Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time Out

I've been fighting a sinus infection and finally gave in to it today. I'll be back soon.

In the meantime, I've been listening to music while I nap. Tonight it was Leonard Cohen.

Here are two of my favorite songs of his, the first a cover by Jeff Buckley:

The second is a cover of another Cohen song by Tori Amos:

They both take their time getting into the song, but the wait is worth it.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

My Spider Just Lost a Leg

If you're bored and looking for something to do, listen to the podcast of this week's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" on NPR. It's a Best of the Animal Kingdom show, featuring all kinds of excerpts about wallabies, giant spiders, squirrels and ostriches.

Go here to download the show. I promise you won't regret it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Small Town Texas Tale

I heard a story this week, which I wanted to share on Thanksgiving. The story illustrates why I hold both Texas and its people in such high esteem.

Lucas, Texas is a small town (11.73 square miles, including lake water) with less than 1,000 households in north central Texas, close to the Oklahoma border (Map and stats courtesy of Wikipedia).

Lucas is an affluent little town with a median household income of just over $100,000.

Lovejoy High School is the only high school in Lucas. Lovejoy opened in the fall of 2006 and graduated its first class this past spring. Among the statistics the school has racked up over its short history:

  • In 2010, Lovejoy High School won the Lone Star Cup as the most successful 3A school in the state of Texas. According to the Houston Chronicle, the Lone Star Cup "recognizes high schools based on their overall team achievement in athletic and academic championships."

  • The volleyball team has won three state titles in 2008, 2009, and 2010

  • The football team reached the state semi-finals in the 2008-09 football season, which was the school's first year to ever have seniors

  • The men's and women's cross country teams both won the cross country state title in 2010

Jim Bob Puckett is the Athletic Director and the head football coach for Lovejoy. According to his CV here, Jim Bob is a native Texan, around 50 years old, and has been a part of Lovejoy since the school was in its development stage five years ago. The photo below comes from the school's website:

The 2009-10 football season has been a good one for Lovejoy, and the team was looking forward to making their division finals.

Earlier in the month, on November 5, Lovejoy was scheduled to play Nevada Community High School in their final regular season game. Prior to that game, Coach Puckett told the team that, if Lovejoy had a comfortable lead at half-time, he planned to pull some of his starters to allow the kids who had not gotten much time on the field a chance to play.

At the half, the score was 47-0 with Lovejoy in the lead.

I should probably mention that November 5 was Senior Night. And, kids being kids, three of the senior players broke a team rule during the half time.

I'm not going to identify the players by name nor the team rule they broke. If you've ever been eighteen on Senior Night, you can probably guess which rule it was.

Another student told his parents who, in turn, reported the violation to the school's administration. The administration advised Coach Puckett of the rumor.

And make no mistake. This was a rumor. No police officer had spotted the kids; no school official had noticed the violation. The Lovejoy Leopards won the game 68-0. Coach Puckett could have swept the mess under the rug and gone on to the playoffs with his very winning team intact.

Instead Jim Bob Puckett called a team meeting and demanded that each player provide a written AND SIGNED response to a number of questions. Those questions included: Have you ever broken a team rule? If so, which one? Do you know of any other player who has broken a team rule? If so, who and which rule?

Many of the players--including two of the November 5 miscreants
--answered honestly.

Coach Puckett kicked the three starters off the team, they were suspended from school for 45 days, and they will not be permitted to graduate with their class. Instead they will have to return to school in the summer to take another course before graduation.

Did I mention the positions the three boys played? Quarterback, tight end and wide receiver.

When the news hit the streets on November 12, Coach Puckett was asked who the students were. He declined to answer. However, when the team lineup changed that night, in a game with rival team A. Maceo Smith, the answer was pretty obvious.

Here's an excerpt from the school website's description of the 11/12/10 game:
... following on what has been an interesting week, to say the least, the Leopards came out as a team and thoroughly thrashed the Smith Falcons 56 to 22. Even with some lineup changes, Lovejoy showed its depth at all positions ...

Numerous distractions during the week could have derailed Lovejoy’s hopes for a deep playoff run. And while the Leopards’ dominating 56-22 victory over A. Maceo Smith seemed like the next logical step for this 9-1 state ranked unit, the win encompassed far more than just numbers in a box score. With fierce determination, the Leopards proved to everyone, and more importantly themselves, that adversity and defeat do not always go hand in hand ...
The McKinney Courier-Gazette quoted Jim Bob on Monday, November 15:
“It’s never good when you have to remove players from the team,” he said, “and obviously it’s even worse now because we are at playoff time.”

But Puckett’s concern goes beyond just the playing field.

“Football is just a game,” he said. “We want the boys who come through this program to learn about more than just football; it’s about being great young men and learning life lessons. And make no mistake, those three are still our brothers. Even good kids make bad decisions and this will be a life lesson for them.”
The McKinney newspaper asked Puckett to talk about the upcoming November 19 game against the Celina Bobcats and quoted him again:
“Our guys have been really upbeat over the last week and we had some good practices ... We told the guys that it is like losing players to injury and this will give some different guys a chance to step up.”
Puckett's team did step up and the Lovejoy Leopards beat the Celina Bobcats 17-0 last Friday night.

Living in Texas occasionally gets on my nerves. The politics here are somewhat to the right of Attila the Hun, and football is almost a religion. But, when they talk about "values," Texans are absolutely sincere. Imagine a high school coach who is able to say, "Football is just a game ... This will be a life lesson."

I salute Coach Puckett and the Lovejoy Leopards.

Happy Thanksgiving. I hope you and yours enjoyed many blessings today. I am so grateful for the people I love and the people who love me. I thank my readers for their support and wish all of you every blessing of this holiday season.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Fewer Posts Through the Holidays

Most holidays I've taken a month off from blogging.

I'm going to try something different this year. I'll post every other weekday.

We'll see how that works.

McQuivey Explains His Thinking

Thanks to Teleread for pointing me to a new post by James McQuivey of Forrester Research. I've mentioned both Forrester and McQuivey here on this blog before.

On November 8, McQuivey had a post here on Paid Content titled "Why The Book Business May Soon Be The Most Digital Of All Media Industries." A couple of lines from that report have already been widely quoted online:
... 2010 will end with $966 million in e-books sold to consumers. By 2015, the industry will have nearly tripled to almost $3 billion, a point at which the industry will be forever altered.
Last Tuesday, McQuivey did a post on his Forrester blog that's worthy of mention. In a post titled "On The Certain Economics Of Relegating Paper Books To The Margins Of The Business" here, McQuivey contends that paper books will not disappear completely; paper will simply not be the dominant medium:
... publishers will think of their eBook strategy first. Paper decisions will be made as an adjunct to digital decisions. Many, many books will be published without paper versions at all, at least until they get enough critical mass to justify going to paper. Bestsellers from proven authors will always get both, launched simultaneously ...
But that wasn't the part that interested me. It was this line: "Ultimately, we're talking about a change in economics, not formats."

He reminds readers what happened in music when the "dominant retailers" found their economic model "drying up," which naturally lead to less shelf space. Dedicated retailers like Tower Records went out of business while the big box stores like Wal-Mart cut shelf space dramatically. McQuivey predicts:
This will mean an automatic retraction in how many books are printed because publishers won't get the massive bulk purchases they used to get ...
The natural consequence will be fewer (and lower) advances for authors, which will naturally push them toward e-publishers and/or self-publishing.

Economics, not technology.

Read the whole article. It's worth it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Any New Books?

Thanks to Paul Biba of Teleread for alerting me to a service I had not heard about previously.

Any New Books? is a service that sends free, weekly emails to subscribers, alerting them to new books being published in the categories that the subscriber selects.

You can select general categories like "fiction" or "nonfiction" or you can choose specific categories like "horror" or "biographies & memoirs." I picked seven specific categories.

You can change your selections at any time.

Give it a try.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Promise of Bruce Springsteen

Okay, I promise we'll get back to publishing tomorrow. However, today I want to talk about an interview that the actor Edward Norton conducted with Bruce Springsteen in September at a Canadian film festival in Toronto.

The interview was part of the premiere of the film The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story.

The story behind the documentary began with the release of Springsteen's breakthrough album Born to Run in the summer of 1975.

Springsteen had hit it big, but found himself sidelined for the next three years by a legal tussle with his former manager. Unable to return to a studio, he spent his time touring (trying to keep the E Street Band together) and writing songs. He produced more than 70 songs during this period. He and the band selected ten of the darkest songs for the album that became 1978's Darkness on the Edge of Town.

Among the sixty+ discarded songs were the following:
  • Because the Night recorded by Patti Smith
  • Fire recorded by The Pointer Sisters
  • This Little Girl recorded by Gary U.S. Bonds

Today, a double CD titled The Promise was released. It includes a lot of the discarded music from Darkness. A deluxe box version which also includes the film The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story is available, too. The film includes rehearsals in a barn in New Jersey and studio sessions.

Some of the interesting parts of the interview for me included comments about the history of rock:
You forget, the Beatles made all their records in about eight years. You know, I think it was '63 to '72 ... and also the oldest rock musicians ... say, when "Darkness" came out were 32 or 34. Those were the old guys. You know, ... people were looking for a new Bob Dylan when Bob himself was only about 30 years old.
But I was also interested in his observations on writing:

I was interested now in writing music that felt ... I wanted to bring in the landscape of the whole country ... but the writing ... and the imagining of a world, that's a particular thing, you know, that's, that's a single fingerprint ... all the filmmakers we love, all the writers we love, all the songwriters we love ... they have ... they put their fingerprint on your imagination, and on your heart and on your soul.

And, of course, his family influences:
My own history. I was interested in my parents' lives. I was interested in a sense of place ... I felt that my own identity was rooted in that sense of place and that there was a narrative there. And I was interested in having a narrative. In other words, I had a story and wanted to tell it. And I knew it was caught up in my childhood, and my parent's lives and my own young life, but I had no real clue as to the broader picture.
I highly recommend listening to the interview, which you can find on NPR Music. Go here and scroll down to the photo of Springsteen to listen.

After you finish the interview, go here to NPR Music First Listen and scroll down until you see the Springsteen songs. There's 15 songs from Promise, including Because the Night and Fire.

I hope you'll enjoy the experience half as much as I did.

As I write this, I'm listening to Springsteen perform Because the Night on the Jimmy Fallon show and listening to a line I've always loved: "Desire and hunger is the fire I breathe."

Monday, November 15, 2010

(Almost) 8 Tips to Avoid Computer Armageddon

I'm taking a blogging day off in order to celebrate the release of Bruce Springsteen's Promise album today. My friend Maria Zannini has agreed to fill in as guest blogger while I'm off communing with the Boss.

Here's Maria:

(Almost) 8 Tips to Avoid Computer Armageddon

Uploading new software. Please stand by.

Although my latest novel, True Believers, is pure romance with a side of world domination, it also relies on two AIs (artificial intelligences) called Bubba and FAIA. These computers are so smart they become sentient.

Think twice before downloading Lady Gaga's 'Bad Romance' as a ringtone. You might get more than you expected. Like maybe Cyber Gaga(Italics). (Though you might be hard-pressed to tell them apart.)

It's Computer Armageddon, folks! Coming to a network near you.

Did you know that major retailers know how much product to reorder the moment you leave the store? The sister of a friend of mine helped developed that technology.

Today, computer chips are embedded in everything from clothing, cell phones — even your pets. We are no longer in charge.

Much like the zombie apocalypse, Computer Armageddon is no laughing matter. If you see code monkeys from your local Best Buy store packing up and heading for the hills, that's your clue that Armageddon has already begun.

Here are some tips to help you out.

  1. Your cell phone can track you anywhere on the planet. If you plan on doing any subversive activity be sure to trade phones with your great Aunt Edna first. So what if the Feds catch up with her? She might like prison.

  2. Your dog is a snitch if he's been microchipped. This leaves you with one of two choices. Trade Sparky in for a hamster, or zap him with a Taser in the hope the shock might destroy the chip. —of course, Sparky might not like you after that. (Down, boy.)

  3. If your computer monitor suddenly comes on and you see a naked Gerard Butler inviting you to join him on a white fur rug, avert your eyes immediately. It's a trap!

    ….you didn't listen, did you? :sigh: Moving on.

  4. Trade your body for Code Monkey favors. I know. Some of those boys have pimples. But it's Armageddon, woman! Do it for humanity.

  5. If you manage to disable your computer before it alerts the authorities, make sure your kids do not witness your sabotage. If your kid ever realizes you were responsible for interrupting World Of Warcraft, he will rat you out in a heartbeat. Never mind you were in labor for 72 hours bringing him into this world. You're history, Mom.

  6. Learn to make the perfect margarita. It won't slow down Armageddon. But after a few drinks, you won't really care.

  7. Computers are privy to your finances, your medical records and every email or Facebook photo you've ever uploaded. Just remember you still have opposable thumbs. If push comes to shove, pull the plug.

  8. And finally Tip #8. If your computer suspects—

Download complete. User Terminated.

Have a nice day!


Maria Zannini's latest release is a science fiction romance called TRUE BELIEVERS. Mix one cynical immortal and one true believer and throw them into the biggest alien-hunt the world has never known. Rachel Cruz is a Nephilim masquerading as an archeologist and she's stuck with an alien who believes she can lead him to his ancestral gods. Black Ops wants to find these gods too. They want them dead.

Follow Maria here:


Contest time! Every time you leave a comment, tweet or mention "Maria Zannini" anywhere with a link (http://mariazannini.blogspot.com/) to my blog, your name goes in the hat for a chance to win a Texas sized prize. Go here for more information.

Fallout From the Cooks Source Debacle

By now, you've probably heard the plagiarism hullabaloo over Cooks Source [Ouch! Where's the apostrophe?] magazine, which broke on the Internet twelve days ago.

If you haven't, here's a summary: A food writer, Monica Gaudio, wrote a post on her blog at Live Journal here on November 3. She explained that a friend had pointed out that an article Monica had written in 2005 (see here) was reprinted in the October, 2010 issue of Cooks Source [Damn, I really want to insert that apostrophe], a New England magazine supported by paid advertising, with attribution but without informing her or offering reimbursement.

Assuming an error had been made, Monica both phoned and emailed the magazine, asking for an apology online and in print and a donation to the Columbia School of Journalism.

This is where it gets crazy.

The editor of Cooks Source [I need to quit being so freaking obsessive], a woman named Judith Griggs, responded to Monica who posted an excerpt of the reply on her blog:
"Yes Monica, I have been doing this for 3 decades ... I do know about copyright laws. It was "my bad" indeed, and, as the magazine is put together in long sessions, tired eyes and minds somethings forget to do these things.
But honestly Monica, the web is considered "public domain" and you should be happy we just didn't "lift" your whole article and put someone else's name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me... ALWAYS for free!"
[Shakes head sadly]

And the rest is history. With the help of bloggers Nick Mamatas (nihilistic_kid); John Scalzi (Whatever); and Neil Gaiman, Monica's [Thank God, an apostrophe] story went viral. Twitter had all kinds of hash tags with the best comments at #buthonestlymonica and #cookssource.]

The Smart Bitches recommended here that the Internet Google bomb Griggs by redefining "griggs" as someone who plagiarizes.

As of this morning, the Cooks Source's [Are you happy now?] Facebook page here has 6,037 comments and Judith Griggs says she has had to shut it down.

Griggs has posted an official comment here where she says her Facebook account was "hacked" and--apparently without intending to be ironic--recommends readers "go to How to Report Claims of Intellectual Property Infringement, http://www.facebook.com/legal/copyright.php." to report the abuse.

I'll admit, I was flabbergasted by how vitriolic the Internet response to Griggs became. It was the virtual equivalent of the populace advancing on the Romanian castle with pitchforks and rakes.

The thing that bothered me most was the onslaught's unintended consequences. One of Cooks Source's advertisers, Laura Puchalski
--owner of 2nd Street Baking Co. in Turner Falls, Massachusetts--cancelled her advertising contract with Cooks Source , but posted here how devastating the experience of being bombarded by the Internet was for her small business.

When that Romanian castle got burned down, did anyone make sure all the servants got out safely?

I'm sure all of Cooks Source's [No! No! I'm not satisfied] advertisers were equally inconvenienced and perhaps even harmed by the tsunami of reaction.

Laura's post reminded me of just how powerful a force the Internet is and how destructive it can be if things turn nasty.

I'm going to try to be more responsible in my kneejerk reactions in creating a fuss when I have been inconvenienced. I just deleted a post from this weekend along with a Tweet. My inconvenience is not worth the risk of harming someone else.

Cooks' Source, Cooks' Source, Cooks' Source!

P.S. If you're in or around Turner Falls, please stop by the 2nd Street Bakery Co. and buy something. I've already checked; they don't ship.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Disturbing Image of the Morning

Hearing a noise in my walk-in closet. Turning the light on to find my neutered male cat humping one of my shoes.

Oh, is there no end to my attractiveness?

Will Amazon Dominate the eBook Market?

I'd forgotten how colorful painkiller-induced dreams can be. Last night I dreamt I was moving into an apartment that looked a lot like a Mexican restaurant sans tables and chairs. Someone offered me a housewarming gift: a wooden figure carved and signed by Neil Gaiman. I kept trying to show it to people, but the only person who appreciated it was this guy playing Farmville on the tiled floor. He turned out to be Gordon Lightfoot.

My Alice-in-Wonderland adventure ended there when the alarm went off.

The Business Insider had an article on Wednesday titled "Here's How Amazon Took the Lead in the Billion-Dollar e-Book Market--And Why They'll Dominate."

Here are some quotes:

  • [reports indicate] "the ebook market will reach $1 billion this year ... Amazon has a full 50% marketshare there thanks to its Kindle platform."

  • "...by letting people read Kindle books on any device, Amazon has preserved, and even arguably gained, marketshare."

  • "... we think Amazon's marketshare will end up closer to 90%."

  • "... even though the Kindle is useless for general computing, it is great for heavy readers ... By designing their Kindle for this market, ... Amazon locked up very important early adopters."

  • "Publishers want ebooks to sell for the same price as paper books, which is ridiculous. The marginal cost of selling an ebook is basically zero, whereas you have to actually print paper books."

  • "If [Amazon] wanted readers to adopt the Kindle and ebooks, they needed to price them lower, especially to make impulse buys more attractive."

  • "The Kindle didn't just set price expectations for ebooks below those of paper books, it also set them at a level above zero, which is much more important for publishers over the long run as they navigate the transition to digital."

Go here to read the entire article.

By the way, BI's claim that "the marginal cost of selling an ebook is basically zero" is almost as ridiculous as publishers' claim that they should price ebooks at the same price as paper books.

While my personal belief is that both Amazon and Walmart will prove destructive to the American economy, I do believe that Amazon's $9.99 ebook price point is on the mark.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Next Round in "Writing with the Stars"

Sorry to be AWOL yesterday. According to my internist, I pulled my shoulder and back muscles while hauling rocks across my yard on Halloween. I went to a clinic on Saturday morning, com-
plaining of shoulder and arm pain and received a script that put me to sleep for four days without doing anything to ease the pain. Thankfully now I'm on the good stuff and feel like a new woman.

Last month I did a post here about Kensington Brava's "Writing with the Stars" contest:
In conjunction with RT Book Reviews, Brava is sending out a call to unpublished writers of paranormal, historical and contemporary romance, as well as romantic suspense: We’re looking for a hot debut novel to be published in 2012 under the Brava imprint at Kensington.
I was thrilled to announce that my friend and critique partner Maria Zannini had made the list of the ten contest finalists.

Two finalists were eliminated, and now Maria is one of the eight remaining entrants. Literary agent Miriam Kriss is the judge for the next round.

Help a fellow writer out and go here to read the entries and vote for the winner of the next round.

Of course, Maria's pirate Luísa Tavares and Mistress of the Stone gets my vote. I'm hoping you'll love Luísa and Xander, too.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Grisham's e-Book Sales

Today's Wall Street Journal (WSJ)has a story on John Grisham's latest thriller, The Confession.

The WSJ reports that The Associate, Grisham's last legal thriller, which was published in January of 2009, sold 223,000 hardcover copies in its first week (stats courtesy of BookScan).

Contrast that with The Confession, which was released October 26:
"The Confession" is the first of Mr. Grisham's adult hardcover novels to also be available simultaneously as an e-book. Doubleday, an imprint of Bertelsmann AG's Random House, says e-book sales were about one-third of week-one hardcover sales, or around 70,000.

The novel ... also sold 160,000 hardcovers through Oct. 31, according to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks approximately 75% of general retail book sales in the U.S.
Go here to read Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg's article in The Wall Street Journal.

Monday, November 08, 2010

A Time to Every Purpose Under the Sun

The Wall Street Journal had an article on Saturday titled "Big Book Publisher to Reduce Its Offices":
Random House Inc., the world's largest consumer book publisher, is seeking to sublease as many as nine of the 24 floors it now occupies at 1745 Broadway ...
The story says that Random House hopes to sublet as much as 250,000 of the 645,000 square feet it occupies in its headquarters building.
... Random House (RH) currently has a 30% vacancy rate on its floors. Many publishers, including Random House, have had to lay off staffers in the past few years because of the poor economy and its impact on book sales ... Random House now has too much non-productive space for the publisher to ignore.
A Random House spokesman indicated that the unused space came about as the result of layoffs, but insists RH does not intend further reductions in staff.

I have to admit that I find this an encouraging sign that the Big Six are starting to recognize that their world is changing and they will need to change, too. Downsizing is a great place to start.

Go here to read The Wall Street Journal article.

Friday, November 05, 2010

WarGames in the Book Industry

I really enjoy the Teleread website here. It is one of my must-read sites each day because it is chockful of news about e-books, e-readers, publishing and copyright.

About a week ago here, Teleread published an open letter to the publishing industry from a prolific reader named Joanna.

Joanna describes herself as a person who reads 100+ books a year. She is fed up with the Big Six's efforts to control the e-book industry and says:
I am sick of the price fixing. I am sick of the head-in-sand burying. I am sick of publishers or agents or authors ... who are mucking up what should be a simple money-for-product transaction ... Enough! I am no longer dialoguing with you on this. My decision? I figure it will take you maybe two to three years to come to your senses, and while I am waiting, I am opting out of this whole thing.

Play whatever games you want to—I am ignoring it all. I will not be the guinea pig for any more of your ridiculous experiments.
She goes on to explain that, until the Big Six come to their senses, she will limit her e-book reading to those she can get for free or for under $10.
If you (sic) book is too expensive or too geo-restricted or too format-restricted or too darned complicated for one of the above scenarios to both apply ... it will languish on my wish list forever. I am prepared to take that loss and not read your book.
Of the fifteen comments posted in response to Joanna's "opt out" letter, all but two are in agreement. One of the commenters referred Joanna to the latest edition of the New Yorker in which James Surowiecki has a financial op/ed piece here on the decline of Blockbuster.

I read the Surowiecki article with interest because of the parallels to publishing. I hope Mr. Surowiecki will forgive me, but I'm going to reprint a couple of paragraphs from his op/ed and substitute the publishing equivalents in brackets for "Blockbuster" or "movie rental" or "Netflix":
The problem--in [the Big Six's] case, at least—-was that the very features that people thought were strengths turned out to be weaknesses. [The Big Six's] huge investment, both literally and psychologically, in traditional [print books] made it slow to recognize the Web’s importance: in 2002, it was still calling the Net a “niche.”

But, once [Amazon] came along, it became clear that you could have tremendous variety ... and, thanks to the [Amazon's] recommendation engine, actually get some serviceable advice.

Why didn’t [the Big Six] evolve more quickly? In part, it was because of what you could call the “internal constituency” problem: the company was full of people who had been there when bricks-and-mortar stores were hugely profitable, and who couldn’t believe that those days were gone for good ... The familiar sunk-cost fallacy made things worse. Myriad studies have shown that, once decision-makers invest in a project, they’re likely to keep doing so, because of the money already at stake. Rather than dramatically shrinking [its infrastructure], [the Big Six] just kept throwing good money after bad.
Surowiecki is exactly right. I did a post on the publishing industry's thinking errors here last year as part of a series on "The (Publishing) House is Burning."

When I was a kid in New York, I was fascinated by the street vendors--particularly the ones who played the shell game with passers-by. My grandfather taught me that no matter how slick the patter or how fast the hands moved, it was a sucker's game. The ONLY way to win was not to play. Joanna has figured that out.

If you need a more visual explanation, try this scene from one of my favorite movies released way back in 1983:

By the way, a headline in yesterday's Publishers Marketplace read "At Simon & Schuster, Profits Rise Even As Sales Slide."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Agent Sues Author and Loses

In 2004, mystery writer Martha Grimes took on the publishing industry with her novel Foul Matter. Here's an excerpt from the Publishers Weekly (PW) review:
When Paul Giverney, a hot suspense novelist, seeks a new publisher, he decides on the house of Mackensie-Haack under the condition that they dump their highly respected and award-winning author, Ned Isaly. Ruthless president Bobby Mackensie will stop at nothing to sign Giverney, even though breaking Isaly's contract is a legal impossibility. His solution? Sign another contract--this one with two hit men, who are hired to knock off Isaly.
The novel was a wicked satire about the publishing industry written by an author who had once been "fired" by Knopf when her books failed to earn back their advances. The title was an inside joke. Foul matter is an industry term for an unedited manuscript.

I don't own any of Grimes' other novels, but I have two copies of Foul Matter on my shelf--one to keep and one to loan out.

At the time the novel was published, Martha Grimes' agent was Peter Lampack of the Peter Lampack Agency. Grimes signed with Lampack in 1996 and remained with him until 2007. According to PW, she earned more than $12 million from book sales during those years.

Six months ago, Grimes published a new novel, Black Cat. And, a year ago this month, Lampack sued Grimes, claiming she owed him for the forthcoming release. According to court documents:
“PLA [Peter Lampack Agency] alleges the agreement for The Black Cat arose out of the Option on Next Work clause and that Grimes violated the terms of the 2005 Penguin/Viking-Penguin Agreement by refusing to account PLA and refusing to pay PLA the sums due for The Black Cat.”
According to Publishers Weekly:
But the court found that under the "commission provision" Lampack was entitled only to proceeds from the sale of her literary works, and didn't have an interest in the literary works themsevles (sic), making it possible for Grimes to revoke Lampack's "agency" which she did in May 2007, thereby removing any obligation for Grimes to pay Lampback for future works.
The important part of that ruling is that Lampack was entitled only to proceeds from the sale of her literary works. He did not have an interest in the literary works themselves.

I've seen a fair number of literary contracts--both agent and publisher--over the last six years. Many of my writer friends forward me copies of their contracts. I've found wide variance in wording.

For example, an agent contract which states that the agent is entitled to proceeds from the sale of any book written during the term of this contract is very different from a contract which states that the agent is entitled to proceeds from the sale of any book on which he brokered the contract with the publisher.

If a writer signs a contract giving the agent rights to a book written during the term of the contract and the writer later moves to another agent, it might be possible that she could end up paying a 15% commission to two agents (the one who she was with during the time the book was written and the one she was with during the time her new agent sold that book).

I asked my attorney to vet my agent contract before I signed. My agent was open to clarifying a couple of clauses that my lawyer wanted tightened. And I've been thankful for how diligent my agent has been in policing my publisher contracts.

In 2004 (the same year in which Foul Matter was published), Publishers Weekly warned writers against an "interminable rights clause" here:
The contract provision ... means that even if the original publishing agreement has ended, the book has gone out of print or the author's agent leaves the agency, the agency continues to be the agent of record for the work. The practice contrasts with that of some other agencies, which give up their claim on a work once the publishing agreement the agent negotiated ends.
Writer Beware! also warned against contracts where "the agency claims the right to remain the agency of record not just for the duration of any contracts it negotiates, but for the life of copyright. In other words, once the agency sells your book, it has the right to represent that book for as long as the book is in copyright (currently your life plus 70 years)."

Lampack has made a motion to the New York Supreme Court to reargue the case. This case has huge implications for the author-agent relationship.

Go here to read Tuesday's article in Publishers Weekly.

Go here to read the 2004 PW article on the interminable rights clause.

Go here to read the Writers Beware! blog on interminable rights.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

A Great Hero Needs a Great Sidekick

I saw a question in Shelf Awareness: "What makes a good sidekick?" along with a sub-heading: "The Top Ten Sidekicks in Literature."

I decided to try and create my own list of ten sidekicks before reading the article. Here's what I came up with:

1) Sherlock Holmes and Watson

2) Robinson Crusoe and Friday

3) Hawkeye and Chingachgook

4) Don Quixote and Sancho

5) Prince Hal and Falstaff

6) Spenser and Hawk (I have a crush on Hawk)

7) Myron Bolitar and Windsor Horne Lockwood, III (I have a bigger crush on Win)

8) Batman and Robin (does a comic book count?)

9) The Green Hornet and Kato (ditto #8)

10) The Lone Ranger and Tonto (were they ever in a book?)

As you can see, I started out strong, but rapidly lost steam. Here's the list from the Flavorwire website here:

1) Dr. Watson (Sherlock Holmes)

2) Samwise Gamgee (Frodo)

3) Ron and Hermione (Harry Potter)

4) Lacey Rawklins (John Grady Cole)

5) Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer)

6) Sancho Panza (Don Quixote)

7) Horatio (Hamlet)

8) Dean Morarity (Sal Paradise)

9) Phineas (Gene Forrester)

10) Friday (Robinson Crusoe)

I was surprised that the two lists only had three sidekicks in common. I was seriously annoyed to have forgotten Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I wasn't impressed with #4 or #9 from Flavorwire's list, but then they probably wouldn't think very highly of my #8, #9 or #10 either.

Can you think of any famous sidekicks we missed?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Painting on the Page

My critique partner Linda is in "polishing" stage of her W-I-P. Last night I re-read the first 138 pages of her manuscript.

On the last go-round, I thought she'd done a great job, but yesterday she blew me away by the subtle nuances she'd added with just a sentence here and a few words there.

I've talked before about my painter friend M. We had dinner together nearly two years ago and, after our meal, spent another hour drinking liqueur and talking about our respective processes. To my surprise, I found that we shared a number of things in common.

When M gets ready to do a landscape, she begins by blocking out the prominent features--like mountains and buildings--to insure that she gets the perspective right. Once she has the larger attributes distributed across the canvas, she goes back to begin filling in the detail. Her final step is to add the light and shade. She contends that it is this step that separates the amateurs from the professionals, and that lighting and shade can make or break a landscape.

I was interested because I essentially follow the same process in my writing; only I do it chapter by chapter. This is largely because I am a pantser, writing by the seat of my pants. I get an idea for a story, sit down and begin writing without knowing much more than how the plot will begin and how it will end.

My usual process is to begin the story, but not to curb my natural tendency to wander off into backstory. I allow each of the characters to natter on as much as they like about their pasts. I don't try to stop them for two reasons: (1) It's how I warm up to a story, and (2) This is how I learn who the characters are.

Plus I know I'll lop all the backstory off when I get to that first moment of action. {smile}

Once I get to the moment of action, the real novel begins. I start the action in the old journalistic tradition: who, what, when, where and just a hint of why. I do this primarily through dialogue, which is probably my strongest skill as a writer.

When I have finished "blocking" out the prominent features of my chapter, I go back and begin filling in the detail. This usually means some narrative (often taken from that backstory--but only a line or two at a time) and some description. When I am writing that first run through above, I don't stop to describe the setting. During my second pass, I fill in a bit of detail to help anchor the reader to time and place.

In Linda's case, she does such a great job with descriptions that I've learned an enormous amount from her. She uses wonderful metaphors and odd word pairings to describe her settings and her characters.

My last pass on a chapter will be to fill in the emotional color. What are the characters thinking and feeling? This is the hardest part of the job for me. I do it mostly through internal dialogue to keep from drifting from "showing" into "telling." Without emotional color, your readers fail to connect to your characters. Too much and the story becomes soppy.

In reading Linda's pages last night, I was in awe of what a great job she did with feathering in emotional content. Her novel is a romantic suspense. Through previous drafts, she'd focussed on maintaining a tight pace. This go-round, she zeroed in on the romance. Despite the fact that I've read three previous drafts of her novel (and the fact that I was dog-tired), I found myself sliding into a pleasant gooey emotional mood as her hero and heroine drew ever so inevitabley toward each other. THAT'S great writing.

I've found that many newbie writers get so busy with their narrative and description of action and settings that they completely ignore the emotional side of the story. I always include both the hero and heroine's POV (in different scenes, of course). If you can get inside your characters' heads, you can listen to their reactions and express them on the page for your reader. Like my painter friend said about lighting and shading, emotional color can make or break your novel. Linda instinctively understands that.

During each of my passes over my works-in-progress, I re-read and clean up the language and grammar. The result is, when I reach the end of the novel, I have very little more to do in terms of editing. That is, of course, until my editor and copy editor get their hands on the manuscript.{grin}

Every writer needs to find his way through his story. But, as Linda reminded me last night, ignore action, dialogue, narrative or emotional color at your own risk.

Monday, November 01, 2010

NaNoWriMo and Harlequin

November is the month that the NaNoWriMo gets underway each year.

If you're not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is for writers to start and complete a 50,000-word novel in one month. The goal for participants is to simply write the novel, not try to do any editing or researching.

This is the 12th year for NaNoWriMo. And Harlequin is getting into the game. Beginning today, Harlequin is hosting "So You Think You Can Write Week." Here's how they explain it:
We are hungry to find talented new writers for Harlequin Books. Through podcasts, blogs, and discussions with our expert editors and current authors, we’re going to help you understand the appeal of the romance genre. And there’s a special daily challenge with feedback that will give some great insights into crafting the perfect story. So for the next week, come by to hone your skills and get started on the path to publication. So you think you can write? Here’s your chance to show us!
For five days, Harlequin will host all kinds of activities on their site. You can follow along on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #SYTYCW.

If you've ever thought you could write a Harlequin novel, now your chance to prove it.

Go here to see the tentative calendar for Harlequin's SYTYCW week.

And go here to read about or join NaNoWriMo.

What have you got to lose? Start writing.