Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Search Engine Update

As more and more material--both written and audio--becomes available online, the need to navigate this massive amount of information to locate needed data becomes even more important.

We are, of course, talking about search engines: those programs designed to scour the Web for specific content--usually a word, a phrase or a series of words--identified by a user. A search engine retrieves the material that meets the user's identified parameters and offers a list weighted according to the individual search engine's algorithms.

This blog is an update on search engines. Two recent articles--one in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and the other in Wired--address the subject, although from different angles.

Today the search engine market is dominated by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN, with Google being the most widely used of the three. However, according to the WSJ, "a handful of closely held upstarts such as Technorati, Inc., Feedster, Inc. and LLC see an opportunity: Build a search engine that can track the information zipping through blogs, nearly in real time."

I first read about IceRocket on Dallas Mavericks' owner Mark Cuban's blog last month. IceRocket launched in August with Cuban as an investor. In his blog, he described the new service this way: " isn't really a blog search engine, although that's the term we use since it's the easiest way to communicate what we are doing. We are a tracking engine. We . . . index any and every source of information that is updated on an ongoing basis."

Since the WSJ article was written, Google has launched its own blog search service called, appropriately, Google Blog Search.

"No one knows exactly how many blogs exist. But the number of them tracked by Technorati has doubled every five months or so to, most recently, about 16.5 million. The rapid proliferation has made it increasingly frustrating for Web users to find what they're looking for." (WSJ)

Because the blog search sites focus on between 10 million and 20 million blogs, they are often faster than the giant search engines, which must search billions of Web pages. At the same time, the blog search engines do not attract anywhere near the number of visitors that Google, Yahoo and MSN do. For example, the WSJ says that Technorati logged 642,000 unique visitors in July. That was less than 1% of the number of visitors that Google logged.

Meanwhile, the new popularity of podcasts has sparked the development of two new search engines dedicated to searching podcasts.

Wired online magazine describes the new services: "Podzinger and blinkx scour audio content for keywords by translating the audio into text and creating an index for quick searching. It's a significant step above traditional search engines that identify only keywords in a podcast's metadata, such as the headline and introductory notes describing the audio file's general content."

For readers not familiar with the word "metadata," it simply means "data about the data." Search engines use meta tags to classify web pages. To see what I'm talking about, go to your favorite author's website (not their blog). When you arrive, go to the toolbar at the top of your screen and select "View." From the drop down menu, click on "Source." You will then see the source code for the website. The first thing you should see is a list of words starting with "meta." These are the meta tags. The two most important meta tags are "keywords" and "description." If the programmer who set up the site was doing his job, you will see a list of words that classify the website. Mystery writers are likely to use the words: mystery, suspense, thriller. Romance writers are likely to use the words: romance, love, women's fiction. The words selected help to optimize searches by search engines, although meta tags are not the only criteria used to rank searches.

Essentially, the new podcast search engines go beyond the traditional search engine's reliance on meta tags and actually listen for the sound of specific words and then use those words to create their indexes.

Wired says that "Podzinger is based on speech-recognition software that BBN, a Massachusetts-based research and development firm, created for U.S. intelligence agencies. It was intended to help analysts translate and scour foreign television broadcasts . . . for topics and speakers of interest."

Gary Price, news editor of Search Engine Watch, is quoted in the article as saying, "(t)he spoken word is now becoming as searchable as the printed word has always been."

America's Most Literate Cities

USA Today had an article on 11/28 about a study just released entitled "America's Most Literate Cities." This is the third year that Central Connecticut State University has done this study. It ranks the top 69 U.S. cities with populations exceeding 250,000 according to how literate their populations are.

In previous years, the study has based the rankings on five factors: booksellers, educational attainment, library resources, newspaper circulation and periodical publication. This year, for the first time, they added a sixth variable: Internet resources.

The definition of Internet resources included: the number of library Internet connections per 10,000 library service population; the number of commercial and public wireless Internet access points per capita; the number of Internet book orders per capita; and the percentage of the adult population that has read a newspaper on the Internet.

The top three cities for 2005 were: (1) Seattle, (2) Minneapolis and (3) Washington, D.C. The worst three cities were: (67) Corpus Christi, (68) El Paso and (69) Stockton, CA.

I found it interesting that the addition of Internet resources improved the Texas scores considerably (if you don't live in Corpus Christi or El Paso). Here are four Texas cities that I was interested in with their ranking for this year in parentheses and their ranking for last year in brackets: (16) Austin [22]; (45) Fort Worth [56]; (48) Dallas [54]; and (53) Houston [63].

You can read the study protocol and view the rankings at

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Celebration Time

This is a post about celebrating accomplishments.

First, let's talk about two of my friends from the Brazen Hussies: Sloane Taylor and Yasmine Phoenix. Both ladies live in the Chicago area and both have just uploaded their new websites. Find them at and Sloane recently was named a finalist in the CONNections contest in both the Spicy/Sensual category and in the CONNections Award category for best first meeting. Yasmine is soon to graduate from a real estate appraisal program she's been working hard to complete.

Then, we have an accomplishment a little closer to home. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll know that I share my study with two cats: sixteen-year-old Tribble (aka the paperweight) and one-year-old Bob. Bob has proven to be a fearless hunter. My neighbors lure him into their yards by offering him treats because he has put such a dent into the neighborhood rat population. I pointed out that I was the one disposing of the numerous carcasses that Bob proudly leaves at my door, but no one offered me any treats.

We live in north Texas in a forest teeming with wildlife. The first creature I saw upon returning home from the closing at which I bought my house was a tarantula the size of a dinner plate sunning himself on my driveway. I kept going.

Since that time, I've learned a lot about tarantulas. I have four teenage boys living next door and they have contributed to my education by capturing and bringing spiders and other nasty critters for me to admire. Now that the boys are outgrowing their interest in crawly things, Bob has stepped up to take their place.

The kitten (he's just fourteen months) has brought home rats and squirrels almost as big as he is. However, he's been unable to nail a tarantula. I've watched him fishing in their holes but, unfortunately for him, they're canny little architects that plan ahead by digging both an entrance and an exit.

Yesterday afternoon, Bob started howling at the front door. By now, I recognize his "Come see what I've got" cry so I took my time in answering the door. There sat Bob with a live tarantula about the size of my palm. True to his feline nature, Bob was letting the tarantula move a few inches and then corralling it again.

As much as I dislike tarantulas, I couldn't stand there and watch the cat torture the thing. I started squealing congratulations and asked Bob if he'd like a treat. He knows the word treat, and followed me through the door, which I quickly shut. Four treats later, Bob remembered his trophy. Of course, by then the spider was gone.

The cat was outraged, but I was relieved not to be disposing of a big hairy clump of road kill.

I guess the old axiom that "no man is a hero in his own home" applies to cats, too.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Harlequin Enters a New Market

Last month, Harlequin announced an interesting initiative. In a press release distributed by Overdrive, Inc., Harlequin indicated they would make many of their "novels available as downloadable eBooks through library websites."

Overdrive, which describes itself as "a leading digital book vendor for libraries and retailers," uses a platform designed for libraries so that they can lend virtual copies of books to patrons. The Digital Library Reserve (DLR) platform offers libraries 24/7 access to the books the library has purchased.

According to DLR, library "(p)atrons download and enjoy their selected eBooks, digital audio books, or other digital media anytime and anywhere." DLR boasts that the library can set its own loan periods and checkout maximums. "Best of all, items are automatically checked in."

Among the libraries using DLR are the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the New York Public Library, the Boston Public Library, the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Denver Public Library.

The Executive VP for Strategy and new Business Development for Harlequin said, "This partnership allows us to share our entertaining and diverse women's fiction catalogue with both first-time and loyal readers in an exciting new format."

Under the DLR testimonial page, a librarian is quoted as saying that patrons are "able to borrow, read and return a book without having to leave their home, and the automatic return feature means no fine."

Perhaps the libraries of the future will not be a bricks-and-mortar building so much as a virtual library website that patrons can browse from the convenience of their homes, checking out materials that are automatically erased from their computers at pre-set times.

A World-Changing Move By Amazon

C/Net had a really interesting story last Tuesday. In an article entitled "Buy the Book, Get the Search Service," Randal C. Picker speculated about the new programs announced earlier this month (see my blog of 11/4, "Big Day in Publishing News" for details). The two new services are Amazon Pages and Amazon Upgrade.

Picker pays little attention to Amazon Pages, which is designed to unbundle books on a pay-per-page model. He is more interested in the Amazon Upgrade service by which the company sells a consumer a book and, at the same time, offers digital access to that book.

According to Picker, "This is a really clever move by Amazon. The company is changing the basic scope of the book business . . . and Amazon has come up with a structure that should put meaningful limits on the sharing of digital texts."

Of course, Amazon has not as yet described how they will provide the upgraded service. Their press release on 11/3 said, "The second program, Amazon Upgrade, will allow customers to 'upgrade' their purchase of a physical book on to include complete online access."

Picker speculates that "(e)verything suggests that Amazon intends to do this with the consent of copyright holders, presumably for a split of the revenues. Here the difference between service and product is substantial."

That last sentence was where I sat up and paid attention. Picker points out that a service model based on search is considerably different than one based on downloading an entire book. "Presumably, I will need to log on to Amazon as me to use the digital books that I have 'purchased.' For me to share my access with anyone else, I will have to give them full access to my Amazon account." In essence, if a consumer wants to cheat and let others read the material via the search, the account holder would have to give access to his username and password by which the newcomer could buy and ship books at will, using the account holder's assets.

Picker believes that this model will make honest citizens out of people who might otherwise give away copyrighted data in the same way consumers did with Napster.

He points out how devastating this new service will be to bookstores, which do not have the system capacity to compete. The booksellers' only hope would be to buy a similar service from a company like Google. He brings the article to a close saying, "This is the Google Print fight, and now we will need to sort through how Amazon's new services alter how we should think about Google Print."

On 9/17 in one of my earliest blogs at this location ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"), I talked about the plight of the independent bookstore. In the last ten years, membership in the American Booksellers Association has dropped from about 3,000 to about 1,800. These new programs will put further stress on booksellers everywhere.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Favorite Things: Who Owns What

One of my favorite things about a holiday weekend is sitting around with friends and philosophizing while we munch on leftovers. We talked about what careers we would choose today, given what we know about life. I said I'd be a writer, psychologist or archeologist.

Later, it occurred to me that all three careers shared the common trait of requiring a fair amount of research. Okay, I'll admit it; I'm a research whore. There's nothing I enjoy more than digging into some arcane subject--just for the joy of following a thread to its logical conclusion.

I say all this to introduce today's blog which started when I heard a casual reference on the news to the "six big media conglomerates." The newscast didn't name them so I tried to come up with all six, but found that I could only dredge up four.

I started by thinking of television and movies and named the first four pretty easily: Disney, which owns ABC and a bunch of production companies as well as radio and cable stations; Viacom, which owns cable and CBS stations along with Paramount Pictures; Time Warner, which owns CNN and HBO (among other cable stations) plus AOL and Warner Brothers production company; and Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, which in addition to newspapers owns Fox Broadcasting and Twentieth Century Fox.

I came up with a list of secondary companies (Belo, Clear Channel, Dow Jones and Knight Ridder), but knew that none of them qualified as a "big media conglomerate." I was forced to turn to research to identify the last two.

At this point, I want to credit the Columbia Journalism Review website ( for making my research so much easier. Much of the information that follows comes from the CJR media list. I also checked my information against Wikipedia.

The two remaining conglomerates were General Electric and Bertelsmann. GE owns NBC and Telemundo stations along with Universal Pictures. Bertelsmann owns German magazines, radio and television stations, BMG Music and Random House.

I was familiar with the name Bertelsmann since it owns one of the largest publishing houses. As it turns out, of the seven biggest New York publishers, my six media conglomerates own four. The rest of this blog will be devoted to the biggest New York publishers and their owners:

1. I'm going to start with Bertelsmann since that's where I left off. Bertelsmann (Germany) owns Waterbrook Press and Random House which has multiple subsidiaries. These include: Ballantine, Bantam Dell, Crown, Doubleday Broadway, Knopf and the Random House imprints.

2. Continuing with the big media conglomerates, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation (Los Angeles) owns HarperMorrow Publishers, which includes over thirty imprints, including Avon, HarperCollins and William Morrow.

3. The third media conglomerate which owns a New York publishing house is Time Warner (New York), which owns a lot more than I listed above. They also own theme parks, magazines and Castle Rock Entertainment. The Warner Book Group owns Warner Books (including Mysterious Press) and Little, Brown and Company.

4. Number four is Viacom (New York) which owned a lot I didn't immediately recall: UPN stations, Infinity Broadcasting with its radio stations, and King World Productions. In addition, Viacom owns Simon and Schuster, which includes Scribner, Simon & Schuster and Pocket Books.

5. The fifth entity to own a large New York publishing house is a media conglomerate in its own right although it's not in the top six tier. Pearson PLC (United Kingdom) owns both trade and educational publishing subsidiaries. Among the trade publishing units are Berkley Books, Grosset & Dunlap, Penguin (including Jove and NAL), Puffin and Putnam.

6. The sixth company is another second tier media conglomerate, Reed Elsevier PLC (United Kingdom), which owns the Lexis-Nexis online service and a number of business publications. In addition, they own Harcourt School Publishers; Harcourt Trade; and Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

7. The final conglomerate to own a large New York publishing house is the only one not listed on the CJR media list: the Holtzbrinck Group (Germany) which owns Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, Pan and Tom Doherty Associates (which owns Tor and Forge).

I found it very interesting that of the seven large New York houses, three had their corporate offices in the United States (although Rupert Murdoch is an Australian), two were in the United Kingdom and two were in Germany. Publishing is truly an international business, and the Internet is shrinking the world even further daily.

Having gotten my research fix for the day, I'll get back to my holiday weekend. Hope yours is fun.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Greatest Love Story of the Twentieth Century

Weekends are the time to relax--even on a blog.

A friend and I recently saw "Walk the Line," the Johnny Cash biopic.

For the most part, I'm not a country western fan, but I really wanted to see this film. My interest had been stimulated by a segment on NPR's "This American Life" that was first broadcast back on 9/19/03. Sarah Vowell narrated the ten-minute piece which she entitled "The Greatest Love Story of the Twentieth Century."

For those of you not familiar with public radio or Sarah Vowell, I pulled the following from her biography on "Sarah Vowell is best known for her bits on public radio's This American Life . . . The New York Times has commended her 'funny querulous voice and shrewd comic delivery.' As a critic and reporter, she has contributed to numerous newspapers and magazines, including Esquire, GQ, Los Angeles Times, The Village Voice, Spin, The New York Times Book Review and McSweeney's. She is a former columnist for Time, and San Francisco Weekly. Hip, irreverent, and with a voice that NPR fans of This American Life instantly perk up to, Sarah makes both readers and listeners laugh out loud with her wry, comic observations on everything from politics to pop culture." She's also the voice of the daughter, Violet, in the 2004 animated movie "The Incredibles."

The format of This American Life is to select a subject each week and then do several segments with different stories on that subject. The subject of Episode 247 in 2003 was "What is this thing called love?" Sarah Vowell's piece was the last act closing the episode. She told the story of Johnny Cash and June Carter's romance, which spanned a period of forty years. It is funny, sad and inspirational. It was so popular, it's been rerun multiple times.

I'm including the link below if you'd like to listen to it. Click on the blue and black "RA" symbol for Real Player Audio on the left hand side of the link's page. Remember, it is the last ten minutes of an hour-long program:


Friday, November 25, 2005

The New Fantasy

Thanksgiving night. A happy and peaceful day spent with the people I love. A lot to be thankful for.

Among the blessings, a quick and easy blog.

Sunday's USA Today had an article about the popularity of fantasy. Carol Memmott, the article's writer, says, "Sales of science fiction and fantasy books have jumped 8.5% in the past five years--nearly double the rate for all consumer books."

To help explain the growth, Memmott cites the Harry Potter books and movies as well as the renewed interest in J.R.R. Tolkien and his "Lord of the Rings" books and movies.

James Killen, a buyer for Barnes & Noble is quoted saying, "On average, we've seen annual increases over the last few years in the area of 10% to 15%." He says that the lion's share of the new fantasies are "adventures of huge scale told over numerous volumes." This is confirmed by Micha Hershman, the sci-fi/fantasy buyer for Borders and Waldenbooks, who says, "We have seen a double-digit increase in sales this year over the same period last year."

Another buyer suggests that the increase is because the kids who started with the Harry Potter books are now older and reading adult fantasy. The article also indicates that "the image of adult readers of fantasy novels is changing" from the stereotypical image of the geek or nerd. The new readers of fantasy come from all walks of life and may be looking for "the escapist appeal" according to the founder of Tor Publishing.

As a long-time lover of fantasies, I'm delighted to see that the rest of the world is finally catching up.

Hope your Thanksgiving was happy.



Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Unique Perspective on Google's Library Project

Monday's New York Times included an interview with Sidney Verba, the director of the Harvard University Library. He is the man who is overseeing the Google Print Library Project (GPLP) at Harvard.

According to the article, Mr. Verba brings a unique perspective to the GPLP debate. He is the author of a number of books, was once the chairman of the board of Harvard University Press and is now heading the Harvard library. He's been a writer, a publisher, an educator and a librarian.

The controversy and lawsuits that followed the announcement of the GPLP surprised Verba who said, "'It's become much more controversial than I would have expected.'" Harvard has responded by confining "the scanning of its collections largely to books in the public domain and limit[ing] the initial scanning to about 40,000 volumes. But it hopes eventually to scan copyrighted books as well, depending on the outcome of the legal dispute."

Verba was able to shed light on some of the reasons why Harvard was interested in participating with the GPLP. Harvard students are turning to the Internet for research they once depended on libraries for. While Harvard has been aggressive in digitizing their libraries, Google's involvement saves them money and time. According to the Times, the University of Michigan estimated it would take 1,000 years to digitize that library's collection. Google expects to digitize Harvard in six years. Finally, Google has promised to make TWO copies of each library they digitize. The second copy will go to the library in question.

That second copy is of concern to the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against Google, but Verba insists that Harvard's copy "will be used only for archiving and preservation, in keeping with a research library's charter."

The article closes with Verba saying, "We think and hope it is legally the appropriate approach . . . but we're taking it day by day."

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The New Library of Alexandria

Three hundred years before the birth of Christ, the largest library in the world was the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt. Legend has it that all of the world's knowledge--perhaps as many as 700,000 parchment scrolls--was stored within the Library's walls.

According to one story quoted in Wikipedia, "By decree of Ptolemy III of Egypt, all visitors to the city were required to surrender all books and scrolls in their possession; these writings were then swiftly copied by official scribes. The originals were put into the Library, and the copies were delivered to the previous owners."

Talk about copyright infringement.

Today, over fifteen hundred years after the Library's destruction, Google's stated mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." A modern version of the Library at Alexandria?

Brewster Kahle, founder of the Internet Archive and inventor of the first electronic publishing system, talked about the creation of a digital library in yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle. He was quoted saying, "If we do this right, it will be remembered as one of the great things humans have done, up there with the Library of Alexandria, Gutenberg's press and putting a man on the moon."

Kahle is the driving force behind the OCA (Open Content Alliance) which I wrote about for the first time on November 6 in a blog entitled "Another Team Is Suiting Up." Seven weeks ago, the OCA announced its intention to begin digitizing books in the public domain. In doing so, it differentiates itself from Google, which intends to digitize all books in the collections of its five partner libraries--including those still under copyright.

Among the OCA's founding members are: The Internet Archive, Yahoo!, Adobe Systems, the European Archive, HP Labs, the British National Archives, O'Reilly Media and the Prelinger Archives. During their kick-off event in San Francisco on October 27, additional members were announced, including Microsoft. The Smithsonian and Johns Hopkins University have also agreed to participate.

Kahle described his long-time dream of providing "'a permanent archive of digital work . . . available for free to scholars and researchers.'" To this end, he started the nonprofit Internet Archive in 1996. "'My interest is to build the great library. That was the goal I set for myself 25 years ago. It is now technically possible to live up to the dream of the Library of Alexandria.'"

According to Kahle, he met with Yahoo early this year to discuss potential joint ventures between the nonprofit and commercial sectors. "Yahoo proposed creating a freely accessible digital library that would include only books in the public domain . . . It was agreed that Yahoo would supply the search engine for the Web site and index the books scanned by the Internet Archive's Scribe machines."

Kahle is anxious for Google to join the OCA team. While it's a nice dream, I have difficulty seeing Google joining an effort where Yahoo is providing the search engine and in which Microsoft is a participant. But, hey, we're entering the season of miracles. Maybe the wolf will live with the lamb and the leopard [will] lie down with the kid.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Random House Takes the Lead

The 11/28 edition of BusinessWeek online is out ( and there's an article on Random House entitled, "Random House: Digital is Our Destiny."

The article says, "Unwilling to let a Google, Yahoo, or Microsoft dictate terms in cyberspace, Random House, Inc., the world's largest trade publisher, is taking the industry lead. In early November it outlined ways it would begin to offer its books directly to consumers on a page-per-view basis. Random House will get at least 4 cents a page and split that roughly in half with authors for fiction and narrative non-fiction titles." (See my blog dated 11/4 "Big Day in Publishing News" for the announcement of the press release).

Richard Sarnoff, president of Random House's corporate development unit, was remarkably frank in his interview with BusinessWeek. "'We acknowledge that a generation is growing up that may not have the same visceral connection with the book format,'" he said. "'They have read as much on screens as they have on paper. We need vehicles to translate our books in different ways.'"

An author is quoted in the article as saying, "'The elephant in the room for all of us is Google.'" Google Print's Library Project has energized the publishing industry's search for a new business model. In addition, technology itself is pushing change. Sarnoff says that, "within 18 months, reading devices could be as easy to use for books as the Apple iPod is for music."

According to the article, Random House is the world's largest trade publisher, issuing 10,000 new titles worldwide and generating about $2 billion in revenue a year.

If this behemoth recognizes that it's time to change, don't you think we writers should do the same?

Just musing . . .

Monday, November 21, 2005

I'm Not an Apologist for Google . . . I Swear

If you're new to this blog and are trying to understand the Google Book Search and Google Print Library Project, here are the dates of my blogs on the subject:

11/19--Latest Google News here
11/13--Copyright, Copyright here
11/12--Even More on Google Print and Copyrights here
11/11--More on the Copyright Issue here
11/6---Another Team is Suiting Up here
11/4---Big Day in Publishing News here
10/27--Let's Look at What Google is Really Talking About here
10/20--Google is Being Sued . . . Again here

In these blogs, I make reference to articles and press releases that helped me to better understand the copyright issues and direct you to where you can find them, too.

Feel free to email me directly at if you have questions or issues about anything I've said.



Contracts, Contracts

I'm blogging early tonight. I need to get back to my manuscript. I've been away from it for nearly two days and am getting anxious.

I was the speaker at my Sisters-in-Crime meeting today. We talked about copyright issues, the "unbundling" of books by (see my blog for 11/4 "Big Day in Publishing News") and future trends. I raised the question, which I think is a legitimate one: "If all books go digital and web marketing is done by a retailer like or even e-Bay, what will be the role of the publisher in this brave new world?"

Of course, someone will still need to digitize the book, but that's not rocket science. I can see the need for a publicist, but distribution will be largely the venue of the online retailer, no?

Talking about publishers, check out Holly Lisle's blog ( for November 11 and 12 and the two entries on the 16th. Recently, Holly was both surprised and enraged to find that her books were a part of Google's Book Search since she had not given permission for them to be used. She wrote Google which immediately wrote back to say that they had received permission from her publisher. Holly checked with her publisher (Tor) and found that they hadn't given permission. She emailed Google back. That's when she found out that Holtzbrinck, the media conglomerate that owns Tor had sent the digitized copies to Google. Holly demanded that the books be removed from the program and Google agreed to do so.

Now this raises a very interesting question. I presume Holly signed a contract with Tor. Unless Tor's relationship with Holtzbrinck was spelled out in that contract and, unless Holly signed something agreeing that Holtzbrinck could act on Tor's behalf, I doubt that they can do that. I'm not a lawyer, but I'm having trouble believing that Holtzbrinck can unilaterally act on Holly's behalf without her consent. The fact that Google acted so quickly to remove her books makes me think they thought the same thing.

Read those contracts, folks. Better yet, have an agent or a lawyer familiar with literary contracts read them for you. I have a friend who just described a nightmare contract to me: the publisher would publish her first book if she guaranteed them right-of-first-refusal on subsequent books AND agreed they did not have to pay her any royalties until a year after the publishing date. Eeeekkkkk!

It takes a while to write a book. Don't just give away the fruits of your hard-earned labor because you're so eager to be published.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Visiting the Goblet of Fire

Yesterday, I played hooky from my manuscript and went with a friend to see "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Be forewarned: this is not a film for small children. It is two and a half hours long and very dark. On our way out, my friend had to restrain me from telling a couple with small children who were waiting on line not to bring their kids into the film. I mean, didn't they read the books? Don't they know what happens? Mad Eye Moody alone is enough to give a five-year-old nightmares for years.

In this fourth outing, Harry and his friends are now teenagers, full of hormones and angst. Harry waits too long to invite Cho to the Triwizard Ball, Ron gets jealous over all the attention Harry receives and Hermione struggles with the fact that her two best friends are years younger than she is in maturity.

One of my critique partners, Jeanne Laws (, commented that the film is choppy. She's right. Having to pack so much into a single film is a big undertaking, but the new director does a credible job. Of necessity, some things get short shrift. The World Quidditch match gets very little attention and, except for a few scenes with Professor McGonagall and Mad Eye Moody, the school year is barely mentioned.

The Hollywood Reporter sums it up well: "The three 'tasks' of the competition provide the backbone of the movie. Each is a magnificent set piece of action, danger and trial by fire reminiscent of the early 'Star Wars' battles. One involves a contest with very cranky, fire-spewing dragons. The next sends the four contestants into the dark waters of the Black Lake to rescue marooned friends. The final challenge happens in a malevolent maze of tall, vicious hedges where pathways are thick with mist."

Ralph Fiennes is a fabulous Voldemort. I've been concerned that they wouldn't have a strong enough actor to pull the Dark Lord off. Fiennes nails it.

All in all, GOF is a great adventure. It can't be compared to the lighthearted hijinks of SS or COS, but it's a fitting successor to POA and sets up the next film in the series (OOTP) nicely.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Latest Google News

Since the middle of October, I've done half a dozen columns on Google and their Google Print initiatives. Despite the fact that I was reading everything I could find on the subject, it took several weeks before I fully understood that Google Print (GP) and Google Print Library (GP/L) were two different initiatives with two different protocols. When it finally dawned on me, I wrote a letter to Google management, suggesting that they needed to separate out their brands because they were causing unnecessary problems with the names.

Apparently, mine wasn't the first suggestion along these lines because, on 11/17, Google announced a name change for Google Print. It will now be called Google Book Search.

Google's blog had this to say about the name change: "We think a more descriptive name will help clarify what our users can do with it; namely search the full text of books to find ones that interest them and learn where to buy or borrow them."

I couldn't agree more.

For newbies to this blog, Google Book Search is a program in which ALL the books being searched have prior approval from the publishers. There are NO copyright issues involved. Google Book Search (similar to Amazon's Search Inside) has publisher approval to show the page on which the search term appears and two pages on either side of the term (for a total of five pages). It is my understanding that a single user may do no more than three searches of the same book in the same month.

While we're on the subject of Google, might as well mention the new service they announced on Tuesday (11/15). According to Google's blog, "Google Base enables content owners to easily make their information searchable online. Anyone, from large companies to website owners and individuals, can use it to submit their content in the form of data items. We'll [Google] host the items and make them searchable for free."

USA Today said, "normally, it takes Web 'crawlers' days or weeks to scour the Web and feed Google's main search engine with updated information. This tool will make locating anything that's been uploaded nearly instantaneous, provided it finds users willing to provide the information. Submitters will also be able to describe what they uploaded with keywords--making searches and filters more reliable."

The New York Times said, "Google is poised to enter the highly competitive classified advertisement business, posing a threat to online and traditional businesses in that field. . . Currently Google displays the results of queries as a simple list, ranked by relevance. Google Base would allow searchers to pull up information organized by any subject. Google, however, has not said how it will display information organized into groupings, like homes, cars or jobs. Initially, the service will be free.

Google's website gives its mission as: "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Google Base may go a long way to achieving the company's goals.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Fracturing the Old Business Model

Among the websites and blogs I check periodically is Forrester Research ( They advertise themselves as an independent technology and market research company providing advice on technology's impact on business.

On November 7, Forrester had an article on "ABC/iTunes Deal Cracks Open the TV Business Model." The executive summary says in part: "The iPod video player doesn't matter. Downloading episodes of Lost and Desperate Housewives to computers barely matters. What does matter is the crack in the traditional television business model opened by the Apple/ABC deal to allow consumers on-demand access to current hit TV shows. Unwittingly, Apple is building the proof of concept for the video-on-demand (VOD) business model . . . [and] will fracture the old business model."

If you're interested in the article, you can go to their website and pull it up. I don't want to talk about it specifically right now. As I read the article, however, I was struck by some of the subtitles:

Alternate Distribution Means More Revenue, Not Less
Time-shifting generates more revenue
Downloads diversify the . . . revenue stream
Cable VOD will get popular
Ad-supported VOD is next
Dying shows will find new life on VOD
iPod and online video will reveal their untapped promotional potential

I found myself wondering if the basic premise of the article could also be applied to the digitization of books. Can we substitute the words "digitized books" for "VOD," "iPod" and "online video" so that the subtitles read: Digitized books will get popular; ad-supported digitized books are next; dying books will find new life in digitization; and digitized books will reveal their untapped promotional potential?

I know many writers are fighting the digitization initiatives, but it feels to me like fighting the incoming ocean tide. The planet is shrinking, our natural resources are drying up, and we are addicted to speed--faster, more convenient, more immediate everything. The traditional book which can take more than a year to publish, which has to be shipped and warehoused and which is eventually recycled is just not the medium for the twenty-first century.

I talked with a friend at length this afternoon. She spoke about her 16-year-old son taking classes at our local college. He's writing his first term paper and she was concerned because he hadn't been to the library yet. He laughed and said he'd done all his research online.

My friend was a child of the twentieth century; her son is a child of the twenty-first century. He listens to downloaded tunes (but still buys CDs), has online friends all over the world and is completely at home in a digital universe.

Our perception of books hasn't fully caught up with our technology yet. There are lots of issues to be resolved. An ethical debate always follows the development of technology. We had to be able to harvest stem cells before we could discuss whether it was right or wrong to do so. We had to be able to digitize books before we could begin to negotiate fair methods of reimbursing writers.

Just musing . . .

Thursday, November 17, 2005

How Do You Approach Your Story?

Over the weekend, a couple of writer friends and I were talking about our approaches to writing. I winced when the subject was brought up because I knew that both my friends were far more organized than I am.

One of them does not begin writing until she has a complete outline of the proposed novel in a plastic colored folder--a different color for each novel (is she obsessive or what?). Her outline is so complete that it includes language she will use in the actual manuscript. It may take her three months to write the outline. However, once she sits down to write the actual novel, she is usually able to finish it in two months because of all the preparation already done.

The other starts by finding photos in magazines that she can hang in her office. She cuts out pictures that represent her hero, her heroine and the setting she wants to use. Her next step is to write biographies for her main characters. She also plans her key scenes. However, she doesn't use an outline because she wants the freedom to move her scenes around. She lists each scene on an index card. That way, when she runs into trouble, she is able to shuffle the cards to change the order of her scenes and jumpstart her process.

I was feeling very intimidated by the time it was my turn to speak. I'm the original pantser (as in "flying by the seat of my pants"). When I have an idea for a novel or short story, I scribble it down on an index card and put it in a small box that I can refer to when I need a story. That's it. When I decide to write that story, I usually play around with the idea for a day or two while I decide who the key characters will be and what their GMC (goal, motivation and conflict) will be. Then I start writing.

Because I haven't written those bios or typed out that outline, I invariably slip into backstory immediately. I don't worry about it. I just keep writing while the iron is hot. Once I've got the backstory out of my system and am into action, I look for the point where the action begins and cut out everything that I said before that point. I create a new folder on the computer called "Title/backstory" and put the deleted material in there. I NEVER DISCARD ANYTHING. It all gets cut and put into the backstory folder where I can still access it later. I dribble sentences from my backstory folder into the novel along the way.

This approach guarantees that every story starts with action--not narrative, not description and not a bunch of backstory. The action involved doesn't have to be huge. I think of it as a "moment of change." Something happens. I never start with descriptions of the setting or the weather--no matter how wonderful that description may be.

By the time I get to page 50, I'm ready for my version of organization. I set up an Excel spreadsheet. Below I am listing the headings and sample answers in boldface:

Chapter Number: 4
Begins Page 45/Ends Page 60
Number of Pages in Chapter: 16
Number of Scenes in Chapter: 2
Brief description of scenes: Kelly meets Gus; Kelly and Sara argue
Does the chapter end with a hook?: Yes
Suggested changes/fixes: Should Kelly meet Gus earlier?

The deeper I get into the novel, the more helpful the spreadsheet becomes. When I analyze it, problems just leap out at me. Examples: a seven-page chapter, a chapter with five scenes or no ending hook. I never tackle the problems while writing. I wait until the editing stage or until I run into a roadblock. It's my version of the index cards. I move things around, cut scenes (which go into my backstory folder) and add plot twists.

Interestingly enough, I was the only one of the three of us who does not insert notes or place a sticky on the printed pages that says "research needed." If I come to a point in the manuscript where research is needed, I do it THEN. I never put it off. Neither of my friends do this.

Bottom line: there are lots of ways to approach writing. What's important is that you find the way that works for you, and then have the discipline to stick to it.

Happy writing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Books, Books Everywhere But Not Room to Read

There was an article in Friday's Slate online magazine ( about book collecting.

The author, Jacob Weisburg, described an interview with a man who identified himself as an "ex-collector" of books. Weisburg says, "I'm an ambivalent collector myself. I also know that there's really no such thing as an ex-collector, any more than there are ex-alcoholics or ex-gamblers. You may be staying off the stuff, but the twitch never goes away."

Boy, did that hit me where I live. Literally "where I live." You see, my obsession for accumulating books--I wouldn't be so arrogant as to describe my efforts as "collecting" books--has determined where I've lived for much of my adult life. After college, I started out in a one-bedroom apartment in Clearwater, Florida just a stone's throw from the Scientologists. Since I couldn't afford a real bookcase, I bought and finished pine boards from Home Depot; then painted cinder blocks and assembled a series of shelves that were eight feet long and eight feet high. When I moved from there, I sold my "bookcase" for twenty dollars.

My next step-up was to a two-bedroom apartment in Dallas, Texas, where my roommate had to put up with two of my bookcases in his space. This duplex was a roomy affair--two stories with over 1,300 square feet. It took me quite some time to fill it with books.

I now live in a three-bedroom home. When the moving men discovered there were 140 book boxes to be transported, they shook their heads in disbelief. One of them said to me, "You're a teacher, huh?" The other said, "Naw, we've moved teachers before. Your bookstore went out of business, right?"

This time around, I created a study so that, when I'm working, I'm surrounded by my books. There's something really comforting to me about sitting in the center of a room with seven-foot tall bookshelves. My study houses the non-fiction part of my accumulation with psychology directly behind my chair, true crime/criminal behavior in front of me and language reference across the room.

I'm an eclectic accumulator. I love reference books. Instead of buying shoes like most women, I buy reference books. I have shelves and shelves of historical and geographical texts, not to mention writers' reference books. I also have a fairly large group of biblical references (bible histories, atlases, dictionaries and so forth). They're not shelved anywhere near my vampire and witchcraft collection.

At some point, I'm either going to have to begin selling off some of these books or start hunting for a four-bedroom house. It will be a tough call when that day comes.

Weisberg concludes his article: "The book has had a good run. For 550 years it was the most practical way to deliver writing to multiple readers. But over the coming decades, we're likely to discover that it is not the only or the best way. By the time Google Print gets done digitizing the Bodleian Library, we will all be used to zapping novels electronically; humans will be reading them on screens, in forms that take up no space, travel anywhere, and undergo no decay. But as the Gutenberg era draws to a close, books take on greater magic as artifacts. What no longer serves as technology lives on as art."

Guess I'd better begin watching the real estate ads.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pre-Nuptial Talks Continue

Decisions, Decisions. It's late Monday night and I'm still trying to decide the subject of tomorrow's blog. Usually I know by lunchtime what I'll be blogging about for the next day.

The problem isn't that there isn't anything to talk about; it's that there's so much to choose from. I feel the way I do when I visit a mall--sensory overload. Too much to see and hear at one time.

Okay, because it's late and because I talked about this last night, I'm going to stay on the subject of Time Warner's effort to find a "partner" for AOL. As I reported in "It May Be Time For AOL To Make Up Its Mind," all eyes are on Time Warner this week, waiting to learn the name of the groom they've selected for their AOL subsidiary.

So, what kind of a dowery does the AOL bride bring her prospective suitors, Microsoft and Google? Primarily two things: an ever-shrinking but still respectable list of dial-up subscribers and a sparkling array of Web properties (including, AIM and Mapquest) which draw an estimated 112 million monthly visitors. For Google whose revenue has always been primarily from ad revenue and increasingly for Microsoft, which is trying to shift to generating ad revenue, the AOL Web properties are a powerful inducement.

But wait! Like the Popeil pocket fisherman ads, there's more. Today AOL's parent, Time Warner, announced "plans to stream episodes from Warner Brothers television programs free on the Internet" according to

The New York Times reported that "Warner Brothers is preparing a major new Internet service that will let fans watch full episodes from more than 100 old television series. The service, called In2TV, will be free, supported by advertising, and will start early next year. More than 4,800 episodes will be made available online in the first year." AOL will distribute the service on its Web portal.

Remember, both Warner Brothers and AOL are Time Warner divisions.

Gosh, do you think it's an accident that Time Warner announced this great new addition to AOL's stable of Web properties in the very week they are trying to nail down the terms of the pre-nuptial with the would-be suitors? My guess is that they're at the valuation-of-assets stage and Time Warner has just sweetened the deal.

I may be wrong, but this makes me wonder if Microsoft isn't ahead in the marriage sweepstakes.

Stay tuned for more . . .

Monday, November 14, 2005

It May Be Time for AOL To Make Up Its Mind

A month ago, I wrote a blog called "Everyone Wants To Take AOL To The Dance." In it, I talked about Time Warner entertaining suitors for their AOL division. Initially, it was just Microsoft in talks with Time Warner. Then, on 10/13, Google and Comcast approached, suggesting a joint venture with AOL. Less than a week later, on 10/18, I wrote that Yahoo was also throwing its hat into the ring ("AOL Has ANOTHER Suitor").

In a "last in/first out" move, Yahoo announced on Thursday that they were backing out of the running to buy a stake in AOL.

The New York Times reported that "Time Warner signaled it wasn't interested in the terms Yahoo was willing to offer." The story quoted the Wall Street Journal, saying that "Time Warner is still in talks with . . . Google and . . . Microsoft and the Journal said the two companies are neck-and-neck in the talks." The speculation was that AOL might chose a partner as early as next week.

AOL's decision will have huge consequences for Google. AOL already uses Google for its search engine, and that partnership accounted for 11% of Google's revenue in the first half of this year. Google's interest in a deal with AOL has been seen as a defensive move to protect itself and to keep AOL out of Microsoft's clutches. "If AOL teams up with Microsoft, it would realign the top players in a [search engine] market now dominated by Yahoo and Google . . . The combination of AOL and MSN would turn the industry on its ear and make us reassess the assumptions of the power players," according to Jeff Lanctot as quoted in BusinessWeek Online.

But, you see, the thing is that Microsoft and AOL have been in discussions since January, and they still haven't come to agreement. According to BusinessWeek Online, "Microsoft wants to team up with just one part of AOL's business--its Web properties--leaving the declining dial-up subscriber business behind."

AOL may also have some trust issues with Microsoft. In a 9/20 article, BusinessWeek Online reported that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates once made a threat to AOL's Steve Case, saying "'I can buy 20% of you or I can buy all of you.'" Not exactly the stuff of warm, fuzzy relations.

On the other hand, AOL has had a successful partnership with Google for some time. Their search engine joint venture has pumped dollars into AOL at a time when its dial-up business is hemorrhaging.

Will AOL walk away from a positive partnership, run the risk that the MSN search engine might not bring in as much revenue as Google's search engine--and climb into bed with a partner they may not trust?

Stay tuned for answers.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Copyright, Copyright

As a member of RWA, I belong to several of their online chapters--Passionate Ink, for which I am the membership chair, is the erotic romance chapter; Kiss of Death is the mystery chapter; FF&P is the Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal chapter and RWAOnline is the first online chapter.

As I've become more and more interested in the Google Print project, I've been anxious to share the information with other writers. We had a very lively discussion on RWAOnline over the last two days. I enjoyed listening to the viewpoints of other members, many of whom had important things to add to the dialogue.

There was a repeating thread of skepticism regarding Google's intentions and statements, which is understandable, given a for-profit company and fears of copyright infringement. I thought I'd mention one of the issues that was raised which is very pertinent to the discussion we've been having here.

Google has repeatedly said that it cannot contact rights-holders because it cannot locate them. One member expressed disbelief since the U.S. Copyright Office does have a database.

The U.S. Copyright Office is one of the most antiquated entities in our government. That database only includes copyrights back to 1978--less than thirty years. In addition, the Copyright office has a link here:

which says:

"Catalog of Copyright Entries
The Copyright Office published the Catalog of Copyright Entries (CCE) in printed format from 1891 through 1978. From 1979 through 1982 the CCE was issued in microfiche format. The catalog was divided into parts according to the classes of works registered. Each CCE segment covered all registrations made during a particular period of time. Renewal registrations made from 1979 through 1982 are found in Section 8 of the catalog. Renewals prior to that time were generally listed at the end of the volume containing the class of work to which they pertained.

A number of libraries throughout the United States maintain copies of the Catalog, and this may provide a good starting point if you wish to make a search yourself. There are some cases, however, in which a search of the Catalog alone will not be sufficient to provide the needed information. For example:

Because the Catalog does not include entries for assignments or other recorded documents, it cannot be used for searches involving the ownership of rights.

The Catalog entry contains the essential facts concerning a registration, but it is not a verbatim transcript of the registration record. It does not contain the address of the copyright claimant."

I have heard at least two copyright scholars confirm Google's statement that it would be impossible to locate the rights-holders on all the books in the Google Print Library project.

The Copyright Office says, "when it is impracticable to obtain permission, use of copyrighted material should be avoided unless the doctrine of “fair use” would clearly apply to the situation."

At some point, the courts are going to have to decide whether and how fair use applies to Google Print's effort.

In the meantime, I was grateful for the insightful and thoughtful comments expressed by the RWAOnline members who participated in the discussion.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Even More on Google Print and Copyrights

There was an article in USA Today on 11/8/05 by Kevin Maney, their technology reporter. The article was entitled "Critics Should Grasp Google Projects Before Blasting Them."

Maney starts out by saying, "May Google give the book publishing industry a collective ulcer. Mostly because the publishers are being so stinkin' dense."

Doesn't sound very objective, does he?

He's not. Kevin Maney is seriously torqued. He's angry over the "orgy of angst" provoked by the Google projects. And that's the main thrust of his article. The Google projects as in more than one project.

There are, Maney says, "two book-related projects. One is Google Print [GP], Google's program to scan books--with the publishers' permission--and make a limited number of those copyright-protected pages available online. The other is the Google Print Library [GP/L] project . . . That's aimed at making all books in the world searchable online."

The differences between the two projects is what has Maney so exercised. He says that authors and publishers are lumping the projects together and making assumptions about one based upon knowledge of the other.

You can see how it could happen. The words "Google Print" are included in the names of both projects. An author whose publisher has agreed to join GP and who sees pages and pages of her work made available to the public could naturally assume that GP/L would do the same without permission. This is not the case.

The GP program will allow readers to do a search and then pull up two pages on either side of the search terms in a book with publishers' permission. This is almost exactly what has been doing with their "Search Inside" program. In fact, it may be helpful to think of GP as a "Search Inside" program. Again, with the publisher's permission.

"Yes, Google Library [GP/L] is scanning books from libraries without first seeking publishers' or authors' permission. But Google is only making the text searchable, so you can find whether what you're researching is in a book somewhere. At that point, you'd have to buy a physical book or go to a library to see the information." GP/L "gives you only card catalog-like information and a couple of lines of text--nothing more."

I said last night that I couldn't see Harvard and Stanford and the three other libraries involved in GP/L joining a project that would violate copyright laws. Maney's article makes it clear that there would be no copyright violation.

I've been following the press and stories on this subject for months now. I understood the concepts, but must admit that I, too, have been guilty at times of blending the two programs together in my mind. No more. I'm clear. Crystal.

Maney closes with this warning: "Publishers and authors had better get on this bandwagon, because the drive toward putting books online is not going away. Yahoo and Microsoft have jumped into book scanning. The book industry needs to get out in front of this and be a part of it--and benefit from it."

Nuff said.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Veterans' Day

Today was an odd day. It started out badly, but--thank God--improved as it went along and is finishing on a really positive note.

My post last night was pretty lengthy and took some time. Just before I went to bed, I got notification of a comment. I stopped by this site to thank the visitor. Somehow--some way--probably because I was tired (maybe because Little Toshiba here is still feeling sick), I erased my entire posting for the day. I didn't realize it at the time and went to bed, happy to have finished the post.

Got up this morning. Karen McCullough, my web designer, said she was ready to go live with some changes we'd discussed. She sent me the mock-up. As I was checking the pages, I realized the entire blog for yesterday was gone--just GONE. I had to try and recreate it from scratch. Believe me, this is not the way you want to start a day.

Take a look at my website. You can reach it by first clicking on "view my profile" and then clicking on "my web page." We still have some small nits to correct, but it's finally finished. Thank you, Karen, for outstanding work.

If you click on the "Articles" button, there's a piece I wrote for my Passionate Ink chapter on Industry Trends last month. By now, half a dozen RWA chapters have asked permission to copy it in their newsletters.

This afternoon, I got word that I came in second in the FF&P (Fantasy, Futuristic and Paranormal) On the Far Side contest! That brightened the day considerably. Another Brazen Hussy, Sherrill Quinn, took first place, strengthening our plans for world domination. Congrats, Sherrill.

Today is the birthday of my good friend and fellow Brazen Hussy, Jeanne Laws. Happy Birthday, dear heart. I'm glad you got out of taking the kids to the zoo.

I've got another blog to post later this evening so I'll close this one now. Happy Veterans' Day to all who have and are serving our country so honorably. Without the sacrifices of our military, we could not enjoy the blessings of freedom. Thank you.

More on the Copyright Issue

This week, I received an email from a group identifying itself as COCOA (Copyright Owners' Control of Access) asking that I sign a petition opposed to Google Print's library copying project. The group is led by Andrew Burt, who began the Critters' sci-fi critique website. I do not plan to sign that petition, and this blog is about my reasons.

As you probably know by now, Google Print signed an agreement in December of last year with five of the world's libraries to begin digitizing their collections of books. This announcement was met with anger and two lawsuits by groups of authors and publishers (filed in September and October) who claimed copyright infringement. Since that time, another group calling itself the Open Content Alliance (OCA) also announced their intention to begin digitizing books, although saying that they would begin with out-of-copyright books before addressing the copyrighted works.

USA Today had three editorials/articles on 11/7 and 11/8 on this issue. The newspaper's stand can be summarized by the titles of one article and one editorial: "Critics Should Grasp Google Projects Before Blasting Them" and "Needless Fight Threatens Google's Online Library."

On Wednesday of this week, the online magazine, The Salon (, had a lengthy article on this subject. The article was well thought out and is worth a read. The author, Farhad Manjoo, did a good job of summarizing the three groups of books involved:

1) "Work published before 1923; copyrights on these books have expired, and the books' contents, therefore, are in the public domain, free for anyone to use in any way."
2) "Books published after 1923 that publishers have already given Google permission to include--but because these books are under copyright, Google limits their functionality in order to reduce the chance that the service will negatively affect book sales."
3) "A third category of books, those that are still under copyright but that publishers have not given Google permission to include in its library. When Google, in the course of scanning books at a library, comes upon a book published after 1923, publishers insist that the company should set it aside and get permission first."

It's that third group of books that are the causing all the fuss. "In many cases the publishers and rights-holders of these books are unknown. There is no national registry of copyright holders in the United States." Siva Vaidhyanathan, a copyright expert at New York University, says, "It's impossible for a company like Google, or a historian . . . or anyone to find out who owns what. Even publishers don't know what they own. It's just impossible."

Google wants to approach that third category of books by making a few sentences available to the searcher--just enough to let them know if the book is what they're looking for. Then Google can direct them toward the book in question. They will not permit the entire text of any work still under copyright to be viewed during a search. In addition, they have indicated that, if a rights-holder surfaces and demands to "opt out," Google will honor that request. It is this "opt out" instead of an "opt in" approach that infuriates many authors and publishers.

Remember--on Monday I suggested that you keep an eye on Tim O'Reilly? Well--lo and behold--Tim is quoted repeatedly in The Salon article. "O'Reilly is one of [the] few publishers who support Google's plan, and he likes it precisely because he thinks it will shed light on these little-known titles whose rights-holders are hard to track down. 'One of the biggest arguments for Google's approach is that it is the only solution that solves a hard problem,' O'Reilly says."

Fred von Lohmann, an attorney with the Electronic Freedom Foundation, also sides with Google. He believes that publishers have no argument. "'Google helps you find books, and if you want to read it, you have to buy the book. How can that hurt them [the publishers]?'"

Of course, Google is not doing this project out of the goodness of their hearts, although it is completely in line with their open source approach. They are the number one search engine in the world and want to retain that position by expanding the amount of material covered by their searches. Other companies, like Yahoo and Microsoft, are hot on their heels (both Yahoo and Microsoft have signed on to the new initiative with OCA).

At the same time, Google does not plan to run ads on the pages of the Google Print project--supporting their claim that they are not *directly* making money from this program (and bolstering their legal position when the pending lawsuits drag them into court).

The article contains the flip side of the argument with opponents of Google Print being quoted as well. Most of their arguments stem from a refusal to permit their work to enrich Google's value. As I read their comments, I found myself remembering my Italian grandmother shaking her finger at me and saying, "Lei taglia il suo naso per dolere la sua faccia." Rough translation: "You're cutting off your nose to spite your face." Hello??? Once your book is off the shelves of booksellers, you lose the ability to make any more money on it unless you can sell it again to a new publisher. No money from the sales of used books on the secondary market comes to you. With Google Print allowing readers to find your book on the Internet AND with POD technology, you have the potential of that book earning money for an indefinite period (This is also an excellent reason for you to pay attention to the language surrounding when rights revert back to you in your contract. Make sure that you don't give up the ability to republish the book later with a new publisher because of the language your first publisher uses to define what is "still in print" and when the rights revert).

The outcome of any legal battle is uncertain. Both sides have precedent that they can point to and both sides are fighting a public relations battle right now. I encourage you to read as much as you can on the subject because this is an important one for authors everywhere.

One of the things I find most compelling about the Google argument is the list of five partners with whom they signed that agreement last December: Harvard, Oxford, Stanford, the University of Michigan and the New York Public Library. Do you really think any of those cultural bastions would have signed on to the program if they thought it violated copyrights?

The Salon's position is summed up in the close of the article following a quote from Lawrence Lessig, a Stanford law professor and copyright expert: "'Sure Google will profit from it. Good for them. But if the law requires Google (or anyone else) to ask permission before they can make knowledge available like this, then Google Print can't exist.' And if Google Print can't exist, maybe it's time to reexamine the law."

More on this tomorrow.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Moving Further Into the Digital World

Recently I took a momentous step: I cancelled my newspaper subscription. I've subscribed to a daily paper since I left my parents' home, and the cancellation was a significant change for several reasons.

I have strong feelings about the importance of the daily newspaper in a democracy and had a desire to support my local paper. What changed my mind was my local paper's increasingly pointed bias. I don't mind an editorial bias on the editorial page. In fact, I expect to find it there. However, I strongly object to biased reporting of the news. When I cancelled the subscription, I wrote the Managing Editor to tell him exactly what I objected to and why. I received a very courteous reply, pointing out how long I had been a subscriber and asking me to rethink my decision. No acknowledgement of my reason for leaving, or indication that they even wanted to be fair and unbiased. While I can't blame them, it made my decision easier.

I now subscribe to 21 different feeds which I keep track of for free via I created a personal news page on which I subscribed to the online versions of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and the St. Petersburg Times (where one of my brothers is a columnist). I also subscribed to my favorite blogs like Miss Snark and Mark Cuban. Finally, I subscribed to a couple of online magazines like The Salon and Slate.

In the same amount of time it used to take me to read my local newspaper, I can now scan over 20 news sources and get a much broader perspective.

The other reason why cancelling my paper was difficult for me was that I'm a creature of habit. I like my daily schedule. I used to enjoy reading the morning paper on my patio overlooking the backyard while eating breakfast. However, I have to admit that I've grown accustomed to a digital newsfeed very quickly, too.

As part of the same initiative, I no longer watch only one television newscast. While I like the routine of one station, I find I learn more by spreading my listening time among a variety of news stations. Frankly, I feel safer for it. If we only listen to or read those sources that agree with our point of view, we run the danger of not being open to other points of view. When our point of view becomes too narrow, prejudice finds breeding grounds. I'd like to keep my mind as free of weeds as I do my garden.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!!

This is by way of a heads up. My laptop seems to have developed a gastrointestinal disorder. It is belching and has a really ugly case of flatulence.

I've run diagnostics. I've defragged. My firewall and virus scanner say Little Toshiba doesn't have an infection. But he keeps making noises that no laptop should be making. We may need to seek professional help.

If I suddenly go silent, please know it's because Toshiba has been hospitalized and I am sitting at his side, holding his little mouse.

Pray for us.

Microsoft Morphing

On Sunday, I wrote about the Open Content Alliance (OCA), a group dedicated to digitizing books to make them available on the web.

One of the most interesting things about that group was the fact that Microsoft joined it. As I said in my blog, seeing that bastion of the proprietary approach joining an open source project made me want to shout, "The sky is falling!"

There are other signs that Microsoft is changing its business model. Remember--for years, Microsoft's business model has been to force users to buy their proprietary software by making it difficult to run other applications on their system.

In a column on November 2, Charlene Li of Forrester Research said, "the key change is the mindset that Microsoft is embracing: a user-pull model (building services that users want) rather than a software-push model (building applications and foisting them on users). Live services will be lightweight and quickly created and launched, which is the opposite of Microsoft's long development cycles and bloated software feature sets."

When you have a company as large as Microsoft, it can be hard to remain innovative and responsive to consumers. But it can be done. Look at Wal-Mart. The biggest company in the world has never lost its knack for innovation, even as it moved from the entrepreneurial stage to the growth and expansion stage.

If Microsoft can recapture the innovative spirit of its start-up days, it will clobber all the competitors challenging it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

An Author By Any Other Name

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had an article this morning on a subject I've heard alluded to, but have never seen discussed publicly.

The article called "The Name Blame," talks about authors taking new pseudonyms when a string of poor-selling novels jeopardizes their ability to get a new manuscript published.

WSJ reporter Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg says: "Now that retailers can track books (sic) sales speedily and efficiently with point-of-sale technology, the entire publishing world knows when an author's commercial performance takes a dive. For these unfortunate scribblers, such a sales record makes it hard to get good advances and big orders from bookstores. So some are adopting an unusual strategy; adopting an alias."

If you've had a book published and then approach a new agent or publisher, the first question they'll ask is, "What was your sell-through?" What they're asking is how many books (what percentage) of the books shipped to stores actually sold? For simplicity's sake, if the print run was 100K and the publisher shipped 90,000 and you sold 45K books, your sell-through was 50%, which means that 50% of the books were returned to the publisher as unsold.

Many writers who have had difficulty getting their manuscripts published by large print houses choose to switch gears and seek a smaller publisher or a regional press. This strategy can backfire. I sat next to an author at a conference last year who told me that, after two years of being unable to interest an agent or a large print house in her manuscript, she signed a contract with a small regional press. Her thinking was that she needed to get published somewhere, anywhere, to gain credibility. Once her first book was out, she began trying to shop her second manuscript. That's when she discovered an unfortunate reality. The small press she'd signed with had no advertising budget, there was very little marketing of her book and her sell-through percentage was very, very low. To her surprise and disappointment, she found that there was LESS interest in her second manuscript than there had been in the first, even though she was now a published author. The WSJ supports her experience by saying, "poor sales may reflect bad marketing decisions rather than negative reader reaction. 'A book could have a bad dust jacket.'"

New York agent Richard Pine is quoted in the WSJ article saying, "You're only as good as your last book's sales to much of the retail market."

This dynamic is not reserved for unknown or beginning writers either. William P. Kennedy who won the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for his "Ironweed" found that his thriller novels were no longer selling by the early 1990s. According to the WSJ, "Determined to reinvent himself, Mr. Kennedy sent his publisher a novel involving kidnapping and high finance called 'The Trophy Wife.' His editor at St. Martin's Press thought the book would appeal to women if it was written by a woman." Thus was born Mr. Kennedy's new identity as best-selling author Diana Diamond.

A basic understanding of the intricacies of the publishing market is vital for a new writer trying to break into the industry.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Do You Know Tim O'Reilly?

If you read yesterday's blog, you know that one of the founders of the Open Content Alliance (OCA) was O'Reilly Media.

Several times over the last six weeks, I've thought about posting a blog on Tim O'Reilly. However, other subjects kept taking precedence. The mention of his company yesterday prompts this column. Because if you don't know who Tim O'Reilly is, you should.

Facts first: Tim was born in Ireland in 1954, but grew up in San Francisco. He graduated from Harvard cum laude in 1975 with a B.A. in Classics. According to his own bio, his honors thesis explored the tension between mysticism and logic in Plato's dialogues. He's a sci-fi buff, and the first book he wrote was a biography of Frank Herbert (author of "Dune"). O'Reilly married an elementary school teacher he met when he was 18 and she was 25 (they're still married). In 1977, he became a technical writer and, in 1983, he started his own business--O'Reilly & Associates. According to an article in Wired Magazine last month, what happened then was "a small revolution in technical writing. The O'Reilly approach was to figure out what a system did and plainly describe how you could work around problems you encountered."

Wikipedia tells about a conference which MIT hosted in 1988: O'Reilly's company "was practically mobbed . . . for its preliminary Xlib manuals, an event which indicated there was an under-served audience for their kind of books." Because of this, O'Reilly's consulting firm became a publishing company.

In 1992, O'Reilly published "The Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog," the first book about the web, which went on to become a phenomenal best-seller.

Since then, O'Reilly & Associates has become O'Reilly Media which modestly describes as "the premier information source for leading-edge computer technologies." Their manuals can be found on any programmer's bookshelf.

I'm not telling you all this to promote O'Reilly's stock. I'm telling you this to give you a sense of the man himself. His company created (and sold to AOL in 1995) the first web portal.

Wired describes O'Reilly's intuition this way: "O'Reilly's radar is legendary . . . It told him there was a market for consumer-friendly computer manuals and that he could build a great business publishing them. It helped him understand the significance of the World Wide Web before there were browsers to surf it. And it led him to identify and proselytize technologies like peer-to-peer, syndication, and Wi-Fi before most people had even heard of them at all. As a result, 'Tim O'Reilly's radar' is kind of a catchphrase in the industry."

Tim O'Reilly is one of the leading advocates of the open source approach. He coined the term "the architecture of participation" in referring to open source. He describes it simply: harnessing collective intelligence. He has served on boards, hosted conferences and written papers--all to promote an open source approach rather than a proprietary one. His company is now one of the founders behind the OCA effort. To me, that says everything I need to know.

Keep an eye open and an ear out for Tim O'Reilly.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Another Team Is Suiting Up

Just about a month ago (October 3), a consortium of businesses, non-profits and universities announced a new initiative: the Open Content Alliance (OCA). The purpose of the OCA, according to, is: "to digitize hundreds of thousands of books and technical papers and make them available on the Web for almost universal access."

Huh? Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes! The Google Print Library Project.

Interestingly enough, Google is not listed among the members of OCA. Internetnews reports the founding members are: The Internet Archive, Yahoo! Inc., Adobe Systems Inc., the European Archive, HP Labs, the National Archives (UK), O'Reilly Media Inc., Prelinger Archives, the University of California, and the University of Toronto." During their kick-off event in San Francisco on October 27, fourteen new members were also announced. Included among the newbies was Microsoft.

Microsoft? That bastion of the closed source, proprietary approach joining an open source digitization project? Does anyone hear Chicken Little yelling, "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"?

The BBC quoted Doron Weber from the Sloan Foundation as saying: "It's interesting to see everyone jumping on the digital library bandwagon . . . Google's push has galvanized everyone else."

At the October 27 meeting, Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive explained the goals of the newly formed OCA. According to Internetnews, the "plan is to scan as many out-of-print books as possible, then work up the chain toward books under copyright."

Less than a week later, Google announced that they would concentrate the efforts of Google Print on books not under copyright to begin with. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Internet insiders have long said that Microsoft regards Google as one of its biggest threats. Now Microsoft has thrown its weight toward a new project that is essentially doing the same thing that Google has been working on. Meanwhile, Google is fending off at least two lawsuits from authors and publishers since it announced its Library Project almost a year ago.

Veddy interesting.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Interacting With Civilians

This morning, I was reading digests from some of my author loops and had to shake my head in sympathy. Several writers were bemoaning the lack of understanding they encounter from family and friends.

This is an ongoing issue for a lot of us. Becoming a writer is almost like moving into a foreign country with a different language, different customs and different values. Many of us find ourselves gravitating to new friends: writer friends who can understand GMC, character archetypes and plot arcs.

One of the writers this morning described an incident in which she'd announced that her book was soon to be published, only to be greeted with an almost-insulting disbelief from an acquaintance. Another complained of the pitying looks she received from family and friends at a gathering at which she'd reported the happy news that she now had an agent. Apparently her loved ones thought she needed an agent because her book wasn't good enough to sell on its own merits.

I have dear friends whom I've known for ten and twenty years. They truly try to be interested and supportive of my life. But it can be difficult for them. For the last two weeks, I've been working hard on a book. It hasn't left a lot of time for socializing. Today a good friend called to say, "I just wanted to make sure you're still alive." I appreciated the thought a lot, but was still in a rush to get back to my manuscript.

On the flip side, I was complaining recently to one of my three brothers that my cat insists on bringing dead squirrels and rats home to me. My brother's response: "Maybe he's storing food because he's afraid you won't be able to feed him from your book sales." Hello? Not exactly a vote of support.

I've found that the writer friends I've made online have been lifesavers. They understand what I'm trying to say without twenty minutes of explanation ahead of time. On a day when I've been struggling to get a scene right (or is it write?), it's a joy to open an email telling me about an interesting writer's blog or a tidbit of publishing news.

Being a writer is more than just sitting down at a computer. It's learning the talk and walking the walk and building your support network so that, when you do take a slam from a civilian, you can tell the story to your writer friends and everyone can have a good laugh.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Big Day in Publishing News

Lots of publishing news on November 3: An announcement by Google and press releases from and Random House.

Google had been scheduled to resume its library scanning project on November 1. Instead, Google Print announced on Thursday that they would focus on more public domain and out-of-print books rather than books still under copyright.

Google Print is now live ( You can enter the name of an author (or a book) and pull up available works. The theory is that, if the work is no longer under copyright, you can pull up the entire book. If the work is still under copyright, you can pull up a sample excerpt (permissible under copyright laws).

To test the system, I requested "Little Women." I was advised that the book was provided by Signet Classics through the Google Print Publishing Program. Clicking on copyright, I found there was an Afterword copyrighted by Susan Straight in 2004. There were links to purchase the work through, B&N, Froogle, BookSense and Penguin. This stopped me. Penguin is one of the five publishers who sued Google on October 19, requesting a permanent injunction to stop the library scanning project. However, here they were, providing the book to Google Print.

When I tried to pull up a sample excerpt, I was asked for my email address and my Google password. Apparently, you need a Google account to access requested material.

In other news, Amazon announced two programs. The first, Amazon Pages "will 'un-bundle' . . . buying and reading a book so that customers can simply and inexpensively purchase and read online just the pages they need. For example, an entrepreneur interested in marketing his or her business could purchase the relevant chapters from several best-selling business books.

The second program, Amazon Upgrade, will allow customers to 'upgrade' their purchase of a physical book on to include complete online access." My first thought was that I could start cleaning out bookshelves and build a virtual library instead.

Holtzbrinck Publishers (one of the seven big New York publishing houses) said in the Amazon release that "it is important for the publishing community to explore new business models for digital delivery that compensate publishers and authors fairly. We look forward to working together with Amazon as they develop these innovative new programs to expand the market for digital content."

According to Publishers Lunch, Google responded to the Amazon announcement by saying, "Amazon is a 'valued partner' of Google Print and 'We're glad users will have additional ways to access the books they find on Google Print.'"

Finally, Random House (a division of Bertelsmann and another of the seven big New York publishing houses), in an eerily similar press release to the Amazon one, announced "its intent to work with online booksellers, search engines, entertainment portals and other appropriate vendors to offer the contents of its books to consumers for online viewing on a pay-per-page-view basis." They went on to say that, while readers are demanding more digital access, publishers and authors must be compensated appropriately. Free sample excerpts will be permitted with a 4 cents per page charge for every page after the free sample.

When Google first announced their book scanning project, the publishing industry screamed loud and hard. Now it looks like everyone is trying to position themselves to benefit from similar programs.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Beware The Elegant Variation

A fellow Sister-in-Crime drew my attention to a blog by Mark Sarvas ( Sarvas is a novelist and screenwriter who lives in L.A. His blog is called The Elegant Variation and the home page introduction is worth reprinting.

Sarvas writes: "The Elegant Variation is Fowler’s . . . term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."

In my 10/14 blog (My Reference Shelf), I warned against dependence on a thesaurus. I agree with Sarvas that unrestrained or liberal use of one is both dangerous and the hallmark of an inexperienced writer.

The Fowler to whom Sarvas refers is H.W. Fowler (1858-1933), the author of "The King's English." Elegant Variation is the subtitle of a Fowler chapter entitled "Airs and Graces."

Fowler also warns against what he calls pronominal variation, in which a writer avoids using "a noun or its obvious pronoun substitute." He says: "The use of pronouns is itself a form of variation, designed to avoid ungainly repetition; and we are only going one step further when, instead of either the original noun or the pronoun, we use some new equivalent. 'Mr. Gladstone', for instance, having already become 'he,' presently appears as 'that statesman'. Variation of this kind is often necessary in practice; so often, that it should never be admitted except when it is necessary."

One of my critique partners called me on a pronominal variation just this week. And here I thought "bank secretary" was a nice change of pace from endless repetitions of "Claudia" or "she." (Thanks, Kirsten!)

Beware the elegant variation.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Staying Motivated

In the last three days, I've been in conversations with writers from different parts of the country who write in different genres, but who have had the same complaint: Staying motivated in the face of continued lack of success (Note: I didn't say "defeat"; I said "lack of success.")

In the first conversation, a friend talked about a fellow writer who had gotten discouraged and dropped out of a RWA chapter when it seemed that everyone else was getting published. This writer simply got tired of watching those around her succeed when she hadn't. She gave up.

The second conversation was with another friend who was looking for a new critique group. She said that all the members of her previous critique group were now published except for her. Her former partners were too busy with re-writes and marketing and no longer had time to participate in the group. She was choosing to soldier on and find a new group instead of giving up.

There are classes and support groups for all kind of writers' problems, but I don't recall seeing anything on the subject of staying motivated. In fact, the only time I remember hearing it addressed was at a Sisters in Crime meeting last year at which Linda Castillo was the featured speaker. Linda is a very attractive, humorous speaker who has a number of romantic suspense novels on the market.

She talked about the fact that she spent ten years writing without any success. In fact, she was once invited to be on a RWA panel. She was flattered until she learned that the title of the panel was "Staying Motivated When You Can't Get Published." And, yes, she did participate in the panel, and she now writes for two different publishers.

I did a Google search and found that there is a book called "The Writer's Book of Hope" by Ralph Keyes. In it, Keyes cites the following: "You'd be surprised by how many successful writers were once discouraged ones. Did you know that Samuel Beckett's first novel was rejected by forty-two publishers? That a dozen agents chose not to represent J.K. Rowling? That Beatrix Potter had to self-publish 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit'?"

So, I say, hang in there. Talk about what's going on with you. Find ways to stay pumped. Take classes. Join a support group. Find a new critique group. Do whatever it takes to keep writing and submitting. Do what Catherine Wald did and start a website (

And, remember William Saroyan. The now famous author reportedly amassed 7,000 rejection slips before selling his first story.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

An Apple A Day

On October 12--just 19 days ago--Apple introduced its new video iPod, and announced they would also be selling ABC program content along with music videos and short films.

There was a fair amount of skepticism among critics as to how much interest consumers would have in a digital music player that could also play videos on a 2.5 inch color screen.

CNET News reports that, yesterday, Apple announced they have sold over one million videos in the 19 days since it introduced the video iPod. Yahoo reported that this news sent Apple Computer shares up almost 5 percent to $57.10.

Yahoo also indicated that "Apple is in discussions to lure more U.S. television networks to provide programming."

Welcome, Samhain

Happy November 1st. Or Happy Samhain, if you prefer. Samhain is an Irish or Celtic word meaning "summer's end" and represents the first month of the Celtic calendar. The Celts celebrated Samhain with a festival to mark the beginning of winter.

Google is celebrating today by resuming its Google Print project. You will recall that Google suspended their plan to copy books from five university or public libraries several months ago. The scheduled relaunch is today.

Let's see if they stick to the schedule.