Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Darkly Daring 2 for Halloween

If you stopped by yesterday, I'm sure you noticed HOW FREAKING LONG my post was. I'm feeling justified in doing a creepy follow-up on another post to celebrate Halloween.

On October 9th, I did a post titled "A Darkly, Daring Delight," reviewing Jeff Lindsay's first novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter. In the twelve days since, I've read Lindsay's second novel, Dearly Devoted Dexter and watched the first three episodes of the cable television show featuring Dexter.

For those of you who are not familiar with the stories, Dexter is a blood splatter specialist for the Miami police department. He comes from a family of cops: his adopted father, Harry, was a cop and his foster sister is a Homicide detective.

You might say that Dexter has a hobby. In his spare time, he's a serial killer. Oh, he only takes out people who deserve it--killer pedophiles, murderers, homicidal rapists--but he's racked up an impressive number of trophies.

In his second outing, more ink is devoted to Dexter's girlfriend, Rita, and her two precious tots, Astor and Cody. In spending time with the family, Dexter learns some unsettling things about them and about himself.

In addition, Dexter's problems with his nemesis, Sergeant Doakes, pick up speed. The good sergeant is convinced there's more to the forensic specialist than meets the eye. Dexter finds Doakes following him wherever he goes. This, of course, cuts into Dexter's extracurricular activities.

Dexter is still as creepy and as humorous as ever, commenting on everything and everyone around him in a wry, self-deprecating voice. Following the Plan of Harry, Dexter keeps his head low and tries not to draw attention to himself. Here's his description of his life:

And so I had learned how to dress neatly and smile and brush my teeth. I had become a perfect fake human, saying the stupid and pointless things that humans say to each other all day long . . . I could have been a vicious raving monster who killed and killed and left towers of rotting flesh in my wake. Instead, here I was on the side of truth, justice, and the American Way. Still a monster, of course, but I cleaned up nicely afterward, and I
was OUR monster, dressed in red, white, and blue 100% synthetic virtue. And, on those nights when the moon is loudest I find the others, those who prey on the innocent and do not play by the rules, and I make them go
away in small, carefully wrapped pieces.

Dexter is, of course, the complete sociopath.

One of my loved ones, noting that I no longer have access to the Showtime cable series based on the novel, was kind enough to tape the first three episodes for me. I watched all three hours in one sitting this weekend. For the record, I do not recommend this. It was a perturbing experience.

The show is true to the books although expanded with filler murders and subplots. A Cuban mob boss has been added to the mix and the upright Sergeant Doakes has an affair with his partner's wife.

It is VERY unsettling to see dead bodies cut into segments like a broken Barbie doll. The blood splatter and posing of dead bodies is shown as described in the novels. Like the books, this is NOT a series for the faint-of-heart.

Dexter is played by Michael C. Hall (David of Six Feet Under). He is perfect for the role--creepy and sympathetic at the same time. Julie Benz plays Derek's girlfriend Rita, and Jennifer Carpenter plays his sister Deborah.

Showtime has committed itself to twelve episodes. We'll have to see where it goes.

Happy Halloween!!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Red Flags For Writers

I'm very ambivalent about writing this post. The people who were taken in by this scam have suffered a lot already. However, I'm hoping they can take comfort from the fact that their experience serves as an almost textbook example of the "red flags" writers should watch for when considering a contract with an agent, editor or publisher.

I first read about the problems with Hill & Hill on Absolute Write here in mid-September. Over the last four weeks, the comment trail labeled "Hill and Hill Literary Agency" has grown to thirty-six pages. It makes for very painful reading as writers come forward to identify themselves as clients of Hill & Hill. They start out just asking questions and suggesting that there is some kind of misunderstanding. Gradually their protective wall of denial crumbles, their hope diminishes and they begin to acknowledge that they've been scammed.

Last night I saw Kate Hyde's October 14th post for the first time (Thanks, Miss Snark). Kate Hyde is a senior editor for non-fiction at Press Books (HarperCollins) in the UK. Her post on Hill & Hill can be read here. Again, writers who were scammed by Hill & Hill came forward in her comment trail. It was actually THOSE comments that prompted this post.

I won't go into the details of the scam. Reading Absolute Write and Kate's post will provide all you need to know. Suffice it to say that Christopher Hill presented himself as an agent and ripped off a bunch of writers. Some say their money has been reimbursed. However, money was not the only thing they lost. Hill stole their time, their hopes and--for many--their self confidence. He is the worst kind of predator--a vampire who battens on the unwary, feeding from psyches and gaining pleasure from controlling his victims.

While it is never appropriate to blame the victims, when reading their emails, you can see how they were duped. Almost all of them talk about red flags they ignored.

Hindsight is, of course, 20/20. The purpose of this post is to list some of those red flags. There were lots.

1) Everything you read on the Internet is not gospel. As an example, anyone can post to Wikipedia. It takes a while for the overseers there to catch and edit the false entries.

If you are going to search for information, it is up to you to be an informed consumer. I've said this before. Scam artists plant people in loops and chat rooms to talk up their services. Sometimes the scam artist himself acts as a sock puppet, using a pseudonym to praise his own operation. A common ploy is to pretend to be a writer and give rave reviews to a site that is really run by a rip-off artist.

Ads in magazines should always be viewed with suspicion. Ads are paid for. Most magazines DO NOT screen for the validity of the ad; they just take the money and run the ad. Just because you see it in Writers Digest or Publishers Weekly does not mean it's legitimate.

You should ALWAYS check Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. You should ALWAYS Google for information on any recommendation you receive. Google it in several ways. Google it first with the word "complaint" in the search string. Google again with just the name of the agency. Google again with just the name of the agent.

2) Examine the agent, editor or publisher's website carefully. Look for obvious problems. Poor grammar, poor spelling, a lack of professional voice--all of these are warning signs. If the agent, editor or publisher is claiming to be a legitimate member of an industry in which words are her business, she should be able to write a coherent, error-free sentence.

3) Examine the website's claims. At a minimum, they should list the writers or the books they represent. But don't stop there. I recently received an email from a newbie asking about an "agent." He hadn't found anything alarming in a Google search; actually there was very little at all on the Internet about this agent beyond her website address. She wasn't listed on any of the warning sites either. I went directly to the site, looked up the authors listed and did a search on each of their books. ALL were printed by vanity presses or a print-on-demand press like Lulu. No one needs an agent to self-publish. That's a big red flag.

4) If you don't subscribe to Publishers Marketplace (PM), make friends with someone who does. A search of that database will turn up deals made by the agent. Granted, this is not foolproof. Some agents don't report on PM. However, when you are investigating an agent, you are looking for both positive and negative feedback. A list of deals made can go in the "positive" column.

5) If you can't find deals listed on the agent's website or on Publishers Marketplace, ask them directly to give you a list of the books they've sold. Then follow up to make sure these were REAL deals and not more self-published stuff. If they claim to be a new agent without deals yet, this is a red flag. Ask where they worked previously and google that. Lots of editors go out on their own to become agents. However, you should be able to find information on the publisher they worked for and the books they edited. You also need to decide if you want to be the first client of a new agent. It may work out; it may not. The skills sets for agent and editor are different. My own agent is a former editor, but she's been an agent for a long time.

6) If the agent demands an upfront fee, RUN. No matter what they call it--retainer, reading fee, advance--RUN. Legitimate agents do not request money from clients. They earn their income from the deals they make and the royalties and advances paid to the writer by the publisher. Money should ALWAYS flow to the writer, not from the writer.

7) Recently a number of writers have been approached by people claiming to be agents who read the writer's blog and are interested in representing the writer because of the marvelous quality of the work. While this MIGHT happen, it is less than likely. Most agents have their hands full with submissions. They don't need to go looking for clients.

8) Another red flag is fulsome praise. Everyone wants to be validated. However, when the praise goes over the top, red flags should be raised. Any time a writer is told they are the next Mark Twain, Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or John Steinbeck, they need to take a deep breath and consider the source. I know your mother thinks you're a good writer, but come on. Let's stay in the real world. I suspect the people who get taken here are the ones who write in isolation and are not in critique groups. Good critique partners will teach you humility. Mine do every day.

9) Beware of anyone who pushes you for an immediate decision. A legitimate agent is looking to build a relationship. Someone who threatens that the offered contract will be withdrawn in eight or forty-eight hours (usually coupled with a claim that they are working with a publisher who needs an immediate decision) is trying to get you to ignore those warning bells in the back of your head.

10) If you hear warning bells, slow down. Talk to writers you personally know and trust. DO NOT go back on the loop where you found the agent and ask there. There are likely to be sock puppets lying in wait to reassure you. The other problem is you may find writers who are being scammed, but who haven't realized it yet. Go to Absolute Write and post a query. Jenna Glatzer and Victoria Strauss give great advice. Send an email to Miss Snark. I've asked her questions and gotten good, solid responses.

11) If the agent says he will take your manuscript if you have it professionally edited, take a deep breath--especially if they give the names of specific editors. Legitimate agents DO NOT refer to editors by name; they say you need editing. I blogged several months ago about a writer who thought an agent was on the up and up because she was given three names of potential editors. Turned out all three names had the same IP address. Go back and read my blog for 12/08/05 here ("Anatomy of a Writing Scam") about the "agent" who scammed writers by using different names for herself as agent, editor and publisher.

12) Remember: publishing is a business. Agents are business people who do not take on clients unless they believe they can sell the work. Publishing houses are business operations. They do not take on manuscripts that they don't believe will sell.

Advice for wannabe writers. Stop blaming agents and publishers for not contracting your work. They don't owe you anything. Saying they are only in it for the money makes you sound like an idiot. Would you say a doctor is only in the business of healing for the money?

What's prompting me to say this is the plaintive tone of some of the comments on Kate Hyde's blog. Several victims suggested that publishers contact them. Hello?

I know those poor victims are feeling beat up and beat down. However, to expect that a publisher is going to contact someone outside of the regular query process is delusional. Publishers are in business to make money, not to do social work.

13) There are NO shortcuts. If you are going to get impatient or depressed, maybe writing isn't for you. Real writers keep writing UNTIL. They have no choice. They could no more stop writing than they could stop breathing. They plug away, year after year--taking workshops, getting critiques, attending conferences, and learning about the industry. Remember what Joe Konrath says: "What do you call a writer who won't give up? Published."

Impatience and arrogance won't help you get published. They will only make you a target for scam artists. Crooks prey on people who are too impatient to wait or too unwilling to subject their own writing to a critical eye. I see these writers every day. They start out with the right mindset. After four or five rejections, they get impatient and angry and start talking about self-publishing.

Four or five rejections? Try a hundred. Lots of well-known writers racked up triple-digit rejections before they finally were published. If you want to be a published writer, you need to pay the dues. There's no other way. Write, write and write some more.

To those writers who were taken in by Hill & Hill: I know you feel awful. I know some of you are thinking about walking away from the business altogether. Don't do it. Take a break. Write something new, or give yourself some time to recover.

This was not about you. This was about a corrupt predator who took advantage of your eagerness to be published. That doesn't mean you will never be published. It just means the time (or your manuscript) isn't ready yet.

Good luck to you. My thoughts are with you today.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Update on the IILAA

Blogger has been giving me fits for the last three days. It takes hours to access my blog and updating it has been a nightmare.

Anyway, I got an email from Sherrill Quinn saying that the IILAA website was down and contained a snotty message saying "kiss my ass."

Before I could access it, apparently that message was removed from the IILAA home page and replaced with another saying, "I am currently working on the site . . . Thanks for visiting!"

Looks like the members of the IILAA are rethinking their strategy. I suspect we'll see them pop up again in a few months with another name for their association.

Of course, there's always the old Martha Ivery strategy. She simply announced her own death and reinvented herself as Kelly O'Donnell. She then went right back to contacting "Martha's" old clients.

It's nice to see writers taking care of their own. If we would band together to call attention to "red flags" for newbies, we could save a lot of people a lot of grief.

Barbara Bauer and Miss Snark, Round Two

On Friday, I wrote a post titled "There's a Scam Artist Born Every Day." I was responding to a post I'd seen at Miss Snark's about the International Independent Literary Agents Association (IILAA).

Six of the nine agents listed as members of the IILAA just happen to be members of the infamous list created by Writers Beware and titled "Twenty Worst Literary Agencies."

Today Barbara Bauer (Best known of the twenty worst agents) went after Miss Snark in a podcast. Miss Snark responded with a challenge.

This is not the first time the two have tangled. You can check my blog for 5/25/06 for a play-by-play of their first round.

Just for grins, thinking of Babs on Friday, I checked Google for her name. Barbara's own website was listed first, but followed by dozens of warnings about her and her business practices.

I also suggested on Friday that writers post warnings on their blogs about IILAA in order to force the warnings to the top of the search engine rankings and make certain that any newbie writer googling the so-called association would immediately see those warnings.

I just went back and checked IILAA on Google. Of the first nine listings, two are the IILAA and Desert Rose (another of the twenty worst agencies). However, five of the top nine are warnings. The other two listings are unrelated.

Then, I went and checked on Barbara Bauer's Google ranking. Remember--she was the first listing when I googled her name on Friday.

Oh, joy!!! Today Babs is #3 on the rankings for her own name. Of the other eight, six are warnings, one is her listing over at Wikipedia (which she probably wrote herself, but which has since been edited by discriminating editors) and one is unrelated.

Nice job, writers. Keep it up. If the writing community warns newbie writers against unscrupulous scam artists, we will be doing a public service.

Just for fun, you might want to read another of my old posts. See my blog for 12/8/05 titled "Anatomy of a Scam," telling the tale of a crook who defrauded 200 writers of $700,000.

A Sunday Rant

Okay, I'm not a neophyte to feline relationships. Since leaving my parents' home at age twenty-two, I have always had somewhere between one and three cats.

I've learned to accept the roadkill on my doorstep. I overlook the cat staggering across the tile floor to yak up his undigested dinner on the only Oriental carpet in the house. I no longer object to waking up in the dark to two yellow eyes in front of my nose. I even get out of the way in the bathroom so that the waiting cat can watch the toilet paper swirl in the commode on its way to my septic tank.

I KNOW that, after years of only eating one flavor of catfood, a cat will suddenly tire of that flavor and refuse to ever taste it again. I NEVER buy a large supply of one flavor.

My household operates on a seniority-based protocol. I open three flavors of catfood at each meal and offer the entire selection to Tribble, the twenty-year-old grande dame. Although she almost always chooses Fancy Feast's Chicken Flavor, she will sometimes surprise me by taking the Beef Flavor instead. Bobbin (the two-year-old) prefers the Beef, but is always willing to take one of the remaining two cans.

Dinah (seven months old) joined the household earlier this month when she followed Bob home. After Tribble and Bob choose, I offer Dinah the remaining can (usually Salmon or Tuna). She has been thrilled with whatever flavor the others leave her.

Last week, my grocery store ran a sale on Fancy Feast catfood. Twenty-seven percent off. On top of this, I had a stack of coupons I'd been saving. This brought the price down well below Wal-Mart and Target's prices. I decided to buy 100 cans, which saved me approximately $20 on what would normally be a $55 bill.

Knowing the tendency of evil-minded felines to abruptly abandon a flavor, I was careful to purchase a V-A-R-I-E-T-Y of flavors. With ONE exception. I purchased thirty cans of the freaking Beef flavor, confident that if one suddenly developed a dislike for it, the others would take up the slack.

Friday and Saturday morning went well. Not wanting to throw things off, I offered the same selections I'd been offering for weeks: Chicken, Beef and a seafood du jour.

Then, last night, Tribble turned up her nose at BOTH the Chicken and Beef, opting instead for the Salmon. Not overly concerned, I then offered the Chicken and Beef plates to Bob. To my surprise, he turned down the Beef and took the Chicken instead. I then gave Dinah--who has been willing to eat ANYTHING for three weeks--the Beef. Without hesitation, she walked over to her Iams Kitten Chow and began eating K-I-B-B-L-E!!!

I felt a feather of unease tickle my neck. Still, I gamely left the Beef out, figuring one of the three little demons would polish it off before morning.

This morning, dried, hard Beef stared at me from the dish. I grudgingly threw 35 cents worth of premium catfood down the disposal.

Thinking to outwit the little monsters, I offered Trout, Chopped Grill and Ocean Whitefish for breakfast. Tribble took the Trout. This time, it was Bob who walked over to Dinah's Kitten Chow. Dinah made it clear she was doing me a favor by agreeing to even taste the Chopped Grill. She left half of it behind.

I picked up the kitten kibble, which contains too much protein for an adult cat, and ignored Bob's howls of protest. I told him it was Ocean Whitefish, or he could go hunting for his own meal. In a fit of pique, he stalked out the front door.

Anyone want to buy three cat pelts? Calico, black and black-and-white? There's probably enough fur to make a short boa. I'll even throw in $28.70 of assorted catfood flavors.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Follow The Directions

My loved ones complain that I can find humor in the silliest things ("Isn't that the whole point of humor?" I ask in indignation).

A friend emailed me about the new imprints being planned over at Ellora's Cave. She sent this link: http://www.ellorascave.com/callsforsubmissions.pdf

My "silly" button got pushed when I read the instructions for the new Lotus Circle imprint: "Ellora's Cave Publishing Inc. will be launching a new imprint and website in the second half of 2007, devoted to psychic literature, both fiction and non-fiction."

Under the Fiction sub-heading, the instructions continue, "A planned multi-author series where the stories are linked by reference to an informal international network based on a secret society that originated in ancient Egypt. The society members have various psychic abilities or metaphysical skills, and share energy, knowledge, support and information. The stories are contemporary; could be mystery/suspense, romance, general fiction, or women's fiction. No FANTASY, science fiction, or horror."


No fantasy?

Unless I'm living in an alternate reality, how can you write about a secret society with various psychic abilities or metaphysical skills without FANTASY????

Someone needs a reality check.

How NOT To Query

I always enjoy reading Rachel Vater's blog over at Lit Agent X. Like Miss Snark, she is blunt but extremely informative about publishing from the point-of-view of an agent.

This morning's blog, titled "e-Query Cringes" was, by turns, amusing and depressing. Rachel gave examples of e-queries that contained "red flags."

I'm going to copy three of the examples Rachel gives. You can see them climb the register on the scale of ego gone bad.

Sometimes I wonder if people realize how they sound when they say things like:

“I assure you this much--if you start reading, you'll keep reading. The writing is simply too compelling to dismiss.”

This writer is committing the cardinal sin of "telling." Every newbie writer knows that you must "show, not tell." If the writing is compelling, the agent will be able to see it. The writer doesn't need to tell her. He only raises the bar for himself, and he will end up looking like an idiot if the writing is not compelling. Write well. That's enough.

And then there's:

“Nothing like [x] has surfaced in over a generation, and even then as compared to the more effective works of Hunter S Thompson and William S Burroughs, as two prime examples, [x] alone stands out as singular and unqualified.”

Oh. My. God. First, this is a bad sentence from a structural view. Then, not only does this writer have the nerve to compare himself to Thompson and Burroughs, he's claiming to be better. Not a good plan. Who wants to work with an egotistical moron? I found myself wondering if someone had recommended that he say something like "My book will appeal to readers who enjoy the work of [x]." There's a world of difference between saying that you're writing in a similar genre to saying that you're better than a well-known writer.

Finally, we have this:

“For nothing, that's zero dollars no cents, I'd waive any claim to the 1st edition proceeds of [x] in order that the work come to print with its vision wholly intact. I need an editor not a censor.”

This guy moves from egotistical to delusional. He flat out states that his "vision" is such that it cannot be improved upon.

I run into these types all the time during critiques and on reader loops. They've written a 250K-word manuscript, but refuse to consider slashing anything. Invariably, the manuscript drones on and on in long soliloquys that I don't even want to read to critique. But they will not hear any suggestion that the dialogue doesn't sound natural.

Rachel points out that this guy is, in effect, offering her 15% of nothing. Not a good way to start a business negotiation.

Let's see. Lessons learned. Describe your manuscript's subject and genre. Do not try to describe the quality of your writing. Do not compare yourself to well-known writers. And, finally, do not make demands in your query letter--especially demands that mark you as a pain-in-the-ass to work with.

And then people wonder why they don't get requests for their manuscript. [shakes head sadly]

Friday, October 27, 2006

There's A Scam Artist Born Every Day

For several months now, there's been a list of the "Twenty Worst Literary Agencies" circulated among writers. Originally created by the Writer Beware website, the list has been emailed and posted and shared among writers everywhere in the hope of preventing newbie writers from falling victim to predatory scam artists.

Now, in true Star Wars fashion, the Empire Strikes Back. A new website has popped up in the cyberworld: The International Independent Literary Agents Association (IILAA). You can find the website at: http://www.iilaa.com/.

One of IILAA's pages includes a "Top Ten Literary Agents" page. Of the nine agents listed on that page, six are also included on the "Twenty Worst Literary Agencies."

The IILAA website also includes a page that states a writer should expect to pay a retainer fee up front to a literary agency in the same way that one expects to pay an attorney's retainer fee. This is nonsense.

A LEGITIMATE AGENT DOES NOT CHARGE UPFRONT FEES OF ANY KIND. Legitimate agents take a percentage (usually 15%) from the royalties and advances on deals they arrange for writers. Anyone saying otherwise is a scam artist.

Because writers everywhere made people aware of the "Twenty Worst Literary Agencies" list, we influenced the search engines like Google. Whenever someone enters one of those twenty scam artists' names into a search engine, warnings pop up in the results.

We need to do the same thing now with the IILAA website. Please spread the word about the International Independent Literary Agents Association so that the search engine results will show it as a scam website every time someone searches the name.

Thanks for your help. Newbie writers face enough hurdles. Let’s eliminate this one.

E-Books By The Numbers

In reading the BookEnds blog for Wednesday about recent Nielson numbers, I got to wondering about audiobook and eBook numbers.

I went hunting on the Internet and found two recent articles by Publishers Weekly. The numbers are interesting.

According to an October 2nd article on eBooks:

The AAP (Association of American Publishers) estimates that there were $123 million in eBook sales in 2004. They estimate that eBook sales for 2005 were $179 million.

That's an increase of 44.7%.

Two other bits of information were included in the article:

There are 19,000 free e-Books available through Project Gutenberg. There are two million free e-Books downloaded monthly from Project Gutenberg.

I'll address audiobooks in another post.

Audiobooks By The Numbers

In another post, I mentioned searching the Internet for the latest numbers on eBooks and audiobooks. I found two articles in Publishers Weekly that gave me the answers I wanted.

According to a September 25 article, the estimated spending on audiobooks in 2004 was $832 million. The estimated spending on audiobooks in 2005 was $871 million. That's a increase of 4.6% from 2004 to 2005.

While the spending on audiobooks was more than four times as large as the spending on eBooks, the growth in spending on eBooks was almost ten times that of audiobooks from 2004 to 2005.

Other interesting facts:

24.6% of adults have listened to an audiobook in the last year. The average household income of audiobook listeners was $57,000.

63% of the audiobooks were purchased in bricks and mortar stores while 31% were bought online and 6% were purchased by phone or mail order.

Freedom of the Press Revisited

Like most American students in junior high, I studied the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I know that the First Amendment protects freedom of speech as well as the freedom of the press.

Over the years since seventh grade, I've seen news items about reporters going to jail rather than reveal their sources for stories. However, I never gave much thought to what that meant as a practical matter.

Tuesday's Washington Post had an article titled "New York Times Columnist Must Reveal Sources, Judge Rules." A federal judge in Virgina ordered the New York Times to disclose the sources used in articles about whether scientist Steven J. Hatfill was responsible for the 2001 anthrax attacks that killed five people. No one was ever charged in those attacks.

Hatfill brought a defamation lawsuit against the newspaper for identifying him as a "likely culprit" in stories that appeared in 2002. His attorneys demanded that the reporter, Nicholas D. Kristof, reveal his sources. The judge agreed and ordered Kristof to disclose the identity of his "three sources" by Wednesday.

The Post article said this ruling is just the latest in a series in which journalists have been denied the right to protect their sources. "Judges have ordered reporters covering issues ranging from baseball's steroid scandal to the investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity to disclose confidential sources." New York Times journalist Judith Miller spent nearly three months in jail for refusing to give up her sources in the Plame case.

The Post points out that the Plame and steroid stories involved criminal cases while Stephen Hatfill's case is a civil lawsuit.

Legal experts said it is relatively common for judges to order journalists to reveal confidential sources in a libel lawsuit, but journalists are rarely jailed for resisting. The reason for this is that there are other, equally powerful consequences. In a civil case, "If the journalist does refuse, a judge often strips him or her of the defense that the information was based on sources, which can expose media companies to significant liability, said Rodney A. Smolla, dean of the University of Richmond Law School and an expert on First Amendment law. 'The journalist is being told you cannot have your cake and eat it, too,' Smolla said. 'You can't rely on the existence of this source but not let the jury and the court and the plaintiff explore the nature of the source.'"

This makes perfect sense. If I believe a newspaper has defamed me, I can bring a lawsuit against them. If the newspaper's defense is that they only reported what was told them by reputable sources, I should have the right to know the sources they were quoting. If they refuse to provide those sources, then--in effect--they have no defense.

Kristof has claimed that two of the three sources were employees of the FBI while the third was a colleague of the plaintiff Hatfill.

I have two last thoughts: (1) This is a reminder that we, as writers, are responsible for what we put in print, and we must be prepared to either support our position or suffer the consequences, and (2) I remain grateful for the protection of the laws of this country. While we often hear of crazy lawsuits and strange rulings, the vast majority of the decisions made every day in courts across the country are sane and reasonable. As I count my blessings today, this is one of the things I am thankful for.

David Halberstam may have said it best: "For all of the difficulties, I am somewhat optimistic about the future. In my lifetime I have seen the resiliency of American democracy. What I've come to admire is the muscularity and flexibility of this society. What I trust is its common sense."

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Keys To Writing Success

While I was at the Writers League of Texas meeting on Monday night, another writer commented to me that she thought the timeline from my completed manuscript to contracted sale had occurred very quickly. She pointed out that there are writers with twenty years' experience, but no sales to show for it.

Without stopping to think, I responded, "There's a difference between twenty years' experience and one year of experience twenty times."

I'd like to talk about this a bit more.

If I were asked to point to the two qualities in my opinion that a person must have in order to succeed as a writer, without hesitation, I would answer "flexibility and the willingness to really listen to feedback."

I do critiques all the time--both in person and online. Over the last three years, I've critiqued at least a dozen writers who've made their first sales during that period. And I've noticed that all of those dozen writers share both of these qualities in common. They truly listen to what is being said to them during a critique. If they don't understand, they ask for clarification. They NEVER argue or try to defend their manuscript. They exhibit a flexibility of thought and a willingness to entertain other possibilities.

On the flip side, I've seen writers who really don't want a critique. They're just going through the motions. What they want is to be told how great their manuscripts are. You can spot these people because--ten chapters after they've received similar feedback on problems from multiple critique partners--they're still writing exactly the same way. Nothing has changed. Either they didn't hear what was said, or they didn't want to hear what was said. Hence, my comment about one year of experience twenty times. They're doing the same thing over and over, but comforting themselves with the thought that other writers are getting published because they're just lucky, or writing in an easier genre, or have the right connections.

And I'm not suggesting that all those things might not be true. Joe Konrath said that a writer needs four things to succeed: Talent, craft, persistence and luck (see my blog of March 27, 2006). We should never underestimate the value of luck, of simply being in the right place at the right time. However, the longer I live, the more convinced I become that people make their own luck. They pay attention, they adapt to fit the environment in which they are operating, and they take the time and effort to network with others to build those connections.

I've suggested that when you query, you send out letters in small batches and then make adjustments according to the feedback you get. This doesn't mean that you immediately change an entire manuscript because ONE agent makes a suggestion. It means you pay attention to the suggestion, ask your critique partners if it's a valid criticism and watch to see if other agents say the same thing. That's flexibility and the willingness to listen to feedback.

While I'm at it, let me add: DO NOT take criticism of your manuscript as criticism of you personally. What you write has NOTHING to do with who you are. If you are going to go into a depression every time someone critiques you, you'll never survive this business. Develop a tough hide and ask for tough critiques. That's how you learn. My manuscripts frequently come back to me from my CPs bleeding red ink. Sometimes I don't feel strong enough to read the comments right away. I wait until the next day when I'm fresh and tackle them then. That's how I grow--even if I'm being dragged to growth kicking and screaming the whole way.

One final thought: In addition to being a remarkable physicist, Albert Einstein was a wise man. Although his quotes often seem simplistic, they contain a world of wisdom. Among my favorites is, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Update On The Google Lawsuits

On October 8th, I reported on the status of the lawsuits against Google by the groups of publishers and authors who are demanding that the company stop its policy of copying books without permission. Google insists that, despite the copying of complete texts, their search engine does not permit the public to see more than "snippets" of the books.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Google Inc. subpoenaed information from Yahoo, Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. to help fight these copyright lawsuits. Google filed papers with the U.S. District Court in New York, requesting information on similar projects from its competitors. Google is asking for "book lists, costs, estimated sales, dealings with publishers and possible benefit or harm to copyright owners . . . Google, which doesn't disclose how many books it has scanned, also wants to know the titles, authors, and copyright status of books already offered through competitor's book projects."

Not satisfied with this info, Google also demanded data from HarperCollins, Holtzbrinck, Random House and the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

Microsoft and Yahoo are part of a competing copy project called the Open Content Alliance (see my blog for November 6, 2005). An OCA spokesman said that their "plan is to scan as many out-of-print books as possible, then work up the chain toward books under copyright."

Amazon's Search Inside program is configured a little differently. Publishers must enroll in the program and submit the books they want included.

Despite the fact that the replies to Google’s subpoenas are not due for another month, Publishers Weekly reported yesterday that Amazon and the AAP have already filed their separate responses, objecting to the subpoena.

AAP responded that it cannot supply documents “related to what Google called the ‘Association of American Publishers Book Search Project’ because ‘no such project exists.’”

Amazon responded that “it won't supply the requested materials because the information is ‘highly confidential, proprietary and constitutes trade secrets.’ Amazon also noted that Google is looking to sell online advertising and to promote e-tailers, activities in direct competition with Amazon.”

Stay tuned for more . . .

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

If You Build It, They Will Come

It's not yet noon here in Texas, and I've already come across several stories of interest to writers--although they might not seem so at first glance.

The Associated Press had an intriguing story yesterday about EMI (a pop recording label) "opening an online portal for aspiring singers and groups
. . . [EMI's] Parlophone label, whose artists include Paul McCartney, Kylie Minogue, Radiohead and Norah Jones, is now accepting music files online, as well as in mailbags."

I keep harping on the fact that the Internet is breaking down once-stringent industry guidelines. This is yet another example. In a world in which any person can record and post a podcast and develop a following, this is a wise move by EMI. They are streamlining their process in a way which will permit them to spot talent early.

Nigel Coxon, head of Parlophone's artist and repertoire team, essentially agreed to this point of view in the AP article: "'One of our top priorities is to keep our talent spotting process as efficient and up to date as possible . . . This new system allows us to do just that, while at the same time helping us stay committed to giving anyone the opportunity to be heard' . . . In the coming months, Parlophone hopes to phase all demo tapes to online submissions."

Publishing agents are also moving in the direction of accepting online queries. While some complain that they "prefer" snail mail queries, the reality is that we are rapidly becoming a digital society. Industries will adapt to the faster, more efficient pace, or they will suffer.

The Internet is democratizing the artistic world in a new Industrial Revolution of sorts.

Centuries ago, writers, sculptors, painters and composers needed patrons to support them in order to provide for their living expenses while they wrote, sculpted, painted or composed. Eventually, the Industrial Revolution occurred. Profits created educational and artistic foundations that provided grants for artists. The printing industry allowed for cheap prints of books, drawings and paintings, which brought art to the masses instead of to only the wealthy elite. New markets meant more sources of revenue.

Today, the Internet is again making it easier for writers and other artists to bring their work directly to the masses. There are not yet filters to weed out the crap or global marketing systems to make it easy for buyers to locate and purchase quality work by newcomers (Yes, I know about eBay and Amazon. The problem is that neither has a mechanism to drive traffic to you. It's still pretty much hit and miss). However, to paraphrase the voice in Field of Dreams, "if you build it, they will come."

Self-publishing and podcasting will continue to push hard on publishing and broadcasting executives, forcing them to speed up their efforts to find the quality artists before the public does.

It's an interesting time to be writing, composing, performing or creating art.

Talk About Being Taken Down A Peg

Among the hats I wear is that of membership chair for Passionate Ink, an online chapter of RWA. With almost four hundred members, we're one of the larger chapters.

Among my housekeeping tasks is to run herd on those persons who apply for membership, but then don't follow through (don't pay the dues, aren't members of RWA, don't send their identifying info, etc.) This usually takes me about half an hour a day.

I was sitting at my desk, doing what is essentially a mechanical task and singing at the same time.

My mother's family--being Irish--loved to sing. They sang silly songs ("Mares Eat Oats"), old songs ("Mary, A Grand Old Name"), and sentimental songs ("Oh, Danny, Boy"). As the result, I have a headful of songs that no one knows, but that make me feel good when I sing them because I can picture my grandfather or great aunt singing away.

So, here I was, happily deleting non-members and singing something called "Sixteen Tons." I just googled it, and Google says it was written by Tennessee Ernie Ford. GE used it recently in a commercial with a bunch of folk mining coal, which reminded me of it. It goes like this:

I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
I picked up my shovel, and I walked to the mine.
I loaded sixteen tons of number nine coal
And the straw boss said "Well, a-bless my soul."

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

Bobbin (my two-year-old cat) was asleep on the left side of my desk. He got up and jumped off the desk. I watched him walk down the hall toward the bedroom.

Not deterred in the slightest by this negative review, I continued to sing:

If you see me comin', better step aside.
A lotta men didn't, and a lotta men died.
One fist of iron, the other of steel,
If the right one don't get you, then the left one will.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

Tribble (twenty-year-old cat), who had been asleep and wrapped around the warm part of the laptop, lifted her head and yowled at me. I, of course, ignored her as I wrapped up for my grand finale.

She stood, leaned across the keyboard and slapped my face with one paw--no claws.

I was so shocked, I stopped singing. We stared at each other for a second, and then I launched into:

Some people say a man is made outta mud.
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood.
Muscle and blood, and skin and bones,
A mind that's weak and a back that's strong.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get?
Another day older and deeper in debt.
Saint Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store.

She jumped down and headed for the same bedroom as Bob.

American Idol, don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I loaned my voice to the Cow Town Rodeo.

Another Stupid Political Story

I try very hard to avoid getting overtly political in these blogs.

Okay, I'll admit it. I don't try VERY hard. But I do try, and that's often difficult because I am a political animal.

Sometimes, however, an incident is just so ridiculous, or so bizarre, I can't restrain myself. It was that way last week with Fred Head, the Democratic candidate for Comptroller here in Texas.

It's in that vein of pure stupidity that I tell this next story. This time, the joke is on the Republicans--in Florida.

Florida is like my second home. We moved there when I was twelve, and I stayed until I was twenty-five. My mother still lives there along with two of my brothers and their families. I remain interested in the politics of the state--which is almost as free-wheeling as my beloved Texas.

This story comes to us courtesy of a great writer, Carl Hiaasen, who is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

I'm sure, by now, you're familiar with the name Mark Foley--the congressman from Florida who resigned last month under a cloud of accusations of inappropriate behavior with congressional pages.

The Republican party in its wisdom selected Joe Negron to run for Foley's seat in the 16th congressional district. But the decision came too late to update the ballots. Negron wanted to post notices at the polling places to explain that a vote for Mark Foley would actually be a vote for him.

According to Hiaasen's column, "When Leon County Circuit Judge Janet Ferris ruled against the on-site notices, Democratic contender Tim Mahoney cheered the decision, saying it preserved 'the sanctity of the
ballot box.' It also preserved the convenient invisibility of Joe Negron."

"State Republicans, prodded by Gov. Jeb Bush, intend to appeal Judge Ferris' ruling that barred the posting of such notices. They say it's unfair to their candidate--an amusing argument from the same people who blocked Al Gore from getting a statewide recount in his presidential contest with the
governor's brother six years ago."

Carl Hiaasen, who has an evil sense of humor, suggested that, if the Republicans win their appeal, they post the following notice in all the polling places:

Notice to All Registered Voters of the 16th Congressional District:

This is to remind you that a vote for that degenerate mollusk, Mark Foley, is really a vote for that upstanding family guy, Joe Negron!

Joe sincerely wishes his name were on the ballot instead of Mark Foley's.
It certainly would make your task easier, and ours, too. And even though it might be distasteful--even nauseating--to cast a vote for the disgraced former congressman, you can be confident that your vote won't be wasted.

Each and every one will be counted for Joe Negron, who is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like Mark Foley, we swear to God.

For example, Joe Negron has never gone skinny dipping with a priest. Or even with a rabbi, for that matter. He has never flirted with teenagers on the Internet, or engaged in raunchy online sex while voting on an important appropriations bill.

Please don't punish Joe Negron just because his name isn't on your ballot. It would have been there, if only Mark Foley had been caught earlier.

That would have happened had the House Republican leadership not
looked the other way, but that also isn't Joe Negron's fault. He is ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like Dennis Hastert, we swear to God.

Look at it this way: A vote for Mark Foley is really a vote against Mark
Foley and the morally bankrupt system that allowed him to run wild for all those years.

Send a strong message to Washington by electing Joe Negron to Congress. Vote for Mark Foley on Nov. 7.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A Nice Way To Start The Day

I woke up this morning clogged to the gills. October is allergy month in Texas. The good news is that I only have another ten days or so before whatever it is that is trying to choke off my breathing quits blooming.

The better news is that the Queen is coming to Fort Worth in two weeks.

That's right. The Queen of Romance, Nora Roberts, is coming to Cow Town. She'll be talking at Texas Christian University on Election Night.

This is part of a fabulous series sponsored by the Fort Worth Star Telegram. In previous years, I've heard Janet Evanovich and Carl Hiassen speak at functions sponsored by the newspaper.

A group of writers from my RWA chapter is attending. You know it has to be good for me to give up NCIS, House and Boston Legal without a quibble (Tuesday is my only serious television viewing night).

Update: If you're interested in seeing Nora Roberts, check her schedule at: http://www.noraroberts.com/schedule.htm for details.

Later . . .

Dooce Is Back, Part II

This is the second half of the post "Dooce Is Back."

Charming and self-absorbed people make me uneasy. While I'll be the first to admit it's fascinating to watch their often thoughtless and impulsive behavior, it's also excruciatingly painful. There's a very thin line between self-absorbed and spoiled. Between self-absorbed and selfish. Between self-absorbed and destructive.

Having said all that, it's difficult not to like a woman capable of writing a post like the following from Dooce.com on September 30, 2004:

This morning during a quiet moment of feeding Leta a bottle Jon turned to me and said, “Thank you, Heather, for giving me this wonderful creature,” after which Leta immediately let out a stuttering fart that sounded like a machine gun going off in our house. And for the first time in almost eight months Leta finally resembled her mother.

As I mentioned yesterday, Dooce.com now boasts between 800,000 and 1,000,000 hits per month and provides a "comfortable enough middle class to upper-middle class income," according to Jon in a recent Salt Lake Tribune article. This brings us to Heather's latest brush with fame.

Court documents filed on June 19, 2006, by the attorney for Kensington Publishing claim: "In recent years, books authored by well-known bloggers have become quite popular and have sold well. Kensington has been active in publishing books by bloggers. For example, it has published books by popular bloggers 'Maddox' and Tucker Max which books have been on the New York Times Bestseller List . . . In an effort to expand its publication of popular blogger books, Kensington approached Armstrong about publishing a book that she would write. In or around late November, 2005, Armstrong agreed to a two-book deal with Kensington (the 'Oral Agreement')."

The court filings go on to indicate that Kensington forwarded a written contract to Armstrong's literary agent on December 14, 2005, "memorializing the terms to which Armstrong had agreed." An intriguing note follows this comment in the court documents: "In the ensuing months, Kensington and Armstrong's two (emphasis in the documents) representatives, began active negotiations of the terms to be included in the written agreement." No explanation of the emphasized two representatives is given, although later in the documents, Kensington is asked to send signature copies of the revised agreement to Betsy Lerner of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner.

Betsy Lerner is a well-known figure in New York literary circles. As an editor, she worked on Elizabeth Wurtzel's breakout memoir, Prozac Nation. In the acknowledgments for the book, Wurtzel says: "Without Betsy Lerner, this book quite simply would not have been possible . . . As far as I can tell, she is the best book editor on earth. She's also been a great friend, the big sister I never had, and Job's most likely successor in the patience department."

Betsy Lerner acted as the literary agent for the sale to Simon & Schuster of Wurtzel's sequel memoir about her addiction to Ritalin, More, Now, Again .

Betsy Lerner has also written her own memoir titled Food and Loathing in which she chronicled her battle with food addiction and the depression which led to her self-admission to a mental hospital for suicidal ideation.

Heather Armstrong has, of course, been very honest about her own battles with depression, including her self-admission to a psychiatric hospital in August, 2004, for a brief stay following the birth of her daughter, Leta. I suspect Heather found in Betsy a sympathetic audience.

At any rate, the court filings indicate that on April 26, 2006, the negotiations for Heather's contract with Kensington were completed. The unnamed other representative for Armstrong requested that Kensington send copies of the agreed-upon contract to Betsy Lerner at Dunow, Carlson & Lerner and "also please email a final clean copy to me for my file."

It appears from available sources that Heather expected Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, a senior editor at Kensington, to be her editor. Mediabistro.com had interviewed Ruby-Strauss in January, 2006. According to Galleycat, Jeremie "gave us the impression that she [Armstrong] would be writing a book for Kensington's Rebel Base Books line."

On May 17, 2006, the SlushPile.net again interviewed Ruby-Strauss. This time, the article began a sentence this way: "As he wrapped up his tenure at Kensington and prepares to start a new gig with Simon Spotlight Entertainment . . ."

Sometime between April 26 when the parties agreed on the final contract to be signed and May 21, 2006, the train went off the tracks. Kensington's attorney describes it this way in the filings: "Armstrong's representative called Kensington to inform it that Armstrong would not sign the Final Agreement. The stated reason for this was that the Kensington editor who had originally approached Armstrong (the "Former Editor") and who had convinced her to sign with Kensington had left Kensington's employ."

Over the next few days, there were a number of phone calls between Heather's representative and Kensington's general counsel. The representative indicated that Heather was upset over the amount of time the contract took to be finalized and over the fact that Kensington had not immediately informed her of "the Former Editor's departure."

Kensington first had the new assigned editor call Heather to soothe her bruised feelings and, later that same day, had two "senior executives" try again. Heather complained to them of the lack of contact from Kensington and claimed that this lack of contact was "nerve-wracking."

Kensington brought suit against Heather for breach of contract when the company decided that she was in conversation with another publisher with whom she planned to contract.

On October 12, 2006, after more than three months of silence, Heather had a long post on the subject at Dooce.com. This is the first part of that post:

At the beginning of July I was served court papers. The case is a matter of public record, and I’m sure anyone who wanted to do a little research could read every sordid detail, or at least the plaintiff’s one-sided account of the details, but I’m not going to get into any of the specifics here other than to say that I chose not to sign a contract and was sued because of that decision.

There hasn’t been a single moment in the last three and half months when I didn’t think we were going to lose our house trying to pay legal fees.

Settlement papers were filed earlier this week officially ending what has been the most traumatic, agonizing, demoralizing experience of my life. I have no faith in our legal system, one that guarantees victory only for the party who can afford to pay for it, one that would allow a large company to bully a private citizen because it knows that she has no money with which to defend herself. I am angry and bitter and feeling all sorts of unbecoming emotions. More than that, though, I am afraid that these people are watching everything I say here, ready to pounce on a single word, twist it, manipulate it, and then sue me again.

My first reaction upon reading Heather's post was to shake my head. She seems to have no understanding that a verbal agreement negotiated by your duly appointed legal representative is a binding agreement. Then it occurred to me. Why should she?

As near as I can tell from her blog, Heather's professional experience in the working world was limited to the period between her graduation from college in 1997 to her firing from her job in 2002. Five years as a graphic artist/web designer. While I can't state this with certainty, she appears to have tumbled into her career as an "author" in the same impulsive way she began blogging--and with similar consequences.

Am I blaming Heather? No. However, her story serves as a cautionary tale for all writers seeking publication. We MUST learn the rules of the industry, understand the expectations and recognize that there are consequences for not doing our homework.

I have some sympathy for Heather's position. I'd done a considerable amount of homework, but have still been amazed at the length of time things seem to take. However, despite Heather's assertions that she was bullied and "violated in the most disgusting way," she apparently did authorize two legal representatives to negotiate for her. Her contracts with them bind her to the oral contracts they negotiated--unless she has a valid reason to breach those negotiated contracts. Valid reasons do not include feeling stressed because things are taking too long, or because you were not immediately informed that an editor left your publisher's employment. That's when a lifelong habit of self-absorption can bite you on the ass.

The rumors are that Heather has agreed to edit an anthology for Kensington as part of her settlement. That hasn't yet been confirmed as far as I know.

Perhaps Miss Snark summed this case up best when she said: "Bottom line is Kensington is getting an anthology, [and] all of us are getting a wake up call that people who blog aren't always 'writers' who've spent any time learning how this industry works."

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday, Monday

Busy day today. I've agreed to be on a panel hosted by the Writer's League of Texas tonight at 7:00 PM at the Richardson Public Library to talk about critique groups. I'm planning to meet Maria, a friend and another of the panelists, for dinner at 5:30 beforehand.

Getting to Richardson during rush hour is a nightmare I don't want to contemplate right now. I'm going to try to leave my home no later than 3:00 PM.

I'll plan to post the second blog about Heather Armstrong after I get home tonight.

However, in the meantime, I need some help.

I've now finished the entire Jim Butcher series of Dresden File urban fantasies. I'm not going to buy the new LKH book of short stories because I didn't even finish the last Anita Blake novel. I'm up-to-date on all the Kim Harrison books, and I finished reading Charlaine Harris' Grave Sight last night.

Anyone have any suggestions for a new urban fantasy to read? I've got Rachel Caine's latest on my TBR pile.

I'm getting worried, folks. After I finish Rachel's book, I'm plumb out of urban fantasies.

Someone give me a suggestion for a new one. Please.

Dooce Is Back

You may not recognize the name Heather B. Armstrong but, if you're a blogger, you're probably familiar with the word "dooce."

Dooce.com is the name Heather gave to her website when she began blogging back in February of 2001. At that time, she was a 25-year-old graphic artist and web designer living and working in Los Angeles. She wrote about her life: her friends, the Mormon faith of her family, her depression, her job.

Heather was particularly vocal about her job. Here's a posting from January 17, 2002 titled "The Proper Way To Hate A Job":

Exercise your right not to shower, as practicing basic hygiene only makes their lives easier. You will look presentable when you want to look presentable, and today just isn’t one of those days. Today is, however, the day the company’s primary investor will be taking a tour of the new office. Think to yourself what a coincidence this is.

Arrive an hour late to work singing “Smack My Bitch Up,” because that’s what you were listening to at full volume the entire commute, over and over again. Look straight at your boss as you pass her desk and say, "Smack my motherfucking bitch up."

Readers will probably not be surprised to learn that Heather's company was entertaining doubts about her viability as an employee. Still, it seemed to come as a surprise to Heather when she was fired some six weeks later on February 26, 2002. Here's part of her blog for that day:

I lost my job today. My direct boss and the human resources representative pulled me into one of three relatively tiny conference rooms and informed me that The Company no longer had any use for me. Essentially, they explained, they didn’t like what I had expressed on my website. I got fired because of dooce.com.

I guess I could be bitter. I mean, I defended myself rather studiously, explaining that I had never mentioned the company or any employee by name, and that I had exaggerated several characteristics of the personalities showcased in a few of my posts.

But I really don’t feel like I have the right to be all that bitter. I made my bed; I’ll lie in it, to quote the inimitable Courtney Love. I understood the risk when I wrote certain things about certain figures that key members of my company might discover my website and pooh-pooh my endeavors.

Two weeks ago an anonymous person emailed every vice president of my company to inform them that I had written unsavory things on my personal website. I have yet to determine who sent the email or why this anonymous someone would hide behind a false email address. Conversely, I have devised several ways to torture said anonymous person when his/her identity surfaces.

Heather continued blogging and attracting more and more attention--sort of like a car wreck that no one could pass without rubbernecking. People flocked to her blog to read the latest rant. Robert J. Samuelson of the Washington Post described the phenomenon this way: "Call it the ExhibitioNet. It turns out that the Internet has unleashed the greatest outburst of mass exhibitionism in human history. Everyone may not be entitled, as Andy Warhol once suggested, to 15 minutes of fame. But everyone is entitled to strive for 15 minutes -- or 30, 90 or much more."

Heather became famous as the first person ever fired for blogging about her job. The name of her blog, Dooce, became an Internet neologism for losing one's job as the result of writing something on the Internet. We now speak of being "dooced."

Five months before she was fired, Heather and her boyfriend, Jon, decided to live together. Shortly after she was fired, they were married. Two months later, Jon got laid off. They decided to move back to Utah where they'd met at Brigham Young University.

In the years since, the blog Dooce.com has become their primary source of income as Heather started to accept paying advertisements on the website. She is now averaging between 800,000 and 1,000,000 hits each month. She and John had a daughter, Leta Elise, born February 3, 2004. Heather thought the baby looked like a frog.

Despite Andy Warhol's assertion, Heather is now experiencing her second at-bat for a run at fame. And it involves the world of publishing. I'll give the rest of the story tomorrow.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


I've received more than a few emails in the last two weeks asking about the black-and-white kitten that showed up at my door while I was down sick.

I was reminded of those emails a few minutes ago. My study is situated in the middle of a long hallway. At one end of the hallway are two bedrooms. At the other end is the den and another hallway, which runs perpendicular to the first.

For the last thirty minutes, I've been trying to write my post for the day, but I keep stopping to laugh at the tableau outside in the hall. It's like something out of a cartoon.

First Bob, my two-year-old cat, went flying down the hall on his way to the den. He was closely followed by Dinah in hot pursuit.

Next, Dinah came tumbling down the hall in the opposite direction, chased by Bob.

There was a moment of complete silence. Then both Bob and Dinah went racing down the hall toward the den. This time, Tribble, my almost-twenty-year-old cat, was chasing the two of them.

Dinah is, of course, the name I gave the kitten who showed up two weeks ago. The name is courtesy of Lewis Carroll.

I took Dinah to see Timm, my vet, last week. His judgment: She is between six and eight months old, is negative for the dread feline diseases like leukemia, and weighs a little more than six pounds. Contrast this with Tribble who weighs ten pounds, and Bob who weighs almost twenty pounds.

All has not been sunshine and roses in our little corner of the world. Bob has shown a surprising animosity to sharing my large bed with Dinah. And he gets downright hostile when she beats him to Tribble's food dish for the leftovers.

For her part, Dinah, who is no bigger than a minute, is amazingly aggressive in protecting what she perceives as her turf. I've stepped between an awful lot of fights in the last two weeks. If they were evenly matched, I'd probably let them work it out themselves, but a weight difference of fourteen pounds seems dangerous to me.

Through it all, Tribble has remained above the fray, refusing to be intimidated--or even annoyed--by the kitten. Dinah is VERY careful around Tribble, giving her a wide berth.

Since Lucy, my beloved border collie, died in March, 2005, I've anticipated getting another dog when I was ready. I DID NOT want a third cat. I may run an ad to find Dinah a home of her own. We'll have to see.

What Media Means In The New Millenium

This is the fourth and final post in a series looking at the trend toward consolidation in the media industry, and exploring why this trend should should matter to writers.

Yesterday, I explained that, for decades, the FCC pursued a policy of limiting ownership of multiple radio, network and cable television stations, wanting to foster competion and more widespread ownership.

In the '70s, deregulation became a popular movement. President Jimmy Carter championed the deregulation of the trucking, rail, airline, oil, finance and telecommunications industries. A number of these initiatives proved to be disastrous and led to crises (the savings and loan industry and the California energy crunch among these). Deregulation slowed down after that, although we have continued to see limited initiatives in the airline, electric utilities and, of course, the telecommunications industry. In 1985, the Seven Station Rule was relaxed to permit ownership of up to twelve stations by a single entity. More importantly, the Museum of Broadcast Communications said: "broadcasting has been increasingly seen as just another business operating in a commercial marketplace which did not need its management decisions questioned by government overseers."

During President Clinton's term, Congress passed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, claiming it would foster greater competition. Limits on the numbers of stations owned by a single company were increased to a maximum service area cap of 35%.

Instead of increased competition, the eighty media companies in existence in 1986 shrank to the seven giant conglomerates that now own ninety percent of the industry. Their publishing subsidiaries include HarperMorrow, Hyperion, Random House, Simon & Shuster, and Warner Books.

What does all this mean to citizens and writers?

First, let's address the traditional fears. Historically, the belief has been that concentration of media ownership would lead to a lack of diversity of opinion--and more importantly--a lack of information. Many cities, which had operated with two or more newspapers, now find themselves with only one daily paper. Other locations find that a single corporation owns their newspaper and one or more radio and television stations.

The good news here is that there is a counterbalancing force to this shrinking media pool: the growth of the Internet. People seeking alternate information and opinions are free to find these on the Internet. Single individuals wishing to voice an opinion can now blog and be heard by thousands around the world.

Also with the good news comes a threat. Telecommunications companies, trying to advance their business interests, are proposing changes that will neutralize the Internet's growth. The forces fighting the telecommunications industry are demanding Net Neutrality. I won't address that issue here, but will talk about it in future posts. Suffice it to say that if the telecommunications industry wins, the free-wheeling, independent, equal-voice-to-all Internet we know today will disappear.

A second fear may be more pertinent to writers. This is the fear that shrinking media ownership will lead to shrinking cultural diversity. Again, a quote from the Museum of Broadcasting: "The American example of relying more on competition than regulation also threatens traditional public service broadcasting which must meet increasing competition for viewers by offering more commercially-appealing programs, usually entertainment--rather than culture-based."

The same dynamic at work on your PBS station is at work in commercial media. Competition for audience (whether it be listeners, viewership or readership) is fierce. When a popular trend emerges, the media jumps on it like ravening wolves. That's why you find a glut of reality shows on television, hundreds of novels featuring vampires and every print publisher rushing to establish an erotic imprint.

There's a reason for this. Corporations must answer to their shareholders, who expect rising profits and fat dividends. Taking chances is dangerous when you must answer to your shareholders once a quarter. Kensington now claims to be the last INDEPENDENT U.S. publisher of hardcover, trade and mass market paperback books.

The burden of quarterly reporting means that it is makes more sense for a publisher to put its dollars on a safe bet--a proven author like Stephen King, Nora Roberts or James Patterson--than to gamble on an unknown. This doesn't mean that unknowns or debut authors are out of luck. It simply means that the funnel is a little narrower and your work must be a little stronger than in previous decades.

However, the Internet is also the counterbalancing force in this dynamic as well. E-publishers are springing up everywhere and the movement toward self-publishing continues to grow.

I believe that eBooks will explode when a viable (and affordable) eBook reader comes on the market.

I also believe that self-publishing will not become a viable alternative until it solves three enormous problems: (1) The need to develop a system to vet books for bookstores and libraries to ensure a quality product; (2) The need to develop a system for marketing (just slapping a book on Amazon or eBay will not drive traffic to it); and (3) The need to overcome a justly deserved reputation for publishing crap.

Finally, there is the issue of service delivery mediums. We are rapidly approaching a point when content will no longer by restricted by medium. By this, I am referring to the fact that our choices for service delivery are multiplying faster and faster. We already have portable cell phones, portable audio players, portable video players. Soon we will be able to receive content (whether it be audio or visual) on ANY medium we choose WHENEVER we choose. The book will be freed from the constraints of covers; CDs and DVDs will be available the moment a film is released; and the current television Big Fall Season will seem quaint and antiquated.

Pay attention to the trends. You'll be helping to make them.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Evolution of the Media Conglomerate

This is the third in a series of posts looking at the changing media industry.

To start, let's review horizontal and vertical integration. Several readers are still struggling with these concepts.

Let's try looking at the supply chain for a product from manufacture to sale. A manufacturer creates a product that is sent to a wholesaler to be assembled, sorted or packaged. The newly packaged product is then sent to the retailer to be distributed and sold. It will end up in the hands of the consumer.

Another way to show this chain would be:

-------Manufacturer => Wholesaler => Retailer => Consumer

If we apply this generic chain to traditional media, such as the television industry, it would look something like this:

-------Studio => Network => Local Station => Consumer

The studios create the programs that are then packaged by the networks and sold to the local broadcast stations to be viewed by the consumers.

An example of horizontal integration would be a media company that expands by buying lots of local stations (focussing only on ONE level of the chain). Vertical integration would involve mixing the various levels; perhaps by owning a studio, a network and local stations.

Miguel M. Pereira described vertical integration this way: "integration of the different levels of production and distribution of media products that leads to companies which are able to, for example, produce films or music, register them in DVDs or CDs and distribute them not only to "brick and mortar" shops but also through the cable, satellite or mobile telephony networks they own. Vertically integrated companies are in a position to exploit their products at every single level of the value chain."

Now, let's take a quick look at the U.S. Government's attitude toward media courtesy of Wikipedia. In 1934, the U.S. Congress abolished the Federal Radio Commission and transferred jurisdiction to a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

From its inception, the FCC was concerned with promoting free trade and preventing monopolies within broadcast media. RCA was of particular concern to the FCC because RCA was a radio manufacturer that also owned two radio networks (NBC Blue and NBC Red) with multiple stations plus a research division working on the new technology of television.

The FCC "found that NBC's two networks and their owned-and-operated stations dominated audiences, affiliates and advertising dollars in American radio. In 1939 the FCC ordered RCA to divest itself of one of the two networks; RCA fought the divestiture order."

Meanwhile, CBS was also raising concerns with the FCC. The network was demanding whatever amount of time it wanted from its affiliates, imposing its will on the local stations.

In 1940, the FCC issued the "Report on Chain Broadcasting." "The major point in the report was the breakup of NBC, but there were two other important points. One was network option time . . . The report limited the amount of time during the day, and what times the networks may broadcast . . . The second concerned artist bureaus. The networks served as both agents and employees of artists, which was a conflict of interest the report rectified."

When RCA lost its appeal, they retained the NBC Red network while the NBC Blue network became what we know today as ABC.

The FCC actively pursued a policy of promoting multiple owners as well as limiting cross ownership of radio and TV stations. For thirty years, the FCC enforced the Seven Station Rule, saying that no one could own more than seven television stations, seven AM stations and seven FM stations. In 1985, they relaxed these rules, and it was off to the races as large companies gobbled up stations as fast as they could.

In a speech in Seoul, Walden Bello said: "Much of this process of concentration has been good old horizontal integration. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation has been called the 'most aggressive global trailblazer...' With over 130 newspapers, including the venerable London Times and less than venerable Fleet Street types, News Corporation is the world's largest news publisher." In addition to its newspapers, the News Corporation owns network TV stations, cable TV stations, film companies, and a book publisher. I would point out that the inclusion of film studios and a book publisher, both of which create product, show that most expansions do not occur purely in one direction. While the acquisition of newspapers and TV stations are horizontal expansions, the acquisition of film studios and a publisher are vertical expansions.

Contrast the News Corporation's mostly horizontal growth with Sony, which has grown vertically. In fact, Dr. Yasuhiro Inoue said in a paper titled "Hard and Soft Mega-Media Conglomeration" that: "Sony's vertical integration is unique because few media conglomerates have been integrated like Sony's hardware and software segments.

Let's look at just two of Sony's subsidiaries: Sony Electronics, which designs and manufactures electronics equipment, and Columbia Tristar, a film studio and distributor. Dr. Inoue points out that: "Sony can use the huge library of Columbia's motion pictures to promote its [electronic] products into the market . . . For example, a movie can be promoted and advertised while hardware is simultaneously promoted. Furthermore, Sony can save huge amounts of money for the use of movie copyright when the company advertises its hardware by using footage from its motion pictures . . . This is one of Sony's advantages over "unintegrated" media companies . . . Columbia's movie characters . . . can appear in [Sony's] Play Station game software to appeal [to] consumers."

Since the FCC relaxed its rules, more and more media has been concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer owners. Today, 90% of all media is owned by only seven companies: Bertelsmann, CBS, Disney, General Electric News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom.

Tomorrow, in the final post of this series, we'll look at the consequences of this concentration of ownership.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Authors Guild v. Google

Quick Note: Steve Bryant of Google Watch reports that "the schedule for Authors Guild v. Google has been pushed back about six months. Summary judgment deadlines are now scheduled for January 2008. That's 2008, as in, "Won't Google own the world by then?"

What The Hell Does Vertical Integration Mean?

At the end of yesterday's blog, I quoted the Financial Times, saying: "So far, the [media] industry's responses have fallen into three main groups: horizontal integration, vertical integration, and the search for new sources of revenue."

What the hell does that mean?

Fortunately, the university at which I took my undergraduate degree demanded that I take two semesters of Economics--both macroeconomics (the big picture economy) and microeconomics (companies up close and personal). In my micro class, I learned the difference between vertical integration and horizontal integration.

We know that "horizontal" refers to something that occurs on one plane--flat and even. Horizontal integration means expanding one's business by acquiring businesses on the same level. These businesses can be similar (the acquisition of multiple newspapers in different markets) or different (the acquisition of radio stations in addition to the newspapers you already own. Here, both are in the same broad type of business--news distribution--even though they specialize in different mediums).

Horizontal integration can mean increased power in the market (look at the clout that Wal-Mart has as the result of its huge network of stores) as well as economies of scale (look at any company that has regional distribution centers) and of scope (the sharing of resources among similar businesses).

One of the pitfalls that a horizontally integrated company can face is when it so completely dominates a particular market that the government begins to think of it as a monopoly needing to be broken up into its constituent parts (remember the breakup of the phone company?).

According to the Financial Times article I referred to, "the logic behind horizontal integration is this: in a fragmenting market, media companies can no longer reach a mass audience with a single flagship programme or publication. Instead, reach comes from a portfolio of media properties, each targeted at a different group, across a range of platforms."

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you will remember the series I did called "The Long Tail" (see my posts for July 13, 14 and 15). Chris Anderson's new book, The Long Tail, talked about exactly this point. Niche markets across a wide spectrum may prove more valuable to a company over the long haul than a single large market (an example might be selling multiple midlist books rather than seeking the single blockbuster DaVinci Code).

Vertical integration, on the other hand, refers to the expanding of one's business by acquiring businesses at different levels along the industry's chain. Those irritating MBA types refer to these as upstream suppliers or downstream buyers. To complicate things further, they also talk about forward integration and backward integration.

To make it simple, picture a vertical chain with your newspaper (since we're talking media) at the center. Upstream refers to your suppliers (perhaps a paper company). Downstream refers to your distribution network (perhaps newstands). If you integrate upstream (say you buy your own paper company), you're going backwards to your supplier. We, therefore, refer to it as backward integration. If you integrate downstream (perhaps you buy a network of newstands), you're going forward to your distribution network. We, therefore, refer to it as forward integration.

Vertical integration is about cost and control. Companies who vertically integrate are trying to assert greater control over their business. The obvious benefit is that they can capture the profit margins at each step along the chain. They can also make it harder for competitors if they can gain access to a scarce resource. The drawbacks include that the organization now becomes much more complex, and the owners assume more risk by sinking more and more assets into this one industry rather than diversifying.

The Financial Times had this to say about vertical integration: "Vertical integration, the marriage of content with distribution, is an alternative approach . . . the argument for vertical integration is based on market power. Distributors might hope to strike better deals with content providers if they have content of their own to offer in return."

Tomorrow, we'll try to apply this knowledge specifically to the media industry.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Does Digitization Mean To Me, The Writer?

For the last four days, I've been trying to decide how to respond to an email I received over the weekend.

A reader of this blog wanted to know why I was "always" talking about movies, music and Internet companies. He pointed out that I describe my blog as "one writer's journey" and suggested that I should focus exclusively on books and writing.

Actually, I describe this blog as "one writer's view of the world," but let's not quibble. As I started to explain my belief that publishing is no longer a single industry, it occurred to me that other readers might find this subject of interest, too.

WARNING: This is likely to turn into a two- or three-day post.

To start, let me refer to an article that appeared in the Financial Times back in April, 2004. Written by Tim Burt and Simon London, the story made a huge impression on me.

The article began by talking about fragmentation. "Fragmentation is 'the single most important trend across all media platforms', says John Lavine, head of the media management centre at Northwestern University in Chicago."

Back in the early days of television, most households received somewhere between one and four TV channels. Today, the average is fifty. And, for families with cable, the number of channel choices is more than 200.

Years ago, I listened to network news for the headlines and read The Dallas Morning News for the details. Today, I no longer receive a hard copy newspaper. I can still read The Dallas Morning News online. However, I also read The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today online as well as the feed from Yahoo, the Associated Press, NPR and Reuters.

The Financial Times predicted this trend, saying that fragmentation meant personalization to the consumer, the ability to tailor information/news/entertainment to suit personal interests. However, to media companies this was a world gone wild.

Bain & Company, a business consulting firm, says the following on its website:

"What the media and entertainment industry looks like today is completely different from what it looked like 10 years ago. And odds are, it will undergo yet another fundamental transformation in the next decade. Three basic trends are at work.

First, traditionally independent local providers of media and content have been replaced by a small number of large, publicly traded international conglomerates that compete in all media sectors.

Second, the Internet has created a whole new class of industry player, like the powerhouse produced by the online-offline marriage of Time Warner and AOL.

And third, a furious debate has sprung up over copyrights. Today's media players have substantial assets tied up in music, television and film content. The Internet's power to obliterate traditional notions of copyright poses a complex and urgent management challenge. Going forward, media players will need to deploy their assets-and also protect them-in a digital environment."

The Financial Times said: "So far, the industry's responses have fallen into three main groups: horizontal integration, vertical integration, and the search for new sources of revenue."

Tomorrow we'll talk about what that means.

The Other Shoe Falls

Earlier this month, rumors surfaced that Google was in talks to acquire YouTube. In my blog of October 7th, I pointed out that Google faced significant copyright problems if it purchased YouTube because of threats by companies complaining that YouTube customers were stealing copyrighted content to make their home videos.

Hours after YouTube announced settlement talks with several music companies, most notably Universal, Google announced on October 9th that they would buy YouTube in an all-stock deal.

On Monday, the other shoe fell. Universal Music Group, which now has a deal with YouTube to permit use of its music videos, filed copyright infringement lawsuits against two other Internet companies for permitting users to download/upload their content.

The lawsuits, filed Monday, are against Sony's Grouper Networks, Inc. and Bolt, Inc. According to the Wall Street Journal, these "mark the first time a major media company has tried to use the courts to narrowly interpret 'safe harbor' protections provided by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 so it would exclude video-sharing sites. The DMCA provides protection from liability for copyright infringement to Internet companies if they meet certain criteria and follow so-called takedown procedures."

Apparently Universal had held discussions with these two companies similar to the discussions they had with YouTube, but no deal resulted.

It will be very interesting to see how the District Court for California's Central District rules in this case. There has been much speculation as to whether the "safe harbor" rules will cover video-sharing sites. Under those rules, Internet companies must remove any material once they have received a complaint from the copyright holder. Previously, Internet companies have claimed that, by following the takedown rules, they were protected by safe harbor.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Texan I Actually Dislike

As anyone who has spent any time on this blog knows, I love Texas. I particularly love Texans who are some of the most friendly, generous and kind people anywhere. In all the years I've lived in this state, I've never had a flat tire or car trouble that a man (or woman) hasn't stopped to help within three minutes of my pulling the car to the shoulder. It's the neighborly thing to do, you see.

Having said all that, I'm still forced to admit that there are some rotten tomatoes in the stewpot. This post is about one of them.

As most Americans are aware, we're only three weeks out from the November mid-term elections, which will be held on November 7th. One of those races is for State Comptroller of Texas, the state's tax collector. There are three names on the ballot: Republican Susan Combs, Democrat Fred Head and Libertarian Mike Burris.

By most accounts, Susan Combs is the front runner. She's an attorney, who worked as a prosecutor in Dallas before becoming a state legislator who served two terms. She's a cattle rancher who also worked on Wall Street. She is the current Agriculture Commissioner.

The Libertarian is an auditor with little political experience.

And then we have Fred Head. Fred served two terms in the Texas legislature and then lost his bid for re-election in 1980. Now, more than twenty-five years later, he's back. And the chief plank of his campaign platform: "Don't vote for Susan Combs because she's a pornographer."


That's right. If you go to old Fred's website, it says:

"Susan Combs claims to be a person of high moral standards. Her record of writing, having published and selling a pornographic book clearly shows that Susan Combs is a two faced, hypocrite who was obviously more concerned with her literary career and seeing her name in print than the morals of the young People of Texas who are exposed to her 222 page book, A Perfect Match, which has her name at the top of every other page - - - a clear testament to Susan Combs’ insatiable ego and desire to see her name in print."

You heard me. This moron is claiming that a woman who wrote a romance novel in 1990--and we all know how steamy books were sixteen years ago--is a pornographer.

It would be sad if it weren't so damn stupid.

I sent Fred Head an email at the beginning of the week, pointing out that it is generally more helpful for candidates to emphasize their own merits instead of inventing negatives for their opponents. Writers all over the state have been emailing him with the same message.

The fact that Head is sticking to his smear tactics suggests that he has no merits to highlight.

An editorial in today's Waco Tribune Herald seems to agree. It said: Head's "central attention-getting issue has been to point to Combs' hobby of writing romance novels, literature he deems 'pornographic'. . . Combs is the most qualified candidate for state comptroller."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Which Way Is Up?

Busy, busy time.

The next issue of Passionate Ink's newsletter is due in two weeks, and my column is not quite finished. Need to make that my priority today.

Received an invitation to be a part of a panel for the Writers' League of Texas later this month. I'm probably crazy for taking on one more thing, but I said yes.

Good news and bad news re my urban fantasy.

Good news: It's finished. Thank you, God!

Bad news: It's 107K words. 107,000 words!! I was aiming for 90K to 95K.

I never check word count while I'm writing. It distracts me from the important thing, the story. May need to rethink this strategy in the future. :)

I've identified a place where I can cut an adventure and save 7K words, bringing it to 100K. Instead of pruning it now, I think I'll send the entire thing to my agent and see what she says.

But, the good news is that the freaking story is finished. I'm THRILLED.

Now, back to rewrites on my NAL submission. It's due back to my editor by December 15.

Busy, busy time.

A Publisher's Nightmare

In a world in which we're always reading about the hard lessons writers learn, Monday's Wall Street Journal (WSJ) had a cautionary tale for publishers (although I suspect the author involved will face his own issues as he seeks a publisher for his next novel).

Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg wrote the story, which was subtitled, "One Publisher Rolls the Dice." He tells of publisher John Sterling's (Henry Holt & Co.) reaction to a debut murder mystery by a Yale Law professor. The manuscript was for "The Interpretation of Murder" by Jed Rubenfeld. The novel speculates about what would have happened if Sigmund Freud had gotten involved in a criminal investigation seeking a serial murderer during the psychoanalyst's visit to the United States in 1909.

The publisher believed the manuscript "had an intriguing cast of characters, an engaging plot and a dash of kinky sex. It was a historical thriller, one of publishing's hottest recent categories. It had the potential, he thought, to be the next 'Da Vinci Code.'"

Mr. Rubenfeld's agent, Suzanne Gluck of William Morris, already had an offer of $1.2 million for world-wide rights for the novel. However, Ms. Gluck wanted to sell the overseas rights herself. Instead of taking the first offer, Ms. Gluck accepted an offer from Holt's Sterling for $800,000 for the North American rights alone and then she sold the overseas rights for more than $1 million.

Once he had secured the rights, Mr. Sterling launched a $500,000 marketing campaign and "ordered a first printing of 185,000 copies, an impressive number for any debut novel."

Mr. Sterling "wanted to launch an all-out marketing push . . . to coincide with the annual booksellers convention, which was scheduled for late May in Washington, D.C. Every year, thousands of titles are presented at Book Expo America, but only a few generate enough buzz to establish a book as a hot fall contender." Mr. Rubenfeld's book was released on September 5, 2006.

Independent bookstores were enthusiastic, naming the novel their number one pick for September in Book Sense, the national marketing program developed by the American Booksellers Association in 2000.

Despite Holt's best efforts, The Interpretation of Murder's first-week sales ranked it at #18 on the New York Times best-seller list. The following week, it slipped to #20. Several newspapers and magazines, which had been enthusiastic early on gave the book lukewarm reviews.

Mr. Sterling's misery was compounded by another historical novel released a week after The Interpretation of Murder. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield was selected by Barnes and Noble as the first in a new campaign called Barnes and Noble Recommends. Helped by that initiative, the book debuted at #1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

The WSJ estimates that Holt would need to sell at least 150,000 hardcover copies to recoup its investment and doubts that it will manage half of that. At this point, the best the publisher can hope for are strong paperback sales and the possibility that a film will be made from the novel, increasing interest in the book.

Trachtenberg interviewed other publishers in an attempt to determine where Holt went wrong. Several rivals suggested that Holt "may have erred in promoting its book so heavily six months prior to publication." Mr. Sterling, of course, disagrees. He does, however, admit, "I still marvel that despite everything we do, we just don't know . . . It's the wonderful thing and the agonizing thing about the business."

Amen to that.