Thursday, March 05, 2015

The Bonds That Remain Unbroken

From the perilous days of failed uprisings in 1798 and 1803, through the famine era and on into the years of struggle, the Irish have left their home and gone to America to make a fresh start and find the prosperity that was denied them.

We're talking of a time both long ago and not so long ago, as recently as the 1950s and 1960s when people left in droves. There was nothing much for anyone beyond poverty and repression, and so the people boarded planes or boats. Bound for America, the land of hope.

They left physically, but emotionally it seems as if the Irish never really left at all.

That fact played out in Chicago in 1889 when the Irish-Americans set up secret societies that were intended to funnel money to the land of their ancestors' birth. It played out in violence and murder, charges of espionage and infiltration, a scenario that frightened the staid Protestant leaders who were distrustful of Catholics to begin with.

The descendants of Ireland's diaspora continue to funnel money to Ireland. More specifically, Irish-American largesse fills the coffers of the political organization that continues to promote Irish freedom and the restoration of Northern Ireland to the republic that was born from the ashes of 1916's uprising.
Gerry Adams and the power of friends

Sinn Fein's very own Gerry Adams makes an annual sojourn to America every year around St. Patrick's Day, when everyone is Irish in so far as the drinking goes. He comes hat in hand, asking for donations. Just like those who came before him, he turns to those who were raised on tales of hardship and discrimination at the hands of the British overlord. Campaigns to bring about change cost money. And Mr. Adams has been very successful in raising a big pot of money to finance the work of Sinn Fein.

Martin Sheen and Anjelica Huston have ties to Ireland, and they have donated. Businessmen like Donald Keough have given money when Gerry Adams came calling. Friends of Sinn Fein host fundraising dinners to make it even easier to submit a generous sum.

It is not a case of contributing to some charitable cause. Everyone knows what Sinn Fein is about, what they have been about since the days of The Troubles.

Those who support Sinn Fein in Ireland tend to be closer to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder. The organization's socialist message resonates with them, but the poor can't help you much when it's time to pay for election posters and campaign advertising and office rent.

Over the course of the past twenty years, Sinn Fein has raised $12 million from Americans of Irish descent. The donors include people in the trades, as well as those in the professions. What unites them is the same sense of outrage that saw Chicago's Irish-American factions organize secret societies like the United Irishmen. Back then, it was all about raising money to pay for an armed rebellion. These days, it's all about raising money to pay for a peaceful upending of a treaty that was signed in 1922, ceding control of six Irish counties to Great Britain.

Why is the fundraising so successful? Sure the Irish have long memories and carry grudges. For centuries.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

When Free Becomes Paid If You Don't Pay Attention

If someone offers you something for free, you're likely to take it if it's of interest to you. Let's say that a company like Amazon said you could have free shipping on their goods. You'd take them up on the offer if you were a frequent user of Amazon's marketplace and saw the deal as a way to save some money.

Would you then be shocked when your credit card was billed for Amazon Prime after a month of free Amazon Prime?

The devil's in the details

You would if you didn't read the fine print, which many people do not. If they did, it's less likely that Amazon and other corporate entities would bother promoting the free trial period. What good does it do you to have free Amazon Prime if you have to watch the clock very carefully to be sure to cancel the thing before Amazon could start ringing up charges that you would have to pay because, well, you did agree when the offer was made.

British citizens read about as far as the part where Amazon said "that's all there is to it". Sign up, and that's it? All right then.

Six people complained about the misleading offer. They accepted thinking the thing was free for a month and would then just go away. Instead, Amazon charged them for not cancelling the membership because it did not go away but became a regular, paid service.

Just six people, and it was enough for the Advertising Standards Authority in Great Britain to ban the advert. In the minds of the authorities, the language was not clear enough to make potential clients realize that once they signed on, they were there for life if they did not take action. The implication, of course, is that Amazon was trying to trick people into parting with their money, and that will not be permitted in Her Majesty's realm.

If Amazon wishes to try again, it will have to rewrite the offer so that it is made quite clear to the consumer that the free offer does not automatically cancel. Oh, yes, and Amazon will have to spell out right there in the advertisement that the consumer is going to be charged seventy-nine British pounds per annum. That little item was also missing from the original offer, and only showed up after a person had gone online to accept the offer they thought was thirty days for free but was more like an indenture for life.

How likely is that sort of highly informative ad copy expected to reel them in like hungry fish? If you spell out the details, you'll just create more sceptics who will determine that there is, in fact, no free lunch. Or free Amazon Prime.

Monday, March 02, 2015

What Is The Convenience Worth To You

You could create your own spreadsheet to track your queries. That's how it was done ten years ago, before tech-savvy types created websites designed to track queries. Back then, the sites were free and all you had to do was tolerate the pop-up ads.

So you signed up and took advantage of the convenience. You did not have to set up the columns and insert the different boxes to have all the functions you wanted in your spreadsheet. It was there for you. Click on a link to the agent's name and there was everything you needed, from e-mail address to genre preference.

In time, the tech-savvy thought aspiring authors would want statistics to tell them that they were not alone in their quest, that others were doing the same thing, and here are their results. How long to wait for a response? Which agents respond and which go the "no response means no" route?

Hooked you, didn't they?

Now that you cannot live without instant access to your query list and the data you so love, Querytracker has invested in their agent-centric website and you will have to pay for things that were once free.

Only $25 for a full year of statistics, genres, and the ability to organize your queries in just about any way you like.

Is the convenience worth it to you?

You could find agents and their genres on AgentQuery and it won't cost you anything more than the time it takes to cut and paste the info into your personal spreadsheet. 

What you'll miss is the statistical data that doesn't really serve a critical function. You know you're not alone. All you have to do is follow any writer's forum and see that you're in plenty of frustrated company.

You could come up with a couple of dollars each month. It's pennies a day, and you could easily meet the expense by dialing back your thermostat a degree or two, or opening the windows instead of opting for air conditioning. You could eat less and forage more. Dumpster diving is always an option if you want to lower your food bills and have money left over to buy the comradeship you get from a website dedicated to would-be authors in search of representation.

How much is the convenience worth to you?

I haven't decided yet, myself. Maybe it's a bargain. Maybe it's a waste of money that will make the website developer rich on the backs of those who want to break into the publishing world. Like most other things, I could live without it. But will I happy without my regular dose of statistical analysis and comments from fellow seekers of literary representation?

What do others in this same situation think about paying someone else to do the grunt work? Will we end up with more time to write if we pay for a small convenience? And will that up our odds of getting a foot in the door?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Value Of Experience Depends On The Experience

You long to enter the publishing world but you can't get far if you don't know how the industry works. Without experience, you can't get a job to learn how the industry works because who is going to pay you for training? Your lack of skills just aren't worth anything.

Which means you would be expected to work for nothing, with the experience you gain having more value than some paltry salary.

All well and good, but what if your work experience consists of mundane office chores that don't teach you a thing about publishing?

Diana Bruk landed a non-paying job at Scribner during her days at university. She thought she was going to earn an education in the publishing industry by paying with her time, just like she was earning an education at school by paying with cash. Her employer would gain from the free labor, and she would show potential bosses what she was made of. In the long run, if all went as planned, she would shine and when she graduated Scribner would give her a real job and realize the expense of her training from the profits her dedication and hard work would yield.

To Ms. Bruk's dismay, she was given a stapler and told to connect the pages, when she was not shuffling those papers. There was nothing of the publishing industry inside knowledge to be gained from her chores. Indeed, she saw herself as a menial laborer who was being used. Instead of an industry intern, she was given the dullest tasks that had no relation to what she wanted to learn, and she didn't earn a penny from her time.

Not quite the return on investment that she sought when she landed the internship at Scribner.

Ms. Bruk is suing Scribner's parent Simon and Schuster, seeking back pay and whatever damages might apply to a victim of publishing slavery.

She is not the first intern to sue. Other publishing entities have been taken to court and later reached settlements with their former interns, while some cases are under appeal or have been thrown out. At the same time, publishers fearing future troubles have done away with internships completely, removing a very valuable source of education that is not to be had in a classroom.

The solution is simple, of course. Interns could be paid some sort of stipend so they are not taken advantage of. By offering a salary, the publishing company might feel more compelled to get something of value from the intern. Expectations would rise, and the intern would have the opportunity to rise to a challenge instead of dealing with the boredom of photocopying.

In the end, the loss of internships and the mentoring that is expected will not help the publishing industry develop new ideas with infusions of fresh and eager talent. The same holds true for the entertainment industry, where it's very much about who you know. If you can't get in to make some acquaintances, what hope do you have after you've completed your degree?

About the only industry that profits is the legal profession, in particular the law firm that is representing Ms. Bruk and several other former interns.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Boy Who Believed

Female sexuality is such a complicated thing. Men are forever asking what women want so that they can provide what is needed and therefore have sex with the lady desired.

So it would follow that a boy in search of a clue to the female libido would look at what women seem to want, and then assume it's the key to unlock that mysterious portal.
I'll be Christian Grey and you'll be Anastasia Steele

Except reality is not the same as fiction, which is made up of fantasy that exists in the imagination. As Mohammad Hossain learned, the whole Fifty Shades phenomenon isn't really what women want. They might want to pretend they want bondage or submission in their secret yearnings, but when it comes down to real bondage, well, it's rape and the lady is going to go to the police to have you arrested.

The University of Illiniois at Chicago (Circle Campus for the historians) student was entertaining a guest in his dorm room. The story is murky, in that the couple had "been intimate" but were not dating. So they hooked up once, or something like that.

He decided that they would re-enact scenes from the Fifty Shades movie, just for fun. Once you're done studying, what else is there to do on a Saturday night when you're too young to hit the bars? Watch television?

The not-dating but once intimate co-ed stripped down to her underwear, which leads anyone to think that she might have been willing to play along. After all, the book was a huge seller so maybe women really do like the kinky stuff and you want to be like everyone else when you're 19 and inexperienced.

Once she was partially disrobed, Mr. Hossain bound her wrists to the bed with a belt and then tied up her feet. There was a necktie gag involved and a sort-of blindfold put to use. Those who are familiar with either the book or the film would be more familiar with the scene.

All good fun until Mr. Hossain replicated the punishment aspect by wacking his non-dating partner with another belt. She discovered that what looks like dirty fun on screen is, in real life, painful. She told Mr. Hossain he was hurting her and that he was to stop, but the scene didn't play out that way in the movie. No, the imaginary submissive only said stop when she meant keep going, and if you're going to play Fifty Shades, you stick to the script.

The co-ed, now wiser in the ways of fiction, managed to escape and file a rape charge against Mr. Hossain, who was then arrested. His bond has been set at $500,000 and he cannot return to campus if he manages to post the required ten percent.

What is that women want sexually? The boy who believed in fiction and the power of the best-seller blockbuster has discovered that just because a lot of women read something or go in droves to a movie doesn't mean anything.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Partner Who Came In From The Cold

Before E.L. James was a shocking success, she was a self-published author of mommy porn. She turned to The Writer's Coffee Shop to get her bondage fantasy series in front of the reading public. Not much of a story there. Writers use several means to achieve their publishing ends, but it is not often that a book takes off like the Fifty Shades trilogy.

So The Writer's Coffee Shop sold the rights to what was clearly becoming a phenomenon to Random House. It was as much a boon for the indie publisher as it was for the author, one of those unexpected wins in a very difficult game.

Again, not much of a story in the transaction. Rights are sold on a regular basis. The publisher gets a cut, the author gets their royalty, and the new publisher does the promotions to boost sales to get a return on the investment. Random House picked a winner and expects to see continued income now that the first book has been made into a movie which expanded the market of interested women over 25 who did not buy the book the first time around.


The Writer's Coffee Shop was a partnership formed by four people. Being a partnership, all four partners get equal parts. When the publisher sold the Fifty Shades rights to Random House, all four partners were supposed to get one quarter of the money pie.

Partner Jennifer Pedroza did not get her check as expected. Her cohorts, apparently, got a little greedy when the cash cow started giving money by the bucket full.

She took her colleagues to court, to force them to pay up what she was owed. As the case played out, the book sold like fur-lined handcuffs and then the film was released to big box office numbers. Her legal team continued to argue that she was entitled to a portion of all of it, a pot of gold that kept growing.

The court has decided that Ms. Pedroza was played for a fool by her fellow partners. They tricked her into signing an agreement that prevented her from an equal share, giving themselves more. Failure to provide her with all the particulars, and misleading her into signing away her rights, constituted fraud.

Ms. Pedroza won her case and will eventually be given what is owed to her, as soon as a forensic accountant can figure out how much she should have made.

The partnership is clearly over, and it is unlikely that she will ever again speak to anyone connected with The Writer's Coffee Shop again.

Do you think she might invest her windfall in a start up? Having gotten a taste of publishing success, who knows if she doesn't go and start up another independent publisher in the hopes of catching lightning in a bottle yet again.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time And Time

The question is not one of time, but of the kind of time.

I have the time in the course of a full day. What I do not have is the time alone, without distractions or the press of others' needs.

While I write this, I could be working on a new idea for a novel. There is too strict a limit on the kind of time I need to let the ideas rumble around in the brain. I have time, but not much of that time.

So instead of trying to craft a paragraph in a few minutes that will drive a narrative that I cannot quite follow because I need more than a few minutes to get my head back into the early Nineteenth Century, I will just note that Susan Golomb is packing up her literary agency and moving it to Writer's House.

Ms. Golomb has had her own agency since 1990. Twenty-five years of agenting. A long time. And we do not grow younger as the years slide by.

The cost of operating an office is a burden to anyone whose industry is declining. Fewer books are sold these days, as compared to twenty-five years ago, and the competition among literary agents to acquire those blockbusters so much in demand has only increased. It's a young person's game, perhaps, and Ms. Golomb has seen the wisdom in sharing some of those costs with a bigger agency. She may end up making more money in the long run, reducing her expenses by abandoning her own office, even if a portion of her commissions will go towards office maintenance. By sharing, it is likely to be less, and there is a benefit in reducing a financial burden as you get older and the energy starts to decline.

At some point that she can see more clearly because the horizon is not quite so distant anymore, her stable of clients will need a representative to tend their needs while she eases into retirement. Even literary agents don't live forever. What could be more considerate than to put them into a safe place, where they will be looked after when she can no longer look after them?

That's what happens with time. Eventually, it runs out and you have to move on to other things. You just hope that you don't leave anyone dangling, alone in the cold, cruel world of authors without agents.