Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's A New Dawn, It's A New Day

Celebrities are often given large advances for the books they have ghost-written.

Publishers assume that the general book-buying public will purchase enough copies to justify the generous offer. If not, there's all those other authors selling books that bring in profits and their deals are nowhere near as lucrative.

Not all celebrities can lay claim to a large publishing contract, however.

 There has to be something scandalous, something titillating, to entice the buying public.

Jennifer Hudson has quite a story to tell. She'd like $1 million to tell it.

Her agent, Mel Berger, has been making the rounds, but the publishers want that nugget of inside information, the personal story about Ms. Hudson's family and how she coped with the murder of her mother, her brother and her nephew.

Ms. Hudson is not interested in trading on the prurient interests of the curious. She, or her agent, believes that her tale of struggling with her weight is worth one million.

Yet there are countless weight loss books on the market, some of them written by celebrities who know fuck all about biology but spout nonsense cloaked in scientific mumbo-jumbo just the same. Yet another famous person waxing prolific about weight loss isn't the stuff of which best-sellers are made.

What might Ms. Hudson have in her book that would distinguish her from all the rest on the shelf? The publishers know that people would buy her book if they could learn how she coped with a horrific crime.

No revelation, no publishing contract.

They've made offers, but those offers are based on their best estimates of what yet another diet book would yield in profits. Nowhere near the asking price, however, because the mid-list authors can't generate enough income for the publisher to cover the spread.

Ms. Hudson says the memories are too raw for her to examine that part of her past. Until the wounds heal, then, Mel Berger won't be getting his percentage of the million dollar pay-out.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Lighten The Load, Save A Back

For years, parents have complained about the heavy load of textbooks that their children must haul around, hunch-backed under the weight.

Poor posture, strains on joints, and we all agree the little ones need exercise, but carrying so much during their developmental years can't be good in the long run.

There is one simple solution, one that is being rolled out at St. Colman's College in Claremorris, County Mayo.

Students at this secondary school will be issued iPads, rather than textbooks. All the knowledge they are to cram into their heads during the term of their education will be dowloaded onto a slim rectangle of plastic and wires.

A few ounces to cart around, rather than a few pounds. It isn't cheap, at E700, but then again, books aren't exactly inexpensive either. And how much would it take to correct little Maeve's curvature of the spine, caused by the rucksack bulging with paper? Cheap in comparison, to be sure.

It's a case of good and bad news for educational publishing firms like Riverdeep, which seeks to make its fortune in the electronic arm of education. All those educational apps are to be applauded.

On the other hand, it's not so rosy an outlook for HMH, a traditional publisher that was gobbled up by Barry O'Callaghan's Riverdeep (until he choked on it).

New editions of old textbooks has long been a profit driver, as school districts found they had to buy new to keep up with changes. Much cheaper to buy a new app that gets loaded into the various computer devices. There's no printing press to fire up, no printers to pay. No vast warehouses to staff, no shipping department.

As for the freelance writers who compose the sentences and paragraphs that make up a textbook, well, they've never been paid much anyway so they're still in the same leaking boat.

The publishers will have to make do with reduced profits, paring away at their staff and finding ever more synergies. In the meantime, the kids will carry their lightweight electronic devices, and it can't be long before the over-loaded backpack becomes a thing of the past, as archaic as the book strap of Tom Sawyer's day.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Psychic Predicts

Wouldn't we all like a crystal ball that could predict the future?

How much easier it would be to make sound business decisions, if we knew what was coming.

Fashion mogul Izaak Mizrahi consulted with his favorite psychic before deciding to open a retail location in Chicago.

He probably should have asked the seer if there was a downside in the future.

Rush Walton Limited Partnership is suing Mr. Mizrahi for breaking the lease he made on a storefront in a toney part of Chicago. They want the rent he promised for the entire term of the lease, plus the rent they will lose while the place sits empty, waiting for another psychic to advise someone else to expand their enterprise.

What the psychic advised must not have passed the careful eyes of Mr. Mizrahi's accountants. No sooner was the lease signed than his corporate entity was cancelling the deal. The store was never even close to opening.

So Rush Walton wants three quarters of a million dollars for their troubles. The issue will play out in court, where it's likely a settlement will be reached at some point.

It pays to ask questions of your psychic, to go beyond the basics. Should I open a new store, you might wonder, but you're missing out on critical information if you don't next inquire as to whether or not opening that store will bring in revenue. That's a question for the bean counters, not those in tune with the infinite.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Turning Back The Ecclesiastical Clock

Once upon a time, Catholics prayed in Latin, a long-dead language that they did not understand.

During the sixty minutes of the Mass, prayers were more like chants, a series of noises rather than spoken words.

We'll soon be heading back to that time, as the Vatican attempts to reset the ecclesiastical clock, making for the days before the Second Vatican Council.

At the end of November of this year, churchgoers will find a new and improved missal in the pews. The same prayers that we all know and love will still be there, only in a slightly modified form.

The International Commission on English in the Liturgy has done a new translation of all that Latin.

The missal will be new and improved, they say. The Association of Catholic Priests begs to differ.

Literally translating Latin into English has resulted in stilted, non-rhythmic phrasing that doesn't sound like English, and the priests are meeting in Portlaise soon to put together a request that the new missal not be dumped on the faithful at the start of Advent.

Languages have their own flow in the way they are spoken, and that nuance can't be translated word for word. If people are already staying away from Sunday Mass, you wouldn't want to have them praying as if English were their second language.

That's not the worst of it, however.

By doing a literal translation, everything becomes him, man, he, etc. Literally, there's no room for the ladies.

For a hierarchy so deeply entrenched in patriarchy, it's not the best face to put on when you're trying to keep the donations flowing.

The Irish priests would like their bishops to take a page from the Germans, who are strenuously objecting to current German translations being replaced by new interpretations that don't seem quite so new after all.

Let the Irish branch of the Church figure out how best to reach the faithful, they'd like to tell the Vatican. Changing texts into near gibberish, something closer to the old-style Latin than standard English, won't restore the Church to its former glory.

The 1950's are over and done. Catholics feel as if their Church is out of touch with them. The Irish priests don't much want a new missal to reinforce that belief.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Working Around The Do-Not-Call List

Telemarketers are having a more difficult time reaching their victims.

Having been banned from phoning those who registered so that they wouldn't be bothered, there are fewer and fewer people left to plague.

So that means business owners are catching the brunt of the calls. There is no Do-Not-Call list.

"I'm calling from the Wishing Well Foundation," she said, and I wished I'd paid closer attention to the caller ID and not answered.

The woman on the other end of the line had a Southern accent, a syrupy sweet delivery and she was calling from Contract Co at 757-578-3500.

From there, the hard sell proceeded. The group wanted a donation to send a sick child to Disneyworld. So how much of the proceeds goes to the charity and how much to administrative costs? 70% to 80%, she says. But she doesn't say if it's the charity or the administration getting the bulk.

I'd like to vet your organization, I say, and before she can finish telling me about their website and their registration as a 501-3c, I mention Google and she gets all pissy before hanging up on me.

Little wonder.

Wishing Well Foundation is a scam organization that trolls for suckers using telemarketers. Money raised goes to pay the telemarketers and then the founder, Mr. Elwin LeBeau, gets his piece of the pie. In the end, there's next to nothing left to donate to sick children.

When you run a business, you can't be sure where your clients are calling from, and you end up fielding all sorts of idioc calls. It's part of the average day.

What irritates me, however, is the thought that this telemarketer will eventually hit on someone who'll fall for the smarmy sentiment of the pitch, and a person without access to Google will have their pocket picked.

You can prevent many crimes when your only weapon is knowledge. Spread the word, and make it harder for Wishing Well Foundation to steal again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

With Shelves Already In Place

There are a few communities in existence that have some financial resources to draw on. Deerfield, Illinois, is one such lucky suburb.

Voters approved a referendum to fund an upgrade and expansion of the public library. Education is a top priority for Deerfield citizens, and having a well-stocked and staffed library fits into that mindset.

What if the town could buy a ten-year old, purpose-built building to house all the books? Would it be a better deal for the taxpayers?

Real estate agent Rob Rowe is promoting the sale of the local Borders bookstore that shuttered recently. It's more than the fact that the book shelves are already in place, that the cashier's area could easily be retro-fitted into a check-out desk. It's location, location, location.

And cost.

The bond issue will raise $11.7 million. Borders' former site can be had for $8 million.

What if, it's been postulated, the village of Deerfield bought the building and opened a second location, decreasing the need to expand the existing library? The potential facility would sit at a busy intersection, and offer plenty of parking. The current library offers neither.

Legal issues are complicating what might otherwise be an exercise in cost accounting. The bond was issued for renovations, not a new purchase. In addition, the renovation train has already left the station, with construction management teams being put in place.

It's an issue that the local library board may well consider seriously, however. Moving the library to the former Borders location will make the books more accessible, and it's quite possible that library usage would increase because of visibility. And all that parking.

Will it cost more to run two buildings than one larger one? That's something for the board to consider as they mull over Mr. Rowe's proposal.

You can expect the local merchants to applaud the library's relocation. A public library with lots of foot traffic is better than a shuttered, empty big brick box at the heart of a struggling shopping district in the midst of an economic decline.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Food For The Body Or Food For The Soul

There's no money in New York City to pay for everything that everyone wants. That means some have to do without.

Those on the sharp end of the economical axe are outraged.

Since December, the Queens library system hasn't purchased a single new book.

Library directors have made a choice between paying for librarians to staff the facilities, or paying for books to shelve in locations with limited hours.

Paul LeClerc of the New York Public Library can't understand how Mayor Bloomberg could even think of finding budget relief by slicing off library funds.

Advocates opposed to cuts in library funding claim that the cuts are too steep, too severe, and the whole system will collapse.

Whether you are for or against the cuts, the fact remains, there isn't enough money to go around. So if the library is to maintain its level of funding, some other program has to be cut even deeper.

How about cutting funds for medical care for the poor? Instead, give them a library card and point them in the direction of the books on health. Have them learn how to better care for their bodies, so they don't need to run to the free clinics so often. Everyone come out ahead in the long run.

Is it all that necessary to fix the streets or replace the sewers or pick up the garbage? How about cutting back on the amount of money used for environmental protection or water purification?  People could flock to the library and study books that would teach them how to do such things themselves, saving the city millions while encouraging library use.

Or what if all the administrators and bureaucrats took a massive pay cut, with the cost savings being put into the library system's book purchasing budget?

It's all well and good to complain about an issue, but if you can't offer up a solution, you're just whingeing. You don't want the library budget cut. Who's to do without so the library doesn't suffer any pain?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Parting Is Not Always Such Sweet Sorrow

While checking Publishersmarketplace.com earlier, I noticed that agent Josh Getzler had updated his page.


Within the changed words was a brief mention of a new literary agency, yet his information still had him at Russell and Volkening.

A little later, all was changed.


Mr. Getzler and his cohorts are still listed on the Russell and Volkening website, but they've been gone since last Friday.

Sounds rather sudden, doesn't it? To launch a new venture without a website in place, without any hints about leaving for greener pastures?

Did Mr. Seldes get wind of the plot by three of his agents to bolt, and then show them the door as payment for their treachery?

No matter how it came to be, there is a new literary agency awaiting your queries. Although considering Mr. Getzler's track record on responding to queries, he may not be waiting, exactly.

Hannigan Salky Getzler Agency will represent authors of fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. In short, the agents will continue their earlier interests when they were employed by Russell and Volkening so you can check at AgentQuery.com for particulars.

They have more bills to pay, now that they're on their own. It's possible that Jessica Salky might be more amenable to your women's fiction query than she has been in the past.

Self-Sacrifice For The Good Of Others

ABC Television would like me to watch a pilot episode of "Charlie's Angels" and "Once Upon A Time", and comment about them on my blog.

It's the whole social networking-outreaching mindset. I've studied marketing. I can't fault the network for trying something beyond the usual Los Angeles-based focus group.

Here's my take on your new programs, ABC executives.

"Charlie's Angels" was done before. Then it was given a full length movie treatment. I'm not wasting my time in watching what's gone before, as much as I love historical fiction.

I doubt that many others will watch it, and for the same reason. Can you not come up with a new idea?

Now let's look at "Once Upon A Time."

I'm the wrong person to ask for a critique on this one. I'm educated, you see. Third-level and beyond. A television program about the offspring of Snow White and Prince Charming isn't geared towards people like me. And I don't have a seven-year-old girl in the family so who here would bother with something so silly?

 So there you have it, ABC.

While "Charlie's Angels" takes to the airwaves, I'll be watching "Pawn Stars" or "American Pickers". I'll be tuned in to "Mythbusters" or whatever sports programming is available.

When might I wander over to ABC? When there's something worth watching.

Until then, I'll pass on by as I channel surf, and recommend that others do the same, to save themselves from wasting valuable time that could be better spent. Like, say, with a good book.

Literary Agent As Publisher, Part Two

After toiling in the trenches of the publishing wars, Larry Kirschbaum crossed over to the other side and opened up a literary agency.

I never submitted to the group. The requirements were too complex and time consuming to make it worthwhile.

Like so many other agencies that are swamped with submissions, LJK Literary Management changed their submission policy and announced that they were taking a query hiatus and check back later.

Now that hiatus has taken on a new tone. It's rumor, but it seems likely that Mr. Kirschbaum will transition from literary agent back to publisher.

At Amazon.

The world's biggest book store is poised to become a publisher as well. They've had their self-publishing option for some time, and recently they started up a romance line. A sci/fi editor was listed in the help wanted section.  The time has come to take the next, big step.

As a literary agent, Mr. Kirschbaum fielded submissions from authors and selected what he thought he could sell. As a publisher for Amazon, he'll be doing the same.

That query hiatus has a look of permanence. It would be a conflict of interest on his part to also act an agent if he's involved in publishing those same works. His employees may be brought along as editors in Amazon's publishing unit, or they may wander off to other agencies, bringing their strong links to Kirschbaum with them.

For writers, it doesn't seem to alter the publishing landscape. It's always been a case of trying to win the heart of some publisher after winning the love of a literary agent. Having one more publisher out there won't change things.

The industry will be taking note, however. E-books are outselling (perhaps) print books, and Amazon has a head-start on digital publishing. Can the traditional publishers compete in this new world, or will Amazon use its publishing muscle to squeeze margins on e-books even more?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Searching For The Beginning Of The End

It's well past 6 pm, New Zealand time.

There's been no earthquake.

There was an earthquake several months back, but that doesn't count.

The beginning of the end of the world was supposed to be ushered in by a New Zealand earthquake, followed closely by the Rapture.

Do you think the believers are beginning to doubt? Maybe even beginning to feel a bit foolish?

Harold Camping must have miscalculated yet again.

This time for sure, Reverend Camping said. Presto!

If he were pulling a rabbit out of a hat, he'd say he had the wrong hat (hi there fans of Rocky and Bullwinkle).

The Christians who were preparing for the Rapture were said to be eating a last meal with family and friends. What's on the menu now? Crow flambe?

Those who donated so generously to get out the word may be feeling like the victims of a massive con. Should they find themselves in need of spiritual counseling, they can turn to the Calvary Bible Church of Milpitas, where Pastor Jacob Denys stands ready to instill his version of Biblical scholarship to the disillusioned.

It's not the first time a charismatic preacher convinced people that the world was coming to an end. Then, as now, believers gave away their earthly goods and woke up to an unchanged world. Unchanged, except they were flat broke and out of work, without a house or a change of clothes.

Except for the righteous Mr. Camping. In 2009, his ministry held $34 million worth of stocks and had assets valued at $104 million, largely from donations of those who thought the world was ending at 6 pm on May 21, 2011.

Isn't there something in the New Testament about camels having an easier time fitting through the eye of a needle than a rich man entering Heaven?

Friday, May 20, 2011

President In A Box

No one much cared about the Queen's visit to Ireland. She's just someone's Gran, when you get down to it. Just a nice old lady in a hat.

The President of the United States, however, is another matter altogether.

He has real power. He's the leader of the free world, the head of the world's one remaining super-power.

And he's called for Israel to return to its original borders. Will he make the same demand of England, that they yield the Six Counties back?

People genuinely want to see and hear him speak, which creates a nightmare for security operatives. But there is a way for Mr. Obama to be seen as he addresses the Irish people in College Green.

He'll be put under glass.

In a manner of speaking.

He'll be delivering his address from behind a plexiglass screen, all bulletproof and bomb-proof. Anyone arriving to hear him will have to go through a metal scanner, but in general, the speech will be open to the public.

If you want to see him, you'll have to be quick. According to the time schedule, he's to speak for twenty minutes before boarding a helicopter which will touch down in Moneygall, County Offaly. He'll pop into the local, maybe sip a pint, and then it's off to the airport with a brief stop, time permitting, at Glasnevin for a photo-op wreath-laying.

Not to worry if he's running late. There'll be plenty of music and entertainment at College Green prior to the speech.

Then Mr. Obama can box up the goodwill and take it home, a souvenir of his trip when there's no time budgeted for shopping.

He may have need of his box when he returns to Washington, however. Bullet-proof plexiglass will come in handy when he's deflecting the barbs that the Republicans will be throwing during the debt reduction debates.

Sweetness And Light And Red Hots

Confectioners, you might expect, would be blessed with a sweet disposition. Working with candy all day long, how could someone be short-tempered?

Blame this one on a sugar buzz.

Chicago's landmark candy maker Ferrara Pan was the scene of a domestic dispute recently. The founder's grandson, Sal Ferrara, called the cops to the factory. He was escorted off the premises.

Hot-tempered, those Italians. Quick to blow a fuse. Maybe Mr. Ferrara's mood was sour last Thursday after consuming too many Lemonheads.

Rumor has it, Mr. Ferrara was voted out as President of the family's firm. They made him an offer he apparently refused. How could he take them seriously? They're his relatives. They fight over games of briscola all the time. No different.

There's also talk that money is at the heart of the dispute, and isn't it always money that drives families apart? Someone wants more, someone thinks the cugino is getting more than his fair share, and then the shouting escalates.

It's that much more difficult in a business, where tough decisions have to be made. Telling an employee he's been an idiot is one thing. Telling your first cousin he's made a mess of his department is quite another. Normal corporate dynamics are skewed when a group of relatives have to come together and make hard choices about a third-generation business that defines their existence.

Mr. Ferrara has pointed out that he could have fired all of them, rather than them firing him. Imagine holiday dinners after that scenario. The police would be out again to quell the disturbance, which would further poison the already bad blood.

Shareholders have been advised that Sal Ferrara is on the job, that the Board reconsidered their rash act and the candy is being panned as it always has been.

In the end, that's all the shareholders really care about. They want to know that their investment is safe.

Mr. Ferrara says it is. Time will tell.

In the meantime, enjoy an Atomic Fireball. They say that capsicum is good for you, and so tasty.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Are You Ready For The Rapture?

What are you doing this Saturday? Most of us will be at the pub, as per usual. Some of you might be waiting to ascend into heaven.

According to calculations, there's to be a massive earthquake at 6 pm Pacific Time in San Francisco, California.

I suppose I'll be stumbling home at around that time. Perhaps I should carry a few extra bottles to share with the heavenly hosts in the event that I find myself riding on the backs of the cherubim (see illustration).

Local preacher Harold Camping is on his second round of predicting the end of the world. Apparently he's skipped over the section in the Bible where Jesus says we'll not know the time or place of his Second Coming. The Reverend must be more in tune than the Lord God Himself, so.

There you are, cavorting in heaven, and your loved ones don't know where you've gone to. How's a person to enjoy Heaven under those conditions?

Wouldn't you know it, but someone's come up with a service that will allow you to e-mail your near and dear lost souls, for a price.

No, You've Been Left Behind hasn't hired on my mates from the local to manage things after the good Christians have ascended. Should their people fail to log in on a regular basis after Saturday's predicted Rapture, the system automatically triggers and the e-mails fly through cyberspace.

Should the Rapture fail to materialize, you can just send in another $14.95 for the next year, and rest assured that the sinners will be informed of your whereabouts should God spring the Rapture unannounced.

Even if you believe that all dogs go to heaven, they're not on the passenger manifest. Thank God for the atheists, who will care for your earth-bound pet after you've gone on to your reward.

Who's going to maintain the blogs and websites of the saved? I smell a money-making venture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Blame It On The Pill

With the introduction of artificial birth control, the seeds of the sex abuse scandal were sown.

That's what the Catholic Church would have us all believe.

The bishops studied the seminarians of the 1960's and 1970's. They examined the society from which these budding priests came. They concluded that society's discarding of sexual prohibitions resulted in the sexual abuse of children that has nearly bankrupted the Church.

It's not homosexuality to blame, even though more boys were abused than girls. The Church being so male-oriented, you see, there's more boys around to be molested.

It's not celibacy that's to blame. Ordering a normal male to refrain from sex does not attract an element unsure of its sexuality or seeking a hiding place from deviant thoughts.

The study also blames stress and lack of preparation and improper monitoring. Does that mean that men entering the priesthood in the 1930's through the 1950's were calm, prepared, and kept under a watchful eye? And when the sexual revolution struck, all the rules at the seminaries went away?

In Ireland, the sexual and physical abuse of children predates the sexual revolution era of the Swinging Sixties.

To claim that changing social mores resulted in a blossoming of priestly perverts is to assume that the laity is stupid.

After five years of study, this is the best they can come up with?