Saturday, October 15, 2016

Publishing As A Labor Of Love

There is no money to be made in publishing when you want to publish books that you love.

Those of us going at it as independent publishers know this well. The cost of advertising and promotion are out of reach for the average indie, and generating buzz on a small budget is no easy task. How do you make yourself heard over the noise of all the other entertainment venues out there? And how do you make yourself heard when your readers can hear little more than the rattle of the empty bank account?

Not enough money to go around for the readers, and not enough money to throw around for the publishers.

Liberties Press has discovered this sad fact, although it took complaining authors to bring the issue to some notice. The small Irish publishers is far behind on paying its authors their full royalties, and some staff members left the company because they weren't getting paid.

Working for love, you see, does not pay the bills and there has to be a salary coming in from somewhere.

Sean O'Keefe didn't go into the publishing business with a plan to defraud authors. He wanted to publish good books that the major houses were ignoring because all they're after is the blockbuster best seller. When you see books as works of art, rather than widgets, you want to share your little jewels with others, but displaying those precious gems takes more of an investment than Mr. O'Keefe was able to make.

It's grand to receive a little stipend from the government to promote Irish writing, but there are more pressing needs for taxpayer money these days and you can't run a business based on donations that are spotty at best. Then there's the price of the book itself, which has to remain in a competitive range or it won't get purchased.

Editors and such like talented folk expect to be paid in euro, not love. If Liberties Press was staffed by independently wealthy book lovers who took no salary, it would have managed to pay its authors. That, however, is not reality. Reality is a staff that demands income and there simply is not enough coming in to Liberties Press to meet all its financial obligations.

The owner has tried juggling funds, robbing Peter to pay Paul as the hackneyed phrase goes. Borrowing works if there is a boost in profits to pay off the loan, but that sort of thing doesn't happen in publishing. The great books published by Liberties Press were sold to a small audience and there has never been enough sales to cover all operating expenses.

Authors won't want to publish through Liberties Press because they know they won't get paid. Literary agents won't submit manuscripts because they know they won't get their percentage, and they aren't working for love either.

In the near future, Mr. O'Keefe will be facing some legal problems as disgruntled and out-of-pocket authors chase down money owed. Can you squeeze blood out of a turnip? The courts will have to answer that question.

The dream remains for Sean O'Keefe, but he will have to carry on with a shattered reputation and little more than his own drive to acquire, edit and publish what he sees as great pieces of prose. You have to wonder if he will give in to the temptation of becoming a vanity publisher, if only to keep his struggling house from collapsing altogether.

All those authors didn't expect to receive little more than love when they signed contracts with Liberties Press, even if they wrote the books out of love for words in the first place. They were hoping for a little bigger return on their investment of time than the pleasure of seeing their book in a Dublin bookshop. That may be about their only profit once all this is done.

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Babylon Line: A Book Review

Write what you know, the students are told, and so we are crushed under the weight of stories that are set in creative writing classes.

THE BABYLON LINE is indeed set in a creative writing class, which will not resonate with the average reader because the average reader has vastly different life experiences. There is no connection to be made, at least not in the first twenty pages that I forced myself to get through in an effort to find something that spoke to the human condition.

Life is not universally lived in creative writing classes.

Readers should be aware that this is not a novel, but a play. I'm quite fond of Shakespeare, and have been known to read plays, but I just couldn't read this one.

I'm tired of stories centered on writers and creative writing classes. There are other artists out there, for feck's sake, artists who work in steel beams and concrete, for example. Artists who experience plenty of emotional doubt as they struggle through questions about their life's meaning and their significance in the greater scope of things.

Writers today can't seem to expand their horizons beyond the end of their own creative noses, focusing on their own worlds and the sorts of people they already know. This one has that touch of upper middle class ennui, with the failed writer coming to grips with his failure and that same old, same old trope.


This book has been officially abandoned. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone I know.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Reality Show Meets Reality

Flip this house - but don't tear it down
They make it look easy on those home improvement shows, don't they. Buy a rundown house, fix up this and tear out that, install new cabinets and appliances, and there it is. Flip this house, for fun and profit.

Not in Chicago, however. No indeed, not in the City That Works, where building inspectors make ends meet by requiring contractors and do-it-yourselfers to dip into their pockets a bit deeper than anticipated.

Alison Victoria of Kitchen Crashers discovered that her reality show, in showing the reality of remodeling that might lead to more extensive renovations than first intended, stepped too deep into the reality of Chicago buildings. If she had not been filming, well, then the building inspector might have looked the other way if she slipped him an envelope stuffed with cash. As it was, she was tweeting about her project, keeping her fans in the loop, and reality shows just can't show the reality of a pay-off. The guys on the take don't like to work in the spotlight,

Her group purchased a cottage in Bucktown, a thoroughly gentrified area of Chicago that was popular with the hipsters until it got too gentrified. Homes go for big money in the neighborhood, thanks to its location, location, location near plenty of public transportation and a restaurant scene that draws people in from all over the city.

They invested well over $500,000 for a cottage that had long ago been converted to a two flat. The building permit allowed for some remodeling, to return the cottage to single family use, but you just never know what will happen when you start tearing things out of old buidings that aren't in the best of shape.

As Alison Victoria discovered, and planned to show her viewers, is that masonry is not always solid after one hundred years without new tuckpointing and when the walls start to crumble, you're looking at full-on demolition. During gutting, the walls fell apart and it became clear that the rehab project was becoming a demolition.Time to call in the architect to revise and the banker to revisit that line of credit.

Then when the building inspector shows up, you take him aside and have a nice talk that involves negotiating a price to make the building permit say something other than what it said in the first place.

That's reality, but it can't be shown on a reality show. Instead, Alison went right on ahead with her project in the way that the ordinary person would think you'd proceed. Encounter a problem, solve the problem, and build on would seem logical, but not in Chicago. Not when somebody's somebody isn't getting their beak wetted.

A stop work order has been slapped on the rehab that turned into a demo when the rehab went wrong. As far as the building department is concerned, Alison Victoria and her production team failed to pull new permits to allow for more extensive work that might have been required after the walls came tumbling down, but wasn't approved by said building department. Like demolishing the cottage instead of fixing it up.

Too bad she didn't have the right sort of recording equipment that would have disguised the identity of the building inspector who would have accepted a little something from HGTV for looking the other way when the project took a wrong turn. Now that would have been a real reality show, demonstrating the reality of working in Chicago when you aren't an alderman with the clout to do what you want because who's going to stop you.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Job Opening In Denver

This could be you
Do you enjoy skiing and other outdoor activities associated with mountains? Fond of hiking and camping in the back country, watching the elk graze, that sort of thing?

And are you a literary agent looking to enjoy those hobbies while keeping your job?

Kristin Nelson is looking for you.

The Colorado-based agent is looking to expand, or at least replace Sara Megibow, who went on to a different agency after she'd learned the ropes from Ms. Nelson. There's a limit to how many clients one agent can manage, and the time has come for Ms. Nelson to bring in someone to carry some of the weight, and bring in a few more clients to grow the agency.

You have to have some knowledge of the publishing business, according to the job posting. Just because you think it would be interesting, or just because you could get your manuscript published more easily if you were an agent and developed connections, doesn't mean you'll get hired.

Ms. Nelson needs someone ready to jump into the game straight off, with a minimal amount of training. Maybe you've been interning in New York and are ready to live in the pristine wilderness, where canyons are real canyons and not just streets lined by skyscrapers. Perhaps you've been bored in your position as a minor acquisitions editor, disappointed with the offerings and thinking that if you were an agent you'd find some decent books for publication.

This is your chance, to combine your love of books with your love of the outdoors.

But you aren't too keen on bears and snakes, you say?

Not to worry. If your heart is set on moving up in the agenting business, Ms. Nelson is open to telecommuting. After all, it would be to her advantage to have a partner in New York City, in the heart of the beast. An occasional trip to Denver would be manageable, wouldn't it? The elevation would leave you breathless.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Handled In House

Another pedophile priest, another failure to follow secular law
They just don't get, do they.

The Chicago Archdiocese, in line with dictates from the Vatican, instituted all sorts of safeguards after the child sex abuse scandal exposed the inner workings that were designed to protect the Church. It was the practice, before public outcry stopped it, to shift a pedophile priest from one parish to another, after exacting his promise to stop being a pervert. And when the priest reverted to form, it was off to yet another parish, to destroy the lives of other children while the Church busily swept the dirt under the rug.

Zero tolerance was supposed to become the rule, or at least that was what was put out there for public consumption. We won't tolerate un-priestly behavior, have no fear, so come on back to church and don't worry about leaving your young sons in the company of the priest. There's no more of that other funny business going on.

Okay, so the Chicago Archdiocese didn't take Octavio Munoz from his parish and assign him elsewhere after someone found child pornography on his computer. No indeed, they did what they were supposed to do and turned him over to the authorities.

And miracles happen every day, right. Father Munoz wasn't turned over to the police, along with his porn-riddled computer. Hell no. This is the Catholic Church. They can handle these problems in house. No need to seek outside assistance. Move along. And don't forget to drop your donation in the basket.

It isn't such a crime that the Archdiocese conducted an investigation after the initial complaint was lodged. No employer would act in haste without first gathering some evidence that an employee had committed a crime. Just because someone says they saw something isn't positive proof, and any boss would first call in the employee to have a talk about the accusation.

After all, confession is good for the soul.

So the Archdiocese launched a little investigation and couldn't find the offending laptop, but they did manage to find plenty of other items of interest. The investigators contacted the Chicago police. The Archdiocese sent Father Munoz to Maryland for treatment.

And forgot to tell the Chicago police who were conducting their own crime investigation that the perp was out of state.

It's Church business. The Church can handle it.

Except it isn't just Church business, it's everyone's business. It isn't up to the Archdiocese to send a priest for counseling after he has been found to have a serious problem with pedophilia, even if that priest is a star in the recruiting arm of the Church. Good for Father Munoz, that he was so skilled at attracting Hispanic men to the priesthood. But did he attract more pedophiles like himself? Anyone investigating that?

All the Archdiocese had to do was ask the Chicago P.D. if Father Munoz could be sent to a secure facility in Maryland where priests are routinely sent when they have mental health issues. It wasn't enough that the Church authorities followed the letter of the law and notified the police that they had uncovered a pedophile in the ranks. The Church couldn't just do what it wanted, as if there was no secular law governing treatment of suspected pedophiles currently under investigation.

The cops like to know where the perps are, and the Archdiocese was wrong to not follow the spirit of the law and cooperate fully with the police.

They just don't get it. The Church is so insular, so isolated from the rest of the world that changing its ways to conform to modern society isn't happening fast enough to keep the Church from killing itself in an atmosphere of detachment and irrelevance.

You know what they say about that which was hidden being revealed? Hypocrisy was the leaven of the Pharisees, and it's deadly when it infects an institution.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Let No Man Write My Epitaph

Published on the anniversary of Robert Emmet's esecution
With those words, Robert Emmet closed out his life and a rebellion that failed as soon as it began. On this day in 1803, he went to the gallows even though he had ample opportunity to escape Ireland and flee to America. Why did he stay when he knew he was doomed?

He would not leave Ireland without his beloved Sarah Curran, who could not elope. Back in those days, it would have spelled social doom for her family, her sisters in particular. Anyone who has read Jane Austen is aware of the black stigma that such behavior left on those who were quite innocent of any crime.

We know that Emmet went to his death, but what became of Sarah Curran?

Her story is told in a new novel, MERCY FIRST AND LAST, a well-crafted work of historical fiction that describes a woman from a privileged background who faced incredible adversity yet survived. Not unscathed, to say the least, but she found the courage to create a new life after her world was shattered.

With lyrical prose, the story of Sarah's tumultuous life is told with remarkable historical detail, putting the reader in Georgian Ireland during a time of rebellion and insurrection, the Age of Enlightenment after the success of the American revolution. Readers will be transfixed by the narrative, as Sarah witnesses and then becomes embroiled in a plot to overthrow the government and set Ireland on a path of freedom.

Now available, pick up a copy or download the digital edition.

Let no man write my epitaph, Robert Emmet said. He died a hero of Ireland, a man who would not abandon the woman he loved. What a burden it was for that woman to carry.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

When Your Source Documents Are Classified

Chicago Tribune journalists exposed military secrets in 1942 but we can't read about it now
Historians churn through old documents to create the story for us, the students of history. All the information is out there and they do the heavy lifting, putting all the little details together to form a cohesive picture.

For Elliot Carlson, some of the documents he needs to finish up his history of a World War II incident are sitting in the National Archives under lock and key, the dusty old artifacts not to be viewed by his curious eyes.

World War II was a long time ago, you might say, and don't we all know that the vets are dying off so rapidly that soon there'll be no one alive who witnessed the fighting. Surely there is some kind of time frame that would allow for the release of documents that have been sequestered for the past seventy-five years.

Not in today's modern bureaucracy there isn't.

Mr. Carlson, an octogenarian himself, has written a book about an intriguing case that involved the Chicago Tribune and the Federal Government during the war. It seems that the newspaper published some interesting facts surrounding the Battle of Midway, facts that pretty much told the world that the U.S. had cracked the Japanese code and knew everything the enemy was going to do.

That sort of thing falls under the "loose lips sink ships" rule, and the U.S. Government decided that the journalists were essentially guilty of espionage. The case was more political than factual, a product of the hatred that President Franklin Roosevelt felt for the ardent Republican publisher Col. Robert McCormick. Roosevelt saw a chance to strike at his nemesis, using the power of the Justice Department. Hadn't McCormick used the power of the press to lambaste Roosevelt? Tit for tat, and so a prosecution was put into motion.

A grand jury was convened to discuss the matter, and because the documents Mr. Carlson seeks are transcripts of that same grand jury hearing, he's been told that he can't have them. Grand jury transcripts are sealed, to preserve the secrecy of grand jury proceedings, and so the Justice Department said no, go away. And take your historical interest with you. It's all about preserving the sanctity of grand jury secrecy, even if it's been 75 years.

True bureaucrats never look at the broad picture, of course, because they're all about following the rules to the letter. Even to the point of being ridiculous.

If the point of secrecy is to protect the safety of witnesses, well, you can be sure that they are all either a) dead, or b) not in any danger. It's not like some Japanese double agent is lurking in the shadows, ready to exact revenge.

Thus far, a federal district judge has scoffed at the arguments made by the Justice Department to have the records kept sealed, and a subsequent appeal was also denied by the 7th U.S. Circuit. So that's Justice Department 0, Elliot Carlson 2.

He hasn't won yet, and he's got his eye on the clock as the Justice Department considers its option to ask for a full hearing before the Court of Appeals, or possibly bumping the case up to the Supreme Court. There are rules, after all, and rules are there to be followed no matter what because what would a bureaucrat do at work if not be sure that all rules are being followed?

There's just no place for common sense or a nod to the public good when a bloated bureaucracy is looking out for itself.