Hello lovely readers! Welcome to another weekly installment of Book Beat, brought to you by your Bookmarked Editor Paige. Considering Thanksgiving lulled the U.S. into a massive food-induced coma last week, you’d think the book world would be super chill and not up to any mischief. Truly, I thought I’d had a calm week of book news to share with y’all. But drama never sleeps, lovely readers.
The biggest issue around town concerns A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library, and if you didn’t know what it was before, I envy your innocence. The hailstorm around this book has been so bad that WWAC is talking about it twice this week! But, I offer some respite as well. There’s some good news about your favorite local bookstores, and helpful insights into what happens when a publisher closes. Plus, as always, a list of this week’s newest releases. Maybe you’ll find something good for the upcoming holiday season!
I Still Cannot Believe A Suicide Bomber Sits in the Library Was A Thing
So, yeah. Jack Gantos, Dave McKean, and Abrams Books were really going to publish this book.
Abrams (publisher) withdraws A SUICIDE BOMBER SITS IN THE LIBRARY. pic.twitter.com/rCkOhEUpbL
— Debbie Reese (tribally enrolled, Nambé Pueblo) (@debreese) November 23, 2018
The comic book industry has already discussed this ill-advised graphic novel at length. But this book has become such a hot-button topic in the publishing industry-at-large that I’m quickly repeating the coverage. Because, boy, has Book Twitter been tearing this one to shreds.
The community has been calling out everything from the book’s sudden demographic change (note it was initially to be released under Abrams Kids) to the authors’ insistence that readers need to read the book before judging it. This latter argument has sparked outrage especially among authors and readers of color. These authors routinely face inaccurate accusations about their books due to their focus on marginalized identities and the injustices of a racist society. Meanwhile, readers of color have a Pandora’s box choice when it comes to books by white authors. Either they read a book and are harmed by its racist stereotypes, or they don’t read the book and are considered intolerant for (often accurately) judging a book by its cover. And yet a large segment of the publishing industry, from executives to writers, do not view these hardships faced by people of color in the industry as a problem.
Can we talk about the argument from gatekeepers that a book should be read to be judged?
This is an insistence that is bolstered by privilege and a determination to keep up the premises of white supremacy.
— Sailor Mer(Kaye)ry (@gildedspine) November 23, 2018
Along with the social media backlash, several book-related communities quickly devised ways to protest the release of this book. For example, the Asian Authors Alliance drafted an open letter to Abrams about the book’s harmful message to readers. However, as noted above, Abrams was quick to cancel this book’s publication and issue a statement. While the end result of the ordeal still feels rather unsatisfactory, it is a clear indication of two important things. One: the need for #ownvoices stories by authors of color. And two: the need for more people of color working within the publishing industry. It’s getting a little ridiculous.
Indy Bookstores Make A Comeback
Something that should remain in the publishing industry are independent bookstores, though they’ve struggled to stay in business. According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), as reported by CBS News, the number of independent bookstores fell by 40% between the 1990s and 2009. With fierce competition from Amazon and chains like Barnes & Noble, plus rising rents, our communities have definitely felt the strain. But the ABA is now reporting that indy bookstores are slowly but surely recovering from previous closures. More stores are opening up every year to make up for the industry losses, and this year alone sales are up 5% from previous years.
What’s the cause behind this fantastic turn of events? Oren Teicher, the CEO of ABA, theorizes it’s a strong localism movement that is driving consumers to their neighborhood bookstores. “[They’re] not trying to compete with online retailers. [They’re] trying to compete on what [they] do best.” And what they do best is foster a sense of community with their clients through curated content, local events, and passionate and knowledgeable employees. It’s the kind of experience even the most well-stocked retailer chain can’t quite achieve. So here’s to our independent bookstores. May your presence continue to loom large and quirky in our reading lives.
What Happens When A Publisher Closes?
Here’s an interesting article for all you published and hopeful authors out there. Compared to difficulties of self-publishing, working with a publishing house to release your novel to the world almost feels like a safe bet. And depending on the house in question, it definitely can be a relatively painless experience. But there are other issues you might face with this route, especially if you work with a smaller house. The most common—and downright heartbreaking—is when that house suddenly closes, seemingly taking your books and career with it.
Forbes discusses this phenomenon through the specific situation of Midnight Ink, Llewellyn Worldwide’s crime fiction imprint, which closed this past October. In that case, multiple authors found out about the closing the day of the public announcement. Even though scheduled releases will continue into next year, these authors are now scrambling to retain the rights to their work.
According to Michelle Richter, a literary agent for Fuse Literary, the answer is not as simple as one would hope. “[Ownership rights] depend on whether the entire company is closing, or just select imprints, and on the reasons behind it.” If the entire house is closing due to bankruptcy or insolvency, for example, their contracts may call for the house’s immediate termination of rights. However, if just an imprint is closing, the house could transfer rights to another imprint in the company. It could even hold publisher rights for as long as the book is being published.
The only way to prevent the worst case scenarios here seems to be proactiveness. This means checking one’s contract, talking to their agent, and gathering as much information as possible if a closing seems imminent. Authors whose work will still be released under the closing publisher also needs to be continue promoting their work. Having a support group of peers within the house or imprint can help too when things get a little dubious. Otherwise? Like any business, you just have to ride the tides and hope for the best.
Out This Week
Come With Me by Helen Schulman
Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny
The Adults by Caroline Hulse
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin