Thursday, December 26, 2013

Friday's Focus: More on The Big Six Publishers

Last Friday my focus was on the two Big Six publishers in New York who are actually American-held holdings. Today the focus is on the four who most people believe to also be American publishers, but who are actually owned by foreign entities.

The first is Random House, probably the best and most widely known of the big six publishers among the average reader. Random House was founded in 1927 by Bennet Cerf and Donald Klopfer, and for many years was an independent publisher. In the early 1960's, it acquired two other publishing companies, Knopf and Pantheon, and then in 1998 Random House was bought by Bertelsmann, a privately owned media company in Germany.

There is an interesting, and little known fact, about Bertelsmann, who began as a small publisher in 1835. By 1939, it had grown large enough to become the single largest publisher of Nazi propaganda. The company also benefited from the slave labor from prison camps furnished to them by the Nazi Party.

(My own thoughts about this: having lost a brother to the Nazis, I would not want to be associated with Random House or any of its imprints. Just my own personal opinion.)

Bertelsmann's US Random House Division has a long list of well-known imprints, such as Dell, Doubleday, The Dial Press, Knopf, and others...all of these are often thought of as independent publishing companies, but they aren't.

The second of the four foreign-held publishers is Macmillan, usually thought of as a British publisher. However, it is also a German company, owned by Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holzbrinck of Stuttgart, Germany. Macmillan was originally founded by two brothers, Daniel and Alexander Macmillan, and remained an independent company until 1995, when the huge German media conglomerate Holzbrinck Publishing Group bought 79 percent. Then four years later, in 1999 they bought the remaining 31 percent. In the US, their well-known imprints include Faber & Faber, Henry Holt and Company, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, as well as others.

The third is the Hachette Book Group USA, owned by the French company Hachette Livre. In turn, Hachette Livre is owned by Lagardere Publishing, the French Media giant. The US website of Hachette Book Group says their story began in 1837 when Little, Brown and Company was founded. In 1996, Little,Brown and Company merged with Warner Books, and eventually became theTime Warner Book Group. This group was then purchased in 2006 by Hachette. However, Hachette's story actually began in 1826 when it was founded by Louis Hachette, when he opened his book shop and publishing company in France.

The last is the Penguin Group, which is the largest publisher in the world. From a US perspective, their story begins in 1838 when John Wiley and George Putnam founded Wiley and Putnam. In 1848, they split, and Putnam went on by himself. The company did very well, and in 1965 bought Berkley books. Then, in 1975, the Putnam and Berkley Groups were acquired by The Music Corporation of America, as their publishing division. In 1985, the division was sold to the Penguin Group, a division of the British publishing conglomerate, Pearson PLC, based  in London. The best known imprint of Penguin, in the US, is Viking.

In July, 2013, Random House bought out the Penguin Group, and became the "Penguin Random House." Needless to say, it is now the strongest, the largest, and the most dominant publisher on the planet, in the publishing business.
The new logo, somehow, doesn't demonstrate this fact. It is a very UNinspired logo of the Penguin Group's Penguin standing by Random House's house, but looking away from the house. Hmmm...

Until next time,
That's a wrap.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday's Musings: The Backstory of The Freedom Thief

I've been thinking about the kinds of posts I want to write, as what kinds readers might want to read. Like many bloggers, I get bogged down and wonder what in the world I can write about that everyone hasn't already heard or read about. Today I'm going to tell you a little about The Freedom Thief, and how that story came to be written.

As a kid studying about the Civil War in around the 5th or 6th grade, I was fascinated by the fact that this war came about because of a difference of opinion or philosophy. And that that difference was so great, and so important to so many people, that it set family members against one another, as well as friends against friends. Of course, as I grew to adulthood, I came to realize that wars most often start because of that difference of opinion and philosophy, but never since the Civil War have we seen a division in philosophy of such magnitutde that it set brother against brother.

As a result of this interest, I became an avid reader of the Civil War, and of the organization known as the Underground Railroad, those men and women of Abolitionist and Quaker beliefs who organzied to help slaves escape their bonds and find freedom.

At the end of my first course of study at the Institute of Children's Literature, my last assignment was to write at least the beginings of a novel. Nothing pleased me more than to be able to turn my fascination with the Civil War and the Underground Railroad into a novel of adventure for kids.

When I first began this story, I titled it "Escape on The Train Without Tracks."  My critique group thought the main character should be a boy, but about 15 or 16 years old. However, that age would bring it into the YA category, and I wanted this to be a middle grade novel. So I settled on a boy, 13 years old, but close to his 14th birthday. In the 1800s, especially on farms and plantations, both boys and girls of 13 took on a lot of responsibility in their families, working in the fields, helping train, groom, and drive the field horses, doing housework, cooking, learning to sew clothes, and so on. By the time boys turned 14, they were considered grown. I knew that this boy was going to organize an escape for his slave friends, and the younger he was, although still old enough to be plausible, the more impact it would have on young readers.

Ben McKenna became my 13 year old Main Character. I think probably I ascribed to him some of the characteristics of my older brother, who as a young boy, very often had a "difference of opinion" from my parents. And who often paid the price! Ben has two older brothers, Andrew and James, who are both very opinionated but seldom apart from their parents. All of the boys, as well as their parents, were born and raised in Kentucky, although the boys were raised in the city rather than on a plantation. Ben's mother grew up on her father's hemp plantation, where the final edition of this story begins. His father was not, yet both parents held very solid beliefs in the institution of slavery, and passed those beliefs along to Andrew and James. At the age of 5, Ben's father accepted a job in New York, and for the next 5 years, Ben grew up in the schools of the North, which taught him that slavery is a sin. He accepted those beliefs, but never discussed them or asked questions about slavery of his parents, as he already knew where they stood on the subject.

I did some heavy research into the background of the Underground Railroad, and was overwhelmed by the degree to which the Abolitionists and Quakers would go to help the runaway slaves. Thus, the first version of this story was heavily into that part of the Civil War. My instructor loved it, but even as I wrote, something was dinging me at the back of my mind.  For a while, it never occurred to me that even a responsible, almust-adult 13 year old boy would probably not be privy to some of the information I was including in the story. I finished the first version of this story with glowing comments from my instructor, and a Certificate of Completion of Writing For Children and Teenagers from the Institute of Children's Literature (ICL).

The more I read and re-read my manuscript, the more I realized that something was off. I decided a needed more concentrated help, and enrolled in the Advanced Novel Writing Course at ICL.  But there, my hopes faded away, as my instructor informed me that there were too many novels on the market about the Underground Railroad, and he didn't want me to pursue this venue. He wanted me to write a contemporary novel, instead. From his course, "The Year of The Scream, or Why I Hate Cheerleading, Chocolate, and Celine Carroll" was born. This novel's title has since been changed to "Cheers, Chocolate, and Other Disasters," which will be published by MuseItUp Publishing in spring, 2014.

I was thrilled with this instructor, and had a ball writing Cheers, but at the same time, I never lost hope for my Civil War novel. In my next post, I'll continue my personal adventure that led to the finished and published product of THE FREEDOM THIEF. I hope you'll stay tuned!

Until next time,
That's a wrap.