contract had been negotiated after the crash, I suspect my publisher would never have offered the amount we settled on. In this industry, so much comes down to timing.

Of course, it’s not as though much happens between Thanksgiving and New Year’s in the publishing industry anyway. Much as they are loathe to adjitneymit it, it’s the only American profession that seems to mirror the European vacation calendar. Most agents won’t even bother trying to shop a manuscript this time of year. And August: fuggedaboutit. The Da Vinci Code could land in an editor’s lap and they’d toss it aside while rushing off to catch the jitney to the Hamptons. Mind you, I’m all for that. Especially since most editors spend their days in meetings and their nights and weekend working on manuscripts. It’s definitely not a job you go into for the money, by and large. So time off is well-deserved.

But parissince the lack of acquisitions at this time of year is largely a given, why did Houghton Mifflin even bother making the announcement? Their "temporary freeze" is a bad sign. Will it last through January, or longer? Will it spread to other houses? Does this mean that the publishing industry is throwing in the proverbial towel, and will eventually only publish a handful of titles every year about vampire detectives with difficult (but beloved) dogs who reveal religious conspiracies while recording their downward spiral into drug addiction followed by their inevitable redemption? Or, God forbid, Paris Hilton’s latest musings on hair, boys, and other national security issues? Because let’s all just admit that Paris Hilton can walk into pretty much any publishing house and get a seven figure deal before you can say "Salman Rushdie."

The irony here is that all things considered, books are cheap entertainment. And historically, entertainment has done well during economic bulldogdownturns, when people need to take their minds off their troubles. Little known fact: more books sold during the Great Depression than in the period immediately before and after. Sure, in the new millennium we have many other distractions available to us, from television to video games to bulldogs on skateboards. But what if the publishing industry banded together and advertised reading as the ultimate inexpensive pastime? Something along the lines of the dairy industry’s "Got Milk" ad campaign? Who knows, it might make a difference. And hoping to shore up the industry by releasing fewer and fewer titles doesn’t seem like the best option.

Anyway, that’s my thought for the day. And I’m hoping that by the spring of 2010, when my renewal comes up, the economy will have recovered somewhat. Until then, I’m honing my vampire knowledge base.

As promised, my killer (no pun intended) Pumpkin/Ginger Cheesecake recipe, in case you’re in charge of dessert:


  • 1 gingersnap crumb crust baked and cooled
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup canned solid-pack pumpkin (from a 15-ounces can)


Make the gingersnap crumb crust:

  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus additional for greasing
  • 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs (10 graham crackers or 24 small gingersnaps; about 6 oz)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • Special equipment: a 9- to 9 1/2-inch pie plate (4-cup capacity)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter pie plate.

Stir together all ingredients in a bowl and press evenly on bottom and up side of pie plate. Bake until crisp, 12 to 15 minutes, then cool on a rack to room temperature, about 45 minutes.

Cook’s notes: • To make cookie crumbs, break up crackers or cookies into small pieces, then pulse in a food processor until finely ground. • For pumpkin ginger cheesecake pie, use 4 (not 5) tablespoons melted butter plus additional for greasing.

Then, for the cheesecake part:

Keep oven rack in middle position set at 350°F.

Pulse sugar and ginger in a food processor until ginger is finely chopped, then add cream cheese and pulse until smooth. Add eggs, milk, flour, nutmeg, and salt and pulse until just combined.

Reserve 2/3 cup cream cheese mixture in a glass measure. Whisk together remaining 1 1/3 cups cream cheese mixture and pumpkin in a large bowl until combined.

Pour pumpkin mixture into gingersnap crumb crust. Stir reserved cream cheese mixture (in glass measure) and drizzle decoratively over top of pumpkin mixture, then, if desired, swirl with back of a spoon. Put pie on a baking sheet and bake until center is just set, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer to a rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, then chill, loosely covered with foil, at least 4 hours. If necessary, very gently blot any moisture from surface with paper towels before serving.

They’ll love it, trust me.