Book editor speaks up from flyover territory…

March 26, 2011 § 11 Comments

Jane Hnderson writes for the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the only daily in this Gateway area of 5 million people – pathetic, huh? ( I mean it’s pathetic that we only have one daily paper, not that she’s the book editor!)

Say what you will about online this and that. The Post rules around here…for now. And the young local journalists, the up and comers, have little interest in starting a “paper” newspaper.

All that aside, Henderson has what I consider to be the closest thing to a the perfect job; she reviews books.  She’s been out and about, a bit, in the journalism world, but she roosts here in STL and does her book thing, occasionally showing up at a writers’ conference.  (Funny how those conferences are so often about the book and publishing and NOT about the writing necessary to even GET to the book part….)

Here are a few things Henderson has to say about the book world:

“When I started as book editor it was more like 60,000 books were being published a year; now literally there are probably over a million new titles published a year,” she told the Washington University The Figure in the Carpet , newsletter,February 2011. 
(hmmm….that sounds positive, for those book writers among us!)

“Self publishing and print-on-demand titles made up over 760,000 of the new titles of 2009, but more traditional presses have also been churning out more titles, with over 280,000 new titles per year among them.” (OK, OK, there are thousands of possibilities, you could say…)

Henderson keeps her readers current via her Book Blog yet interestingly finds the blog a bit…abstract, you could say.  She’s not sure what a blog should be. It wasn’t part of the curricula when she was in J School. (true confession: Haven’t yet read her blog. Actually didn’t know about it ’til recently.)

While she believes the Internet does books a service, overall, in getting “press,” it may not be reliable in her opinion. Not reliable because of the anonymity of book postings…which can allow such reviews to be misleading or worse, she thinks, blatant self-promotion.
(I don’t know much about that simply because I pretty much read only book and writing bloggers who I respect for their diligence and their opinions and the info they impart.)

Henderson feels a lot of the celebrity books are “junky” and I salute her for saying it outright. She refers to the many pop personalities, Snooki among them, who “write” books.  She goes on to say that a lot of books are nothing more than extended essay, articles or news stories and because of her hyped up reading to cover the many thousands of books out there, she sees a lot, she says that are “repackaged concepts, and poorly written and edited.”   Henderson can dish some tough love on the bookworld. (I am guilty of assuming a book is “junky” before even giving it a try, like Snooki’s or OJ’s or (forgive me) Barbara Bush’s.)



 Henderson shares some surprising (and good) book trends. There are more independent bookstores in STL now than when she started as book editor 15 years ago!  They add significantly to the city’s cultural life.  (makes my heart sing!)

And we have indie publishers right here in our own backyard, including Blank Slate Press.

(makes my heart sing louder!)  

 Honestly, I wish there was a bookworld talk show.


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§ 11 Responses to Book editor speaks up from flyover territory…

  • Arti says:

    Glad to see that JH is optimistic about the book industry… and I hope she’s right. I’m sure the US has a much more vibrant literary market than here. I’ve seen so many bookstores closing in the past few years and worry that the major chain left isn’t going to make it too long. But good to read posts like this to gain back some confidence in the survival of the book as we know it.

  • shoreacres says:

    Under the “I hate to be critical, but…” rubric, I do have to say that, after reading a dozen of Ms. Henderson’s “blog entries”, I think any of the book bloggers I read – or bloggers in general, for that matter – could give her a quick tutorial on what a blog should be. Hers isn’t it. It has the appearance and tone of something being written under protest, a “my bosses think this is a good thing to do” production.

    The fact that almost none of the entries has any comments is telling – since they read more like bulletin board postings than a blog, there’s not much to engage with.

    In the political realm, a goodly number of “real journalists” have taken it to the bloggers, saying they’re incapable of research, analytical thinking, accurate reporting or creative insight. It’s been shown again and again to be so much bunk.

    I get an uneasy feeling that some of the same prejudices underlie Ms. Henderson’s view of book/literary bloggers, although to be fair, I’ve only read a dozen or so of her entries. Still – when it comes to literary blogging, she could take a few lessons from you, Arti, Bellezza, Carl, etc. etc.

    Now, I have to go see Uncle Google and find out who Snooki might be! 😉

    I’m really quite tired of folks who dismiss bloggers as not quite “up to snuff”.

  • anno says:

    Interesting post … around here, Border’s is failing, and B&N may be faltering, but several of our independent stores seem to be holding on, perhaps by doing what Borders and B&N stopped doing: focusing on the books (and readers) and not so much on the “entertainment” aspects of the business (kid craft events, etc.)

    I wish there was a bookworld talk show, too. The book review segments on Diane Rehm and Terry Gross are my favorite parts, but they’re never enough.

  • Very interesting! Shocking to see the # of books published/year. Wow. And very interesting about her opinion of book reviews on blogs…

    I love small independent book stores! Next time I am in STL we need to check one out. I am sure I will be back – possibly this summer or fall, depending on Nora’s schedule. 🙂

  • Jeannine says:

    I thought bookstores were on their last legs – just what I’ve been reading in papers on-line! I really hope it’s exaggerated.

    In a way we need the junky books, they’ve always been around (penny dreadfuls etc). At least it’s some kind of hard publishing. And I always hope junky books lead to better things. The first adult (?) books I read at about 11 or 12 were Mills & Boons romances(blush). I’d go to the book exchange every week to stock up. Don’t think they even have book exchanges any more. . .

  • typehype says:

    Yes, it’s really awful about the demise of newspapers. Here, the NYT is trying their best to get you to subscribe to the weekend paper (for which we walk to the corner and buy every Sunday) in order to preserve your current, free online access. We’re on the brink of caving under their pressure and subscribing (knowing full well that they are laying the ground for the elimination of the print altogether.)

    One good (?) thing about this new world order, the stigma that used to be attached to self-publishing no longer exists. From what I’ve been reading, if you are willing to do all the work yourself (promoting your work, sacrificing about 10K, not to mention writing the thing…yada yada yada) — and then wind up selling a significant amount of books, you can expect a publishing house to come knocking on your door offering a contract. Whew. (Very much like the art world, I’m afraid)

    P.S. There was a great article in the Jan/Feb 2011 Poets & Writers magazine (The Inspiration Issue) called “The Online Book Launch” by Cathie Beck, in which she very generously describes her successful self-publishing efforts in great detail (to a successful end) from start to finish. It’s really informative.

  • As co-founder of Blank Slate Press, the independent press Jane Henderson mentioned in her article, my heart is singing that you mentioned it, too! I hope that you’ll give our local authors support and order their books. AND, you’re all invited to join us at Left Bank Books downtown on April 7, 7:00 pm for our official book launch with both of our authors. Fred Venturini, author of The Samaritan, is from tiny Patoka, IL and Anene Tressler, author of Dancing with Gravity, is from Kirkwood. To learn more about us, visit And come visit us on Twitter, too: @blankslatepress.

  • jeanie says:

    Well, I think there should be a Bookworld show, too — and YOU should host it! Seriously (not that I’m not — I meant that) — there really isn’t much in the book world out there. You just have to read the right bits or know folks who like books you like or take a chance at the book store (which I’ve often done and been mostly pleased).

    I don’t know abuot book world blogging — I write my stuff based on what I like and really, no one ever goes to that blog much anyway. Certainly not any authors trying to pepper the comments with lively and enthusiastic response! The thing with bloggers and booking is that if you are sympatico with the blogger, chances are — if the genre they write about is one that interests you — you’re likely to give it a chance in that big queue of books already lined up. It’s “friends” talking books. I don’t think that’s a bad thing — but it’s an individual one, generally based on preference, not criticism. And that’s OK, I think. But I still think you should do a bookworld show.

    By the way, we have two branches of a very good regional independent here, plus a couple of smaller ones and of course B&N. And they all seem to be doing fine.

  • Damyanti says:

    Nice to hear some positive news about books. It is good to be back to your blog.

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