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Senior vice-president at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt quits

Becky Saletan, senior vice-president and publisher of the U.S.-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, has quit, effective Dec. 10. From The Canadian Press:

Saletan had served in the job since January 2008, when she was appointed to head the newly merged Harcourt and Houghton Mifflin divisions.

The company has been in the news for an alleged freeze on acquiring new books. Blumenfeld has offered conflicting statements, saying the publisher of authors such as Philip Roth and Günter Grass had “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts,” but later acknowledging the policy didn’t apply to education and children’s books and a mystery book imprint.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has reportedly been hit hard by the tight credit market and any halt on acquisitions is widely believed to be in anticipation of a possible sale.

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Gloomy times for the U.S. book trade

News broke yesterday that Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House U.S., is laying off 16 employees – a 10% cut in staff.

While David Drake, a Doubleday spokesperson, denies that the cuts have anything to do with the delay of Dan Brown’s next novel (originally scheduled for 2005), that hasn’t stopped The New York Observer from speculating about how the disappointing performances of some other titles may have contributed to the firm’s woes.

The cuts come on the heels of a painful year during which several of Doubleday’s big bets did not pan out, among them Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle, which famously drew an advance of $1.25 million but failed to ignite the bestseller list upon publication this summer, and Jon Krakauer’s biography of Pat Tillman, which the author unexpectedly canceled after promotion had already gotten underway.

(The Observer also confirms the identities of four of the people laid off.)

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Publishers fail to snap up book on Sarah Palin

In a vivid example of the dangers of writing history while it’s being made, the New York Observer reports that right-wing broadcaster Hugh Hewitt’s proposed book, How Sarah Palin Won the Election… And Saved America, has failed to land a publisher.

When the erstwhile Alaskan governor and Tina Fey lookalike was first named as Presidential hopeful John McCain’s running mate, her anti-abortion, pro-gun credentials made her the great white hope for the Republican party’s right wing nut jobs ultra-conservative base. But subsequent gaffes in media interviews and the vice-presidential debate have diminished Palin’s glow, and called into question whether she can save her own political skin, let alone the entire country. This has made publishers understandably reticent to sign up a book with a title that presupposes a Republican victory on Nov 4.

Literary agent Curtis Yates, who has stopped trying to sell the book for the moment, said that the change in Palin’s fortunes have played a role in the book’s marketability:

“The book obviously presumed [a McCain-Palin victory],” Mr. Yates said, “but the theory was that her impact on this election will have a lasting effect regardless — that she’s not gonna go anywhere, that she’s just gonna be a figure in G.O.P. politics going forward.”

The title of the book, Mr. Yates said, “went through a couple of different iterations.”

At one point it was How Sarah Palin Won the Election. At another point it was How Sarah Palin Won the Election … And Saved America.

“If they were to lose the election it would have just been How Sarah Palin Saved America,” Mr. Yates said. “We were trying to cover our bases depending on what may happen.”

There is no word on the future potential of the book, or of the other books in Yates’s stable, which are rumoured to include How Conrad Black Won His Case… And Saved American Justice and How the U.S. Army Uncovered WMDs in Iraq… And Saved the World.

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Phil Marchand lands at the National Post

Longtime Toronto Star book critic Phil Marchand, who switched jobs with former Star film critic Geoff Pevere at the beginning of this year, has now begun what is being promised as a weekly books column in the Saturday edition of the National Post.

The film beat never quite suited Marchand – as he himself admitted in a first-person piece in a recent issue of Q&Q. If nothing else, it was always a head-scratcher to see his byline, which had previously come at the end of long, thoughtful reviews of new books by Joseph Boyden, Alice Munro, Ian McEwan and the like, now accompanying bemused takes on movies like Troll 2, The Happening, and Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns.

It’s also good to see more original book content in the Post, which tends to fill out its review section with work taken from British newspapers and its fellow CanWest publications.

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Don’t steal this textbook – download it

The Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam rails against the U.S. textbook industry, arguing that students who use illegal download sites like Textbook Torrents and are partly justified in doing so:

As a writer, how can I support this? I should be an absolutist on copyright protection for all books, magazines, and newspapers. But I’m not. The publishers have disgraced themselves, and they are paying the price. Three-hundred-dollar textbooks in the hard sciences are not unusual, and the companies are selling to a captive audience. Hundred-dollar add-ons, masquerading as digital workbooks, or problem-solving sets, are not uncommon.

However, Beam sees hope for the sector in the form of digital, downloadable textbooks, reporting that “Amazon is promising a larger-format Kindle reader for the student market.” Beam’s tone throughout is admirably evenhanded – keeping the interests of publishers at heart while arguing that students are entitled to a fair price.

Steve Jobs found the right price point for music at iTunes. Between the pirates and the publishers, we’ll find our way to the right price point for textbooks, too.

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Moving on up

This week on Q&Q‘s Job Board:

  • Account Manager, Educational Library Market – Library Services Center (Kitchener, ON)
  • Manager, Sales – CNIB (Toronto, Ontario)
  • School & Library Sales Representative – Firefly Books Ltd. (Richmond Hill)
  • Supply Chain Manager – HarperCollins Canada (Toronto, ON.)
  • Special Sales – Firefly Books Ltd. (Richmond Hill)

& more!

Advertise your open position with Q&Q now!

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The latest on Q&Q’s Job Board

Check out these publishing industry jobs:

  • Online & Bibliographic Information Manager – Firefly Books Ltd. (Richmond Hill)
  • Managing Editor – Annick Press Ltd. (Toronto, ON)
  • Developmental Editor, ESL Department – Oxford University Press (Don Mills, ON)
  • Part-time Editorial Assistant – Canadian Tax Foundation (595 Bay Street, Suite 1200)
  • Publisher – Social Studies & Humanities – McGraw-Hill Ryerson (300 Water Street, Whitby, ON)

List your open position with Q&Q!

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It’s time for a new job

Newest on Q&Q‘s Job Board:

  • Developmental Editor, ESL Department – Oxford University Press (Don Mills, ON)
  • Part-time Editorial Assistant – Canadian Tax Foundation (Toronto, ON)
  • Publisher – Social Studies & Humanities – McGraw-Hill Ryerson (Whitby, ON)
  • Production Coordinator – University of Toronto Press (Toronto, ON / Guelph, ON)
  • Senior Manager, On-Line Marketing – Penguin Group (Canada) (Toronto, ON)

List your open positions with us for great results!


Sizing up Rowling, part 1

In J.K. Rowling backlash news this week, some Harvard students are apparently upset at plans to have Harry Potter’s creator deliver the school’s commencement address next month, according to a Scotsman article.

Adam Goldenberg, a Canadian student who writes for the Harvard Crimson, the daily newspaper at the university, said: “Our commencement speaker tricked parents into letting their kids read books filled with sex, murder, and homosexual role models.

“Harvard seniors have every right to demand a Harvard-calibre speaker. Harry Potter – and JK Rowling – is just a flash in the pan. Writing bedtime stories is lame – just ask Tolkien and CS Lewis. The class of 2008 has been royally screwed by Harvard. A petty pop culture personality of questionable permanence will send us on our merry way, while figures of real substance wait in the wings.”

A real charmer, eh? Doing Canada proud and all that.

Hang on a second, though – that quote is actually from a blog entry in which Goldenberg satirizes the anti-Rowling brigade. That should be clear enough from the Tolkien and Lewis references, but it seems lost on Scotsman writer Tristan Stewart-Robertson.

Goldenberg’s blog post also notes, “Last year’s speaker, Bill Gates, waxed so poetic about ‘appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity,’ that hundreds of graduates quit the lucrative jobs awaiting them on Wall Street and set off to change the world.” An obvious bit of sarcasm that, again, wasn’t quite obvious enough for the Scotsman‘s Stewart-Robertson, who writes, “Last year’s words of wisdom to graduates, from Microsoft boss Bill Gates, reportedly inspired a large number of students to opt for charitable work rather than Wall Street firms.” Sheesh.

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Everything’s coming up jobs

Freshest on Q&Q‘s Job Board:

  • Developmental Editor, ESL Department – Oxford University Press (Don Mills, ON)
  • Part-time Editorial Assistant – Canadian Tax Foundation (595 Bay Street, Suite 1200)
  • Publisher – Social Studies & Humanities – McGraw-Hill Ryerson (300 Water Street, Whitby, ON)
  • Digital Asset Coordinator – Scholastic Canada Ltd.  (Toronto, ON)
  • Production Coordinator – The University of Toronto Press  (Toronto, ON / Guelph, ON)

Employers! List your job with Q&Q today.

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Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Eva Stachniak poses with a copy of her book, Empress of the Night

Tea and snacks inspired by Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night

Rimma Burashko with author Eva Stachniak

Eva Stachniak talks to the audience about the best and worst of Catherine the Great's favourites

Eva Stachniak smiles as she signs a copy of Empress of the Night for a fan

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