Saturday, August 25, 2012

Comments on James Plunkett's Strumpet City

I’ve recently read three substantial novels dealing with strikes or similar struggles: Frank Norris’ The Octopus, Zola’s Germinal, and now James Plunkett's  Strumpet City. Strumpet City portrays the lives of several characters affected by labor unrest culminating in a protracted and devastating lockout. The characters are fictional, but the story is based closely on events between the years 1904 and 1914 in Dublin. The characters range from the destitute to the upper-middle-class but they concentrate on the working poor.  There's a lot of good writing, vivid and often touching evocation of the city in strife. An important character starves to death. The novel is constructed like the currently fashionable genre of linked short stories. That is, sections of two to six pages follow a character in third person narrative. Each section tends to be artfully constructed with a beginning, middle, and end and a feeling of completion or even illumination at the last. The overall structure is not so good — the book has a feeling of being less than the sum of its parts. Important characters appear two thirds of the way through, and the end rather fritters away. The characters are not stereotypes exactly, but they're not richly endowed with inner life or individuality. You come away with a sense of suffering imposed by capitalist exploitation, and of the painful struggle that has brought us somewhat improved conditions today. The book has a humanity: the author has something good to show about every character and frequently shows how decent human beings can be to one another when you might not expect it. The most interesting characters are two men who have painfully mixed feelings in the class struggle. One is a priest (The official church is very much opposed to the labor movement.) who feels keenly the suffering of his parishioners and is destroyed by his helplessness to act upon his feelings and the unfairness of their treatment. The other is a member of the coupon-clipping class who gradually moves over to the side of the workers.

It is interesting to compare this novel to Ulysses, which takes place in 1904. Something like one third of the population of Dublin was living in dire poverty at that time, but you would never know it from Ulysses, which is mercilessly middle-class. Characters in Ulysses are hard up for money, but it is in a middle-class way, not the edge of starvation. Both novels celebrate the Dublin musical scene. Several characters are deeply involved in playing music, and playing music together in households. Going to light operas and similar performances is constantly in the background. The Lord Mayor of Dublin who was also one of Molly's lovers is mentioned in this book. The time when I thought most often of Joyce was in the sections devoted to any one of the three priests that are important in Strumpet City. Reading their conversations and their concerns about Catholic doctrine and their personal status, I felt I could have been reading Joyce.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How Bots Seized Control of My Pricing Strategy

More on the unexpected perils of self-publishing:
…a delightful futuristic absurdity: a computer program, pretending to be human, hawking a book about computers pretending to be human, while other computer programs pretend to have used copies of it. A book that was never actually written, much less printed and read.
The weird thing about all this frenzied bot activity is that in the end, it doesn't seem to have affected the author's profit margin.

How Bots Seized Control of My Pricing Strategy

Also check out this absurdity: Amazon’s $23,698,655.93 book about flies

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Self-Publishing Stats & Pitfalls

Here is something every potential self-publisher needs to understand.  

Ins and Outs of Publishing Your Book via the Web -

While the potential for sales and readership is unlimited, the reality for most self-published authors is very modest: “most self-published books sell fewer than 100 or 150 copies, many authors and self-publishing company executives say” — and from what we hear from many who've tried it, even those numbers are optimistic. And that's because “The biggest thing you have against you in trying to sell your book is that people don’t know about it,” as David Carnoy, an executive editor of, puts it.

But it doesn't have to be that way. And that is where the collective at Thoth Books comes in:
  • First, with an editorial guarantee that not only the author and his/her closest friends think it's pretty good, but that some pretty serious, well-established editors have approved this book and decided that it is ready for publication. Only books that have passed our editorial process will be qualified to bear the Thoth Books imprint.
  • Secondly, by using our website and other network presence to make the book better known.
From there, the author's sales and readership will depend on recommendations by readers and any reviews that appear — that is, the book will sell itself, once people know it exists (and that it has been selected and recommended by our editors).  How many buyers/readers? We can't say, but if it's a good book, we'll be sure to give it its best shot.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One) -

This is surely more than you thought you wanted to know about John Baskerville, but amazing and intriguing about the effects of his fonts. Why is a comparison of credulity in the face of fonts of interest to us at Thoth Books? Because, since today's authors can choose their typface, we had better understand the possible consequences of our choices.

Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One) -

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

To market with or without a publisher?

Mike Shatzkin follows publishing trends more carefully, cautiously and knowledgeably than anybody else we know. Here's a snippet of a recent blog essay:
How effectively social network marketing can replace display in stores and reviews in newspapers is an open question that won’t really be answered for a long time. The social networks are growing and there are already more possible outlets to work (Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, YouTube, Pinterest, GoodReads, and the comments section of every relevant blog are just the starting point) than most authors would have time to handle effectively (even assuming they have the skills and interest).
Just because the author does a lot of marketing doesn't mean the publisher can't help - The Shatzkin Files

For any independent author, it's worth reading the whole discussion, and follow his links if you're really concerned with hearing all sides of the issue.

What we aim to do for marketing here at Thoth Books is to create one more social-network platform for our authors, in addition to the author's own postings in Facebook, Goodreads (which seems especially effective for authors) and other sites. Any book with the Thoth imprint will be displayed on our website and announced in this blog (with any links to the author's other works that he or she chooses). And we'll do what we can to get reviews. Will that make up for our absence from brick-and-mortar bookstores? Or will more of those stores begin to carry POD (publish-on-demand) books from small imprints? Even Mike Shatzkin doesn't know for sure. But all our efforts combined will certainly give the marketing a boost.