Today in books and publishing: DFW's greetings from Los Angeles; Amazon takes down author reviews; kids' books sales rise; critics pan Pippa's book.
David Foster Wallace corresponded using tacky postcards. Over at Guernica, Frank Cassese writes about the time he decided to send a letter to his literary hero, requesting that he take a look at the manuscript of his second novel, which he'd been shopping to agents and publishers to no avail. Wallace responded, politely declining to read the novel. The message itself wasn't very strange, but the medium was. Instead of using an envelope, he wrote back on a postcard—a really tacky one too, depicting Dodger Stadium lying squat under blocky, shadow-casting red letters screaming LOS ANGELES. (Trust me, it's worth clicking through to see this artifact.) "Why did he choose to send me a postcard?" Cassese wonders. "Simply because it’s a few cents cheaper than mailing a letter in an envelope? Was it just sitting around when he was looking for something to write on? Does he buy stacks of these postcards for the express purpose of responding to random fans? And worse, does he write this same prepared response to every letter?" Cassese's frustration ebbed over time, and he eventually forgot all about the rejection. Until Wallace's suicide, which forced him to take a second look at the postcard, which he now finds encouraging, in a sad kind of way. "I don’t look at it often, but when I hold it between my fingers and read that small scrupulous print, I experience a sad reassurance in both the value and ultimate futility of writing," he writes. "And yet above all it encourages me to go on, to continue to create." [Guernica]
Amazon axes author reviews. Remember that sock-puppeting scandal that blew up a while back? The one where authors were caught faking Amazon accounts to pan their competitors' books and praise their own? Amazon is trying to keep that in check, and taking a rather scorched earth approach. Steve Weddle, the author of a few crime fiction titles listed on Amazon, found out about their new policy the hard way. He kept trying to upload his (positive) review of Chad Rohrbacher's Karma Backlash, only to have it taken down. When he reached out to Amazon for an explanation, they replied, "We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product." Weddle remains confused:
I have zero financial interest in the book. I mean, the author is a friend of mine, despite his having brought cans of gas-station Tecate into my house. I would like for him to be happy. I would like for him to have many people read his book. I like the book. I hope it does well. But I make no money from the book.
Author Joe Konrath and many of his friends have run into the same problem. Amazon certainly needed to take a more proactive approach with their review section, addressing the shenanigans some authors used to get away with, but it doesn't seem they've yet figured out the right solution. [Do Some Damage]
Kids' books sold briskly in recent months. The Association of American Publishers reports that sales of hardcover children's and young adult books jumped significantly this past July, climbing almost 30 percent compared to the same month in 2011. Revenue reached $424.7 million in the children and Y.A. hardcover category. Adult titles didn't fare as well, with hardcover fiction and nonfiction dropping slightly (0.7 percent) over the same period. Digital sales continue to be where growth is concentrated the most, with children's e-books selling 222 percent more this year, and adult titles growing by 37 percent. [GalleyCat]
Critics don't want to Celebrate with Pippa. Poor Pippa Middleton. So many critics are allocating their inches to make fun of her party planning guide Celebrate. Their general line of criticism is that Pippa's pointers are all pretty obvious. Like, for instance, this nugget of entertaining wisdom for those who own waterfront property: "If you live near the sea, a fun idea could be a trip to the beach with seaside activities, such as building sandcastles." Of course these lines have inspired a parody Twitter account, @PippaTips. After going through a litany of these unhelpful hints, The Telegraph's Christopher Howse asks, "What is the point of this thick, colourful book, except as a sort of cultural tea bag for the American market? Who will rely on its recipes for cooking a turkey, a Victoria sandwich or a leg of lamb?" The Week's Nigel Horne thinks a party planned from the pages of Celebrate would be "hellishly dull." The New York Post's Carla Spartos is merciless, writing that Pippa "comes off as more down-market Sandra Lee than upscale perfectionist Martha Stewart." Home-Ec burn! [The Telegraph]