Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Update 2 on The Jewel of Medina

On Tuesday night, MSNBC had an update on The Jewel of Medina. They directed readers to the Wednesday morning edition of The Bookseller.

The Bookseller reported that the UK's Gibson Square publishing house has put the October 15th release of the controversial book on hold. Alan Jessop of Compass, Gibson's Squares sales agent was quoted by The Bookseller, speaking about Martin Rynja, the managing director of Gibson Square, whose home and office were the target of an Islamic terrorist attack this weekend:
"He is in good spirits, but has put publication in suspended animation while he reflects and takes advice on what the best foot forward is."
You can read about the thwarted firebombing here.

Publishers Weekly (PW) interviewed Eric Kampmann, president of Beaufort Books, The Jewel of Medina’s U.S. publisher. Kampmann has already begun shipping the first run of 50,000 books. PW reported:
. . . given the events in the U.K., [Kampmann] said he is now being “super cautious.” He has been in touch with the FBI and New York City police and is considering hiring a security firm to protect Beaufort and Midpoint’s New York offices. Through early Monday, Kampmann said he has received no threats over the book. The New York office was closed Monday, Kampamm said, since his executive staff was already at an offsite meeting. “We are being vigilant,” . . .
Kampmann expects the books to be in stores by the end of the week.

The Bookseller reported on UK bookstores:
But booksellers spoken to by The Bookseller said their were unbowed by the letter-bomb and the threats from some extremists of further violence. Michael Jones, books category manager at Borders UK, said: "We haven't changed anything about what we're doing. We will be going ahead and selling it." Amazon.co.uk also said it would be selling the title, while Blackwell's maintained its stance that it would let individual bookshop managers decide.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Writing Can't Be Taught

Last Wednesday's Washington Post had an article titled "A Guide to Prose, Fully Punctuated." It's an interview with Francine Prose, novelist and former teacher of creative writing.

She argues that writing can't be taught (despite the fact that she spent twenty years trying to do so).

The article is sprinkled with advice to writers. My favorite was: "You don't need to know much when you begin."

In context, the comment refers to the fact that you don't need to know everything about your characters or your plot when you start a novel--not that you don't need to know the basics of writing.

I liked this, of course, because it mirrors my approach to writing [grin].

You can read the entire article here.

I Need a Favor, Please

My niece has entered her six-month-old in a contest to be the face of Learning Curve Toys.

Do me a favor and vote for Trevor here.

All votes appreciated.



A Second SNL Skit Looking At Sarah Palin

For my friends overseas like Stephen and Mike, I'm offering a link here to the second SNL opening skit featuring Tina Fey and Amy Poehler as Sarah Palin and Katie Couric.

Enjoy, guys!!!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Terrorism Follows The Jewel of Medina

The Sunday Times of London reported today that Scotland Yard interrupted a plot by Islamic terrorists to firebomb the north London offices (and home) of the Dutch publisher who agreed to release The Jewel of Medina after Random House backed out of its contract.

If you are not familiar with the controversy surrounding The Jewel of Medina, read my previous posts of August 13th and September 7th.

On September 24th, I did a post saying that Martin Rynja the managing director of Gibson Square, the publisher that had secured the UK rights to The Jewel of Medina, had announced he was doubling his initial print run from 10,000 because of the enormous interest in the book.

Today's Sunday Times reported:
. . . the Met [London's Metropolitan Police] appears to have received a tip-off that the British publisher . . . could be the target of an attack.

A Met spokesman said three men had been arrested in “a preplanned intelligence-led operation” at about 2.25am on Saturday.

Two of the suspects were arrested in the street outside Rynja’s four-storey townhouse in Lonsdale Square, Islington, while the third was stopped by officers in an armed vehicle near Angel Tube station.
The British newspaper The Guardian reported, ". . . police told Rynja late on Friday night to leave his property."

Apparently undercover police followed the gang and observed them pushing a firebomb through the mail slot of Rynja's "£2.5m town house in Islington's Lonsdale Square" (The Guardian). Police and firefighters broke down the front door and put out the small fire.

Rynja is reportedly under police guard.

At the time I read the story in the Sunday Times, there were only three comments below it. A British Muslim had commented:
. . . I will be offended if something controversial is written about Mohammed PBUH, as much as I would be about Jesus or Moses (May peace be upon them). This is not just about free speech, it is about respecting other religions.
I refrained from adding my own comment, deciding that this blog was a better place for my opinion:

There have been numerous fictional and artistic treatments of Jesus and Moses and leaders of other religions such as the Church of the Latter Day Saints. Not all of these portraits have been flattering.

To my knowledge, no terrorist attacks resulted from any of them.

I respect all of the religions of the world, and Muslims of good faith have my sympathy and support during this difficult time in the world we share. I have nothing but disdain for those who twist and pervert the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. I hope the authorities will capture and prosecute Islamic terrorists in exactly the same way they prosecute any other terrorist.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Tolkien Estate Versus New Line Cinema

On Friday, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge barred the family of J.R.R. Tolkien from punitive damages in their lawsuit against New Line Cinema for failure to pay royalties on the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. However, Judge Ann I. Jones did clear the way for the heirs to continue their $150 million fraud suit against the studio.

Almost everyone has heard the term "Hollywood accounting," which refers to the creative accounting film studios use to turn a box office blockbuster into a financial disaster on paper.

When this happens, those writers or actors who accepted a deal for net profit percentage points are left out in the cold because--on paper--the film lost money so there was no net profit. The January 22, 1990 edition of Time magazine had this to say about net percentage points:
Hollywood's megastars demand a slice of the gross because they know that most films will never pay any earnings to holders of net-profit percentages, which [actor Eddie] Murphy has derided as "monkey points."
Probably the most well-known case of a writer suing a studio that used creative accounting was the Buchwald v. Paramount case in 1990.

Writer and satirist Art Buchwald wrote a screen treatment for a story about an African king who was overthrown while visiting the U.S. His 1983 contract stated that, if a film was made "based upon" his treatment, he would receive $265,000 and 19% of the net profit. When Paramount released Coming to America in 1988 and claimed the story of an African king who comes to the U.S. was written by its star, Eddie Murphy, Buchwald and his partner Alain Bernheim sued.

Buchwald's lawsuit was in two parts. First he had to sue for breach of contract, claiming the studio had used his treatment. In January, 1990, a Los Angeles judge ruled that Paramount had indeed used Buchwald's treatment and awarded him $250,000.

In the second phase of the trial, Paramount claimed that, although they'd had $350 million in box office receipts, the film lost money. The court found that the studio's accounting practices were "unconscionable." Paramount offered a settlement for $900,000. Buchwald accepted the deal despite the fact that he'd spent more than $2 million litigating the case.

So how does Hollywood pull off a stunt like turning a box office success into a losing proposition?

Generally a studio spins off subsidiaries to handle production, marketing and distribution. Those entities charge the parent company huge fees for their services, eating up more than 50% of the gross profits of a film as overhead charges. In the case of the Coming to America film, Time magazine said:
. . . half was kept by theaters showing the film. The rest went for shooting the picture (one cost estimate: $40 million), distribution fees charged by Paramount ($50 million), studio overhead ($5 million), film prints and promotion ($15 million), Murphy's salary ($8 million) and other expenses.
Writers would be well-advised to demand gross percentage points (before expenses are subtracted) rather than net percentage points (after expenses are taken out). Remember what Eddie Murphy implied: You're a monkey if you accept net percentage points.

Back to the Tolkien lawsuit. In February, Tolkien's son and daughter, Christopher Tolkien and Priscilla Tolkien, who had created a charity titled The Tolkien Trust after their father's death, sued New Line Cinema.

The Tolkien heirs, together with Tolkien's publisher HarperCollins, sued New Line for failing to pay royalties on the Lord of the Ring trilogy and to obtain a court order to prevent New Line from its plan to produce two movies based on The Hobbit.

In May, the London Times interviewed Christopher Tolkien, now 83 years old:
The Trustees claim that they and HarperCollins, the publishers, are owed $150m by New Line Cinema under a deal for a 7.5% share of profits that was signed in 1969, when his father reluctantly sold film rights to pay a tax bill.
The Associated Press reported:
. . . the lawsuit claims New Line sent millions of dollars to Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, improperly claiming they were for advertising expenses. The lawsuit also claims the studio built production offices and facilities in New Zealand and listed them as expenses for the "Lord of the Rings" films, although the heirs claim they are now being used for other New Line projects.
The AP also stated:
New Line's attorneys successfully argued that Tolkien's heirs had to demonstrate a "public wrong" under New York law — which governs the contracts — to claim punitive damages if they win at trial. [Judge] Jones ruled that the heirs' grievance "is clearly seeking to vindicate private wrongs."
So, while the heirs cannot sue for punitive damages, they can still sue for their actual losses incurred by the failure of New Line to pay them as stipulated in their contract.

The trial is scheduled to begin next October.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Booksigning Advice

My good friend and critique partner, Maria Zannini, has a terrific post today about booksignings with lots of good advice. She has links from four great writers on the subject. Of course, because she's my friend, she included links to my posts, too.

Go here to read everything you ever wanted to know about booksignings.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Whither Goes Borders?

Back on April 10, here, I summarized the actions Borders was taking to stay alive.

Included among those steps, Pershing Square Capital Management had offered a $42.5 million senior secured loan with a 9.8% interest rate. As a part of that deal, Publishers Weekly (PW) reported Pershing also "agreed to acquire Borders's Australian, New Zealand, Singapore and Paperchase subsidiaries for $125 million if Borders cannot find another buyer at a better price."

That help didn't come for free. Borders granted Pershing Square 9.55 million warrants to purchase company stock for $7 a share for up to six and a half years. If you don't understand how warrants work, go to my post of March 20 here.

However, if (1) Borders did take advantage of the backup purchase offer or if (2) a "definitive agreement relating to a change-of-control of the company is not signed by October 1, 2008," (according to Publishers Weekly) or if (3) the company terminates the strategic alternatives process, Borders must issue another 5.15 million warrants to Pershing Square.

That October 1 deadline is only five days away.

Friday's Wall Street Journal reports:
Borders had hoped to have a deal in place by the end of the month, but the market turmoil and growing uncertainty about the retail sector have all but dashed those hopes, according to one person close to the company.
Shelf Awareness says: "Pershing Square is likely to obtain the warrants, which price the company's shares at $7 each, roughly its current price."

This puts Pershing Square and its founder William Ackman in a powerful position vis-a-vis Borders.

Last year, Seeking Alpha had this to say about Ackman:
William Ackman is an aggressive activist value investor who heads Pershing Square Capital Management, a $1.6+ billion hedge fund. Ackman takes large long positions in a concentrated portfolio of companies, then often pressures management to extract value for shareholders.
In effect, Borders is standing on the edge of a chasm staring across at Ackman who may force them to take action they have not yet been ready to face.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Update on The Jewel of Medina

On September 7, I reported that independent publisher Gibson Square had secured the UK rights for Sherry Jones' controversial novel The Jewel of Medina.

If you're not familiar with The Jewel of Medina, go here to read my first post on the novel.

Today's The Bookseller reports that, with almost month to go before the October 15th release, Gibson Square is doubling its initial print run. The publisher had originally planned for a print run of 10,000, but has already taken more than 8,000 pre-orders for the novel:
It decided to review the number in light of pre-orders both here and in the US. Martin Rynja, m.d of Gibson Square, said he was keen to push the print run further if possible. “We are trying to keep up with the Americans,” he said. "The first step was 10,000 and we were comfortable with that. We have been gathering orders from Europe and places as far away as India, and as a result we have doubled the print run. It’s very exciting."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Business Models From iRex

On Saturday a week ago, I posted here about iRex, the Dutch company that produces the iLiad e-reader.

Yesterday Engadget reported that iRex has unveiled its Digital Reader 1000 with a 10.2 inch screen. The 1000 brings back the higher iRex prices, too. A reader will set you back $649; a reader/writer is $749. And "the big daddy 1000SW -- with WiFi, Bluetooth and that 3G data connectivity" is priced at $849.

iRex is hoping to capture the business market. At those prices, it's not likely to grab the casual reader.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Modern Day Faerie Tale

I haven't forgotten that I promised a follow-up to my post of Friday. I need a couple of more days until things settle a bit around here. I'm doing a presentation at work tomorrow for about thirty-five people, and I'm not quite prepared for it yet.

I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms over the last few days. I used the time to read an urban fantasy by Melissa Marr titled Wicked Lovely. Melissa is represented by agent Rachel Vater who mentioned the book on her blog, which is how I came to pick up a Young Adult novel.

Wicked Lovely is a creative take on the fairy kingdom. I'm always interested in world building. Two other urban fantasy writers who have built intricate Faerie worlds are Laurell K. Hamilton and Jim Butcher.

Although I gave up on Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake vampire series about six books ago, I still eagerly await her Merry Gentry series. The seventh book in Merry's series, Swallowing Darkness, is due out in early November.

LKH divides the fairy kingdoms into the Seelie and Unseelie courts, and Merry Gentry is the child born of both courts--her mother was High Seelie while her father was the brother of the Queen of the Unseelie Court.

Jim Butcher talks about the Summer and Winter Courts of the Sidhe. If I remember correctly, the two books of his that focus on Faerie are Summer Knight and Small Favor.

My understanding of Melissa Marr's world building from reading the first in the series is that she divides her faerie kingdom into three parts: the Summer Court, the Winter Court and the Dark Court. Faeries share the mortal world, unseen, playful--and often wicked.

Wicked Lovely is Aislinn Foy's story. Aislinn, called Ash, is a high school student who has always been able to see faeries although they don't know it. From an early age, Ash's grandmother taught her that her safety depended upon the faeries never realizing she can both see and hear them.

Keenan is the King of the Summer Court and son of Beira, Queen of the Winter Court. Centuries ago, the King of the Dark Court helped Beira bind Keenan's powers. He will only be free when he finds his Summer Queen. For nine centuries, he has been asking mortal girls to risk their lives in a test to see if they are the Summer Queen. None has succeeded. Each loser is condemned to become the Winter Girl, isolated and cold, until she can hand off her title to the next loser. As Beira's cold overtakes the earth, Keenan is becoming increasingly desperate to find his queen.

Early in the novel, Keenan focuses his hopes on Ash, who is both terrified and determined not to give up her mortal life--or her mortal friend, Seth. The unknown factor in the unusual triangle of Keenan-Ash-Seth is Donia, the current Winter Girl.

Wicked Lovely was released by HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollins. Wicked Lovely was the RWA 2008 RITA winner for Young Adult Romance.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel, which is a very quick read. The two female leads, Ash and Donia, are engaging, independent and quick-thinking. Of the two male leads, Keenan's character is the better drawn. Impulsive, a bit arrogant and desperate, he feels guilt over Donia's fate, but is himself trapped in a world not of his making.

Seth is a cipher, noble and devoted to Ash. I would have liked to understand him better. He felt like a place holder to me rather than a fully-drawn character.

Beira, the Winter Queen, is a one-note character, much like the Wicked Witch of the East in the Wizard of Oz. Her role is menacing and her purposes, evil.

The King of the Dark Court is only hinted at, but I believe he plays the major role in Marr's second novel, Ink Exchange. I'll be picking that one up soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

More on the Espresso Book Machine

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor issued a press release on Wednesday. Here are selected passages:
U-M is the first university library to install the book-printing machine. The Espresso Book Machine, from On Demand Books of New York, produces perfect-bound, high-quality paperback books on demand . . .

The book machine, located in the Shapiro Library lobby on U-M's Central Campus, prints out-of-copyright books from the University's digitized collections. At a cost of about $10 per book, the service is available to researchers, students and the public.

The printing process begins with a reader selecting a digitized book from U-M's pre-1923 collection or from another online source, such as the Open Content Alliance. Most books printed prior to the early 1920s can be reprinted without seeking the permission from whomever holds the copyright. Then the file is downloaded to the Espresso Book Machine, where it is formatted, printed and perfect bound with a four-color cover.

A finished printed book takes 5-7 minutes, depending on the number of pages . . .

In the next several years, On Demand Books expects to install Espresso Book Machines in libraries and bookshops around the world. All the machines will be connected by a network, allowing libraries to share and reprint volumes from their collections.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Place Marker

Sorry to be AWOL. One of my best friend's father died.

While I'm off, read Maureen Dowd's op/ed in the New York Times for Sunday. She and Aaron Sorkin (creator of "The West Wing") said what I've been thinking much better than I could.

Go here to read it.

I'll be back soon.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The End of Book Publishing As We Know It

Today was my last day in a week-long training class at work.

My normal commute is only 22 minutes. This week, because the flipping class started at 8:00 AM, I had to leave at 6:55 every day and spend an hour in early morning traffic.

I tell you this because, having lost my usual two hours every morning to read blogs and Internet news, I am now a week behind. I've just seen this article on "The End" of the book business in New York Magazine, courtesy of Nathan Bransford here. Forgive me for coming late to the party.

The first half of the article rehashes territory we’ve been over many times before here. Let me summarize. The links in parentheses are to posts on this blog that addressed points made in the article:

Forty years ago, the “gentleman” ownership of publishing gave way to corporate ownership. Dozens of independent houses were replaced by a handful of media conglomerates that now own multiple imprints (March 7, 2007).

Corporate ownership means corporate oversight and a focus on the bottom line, which in turn led to a preference for “known” best-selling authors rather than risky unknown authors
(October 22, 2006). And those best-selling authors sometimes have an inflated sense of their worth (January 5, 2008).

It wasn't until Page Five of the nine-page article that I found anything worth quoting:
One key advantage of corporate publishing was supposed to be its marketing muscle: You may not publish exactly the books you’d like to, but the ones you publish will get the attention they deserve. Yet in recent years, more accurate internal sales numbers have confirmed what publishers long suspected: Traditional marketing is useless.

"Media doesn't matter, reviews don't matter, blurbs don't matter," says one powerful agent. Nobody knows where the readers are, or how to connect with them . . . Focused consumer research is almost nonexistent in publishing. What readers want—and whether it’s better to cater to their desires or try harder to shape them—remains a hotly contested issue.
Pages Six and Seven contain a laundry list of the nightmares keeping publishers awake at the wee hours of the morning:
  • Oprah will be going off the air in a few years, taking with her those lovely book club picks.
  • Borders bookstores are on death watch. If and when the chain expires, publishers will lose their negotiating muscle with B&N.
  • Amazon had 31% sales growth in the second quarter and seems intent on building a vertical publishing business.

The last two pages of the article focus on previous publishing disasters and potential upcoming disasters (disasters being defined as books on which publishers made big-advance gambles that didn't pay off).

I've been thinking a lot lately about the new ventures intended to revitalize the publishing industry. The two mentioned most often are Bob Miller's HarperStudio and Jonathan Karp's Twelve. Both men are featured speakers at this year's 35th annual New England Independent Booksellers Association Trade Show (NEIBA), which opened Thursday morning in Boston.

I'll talk more about this tomorrow.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Libel Lawsuit Against John Grisham Dismissed

Today's Associated Press reported that U.S. District Judge Ronald White of the Eastern District of Oklahoma dismissed a libel lawsuit against writer John Grisham.

Pontotoc County District Attorney Bill Peterson, a former agent of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation named Gary Rogers and an Oklahoma state criminalist named Melvin Hett filed the lawsuit against Grisham and two other authors, claiming the three authors defamed them in books.

Grisham's 2006 book--his first non-fiction--titled The Innocent Man recounted the details of the murder, and the ensuing investigation, of a cocktail waitress named Debbie Sue Carter in December, 1982. Carter had been beaten, raped and suffocated in her bedroom.

Six years later, Ronald Keith Williamson, a minor league baseball player, and his friend Dennis Fritz were convicted in 1988 for the murder. According to the New York Times, "The evidence . . . consisted of 17 hairs that matched those of Mr. Williamson and Mr. Fritz, and the account provided by [a] woman who said she had heard Mr. Williamson confess." Both the woman and a second jailhouse informant were considered unreliable witnesses.

Fritz was sentenced to life imprisonment while Williamson received the death penalty. Williamson came within five days of being executed in September, 1994.

During the automatic appeals process, Mark Barrett, Williamson's attorney, and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project pointed out the shoddy police work of the Ada authorities and the poor evidence employed in the prosecution's case. Both Barrett and Scheck were also named as defendants in the libel suit.

A retrial was ordered and, after eleven years on Death Row, DNA evidence resulted in Williamson and Fritz being released in 1999. William died five years later of cirrhosis of the liver in December, 2004.

Eighteen months before his death, Williamson saw Glen Gore, who had testified against him during his trial, convicted of Carter's murder based on DNA evidence. Gore was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.

Grisham was inspired to write about the case after reading Williamson's obituary in the New York Times here.

In dismissing the libel charges against Grisham, ". . . the judge wrote that it was important to be able to analyze and criticize the judicial system 'so that past mistakes do not become future ones'." (Associated Press)

In a statement, Barry Scheck said:
This is a victory for free speech and for holding officials publicly accountable for their role in wrongful convictions.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Audiotapes of Agatha Christie Discovered

On Monday, the London Times reported that the grandson of Agatha Christie has discovered audiotapes made by the novelist in the mid-1960s.

It was probably no accident that the existence of the secret tapes was revealed on Monday, the 118th anniversary of Christie's birth.

The 27 half-hour tapes were apparently recorded by Dame Christie to help with the writing of her autobiography published in 1977 after her death.

Chorion, the company that manages Christie's estate, was already planning to re-release the autobiography. It is unknown whether the discovery of the tapes will play a part in that re-release. Publishers Weekly said:
Tamsen Harward, literary estates business manager at Chorion, said whether the new edition of Christie's autobiography, called An Autobiography, includes material from the tapes "remains to be seen. We would very much like to do something with them," Harward said, adding that Christie's family is also now discussing how, and if, to publish the tapes.
Christie was notoriously reclusive, and the Times indicates that--prior to the new tapes being discovered--there were only two known recordings of her voice. She died in 1976.

When I was about ten, my mother became concerned when she found me reading my grandfather's Perry Mason paperbacks. She told me those books were not appropriate for my age. I told her that I wasn't going to read those lame Nancy Drew books she kept giving me any longer.

Mom thought about it for a couple of days and then brought me to the library. She handed me a list of three authors: Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Dorothy Sayers. She told me I could read as many of those authors' books as I chose.

My love of Agatha Christie dates back to that day. Dame Christie wrote some 80 detective stories. I read every one of them during the summer between the time I was ten and eleven. My favorites remain The Man in the Brown Suit, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Death Comes As The End, and The Mirror Crack'd From Side to Side.

It was another three or four years before I became old enough to appreciate Dorothy Sayers.

I have a copy of Christie's 1977 Autobiography, but would probably purchase another copy if it came with a copy of the audiotapes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

July Bookstore Sales Down 7.4%

Monday's Publishers Weekly reported that bookstore sales took a tumble in July, falling 7.4% compared to the same month last year.

The drop was expected since the seventh and final Harry Potter book--Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows--was released on July 21st last year, giving that month an enormous boost.

For the seven-month period ending in July, bookstore sales were up 1.7% compared to the same seven months in 2007.

Compare bookstore results to the entire retail segment where July sales rose 2.9% and where the seven-months through July sales were up 3.2%.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Palin & Clinton (AKA Tina Fey & Amy Poehler)

If you missed Saturday Night Live's season opener on Saturday, you missed a terrific send-up on Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton.


Sunday, September 14, 2008

David Foster Wallace Dies

I mourned when I learned of David Foster Wallace's death yesterday.

I was not a fan of his best known work, Infinite Jest, which seemed too obsessive and self-indulgent for plebian, pedestrian little me. However, I did appreciate a number of his essays. I still have a copy of A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again, which collected seven of those essays.

I dug it out this morning and re-read the 1993 essay called "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction." It was originally published in "The Review of Contemporary Fiction."

The Latin title, of course, is an ironic twist on the U.S. motto: "Out of many, one."

Here are some of my favorite quotes from that essay. They were easy to find; I'd highlighted them with a yellow marker:

Fiction writers as a species tend to be oglers. They tend to lurk and to stare. They are born watchers.

. . . the television screen affords access only one-way . . . We can relax, unobserved, as we ogle. I happen to believe this is why television also appeals so much to lonely people . . . The lonely, like the fictive, love one-way watching . . . Lonely people tend, rather, to be lonely because they decline to bear the psychic costs of being around other humans. They are allergic to people. People affect them too strongly.

. . . the most dangerous thing about television for U.S. fiction writers is that we yield to the temptation not to take television seriously as both a disseminator and a definer of the cultural atmosphere we breathe and process . . .

I'm going to argue that irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that at the same time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture, and that for aspiring fiction writers they pose especially terrible problems.

. . . irony, entertaining as it is, serves an exclusively negative function. It's critical and destructive . . . one ends up feeling not only empty but somehow...oppressed.
That's less than 200 words from a 60-page essay. But you can feel the power and the intellect of the man.

Wallace was only 46 years old. The news says he hanged himself on Friday. I hate that he should have felt so much anger or . . . despair.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Another Look at the iLiad

On Wednesday, I talked about a hopeful sign for the ailing newspaper industry. This post is about another. But, first, I need to bring us all up-to-date on the Dutch company, iRex.

In January, 2006, I first mentioned iRex, which was scheduled to release an e-reader called the iLiad in April of that year. That release was later pushed back to July.

My interest in the iLiad took a huge dive when I learned its price was $811.

Two years later, on May 8, 2008, I reported that the price of the iLiad had come down to $699, and I also quoted from The Bookseller:
Borders is to become the first seller of e-book readers in the United Kingdom with seven stores stocking the iLiad reader . . .
Also in May, iRex introduced its new iLiad Book Edition and differentiated it in price from its iLiad Second Edition.

The iLiad Book Edition sells for $599 and comes pre-loaded with 50 "classic titles":
In a completely new sleek silver colour, with 50 pre-loaded eBooks, including some of the best books ever written, this is a bestseller for every book lover.
The press release that announced the Book Edition had this to say about the pre-loaded books:
Titles range from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll to Pride and Prejudice from Jane Austen, from Dracula from Bram Stokers to Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte.
The iLiad Second Edition retails for $699. The only difference between it and the Book Edition is that the Second Edition includes "Built-in Wi-Fi® 802.11B/G wireless networking" capability.

In October, 2007, the Dutch bookstore chain Selexyz began to carry the iLiad. In July, 2008, the W.H. Smith chain of booksellers in the UK began offering the Book Edition in their stores. Last month, the iLiad became available at the German bookchain, Mayersche.

On September 3, iRex distributed a press release that said:
Gill & Macmillan, the leading Irish book publisher, today launched a pilot scheme that will take some weight off the shoulders of the first-year pupils of Caritas College, Ballyfermot . . . St. Brendan’s class, a group of 18 first year students at the all-girl school . . . will become the first class of students worldwide to replace their academic load with the iLiad, an electronic book device.
And now we come to the main reason I'm taking another look at the iLiad today.

On Thursday BusinessWeek reported on an experiment that took place this summer in France with a prototype digital device from iRex called the Read & Go:
The trial of the prototype will wrap up this month, and by 2009, France Telecom (FTE) aims to start distributing the Read & Go in conjunction with a subscription-based news service of the same name. For a monthly charge similar to a mobile service plan, customers will receive an over-the-air stream of aggregated content from a wide assortment of information sources. Alongside the articles will be ads that help defray the cost of the service.
The story says that France Telecom is "partnering" with the newspaper industry to offer the major French newspapers, such as Le Monde and Le Figaro, through its cellular network. Ads will run alongside the articles, providing revenue to offset the cost of the service. The newspapers will receive a cut from the subscription fees for Read & Go.

France Telecom has not yet provided any numbers for the cost of the service or the cost of the Read & Go device yet.

The newspaper industry has not figured out a way to capitalize on the digital age. Partnerships of this kind may yet provide a lifeline for the beleaguered industry.

Friday, September 12, 2008

HarperStudio is Blogging

Back on April 6, 7, and 8th, I posted about the new HarperCollins imprint being started by Bob Miller and called HarperStudio.

The Associated Press reported:
In an ever-uncertain market for publishers, HarperCollins is looking to resolve two of the industry's major concerns: High author advances and the high rate of returned books.
Three weeks ago, Bob Miller began a blog here. In his first post, Miller said, "The truth is, those of us who examine the excel spreadsheets at the end of every fiscal year see what is on the horizon for book publishers; we’re hanging on a cliff."

One of the early posts said:
The problems of the business are pretty clear: skyrocketing advances that only rarely earn out in sales; overly aggressive distributions that try to justify those advances but often result in massive returns; overspending on ineffective marketing to help move those overdistributed books; downward pressure on pricing from new digital formats; etc...ultimately the health of the industry is at stake, and there won't be anyone at the tables in a few years if we don't find new ways to succeed.

So we are offering fifty percent of the profits to authors who are willing to forgo six or seven-figure advances, offering higher discounts to booksellers willing to limit returns, putting all of our marketing efforts online, and trying out new combinations of formats--however "disruptive" those combinations may seem. Because while we have no more idea of what publishing will be than anyone else does, we're willing to risk some embarrassment to find out.
Miller has also announced his imprint's first title: Who is Mark Twain, a collection of twenty-two pieces by Twain never published before.

I was tickled as I read Miller's posts. In the one for August 28th, announcing the Twain book, he had what was obviously a note to himself: "(post picture of book in glass case)."

Welcome to the blogosphere, Bob.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Vampires As A Metaphor For Intimacy

On Tuesday, a writer on one of the loops I belong to mentioned that one of her favorite horror films was 1964's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, starring Bette Davis.

As I drove to the university yesterday morning, remembering that discussion, I made a mental list of my favorite horror films. Here it is in order from favorite to less favorite:
1) Aliens

2) Fright Night

3) Lost Boys

4) Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992/Coppola/Gary Oldman)

5) Jaws

6) The Exorcist III (George C. Scott)

7) The Thing (John Carpenter)

8) Manhunter

9) Dracula (1979/John Badham/Frank Langella)

10)The Thing (1951)
I'm not into slasher films, but one thing struck me. Four of the ten are vampire films.

That fact started me thinking yet again about why women are so attracted to vampire novels and movies.

Isn't it amazing how you'll be thinking of something and suddenly you'll see references to it everywhere?

While I was eating dinner last night, I listened to Terry Gross' show Fresh Air on NPR. She was interviewing Alan Ball, the writer of American Beauty and Six Feet Under. He has a new show that started on HBO Sunday night based on the Southern Vampire series of novels by Charlaine Harris. The show is called True Blood.

Predictably, Terry, who is a terrific interviewer, asked him about the attraction of vampires. He said all the usual stuff about vampires being a metaphor for sex. He mentioned penetration, surrender and the exchange of bodily fluids.

The answer was so facile that I was feeling disappointed. But then Ball said something else that really caught my attention. He described the series as a metaphor for the terrors of intimacy.

He said he saw it as being about breaking that wall that keeps us separate and safe from a savage and dangerous world.

I liked that answer a lot. And it rang true to me. Letting another person into your life--permitting them to get close and to see you as you are--is a terrifying act. And the vampire metaphor is perfect for both the awful yearning and the terrible fear that the promise of true intimacy brings. It's much safer to stay safe within those walls and to play the games most people play.

You can listen to Terry's interview here.

I have read Harris' Southern Vampire series. She handles humor better than most writers. Although I don't have cable, I think I'll follow the series by purchasing the episodes for my computer.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

An e-Reading Device for Newspaper Readers

Sunday's New York Times had an article on a new e-reader that may offer help to the beleaguered newspaper industry.

According to the Times, Plastic Logic has introduced:

its version of an electronic newspaper reader: a lightweight plastic screen that mimics the look — but not the feel — of a printed newspaper.

The device, which is unnamed, uses the same technology as the Sony eReader and Amazon.com’s Kindle, a highly legible black-and-white display developed by the E Ink Corporation. While both of those devices are intended primarily as book readers, Plastic Logic’s device, which will be shown at an emerging technology trade show in San Diego, has a screen more than twice as large. The size of a piece of copier paper, it can be continually updated via a wireless link, and can store and display hundreds of pages of newspapers, books and documents.
Since the print and delivery costs now are about 65% of a newspaper's total cost, the Plastic Logic device would have the potential of cutting expenses for the industry, which is suffering mightily as readers migrate to reading their news on line. An e-reader that mimics the look of a newspaper plus offering wireless service and portability may be very attractive to readers.

See the article here.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

J.K. Rowling Wins Infringement Case

Back in mid-April, I posted here about the copyright infringement lawsuit J.K. Rowling brought against RDR Books, a publisher, for producing a dictionary about the Harry Potter oeuvre.

Steven Vander Ark, the fan who wrote The Lexicon, had been operating a Harry Potter website since 2000. His website included an A-to-Z index of characters, spells and creatures from all of her HP books (including the two companion books). Ms. Rowling applauded the site, even writing a note that said, "This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an Internet cafe while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing)."

However, when Vander Ark set out to publish a book based on those same entries, Ms. Rowling cried foul. The London Times reported:
Accusing the unauthorised book of lifting 2,034 of its 2,437 entries straight from her work, Rowling condemned the Lexicon as “a Harry Potter ‘rip-off’ . . . [that] interferes with my rights as a creator and copyright holder”.
In my April post, I offered the basis on which this case would likely be decided:
The fair use provision has a four-factor test used to determine whether such use of a work qualifies as fair use. The four factors are:

(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
I was ambivalent about the case. On the one hand, I absolutely supported Ms. Rowling's right to protect her words. On the other hand, I could appreciate attorney Jonathan Band's argument in an article titled "Educational Fair Use Today" that, even when a work is derivative, "repurposing" it or "or placing it in a new context may be sufficient to render a use transformative."

Apparently Judge Robert Patterson shared at least some of my ambivalence around the transformative nature. Here are some of his comments from the 68-page ruling. The bold type is mine:

The Content of The Lexicon
While there was considerable opining at trial as to the type of reference work the Lexicon purports to be . . . the Lexicon fits in the narrow genre of non-fiction reference guides to fictional works . . . the Harry Potter series is a multi-volume work of fantasy literature, similar to the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Such works lend themselves to companion guides or reference works because they reveal an elaborate imaginary world over thousands of pages . . . The Lexicon, an A-to-Z guide . . . synthesizes information from the series and generally provides citations for location of that information rather than offering commentary . . .

Although it is difficult to quantify how much of the language in the Lexicon is directly lifted from the Harry Potter novels and companion books, the Lexicon indeed contains at least a troubling amount of direct quotation or close paraphrasing of Rowling’s original language. The Lexicon occasionally uses quotation marks to indicate Rowling’s language, but more often the original language is copied without quotation marks, often making it difficult to know which words are Rowling’s and which are Vander Ark’s.

Conclusions of Law: Copyright Infringement
To establish a prima facie case of copyright infringement, a plaintiff must demonstrate “(1) ownership of a valid copyright, and (2) copying of constituent elements of the work that are original.” . . . The element of copying has two components: first, the plaintiff must establish actual copying by either direct or indirect evidence; then, the plaintiff must establish that the copying amounts to an improper or unlawful appropriation . . . The plaintiff demonstrates that the copying is actionable “by showing that the second work bears a ‘substantial similarity’ to protected expression in the earlier work.”

There is no dispute that the Lexicon actually copied from Rowling’s copyrightedorks. Vander Ark openly admitted that he created and updated the content of the Lexicon by taking notes while reading the Harry Potter books and by using without authorization scanned, electronic copies of the Harry Potter novels and companion books.

Plaintiffs have shown that the Lexicon copies a sufficient quantity of the Harry Potter series to support a finding of substantial similarity between the Lexicon and Rowling’s novels. The Lexicon draws 450 manuscript pages worth of material primarily from the 4,100-page Harry Potter series.

What matters at the infringement stage of this case is that the copied text is expression original to Rowling, not fact or idea, and therefore is presumptively entitled to copyright protection . . . Even if expression is or can be used in its “factual capacity,” it does not follow that expression thereby takes on the status of fact and loses its copyrightability.

Reproducing original expression in fragments or in a different order, however, does not preclude a finding of substantial similarity . . . Regardless of how the original expression is copied, “‘the standard for determining copyright infringement is not whether the original could be recreated from the allegedly infringing copy, but whether the latter is “substantially similar” to the former’” . . . “The mere fact that the defendant has paraphrased rather than literally copied will not preclude a finding of substantial similarity. Copyright ‘cannot be limited literally to the text, else a plagiarist would escape by immaterial variations.’”

Derivative Work
Plaintiffs allege that the Lexicon not only violates their right of reproduction, but also their right to control the production of derivative works. The Copyright Act defines a “derivative work” as “a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted.”

A work is not derivative, however, simply because it is “based upon” the preexisting works. If that were the standard, then parodies and book reviews would fall under the definition, and certainly “ownership of copyright does not confer a legal right to control public evaluation of the copyrighted work” . . .The statutory language seeks to protect works that are “recast, transformed, or adapted” into another medium, mode, language, or revised version, while still representing the “original work of authorship.”

. . . importantly, although the Lexicon “contain[s] a substantial amount of material” from the Harry Potter works, the material is not merely “transformed from one medium to another,” . . . By condensing, synthesizing, and reorganizing the preexisting material in an A-to-Z reference guide, the Lexicon does not recast the material in another medium to retell the story of Harry Potter, but instead gives the copyrighted material another purpose. That purpose is to give the reader a ready understanding of individual elements in the elaborate world of Harry Potter that appear in voluminous and diverse sources. As a result, the Lexicon no longer “represents [the] original work[s] of authorship” . . . Under these circumstances, and because the Lexicon does not fall under any example of derivative works listed in the statute, Plaintiffs have failed to show that the Lexicon is a derivative work.

Fair Use
Defendant contends that even if Plaintiffs have shown a prima facie case of infringement, the Lexicon is nevertheless a fair use of the Harry Potter works. An integral part of copyright law, the fair use doctrine is designed to “fulfill copyright’s very purpose, ‘To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,’” . . . At stake in this case are the incentive to create original works which copyright protection fosters and the freedom to produce secondary works which monopoly protection of copyright stifles—both interests benefit the public.

Purpose and Character of the Use
Most critical to the inquiry under the first fair-use factor is “whether and to what extent the new work is ‘transformative.’” . . . The fair use doctrine seeks to protect a secondary work if it “adds value to the original—if [copyrightable expression in the original work] is used as raw material, transformed . . .because such a work contributes to the enrichment of society.

The purpose of the Lexicon’s use of the Harry Potter series is transformative. Presumably, Rowling created the Harry Potter series for the expressive purpose of telling an entertaining and thought provoking story centered on the character Harry Potter and set in a magical world. The Lexicon, on the other hand, uses material from the series for the practical purpose of making information about the intricate world of Harry Potter readily accessible to readers in a reference guide.

The best evidence of the Lexicon’s transformative purpose is its demonstrated value as a reference source. The utility of the Lexicon, as a reference guide to a multi-volume work of fantasy literature, demonstrates a productive use for a different purpose than the original works.

Plaintiffs argue that the Lexicon’s use of Rowling’s works cannot be considered transformative because the Lexicon does not add significant analysis or commentary . . . The Lexicon, however, does not purport to be a work of literary criticism or to constitute a fair use on that basis; and its lack of critical analysis, linguistic understanding, or clever humor is not determinative of whether or not its purpose is transformative.

. . . despite Plaintiffs’ criticisms, the Lexicon occasionally does offer “new information, new aesthetics, new insights and understandings,” . . . as to the themes and characters in the Harry Potter works.

The transformative character of the Lexicon is diminished, however, because the Lexicon’s use of the original Harry Potter works is not consistently transformative. A finding of verbatim copying in excess of what is reasonably necessary diminishes a finding of a transformative use.

The Lexicon also lacks transformative character where its value as a reference guide lapses. Although the Lexicon is generally useful, it cannot claim consistency in serving its purpose of pointing readers to information in the Harry Potter works. Some of the longest entries contain few or no citations to the Harry Potter works from which the material is taken.

Seeking to capitalize on a market niche does not necessarily make Defendant’s use non-transformative, but to the extent that Defendant seeks to “profit at least in part from the inherent entertainment value” of the original works, the commercial nature of the use weighs against a finding of fair use.

Finally, in evaluating the purpose and character of a secondary use of a copyrighted work, courts will consider the “subfactor” of whether the defendant acted in good or bad faith . . . The Court is not persuaded . . . that the acts of RDR Books, which do not amount to more than intentional delays in responding to Plaintiffs’ communications from counsel, constitute acts of bad faith . . . the Court finds that Defendant reasonably believed its use was ultimately fair.

Amount and Substantiality of the Use
Plaintiffs contend that the Lexicon’s actual use of Plaintiffs’ original works far surpasses any purpose as a reference source. They argue, in other words, that the Lexicon takes too much original expression for the use to be fair use.

Weighing most heavily against Defendant on the third factor is the Lexicon’s verbatim copying and close paraphrasing of language from the Harry Potter works. Verbatim copying . . . demonstrates Vander Ark’s lack of restraint due to an enthusiastic admiration of Rowling’s artistic expression, or perhaps haste and laziness as Rowling suggested . . . in composing the Lexicon entries.

Nature of the Copyrighted Work
The second statutory fair use factor, the nature of the copyrighted work, recognizes that “some works are closer to the core of intended copyright protection than others" . . . “In general, fair use is more likely to be found in factual works than in fictional works.”

In creating the Harry Potter novels and the companion books, Rowling has given life to a wholly original universe of people, creatures, places, and things . . . Such highly imaginative and creative fictional works are close to the core of copyright protection, particularly where the character of the secondary work is not entirely transformative . . . As a result, the second factor favors Plaintiffs.

Market Harm
The fourth statutory factor considers “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work” . . . Courts must consider harm to “not only the primary market for the copyrighted work, but the current and potential market for derivative works” as well . . . The fourth factor will favor the copyright holder “if she can show a ‘traditional, reasonable, or likely to be developed’ market for licensing her work.”

Plaintiffs presented expert testimony that the Lexicon would compete directly with, and impair the sales of, Rowling’s planned encyclopedia by being first to market . . . This testimony does not bear on the determination of the fourth factor, however, because a reference guide to the Harry Potter works is not a derivative work; competing with Rowling’s planned encyclopedia is therefore permissible. Notwithstanding Rowling’s public statements of her intention to publish her own encyclopedia, the market for reference guides to the Harry Potter works is not exclusively hers to exploit or license, no matter the commercial success attributable to the popularity of the original works.

Furthermore, there is no plausible basis to conclude that publication of the Lexicon would impair sales of the Harry Potter novels . . . Accordingly, the Lexicon does not present any potential harm to the markets for the original Harry Potter works.

On the other hand, publication of the Lexicon could harm sales of Rowling’s two companion books.

Additionally, the fourth factor favors Plaintiffs if publication of the Lexicon would impair the market for derivative works that Rowling is entitled or likely to license . . . Although there is no supporting testimony, one potential derivative market that would reasonably be developed or licensed by Plaintiffs is use of the songs and poems in the Harry Potter novels. Because Plaintiffs would reasonably license the musical production or print publication of those songs and poems, Defendant unfairly harms this derivative market by reproducing verbatim the songs and poems without a license.

The fair-use factors, weighed together in light of the purposes of copyright law, fail to support the defense of fair use in this case. The first factor does not completely weigh in favor of Defendant because although the Lexicon has a transformative purpose, its actual use of the copyrighted works is not consistently transformative . . . many portions of the Lexicon take more of the copyrighted works than is reasonably necessary in relation to the Lexicon’s purpose. Thus, in balancing the first and third factors, the balance is tipped against a finding of fair use. The creative nature of the copyrighted works and the harm to the market for Rowling’s companion books weigh in favor of Plaintiffs.

Because Plaintiffs have demonstrated a case of copyright infringement, and because Defendant has failed to establish its affirmative defense to copyright infringement, irreparable injury may be presumed in this case.

In awarding statutory damages, courts have broad discretion to set the amount of the award within the statutory limits . . . Since the Lexicon has not been published and thus Plaintiffs have suffered no harm beyond the fact of infringement, the Court awards Plaintiffs the minimum award under the statute for each work with respect to which Plaintiffs have established infringement. Plaintiffs are entitled to statutory damages of $750.00 for each of the seven Harry Potter novels and each of the two companion books, for a total of $6,750.00.

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs have established copyright infringement of the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, and Quidditch Through the Ages by J.K. Rowling. Defendant has failed to establish its affirmative defense of fair use. Defendant's publication of The Lexicon (Doc. No. 22) is hereby permanently enjoined, and Plaintiffs are awarded statutory damages of $6,750.00.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A New Service For Small Publishers

Last Wednesday, the New York Times had an article on a new service being offered to small publishers by Perseus Books Group:
The new service, called Constellation, will allow independent publishers to make use of electronic readers, digital book search, print-on-demand and other digital formats at rates negotiated by Perseus on their behalf. Unlike large publishers, small ones typically lack the resources to use digital technology and as a result often bypass it altogether . . .

The Times explains it this way: Hundreds of small, independent publishers will have easier access to digital book technology under a new service offered by Perseus Books Group, the result of agreements between it and more than a half-dozen technology companies . . .

The companies involved in the deal include Google, for its Google Book Search feature; Amazon, for its Kindle electronic reader; Sony, for its Sony Reader; Barnes & Noble, for its “See Inside” feature on its Web site; and Lightning Source, a print-on-demand company.
Perseus will make it possible for the small independents to compete with larger publishing houses that have greater resources and greater clout when it comes to negotiating contracts for digital services.

Constellation sounds like a terrific idea.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

The Jewel of Medina Redux

From this evening's Publishers' Marketplace:
US RIGHTS: Sherry Jones's THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, to Margot Atwell at Beaufort Books, for a very small advance ("we'll earn our advance back in about two minutes," Kern says) for publication in mid-October 2008, plus a sequel, by Natasaha Kern at Natasha Kern Literary Agency.

UK RIGHTS: Sherry Jones's THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, to Martin Rynja at Gibson Square, for publication in October 2008, by Natasha Kern of the Natasha Kern Literary Agency (UK).

FOREIGN RIGHTS: Sherry Jones's THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, to Newton & Compton Editoria in Italy, by Vicki Satlow, on behalf of Natasha Kern. Rights sold previously to Editora in Brazil, by Lucia Riff Agency; Atheneum in Hungary and Kultura in Macedonia by Prava i Prevodi; and AST in Russia, by Nova.

The Oddest Book Title

Book titles from the last thirty years:

People Who Don't Know They're Dead

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice

How to Bombproof Your Horse

Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers

How to Avoid Huge Ships

If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs

Quick! If asked to select the oddest book title, which one of the above would you select?

In the poll The Bookseller held to select that oddest title in the past thirty years, the winner was Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, a compilation of Greek postal routes.

The Bookseller reported:
The vote to discover the oddest title of the past 30 years was run in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Tittle of the Year. The prize was first conceived by The Diagram Group's Bruce Robertson as a way of avoiding boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In its first year, in 1978, Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice picked up the award.
People Who Don't Know They're Dead came in second, and How to Avoid Huge Ships finished third.

I would have selected How to Bombproof Your Horse.

Read the entire article here.

Thanks to Stephen Parrish, who always sends me such wonderful links.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

More New Fall Books

Last Monday, I did a post here on the upcoming fall non-fiction books.

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article on all the upcoming books--both fiction and non-fiction.

The Journal says:
It's a departure from the summer, when some of the biggest books came from unknowns, like David Wroblewski's "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle." Reeling booksellers could use a hit: U.S. Census data show that June bookstore sales fell 7.1%
Entrees include Dennis Lehane's first historical fiction, The Given Day, first in a planned trilogy.

I mentioned Michael Connelly's The Brass Verdict in my post on Monday.

John Updike is doing a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick. The new book returns to the first book's characters in The Widows of Eastwick.

Take a look at the new novels here.

Friday, September 05, 2008

More on Midnight Sun

On Saturday, I wrote here about Stephenie Meyer's decision to put the fifth book in her Twilight series on hold indefinitely after the first twelve chapters were illegally posted on the Internet.

On Wednesday, my favorite Wall Street Journal (WSJ) writer, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg (with Emily Steel), had an article about that decision by Meyer.

The part of the article I found most interesting was this:
Although all of Mrs. Meyer's books, including "The Host," a science-fiction title issued in May, have been published by Little, Brown in the U.S., the author had fulfilled her contractual obligations, which means she could have sold "Midnight Sun" to the highest bidder if she so chose. One literary agent estimates that Mrs. Meyer could have sold the domestic rights for that title alone for more than $5 million.
It will be interesting to see if all the hoopla over the book raises that $5 million price, or leads Ms. Meyer to a new publishing home.

Read the entire WSJ article here.

US and UK Publishers For The Jewel of Medina

From Thursday's Publishers Weekly:
Fast breaking news on both sides of the Atlantic. The Bookseller is reporting that Gibson Square will publish the Sherry Jones novel in the U.K. in October. The AP is reporting that a U.S. publisher has been found, but not announced. Random House pulled the novel from it’s (sic) list in the U.S. because they were fearful of terrorists attacks against the corporation.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

An Anniversary

Today is the one-year anniversary of the release of Bad Girl.

It's been an exciting, scary, stimulating and exhausting year. I've been so grateful for the support and good will of so many people--readers, other writers, bloggers, bookstore clerks--the world of book lovers really is a lovely community.

I feel so fortunate in my agent, Jacky Sach, and my editor, Tracy Bernstein, and in my wonderful critique partners. I don't know where I'd be without all of you.

And then it starts all over again. The roller-coaster ride, the hurry-up-and-wait, the trepidation, the exhilaration . . . whew!

But I'm in this for the long haul so I'll just keep on going, grateful for the opportunity and hoping to share at least a little bit of the kindness that has been given to me.

As I write this, Bad Girl is #34 on the list of Amazon's best-sellers for single women. Throughout the entire year, it has gotten as low as #84 and as high as #2, but it has never fallen off that list of 100 books.

Thank you, all.

Random House Redux

On Tuesday, I posted about Bertelsmann, the parent company of Random House.

Yesterday, Publishers Weekly had an article about Random House that said in part:
In the first significant change since Markus Dohle took over as CEO of Random House, Ed Volini, deputy chairman and chief operating officer of Random House North America will leave the publisher September 30 in what is described as an amicable parting . . . No successor for Volini is planned, and all executives who had reported to him will now report to Dohle.
Back in May when Dohle was appointed as CEO of Random House, I quoted Publishers Weekly:
The choice of Dohle to lead Random, rather than a publishing veteran, is meant to inject a new entrepreneurial spirit at the company. Ostrowski [CEO of Bertelsmann] praised Dohle for his work at Bertelsmann’s Arvato printing group and was confident he could turn another mature business into a growth business . . . Dohle "will bring his innovative energy to tapping new lines of business for the company, such as the digital realm, and to lengthening its value chain.” Asked what lengthening the value chain means, Ostrowski said that publishing needs to take advantage of new marketing channels and get books to customers in new ways. One way to do that, Ostrowski said, is to create brands around popular books, much the way Random’s children’s group has done with Eragon.

According to Ostrowski, he "is not expecting a quick change in direction at Random, saying that Dohle 'should take his time to come up with a program,' adding that the new chairman has no mandate to downsize the company.
Yeah, looks like Dohle is taking his time. By my count, 105 days.

Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

What I Heard From the Republican Convention

Okay, it's back to politics for tonight and tomorrow.

Last Friday, I said this following Sarah Palin's introduction as John McCain's running mate:
Palin irritated me a teeny tiny bit. She focussed only on the male members of her family in her introduction. She was so busy pushing her credentials ("My husband belongs to a union," "My son is going overseas to Iraq," and "My baby's name is Trig Paxson Van Palin") that she gave really short shrift to her three daughters, skipping over them, barely offering their names. I held my breath to see if she would try to make political capital out of the fact that the infant had Down's. Thankfully she stopped short of that.
After I heard the news about her daughter's pregnancy, I realized that Palin was in a really awkward place before that speech. If she had introduced her daughters and didn't say anything about the pregnancy, she would have been flayed alive by the media after the fact. But how could she be introduced to the country talking about an unplanned teenage pregnancy?

I had been relieved when she didn't make political hay out of the infant, even though it felt like she came really, really close to doing so [Note: You can watch that speech here]

I decided to cut her some slack and wait until tonight.

Well, she did it again. Once more, she plumbed her family for political advantage. Only those members who could advance her political career or agenda got a mention. She gave a lengthy introduction to her husband (68 words) and to her son who is going overseas to Iraq (34 words). Once more, she made cursory mention of her three daughters (9 words total for all three--that's 3 words apiece). And tonight, she did use the baby's "special needs" status to her political advantage (83 words). Sarah Barracuda indeed.

Politico.com had a column on Saturday in which they talked about what the Palin pick said about McCain. This is some of what they said:

1. He’s desperate. Politico argues that McCain realized he was on the verge of losing. They describe the Palin pick as a Hail Mary pass.

2. He’s willing to gamble – bigtime. Politico says McCain has a history of taking dares, and the Palin pick is a huge one.

3. He’s worried about the political implications of his age. This was what I was counting on when I guessed he'd pick Palin.

4. He’s not worried about the actuarial implications of the age issue. When I read the Politico column, this was the part that bothered me the most. It's one thing for McCain to gamble with his own future. However, by picking Palin, he gambled with the future of the United States. He opted to choose a dangerously unprepared VP to gain political advantage--without any concern for the risk he might be putting the country in should he die in office.

5. He’s worried about his conservative base. I agree with Politico. This choice pandered to the extremists in his own party.

6. At the end of the day, McCain is still McCain. They're right. He's still the same impulsive, risk-taking conservative he's always been. While I honor his service to our country, I won't vote for him.

You can read the entire Politico column here.

To be honest, I was pretty surprised by the flavor of tonight's speeches. It was the same old Bush message: be bellicose abroad and cut taxes for corporations at home. The only difference was that it is now being labeled as "change." Huh?

I was expecting something different. But it was the same old "We have to show the world we're tough."

Didn't we have enough of that with George Bush? And what did it bring us? Over 4,100 Americans killed overseas, more than a half million Iraqis dead and no weapons of mass destruction.

And now we're talking about putting an even more impulsive man in the White House.

I live in Texas. Tonight Michael Williams, the Railroad Commission Chairman of my state, one of the RNC's opening speakers, said:
. . . That's why I'm so glad to know that when John McCain travels to foreign lands as President he will not apologize for America's strength, but assert it.

He knows that keeping the peace comes from projecting our strength ... that America is the greatest beacon of liberty in an uncertain world ... and that foreign leaders, whose deeds speak louder than their diplomacy, must earn the right to sit down with the President of the United States.
Eight is enough.

More on The Jewel of Medina

Publishers Weekly had an interesting piece yesterday. It reported that backers of a literary prize have announced they will not consider titles from Random House U.S. for an award until The Jewel of Medina is published.

You'll recall that RH dropped plans to release The Jewel of Medina after a University of Texas history teacher raised questions about whether it would cause offense to Muslims. See my post on the story here.

The Langum Charitable Trust said in its press release:
Random House has exhibited a degree of cowardly self-censorship that seriously threatens the American public’s access to the free marketplace of ideas. . . We cannot pretend that this type of cowardice will disappear without serious remonstrance. Until The Jewel of Medina is actually published, The Langum Charitable Trust will not consider submissions of any books, for any of our prizes, from Random House or any of its affiliates . . .

While any publisher has the right if not the duty to refuse to publish books that lack literary merit, Random House had previously decided this manuscript was highly publishable. It paid a $100,000 advance, and had arranged for foreign publication, Book of the Month Club selection, and Quality Paperback Book Club selection.
The trust offers two annual prizes: The American Historical Fiction and American Legal History Biography. These prizes are usually won by university presses and are accompanied by a $1,000 prize.

It also sponsors the Gene E. and Adele R. Malott Prize for Recording Community Activism.

Ironically, the last winner of the American Historical Fiction prize was Random House's author Kurt Andersen and his novel Heyday.

On August 22, Danish newspaper JP.DK reported:
Danish publishers association Trykkeselskabet has given its blessing to Sherry Jones' novel 'The Jewel of Medina' to be released in Denmark.

'Fear or threats should not keep a book from being published,' association spokeswoman Helle Merete Brix told Nyhedsavisen newspaper. 'It would be principally and entirely a renewal of all that Denmark has already been through with the Mohammed cartoon affair.'
On August 26, the UK's Guardian reported:
Last week, Serbian publisher BeoBook withdrew 1,000 copies of the book from shops across Serbia, following protests from an Islamic pressure group. BeoBook also apologised for publishing the novel.
The Guardian also quoted the Danish spokeswoman Helle Merete Brix:
"I think that whether you are Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu or atheist you have to be able to bear insults. You can't say 'I'm a Muslim, and that means I should be above criticism'. You can freely insult Jesus Christ, you can mock other religions."

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Whither Goes Bertelsmann?

I've done a number of posts this year on Random House and its parent company, Bertelsmann.

In March, I reported on Random House's performance for the year 2007. Revenue fell 5.6% to $2.39 billion and EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) dropped 4.9% to $225 million.

The Direct Group's [direct-to-consumer businesses] 2007 revenue fell 4.1% and Bertelsmann's Chairman Hartmut Ostrowski said the company had decided to sell the Direct Group North America.

In May, Bertelsmann named Markus Dohle to be the new Random House chief executive, replacing Peter W. Olson who had been CEO since 1998. The hope was that Dohle, who had no publishing experience, would open up new lines of business to revitalize Random House.

In July, the sale of the Direct Group North America business in the United States, including "book, DVD and music club brands [like] Doubleday Book Club, Book-of-the-Month Club, Mystery Guild, Black Expressions and Columbia House," was completed.

Bertelsmann also announced plans to sell off its book and music clubs in Australia and in several countries in Europe as well as its book clubs in China.

Both Publishers Marketplace and The Bookseller had articles on Bertelsmann yesterday.

The Bookseller had this to say:
[Bertelsmann's Chairman] Hartmut Ostrowski's desire to set out a new growth strategy for Bertelsmann is turning into a battle between the expansionist ambitions of its new management team and the constraining financial legacy inherited from his predecessors, reports the FT [Financial Times].
Mr. Ostrowski became chief executive of Bertelsmann on Janu-
ary 1 of this year and has been cleaning house ever since. In addition to selling off pieces of the book clubs, he sold his company's 50% share in its joint venture with Sony to Sony.

The Financial Times says:
Such moves were necessary not just to trim Bertelsmann down to its better-performing businesses, but to put its debt load behind it and find new funds for expansion.
Publishers Marketplace had this to report yesterday:
We know what they're selling, but it's not exactly clear what they want to be buying and why. "His hopes of building an education business have puzzled some followers, as established educational publishers such as Cengage and Pearson, owner of the Financial Times, are so large that any deal could dilute the Mohn family holding."

As for their expressed interest in evaluating a bid for Reed Business Information through their Gruner + Jahr unit, Ostrowski tells the paper "whether we'll even make a binding offer isn't clear at the moment."
Bertelsmann is a privately held company owned by its founding family, the Mohns, and by the non-profit Bertelsmann Foundation that was set up by the Mohn Family.

So, it's clear that Bertelsmann is moving away from its book clubs and music clubs, but whether it wants to enter the education publishing business is still unclear. And how (or if) this new direction will impact Random House is still uncertain.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Upcoming Books This Fall

The Washington Post had an article yesterday about 116 books coming out this fall.

There's something for everyone in the list. These are the ones I'd like to read in order of the month of their arrival in the bookstore:

  • Fruitless Fall, by Rowan Jacobsen (Bloomsbury, Sept.). The gradual disappearance of the honeybee may augur an agricultural crisis.

  • Letter to My Daughter, by Maya Angelou (RH, Sept.) A collection of essays about the well-lived life, from the author of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

  • The Snowball, by Alice Schroeder (Bantam, Sept.) The life and times of business guru Warren Buffett.

  • The War Within, by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster, Sept.). Revelations about the inside machinations of the White House, Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies at critical points in the Iraq War.

  • Descartes' Bones, by Russell Shorto (Doubleday, Oct. The debate between religion and science as seen through the 350-year journey of RenĂ© Descartes's skull and bones.

  • Giants, by John Stauffer (Twelve, Nov.). Two self-made men -- Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln -- who redefined our concepts of liberty.

  • Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown, Nov.). What makes some people such high achievers? And what makes others fail?

  • Traitor to His Class, by H.W. Brands (Doubleday, Nov.) Born to a rich family, Franklin Delano Roosevelt became America's greatest defender of the poor.

Go here for the entire list.