Between The Covers: 20/03/2011

Your weekly guide to what's really going on inside the world of books
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The Independent Culture

One of the most marvellous, and the most frustrating, things about literature is that what we love and what we hate is so subjective. Which explains the difference between this week's paperback review of David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (page 69), and this paper's review of the novel when it came out in hardback last year, which said that it's the bees knees. You win some, you lose some.


Mitchell has been appearing at bookshops reading from the new paperback, as well as treating some audiences to a preview of his next book, which is about a young girl growing up in an Irish family. Not only do fans get to hear a new Mitchell novel in the process of being written – some lucky ones also seem to be contributing to it. At a reading at Waterstone's, Piccadilly, on Tuesday, one fan loaned the author a pen to add a semi-colon to his work-in-progress, whereupon another (an IoS sub editor, no less) persuaded Mitchell to change it to a comma. One thing we can definitely say about the next novel by David Mitchell, then: it has at least one comma in it. Whether the reviewers will agree about it remains to be seen.


Thanks to the American scholarly journal Marketing Science for a development that is not always a roaring success: the application of algorithms to the reviewing process. Using equations the researchers were able to prove with real science the old PR adage that all publicity really is good publicity – unless, that is, you're a famous author. In the equations, i = sales of a book in a given week, t, and therefore we can conclude that a negative review of a book in The New York Times decreases sales of the book by 15 per cent for well-known authors, but increases sales by 45 per cent for relative unknowns. Debut authors need to sleep with whoever they can at the NYT, then. More established names had better just write a good book.


Is it just us, or are bloggers terribly cynical? Last week on the, Iain Dale, a former publisher, calculated the print cost of Toby Harnden's Dead Men Risen (Quercus, £18.99) to be about £1.50 per copy, and speculated that the MoD's £150,000 payment to the publisher to pulp the entire print run over "security concerns" was about four times too much, at £6.25 per book. Then Paul Blezard, aka the literary blogger at, commented: "While a head should roll in the MoD, I would hope/ imagine that someone at Quercus is in line for promotion for a well executed marketing strategy." Sure enough, the following day an email arrived for the Blagger from one of the top literary PR agencies, reminding us of the existence of Harnden's "real story of Britain's war in Afghanistan" and adding, "This is the book that was the unfortunate recipient of an MoD pulping recently ... and as such it has been generating a fair few column inches." All must have prizes – except for the MoD.