Thursday, December 24, 2009

Point and Counterpoint

Last Friday, sci-fi and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin resigned from the Authors Guild, saying:
. . . you have sold us down the river.

I am not going to rehearse any arguments pro and anti the “Google settlement.” You decided to deal with the devil, as it were, and have presented your arguments for doing so. I wish I could accept them. I can’t. There are principles involved, above all the whole concept of copyright; and these you have seen fit to abandon to a corporation, on their terms, without a struggle.
Yesterday, the Authors Guild responded. Here is a portion of that response:
Constructive engagement -- in this case turning Google's infringement to our advantage -- is sometimes the only realistic solution. Google's scanning project won't be the only battlefield, there are countless challenges ahead. We need the institutional resources to deal with those challenges. We need the Book Rights Registry, our ASCAP, as desperately as the music industry needed its with the advent of radio.

The settlement is a good one for authors. It will open up new streams of revenues for authors from out-of-print books, books that provide no income to authors now. The settlement allows authors to decide whether, when and to what extent to make their works available through Google.
Go here to read Le Guin's letter.

Go here to read the Authors Guild response.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009's Most Literate U.S. Cities

USA Today reported yesterday on the "most literate cities" in America with a holiday surprise. For four years, Seattle and Minneapolis have traded the first and second places in the report. While Seattle once again nabbed the #1 spot this year, Washington, D.C. wrested the #2 position from Minneapolis, forcing the City of Lakes to #3.

Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University of New Britain, Conn., announced his findings for the seventh year. He studies six indicators: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, educational attainment and Internet resources.
This year, Miller correlated results with rankings based on other surveys by Forbes, Bert Sperling's BestPlaces, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and American City Business Journals.
To be honest, I was surprised he was still using newspaper circulation as an indicator [Shrug]. USA Today reported that Miller believes "Cities where lots of people read also tend to feature a vibrant singles' scene . . ." and that these cities "boast high rankings both as 'literate cities' and as places for single people to live."

Go here to read the entire article and go here to see the complete listing of the top 75 literate cities.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Silent Night for Borders UK

Returning to work yesterday knocked more out of me than I expected. I got home last night about 7:30, sat down in the recliner to rest for a moment and that was all she wrote. Bob the Cat woke me up hours later, demanding his dinner. I fed him and crawled into bed.

Today is the day the 45 Borders UK bookstores will close to customers. According to Publishers Lunch, the 1,100 staff will be laid off on Christmas Eve . . . without being paid (nice timing, that). No buyer has come forward for the chain so the administrator will be left trying to sell off the business' assets.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Down and Out

Sorry to have fallen off the face of the earth.

I had what I thought was just a head cold last Tuesday. It got steadily worse and, by Thursday, I was having trouble breathing.

A shot of antiobiotics and steroids later, I could breathe again but wasn't up to doing more than sleeping for a couple of days.

I'm returning to work this morning and will return to blogging tonight.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Covey Sells e-Book Rights Separately

Yesterday I responded to a comment of Colleen's:
. . . the world is changing . . . I'm beginning to think the Big Six will go the way of the dinosaur . . . meaning they will die off and be replaced by smaller, faster and smarter creatures.
Brenna Lyons pointed me toward a New York Times article from Monday that reported:
Stephen R. Covey, one of the most successful business authors of the last two decades, has moved e-book rights for two of his best-selling books from his print publisher, Simon & Schuster, a division of the CBS Corporation, to a digital publisher that will sell the e-books to for one year.
Amazon will have exclusive rights to sell e-books produced by RosettaBooks of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Principle-Centered Leadership.

The Big Six publishing houses are operating under a delusion. They have had all the power for so long, they cannot envision a world in which they don't continue to hold the power.

The New York houses are so determined to keep things the way they are that they've foolishly forgotten they no longer own the sole means to publishing.

It's not just readers who have greater choice today; it's also authors. And authors understand that readers sustain a writer's career.

When publishing houses became subsidiaries of mega-conglomerates, books became a product . . . like lawn mowers or widgets. The product is fungible: meaning the nature of the item doesn't matter; one product is interchangeable with another. The most important thing is the corporation's bottom line. Stockholders want higher dividends and rising stock prices.

With that mindset, protecting the hardcover edition makes sense. Why release a $9.99 cheap e-book version that will compete with the $27 hardcover version?

Kassia Krozser already said it: "There seems to be an assumption that the ebook customer will shift formats when their preferred format isn’t available. I suppose some will, but most will simply skip the purchase . . ."

I've spent some time over the last year or so analyzing my book purchases, and I believe Kassia is right.

Buying books is a huge part of my budget. I usually buy one hardcover fiction and one hardcover non-fiction a month. I buy hardcover books mostly to support my favorite authors.

I used to buy at least one trade paper or mass market paperback every week. That dynamic has now shifted to include the purchase of e-books. I find I'm more likely to buy a couple of e-books a week rather than to purchase a single trade paper. So the number of units I buy per week has actually increased.

I generally buy used books when I'm wanting to sample a new author. That's how I discovered Simon R. Green's Nightside series. I also buy used books when I'm growing tired of an author or when the quality of the books begins to slip. Put Laurell K. Hamilton in that category. I still buy her Meredith Gentry books new, but have relegated the Anita Blake books (with that tiresome ardeur) to used status.

Living outside Dallas, I have easy access to four Half-Price bookstores as well as a bookstore called Paperbacks Plus (where I maintain a $1,000 credit). When I can't find the used book I want at one of these, I buy online from Abe Books. I refuse to support because of their failure to act as a good neighbor to small publishers.

Bottom line: I'm now buying more books than ever (although it takes longer to get around to reading them). When faced with a hardcover book that I'd like to read but which is not written by a favorite author, I simply don't buy it. I may find it used down the road, but the publishers' royalty is lost forever because used books pay NO royalty.

Wake up New York. You're shooting yourself in the foot.

You can read the New York Times article here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Both Sides Now

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I reported on three of the Big Six publishers' decision to delay the release of e-books in order to protect the hardcover release.

Today let's direct you to a few blogs to read very different reactions to the news that Simon & Schuster, Hachette and HarperCollins are all planning to deliberately hold back the release of the e-books on their best-selling books. And--after that--we'll visit Mike Shatzkin to see what he thinks.

First, here's agent Nat Sobel's defense of the publishers' stance on Richard Curtis' E-Reads blog last Monday:
"I suggest that the electronic versions not be made available for six months after initial publication, eventually being released when the paperback hits the market," Sobel writes. "I’d like to believe that electronic book sales can and should be the mass market of the future."
The following day, Tuesday, Kassia Krozser responded to Nat Sobel's post on her Booksquare blog here:
While you implore publishers and agents to hold back on ebooks, for reasons that make no sense, I implore those same people to think long and hard about where book publishing is going. I can assure you this: publishing is going strong and getting strong. However, publishing as you know it isn’t.
Then yesterday on the Huffington Post here, Matt Stewart had his say in a post titled Hey, Publishers, Screwing Your Best Customers Is A Mistake:
Imagine if airlines gave their biggest frequent flier customers the worst seats on the plane. If iPhone owners had to wait six months to download the latest tunes. If owners of hybrid vehicles had to pay double for insurance . . .

These are all idiotic ideas, certain to ruin relationships with each industry's biggest advocates, devastate the bottom line, and get top-level executives axed. So why do these publishers think they're exceptional?
Finally, Mike Shatzkin weighs in here:
. . . this is really about the agents and publishers trying to take control of ebook pricing, and value perception, back from Amazon . . . the big houses can . . . sell ebooks direct off their own web sites.

what the publishers can do to Amazon today, the authors can do to the publishers tomorrow. If the publishers could sell the ebooks of big books successfully from their sites, then the big authors could also sell them directly without a publisher.
Stay tuned . . .

Monday, December 14, 2009

RH Trying Another e-Book Rights Grab

The Wall Street Journal had an interesting article by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg yesterday.

Random House's CEO Markus Dohle sent a letter to literary agents on Friday, laying claim to digital rights on its backlist books contracted "before the emergence of an active marketplace for electronic books."
[Dohle] wrote that the "vast majority of our backlist contracts grant us the exclusive right to publish books in electronic formats." He added that many of Random House's older agreements granted it the exclusive right to publish a work "in book form" or "in any and all editions."
Nat Sobel, a literary agent, responded in the article:
"I don't accept Random House's position, and I don't think anybody else will either," Mr. Sobel said. "You are entitled to the rights stated in your contract. Contracts 20 years ago didn't cover electronic rights. And the courts have already agreed with this position."
This isn't Random House's first time at bat on this issue. Back on February 27, 2001, Random House sought a preliminary injunction to prevent RosettaBooks from e-publishing RH backlist titles. RosettaBooks had obtained contracts covering e-book rights to titles by Kurt Vonnegut, William Styron, Robert Parker and other RH authors. At that time EContent quoted Stuart Applebaum, RH's publicist: "Random House owns the rights of all of the works in electronic format, even if its not specified in the clause of the contract."

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York didn't agree with Random House. In reporting on the July, 2001 decision, the Associated Press indicated that, in denying the injunction, "U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein ruled that the publisher was 'not likely to succeed on the merits of its copyright infringement claim and cannot demonstrate irreparable harm'."

Random House appealed, and RosettaBooks reported on the outcome of that legal action:
On March 8, 2002, Judges Newman, Kearse and Rakoff, writing for the Second Circuit, rendered a unanimous decision in favor of RosettaBooks denying Random House´s request that the Appelate Court overturn Judge Stein´s July 11, 2001 ruling which had denied Random House´s request for an injunction. The three judge panel concluded that contrary to Random House´s assertions, ".....the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Random House´s motion for a preliminary injunction, and consequently the judgment is affirmed."
In December, 2002, the Associated Press reported that Random House and RosettaBooks had reached an agreement:
Under the agreement, Random House will grant Rosetta exclusive e-book rights to "mutually agreed-upon titles," both old and recently published. Random House authors include Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, John Grisham, Anne Rice and Donna Tartt.
Despite its loss in court, Random House has proven surprisingly aggressive in pursuing its agenda. Regular readers of this blog may remember my quoting from an article in the UK's The Bookseller in July, 2008:
The controversy hinges on the definition of "out of print" in the digital environment, with one agent saying RHG was "trying to power through enormous changes to the contractual precedent". . .

Society of Authors deputy general secretary Kate Pool said her major concern with RHG's new boilerplate was an out-of-print clause allowing rights reversion only if the publisher cannot supply a physical or electronic copy of a book within a month, or if there have been no royalty earnings for a year. The author body plans to raise the issue with RHG.

Pool said: ". . . this is a way that publishers can sit on rights for years on end."
Go here to read The Wall Street Journal article.

Stay tuned . . .

Friday, December 11, 2009

Stephenie Meyer Not Dead

From MTV in the UK:

Twilight author Stephenie Meyer has been forced to deny internet rumours that she had died.

The story had spread around vampire-obsessed blogs and via Twitter yesterday until eventually the writer’s rep was forced to put out a statement.
The statement indicated the rep had spoken to Meyer, and she was alive and well.

ASI Partnering with the Espresso Book Machine

I just finished reading a press release that made me grimace.

Here's some selected excerpts:

Author Solutions, Inc., the world leader in indie book publishing--the fastest-growing segment of book publishing, is partnering with On Demand Books, owner of the Espresso Book Machine®, to provide writers with an online toolset to publish, distribute, print, and market their books in retail locations via the Espresso Book Machine.®

ASI has helped more than 85,000 authors worldwide bring 120,000 titles to market through its industry-leading self-publishing imprints AuthorHouse, iUniverse, Xlibris, Trafford Publishing, and Wordclay.

"This is the first time user-generated content can be produced on the Espresso Book Machine® from Web-enabled software provided by ASI," said Dane Neller, CEO of On Demand Books. "Our retail customers can now offer writers a menu of services covering all aspects of the publishing supply chain, including in-store book production and distribution. It will transform self-publishing opportunities for both retailers and writers."

. . . ASI will create and operate Web-based self-publishing services that will be available to the Espresso Book Machine® retailers, who can then private-label these services under their own branded Web sites. Writers can avail themselves of these online services from remote locations or on in-store computer monitors, and have their books printed while they wait. The Espresso Book Machine,® in effect an ATM for books, is a small, patented high-speed automated book-making machine. In a few minutes, it can print, bind, and trim a single-copy library-quality paperback book complete with a full-color paperback cover.
The grimace part came when I saw ASI describing itself as "the world leader in indie book publishing."

Let's review. First we had vanity presses. Then, because of the negative connotations of "vanity press," the self-publishing operations renamed themselves "POD publishers." After that, they flirted with the term "subsidy publishers." Now we have them calling themselves "indie book publishers."

Gag me with a spoon.

Obviously this initiative is intended to offer more immediate and more local printing services to individuals seeking to self-publish. But why stop there? Surely the Espresso Book Machine's (EBM) services would also be attractive to small publishers, too.

Upon hearing the news about the new ASI/EBM partnership, my friend and fellow writer Michele Lee responded, "locks Amazon and Author Solutions in a cage for a pit match to the death."

I laughed at the image she provoked.

The thing is . . . she may not be far off. I think Amazon is overdue for an extreme death match. I'm just not sure ASI will be the one facing them in that cage.

Amazon has done a hell of a job in creating a unique and popular service. They really haven't had any major competitors in the niche they carved out for themselves.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • In February, 2008, Amazon began to notify small publishers that they could only continue to sell print-on-demand books through the direct Amazon sales channel if the publisher agreed to use BookSurge, Amazon's proprietary printing division. BookSurge's sales terms were not as favorable as those of Lightning Source, the printing service most small publishers used. Three months later, filed an antitrust suit against Amazon, claiming violation of the Sherman Act. Booklocker claimed Lightning Source paid small publishers 70% of the proceeds from book sales versus BookSurge's 50% of proceeds. In August, 2009, the Court denied Amazon's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, so it is proceeding at a snail's pace through the U.S. legal system. I personally believe Amazon is acting to restrict trade, and I hope the Government throws the book at them.

  • The last time I checked, Amazon had 17 regional distribution centers around the U.S. It's unclear whether all of them have print-on-demand capacity.
  • Wal-Mart is increasingly unhappy with Amazon's branching out into other product lines besides books. The recent $9.99 bestseller price war began because decided to attack Amazon's primary business: Books.
  • Earlier this week, Amazon denied rumors that it was planning to open a chain of shops in Great Britain to supplement its online business with a physical presence. Rumor or not, I suspect that possibility weighs heavily with Wal-Mart.
  • The dark horse in this race is Google. It is not a giant leap from having a book search engine to having a giant online bookstore. Google keeps insisting its core business is search, not sales. But they've built an infrastructure that would make it awfully easy to step across that line.

Stay tuned . . . I'm betting that cage and serious bloodletting is not far off.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Checking In On The Rest of the Big Six

Following my post yesterday about Simon & Schuster and Hachette delaying the release of e-books to advantage their hardcover versions, The Wall Street Journal reported:
The third major publishing house in two days has decided to delay the electronic-book publication of some titles next year, as the debate over the timing and pricing of e-books heats up.

In an interview, Brian Murray, chief executive of News Corp.'s HarperCollins Publishers, said that beginning in January or February, HarperCollins will delay the e-book publication of five to 10 new hardcover titles each month. The delays are expected to range from four weeks to six months, depending on the book . . . John Makinson, chief executive of Pearson PLC's Penguin Group, noted that Penguin is watching the current situation with interest. "We may undertake trial pricing, and defer publication from time to time, but we won't systematically delay the publication of e-books," he said. Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Bertelsmann AG's Random House publishing arm, declined comment.
Read the entire WSJ article here.

The New York Times
John Sargent, chief executive of Macmillan, owner of imprints like Farrar, Straus and Giroux and St. Martin’s Press, said the company has already delayed e-book publication on several novels . . . Mr Sargent said the company was likely to delay other titles in the future.
Read the whole New York Times article here.

Agency to Close

Agent Jenny Rappaport announced on her blog here yesterday that she will be closing The Rappaport Agency at the end of December after four and a half years "due to economic reasons."

Time Magazine's Best & Worst

Time Magazine's new edition on Monday claims to have the best and worst of everything in 2009.

B&N's new e-reader, The Nook, is the #2 best new gadget for 2009.

Check out the best new inventions in 2009, the top ten sporting cheats, the best netbooks, the top ten conspiracy theories, the top ten regrettable e-mails, the ten ways Twitter will change American business, the top ten movie catchphrases, debunking ten myths about dieting, the top ten literary stunts, ten ideass changing the world right now and the top ten comeback tours.

Go here to read the issue.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I just passed the 1,000 benchmark for followers on Twitter!

A News Triple Header

A number of articles caught my attention last night.

First, after all the talk about streaming music yesterday, I was interested when Engadget reported here that Pandora is working on "a variety of options for in-car music streaming." Engadget quotes Pandora's Chief Technology Officer saying that "the company is now working with various car manufacturers (including Ford). . ."

Next, Galleycat asked the question "How Did Publishing Survive the Great Depression?" here. My memory is that the infamous "returns" system began during the Depression as a way to convince booksellers to accept stock for sale.

Finally, my favorite Wall St. Journal writer, Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg, had an article here in which he reported that two of the Big Six publishers are deciding to delay the release of e-books for three to four months in order to advantage the hard cover edition.

Both Simon & Schuster and Hachette (parent of Grand Central Publishing) are concerned that e-books will "cannibalize" the "new best-selling hardcovers, which are the mainstay of the publishing business."

Let's call it what it is: protectionism.

And let me quote Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the U.S. Federal Reserve. He criticized protectionism because it leads "to an atrophy of our competitive ability. ... If the protectionist route is followed, newer, more efficient industries will have less scope to expand, and overall output and economic welfare will suffer."

Despite their protestations to the contrary, the Big Six publishers have done nothing to promote the growth of e-books. Even today, when electronic readers seem to be at a tipping point, New York is trying to treat them like a paperback--just a lesser version of the hard cover.

I find myself thinking of the British troops when they came to the New World to defend their colonies against revolution. They fought in traditional style--in strict line format with their bright red uniforms screaming their location. Meanwhile, the ragtag American revolutionary troops fought in commando style, hiding behind trees and thinking flexibly. The new thinking replaced the old.

New York publishing cannot seem to think outside the box in which they reside. Jane Friedman thinks an e-book should be priced at $14.95--simply because that's the price of the trade paper. That's a knee-jerk hidebound approach without a single thought to the notion that the price should reflect--in some way--the production expense.

I know there are lots of smart New York publishing people. Maybe they need to get out of New York for a while. It might clear the cobwebs out.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Writers Salon

I'm trying something new.

I've set up a Yahoo group, which I've titled The Writers Salon. I'm hoping it will be a place where writers (and wannabe writers) can meet and talk about things that interest us.

If you'd like to join, please go here.

Thanks and regards,


Apple Rolling Along

On Friday, we heard that Apple had decided to buy Lala, a four-year-old Palo Alto company that permits users to stream music directly from the Internet rather than downloading the tunes.

There was lots of speculation over the last couple of days as to what Apple has in mind. Here are the two polar-opposite theories:

  • Conspiracy theorists believe Apple purchased Lala because it was a competitor that they plan to put out of business.
  • Others among us are convinced that Apple is getting ready to move away from the iTunes store to streaming tunes from a cloud environment.

Let's talk about the differences between Apple and Lala's business models.

Apple uses a traditional proprietary model. Users pay small fees to download music tracks from the iTunes store. The user owns the tunes and maintains them on a device (a PC or iPod or similar Mp3 player).

Lala's model is different. Instead of a proprietary model, it is more of a subscription model. Users don't own the tunes; they pay 10¢ for unlimited use of a tune whenever and wherever they want. They can stream the tune on their computer at work or on their PC at home or on an Mp3 player at the beach. Lala uses a cloud computing environment to store the user's tunes and can even duplicate the user's iPod playlist.

If you are not familiar with a cloud computing environment, go here to read about it on Wikipedia. Essentially, it's a way for companies (or individuals) to move away from large expenditures in hardware and software. Instead of making huge investments in technology, the customer uses another company's hardware and software and only pays for what s/he uses.

The first time I ever heard of a cloud environment was in November, 2006 when I wrote about Amazon's initiative titled EC2 or Elastic Compute Cloud here.

According to Business Week, EC2 "potentially make(s) a profit center out of idle computing capacity needed for [Amazon's] . . . retail operation. Like most computer networks, Amazon's uses as little as 10% of its capacity at any one time just to leave room for occasional spikes." EC2 allows users to use the Amazon infrastructure by renting out that excess computing power, starting at 10¢ an hour for the equivalent of a basic server computer.

Users have to get used to the idea of storing their data on someone else's servers. One of my brothers--a computer programmer--said that the U.S. government has been leasing secure data space from high tech companies for years.

I'm in the process of reading Googled: The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta. He says:

"A 'cloud' of servers could store a consumer's information and hold a suite of software products, including spreadsheets, word processing, and calendars."

"Google has dozens of data centers all over the world . . . and within these data centers are housed what may be the world's most massive computer system, millions of PCs that have no keyboards or screens and are arranged in stacks and have been repurposed as servers to process searches. The servers in these data centers provide an array of software services that users can access from any device."
So we have both Amazon and Google getting into the cloud computing business. It should, therefore, not come as a surprise when I tell you that, in June, Data Center Knowledge reported that North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue had announced "Apple Inc. has selected North Carolina as the location for a new data center and will invest more than $1 billion in the project over nine years."

The article went on to say:
The size of the project raises interesting questions about Apple’s ambitions for its online operations. The $1 billion price tag is nearly twice the $500 to $600 million that Microsoft and Google typically invest in the enormous data centers that power their cloud computing platforms.
Yesterday, the Edible Apple suggested that "Apple made the [Lala] purchase not so much for Lala’s technology or business, but more so to acquire the talent behind the company and their cumulative expertise with 'cloud-based music services'.”

Friday's New York Times reported that, with the purchase, "Apple would primarily be buying Lala’s engineers, including its energetic co-founder Bill Nguyen, and their experience with cloud-based music services."

If Apple moves to a subscription model, their iPhone could leave its smartphone competitors in the dust. And who's to say they have to stop with music. With that large a facility, Apple could also begin streaming novels.

Stay tuned . . .

Monday, December 07, 2009

Surprised Kitty

This video has already been viewed over nine million times, but I'm adding it here just so I can find it again someday.

Amazon Offers A Few Statistics

You're going to have to bear with me as I catch up on a week's worth of reading material.

I was interested to see Jeff Bezos of Amazon actually offering some statistics on the Kindle--something the company has steadfastly avoided doing for the past two years.

Last Wednesday, in response to a question from The New York Times regarding the percentage of digital books Amazon is selling, Bezos said:
For every 100 copies of a physical book we sell, where we have the Kindle edition, we will sell 48 copies of the Kindle edition. It won’t be too long before we’re selling more electronic books than we are physical books.
In response to a follow-up question about how quickly paper books are migrating into their digital equivalents, Bezos said:
When we launched Kindle two years ago, it was 90,000 titles, and today it’s more than 350,000. We’re adding thousands of titles every week. Our vision is every book ever printed in every language, all available within 60 seconds.
My favorite question-and-answer seemed targeted right at Wal-Mart's bow:
Initially, Amazon sold books exclusively, but it has since expanded into a retail omnivore that sells basketballs and vacuum cleaners and hamster food and everything under the sun. What is your goal, exactly?
We want to have earth’s biggest selection. Earth’s biggest river, earth’s biggest selection.
Go here to read the entire interview.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Do A Good Deed Today

Go to this website here and play a trivia game called "Name That Toy."

For every correct answer you give, Toys for Tots gets a 10¢ donation.

I played for about five minutes and donated $5. That's the maximum donation per player.

If you get an answer wrong, the question comes around again, and you can answer it right.

Do something nice for kids today.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Joe Lansdale's Latest

Even though I had tons to do this weekend--what with the 605 emails awaiting my return at my office and the Holidays rapidly approaching--I took time off. After a week in Florida, I was plumb out of steam.

I diddled around on the Internet and spent the better part of today reading Joe R. Lansdale's latest Hap and Leonard outing: Vanilla Ride.

I've been reading Lansdale since his first H&L novel Savage Season back in 1990. He's a local boy, born in Gladewater, Texas, and he's won an Edgar and seven Bram Stoker awards. His novella Bubba Ho-tep was turned into a 2002 cult film favorite.

Lansdale is an acquired taste. His novels are full of raunchy humor, foul language and enormous amounts of violence. I think of his Hap and Leonard characters as the flip side of Robert B. Parker's Spenser and Hawk characters. Where Spenser and Hawk live in Boston, Hap Collins and Leonard Pine live in East Texas. Where Spenser and Hawk lead upscale lives, Hap and Leonard are down-on-their luck day laborers. The traits the characters share are that all four are hard, tough men with a strong sense of honor.

Both duos include a white protagonist who narrates the first-person stories (Spenser and Hap) and an African American best friend and long-time partner in crime (Hawk and Leonard). Both Parker and Lansdale specialize in smart, humorous dialogue juxtaposed against violent and very dark situations.

Oh, one major difference between the two duos is that Leonard is gay, although perhaps the most macho gay character in literature today. Hap's casual acceptance of his friend's sexuality runs counter to the stereotype of the rigid Texas moral code.

The first five pages of Lansdale's fourth H&L book Bad Chili remain one of my all-time favorite story openings. Go here to read that first chapter on Amazon. I have read it dozens of times and still laugh out loud at every reading.

Let me know what you think.

100 Best LAST Lines From Novels

Go here for a list of the one hundred best last lines from novels.

My favorites:

"He waited for someone to tell him who to be next." (Brian Evenson, The Open Curtain, 2006)

"And he couldn’t do it. He could not fucking die. How could he leave? How could he go? Everything he hated was here." (Philip Roth, Sabbath’s Theater, 1995)

"But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing." (A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner, 1928)

Friday, December 04, 2009

Catching Up With Harlequin's DellArte

I've been catching up tonight on a week's worth of publishing news.

While I was busy interviewing home inspectors and plumbers, Harlequin was busy doing damage control following the announcement of their new self-publishing imprint (see my post of 11/19 here).

Last Wednesday, Publishers Weekly reported:
In the wake of widespread criticism over its self-publishing imprint, Harlequin has changed the imprint’s name from Harlequin Horizons to DellArte Press. As Harlequin publisher and CEO Donna Hayes said it would, the company renamed the imprint to a designation “that [does] not refer to Harlequin in any way.” There is no mention of Harlequin on DellArte’s Web site.
Today, Lee Goldberg printed here the announcement of a decision by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) "to remove Harlequin and all of its imprints from our list of Approved Publishers, effective immediately."

The paragraph that will most impact Harlequin authors is this one from the MWA release:
Any author who signs with Harlequin or any of its imprints from this date onward may not use their Harlequin books as the basis for active status membership nor will such books be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration. However books published by Harlequin under contracts signed before December 2, 2009 may still be the basis for Active Status membership and will still be eligible for Edgar® Award consideration.
I was completely in agreement with the MWA's reasoning: MWA doesn't have a problem with Harlequin's owning and operating a self-publishing imprint. "The problem is HOW those pay-to-publish programs and other for-pay services are integrated into Harlequin's traditional publishing business."

Goldberg also published the letter that Harlequin CEO Donna Hayes sent to the MWA Board before their meeting and vote on December 2.

I was unimpressed with Hayes' explanation that (1) "self-publishing has emerged as a new force in the publishing industry" and Harlequin feels "compelled to respond to new publishing models" or that (2) Harlequin wishes to expand the writer's "range of options."

It simply is not kosher for Harlequin to reject writers while at the same time referring them to its self-publishing arm. Furthermore, it is inappropriate for Harlequin to imply that their editors will be "monitoring" the self-published releases with an eye to possibly offering a contract with a traditional Harlequin imprint. This is not an arms-length relationship. It offers false hope to writers while benefiting the Harlequin bottom line.

I have huge admiration for Harlequin and its sensitivity to an "evolving" business landscape. The company has proven far more flexible and willing to think outside the box than other traditional publisher. I have admired Harlequin's support and respect for emerging writers.

If Harlequin wants to experiment with self-publishing . . . fine. But maintain that arms-length relationship and do not tease or entice writers with the bait that self-publishing a book with DellArte will bring them closer to a traditional contract with Harlequin.

Rant over.

Home, Sweet Home

I'm back.

As good as it was to see my mom and two brothers, I'm really happy to be home. I worked my tail off in Florida.

After 30 years with Liberty Mutual and only a couple of small claims during that time, my mother's home insurance had been cancelled as of December 15. Liberty Mutual refused to give a reason so I was forced to conclude it was because (1) The house's age, (2) my mother's age, or (3) the fact that we'd cancelled her auto insurance with the company.

No new insurance company would accept her application without a four-point home inspection (air conditioning, electricity, plumbing and roof). I managed to get the inspection done on Monday, interview companies on Tuesday and to contract with a new company on Wednesday.

I also discovered the house has a hot water pipe leak in its foundation (the inspector didn't find it; the lack of hot water cued me to start looking). Major clues were the fact that the thermostat and a heat element had already had to be replaced on a two-year-old water heater. I spent the rest of the week interviewing plumbers. Rather than repairing a single leak in the 48-year-old house (and tearing my mother's bathroom tile up), I opted to repipe the place. In exchange for letting the plumber have the old copper pipes, he's replacing all the faucets, too.

So, it was great to get back to Texas . . . to relax after my working vacation.

I'll be back later today with a new post.