February 14th, 2007

A perfect poem for Valentine's Day

The Blind Leading the Blind
By Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together: New and Selected Poems

Take my hand. There are two of us in this cave.
The sound you hear is water; you will hear it forever.
The ground you walk on is rock. I have been here before.
People come here to be born, to discover, to kiss,
to dream, and to dig and to kill. Watch for the mud.
Summer blows in with scent of horses and roses;
fall with the sound of sound breaking; winter shoves
its empty sleeve down the dark of your throat.
You will learn toads from diamonds, the fist from palm,
love from the sweat of love, falling from flying.
There are a thousand turnoffs. I have been here before.
Once I fell off a precipice. Once I found gold.
Once I stumbled on murder, the thin parts of a girl.
Walk on, keep walking, there are axes above us.
Watch for the occasional bits and bubbles of light —
Birthdays for you, recognitions: yourself, another.
Watch for the mud. Listen for bells, for beggars.
Something with wings went crazy against my chest once.
There are two of us here. Touch me.

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Who's counting?

Did you know that of every 10 hardcover adult books, 7 lose money, 2 break even and 1 is a hit? Of course, the problem is that no one can predict which will be which.

In an article, the LA Times looks at how publishers count books. Bookscan has taken some of the guesswork out, but not all. And publishers aren't above touting huge print runs as a measure of a book's success, even if 60% end up on a remainder table.

From the article:
Elsewhere, sales claims are harder to explain. HarperCollins has declined to comment on a disparity that was noted last week in Publishers Weekly for Vikram Seth's latest novel, "Two Lives." The publisher claimed sales of 20,000; Nielsen BookScan reported only 6,000 copies sold, according to the magazine.

"Before BookScan, within the book business any sales numbers were assumed to be inflated — or at least generously interpreted — until verified," said Michael Cader, who runs the influential Publishers Marketplace website. "The only question was by how much." In Cussler's case, the contested figures are enormous. But for struggling writers, who are lucky to sell several thousand copies of a first novel, the disclosure of how well a book performs may be irrelevant, and even harmful.

"Most books don't have anywhere near the financial success of movies, even unsuccessful movies," said Cathy Langer, chief buyer for the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. "So if you look at sales figures, it's not a pretty picture. And when you get so obsessed with numbers, you lose the wonder and creativity that's basic to the book business."

Others suggest the real problem with revealing sales numbers is that publishers put out too many books — and the vast majority sell poorly. Greco estimated that more than 200,000 titles were published last year, which averages out to 22 new books every hour. This is in addition to about 3.5 million already in print.

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