Monday, January 31, 2011

A Word To Define Sides

Do you get your news from a nationalist or a loyalist source? One word can tell you.

Depending on which news source you read, the story came out of Derry (nationalist) or Londonderry (loyalist). Include or omit "London" and the reporter says a great deal. All with one word.

Before the English came, the town was Doire and its inhabitants were Hibernian. Conquerors get to name things as they like, and Doire became Anglicized to Derry. When the inhabitants grew restive, those in charge decided that the recalcitrant Irish-Catholics needed reminding of who was running things, and "London" was slapped on to Derry.

In spite of the gerrymandered border that came about as the result of the 1920's treaty, Derry was predominantly Irish and Catholic. A flexing of political muscle and changing attitudes has resulted in a retreat. Unless you're a staunch Unionist, of course. Then you'd not be cutting London out of anything.

It's just Derry, officially, or Londonderry if you must.

But back to the news. There was a huge march in Derry (or do you say Londonderry? I'm looking at you, Associated Press) on Sunday. The final march, the participants say.

It took decades for the authorities in London to admit that British paratroopers lost their cool and fired on peaceful, unarmed protesters. It took decades to launch an investigation into the Bloody Sunday killings of 1972. It took decades for the Crown to admit that the first report was a complete whitewash and that its troops did indeed murder innocent people who happened to be Irish and Catholic.

Those who marched every year, seeking an honest assessment of a tragedy, have been heard and they don't need to march anymore.

How long will it take the news sources to cop on to the advancements in human rights that have been made in Northern Ireland? Unless, that is, the reporters covering Ulster are staunch unionists themselves?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Profitable Lay-Over

Next time you're stuck at an airport with your flight cancelled, the snow falling and no hope of getting away, don't complain. Go buy a lottery ticket.

Patricia Daly Eisel, formerly of Tullamore but lately of Long Island, was stranded at the airport when the storms hit over the holidays. With little to do to occupy her time, she bought $8 worth of lottery tickets. She had no hope of making millions at her job as a waitress, and what could it hurt to take a flyer?

Her plans were well and truly spoiled by the storm. But there were those tickets in her handbag, and as long as she wasn't going to Ireland, she went ahead and checked the winning numbers. You never know, do you? The mother of three is now $7.9 million the richer, after taxes.

Flush with cash, she booked a new flight to Tullamore and you couldn't blame her if she chose to fly first class. It made for a most pleasant surprise for her extended family.

Being Irish, the first thing she plans to do is buy a house with a big yard. For a people with a long history of losing their homes to the bailiffs and their land to an occupying foreign force, there's thought to be no better investment than land. After all, they're not making any more of it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Turning A Profit On Mystery

Television commercials are somewhat unavoidable, if you're not fast enough with the clicker. Many's the night that I was engrossed in reading (non-fiction lately), only to look up and see an advertisement for IBM flowing through the hi-def screen.

My holdings in IBM have been doing quite well, so I paused to listen. What were they up to next that would boost stock prices?

What's this? A super-intelligent computer that can out-think the smart people who stand apart as all-time champions of Jeopardy?

Sorry, all you hard-working folk at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Riverdeep EMPG et al. I'm not so captivated as to purchase an unfinished e-book about the project. You can send me a link for a free download if you'd like, but I can wait to hear about the final outcome.

HMH, of whale-swallowing minnow fame, has issued an e-book that details IBM's efforts to create a smart computer. The final chapter is missing, and it's an intentional omission.

Did IBM succeed, you'd like to know. The television show on which the computer is tested against two human brains will no doubt receive all sorts of hype prior to broadcast, at which time the question will be answered.

Of course the show is already in the can and Stephen Baker already knows if his invention works. The sponsors of Jeopardy want the world to be waiting in breathless anticipation for that particular broadcast, enough that ratings will get a huge boost and the sponsors empty their wallets with greedy smiles.

The e-book is part of the marketing strategy. Add to the build-up and you add to the potential audience, who may not channel-surf away from all the commercials out of fear of missing a moment of excitement as man battles machine.

After the show, the final chapter and the hard copy book will be on the market.

It's been noted that novels used to be serialized in newspapers, which is probably why Charles Dickens has such long, wordy chapters (paid by the word, do you think?). This manner of book publishing is following the old model.

I'd say that's a long stretch to reach parity.

Release a chapter a week, with the final chapter issued right after the show airs, and I'd call it a serial edition. Put everything out except the last chapter and I'd call it a marketing strategy that takes a page from Hollywood's treatment of the last Harry Potter book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Battling With Words

On one side the headlines scream that Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams has asked the Crown for a paying job.

The other side is saying that the politician resigned his seat because he's going to run as a candidate from County Louth in the upcoming general election. He didn't ask for a job or the title of Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

As it turns out, by resigning his seat in Westminster, Mr. Adams had to then be given a posh posting in accord with British law going back 400 years. That gives the DUP plenty of fodder to paint the man as a hypcrite, seeking a wage from the very country he claims he's not a citizen of.

The British, being so very protocol-oriented, would make no exception for Mr. Adams. England's Prime Minister declared before Parliament that Mr. Adams had agreed to become the baron of the Manor of Northstead, but he did qualify the announcement by explaining that it's the only way a Member of Parliament can resign.

Speaking on behalf of DUP loyalists everywhere, Nigel Dodds took advantage of Question Time to speechify and lambaste his hated nemesis. Gerry Adams has emigrated, Mr. Dodds chortled, because he's going to run for office in Ireland.

Gerry Adams, of course, has long held that he has always lived in Ireland, and just because some political chicanery created a border in the 1920s doesn't mean he's bound to recognize it. He didn't recognize the Crown as having authority over the Irish people either, and he never took his seat in the Commons.

'Resign' sounds like such a simple term, easy to understand. Apparently, for MPs who wish to step down, one word doesn't fit.

Who would have guessed that "Gerry Adams has accepted an office of profit under the Crown' would translate into 'Gerry Adams has resigned'? Isn't it all the English language that we're speaking?

Except for Gerry Adams, that is. He opened and closed his letter of resignation in Irish. Maybe that's where the error in translation occurred.

Go raibh maith agat, indeed.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Defining A Library

While Illinois raises taxes to deal with a bloated debt load, New York takes an axe to spending.

Hence, the public library system in Queens, New York, will stop buying books.

What is a library these days? Doesn't it exist as a repository to hold books so that those of us who can't afford to fund our voracious reading habit have an affordable source?

Apparently not, or at least not in Queens.

After spending tons of money on expansion and facility upgrades, the library system finds that it's broke. Newly added facilities require heating and lighting, along with computers and librarians and pages to stack the shelves. Expenses went up, while revenue has dropped during the current recession.

It's impossible to reverse the upgrades and recoup the costs, so where to find savings?

Other libraries might reduce operating hours and decrease staff positions. Tom Galante, the Queens Public Library CEO, decided that the new books could go.

What is a library? In Queens, it's not so much a place to borrow books as it a place where one obtains English as a second language instruction. It's a place to go when you need Internet access for your job hunt. It can even be a place to go if you're homeless and seek a safe place to find warm shelter.

But it's not the books that are critical any more. So the library in Queens won't be adding to its collection any time soon.

The public is being tapped to donate, if they believe that libraries are first and foremost a place for the general public to find knowledge and entertainment in the written word. If everyone gave $25, Queens could have a traditional library, and not one of those modern inventions that isn't much of a library at all.

It's the cost of a single hard cover. Not much to ask, considering how much use a single hard cover could get as a lendable commodity.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stretched Thin To The Point Of Transparency

A physician and a solicitor would be expected to generate a substantial annual income, but to the point of supporting a total debt load of E886 million?

During the property boom, values rose beyond reason and you can just picture Brian O'Donnell and his wife looking over things and deciding that their best investment was in real estate. They borrowed and bought, and values went up, so they borrowed and bought some more. They didn't see any dark clouds on the horizon.

What goes up comes down, of course, and the same could be said of land valuation. The property that served as collateral for other loans is no longer worth as much as it once was, and now that the O'Donnells have amassed a large portfolio, the find themselves running short.

The Bank of Ireland is suing the couple because they're running behind on loan payments. The family assets were laid bare in court, but the bank is casting doubt as to the true value of the couple's home on Vico Road in Kilkenny. And the office block near the White House might not be worth $138.4 million these days, so does that mean the outstanding balance on the loan of $97.7 million indicates the mortgage is under water?

The same could be said of the investment property in London's Canary Wharf district, along with a building in Sweden. Mr. and Mrs. O'Connell say they have assets valued at E1.089 billion, but can they really expect to pay back E886 million that funded the purchase of those assets?

Are the O'Connells in over their heads at this point?

Like Frank Cowperwood of The Financier, all they need is more time, until the dust settles on the latest financial crisis. And like Mr. Cowperwood, they may not be granted that time.

It's clear that they're stretched to the limit and now that their creditors have seen the level of debt, what are the chances that other lenders will call in their loans as well?

At least these days there's not the stigma attached to bankruptcy as there once was. And Mr. O'Donnell can always hope and pray that his income as a solicitor reaches the level he's claimed to the Bank of Ireland. The bankers, however, have their doubts.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It Worked For The Landlords

During the Great Famine, over one million people left Ireland. In many cases, the landlords paid their passage to America.

Starving, unemployed masses tend to agitate for reform so that they will no longer be starving or unemployed. Help them find what they're looking for elsewhere, and you're rid of a danger.

The failed Young Ireland movement proved that those without were tending towards armed insurrection. No government wants its citizens to consider taking up arms to gain the basics of existence.

Willie Penrose is quite right to say that modern emigration is easing the strain on the current Fianna Fail-led government. Rather than sit around Dublin and seethe, able-bodied university graduates are packing their bags and flying off to Australia or England or America, where they believe they have a better chance of finding something to earn a daily wage.

What's the government to do, asks Mr. Penrose, to put a stop to the Irish diaspora that never seems to end?

As a member of the Labour Party, he can't be happy with the first move that's been made. The minimum wage in Ireland has been dropped by one euro, to decrease one business expense in the hope of attracting other businesses looking for lower costs.

There's no money in the Exchequeuer, of course, to pay for any sort of government-backed schemes. Those were tried during the Famine days, with pointless road construction projects that provided wages for those who weren't already half dead with starvation, but did nothing to improve transportation.

It has to be up to private concerns to find reason to locate in Ireland, and the government is doing a fair job of promoting the well-educated, motivated workforce that's waiting for jobs to appear. It's up to the government to ensure that corporate taxes are kept low, in spite of Sarkozy's drive to get a higher, trans-EU rate approved.

In the end, there's not much the government can do but create the right environment, and that environment is pro-business, not pro-worker. Will Mr.Penrose applaud the government's efforts when jobs rise up from the earth, or will he be highly critical because those jobs are low-paying, low-benefit creations that enrich the employer more than the employee? At least the kids would be staying at home, right?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Write Every Day

So goes the advice given by published authors to those who would like to follow in their footsteps.

Write every day.

A lovely sentiment, but one that falls outside of the bounds of stark reality for many of us.

With the economy in the tank, I'm forced to use every minute I have in making a living. I work longer hours, and yes, those are the same hours that I once used to write every day.

Like the government, then, I have to make spending cuts. I have to be more efficient in the use of valuable time, a commodity in short supply.

Writing a blog post doesn't count as daily writing. In that case, I'll focus on the manuscript revisions for today and maybe tomorrow will bring an unexpected windfall of thirty or sixty minutes for daily writing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Make Friends With An Advertising Specialties Executive

Publishers won't, or can't afford to, promote most of the books they create.

That's bad news for authors who don't have huge name recognition or a platform like Snooki (Jersey Shore, check your local day and time). Like anything else, you have to do it yourself.

Chances are, if you're the average writer, you aren't wealthy and you won't be giving away free copies of your debut novel already downloaded on an iPad. But there are other ways to entice potential clients.

They're called advertising specialties, all those little bits and pieces that are handed out at seminars and conventions.

The first thing you'd think of as a writer would be to include a custom-printed bookmark with every purchase, but that may not be enough.

How about a keychain with a plastic replica of your book cover? Perhaps you could make friends with someone in the business and get a discount, which would allow you to afford something more substantial, like a drawstring book bag with your name and title emblazoned.

Once you've got your give-away, it's time to blast away on Facebook, Twitter or maybe even mass e-mail to get out the word. Buy the book, get something unique that you won't see coming and going on the street. Buy the book and just plain get something, like the goodie bags given out to children at parties.

Authors don't get much of an advance these days, and now they're expected to invest a portion of the pittance to promote themselves. If the marketing scheme works, of course, it's money well spent and the author earns a greater return that more than makes up for the initial outlay.

However, it can go the other way as well, with an author spending like mad, only to find that they're further behind than when they began.

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to make friends with a marketing executive who could help you tailor your approach. At least you wouldn't have to get yourself cast in a reality show and then be expected to make a complete fool of yourself.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Embrace The Digital

Cutting edge Amazon launched the Kindle e-reader amid much fanfare and hype, but the company has sold millions of them. Clearly, it isn't all hype. The reading public finds favor with electronic devices that deliver prose.

Alas, Borders sat back and watched. The corner office suits waited to see where the new technology would lead. Perhaps some of them were convinced an electronic reader was little more than a toy to amuse the techies and would go away shortly.

Rather than go away, e-readers have blossomed. Other firms developed their own technology to compete with the Kindle, most notably Apple with their iPad.

Yet where was Borders?

Sitting on the sideline with the rest of the wallflowers, waiting to be chosen.

With the big box book seller on the verge of bankruptcy, they're making a move. Chances are, they're too late to the party.

Introducing the Kobo, yours for only $99.00. So if you're considering an e-reader, you can have one at a lower price than anything else out there.

As for the millions who already purchased a Nook or a Kindle, well, there's no need to buy another e-reader. If a person hasn't bought their electronic device yet, it just might mean they're not interested in something other than a traditional book that they can lodge on a shelf forever.

The Kobo will not save Borders. It seems doubtful that new financing could make a significant difference over the long haul, and it isn't too likely that publishers already owed money by Borders would take up GE Capital's suggestion that they wait forever for payment so that equity shareholders won't take a hit in a corporate dissolution.

Borders jumped into the e-book swamp too late, and even if e-books don't totally destroy traditional publishing, there isn't a need for so many large bookstores in the world going forward.

The fittest survive. Borders let itself go.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Consolidating The Market

For a time, literary agent Joe Veltre was partnered with Diane Bartoli in a small literary agency. I never had any luck with either one of them, but if they had considered one of my manuscripts, would they still be together today?

At any rate, Ms. Bartoli left for another job in a different area of the publishing business, and Mr. Veltre carried on as a small operation at The Veltre Company. Put together a fabulous website and everything. Again, he wasn't interested in anything I'd written.

It's tough to sell manuscripts to publishing houses that are so busy watching their bottom lines that they fail to see what it is readers want in their fiction. I have to wonder, though, if Joe Veltre had considered one of my manuscripts, would he still be compelled to sign on with the powerful Gersh Agency and leave his boutique agency behind?

The Gersh Agency snagged Phyllis Wender when her company, Rosenstone/Wender, dissolved. They've been expanding of late, and Mr. Veltre will find plenty to do as head of Gersh's book department. As before, he'll continue to push film and TV rights while acting as an agent, but with the Gersh umbrella to protect him.

Office staff, interns, and all the rest of the overhead won't trouble him any more.

Now that those pesky details are cleared away, will he maybe consider one of my manuscripts in his new position at Gersh? I wonder if the form on his website is still functioning.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Daily News On Life Support

Printed newspapers are said to be dinosaurs, on their way to extinction. Everything's online now, multiple sources, and who needs a daily paper?

The fact is, someone still has to go out and collect the news, conduct interviews and file Freedom Of Information requests. All that news that you find online was taken from the blood, sweat and tears of a journalist who gets paid to report. Nothing is free, ultimately.

Rupert Murdoch is expanding into iPad journalism, in a move that signals the new direction that traditional journalism may have to take if it is to stay alive.

If not for reporters keeping the politicans honest (or at least get them looking over their shoulders), corruption would run unchecked. You'd not find stories about graft online if it weren't for some news organization paying a writer to investigate and report.

Someone has to fund that sort of expensive yet necessary operation, and that someone should be those who want to be informed. The Wall Street Journal has 450,000 people who willingly pay for the information provided by the paper's journalists, and Mr. Murdoch is betting that iPad owners would be agreeable to paying a fee for an iPad exclusive daily news paper-less paper.

He's put together a team of professional journalists with satellite operations in major U.S. cities, and he plans to put out a product that sounds rather like the existing USA Today, without paper, presses or ink. Sign up for the service and you get real news from trained professionals, delivered to your electronic device.

So maybe we don't need newspapers, but we need the news. Maybe this will prove to be the wave of the future.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Not Working As Planned

There's a new agent at Caren Johnson's literary agency and she's looking for new clients.

My manuscript, however, is not what she's looking for.

Not my manuscript, exactly. It's the query letter that didn't convince Katie Shea to read my story.

She wants sassy commercial fiction and I have reason to believe that I've got myself a sassy protagonist. The query letter, apparently, isn't selling that important aspect.

The same can be said for Katelynn Lacopo, new to BookEnds LLC. She's actively building a list but it's only a guess on my part that she might have been interested in my manuscript. She's so new that there's nothing listed on the website regarding her particular interests.

I can now safely state that her interests do not include whatever she might have gathered from my query letter.

There's a touch of humor in the book but it's not coming through in the submission letter. I can pin my hopes on the letters I sent that included sample pages, but what are the chances that an agent would read the pages if the query isn't strong?

The letter that I polished and revised during the holidays isn't doing the job. With a manuscript revision in progress, my head filled with different characters and situations, I believe I'll let the query letter rest until there's a lull in the ongoing writing project. Maybe then I'll have some fresh ideas or an improved perspective.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Rest Of Us Get Rejected

I started reading the news report of author Tom Franklin's path to further success and I didn't want to read on. If this had been his first offering, I thought, he'd have been rejected like the rest of us. If I finished the article, would I discover something about publishing that would help me along?

Literary agent Nat Sobel had sold Mr. Franklin's first novel and there was a contract in place for this next one that turned out to be a waste of paper. The agent advised his client to start over.

If Mr. Franklin were not a client, merely a submitter who showed a talent for the written word, Mr. Sobel would have sent off a form rejection letter and that would be the end of it. Instead, he encouraged and suggested and discussed with the author, who eventually turned the manuscript around.

Over the course of several years, that novel rattled around in Mr. Franklin's head. He tried different things, cut out sections, got frustrated.

As I see it, there's nothing different in the process for those of us hoping for a chance and those who have credentials. Things don't work, and someone points it out to you or you see it for yourself, and you go back to the beginning to make it work.

So we don't have literary agents giving us the benefit of their knowledge. We don't teach at the University of Mississippi either, so we're even further back in the pack. We have to work that much harder to get noticed in a sea of writing teachers and MFAs.

Sure Mr. Franklin could have given up on the manuscript. He wrote other books while struggling to make Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter what it was supposed to be.

And so do we, the unpublished with manuscripts gathering dust and another one in process. We write, we re-visit and revise, and we keep on submitting in the hope that one day a literary agent will see the profit potential in our writing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Not Very Neighborly

As if her husband's financial difficulties aren't enough trouble, Gayle Dunne must now contend with the neighbors and the spat is doing nothing to cement good neighborly relations.

The wife of disgraced (and bankrupt) Irish developer Sean Dunne (wanted in Ireland, hiding in America) decided to invest in American properties. Her husband bought up the Berkeley Court and Jurys hotels with a notion to redevelop the sites and make lots of euros, only to end up owing countless millions to the banks, so she was wise to look across the seas for money-making opportunities.

Planning ahead, she hired attorney Philip Teplen to represent her interests in a fab Greenwich, Connecticut, mansion and possibly some little bit of something in Chicago. Now there's $500,000 gone missing and remodeling of the fab mansion in Greenwich is on hold.

The neighbors called out Ms. Dunne when they noticed that the demolition done to the home went beyond what the official permits allowed. Work was stopped in October and Mr. Teplen was supposed to be making appearances before the Greenwich planning board to get the project back on track.

While he was at it, the attorney was also supposed to be helping Ms. Dunne obtain a U.S. Visa, which can be had for the right amount of money. Yes, visas are for sale in America, as long as the seeker invests a large chunk of money in some American project that will lead to jobs for American workers.

Now the money is gone, and so is Philip Teplen. Process servers were unable to locate him, and no one knows where Ms. Dunne's half-million is.

On top of that, the Greenwich planning board is in no hurry to meet with Ms. Dunne or her attorney, so the money tied up in the property development scheme isn't returning anything on the investment. The Irish courts would like to discuss her husband's failure to pay back loans, and there's only so much money in Ms.Dunne's well-performing portfolio. Rent on a Greenwich villa cannot come cheap.

It's become a soap opera, with plenty of drama and a villain running from Irish justice. Like most soap operas, however, it will probably run on and on for years with the same cast and same plot line.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Ways To Ruin A Good Submission

For several years, Stephen Barr has been an assistant at Writer's House, helping Dan Lazar and learning the agenting game.

He's now a new agent, looking for just about anything from YA to commercial fiction and mysteries.

Easy enough to fire off a query to sbarr at writershouse dot com.

I polished up a query letter, spell-checked it and everything.

Then I managed to hit send before remembering to paste the first five pages of the novel into the body of the query letter.

So many ways to ruin a good submission. Those who don't follow directions are usually the first to be rejected, no matter how good the story might be.

How's he going to know if the opening pages are enough to drag a reader in if they're not there?

Brilliant. Now I'll have to sit in the weeds and wait for the next new agent to come along.

Once Were Giants

Charles Byrne labeled himself the tallest man in the world.

When he died in the 1780's, it's a fair bet that he certainly had towered over his fellow Irishmen during his short span on earth.

Looking at Irish mythology, however, he wasn't all that odd. There are all sorts of tales about giants, and scientists may have discovered the grain of truth behind the folk tales.

Dr. Marta Korbonits was studying the DNA of five Northern Ireland families who are genetically predisposed to gigantism. In their case, they were passing along a gene that affected the pituitary gland, where growth hormone is regulated.

Is it any surprise that the families are from the north of Ireland, where the folk tales of giants like Fionn mac Cumhaill strode upon the ground? Perhaps it is not so surprising to learn that a genetic connection exists between Mr. Byrne and the doctor's gigantism patients. 

While the good doctor is interested in her research for scientific reasons, her discovery also provides an explanation for what became folk tales that took on a larger life over time.

A creative people might look at the bizarre rock formations of the Giant's Causeway and combine that with fanciful ponderings about the family up in Tyrone that was abnormally tall.

Before the Kindle, television or literacy, folks sat around the fire and made up stories. Like good writers in modern times, they constructed those tales from things they knew, and it has now become apparent that giants, or extremely tall people, actually existed.

The gene mutation that is causing gigantism in the five families related to Mr. Byrne may have arisen about 1500 years ago. Even then, a ripple in the norm was fodder for the imagination. Some things don't seem to have changed at all over the centuries.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Why Publishing Is Fading

Someone at Simon & Schuster's Gallery imprint thought that reality TV show star Snooki would draw enough interest to justify putting her name on a ghost-written novel.

Someone at Simon & Schuster paid the young lady an advance to use her name, fully expecting to recoup the cost and turn a profit.

You slave away with your manuscript, sweating over the exact right word, and all you really need do is be outrageous. Act in a way that would embarrass your family and you've got all you need to get a publishing contract.

Who is going to buy this book? Probably those who are curious about the product, about what a person who claims to have only read one or two books in her short lifetime could write.

Most of us know Snooki didn't write a thing. A ghostwriter was hired to put together a novel, given the plot and characters and a rough outline and set out to go for it.

Fans of the reality show are expected to support Simon & Schuster's effort. The authors fortunate enough to have existing contracts with puny advances and decent sales will then be expected to produce, to cover the losses when Snooki's roman a clef fails to sell enough, but it won't be a huge burden.

Ghostwriters come cheap and spokes-celebrities aren't all that expensive when they're B- or C-list caliber. Simon & Schuster can bank on plenty of free publicity, in the way of general horror that such a respected publishing house would crank out such drivel.

Meantime, they're busy re-writing history by censoring Mark Twain.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Survival Of The Fittest

When three different big box bookstores opened on three corners of a busy intersection, I knew that only one would be left standing.

There are only so many people in a given area buying a limited number of books, magazines, or greeting cards. Three shops, all serving that one demographic, was two shops too many.

With Borders stock trading at well under $1.00 per share, it's become obvious that Barnes & Noble won the survival battle.

This doesn't mean that the small independent bookshop around the corner is coming back any time soon. The big box retailers killed off the smallest of their competitors and an extinct species does not return to life.

Neither is the death of Borders good news for B&N. The cost of war is high indeed, and driving a strong adversary into bankruptcy may prove to have been too expensive for B&N's health.

Indeed, their brick and mortar stores may be serving the function that the independents once served: being a showcase for future purchases made on

The death of Borders is bad news for authors, who will lose yet another venue through which they reach their audience. Amazon's pricing is all well and good for the consumer, but people like to read a bit of a book before laying down a hefty amount of cash that's increasingly hard to come by. One less place to read the flap copy. One less place to read the opening pages, a random section in the middle, the acknowledgment page.

Readers will rely more and more on word of mouth or book reviews to winnow their possible choices down to a financially manageable level. Already publishers are seeking big blockbuster novels from proven authors. Where in there is room for the debut author without a laundry list of awards, fellowships and MFAs? Where will the creative writers go to get published when the cookie-cutter rules of the bean counters guide the industry?

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Waiting For The Doors To Open

I've got my eye on April Eberhardt.

It's strictly business.

The literary agent who was part of Kimberley Cameron's firm is going off on her own and I'm just keeping my eyes peeled. The minute she hangs up the "Open For Business" sign, my query will be on its way.

She plans to go after women's fiction, written by women for women.

Sure, there's only a placeholder now at, but sooner or later she'll have her submission requirements all figured out. One day soon, her webmaster will have the site designed and running.

While I'm waiting for the doors to open, I'll have to polish the query letter that hasn't been particularly productive lately. Never a genius at marketing, I struggle to find the intriguing hook that makes the agents long to read more. Without a hook, I don't stand much of a chance, even with someone like April Eberhardt who's going to be needing some prolific, talented authors to fund her venture.

The clock is ticking. My brain is churning, the words tumbling.

God, please don't let her be one of those "no response means no" type of agents.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Begin Again

I sent out a few query letters on the 18th of December. Plenty of time before Christmas to respond, but there's been no response.

Time to re-tool. Again.

I've been at the query business so long that I don't query in an organized fashion anymore. It didn't work then, so why put in the time? Five or six at a time, I'll pick agents using the filters at Sometimes I'll go to the end of the list and start there. Other times I'll jump to the middle.

The one aspect that does remain the same is the ten failure cut-off. If there's no positive response after ten agents have seen the letter, it's time to change the letter. Again.

While I wait to hear, or not hear, back, I'll work on yet another manuscript that requires a great deal of research. Once that's done, it'll be the editing and revising again. The query letter. Again.

And I'll be working on an old manuscript, to get it ready for publishing by a tiny, wee publisher that pays no advance nor can offer promotion. But at least a good story won't continue to gather dust.