Sunday, February 28, 2010

Growing To Death

Anyone who's passed through Dublin Airport and gone looking for a book to read on the long trans-Atlantic flight has been inside Hughes & Hughes.

For over twenty years, the airport shops in Dublin and Cork provided reading material and snacks for the countless visitors who were just passing through. The book seller turned a nice profit during the boom years, when everyone was traveling and Ireland was a prime destination for the descendants of the Irish Diaspora.

Not content with their niche, the bookseller saw greater profits beyond the boundaries of the airport and they expanded.

What else is a firm to do but grow and expand? To sit back would be foolish, leaving money on the table.

The posh new shopping malls in Swords and Dundrum hosted Hughes & Hughes shops. No captive audience there, however. No travelers with little better to do and time weighing heavy. Those who might purchase a book at the Pavilions Shopping Centre could just as easily buy from Amazon at a lower price. They weren't there to pick up reading material for a flight that was about to leave, and having the time needed to wait on an on-line order made a difference.

Posh shopping mall owners charge posh rents, and that was fine when money was no object. With the collapse of the Celtic Tiger, the money's not coming into the till and meeting high rents has become impossible for several Irish merchants. Hughes & Hughes is not the only business enterprise to seek a new rental agreement with the landlord. In their case, however, the landlord didn't see any need to lower the rent.

Now the bookseller is in receivership and there won't be any rent money coming in at all. The store will be empty, unless someone else comes along to rent the space. You can bet that they will be renting at a level in line with current demand, so the landlord will end up with less anyway. It just won't be coming from Hughes & Hughes.

Fewer people pass through Ireland's airports these days, but they may represent enough foot traffic to keep Hughes & Hughes alive in their original location, selling books and such to tourists. A few clerks will manage to keep their jobs, while those who arrived late to the party will be on the dole.

All that growth killed Hughes & Hughes. The good times didn't last very long at all.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Song To Suit The Mood

From a live performance by Pierce Turner comes a classic Irish song, a lament straight out of the Famine era that fits a gloomy frame of mind.

Somehow it makes you feel better in comparison to the poor lad who finds no other solution to an impossible love than to leave all behind and hope for something better in America.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is It A Rejection Or A Long Pause

So much detail, so much to ponder.

I haven't been submitting much through because I am running out of agents there to query. The letter or the hook aren't doing the job and I have to keep revising, which takes time, which I don't seem to have much of these days.

Not having a supportive family, the writing has to be done when no one is around to ask me what I'm doing and since I'm not busy can I run to the hardware store or find the drill bit or any other task that disrupts the flow of words.

I do sometimes check the status of the unopened submissions, though. If you want to find out how long it takes a literary agent to get to the cold calls, is the place to follow along at home.

Following all the rules and regulations, I put together a package for a few agents who are seeking historical fiction but only want a query letter. No manuscript samples, no five pages or three chapters.

What does it mean, then, if a literary agent opens the WEbook submission and reads the hook and then goes to the manuscript sample page that only lists the word count as per the WEbook submission rules?

To be more specific, what does it mean if this agent reads the hook and then does nothing? For two weeks and counting?

Is it a rejection? Is it a variation on the "no reply means no" theme?

Do I tally the submission as yet another rejection and move on, to maybe query the agent again next year if I have another manuscript finished?

Is it a case of the agent putting something aside because it's a maybe if time opens up or some editor at a publishing house happens to mention a need for some historical fiction that doesn't deal directly with the famous folks but with those who might have been around them?

No answers to be found in the tea leaves.

Better to pack up a pen and some paper and wander over to the public library where I can write in peace, without interruptions.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Swim With The Sharks And Get Eaten

After making a fortune in the grocery business, Feargal Quinn cast his financial net in search of bountiful investments.

He hauled in a piece of Barry O'Callaghan's mighty minnow's dream of swallowing a publishing house whale.

Mr. Quinn swam with the sharks, only to get swallowed down himself.

With 400 million euros in profit from the sale of the SuperQuinn chain, he sank approximately 16 million into the deal that saw Riverdeep merge with Houghton Mifflin. Now comes word of a planned restructuring of the mountain of debt, and Mr. Quinn has seen his stake in Riverdeep-Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt-EMPG sink like a stone.

He's not the only Irish millionaire to fall victim to a dream of grandeur. Even a savvy banker like Sean Fitzpatrick tossed a bit of his cash into the pot. Now he's lost his investment in EMPG, and that coming on the heels of the failure of Anglo Irish Bank. No one knows for certain how much Anglo Irish cash was invested in Mr. O'Callaghan's projects, or how much he might owe the bank. The Irish people now own Anglo Irish, and the bank is insolvent.

Clients of Davy Stockbrokers were eaten by the debt shark as well, and they're in good company with the likes of financier Domhnail Slattery, who has also lost big.

Like a private club, the Irish millionaires invested in each other's schemes, only to find themselves all together at the bottom of the financial sea.

As for HMH, the whale of a publishing firm, it looks to be smoother sailing in the future. Thanks to a massive debt restructuring scheme that has seen so many Irish investors wiped out, the end product of the merger frenzy is in a stronger position going forward, and may very well survive the storm-tossed seas.

Barry O'Callaghan will be hoping to set up a nice little deal for himself, to recoup some of his spectacular losses. Surely the CEO of such a large firm as HMH is deserving of stock options and a hefty salary?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Boost Your Credentials

If your dream literary agent is Lisa Grubka of Foundry Literary, you can't just send her a cold query and expect results.

No, it takes credentials. You have to have a platform from which to launch your debut novel.

Samuel Park is represented by Ms. Grubka, and she's sold his manuscript to Simon & Schuster. Not a bad start to a writing career.

But it isn't Mr. Park's start, exactly. You see, he teaches literature at Columbia College in Chicago. That's where noted author Audrey Niffenegger was teaching when she found fame and fortune as a novelist.

Mr. Park is a bit of an expert on Asian American literature, so when he writes a story about a Korean woman, literary agents figure that he knows what he's talking about. Like most college professors, he's published so that he wouldn't perish, although such scholarly works aren't the stuff that short story collections are made of, but his writings do add to his luster as an expert in ethnic literature.

So there you have it. You want Lisa Grubka to seriously consider your query? Get your Master's degree in Fine Arts and land a teaching position at a major university with an outstanding writing program.Write a good book that dovetails with your area of expertise.

It's one of the best ways to stand out in a crowded field.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Unused Passport

Five Irish nationals did not travel to Dubai to kill a senior leader of Hamas.

The passports used by the secret agents who went to Dubai to assassinate Mahmoud al-Mabhouh were very good forgeries that used real identification numbers.

Of course, if anyone at Dubai's airport had done anything to verify the name and number on the passports, the game would have been up. The names and photographs on the forgeries didn't match up to the people who held the real passports.

There are five Irish people who never once traveled to the Middle East who had their identities stolen, to a limited extent. Their passport numbers were lifted and used on fake passports, with different names and pictures, but the fact that those passport numbers are now in Interpol's line of sight means those five people can't travel anywhere.

Bad news for the two who had plans to travel this weekend. If the Department of Foreign Affairs hadn't notified them in a timely manner, they most likely would have been promptly arrested at the airport and tossed into a truly Kafka-esque situation.

On the other hand, the forged British passports that were also used in the caper were identified as having been stolen from British nationals living in Israel.

That part of the story has a far more interesting twist, with its hint of Mossad intrigue at the local level. But why did they mix in five Irish passports as well?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Income Wasted On Stocks

Davy Stockbrokers has come out firing at the Irish public for wasting their money. Those who followed Davy's advice and invested in Barry O'Callaghan's high seas adventure must surely be shaking their heads in amazement.

That's why Ireland was never a wealthy nation, says the report. Money flowed in to workers and they turned around and cast it to the four winds. What greater waste of money was there than buying into an excessively leveraged corporate buy-out of publishing giant Houghton Mifflin? All that cash is gone in the restructuring and it's unlikely that Davy's clients will see a penny back from their investment.

What of those who didn't care to become a part of Riverdeep's school of publishing fishes?

Davy believes that they paid over-the-top prices for housing, which of course isn't the most productive use of anyone's assets. Better by far to keep living in your Gran's box room, paying minimum rent and stashing your cash in a bank account where it's safe to grow at a slow but steady pace.

What of the ladies and their shopping trips to New York City? Now there's a true waste of money, what with women's fashions changing every few months and an expensive pair of shoes no longer in style after one wearing.

Did Ireland get anything right? As far as Davy is concerned, the investment in the nation's roads was money well spent, since better travel conditions allowed for economic expansion, to say nothing of the explosion of home construction in what was once the quiet countryside. Building was once a booming industry and tradesmen were rolling in dough.

Education was the other bright spot in an otherwise gloomy report, but now that all the money has gone away, even education will have to take a hit and university fees will have to be raised.

The trick will be to learn from the past and its flurry of excess while finding the safest places to make deep cuts in the budget.

Does that mean that anyone flying to New York City for a long weekend should stock up on textbooks rather than Manolos?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Prime Time For Kindle

As rumours go, it's an intriguing one. Amazon is said to be considering a give-away that could see more Kindles out there in the world.

It's being reported that those who sign up for Amazon Prime might find a Kindle in their mail box.

If you buy a lot of books, you may already be a member, taking advantage of the free shipping while convinced that $79 per year is a bargain to get your books a few days faster than the rest of the non-Prime readers.

Yet the Kindle sells for far more than $79, so how could Amazon afford to give them away?

The price of any new device usually goes down, in no small part because the manufacturer knows there's an eager audience lusting for new toys. Some people will pay just about anything to have the latest device, and cost is no great barrier. Once that market is saturated, it's time to appeal to the rest of the book-reading public, and that may be where Amazon is coming in.

Kindles may not cost as much to produce as their current price would suggest. Find a price point that would allow Amazon to break even and why charge someone for the Kindle?

Go buy razor blades and you'll see the marketing angle. Wasn't Gillette quick to send out free samples of their latest razor, all for free? Once you used it, however, you had to buy sharp new blades for the thing, and there you were.

Even cell phones fall into that particular scheme. Give someone a device that they find they must have, and charge for the privilege of using the thing. Calling plans, minutes, monthly fees---the carriers make more down the line from a free phone than they could in selling the things without the two-year contract and monthly bills.

Amazon could assume that someone who was paying $79 per year to get their books faster would love to get their books instantly through a download. Give that person a Kindle and they'd buy more books. After a certain number of titles are purchased, Amazon would hit the break even point on their give-away, and further purchases would be pure profit.

That sort of thinking only works, of course, if the people who get the free Kindles find that they like them and can't get along without them. There's the danger for Amazon that the free Kindles won't have the desired impact, and without titles being purchased for the Kindle, it's a losing proposition.

Which makes you wonder, if Amazon is hearing the patter of little Apple feet and feeling the heat of iPad competition. Better to get a Kindle into everyone's hands and crowd out iPad's potential sales, or it's all over for the Kindle monopoly on e-books.

The last thing that Jeff Bezos wants is for his Kindle device to end up in the back of the box room, stored away with the Betavision VCR or the Sega Genesis game system.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Don't Come Around Here No More

The rejection was short and to the point.

According to Evan Goldfried at Jill Grinberg's literary management firm, they're not looking for whatever genre I'm selling.

No mention of the genre in the rejection, however. A rather generic rejection at that, one size fits many in case there's more than one genre that's been cast off. In my case, the genre in which I write falls into that particular category.

If you write historical fiction, you've been advised. Don't waste agency time and don't query Ms. Grinberg. She's not interested.

What other genres has she abandoned?

Hard to say. You can hope that someone at the agency has updated their preferences at, which will save a few headaches.

I won't be coming around Ms. Grinberg's inbox any time soon. I know where I'm not wanted.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Blame It On Tax Season

There's always a season for literary agents to explain away their slow response time to your query.

Summers are slow in publishing, with Friday afternoons cut out of the work week so that publishing tycoons can get to their weekend retreat in the Hamptons. The end of August is impossible, with all the vacations shutting up the entire industry for a couple of weeks. As for the Christmas and New Year's holiday weeks, forget it. No one's in the office.

I've noticed a definite increase in the time that passes between query and response, and I've come to find out that it's tax season for the agents and their clients.

Financial statements have to be prepared and mailed in January so that the clients can file their tax returns in time to beat the deadlines for financial aid applications for their college-age children. Actually, by law the forms have to be mailed early in the year, and agents are under the gun to get the things done. On top of that is their usual work of contacting editors, preparing submissions to publishers, etc. and there's no time for reading query letters.

Waiting on a publisher to get back to me about a submission is bad enough, and I already know that it could be many more months before I find out if my novel is worth their while.

It's miserable waiting to hear from literary agents who, in the past, have responded within days. Maybe it's the hectic pace of tax season. Maybe it's because my query letter and manuscript sample were so intriguing that they had to be set aside, saved for a time when IRS forms are cleared away and the agent can devote some quality time to some quality writing.

Quite the vivid imagination I have.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Got A Feeling

Something's going to happen.

I have a feeling tickling the back of my brain, next to the place where the stories are stored up for later use. What exactly will happen I can't define, but it has something to do with writing and acceptance.

Utter nonsense, to be sure. I get this sensation from time to time, usually when I'm about ready to chuck the whole business and stop wasting my time at writing.

This feeling vanishes when literary agents mention in the rejection letter that the writing just didn't grab them. It flashes red hot when another agent lets me know that the story isn't right for him, but the writing's strong and the narrator has something. Another rejection, yes, but phrased in such a way that I can't help but feel that something is going to happen.

This morning I woke up with the thought in my head, that I was close to getting a novel published. Was it due to the fact that the pressure switch on the furnace had gone during the night and the house was freezing cold? Or am I tuned in on a psychic level with the small press that's reviewing the manuscript?

More likely it's a figment of an overactive imagination, the result of some residual alcohol fumes lingering well past the previous night's cocktail hour.

Whatever the cause, I have this feeling that something is happening, somewhere out there in the publishing world, and it will be good news for me one day.

And that is why I can't seem to stop writing and submitting and hoping.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

What Part Of Na Caitear Tobac Don't You Understand

The no smoking indoors business has gone too far.

As far as guns drawn and shots fired, and that's going to extremes over a nasty habit.

A couple of Irishmen were in a Queens bowling alley and by all accounts, they were committing the egregious crime of smoking cigarettes. Indoors. God help us all. The world is surely coming to an end.

The bowling alley is situated in Jackson Heights, not what anyone would call a posh neighborhood. No fancy wines by the glass at the 34th Avenue Lanes. Odds are good that Gerard Hourigan and Justin Donaghy were drinking beer. Possibly too much beer. Mr. Hourigan is from Limerick. A bad combination, all in all.

A security guard at the bowling alley, a former cop, told the pair to leave because there's no smoking indoors. The guard once worked in the prison ward of Kings County Hospital. He's most likely not one to take any guff, and certainly not from a pair of drunken Irishmen.

The lads wouldn't leave peacefully and Michael Iavecchio, ex-cop, drew his weapon and fired. Either he's not a good shot or he was only trying to scare the men off. Their wounds aren't life-threatening.

After they get out of hospital, they'll be properly arrested for smoking indoors and have their day in court. A judge will decide if a bullet in the stomach is sufficient punishment for the misdemeanor, or if the gentlemen will face further penalities.

So it looks like smoking doesn't actually kill you.

I'm going out for a smoke.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Oh Canada

Things have gotten bad when the oh so polite Canadians laugh at the Irish ambassador.

You can't talk about the financial crisis in Europe without bringing up Ireland, a nation that experienced actual prosperity for the first time in centuries and now struggles to deal with a downturn. They've had to nationalize a bank or two, cut back on spending, and find a way to get spending in line with reduced revenues.

No surprise, then, that even the Canadians find it laughable that the ambassador's residence in Ottawa is being renovated, at a cost approaching seven million Canadian dollars. Even converted to euros, it's a lot of money.

Other residents of the area are upset that some mature trees were cut down to make way for additions and perhaps a swimming pool. Their outrage resulted in a slight alteration to the over-all plan, saving a few trees that were chopped up to accomodate construction. What kind of shape will those trees be in come spring?

Micheal Martin, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, realizes that it's a lot of money, but Ireland needs to maintain its embassies, after all. Yes, people do need hospitals and schools and libraries, but the citizens need fine accomodations to house their ambassadors just as much. How would it look, if some Canadian firm considering investment in Ireland had to be entertained in shabby surroundings? Makes the whole country look bad, and aren't first impressions of critical importance?

Wine cellars, billiard rooms, and panelled libraries are the trappings of wealth and success, and that's the image Ireland wants to present to Canada.

So many famine immigrants landed in Canada with literally nothing, not even clothes on their backs. Who wouldn't want to show off a bit when they've gone from abject poverty to wealth, even if that wealth is fleeting?

Friday, February 05, 2010

The Age Of Miracles

After much prodding from Dublin and London, an agreement has at last been reached between the warring parties in Northern Ireland.

Home Rule has finally come to pass. Take that, Sir Edward Carson. Stand in front of Stormont while you can, with your clenched fist in the air.

Granted, the man is very, very dead, but he may be spinning in his grave at this moment.

He dedicated his political career to preventing Irish Catholic participation in government, taking a side against Home Rule. After the Easter Rising in 1916 and the subsequent Civil War, he sided with partition of the island, keeping a gerrymandered collection of counties under British rule.

Catholics and Protestants sit side by side in Stormont these days, governing those same six counties. They've now reached an agreement that will see justice and policing powers fall into their hands, given up by the government in London.

Sinn Fein will have a hand in running the courts that were used against Irish nationalists. Sinn Fein will be involved in the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Catholics will be telling Protestants what to do.

Yet the Irish aren't fully satisfied with the changes, nor have they given up on their dream of a united Ireland, free of British rule. They may be one step closer to realizing their ambitions. They may be one step closer to putting chains around the statue in front of Stormont and pulling it down.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

For A Literary Valentine

Roses and chocolates have been done to death. To really impress, you have to come up with something unique, something fresh and unusual for that special someone in your life.

The ladies are said to enjoy soaking in the tub. They like a glass of wine from time to time when they need to unwind. Put all that together with a good book and you'll want one of these:
Available from the Victorian Trading Company, purveyors of romantic accessories, the tub caddy is complete with book rack, wine glass and candle holders, and there's a spot there for a bar of scented soap. Or a small box of chocolates if you're sticking with tradition.

What lady wouldn't fall in love with you when you show such consideration for all her relaxing needs?

Offer to watch the kiddies while she enjoys a few pages of erotica and she'll return your gift many times over.

Cheaper than a Kindle or an iPad, both of which would fry if they slipped out of m'lady's hand if she tried to read in the bath. Less fattening than dinner in a fine restaurant. What's not to like.

Time is running out. Valentine's Day is right around the corner.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

John Paulson Tests His Fins

Where will HMH Riverdeep EMPG WhatHaveYou go, now that Barry O'Callaghan is no longer the biggest fish in the sea?

John Paulson, the man who saw a bargain in EMPG debt and sucked it up on the cheap, does not need to know a great deal about publishing educational materials. There are plenty of people already in place at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt who can handle the business.

And handle it they are.

The iPad is but newly born, and already HMH is on board with ScrollMotion Inc. to develop software applications for the tablet device. They are banking on the iPad doing far more than the Kindle ever could. Seeing a possibility for the iPad in the classroom, perhaps replacing bulky textbooks, HMH will do what it takes to make their materials iPad ready.

No one can predict what the future of textbook publishing will be. Perhaps the iPad will be rejected by students who prefer hardbound books that can hold bookmarks to note key pages, and bright yellow highlighter that springs off the page when it's time to cram for a test.

Yet students are welded to their iPods, and it isn't much of a stretch to imagine that they are loyal to Apple devices because Apple meets their needs in very cool ways. If any company is going to have a shot at attracting the school-going public, it would be Apple.

A business has to take risks if it is to grow and survive into the future. HMH is only doing what a well-run firm would do in the same situation, and it's no surprise that their competitors are swimming in the same lane.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

There's Always Time To Read A Story

Not all mothers with children under the age of ten are reading to their children before bed.

What a terrible loss for those children.

Only 71% of mothers take the time to tuck in the little ones with a story. Only 71% of the children are developing a love of books at an impressionable age.

The study was commissioned by Kellogg's as part of a promotion that ties in with Rice Krispies cereal and The O'Brien Press which is looking to foster reading. Children who are read to before bed are the ones who become readers as they get older, and it's readers who buy books. And cold cereal, we are to assume, given that Kellogg's is involved.

Of those who don't read at bedtime, it was a hectic schedule that was to blame. Mammy is just too busy or too tired after a long day at work. They're busy providing for the child's physical needs, and missing out on the first step towards excellence in the classroom.

Those same 71% of mothers who read bring their children to the public library to borrow books. Shelf after shelf of colorful picture books, yards of chapter books with fewer illustrations because pictures are for babies, and on to the young adult section for the big kids who don't need pictures at all.

Good thing that mothers are taking the time, because the librarians in Lucan have gone on strike and they won't be reading to the children. Forget about story-time, that much loved event. You see, Ireland's going broke and everyone's been asked to take a pay cut, and the librarians represented by Impact aren't about to accept it without expressing their grievances.

For 71% of Ireland's children, it won't make much difference. They have their mothers to weave literary magic at the end of the day. It's the rest of the children who are getting short-changed.