Search Results for: label/j.k. rowling\'s middle name

Why Do So Many Authors Use Initials Instead of Their First Name on Book Covers?

why did J.K. Rowling use initials instead of full name?Author initials. A.A. Milne. G.K. Chesterton. E.E. Cummings. E.B. White. C.S. Lewis. J.R.R. Tolkien. P.D. James. J.M. Barrie. H.L. Mencken. E.L. Doctorow. B.F. Skinner. T.S. Eliot. W.H. Auden. M.K. Gilroy. What’s with that? Why do so many authors use initials instead of their first name?

I’m guessing F. Scott Fitzgerald never forgave his parents for naming him Francis. But he could have gone with Frank.

When my first novel, Cuts Like a Knife, was introduced, my sister Susan asked me, “What’s with the initials on the cover of the book instead of using your full name?”

My first response was it seemed to have worked out fine for Joanne Rowling—and no, no one has been able to confirm whether her middle name is Kathleen or Katherine. (Do you know why?)

That raises a much bigger question than why I went with M.K. rather than Mark. Why did Joanne become J.K.? To my knowledge she’s never answered that question directly.

When I headed up marketing for a publishing group early in my career we made cover decisions on the basis of the old advertising rule that females will relate almost equally well to a picture of a female or a male—but generally speaking, males relate almost exclusively to a picture of a male.

I’m not claiming that rule is still true, but I suspect there’s significant truth to it. I just can’t prove it. If someone can point to research on the topic, please message me!

I have to assume that J.K. used initials to make her author name gender neutral, which makes sense for the launch of a series categorized as children’s literature.

Is that the same reason why I went with M.K. instead of Mark?

I’ll make a confession. I originally wrote the novel under a female pen name and attempted to sell it that way as an agent. After all, my lead character is a female. I got a lot of interest but to my surprise there was near universal resistance to buying a novel by a pseudonymous author – which I thought would be a marketing benefit. I wonder if Nora Roberts had a hard time convincing her agent and publisher to introduce a mystery series under the name J.D. Robb? (Hmmm. There are those initials again.) On the gender switch, Rowling got “outed” pretty quickly when she wrote as Robert Galbraith for The Cuckoo’s Calling.

But back to the question. Why initials on my book cover? Was it because M.K. is more gender neutral than Mark or is it because M.K. Gilroy fits easier on one line than Mark Gilroy – a decision based on style?

The former. It was a marketing decision. My guess is that is the same reason many authors use initials.

But there is another reason I went by M.K. instead of Mark. And maybe I’m not alone.

My Kristen Conner series was acquired by Jeana Ledbetter who let me know a pen name wasn’t in the cards. But then she said, “But we do think ‘M.K.’ sounds kind of cool.”

Cool. I liked the sound of that. Is it possible J.R.R. Tolkien was showing off by adding three initials to his book covers? His friend and contemporary C.S. Lewis was satisfied with just two.

I’ve always wanted to be kind of cool—so there you have it. Mystery solved. Now you know why so many authors use initials instead of full first name.  We want to be cool!

Bestselling Books of 2012

2012 was a good year to sell books as an author if your last name was James or Collins.

The January 4, 2012, online of edition of Publishers Weekly provided a chart with three bestseller lists, all dominated at the top by Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James) and The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins).

Bestselling Books of 2012
Nielsen Bookscan Top 20
Amazon Kindle Top 20
Amazon Print Top 20
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Greyby E.L. James (Vintage)
1. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darkerby E.L. James (Vintage)
2. Fifty Shades Darker by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
3. Fifty Shades Freed by E.L. James (Vintage)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)1
4. The Hunger Gamesby Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
5. StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (Gallup Press)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
6. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
7. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
8. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
9. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
9. Bared to You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Third Wheel by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
10. Fifty Shades Trilogy Box Set by E.L. James (Vintage)
10. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
10. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
11. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
11. Reflected in You by Sylvia Day (Berkley)
11. The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
12. Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (Thomas Nelson)
12. The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (Grand Central)
12. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
13. Defending Jacob by William Landay (Delacorte)
13. The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan (Hyperion)
14. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Crown)
14. War Brides by Helen Bryan (AmazonEncore)
14. The Official SAT Study Guide, 2nd Edition by the College Board (The College Board)
15. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)2
15. A Game of Thronesby George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
15. A Song of Fire and Ice, Books 1–4 by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
16. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)3
16. The Innocent by David Baldacci (Grand Central)
16. Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
17. The Hunger Games Triology Box Set by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic)
17. No Easy Day by Mark Owen (Dutton)
17. Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (Amer. Psychological Assn.)
18. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
18. A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin (Bantam)
18. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly (Henry Holt)
19. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books)
19. 11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner)
19. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (Random House)
20. The Racketeer by John Grisham (Doubleday)
20. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (Berkley)
20. Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (Simon & Schuster)
Nielsen/BookScan (week ending Dec. 30, 2012)
Amazon Kindle (as of Dec. 31, 2012)
Amazon (as of Dec. 31, 2012)

Author Interview With Mark Gilroy

As the launch date for Cuts Like a Knife rapidly approaches, I have been doing a series of interviews for radio, print, and internet book programs. Here are a few of the common questions I’ve been asked.

Noir image of author M.K. Gilroy

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am the father of six great kids – with just one left in the house now. Oh – wait – one came back after college graduation – so there’s two around here somewhere. I’ve spent 30 years in publishing – from packing boxes, writing articles and curriculum and ad copy, editing and managing editorial departments, creating marketing plans and directing art design, and finally serving as exec vp and publisher for three companies. I love book publishing! I’m president of the Ravenwood High School track program (contributions welcome) and participate in our football boosters as well. I freelance publish for retailers, publishers, ministries, and businesses. My lovely wife Amy and I live in Brentwood, Tennessee, and attend Brentwood Baptist Church.

What was your motivation behind this project?

I have always loved character driven mystery and suspense. From the Hardy Boys in grade school, to James Bond and Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe in my teen years, then on to spy thrillers by Deighton and LeCarre in college, and then discovering a plethora of great mystery thrillers from Hillerman, Block, Grimes, Child, Leonard, Mosely, Crais, Silva and a host of other great writers throughout my adult life. I even went through a crime noir faze where I had to reread everything from Chandler and Hammett – The Long Goodbye was the creme dela creme. I can’t forget Graham Greene. The common denominator? Great lead characters. I’ve spent 30 years in publishing and have a couple graduate degrees, but the best training I’ve received to pen my debut mystery thriller comes from the sheer volume of great books I’ve read – and not just thrillers, even if they are my default fiction genre.

I had a tremendous amount of fun writing Cuts Like a Knife – and count it as a tribute to the writers who have brought me so much enjoyment as a reader.  I hope readers fall in love with my lead character, Detective Kristen Conner, in the same way. She’s tough and in-your-face. And she’s a fragile mess. She loves God, her family, the Chicago Police Department – her dad was a cop – and anything you put on her plate. Doesn’t mean she gets along with all parties mentioned above – except the food. Kristen also has a secret – but don’t expect me to tell you what it is for at least a couple of books!

What do you hope folks will gain from this project?

I did my best to write a great thriller that has all the twists, turns, and suspense readers love. The fact that my character is such a “graceful mess” to watch in action should make the experience even more fun – I’ve been told by reviewers that there are some real laugh-out-loud moments. I think there will be deep appreciation for Detective Kristen Conner’s simple and honest faith.

How were you personally impacted by working on this project?

I earned quite a few frequent customer awards from Starbucks while writing Cuts Like a Knife. I wrote early morning and late night so I could do the day job. But I’ve never been one for a lot of sleep anyway! I do feel a sense of gratitude from the critical response to Cuts Like a Knife.

Who are your influences, sources of inspiration or favorite authors / artists?

See above! LOL. Let’s just say I like a great plot as much as the next person – but the writer that creates a wonderful character is the one I read over and over. Probably my favorite character over the past 10 years has been Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon. The author that inspired me to try and write a Christian character into a general market mystery was Tony Hillerman. His character Jim Chee is a deeply religious and self-reflective Native American – his faith is part of his inner dialog as he solves crimes on the Navajo Reservation.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?

When books don’t do very well you often hear an author complain that his publisher didn’t do very much to get behind and promote the book. Having been a publisher I know there are a lot of factors. I’ve personally worked hard on some books that never caught on – and basically spectated as some others have taken off in the marketplace. But what I can state very boldly is that my friends from Worthy Publishing have done a tremendous job bringing Cuts Like a Knife to market. They hired Jeane Wynne as publicist and she has performed miracles securing reviews from periodicals like USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly for this first-time novelist. If Cuts Like a Knife should fail commercially the fault will be all mine. However, I think we have something special here. The Worthy leadership team has somewhere around 170 years of combined experience in publishing. I’ve asked Byron, Jeana, Kris, Rob and others who holds seniority – but no one will claim most years of service.

M.K. Gilroy Novels

In 2012 Mark Gilroy put on a new hat in the publishing industry as M.K. Gilroy with the release of his first novel, which introduced the Kristen Conner Mystery Series. The third KC Conner book, Cold As Ice, will release in Fall 2014.

Just Before Midnight is a standalone Christmas novella. And in addition to more Kristen Conner novels, a new series will be announced soon.

Cuts Like a Knife by M.K. Gilroy

“Gilroy’s debut novel is a sure-fire winner!” USA TODAY

Every Breath You Take by M.K. Gilroy

“Action-packed – will keep you flipping pages.” FRESH FICTION

Cold As Ice by Mark Gilroy

Kristen Conner is back – what she doesn’t know, just might get her killed.


Just In Time for the Holidays -

A Christmas Eve Novella From M.K. Gilroy

Just Before Midnight by M.K. Gilroy

Christmas Eve is the time to be home enjoying the warmth and laughter of family isn’t it?

 

“Kristen Conner is the freshest voice to hit the Christian market in a long time. She’s beautiful but doesn’t believe it. She can’t shoot worth a hoot, but can knock an assailant twice her size on their butt with her hand-to-hand fighting skills. She’s Miss Congeniality-meets-Castle’s Kate Beckett; a lethal, smart, and fun combo.”

USA TODAY

J Mac – 3-point Scoring Machine

Tune into the next edition of ESPN SportsCenter and you’ll probably hear about another athlete arrested for drunk driving or for testing positive for steroids or for getting in trouble at three in the morning for some form of disorderly conduct.

Of course many athletes are outstanding citizens and terrific role models. And some sports stories transcend the category to break down our walls of cynicism. Jason McElwain – J Mac to his teammates – will never play professional basketball but he has become an internet legend not for getting into trouble, but for suiting up in his final game as team manager and catching on fire behind the three-point line.

Truth can be stranger than fiction and right now I’m inspired enough that I might head out to the driveway to work on my own three-point shooting.

Put me in coach!

Contact Page

Snail Mail:

2000 Mallory Lane, Suite 130-229, Franklin, Tennessee 37067

Imagine Tat! What Do Tattoos Tell Us About a Person?

Do tattoos matter?

Do tattoos tell us anything about a person?

A friend in my age range – let’s not get too specific and just say somewhere between age 49 and 51 – just got a major tattoo.

I was at one of my 14-year-old’s AAU basketball games a couple Saturday’s ago and the mom of one of the players from the other team had also recently got ‘tatted’ up; a shoulder to wrist floral arrangement on both arms. Naive as I am, I kept thinking she had some sort of arm-nylons on under her sleeveless t-shirt. That’s what I explained to Amy who elbowed me because she thought I was looking over there too much.

Imagine tat!

Of course head for the local high school or even middle school and you’ll see a large number of young people with low ride jeans, high-rise shirts, and lots of tattooed skin. And then there’s the girls.

What do tattoos tell us about a person? Anything? (Is there an age limit on when you can get your first tattoo?)

The old adage claimed that “clothes make the man,” which seems way too superficial, just as getting worked up about tattoos seems judgmental, turning a matter of taste into a moral issue. Right?

Along those lines my grandpa insisted you could tell everything you needed to know about a potential job candidate from his shoes: “you don’t have to be rich to have your shoes shined.” He obviously hadn’t anticipated casual Fridays and Ecco comfort shoes.

But back to tattoos. Just in case you were wondering –

* 15% of Americans have been tattooed – about 40 million people
* 38% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 40 have been tattooed
* Democrats(18%) are more tattooed than Republicans (14%) and Independents (12%)
* Geographically the West (20%) outpaces the East (14%), Midwest (14%), and South (15%) among adults with tattoos
* About 20% of those who have been tattooed regret it, with the number one cause of regret being the person’s name in the tattoo (16%); 11% admit “it was stupid”
* Of those with tattoos 26% feel more attractive, while 5% feel more intelligent; 29% feel more rebellious and 57% of those without a tattoo agree that those with tattoos look more rebellious
* On google searches, more people are interested in Angelina’s tattoos than any other celebrity

I think the numbers speak for themselves. Besides proving that Democrats have a higher propensity toward rebelliousness, that Brad may or may not find tattoos attractive depending on which news source you take most seriously in the grocery store checkout line, and that the 5% of those who are tattooed may not be smart enough to know that ink on skin didn’t make them more intelligent, the conclusion really is quite evident and irrefutable … kids, the answer is still no … under no circumstance are you to get a tattoo!

Not even if you want a heart with Mom and Dad inside it.

The Four Queens of Crime – When Women Ruled Murder Mysteries

Ngaio Marsh was one of the Four Queens of Murder.While growing up I consumed a lot of Agatha Christie novels – I even solved one of the murders before the ending. (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.) I met another of my favorite “locked room mystery” authors – almost as popular as Christie – when I was a junior or senior in high school – Ngaio Marsh.

Marsh was born in New Zealand and split time between there and London. She wrote 32 crime novels and was considered along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham one of the “Queens of Crime.” Women novelists dominated the genre in the 20s and 30s – and they don’t do too bad today either.

Marsh’s most famous character was Inspector Roderick Alleyn. Alleyn was smart and witty but didn’t have the noir edge of a Spade and Marlowe – two detectives “across the pond” as mysteries and all genres became more “modern” and heroes were shown with all their flaws.

Circling back to read A Man Lay Dead took me back to a different era of entertainment, when even murder was polite, civilized, and almost wholesome!

I highlighted Ngaio Marsh from a Pinterest board I keep with book covers that feature my favorite spies, detectives, hit men, and vigilantes.

 

“The Necessary Compulsion of Exercise”

I will be riding my bike this Saturday with Lance Armstrong and other friends.

On Saturday morning I take off on my bicycle with a couple thousand of my closest friends – including Lance Armstrong and some of his Team RadioShack teammates – on the Harpeth River Ride. I am doing the 62-mile course with mixed emotions. (Not sure how far Lance is riding or how long we are going to hang together.)

On one hand I love riding my bike and I see the benefit – or more accurately the necessity – of riding to get in better shape (another way of saying, “I need to lose 20 pounds … again”). On the other hand, after a long winter hibernation and then an early spring surgery, I’m not in the best shape of my life, a condition that both motivates and discourages the obvious cure. So I know full well that not all of the 62 miles promise to be fun. In the short time I’ve had to get ready for this modest ride I’ve discovered that after riding about 25 miles the gentle rolling hills of Middle Tennessee, the hills are not always so gentle.

I was sifting through some excerpts from Albert Schweitzer’s Africa Notebooks and stumbled on this relevant observation the great missionary and humanitarian made as he conversed with the natives of Africa. They were curious as to the differences between themselves and the people of Europe where Schweitzer was born.

So I go on to tell them that in Europe people row for pleasure, a statement followed by uncontrollable laughter. … I don’t attempt to make clear to them what sport is. The conditions under which they live in so many ways compel them to use their physical forces and take exercise to a greater extent than they like, that they cannot understand at all how people can do so except under compulsion.

We may have a choice whether to exercise or not, but in our corner of the world where food is abundant and many of us ply a trade that is sedentary, it’s not surprising we put on jogging shoes or head to the gym or hop on a bike under a certain compulsion, too.

So will I ride for pleasure or compulsion on Saturday? I’m telling myself it is for pleasure. But halfway through I may not be able to fool myself any longer. As is so often the case in life, the answer is a definite and resounding, yes.

How Healthy Is the Christian fiction Category?

Publishing professional and friend, Dan Balow, recently took a look at the Christian fiction category in his blog for the Steve Laube Agency. His analysis includes some counterintuitive insights for publishers and some very specific advice to retailers that I wanted to share here. (Since my novels are considered “tweeners” – somewhere between the Christian and general markets, I especially appreciated what he had to say.) Dan – thanks for permission to use the following!

Just how well is Christian fiction doing?

Last year, two Christian publishers downsized or suspended their fiction programs. Currently, some Christian publishers are nervous about fiction and in a wait-and-see mode before they attempt to expand it or try new things. Others are excited about growth potential in the category and are taking an aggressive stance toward it.

Similarly, some Christian retailers are doing quite well with fiction, others are lukewarm with it and some are not doing well at all.

The answer to the question, “Is Christian fiction thriving?” is no, but it is certainly interesting to explore the reason behind such widely diverse opinions on the subject of Christian fiction today.  How can one group see great potential and another see little or none?

Here is why I think Christian Fiction is causing some publisher and retailer confusion right now:

First and foremost, fiction is the segment of book publishing and retailing most affected by the sales of eBooks. In some cases, 50% or more of unit sales on a particular title can be digital.  Because eBooks are cheaper than printed editions, overall revenues to the publisher will decrease or remain flat, all the while readership increases. For a particular novel, digital sales might be 50% of the units and 20% of the revenue.

A new business model eventually emerges, but it takes time for publishers and retailers to adjust to new realities.

Retailers can easily recall how the decline in physical product sales were affected by music downloads (iTunes started in 2001), video download/streaming and audio book downloads. The migration to digital delivery in music, video and audio resulted in a corresponding drop in physical product sales at retail.  But knowing the cause doesn’t make it easier to handle.

The second major contributor to publisher and retail confusion about fiction is the relatively small number of titles published.  Even in good years, the total output of new Christian fictions titles by the main ECPA Christian publishers are not more than 250-300 annually.  (I am not counting the various Harlequin Love Inspired and Heartsong mass market lines which publish over 200 titles per year.)

According to R.R. Bowker data from a couple years ago, the entire U.S. publishing industry (not self-publishing) released over 250,000 new titles annually, of which about 40,000 are novels. There is no completely accurate data available on Christian publishers, but not long ago the total output of books from Christian publishers was around 10,000 new books annually. If Christian publishers followed the same ratios in fiction as the general market, there should be over 1,000 new novels each year, not 250-300.  Not every category growth problem is solved by doing more books, but in this case, I believe it has something to do with it.

Similarly at retail, when a category suffers a slowdown, reducing shelf-space for the category only hastens the decline.  The huge disparity between fiction in the general market retail and that in the Christian market would leave one to wonder whether some are giving up too early on it.

The final reason for confusion about fiction is there are a limited number of genres published by Christian publishers. For reasons that may or may not be obvious, Christian publishers cannot publish in as many genres as a general market publisher.  For instance, erotica will never be a category in Christian publishing, while it is a major category in the general market.

Combine these three things…eroding physical sales due to digital delivery, a small number of titles in relatively few categories  and maybe we can understand why it is rather confusing time in the Christian fiction category.

What can retailers do about it? (other than stocking current best-sellers and new titles)

  • Begin with the inventory. Carry the classic backlist.  Not just In His Steps or Pilgrim’s Progress but the authors who made the category successful over the last 30 years … Janette Oke, Frank Peretti, Jerry Jenkins/Tim LaHaye, Bodie and Brock Thoene, and Francine Rivers to name a few.
  •  Decide to add a new genre of fiction that heretofore you have not carried or promoted.  This is to grow your customer’s taste for a wider type of fiction.
  • Consider rearranging the fiction section by genre to help readers find new authors. Perhaps using a variation of the umbrella categories that the Christy Awards uses to separate the genres.
  • Encourage fiction reader groups among your customers. This will show how fiction can communicate spiritual truth in an effective manner.

Steve Laube, the founder and owner of the literary agency with whom I work, was a Christian retailer himself before getting into the publisher side of the equation over 20 years ago.  In 1989, his Berean Store in Phoenix, Arizona was named the CBA Store of the Year.  I asked him to give his perspective on how retailers can sell more fiction:

The key was that great story that got people telling their friends. Word-of-Mouth.  Second was a staff that was knowledgeable about the various fiction offerings. Hand-selling is still a critical piece of what makes the physical store a destination. Hand-selling is a form of word-of-mouth. For example, when Mrs. Sally came in the store each month and asked us, ‘What’s new?’ we could direct her to the latest and greatest because we knew the type of stories she liked and the type of stories that were on our shelves.  That principle has not changed over the years. I am always attracted to the part of any bookstore that has a ‘Staff Recommendations’ section. I find it fascinating to see what other people think is worthwhile to read.

Keep in mind, that if readers don’t find what they need in the Christian store, they will look elsewhere and personally, I’d rather they find a lot of great reads among titles from Christian publishers in Christian bookstores.

Holidays Are for Games: 3 Recommendations

The online video gaming industry is huge and getting huger every year – almost as big as Hollywood and on a growth trajectory that will continue to cut into the TV audience for sports. But for all the realism and sophistication found in the new product launches and annual updates, video games lack something important that can still be found in playing old school board games: face-to-face human interaction and intimacy.

It’s almost Christmas. A lot of people will be off work with vacation time and a lot of families and friends will gather to celebrate and catch up. Tis the season when classic board games like Life, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly. Clue, and Scrabble will be lifted down from top closet shelves and dusted off. Holidays are for games.

Here are three holiday game ideas that you might want to try or adapt with your friends and family members.

Settlers of Catan

Up to 6 can play.

1. Settlers of Catan. My soon to be son-in-law brought this to our family Christmas gathering last year and the award-winning game was an instant hit. Think of Risk on steroids without the cannons and destroyed troops. The board comes in about 30 pieces and can be set up different every time. Up to six can play. The goal is to get 10 ‘victory points’, which are gained by building roads, settlements, cities, and armies. Players have to accumulate wood, bricks, ore, sheep, and grain through strategically building settlements in the right spots – and through good old-fashioned barter with other players. Sounds complicated but it only takes 15 to 30 minutes to learn. There are game extensions in the Catan family that can take you on the ocean or to outer space or into particular historical epochs, like the Roman Empire.

2. Fast Scrabble. I like regular Scrabble just fine but if you want an interesting variation try ‘fast scrabble.’ All tiles are placed in the middle of the table face down. The first player turns over a tile. If it’s a one-letter word like ‘I’ or ‘A’ then the first player to call out the word gets to keep the tile, face up, in front of him or her. If it’s not a word, the tile remains with the person who turned it over as a free letter. The second player turns over a tile and again, whoever calls out a word, made from that letter or that letter and any other letters that are face up, gets all the tiles to make a new word. If ‘A’ came up first and then ‘M’ came up second, player three can call out ‘Am’ and keeps that word in front of him. If the third letter pulled up is ‘C’ then the first player can call ‘Cam’ and all letters come back to him or her. If the next letter is an ‘E’ then someone can yell ‘Came’ and the tiles are now all theirs. Once a word is formed the letters must stay intact and in that order but can switch to different players throughout the game. ‘Oven’ can become ‘Coven’ can become ‘Covens’ and so on. When all tiles have been turned over, each player adds up the points on their tiles that are formed into words and subtracts any letters that are sitting free. Loud. Fast. Fun.

3. Team Hybrid Game Night. One of our favorite activities during the holidays is a family and/or friend game night where we divide into teams and play a combination of popular games, a new one each round. This works best with four or five teams going four to five rounds. We like to use Trivial Pursuit (each team is asked every question on a single card per round and is awarded 10 to 20 points per correct answer), Pictionary (50 points for identifying the picture), Tabu (20 points per correct word), Outburst (10 points per correct word), Scene-It (all teams compete at once in an ‘All Play’), but you can come up with a myriad of other options, like Charades or Family Feud, by adapting your favorite games into the process. One of the nice things about the team approach is that you can enjoy competition but no one gets singled out as not being good at something like Trivial Pursuit. I like to do a final round where points are doubled and each team gets to choose which of the previous games played they want to try.

Whether you’re gearing up to drive to Grandma’s or are hosting a group of friends on Christmas afternoon, don’t get stuck in the rut of staring at the TV screen and missing out on the people around you. Games or no games, find ways to interact face-to-face.

The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan

The Man Who Would Be King by Ben Macentire

The American Who Became King of Afghanistan

I loved the Michael Caine and Sean Connery movie, The Man Who Would Be King, which came out when I was in high school. The John Huston film was nominated for four Academy Awards. Christopher Plummer played the role of a young journalist by the name of Rudyard Kipling – and the film was based on the Kipling’s short story by the same name.

But who knew that Kipling’s literary bon mot was inspired by a true story – and that truth truly is stranger than fiction?

In 1989, Ben Macintyre was sent to Afghanistan to cover the final stages of the 10 year war between the Soviets and the CIA-backed Mujahideen guerrillas. While there he read Kipling’s tale of Daniel Dravot (written in 1888 but looking back to the middle of the Victorian Age, the 1820s and 30s), who made it to the heart of Afghanistan disguised as a Muslim holy man to become king of a fierce tribal empire. It was several years later, while combing through stacks of books in the British Library that Macintyre first discovered the name of a man who “reputedly inspired Rudyard Kipling’s story, ‘The Man Who Would Be King.'”

So began Macintyre’s search for an elusive footnote in history – all his papers were assumed to have been destroyed in a house fire in 1929 – that culminated in The Man Who Would Be King, a fascinating slice of history that is relevant to today’s most pressing geopolitical hotspot. Following clues that led him from Britain’s war archives to the Punjab, San Francisco, and Pennsylvania, Macintyre was finally able to find a box hidden away in the basement of the archives in a tiny U.S. museum of this mysterious man’s birthplace. At the bottom of the box was a “document, written in Persian and stamped with an intricately beautiful oval seal: a treaty, 170 years old, forged between an Afghan prince and the man who would be king.”

The first American in Afghanistan had many titles: Prince of Ghor, Paramount Chief of the Hazarajat, Lord of Kurram, personal surgeon to Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Five Rivers, King of Afghanistan … and many others. His highness Halan Sahib – who in 1839, enthroned on a bull elephant, raised his standard and made claim to the Hindu Kush – was known back home in Chester County, Pennsylvania, as Josiah Harlan. The man who followed Alexander the Great’s winding mountain path 21 centuries later and led an army made up of Afghan Pathans, Persian Qizilibash, Hindus, Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras who were descendents of the Mongolian Hordes, a pacifist Quaker of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

If you like history, biographies, and tales that seem too fanciful to be true, you’ll love The Man Would Be King.

Q: How Is the Publishing Industry Impacted By a Struggling Economy?

Q: How is the publishing industry impacted by a struggling economy?

A: I can only answer on the basis of today, and on November 25, 2008 (*), the answer is that the publishing industry has indeed been impacted negatively and at least in equal measure to the overall economy!

Does a bad economy hurt book publishing?

Is book publishing recession proof?

The old axiom was that publishing was recession proof – especially religious publishing. Why? In the overall scheme of the economy (and people’s pocketbooks) books are a relatively inexpensive form of entertainment, best partaken at home, which saves gas and eat-out money. In the case of religious publishing, the prevailing wisdom has been that when the economy is good “people play” but when it’s bad “people pray!”

But in this ongoing subprime-crisis-automaker-melt-down-government-bail-out-required economic downturn in America, sales are not good for retailers or publishers. The list of retail chains reporting same-store declines is as long as the list of … well, uh, retail chains. The only reliable statistics available on the health of independent retailers is the number that are closing on a weekly basis. Iconic flagship book retailer, Barnes & Noble, reports glum 3rd quarter results and 4th quarter projections:

B&N Sales Sink; Sees Gloomy Holiday

by Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 11/20/2008 6:19:00 AM

The news was about as bad as it could be from Barnes & Noble. For the third quarter ended November 1, total sales fell 4.4%, to $1.1 billion, with sales through its bookstores down by the same 4.4%. Same store sales fell 7.4%. Sales at Barnes & Noble.com rose 2%, to $109 million. Moreover, the nation’s largest bookstore chain predicted that–based on the negative sales trend to date–same store sales in the fourth quarter will fall 6% to 9%. Earlier this month, B&N chairman Len Riggio warned employees in a memo that the company was bracing for a terrible holiday season.

Books-A-Million, which is strongest in the Bible Belt fared even worse.

BAM Comps Drop Nearly 10%

by Jim Milliot — Publishers Weekly, 11/21/2008 2:13:00 PM

The drumbeat of bad news from the nation’s bookstore chains continued Friday with Books-A-Million reporting that total revenue dropped 5.7% in the third quarter ended November 1, to $110.9 million. Comparable store sales tumbled 9.9%, the “weakest comparable store sales in many years,” said CEO Sandy Cochran. With the sales decline, BAM’s loss deepened to $2.2 million in the quarter compared to a loss of $555,000 in last year’s third period.

The sales decline was felt in most segments, Cochran said, with bargain books, gifts, and the teen categories among the few areas where business was up. A decline in customer traffic plus a cost conscious consumer where blamed for the poor results. BAM is focused on “controlling costs, managing inventory and preparing for the holiday season,” Cochran said.

While Cochran said the holiday publishing schedule is a good one, she sees few signs indicating that the difficult marketplace will shift anytime soon. For the first nine months of the year, revenue was down 4.8%, to $349.2 million, and the company had a loss of $635,000 compared to earnings of $4.6 million in the same period last year. Comp sales for the nine months were off 8.0%

Perhaps the most dramatic announcement came from the supply side of the industry with the news that literary giant Houghton Mifflin was putting a hold on acquisitions – akin to a fish saying that they might spend a year away from the water.

HMH Places “Temporary” Halt on Acquisitions

By Rachel Deahl — Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008 12:54:00 PM

It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts” across its trade and reference divisions. The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go to the editorial review board. He also maintained that the the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

“In this case, it’s a symbol of doing things smarter; it’s not an indicator of the end of literature,” he said. “We have turned off the spigot, but we have a very robust pipeline.” The action by the highly leveraged HMH may also be as much about the company’s need to cut costs in a tight credit market.as about the current economic slowdown.

What’s it mean for you as author or aspiring author?

If your heart is set on publishing with a traditional publishing house of note, the news isn’t great. My own company, Thomas Nelson, in anticipation of emerging economic woes, cut the number of titles being published almost in half as of March 2008. As a publisher I always find it more fun to do books than to not do books, but unquestionably, we were ahead of the curve.

If you are able to see publishing not just in terms of a paper and ink product with a particular logo or name on the spine – and are open to the array of self- and micro-publishing options available today – then this is just one more confirmation to go for it now rather than wait for your deal to sail in!

Christmas Reminds Us That Angels Watch Over Us

Christmas reminds us that angels watch over us.

Angels Watch Over Us

Believers, look up—take courage. The angels are nearer than you think. - Billy Graham

 Christmas reminds us that Angels watch over us.

Angels play a leading role in the story of Jesus’ birth. They appear to Joseph in a dream and tell him of the coming child. The angel Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she has been chosen by God. And then a heavenly choir proclaims the message of the Christ child to a group of terrified shepherds.

But I wonder if angels played a behind-the-scenes role in other events surrounding Jesus’ birth as well. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem would have been difficult and dangerous—doesn’t it make sense to think that angels helped them find their way safely and arrive at just the right time?

Mary gave birth in a barn full of animals, her first birth, with no midwives, no family except her new husband, no sterile medical conditions, no place to put the baby other than the manger. Under those circumstances, it seems that Providence was watching out for the young family—through the care of angels, perhaps? [Read more…]

Jerusalem: A Biography – Montefiore’s History of the Holy City

Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore

A look at 3500 year history of the Holy City – from King David to today.

Most of us know that in 1493 Christopher Columbus sailed the “deep blue sea.” But one of his key motivations for sailing west to secure the riches of India never made it to our childhood textbooks. It can be found in a section of his letter to Ferdinand and Isabella that is often redacted: “before the end of the world all prophecies have to be fulfilled – and the Holy City has to be given back to the Christian Church.” It is usually taught that the Spanish monarchs commissioned Columbus to beat the Portuguese in the search for the west route to India. But what is left out is that the drive behind the commissioning was they felt exactly the same way as Columbus – they needed more gold to fund a new Crusade to the Holy Land.

That is just one small glimpse into the unique, amazing, incredible, and fascinating history of Jerusalem – from King David to the Six Day War; from the birth of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam to the concurrent rise of Jewish and Arab nationalism to the Israel-Palestine conflict – woven throughout Montefiore’s exquisite narrative on the history of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem has seemingly always been at the center of international politics and intrigue. In the 3000 years of Jerusalem’s known history, it was exclusively Jewish for 1000 years, Pagan for 300 years, Christian for 400 years, and Muslim for 1300 years. In all that time no group has secured or held the Holy City without bloodshed. Today it is the capital of two peoples and revered among three faiths. It is a never-ending clash of faith and civilization – and for many Muslims and Christians the place of the ultimate battle and of Judgment Day.

I picked up Jerusalem because I wanted a comprehensive history of the Holy City, particularly due to the fact that Jerusalem is such a focal point for contemporary international political debate. I thoroughly enjoy every minute of this 700-page book that is filled with the good, the bad, and the ugly – and a surprising amount of humor. I might not have agreed with all of Montefiore’s biblical exegesis during the history I am more familiar with due to my Old Testament and New Testament studies, but it didn’t matter because what I wanted was a sweep of the history and got it – three thousand years of faith and compromise, beauty and slaughter, and hatred and coexistence.

Jerusalem was filled with surprises – and not just Christopher Columbus’s fascination with the Holy City. For example, toward the end of the biblical era, I was taken back to learn how influential Herod was in Roman politics – he was close to Antony and Cleopatra, Tiberius, and a major reason Nero made it to the throne. Reading through the Crusader centuries was like reading a novel. I didn’t think it could get any more interesting but then I got to the 19th and 20th centuries when Rasputin, Lawrence of Arabia, Churchill, Tsar Alexander, Hitler, and so many other characters show up – every historical period was fascinating because of the people who kept popping in and out of the story of Jerusalem.

I’m not a historian, but I feel confident in asserting that whatever world history you do know will be enriched by reading this book.

In the Epilogue, Montefiore sketches out the parameters of a peaceful solution to the current political impasse, but does not seem overly optimistic it will be achieved: “Jerusalem may continue in its present state for decades, but whenever, if ever, a peace is signed, there will be two states, which is essential for Israel as a state and as a democracy, and justice and respect for the Palestinians.” That is, of course, the point where readers will agree and disagree for a variety of reasons, politically and religiously.

In closing, I’ll state the obvious. This is not a biblical, religious, spiritual book. Nor is it a political science book. It is a history book, though Montefiore is mostly careful about religious matters and sensitivities and at the end he does give his point of view on achieving peace. You will be disappointed in Jerusalem if you read this to confirm a political or religious interpretation.

I almost forgot to mention. I read this on my Kindle. I wish I had bought the paper and ink edition because of the maps and illustrations.

Montefiore’s own family is part of Jerusalem’s 19th and 20th Century history – and a section of the city still bears his family name. He has also written biographies on Potemkin and Stalin.

Financial Analysis for Publishing

Mark Gilroy teams up with Brian Henson to provide a quantitative-qualitative financial analysis for publishing that will give executives and their full publishing team the tools to maximize strengths and mitigate weaknesses.

  • Industry variances in budgets and results – with recommendations
  • Author performance and recommendations
  • Category performance and recommendations
  • Major deal risk analysis with recommendation
  • Inventory management and recommendations
  • Backlist evaluation and “product mining”
  • Data management – we have experience and tools to extract and organize data (no matter what software plan) to give you and your publishing team the reports needed to enhance decision-making – and fine tune the process

Brian Henson is a 20-year publishing veteran.

Brian Henson has nearly twenty years’ experience in financial management and analysis in the publishing industry. Most recently, he managed all business and financial aspects for the Nashville division of the Hachette Book Group, the second largest book publisher worldwide, where he created budgets and forecasts, performed financial analyses, initiated and contributed to strategic plans, and revamped inventory management. He created many models that were adopted company wide, including new ways to evaluate—and some cases monetize—the company’s author portfolio and overall backlist. He considers his biggest accomplishment that of cutting inventories in half. The various contributions added millions of dollars to the bottom line. Brian played a big part in Hachette’s reacquisition of Joel Osteen, as well as recent deals with Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, John Maxwell, and Joseph Prince.

 At Thomas Nelson, Henson filled similar roles, creating a “company first” dynamic budgeting system from the bottom up for more than $270 million in annual revenues in a complex, matrix style organization. He developed forecasting methodologies and monthly financial packages that are still used today. He also contributed to product development, having several of his ideas published. Henson served as the primary advisor to the Chief Publishing Officer and as liaison between publishers and sales executives – an acute need in most publishing companies. He created tools to help publishers and editors evaluate new product proposals prior to decisions meetings. He was a key analyst and performed due diligence on various company acquisitions.

Henson earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Dayton in marketing and marketing management, and the MBA from Wright State University with emphasis in accounting and finance.

 

RIP Stan Musial: Just a Few of His Incredible Numbers

Stan Musial died at age 92 - he was married 71 years.

Hall of Fame baseball player Stan Musial died on Saturday, January 19, 2013, at age 92.

Just a few numbers to consider:

  • 22 seasons in the major leagues (1941-1963), all with Saint Louis
  • 3,630 hits – 4th all time
  • 1815 hits at home
  • 1815 hits on road
  • 3,026 games – 6th all time
  • 6,134 total bases – 2nd all time
  • 20 straight years as an all star
  • 3 NL MVPS
  • 3 World Series championships as a player
But perhaps the most impressive number and the true measure of his greatness.
71 years married to the same woman.
A tip of the hat and shout out to the legend known by his fans as “Stan the Man”!

Presumption of Guilt and the Breakdown of Public Discourse

presumption of guilt and the lack of civil discourse

The meeting of the minds has become a contact sport!

Much is made of the lack of civil discourse and the breakdown of public discourse in American culture today. Is it time we declare the meeting of the minds to be a contact sport with special headgear?

The art of diatribe – a long, angry, bitter, satirical criticism against a different opinion – has always been practiced in the public square across generations and cultures. But doesn’t it seem worse than ever? Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic, but even in my lifetime, I seem to remember healthier expressions of dialog and debate on fiercely contested ideas.

Okay … I was born shortly before the Civil Rights Act was signed into law … my childhood was marked by the Roe v. Wade, the Vietnam War, nuclear proliferation, Watergate, and economic Stagflation. So it wasn’t very peaceful then either.

But I still seem to recall the mainstream political debates – every bit as contentious as today’s issues – having more civility. I think. Well … sometimes.

The constant companion of the diatribe today is the ad hominem attack – [Read more…]