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Agate at Printers Row 2016

This Saturday and Sunday, June 11-12, Agate will be returning to Printers Row Lit Fest, the Chicago Tribune's annual book festival, which happens to be the largest of its kind in the Midwest. Come visit the Agate staff and many of our fantastic authors in Tent BB, located on Dearborn Avenue just north of Polk Street. There will be deeply discounted prices on both new books and back-listed titles. 

If you're interested in meeting any of our authors, check out the schedule of demos, talks, and book signings below.

 

Saturday

Marilynne Robinson in conversation with Mary Schmich

Sat., 10-10:45am, Harold Washington Library Center, Cindy Pritzker Auditorium

More Info Here

 

Raymond Lambert, ALL JOKES ASIDE

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 11am-12:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

 

Freda Love Smith, RED VELVET UNDERGROUND

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 12-1:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

 

Diana Moles, Jolene Worthington, and Maureen Schulman, THE ELI'S CHEESECAKE COOKBOOK

Sat., 1:45-2:15pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 2:30-3:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

James P. DeWan, PREP SCHOOL

Sat., 2:30-3:15pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 3:30-4:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Jocelyn Delk Adams, GRANDBABY CAKES

Sat., 3:30-4:00pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sat., 4:15-5:00pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Sunday

Coffee with Mary Schmich and Eric Zorn

Sun., 10-11:00am, Center Stage

More Info Here

Chefs from the Green City Market, THE GREEN CITY MARKET COOKBOOK

Sun., 11-11:30am, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 12-12:30pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Jeannie Morris, BEHIND THE SMILE

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 11:30am-12pm, Agate Publishing Tent

 

JeanMarie Brownson, DINNER AT HOME

Sun., 12:45-1:30pm, Food and Dining Stage

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 1:45-2:15pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

 

Joan Barnes, PLAY IT FORWARD

Sun., 3:30-4:15pm, Hotel Blake, Dearborn Room

Agate Tent Signing: Sun., 4:45-5:15pm, Agate Publishing Tent

More Info Here

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Meet Lisa Lucas, new executive director of the National Book Foundation

Congratulations to Lisa Lucas, who was named last month as the new executive director of the National Book Foundation. We've enjoyed reading several recently published interviews with Ms. Lucas, such as this one with Claire Kirch at Publishers Weekly and this one with Lauren Cerand from PEN America. But in particular, we enjoyed this quote from her interview with Ms. Kirch:

"Young people know what writers, filmmakers, painters, dancers, and musicians do, but they aren’t thinking about becoming publicists or editors or dramaturgs or non-profit arts administrators. I hope that my being here helps to encourage some of them to think about doing this kind of work."

Ms. Lucas, who previously worked nearby at Chicago's iconic Steppenwolf Theater, has spoken about bringing a fresh take to the National Book Awards, and the publishing world, that incorporates presses outside the "New York bubble" and looks for diverse stories and perspectives. That sounds good to us, and we wish the best of luck to Ms. Lucas in her new role.

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Ruth Franklin on Daisey and D'Agata

This piece from the New Republic site by the always-worth-reading Ruth Franklin is especially noteworthy for some sharp, to-the-point comments, especially regarding the salutary example set by the great W.G. Sebald. I for one do not understand why writers working from life feel uncomfortable, once they diverge from life, characterizing their work as fiction, as Sebald did and as generations of writers before him did. There's certainly a long enough tradition of roman a clef and other related techniques. To my mind, a big part of the problem here is writers' desire to claim everything that comes with characterizing their work as true, or nonfiction. This is partly a question of the meaning of genre, but also, as I see it, a question of whether writers wish to (unfairly) score the cultural lift associated with nonfiction and memoir these days, as fiction's star has faded in comparison. Part of this lift is, unfortunately, commercial.

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The VIDA Count and Female Representation in Media

From Agate's Jali Becker, publishing assistant: Last year, women’s advocacy group VIDA caused quite a stir with its count of how few women are writing for major magazines and literary outlets, and of how many female authors receive review coverage compared to their male counterparts. Now VIDA’s back with the count for 2011, and the numbers hover, on average, around a 75%/25% split. This is not much better than in 2010, but as the VIDA website notes, significant cultural change takes time.

Agate president Doug Seibold blogged nearly a year ago about Agate’s own numbers, and I’m here to update them. In 2011, Agate Bolden (African-American fiction and nonfiction) published one man, Agate B2 (business and economic titles) published five men, and Agate Surrey (cooking, entertaining, and lifestyle) published seven women and three men. Looking ahead to our 2012 list, we will be publishing six women and four men across our imprints.

Emily Gould at The Awl had an interesting take on the VIDA count and the subsequent debate. She argued that all this hand-wringing denied female writers and editors their own agency: perhaps women writers and editors were simply choosing to work at and submit to places other than this select group of “Top American Magazines.” She writes, “It's not difficult to imagine why some women (and men) might not want to write for these magazines: They do not, on the whole, pay well or assign articles with reliable frequency to, pretty much, anyone….That's my issue with this tally, anyway: it doesn't allow for the idea that women have agency, and they might be choosing to avoid having bad (albeit prestigious) jobs.”

One solution Gould mentions is for women to stop waiting to be accepted by these literary magazines and start their own, which brings to mind a message Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has been promoting for a while now. Sandberg argues that women have the capacity to enact the change they want to see within the business world; they just have to “lean in” and take opportunities that come by, rather than waiting passively. While critics have argued that this is an oversimplification of the challenges women face in the workplace, Sandberg’s efforts to create and nurture female networking organizations in the male-dominated Silicon Valley are to be commended and emulated.

Last year, Doug linked to a great interview with Gina Frangello about the irony at the sheer number of women who work in publishing and the fact that females buy and consume books at a far greater rate than males do. She’s right to point out that men are reluctant to buy books relating or even simply marketed to anything female whereas women will read books ostensibly about “male issues” or featuring more traditionally masculine themes (think the stories of Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy). This leads to a lopsided overvaluation of “masculine” stories at the expense of “feminine” stories, and a skewed sense of what is “literature” versus what is so often dismissively referred to as “women’s fiction” or “chick lit”. But, as Frangello says, women “need to take the [reins] regarding and really shape what the future will look like—we are not powerless, but thus far we have not always been our own best advocates in publishing.”

I agree with Frangello and with Sandberg that women need to be better self-advocates, and I’d argue that this is a skill that needs to be taught, just like any other skill. We need to learn how to network effectively, how to ask for what we want, how to go after that job or that assignment. We can’t assume that the people in power are going to realize our own value, because there will most likely be a (male) colleague or competitor who has, without a second thought, put himself forward as the best available candidate, regardless of how his qualifications stack up beside our own.

Just as importantly, we need to be seen doing this, and we need to teach our younger compatriots how to do so as well. Doug also linked to another great article last year about a female radio producer’s difficulties getting women to call in to her show or be guests. She wrote that more women were likely to call in after a female guest had been on the air or another woman had called in first—as though hearing another female voice was necessary to convince them that their viewpoints were important. People learn through example, and featuring female writers and books with female viewpoints helps set that example. Visible representation matters. And for that reason, the VIDA count should stir people up. It should be a call to action.

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Scott Turow and Laura Miller on Amazon as Monopoly

A very lucid give-and-take between a prominent critic and a very prominent author (whose longtime day job is as a lawyer, and who now serves as president of the Authors Guild professional association), outlining the challenges raised by Amazon's aggressive pricing strategies and contentious relations with publishers. This gives as a clear a picture as I've yet read of the ways in which some Amazon practices appear designed to discourage competition--and the very real prospect of Amazon's opportunity to become a monopoly in book publishing and retailing.

I appreciate the way Turow takes pains here to talk about the many wonderful things he appreciates about Amazon. I've always liked dealing with Amazon, both as a consumer and as a publisher. But I've always gone out of my way to patronize traditional bookstores (the good ones, at least)--I always saw Amazon as a great complement to those stores, not as a desirable replacement. And I think the prospect of Amazon as a publisher is very dismaying, on many levels. If Amazon's business conduct truly does become monopolistic, I think the U.S. Department of Justice's focus on book industry practices might better be aimed at Amazon than at its various competitors.

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Free Ebook Giveaway: Creatures Here Below (Part 2)

Loyal blog readers will recall our giveaway last month of the ebook version of O.H. Bennett's powerful new novel, Creatures Here Below. They may also recall our little hiccup regarding the availability of the ebook on Amazon. We felt so bad about this inconvenience that we wanted to offer everyone a second chance to download this terrific and very moving book. You can get the ebook for free on Amazon, or if you prefer the EPUB format, you can download it here.

This giveaway serves as a fitting end to our Black History Month celebration (you can still see our discounted titles here). We really appreciate the insights of everyone who participated in the discussion on this promotion of our Bolden titles, which is our imprint dedicated to the best in African-American fiction, nonfiction, and memoir. But we can't stress enough, as our friend Troy at the AALBC commented on our blog post (linked above): Black history month is not a panacea for all the ills heaped upon Black Americans -- far from it. But every little bit helps. Even though February is ending, we hope that readers will continue to recognize the contributions of African-American writers as well as continue the dialogue about race and representation in this country. These aren't ideals reserved for a single month, but rather necessary topics to keep in mind year-round.

As always, we promise to keep delivering intelligent and accessible work throughout the year by some of America's best African-American authors. We hope you enjoy this free ebook of O.H. Bennett's "moving and poignant coming of age novel" and find it as vivid, rewarding, and bold as critics have. In the meantime, we'll keep fulfilling the request of our friend Tayari Jones by bringing you more books by talented brothers (and sisters).

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Writing, fact-checking, and truth

In which Slate's Dan Kois helps illuminate (perhaps without fully realizing it) how "creative nonfiction" has gotten ridiculously out of hand. I first learned of this D'Agata-Fingal square-off in Harper's. The bad faith and short-sightedness of D'Agata and his ilk are pretty dreadful, I think, and the conceptual value to be gained through pursuing their agenda of "aesthetic truth" is pretty thin stuff. But reading how D'Agata bullies, insults, and abuses his fact-checker in these pieces is appalling. Of course, this presumes that the whole exchange isn't just made up, and thus a complete waste of time.

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On getting paid

A remarkable article from the estimable web journal The Millions on the economics of literary magazines. Some of these online literary journals are among the few places online where the comments sections don't run to hateful screed, and there is some very earnest and thoughtful reaction here to the issues raised by the article's writer, regarding how more literary magazines might be able to pay their contributors. What there isn't here (except in a few instances) is much insight into the actual economic considerations at work in a field where the demand to consume the product is so much less than the impetus to produce the product. Relatively simple forces are at work here.

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The emerging hybrid book market

Shelf Awareness has a nice little update on a recent survey that explores consumers' opinions about e-books, e-readers, and print books. The survey, produced by Verso Digital, projects a slower uptake of e-readers and e-books than that foreseen by many digital enthusiasts, and the long-term persistence of print--and of bricks-and-mortar bookstores. The survey also points up the chief interest of consumers in every market, price:

80.7% of respondents said they were very likely or somewhat likely to buy e-books from independent booksellers if titles are priced competitively.

 

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How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One

I've seen numerous links to this terrific review/essay by the novelist Adam Haslett, which does for Stanley Fish's  How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One what every writer hopes a smart, sensitive, enthusiastic reviewer might do for his own new book.

I wish I knew what proportion of the review's wonderful examples of diverse well-written sentences were supplied by Fish and what percentage by Haslett, but whatever the case, it made me eager to read more by both men. After all, good sentences are at least part of why most of us got into this publishing game in the first place.

 

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Borders--a valedictory?

You may have heard that the Borders bookstore chain is in the midst of another round of financial struggles, the latest in a series of such difficulties that have played out over the last several years. This Washington Post article gives a terrific overview of Borders' plight, and there's no doubt it has a very valedictory tone. For this writer, at least, it seems as though the Borders story is just about at its end. If Borders goes down, that means the loss of more than 700 bricks-and-mortar bookstores, which is certain to make a dent in the publishing industry.

As a company that grew up out of the Midwest, Borders has always had a stronger profile (and lots more stores) here in the Chicago area than its bigger competitor, Barnes and Noble. Many of those local stores were opened in communities and neighborhoods that were already served by independent bookstores, and many of those independent stores went out of business. Concerned observers have lots of questions about what Borders' troubles mean. For example: if Borders does disappear, does that mean new opportunities for lower-overhead independent stores to crop up again in areas formerly served by chain stores? In some places, probably; in other places, such as here in Evanston, where a massive Borders sits two blocks away from an even more massive Barnes and Noble, probably not. The 08 financial crisis and ensuing recession made it very apparent that many parts of our country were oversupplied with retail options, and perhaps Borders is facing the same ineluctable end that met Circuit City and Linens and Things and so many others. The most relevant questions before us being, perhaps: do consumers (as opposed to us publishers) need all these bookstores? And do we have the kinds of bookstores we need?

I'm thinking about this every day here. I've always liked Borders stores, though I think I liked them better when I was just a customer and not a supplier. I wish I knew what was going to happen.

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Manie Barron

I did not know Manie Barron well (and I don't know the author of this piece, Chris Jackson, at all, except by reputation), but I did acquire at least one book here for Bolden from Manie. Chris Jackson, if you don't know of him, is one of the very, very few black men with a significant job in big NY book publishing, and this piece really captures what is still a preposterous employment situation in that industry. Manie Barron was a trailblazer at a time when there were virtually no black people in big publishing; what's especially sad is that a generation later, there are still so few men like Chris Jackson walking down that trail. As with so many aspects of publishing, it's better out here in the independent world. But the way Jackson communicates his dismay here is very powerful.

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