Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Books Have Arrived!

Exciting news this week: copies of Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book have arrived in the warehouse (the Sepulculture warehouse being some extra space next to my refrigerator) and will soon be ready to ship out to all of the people who pre-ordered a copy! Molly will be signing the first 66 copies, which go to the first 66 people who ordered. I asked her to sign the first 666 copies, but she just gave me that "you're a slave-driving publisher" look, so I dropped it.

The Sepulculture Warehouse & Refrigerator

There have been some interesting developments on the publicity front as well. Molly met one of the Nerve Blog-a-Loggers, Sara (aka SJ1000), and showed her a copy of the book. Sara wrote about it glowingly on her blog:

The BOOK turns out to be this adorable fucking magical world of fun called "Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book." She runs this "cabaret life-drawing class" called Dr. Sketchy's Anti Art School, and there are like 13 schools around the world and each has a "mistress" and anyway, the book has dirty jokes and pornographic paper dolls! And games! Or at least one game. I was mesmerized and I was like, "Dude, give me your info, I need to write about this." ... It is SO WEIRD and hard to explain, but really well-made.... And I don't even have a copy of it yet, so I can't get further into it...but I thought it was really unique and strange and exciting.... It cheered me up to know that something like this existed in the world. Yaaaaaay!

I could not have written a more enthusiastic piece myself, and the best part is that it actually help sell some copies of the book. This is the one thing that's happened so far for the book that I can honestly say resulted directly in sales.

Now I've worked in book publishing for over seven years. I started out in publicity. I've worked in marketing, advertising, and promotion, both online and in the "real" world, and there are very few instances in which I've ever been able to put my finger on one review or one advertisement or one promotion and could honestly say "that sold books." Save endorsements from Oprah, there are few things that you can say had a direct impact (at least in the way that major publishers are able to measure these things).

I have however seen all kinds of media coverage have NO impact on sales, even major television and print coverage. I think there is a belief in our business that any coverage is good coverage (even negative press can be good, as the saying goes), that we should seek out as much attention as we can and be reviewed, profiled, featured, and interviewed in every channel and medium available so long as the gatekeepers of those forums are interested. Perhaps we shouldn't. Maybe we're wasting a lot of time and money getting our "product" in front of audiences that don't care. Maybe we should skip the ones that don't care and really focus on the ones that do.

This thing with the Nerve Blog-a-Log I think illustrates another point about media: it is by it's very nature supposed to be objective. This, more often than not, translates into bland. Reviewers cannot gush about how much they love a book, or tell everyone to go buy it, or talk about how it reminds them of a particularly personal thing that happened to them a long time ago. They can't do this because they think of themselves as journalists and as professionals, and they want to maintain some semblance of objectivity and decorum. Well, decorum doesn't get too many people excited about anything. I mean, we all love an objective, intellectual analysis on topics of importance, but not everything fits that category.

I have been fortunate to get into this business when I did. When I started, blogs technically existed, but no one besides a very, VERY small community of computer enthusiasts really knew what they were, what they meant, or what they could do. So I have been fortunate to watch the world change right in front of me. And the world has changed. Media is not powerful in the same way it was seven years ago. Now individuals have the power to change opinion and influence others in a way that only major media could before. Blogs and social networking software have made the personal recommendation champion over the objective, journalistic review. When I did that interview with Darren Levy on WNYU, he asked me what Sepulculture meant. This cultural shift in how we communicate and spread information is what it means. The logo, the name - they are both signifiers of a part of which has passed. And now we can move on.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Real Advice for Frustrated Writers

Working in book publishing and being accessible online, I hear from a lot of frustrated writers asking me for help in getting published. I don't know if every industry person does this, but I always listen to what they have to say and almost always read what they've written. Generally, they all fall into the same category: the writer has been rejected everywhere, by every major publishing house and literary agent, and they don't know what to do next. A very good example of this is an exchange I just had with a gentleman named Justin, who sought my insight in this capacity. The advice I gave to Justin probably applies to a lot of writers out there, so I wanted to share it.

Here's what Justin said:

Hello, I am justin. I am seeking your advise on getting published. I have been rejected from main stream Lit Agents citing my story is to dark, or to depressing, or it isnt a positive story that we would market. Fuck that. I feel my novel is a great read and an inspirational story about finding how fucked up and mad people can become when they are confronted with the real pain in life. Anyways, any help you can give me would be great. If you say get a copy of the WRITES MARKET I may puke, it is getting old hearing that one. THanks for anything. Justin.

So I wrote back to Justin and said, "Okay, send me something." He sent me a sample of his writing, which I read, and the problem was immediately clear: it wasn't good. The lit agents who rejected him had done so for good reason. Unfortunately, they weren't giving him an honest explanation of why they were passing on his work, which is precisely the kind of feedback that might have helped Justin become a better writer. I suppose it's easier to be "kind" and say "it's just not right for us" instead of being brutally honest. Sure, these writers work very hard on their craft and it's tough to say to such a person, "it's just not good enough." But that's the only way they're going to improve. To give someone a sugar-coated rejection is to give up on them and assume they won't become a better writer.

This is what I told Justin:


The problem with your story is not that it's too dark or depressing; the problem is that the writing is not good enough to be published. Your story lacks a useful structure, style, and an engaging voice. Without those things (or at least one or two of them), you're sunk. Maybe those lit agents didn't have the guts to tell you their unvarnished opinions, but I don't care. If you listen to what I tell you and don't let your pride get in the way, you'll be a better writer.

You're not ready to be published right now. You need to get more critical feedback on your work, which means more people reading your stories and telling you (honestly) what works and what doesn't. Find a local writers workshop and join it. Find some other writers whose opinions you trust and ask them to tear your work apart. If you don't know anyone near you and can't find local workshops, look for them on the web.

There are plenty of writers just like you who are trying to improve their trade, but can't get the kind of critical feedback they need -- usually this is because most readers are too kind to say the writing isn't good. All of you however are sophisticated enough as readers to be able to tell each other what works and what doesn't.

I hope you're not offended. I just want you to understand why the agents said no, but more importantly, tell you what you need to do to get better. If this is something you really want to do, you have to constantly push yourself to do it better.

Good luck, and don't give up.


So, my advice to all of you is: if you find yourself in a similar situation of constant rejection, go find some readers who will give you honest feedback and help you improve. You can't trust agents and publishers to give you honest explanations of why they're rejecting your work.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Scott & Molly Talk Books on the Radio!

Molly and I did an interview with Darren Levy on WNYU's Citywide, discussing Sepulculture Books & Dr. Sketchy's, which aired on November 14th on WNYU 89.1 FM. There's a lot of me talking about the book publishing industry and why I started Sepulculture Books, a lot of talk about why Dr. Sketchy's is destined for world domination, and more heavy breathing than is appropriate.

You can now listen to the entire interview online here:

Also, Molly & Dr. Sketchy's were just featured on Fleshbot! And on Chemistry Set, and on Until Monday: BKLN, and on Hello, Hilarious!

She'll probably be featured on five other sites before I finish writing this post.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Sepulculture Books

It's no longer a secret: Sepulculture is now publishing books.

I have started my own independent, DIY publishing company to be named Sepulculture Books and the first book will be published this December. While blogging about the book publishing industry, it seemed so easy to talk about the problems book publishing faces or how to fix them, how to make it more fair or just simply how to make sense of it. So I decided to put my money where my mouth was, and see if I knew what the hell I was talking about.

So far, so good.

The other reason for doing this is that it will allow me to work on fun projects that I would never have the chance to do in my corporate gig, and trust me, the first book I’m publishing is going to knock your socks off (and possibly the rest of your clothing too).

Click on book cover to preview the interior

On December 6, 2006 Sepulculture will proudly publish DR. SKETCHY’S OFFICIAL RAINY DAY COLOURING BOOK by Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt. The book will be a full-color, fully illustrated paperback companion edition to the Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School cabaret life-drawing class that happens twice a month in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

To quote from our own marketing copy:

Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book is one part DIY handbook, one part activity book on acid, and one part history of the Dr. Sketchy’s Revolution. To sweeten the broth, Molly Crabapple and John Leavitt have added dozens of photos, paper dolls, colouring book pages and puppets of burlesque models Amber Ray, Lolita Haze, Little Brooklyn, Audra Gwarskitty, and all your other favorite Dr. Sketchy's models. Much like popular Victorian cure-all tonics, Dr. Sketchy's Official Rainy Day Colouring Book is a natural cure for boredom, apathy, shingles, gout, sobriety, and erectile dysfunction. It can even buy you Love! (or at least explain how to hire her for an evening to strip down to her pasties). Lovingly illustrated, adorned with dirty humor and black wit, this book is just like James Joyce's Ulysses, except you won’t have to fake enjoying it.

The lovely Lady J has already pre-ordered her copy, and so can you...

And there's nothing more Sepulcultural than a huge....


We will be celebrating the release of DR. SKETCHY’S OFFICIAL RAINY DAY COLOURING BOOK at our book launch party hoted by The World Famous *BOB* at The Slipper Room on the Lower East Side on December 6, 2006 from 8pm-10pm.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Lifestyle Literature

As a general rule, anything written in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal about the book publishing industry is bound to be inaccurate, inflated, incomplete, misleading, misguided, misinformed, conflated, contrived, circumspect, or just plain wrong. And often it is all or many of those things combined. However, today, Julie Bosman of The New York Times actually wrote something useful about the industry and it's search for new markets, something I've been talking about with friends and colleagues for a while and something many of us in marketing and sales have been working towards for a few years. And while she relies on some misleading examples (she says that Starbucks' support of Mitch Albom's For One More Day helped "propel it to the top of the [bestseller] lists," which is kind of like saying a bird flapping it's wings helps propel a hurricane -- it's an example that undermines the real point she's making), other examples she gives of books that are actually finding their niche markets outside of traditional bookstores are the genuine article. It's a small victory for The Times and Ms. Bosman in a much larger war of journalism that's out of touch with the business it purports to cover, but we shouldn't fail to recognize a good point at the few instances in which they are made.