Favorite Publishers: Library of America

I don’t know how it works for you guys, but over the past few years I have come to have a number of favorite publishers, companies that consistently publish the kinds of books that appeal to my reading tastes.  And I mean consistently.  It’s not that they never miss, but they hit my sweet spot way more times than other publishers can even dream of hitting it.  Three publishers that immediately come to mind for me are Henry Holt, Soho Press, and the Library of America.

These guys publish very different books, so I know to go to Henry Holt when I’m looking for a new literary novel, to Soho when I want a crime thriller or something similar, and to Library of America when I want to revisit the  writing that helped shape this country into what it is today.

I suppose that, if pressed, I would have to say that Library of America is the publisher I most admire both because of the quality of their books and the fact that they are a non-profit publisher on a distinct mission.  I’ll let the LOA describe itself (taken from their website):

Library of America, a nonprofit organization, publishes, preserves, and celebrates America’s greatest writing and offers resources for readers to explore this rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Founded in 1979, the nonprofit organization was created with a unique and unprecedented goal: to curate and publish authoritative new editions of America’s best writing, including acknowledged classics, neglected masterpieces, and historically significant documents and texts.

Now widely recognized as the definitive collection of American writing, Library of America volumes encompass all periods and genres and showcase the vitality and variety of America’s literary legacy.


The LOA books are on the second, third and fourth shelves in this bad photo I just took

I started collecting Library of America books sometime in the mid-nineties and right now I have 87 of their books on my shelves.  And what great books they are.  The books are all of the highest production quality with beautiful binding jobs and acid free paper, ensuring that they can be passed down from generation to generation for a long, long time.  Personally, I remove their dust jackets and shelve them that way because I think the colors of the cloth boards are so classic themselves that they bring a touch of class to any bookshelf they grace.

I plan to feature my favorite Library of America books here from time to time, but today just wanted to sort of set the stage for what is to come.  I think you’ll be surprised by the great variety of authors, eras, styles, and genres being forever preserved by the LOA people.  My 87 volumes is maybe one-third of what they have published since 1979, and I plan to add to my collection on a regular basis for (I hope) many years to come.

Hong Kong Book Store Employees Are Disappearing

It appears that a Hong Kong publisher/bookstore owner is learning the hard way that it is not at all smart to publish books about the sex lives of Chinese leaders. According to Quartz.com, the still unpublished manuscript about Xi Jinping’s “six women” is directly linked to the disappearance of five men connected to the bookstore:

It is unclear whether the book alleges Xi had an extramarital affair. As part of his crackdown on corruption since he took office in 2012, Xi has led an anti-corruption campaign that made adultery grounds for banishment from the Communist Party. This past October, those rules were changed to forbid “improper sexual relationships with others,” a tweak that state-run news agency Xinhua said makes “the regulation stricter.”


Last week’s disappearance of Lee Bo, an employee at the Causeway Bay Bookstore, has brought international attention to mysterious case of the five missing men. Hong Kong democratic politicians including Ho believe they have been abducted by mainland Chinese security officials. 


China’s state-backed tabloid Global Times said in an editorial this week that the bookstore sells books that contain “maliciously fabricated content,” which enter the mainland, become the source of political rumors and “have caused some evil influence to some extent.” A Chinese-language version of the same editorial also accuses the bookstore of harming the “harmony and stability” of mainland society. 

Chinese officials are playing hardball on this case of censorship taken to the extreme and is warning foreign countries to keep all opinions to themselves. Freedom of the press is not an issue in Hong Kong these days; it simply does not exist.

NIU Professor"s Claim: Children’s Books Send Message That "To Be White Is To Be Better"

At the risk of sounding like some conservative radical, I have to tell you guys that I am utterly sick of the political correctness that dominates the world in which we all live today.  Everyone is “offended” about something…and everything is bound to offend someone.  It’s a lose-lose situation for all of us.

So what set me off this afternoon?  Only this professor who is on a vendetta to prove that children’s books, taken as a genre, are RACIST.  Melanie Koss has dropped this bombshell on the world all the way from Northern Illinois University where she made her argument this way:

Seventy-five percent of human main characters (in children’s picture books) were white; blacks were protagonists in 15 percent of the books while other cultures combined for less than 6 percent of lead characters.

I’m not disputing her numbers.  What I do find interesting, however, is how closely the percentages she quotes correspond to the overall racial mix in the United States today.  Will this country cease to be “racist” only when minorities are over-represented in every aspect of life to the point that the majority becomes the new minority?  And will even that shut up the professional whiners out there?

And remember this: book publishing is a For Profit industry.  No profit, no books; it’s as simple as that.  Even the NI Newsroom (the NI stands for Northern Illinois) seems to understand that the number of minority oriented books printed will be dependent on how many of them sell and actually make a little money for the publisher:

Because publishers don’t expect big profits from diverse books, few are made available. And because few are for sale, few are sold, creating an endless supply-and-demand conundrum. “If the books aren’t out there, no one can buy them,” Koss says.

 …and Ms. Koss, if no one buys the ones that are out there, why should publishers market them in the numbers that YOU might finally approve.

It’s a PC world, and it’s beginning to remind me of the fable in which the little boy cried “Wolf!” one too many times.  I’m starting to tune out the babble now.

Classic Literature as Pulp Fiction

Pulp! The Classics, an imprint of London book publisher Oldcastle Books Group, has come up with a clever way to sell copies of classic literature that are almost guaranteed never to be read.  That’s because, you see, the books are being bought for their covers – not for what’s inside those covers.  

Some of the finest representations of classic literature are being “reimagined” as if they had been published in pulp fiction’s heyday, resulting in covers like these:

I really, really, really hope that at least a few of these are being purchased by gullible young readers who don’t recognize the titles –  because their reactions would be rather priceless, I think.

If you are interested in acquiring any of these (or others in the line), Pulp! The Classics can be contacted at this British link.

The books go for 6.99 GBP each – about $11 US.  They would make great gifts for the right person…or for yourself.

Free Previews of Future Bestsellers

Good news for fans of e-books…

Starting tomorrow, the major online booksellers (Amazon, Apple, and others) will be offering free downloads of two compilations featuring long excerpts from books that are to be published later this year.

Buzz Books 2015 Fall/Winter is said to feature new work from the likes of Geraldine Brooks, Mitch Albom, and Alice Hoffman.  In addition, YA readers will be able to download Buzz Books 2015: Young Adult Fall/Winter.  All told, the two compilations are said to include excerpts from 54 forthcoming releases of fiction and nonfiction.  

I downloaded the 2014 catalog about this time last year and really enjoyed browsing the work of a bunch of new-to-me authors.  I suspect that this kind of thing appeals largely to avid readers who are forever adding to their TBR lists.  If you’re one of those, tomorrow is the day to get your free copy.

(Tip:  Those of you with NetGalley accounts can download the compilations right now.)

LOA List: Top 10 Story of the Week Selections in 2014

The Library of America, my favorite publisher, has posted a “Story of the Week” for a long time, most of them new to me.  I’m a relatively recent convert to the art of the short story (having really only started reading them regularly in the last six or seven years), so the stories posted have served as quite an “education” for me.

Please take a look at this list of the most most popular stories posted by The Library of America folks last year…read a few of them if you want, and if you like what you see, be sure to sign up for the LOA email service that will send you a link to each of 2015’s stories as they are posted throughout the year.


(The Library of America is a nonprofit publisher dedicated to preserving the best American writing from the past and into our future.  I am a big believer in what they do and have collected 74 of their  beautiful books so far, with, I hope, many more in my future.)

The Top 10 Story of the Week Selections in 2014
1. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
James Thurber
While on a shopping trip with his wife,
Walter Mitty daydreams of exciting and heroic adventures.
2. “The First Seven Years
Bernard Malamud
Feld, a shoemaker living in New York City,
seeks a suitable husband for his daughter.
3. “The Ice Palace
F. Scott Fitzgerald
A young woman, hoping to escape the sleepy town of Tarleton, Georgia,
travels north to visit the home of her fiancé.
4. “Playing Courier
Mark Twain
The narrator assumes the responsibilities of tour guide for an “expedition”
through Europe—with disastrous results.
5. “No Room in the Cemetery
[reprinted from the Baltimore Afro-American]

In 1966 officials in Wetumpka, Alabama, refused to permit
the burial of the city’s first Vietnam War casualty in a
segregated cemetery—except in the paupers section.
6. “You Can’t Tell a Man by the Song He Sings
Philip Roth
The narrator recalls the high school class in which he met Albie Pelagutti,
recently released from a reformatory, who had decided “to go straight.”
7. “The Story of an Hour
Kate Chopin
Louise Mallard learns that her husband was one of the casualties
in a horrible railroad disaster.
8. “Dear sister I must leave this house”
Dolley Madison
The First Lady and her staff evacuate the White House
as British troops storm the city.
9. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
Ambrose Bierce
A Confederate sympathizer, condemned to die, recalls the encounter
that set him on the path to the gallows.
10. “Tyrants of the Shop
Fanny Fern
America’s first woman newspaper columnist
(and, by the 1850s, the highest paid of any columnist)
describes how some “shop-girls” are treated by their employers.

Enhancing the E-Book Experience: Long Way to Go

Publishers are actually doing a little better job these days when it comes to the “covers” they attach to their e-books, but seeing a cheesy, cheap looking cover on an e-book is still one of my biggest turnoffs.  

So let’s take it one step further, publishers because, let’s face it, reading an e-book is not nearly the experience that reading a physical book is.  There’s just too much about physical books that cannot be replicated.  But…there are a couple of things you can do easily and cheaply to bring the two experiences a little bit closer to being the same:

  • Emphasize the cover art by taking as much care with it as you do with your physical book covers – front AND back.  Have the cover appear at logical break points in the e-book presentation, be it at the beginning of chapters or, at least, before already-designated section breaks.  Those books that are written to be presented in multiple parts now generally use nothing to emphasize the section breaks other than two or three blank pages.
  • Take advantage of chapter breaks, especially in books that don’t have more than a dozen or so chapters.  Show the cover between chapters or, at the very least, have a separate page between chapters that show the chapter number – and maybe put the cover there every three chapters, or so.

“When reading a book in print, we interact with the cover every time we open and close the book – we see it all the time, it reinforces our perception of the book in our minds,” Pelican book designer Matt Young told Creative Review. “Whereas when reading an ebook, the cover often has a much smaller role to play – reduced to a thumbnail, and sometimes never seen again once the book has been purchased. With Pelican, the cover is echoed throughout the entire book: each chapter begins with a full-page/full-screen chapter opener, acting as an important visual signpost and echoing the cover, reinforcing the brand and the series style.”

This is a great marketing tool that should create some brand consciousness for e-books, Pelican.  And here’s hoping that other publishers take your ideas and run with them.  

U.S. Book Sales Up 5.7% Over 2013

According to figures just released by the Association of American Publishers, book sales are doing surprisingly well these days, thank you.  ( I say “surprisingly” because of all the doom and gloom associated with most all of the recent projections having anything to do with publishing.)

Granted, the numbers are only through August 2014 sales, but a comparison with the same eight months in 2013 shows book sales having grown by almost 6% year over year.  Some genres, and some formats, are doing better than others, of course, and that’s what makes the numbers interesting.

As measured in sales dollars (total sales of $10.7 billion):

  • Children’s / YA e-books             Up 56.5%
  • Adult e-books                            Down 0.1%
  • Children’s / YA board books      Up 47.1%
  • Children’s / YA paperbacks       Up 21.2%
  • Children’s / YA hardcovers        Up 18.3%
  • Adult paperbacks                      Down 0.7%
  • Adult hardcovers                       Down 7.2%
  • Mass Market                             Down 3.4%
  • University press hardcovers     Down 3.5%
  • University press paperbacks    Down 4.7%
  • University press e-books          Up 14.0%
  • Physical audiobooks                 Down 13.4%
  • Downloaded audiobooks          Up 27.7%
I suppose the best news is that, while adults may be buying fewer books for themselves, they have increased what they are spending on books for their children at a healthy clip.  As you can see from the numbers, all of the “Down” categories are in adult books – and all of the children’s categories are “Up.”

I find interesting, too, the obvious trend away from purchasing physical audio books to downloading them.  And, in the category of “very good news,” the percentage gain on downloaded audio is more than twice the amount lost on physical sales of the books.

(For those who really enjoy number-crunching: combined sales of  “children’s” categories were $1.08 billion, leaving $9.62 billion for all other categories.  Of this $9.62 billion, $0.014 billion is for audiobook sales and $0.007 billion for University Press sales.  So, despite being a mix of good news and bad news, the takeaway here is that Total Sales are up almost 6%.  And that’s a good thing.

E-Books and Backlists

Backlist Books (Massillon, Ohio)

I’ve made it pretty obvious that, for the most part, I am not a big fan of e-books.  My biggest gripe about them involves the outrageous ownership restrictions placed on e-books by major publishers, including the ridiculous use-restrictions placed on the world’s public libraries.  And then, of course, I find reading an e-book to be an immensely inferior experience to reading a printed book…not even close.  But that is old news here on Book Chase.

There is, however, one use of e-books for which I enthusiastically applaud e-book publishers – publishing from backlists.  Thousands and thousands of wonderful books, many of which probably never saw even close to 10,000 printed copies, disappear every year.  Unless a reader stumbles upon them in used-book bookstores or during eBay searches, they remain dead to the world.  Not every great book is written by an established, or commercially popular, author.  Generally, the best books are buried by enormous piles of  the same popular trash that covers the shelves and floors of used-book stores everywhere.  James Patterson books, most of which are worthy of little more than doorstop-duty, are everywhere.  Good books are the needles lost in the James Patterson haystack.

Most publishers are sitting on backlist goldmines if they will just wake up and mine them.  Publishers already doing so don’t seem to be doing enough to get the word out about their efforts.  Dedicated readers will jump all over the chance to discover the books they missed from the eighties, nineties, and oughts.  If – and this is a big if – publishers will price them reasonably.  After all, publisher cost will be minimal because readers will not demand major formatting changes (they will probably prefer seeing the original formatting, actually) other than to fit them to the electronic page.  Authors should be happy to accept the windfall this represents, so royalty negotiation could be relatively easy.

This can be a win-win situation in which all sides benefit.  I would love access to noir mysteries from the fifties and sixties, literary fiction from the last fifty years, and out-of-print science fiction.  The possibilities are endless.

The Guardian newspaper’s book section mentions two publishing ventures that are already moving in this direction: Bello a Macmillan imprint and the Bloomsbury Reader imprint.  I suspect there are others, hopefully some of them by American publishers, but I have yet to find them.  Holler at me, publishers…I’m listening.

I’ll buy a ton off the backlists at $3 to $5 a pop.  Let’s do it.

One More Reason I Still Don’t Buy E-Books

Unless e-book and e-music purchasers have shopped very carefully, they do not really own the vast majority of the content they have downloaded to all those e-readers and mp3 players out there.  Rather, they own a license to use the products.  Unfortunately for them, very few of the benefits of true ownership come with those licenses, and that is precisely why I refuse to spend a whole lot of money on digital content.

Now, the Wall Street Journal, via its Market Watch page, gives me one more reason not to invest any money in e-books.  The article explains just what might happen at a collector’s death to all the cash he has invested in digital content over his lifetime.  True, as the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you, but if you are not prepared ahead of time it will all be gone with the wind anyway.

Someone who owned 10,000 hardcover books and the same number of vinyl records could bequeath them to descendants, but legal experts say passing on iTunes and Kindle libraries would be much more complicated.

And one’s heirs stand to lose huge sums of money. “I find it hard to imagine a situation where a family would be OK with losing a collection of 10,000 books and songs,” says Evan Carroll, co-author of “Your Digital Afterlife.” “Legally dividing one account among several heirs would also be extremely difficult.”


According to Amazon’s terms of use, “You do not acquire any ownership rights in the software or music content.” Apple limits the use of digital files to Apple devices used by the account holder.

“That account is an asset and something of value,” says Deirdre R. Wheatley-Liss, an estate-planning attorney at Fein, Such, Kahn & Shepard in Parsippany, N.J.

But can it be passed on to one’s heirs?

Most digital content exists in a legal black hole.

 That’s probably enough to make most of you at least a little nervous, but the article does go on to explain one or two reasonable workarounds to the problem.  Of course, the easiest fix is to pass legislation keeping digital content from being sold with all these absurd restrictions in the first place.  And until that happens, I’m not buying – especially at the crazy high prices some publishers demand for their books.

Thankfully, a few publishers have already come to the realization that it is bad faith to restrict usage of the books they sell.  They are out there.  Support them and maybe the rest will finally come around.

This is a good place to start looking for DRM-free e-books.

How Do Books Make YOU Feel?

From Hachette Australia comes this celebration of some of the Hachette authors:

 I’m not sure how many of these are available in North America, but I suspect it’s quite a few of them because they look very familiar…although they do go by pretty quickly.

Our Disappearing University Presses

University of Missouri, Columbia MO

Some of my very favorite books were published by university presses.  What other publishers produce as many books about minor historical figures, obscure Civil War battles, literary criticism, quirky memoirs, minority studies, women’s studies, poetry, regional histories, and the like?  I’ve learned that when looking for a book about any relatively obscure subject or person, it is always most efficient to start the search by browsing a few university catalogs and websites.

But in the last few years, those catalogs have become harder and harder to come by.  Now, I understand why.  According to this June 19 article by Jeffrey R. Di Leo in Inside Higher Ed, university presses are rapidly disappearing.  That bothers me as much as what is happening to bookstores around the country. Times are changing, for sure, and not for the better – absolutely not for the better.

One of the measures of a great university is the strength of its press. Press strength is determined by its catalogue, and its catalogue by the choices of its editors and the impact of its authors. 


University presses are nonprofit enterprises. Though these presses may reach a level of financial self-sufficiency in their operation, they are by and large underwritten by their host universities. This is part of the investment of higher education.

Most of the monographs produced by scholars have a limited audience — and very few make their publishers any money. However, their publication is still an important aspect of scholarly activity and knowledge dissemination.


How does one compare a football season to a publishing season? Is an 8-5 season more valuable than 30 books published? Is running a press worth losing an assistant coach or two?

The reason Mr. Di Leo throws out the question just above is because it seems to take about $400,000 per year to subsidize a good-sized university press.  The latest university to announce a looming shutdown of its press is the University of Missouri, one that was founded in 1958 and enjoys a reputation as one of the best university presses in this country.  According to Di Leo, $400,000 is just a little more than what the University of Missouri pays to the men filling the roles of assistant head coach and defensive co-ordinator.

But we know which program is a profit center for the school, a recruiting tool that keeps all that money flowing into the school coffers to pay all those so “critically needed” university administrators, don’t we?  It is a sad day (and the Houston area school I’m proudest of, Rice University, is among those having made the same decision) when our best universities forget what their purpose really is and decide to place a higher value on athletics than on the prestige to be gained from running a successful university press.

Read the rest of this article for all the disheartening details.  The dumbing down of America is preceding at an ever accelerating pace, friends.