Friday, June 29, 2012

Adios Modelo

At this rate, we'll all have but the one beer to drink unless we start brewing our own.

The conglomerate that brews Budweiser (is it right to even call it beer?) has sucked down the rest of Grupo Modelo, makers of that fine flavored water commonly known as Corona.

Grupo Modelo also makes Modelo beer, which is quite tasty and makes an excellent chaser for a pitcher of margaritas. Paired with guacamole and chips, Negro Modelo is the beer that made Mexico famous.

AB InBev will pay over $21 billion American for the Mexican brand, to make for a more international selection of beverages, to add to the likes of Stella Artois and Bud. And of course they'll take on a debt load of $14 billion to fund the purchase, with an expectation of turning enough profit to cover the cost.

How will they turn that profit? By realizing synergies, of course.

That's code for firing people left and right, to squeeze more work out of each employee so that fewer employees are needed. They can merge sales forces, accounting departments, marketing, etc. and cut down on salary expenses.

For those who get synergized, well, I guess AB InBev figures you can go cry in your beer. Make it a Busch. It's cheaper.

Grupo Modelo is growing, which made it a tasty target for acquisition. For some reason, and it's probably clever advertising, Corona beer is wildly popular. It's the segment of the beer market that isn't declining, in spite of difficult economic times.

As the money rolls in and the synergies get realized, AB InBev can then move along and buy up another brewer, and then another, until the only beer you can buy is made by them.

Unless, of course, the Feds take note and slap AB InBev for trying to create a monopoly. No one likes a lack of competition, unless it's in the health care insurance industry. That's because monopolies drive up prices as they're the only game in town.

For now, AB InBev can dream big beer dreams and set their sights on swallowing their competition. At some point, they will reach a limit, whether it be financial or legal.

And at some point, too many people will be out of work and sales will drop off as drinkers make the hard choice between paying the mortgage or buying a six-pack.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

E-Borrowing From The Library

Last week, I had to ride the train for an hour, but I didn't think about taking a book along until I was on my way to the station.

Not that I had time to stop if anything were even open, either a shop or even the public library.

Except for the e-library, that is.

The public library has long been a place to access technology for those without funds to buy their own computers, and libraries have not slacked off when it comes to bringing in the latest gadgets. Librarians also know that many of their patrons use e-reading devices, whether it's a Kindle, a Nook or a smartphone.

What the librarians are encountering from big house publishers, however, is a refusal to allow borrowing. E-books are fairly cheap as it is, and it would hurt the bottom line if libraries took to purchasing more copies in digital and fewer hard-bound books. So even though patrons like and want e-books, the library cannot provide them.

Leave it to Smashwords, a cutting edge source of digital reading material, to pair up with a consortium of California libraries. Via Smashwords, those libraries will soon have access to an enormous collection of e-books once the system is operational.

Authors want people to read their books. That's why they wrote them. Smashwords authors are excited about the prospect of making their stories available to a wider audience.

You don't live in California?

If you can wait until July, you can purchase Newcastlewest Books' offerings at 50% off on Smashwords. It's a great way to get to know some brilliant authors and enjoy some excellent entertainment in the high heat of summer (or the cool of winter for those of you in the Southern Hemisphere.)

That's The Leaven of the Pharisees, A Terrible Beauty, and Lace Curtain Irish, all at 50% off list price. Enter coupon code SSW50.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Little Something For Jimmy To Run

Rupert Murdoch built up his news empire and then gave bits of it to his children to run.

And son James has run himself into trouble.

The phone-hacking scandal at the dear departed News of the World created a firestorm that threatens to burn through Mr. Murdoch's entire conglomerate. Things got so bad that James had to step down from his senior post and disappear into the shadows.

Murdoch's News Corp started as a little newspaper but it has grown. At present, newspapers make up a smallish percentage of the overall profits, while cable television, including Fox News, is where the money comes from.

Rumour has it that the Murdochs may divide the company, although splitting off entertainment from publishing may not be enough to salvage Mr. Murdoch's attempts to gain control of British cable provider BSkyB.

A savvy businessman, Mr. Rupert Murdoch is well aware of which side his bread is buttered. He let the scandal-plagued newspaper die, but he very much wants the entertainment venue for its profit-making potential.

Why is he splitting his company now, to separate publishing and television?

He has to put Jimmy somewhere, doesn't he? What safer place for a tainted executive than at the head of something harmless like HarperCollins?

The publishing house doesn't generate enormous profits. Indeed, the bits of News Corp that would be lumped together with the publisher make up a small part of the corporation's overall income.

It would be a good place to hide the prodigal son who wandered off the reservation and became a focal point for Parliament's ire. It would confine son James and his errors in a neat package that will be the publishing arm of NewsCorp, all the newspapers and books held at a distance from the entertainment arm.

That way, BSkyB could be shown to be well outside of James Murdoch's influence, to make the regulators happy and allow the stock purchase to go forward.

And the employees of HarperCollins could answer to a chastened Murdoch, who will no doubt be focused on increasing profits and making his daddy proud.

Just imagine the future at HarperCollins, turned into the print version of Fox News and the New York Post.....more E.L. James and less Anthony Bourdain (who's with FoxNews rival CNN)?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Financial Liposuction

Long ago in far away times, men took to the sea to hunt whales.

They wanted those whales for their fat, which could be melted down into oil for lamps. And many, many children studied their textbooks by the warm glow of the whale oil lamp.

The bloated whale that was Riverside-Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt-Greenwood-what have you has undergone a very quick process that resembles liposuction, although the publishing whale's blubber isn't convertible into oil.

It was convertible into warrants that reduced the debt load of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

As if by magic, HMH dropped 3.1 billion US dollars of debt, and if you've ever tried to diet, you know how hard it is to shed that much excess baggage.

With less debt to pay interest on, the slimmed down publisher expects that the reduced drag on the bottom line will help the firm to swim along through educational publishing materials waters, determined to remain on its fiscal diet.

There won't be any more publishing houses swallowed up by HMH any time soon.

The over-arching problems, however, remain.

Sales are down because local school boards have no money with which to buy new textbooks. In trade, there has been a decline in purchases as the general public hangs on to its cash to put petrol in the car, rather than a book on the shelf.

Employees have been paid while HMH undertook the Chapter 11 Cure, but there can be no guarantees that they all will continue to be employed if demand doesn't increase. At some point in the future, depending on the state of the global economy, there may be yet another restructuring.

There may be a need to shed a few more pounds, in the form of synergies to be realized (giving employees the sack, in standard parlance). And then there's the more desperate tack of radical surgery, in which large sections of assets are sliced off the HMH whale and sold as going concerns to other publishers, with the proceeds bringing in needed cash to pay off a stubborn debt load.

Yes, anyone who's had to diet to save their life can tell you how hard it is to lose weight, in spite of the most drastic actions.

I mean, have you seen Carnie Wilson? She's undergone a second weight loss procedure herself, after the first one proved ineffective.

We're all hoping that this time it sticks.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Follow The Tweet

Twitter may not be good for much beyond wasting time, but every now and then there's something that pops up that is worth knowing.

Literary agents who are active on Twitter often send out a tweet announcing that they are open (or closed) to queries. Getting yours under an interested nose at just the right time, when interest is high, can be enough to get a request for the manuscript.

It's all about timing, after all.

The same can be said of publishers. There are plenty of them out there, both small and large, and many of them maintain a twitter feed.

By and large, they use the Twitterverse to broadcast new releases or display little pieces of good reviews. It's all about sales. Twitter is just another marketing venue.

But at the same time, an editor might use those precious few characters to mention a shortage of some particular type of manuscript, or a certain genre that would be hot if they could find the right story right now.

Thanks to Publishers Weekly, you can browse a list of publishers on Twitter and find those that might be of some use to you.

You never know what someone might tweet, unless you follow.

As for all that Pinterest blather, there's got to be a limit to how much time you waste online.

You're supposed to be writing, don't forget.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Retirement Party

Hard to believe, but literary agents are human and they do the things that all of us do...or would like to do if we could afford it.

Literary agents can choose to work until they drop, slumping to the desk in death. Or they can retire.

Nancy Coffey has chosen retirement.

What's to become of her clients, in that case?

Chances are, some of them will migrate to other representation. But those who were signed on for their ability to write marketable young adult fiction will shift sideways.

Some time ago, Joanna Volpe went to work with Ms. Coffey, introducing such things as the blog, the twitter, and the e-query. She introduced some new clients, of course, though at first she was the YA agent while Ms. Coffey kept to her usual fare of adult works.

The once single-agent agency expanded again with the addition of two more agents, further edging towards books for the under-sixteen set.

Who would have guessed that Ms. Coffey was not expanding, but pulling back? Her namesake agency is about to be no more.

Ms. Volpe has joined up with her fellow Coffey-ites in forming a new agency.  Turning over a new leaf, the team has called their business New Leaf Literary & Media.

There is, as yet, no website up and running. They are not accepting queries while they get themselves organized and sorted. It's a good season for that sort of thing, considering how little work is done in the publishing industry over the summer.

In essence, this is an old agency under new management. It isn't likely that they'll be any more interested in your query two months from now than they were two months ago.

But after the dust settles, and your query is fresh, you might consider giving them a try. Things always look different when you're the one paying the bills. Taking on another client or two, or twenty, might have more appeal by then.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wake Me Up When They've Gone, Gone

Haven't had enough of 80's pop?

"Rock Of Ages" not doing it for you?

Fear not. Wham!!!!!! is going to re-unite for a single performance that will commemorate the 30th anniversary of their debut.

Wake me up when it's over.

I don't think I much want to return to the 80's, actually.

Wham! made cute, bubbly, happy little pop tunes, totally unlike the sort of music featured in that other rock musical starring Tom Cruise. The leader singer was a pretty boy who turned out to be gay but didn't come out because it would have hurt the band's financial success. Young, record-buying girls wouldn't be so enamored of the group if they thought the lead singer was crooning to their boyfriends and not them.

Even he wasn't planning on going solo (ironic lyrics there), George Michael has been performing on his own for some time, albeit with less success than he saw as part of a duo.

The pop band claims they won't do a big tour, but if that one-off performance sells out quickly, you'd have to believe that they'd add another show, and then another venue, and before you know it they're on the road and coming to a town near you.

If you should go, you'll watch a couple of guys who are now thirty years older, which will make you depressed as you realize that you, too, are thirty years older. Of course, there is always that moment in such reunion concerts when your mind takes you back to those happier times when you were young and innocent, without a care.

That's the bit that sells the tickets.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Day Off

Once a year, the siblings gather from near and far, to visit the parents and take note of how rapidly they are aging.

More frail than ever this year, we noticed. Still holding their own, just the same.

The big day of our meeting is today. Our work schedules have been adjusted, no one will be expecting us at the office. No phones. No questions about when a project is going to be done. No complaints from obsessive-compulsive clients.

If anyone is looking for me, I'll be in a pub.

Which one? Depends on what time you go searching.

We've done with the visiting, you see. It's time for our annual pub crawl.

I'm off. There's a pint with my name on it, and after that there's another, and another, and don't worry. I'm not driving anywhere.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Someone New To Read Your Query

Any time someone new arrives at a literary agency, it's time for you to submit.

New hires want to make their mark. They want to find something brilliant in the slush pile that proves their worth.

Start polishing your query letter. Shine up the opening pages of your manuscript.

Susan Golomb is in the market for a new assistant whose duties include manuscript evaluation. Yes, it just might be your manuscript that gets evaluated, and by a fresh pair of eyes.

Sounds easy, but what you don't know is when that new assistant will be on the job, so you don't really know when to hit 'send'.

Too soon, and it's an overtaxed Ms. Golomb reading the thing, and rejecting it because she just doesn't have the time to consider another client. Too late, and that new assistant will already be jaded, with eyes falling out of his or her head from reading so much jibberish.

So polish the query, shine up the manuscript, and rub your lucky rabbit's foot. There's always an element of luck involved on the rocky road to publishin'.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Last Chance For A Bloomsday Purchase

As you wander about Dublin today, viewing the sites that once were  seen by James Joyce or following the footsteps of his most famous character, Leopold Bloom, stop by the Dublin Woollen Mills shop and buy something.

It's the last chance at the family-owned shop that's been open since 1888. The Roche family is shutting it down.

Fans of all things Joycean know that the author once worked as a salesman for the firm, selling quality Irish haberdashery abroad.

Sadly, times have changed to such an extent that the owners cannot, or care not to, keep it going. The shop is profitable, they say, and they have seen an uptick in interest since the financial crisis struck with a vengeance, but government bureaucracy is too heavy a burden to carry any longer.

For all those women who started up home-based businesses that produced hand-knit items or one-off hats, they will have to go elsewhere for their supplies. Dressmakers who earned a little money from their skill and an ability to buy fabric cheap and sell finished garments at a profit may find that their business model no longer works.

Depending on wholesale costs, those craft industries just might go the way of Dublin Woollen Mills. In tough economic times, you cannot raise your prices and expect to keep your clients. And when you've started up your little cottage industry because you couldn't find any other job, it's not a positive outlook.

So cross the Ha'penny Bridge and walk up to the shop. Touch the knob that James Joyce once touched, walk the floors where the author once walked, and wonder why a government that says it's all for jobs fails to notice the little places that don't make a lot of noise.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The 'Women In Publishing Losing The Job' Genre

Whether or not you think the economy is improving, the turmoil of late has spawned a new genre in women's literature.

All over the fiction world, women in publishing are losing jobs.

To read the latest crop of novels, you'd have to think that the industry is being gutted. So many novels lately turn on the premise of a high-placed female executive getting the boot because sales are down or a new manager is taking over.

Fanny Blake's upcoming What Women Want is the latest in this new genre. No surprise that Ms. Blake is writing about the work world she knows well. She was an editor herself, before sitting down to write her own piece of fiction.

Her debut novel (is it really a debut when someone's got industry connections?) has been featured this week by St. Martin's Press Read-It-First program.

Within the first twenty-four pages, the readers are right in the middle of the changing of the guard at a fictional publishing house in England. Move that location to Boston and anyone working for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt would relate to the trauma of lay-offs.

But they'd find commonality in The Jane Austen Marriage Manual as well. Kim Izzo's novel is all about---a woman in publishing, in this case magazines, losing her job.

Oh, yes, and Ms. Izzo used to work at a fashion magazine, just like her protagonist.

Why the eruption of a new genre?

Can't you just picture all those editors in New York City, watching sales drop as corporate suits prowl the halls, looking for fresh meat to toss to the accountants? A book about someone like them being shown the door? Instantly relate-able.

So there's two authors who've cracked the paper ceiling by writing about a subject they know. Makes you wish you could get a more exciting job and get fired from it.

Strictly for research, of course.

Real life isn't like the fiction that's written about the unemployed. It isn't always a happy ending.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Day For The Poet

DOWN by the salley gardens my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy, as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish, with her would not agree.
In a field by the river my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears.

 How is it that a work of prose that is considered a masterpiece is rarely read?

But William Butler Yeats' poetry is not only read, but the average non-Joycean scholar can understand and appreciate it.

Yet until now, it's been James Joyce and Bloomsday that's been celebrated, with tourists and lovers of Ulysses (have even half of them read the thing?) tromping across Dublin, tracking the path of the book's protagonist.

Eating lamb kidneys and savoring the slight tang of urine---give me Yeats any day and keep the offal.

The folks in Sligo have decided that their man is worth a day of honor as well. Let's face facts. There are many who have read Yeats, people of all ages, and they've enjoyed the poet's works.

Reading Joyce is the literary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest. Many have tried but few have succeeded, and then there are the countless millions who think it's mad to even consider such an impossible feat.

They celebrated Yeats Day in Sligo, with tours and exhibits throughout the town. Poetry was recited at the Yeats Memorial Building. While Bloomsday tourists can follow Joyce's footsteps through Dublin, the Yeats crowd boated to the island of Innisfree on Lough Gill in commemoration of a Yeats poem.

This being the first year, most of the attendees were locals who appreciate William Butler Yeats. Unlike James Joyce, who decamped for the Continent, Mr. Yeats resided in Ireland and his words played a role in the Irish independence movement that began well before Easter, 1916.

The town of Sligo would like to expand on Yeats Day, so that in three years, they will be ready for a real party to celebrate the poet's 150th birthday.

 Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Happy Yeats Day.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Line Gets More Blurry By The Day

According to the rules of the Association of Authors' Representatives, a literary agent cannot taint their spotless fingers with ink.

Clearly, it's a conflict of interest for an agent to take on a writer when there's the possibility that the agent is only taking on the author to make money from publishing a manuscript rather than earning their income from representing that author.

You can't very well be a gatekeeper if you leave the gate open all the time.

Things have gone blurry of late. More and more agents are also acting as publishers for their clients, slipping into e-book publishing to get books out to the public.

Returning backlist, out-of-print works to readers doesn't really qualify as publishing, and so it has gone largely unchallenged.

But lately, agents like Ed Victor are using e-book publishing to put out something brand new that just didn't resonate with the traditional publishing houses. In these cases, the literary agent really believes in the value of the manuscript, and see a way to share their love with the rest of the world.

Now literary agent Andy Zack has taken things to the next level, although he may have invited a storm of criticism.

He has branched out into publishing in a slightly different way, by inviting authors who have considered self-publishing to consider his services.

Endpapers Press aims to do a bit more than something like CreateSpace or Which are free, so you'd not expect much for nothing.

Instead, Endpapers Press will sell the services of a traditional publisher to aspiring authors who haven't gotten anywhere via the standard route. Right, have you ever tried to figure out if an editor is worth the money or doesn't know a dangling participle from the subjunctive?

And not just anyone can publish through Endpapers....assuming that the financial model works and the owner isn't tempted to reach deeper into the slushpile for clients.

But is it ethical, under the guidelines of the AAR?

No one seems to know exactly, because the publishing industry is changing in ways that don't give clear indications about where things are headed.

Maybe the time will come when literary agents have the option of two different tracks, either going with the big publishing house or keeping things in-house. Or maybe they won't.

Quite blurry, that future outlook. Any hope of clarity some time soon?

The Experts Don't Always Know It All

Thirty-two years after Lindy Chamberlain said that a dingo took her baby, the experts in Australia have been proved wrong.

The experts said that dingoes did not take babies, and so Ms. Chamberlain was sentenced to life in prison for murder.

In fact, further research into dingo behavior showed that Australia's wild dog was perfectly capable of attacking humans, and had done so in the past.

It's just that the experts weren't so knowledgeable as they led the court to believe.

But those experts were quite useful to the local authorities, who had set their minds on the murder theory and they wanted a conviction no matter what.

It's not unlike the case of Dr. David Heimbach, considered an expert on the critical need for flame retardant chemicals in household furnishings. In his practice as a burn doctor, he's seen children who could have been saved if only the couch hadn't caught fire.

Except that Dr. Heimbach isn't quite so expert as all that. But his touching, albeit partially fabricated testimony, served the purpose of the chemical flame retardant industry, which put up Dr. Heimbach as its expert when Congress was debating a bill that would force foam manufacturers to include the chemicals in their products.

As it turns out, those chemicals do absolutely nothing to make furniture fire-proof because it's the outer fabrics that burn first, and the coverings burn hot enough to render the chemicals in the foam useless.

The chemicals are good for causing several health issues, however, and every time you drop into the sofa you're sending a cloud of carcinogens into the air you're breathing.

Next time you hear an expert speak on a given topic, consider their agenda. What's in it for them? Chances are, they may not be the absolute expert in their field and they are there to convince you of something that isn't true.

Trust everyone. But always cut the cards.

Monday, June 11, 2012

They Gave A Party And Nobody Came

The last time that a Eucharistic Congress was held in Ireland, it is estimated that half a million people came for the Mass.

At the opening of yesterday's Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, there were plenty of empty seats.

The Catholic Church in Ireland is giving a party this week, but no one is coming.

Fifty years ago, children were routinely removed from homes that the Church deemed unsuitable, and locked away in industrial schools until they were of age. Now adults, many of them are struggling to cope with the after-effects of horrific sexual, mental and physical abuse that took place behind closed, locked doors.

Fifty years ago, girls who were pregnant outside of marriage, girls who were classified as too pretty, and girls who had been raped were locked up in Magdalene laundries. Now adults, those woman are dying in poverty and obscurity, former slave laborers with no pensions, debilitated emotionally because of all that they suffered at the hands of the nuns.

Everyone knows what went on, and they've turned their backs on the Church. The bishops who were supposed to protect the children have been shown to be complicit as they shifted pedophile priests from parish to parish to hide them, rather than expose them.

So when those same bishops throw a party and make mention of healing, of forgiveness, there are few in attendance to listen to the words.

It's just that there's been so many words thrown about, and talk of forgiveness, but there's been no concrete action. More than anything, there has been an attempt by the clergy to get out from the financial burden of lawsuits brought by those who were victims of the Church.

Fifty years ago, when things could be hidden, half a million people went to Mass. Now that all has been revealed, they've gone to watch the football match.

Friday, June 08, 2012

The True Price Of Cutting Education Budgets

States are looking for ways to pare costs in order to survive.

What is expendable, what is critical? Sadly, education is not as critical as many of us would believe.

Teachers are left with gaping holes in their personal budgets, but credit must be given to those who are clever enough to find other ways to make money.

Being off for the entire summer might once have been looked on as a time for an extended vacation, but at least one teacher is putting the time to good use by taking on a second job.

Unfortunately for University of Georgia professor Max Roland Reinhart, the niche he thought needed filling is not one that can legally be filled.

Not to blame the man. He's a college professor, not a legal scholar. He's been living comfortably in his ivory tower for so long that he could not have known that offering sex acts for money is against the law.

 Prof. Reinhart made the common mistake of advertising online, not realizing that the first place the cops will go to find out where the prostitutes are is online.

Charging $120 per hour as a transsexual escort, the professor could have padded his income quite comfortably without having to put in an eight-hour day....or should that be night? Wouldn't you know, but it was an officer of the law who contacted Reinhart and agreed to meet at a Georgia motel. Once price was agreed, that was all it took to justify an arrest.

What disciplinary action will UGA impose? After all, they're all aware of how hard it is for college professors to make a living in this era of state budget cuts to education. Can they really fault the man for trying to pick up a little extra cash on his own time?

While he was working under the name "Sasha", but somehow it would be more fitting if he had called himself Lola Lola and agreed to meet his john at Der Blaue Engel. I mean, if you're a noted scholar of all things Goethe, shouldn't you market yourself with an eye on more modern aspects of German culture?

Funny how there's all this talk about the current economy being the worst since the Great Depression. Makes those movies from 1930 that much more pertinent to modern times, doesn't it?

After All That, I Forgot BEA

Sometimes the muse tickles your brain and you come up with a new query letter hook.

You can't wait to try it out.

I know I wasn't supposed to send out any query letters this week. All the literary agents are busy. And judging by their tweets, they're busy partying at the Javits Center in New York.

The book sellers are in town, promoting their wares to those who do the buying, and of course agents are there pushing their stock of manuscripts and tweeting about their clients who are signing books at Booth XYZ so stop by and say hello.

Book Expo America is done.

I'm hoping that the queries I sent yesterday, which will appear in the agent's inbox today, post-BEA, will not fall victim to a hangover, sleepiness, or a desire to start the weekend early so why go to work on a nice summer Friday when everyone will be taking the extra day off because who's going to the office after finishing up a big convention?

BEA is finished for this year.

Back to querying.

I know it's summer and the week in publishing is shorter, the days not quite as long, but I have this new query letter, and a revised opening to the manuscript. It's all a matter of blind luck, isn't it. Getting copy under someone's nose at the right time, but you can't predict when that right time is.

So it's always the right time. Especially now that BEA is done and it's one less distraction.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Return Of The Medici

The intrigue that led Niccolo Macchiavelli to write The Prince is not relegated to the distant past.

Centuries later, another round of intrigue, complete with stolen documents and blackmail, is playing out in the Vatican.

The days of the Medici are back, and you half-expect to find Dan Brown on the scene somewhere, penning a work of non-fiction.

Like any good suspense novel, this story opens quietly, with the arrest of the Pope's butler. Documents, stolen from the private correspondence of His Holiness, are found in the possession of a man described as mild-mannered.

Obviously, he's a patsy, he's been set up by someone higher up.

You read on, to discover who done it, but in this case, there's a real person or persons out to undermine the current Papacy, or attempting to exert powerful influence to have their choice elected by the College of Cardinals.

Not too Angels and Demons, is it?

According to the Vatican, someone is now trying to blackmail the Pope, who is thought to be nearing the end of his reign.

Perfect timing for a little Macchiavellian subterfuge, isn't it?

The blackmailer has called for the sacking of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's secretary of state, and the Pope's secretary Monsignor Georg Ganswein.

What is the Cardinal doing, if not studying the history of the Medici and Borgia clans? How does a man with his eye on those charming red Prada shoes go about putting himself on the throne of St. Peter when others are doing their best to keep him off the seat?

Supposedly, there are documents in the possession of Cardinal Bertone's enemies, and they have threatened to release the material which will, of course, be so shocking that the Church will shake to its very foundation. Thus far, what has been released all seems to be aimed at toppling the Cardinal.

Rumour has it that the men who stole the documents in the first place are a couple of Cardinals, but could they be power hungry themselves, or are they using devious means to save the Church from certain destruction at the hands of the evil Prince of the Church?

There's a novel in all this, one of those complex thrillers with twists and turns and the occasional red herring. You just know that Dan Brown is all over it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A Grand Gesture In A Nation Of Tea Drinkers

Well done, Starbucks.

You've come to a nation of tea drinkers and introduced Seattle-style burnt coffee and fancy beverages with Italian-ish names, but someone back in corporate headquarters really needs to study their geography before tweeting.

It was a grand gesture, to tweet an offer to win a free frappuccino. Everyone's doing something to celebrate the Queen's Golden Jubilee. The ubiquitous coffee vendor just wanted to join in the marketing mania.

Except that Starbucks asked its Irish followers to tweet back about what made them proud to be British.

Not since 1922, Starbucks, and even before that there was no pride.

Once the caffeine buzz died down, and someone at read the replies, the company issued an apology.

Sorry. The tweet was supposed to go to followers in Great Britain only.

Starbucks has several stores spread across the island, but over-all they operate at a loss. The idea is to convince the Irish that a cuppa doesn't have to be tea, and that an iced blend of coffee, sugars, syrups and miscellaneous flavors is just what you need on a chilly June morning.

Thus far, the message isn't penetrating deep into Irish culture. Then again, the brews are pricey and who has that kind of money to throw away on a coffee these days?

The faux pas about British pride won't put a dent in the business. If anything, it might spark a little curiosity. After all, it's become a topic of discussion, with tweets and retweets and replies generating some free publicity.

And as any marketer will tell you, all publicity is good, even if it appears bitter, strong and in need of a great deal of sugar and cream to make it palatable.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

God Help Me I've Flunked The Test

The question of how Catholic a person might be never came up in polite conversation before, so none of us ever considered it.

Sure we studied the catechism all those years ago, but who remembers those things that we had to memorize? It's not as if we used the knowledge. How many of us don't remember a word of Irish, and didn't we all have to learn that as well?

So the Irish Times has to go and ask us how Catholic we are.

Wouldn't you know it but I flunked the test.

Does that make me some sort of Protestant, or just a heathen?

Apparently, we're all fine with believing in the Resurrection, and we go to Mass....maybe not every Sunday, but we're there more than twice a year. No one is calling us Chr-Easter Catholics.

After that, it's all downhill.

When asked if they believed in the virgin birth, the average Irish Catholic paused.

Go on, really, a virgin birth? If you've done much historical research, you'd realize that the notion of virgin birth comes to us from the ancient Egyptians, who had a strong influence on the Mediterranean culture in Biblical times. So maybe the Apostles lifted the tale and did a bit of a revision to fit the narrative they were telling, and Isis became Mary.

That's one point off.

How about the Magisterium? Do we all believe that only the bishops and the Pope can teach the faith?

In light of the incomprehensible scope of the clerical sex abuse scandal, not only in Ireland but worldwide, who would trust the bishops when they open their mouths? And we're supposed to believe that women don't have the capacity to teach the faith because they're not bishops, but they can't be bishops because it's a men-only club.

Two points gone. I've lost forty percent with one question to go.

The Protestants decided long ago that the Eucharist isn't the real body of Christ, but symbolizes the sacrifice made to atone for our sins. Let's face it, that sort of concept makes far more sense than believing we commit acts of cannibalism at every Mass.

And so I've flunked.

But there's one aspect of Catholicism that I try to follow, and in my non-Magisterial opinion, it's the most important.

Don't worry about the details, about the nit-picking that goes on among a group of men with nothing better to do with their time than ponder minutiae. It comes down to loving one another. Isn't that what being a Catholic really means?

Monday, June 04, 2012

Some Of My Best Friends Are Publishers

Literary agent Ed Victor says that he did not start publishing his clients' books so that he could snub publishers.

It was a case of bringing back that which was out of print and might have a little life left in it.

Putting together an e-book is relatively inexpensive, and publishing one couldn't be easier. So the agent gathered up the titles he thought would sell again, and published those that a traditional publisher didn't think were worth the bother.

His little publishing house, Bedford Square Books, started out with six titles. Then Mr. Victor added the option of providing hard copies via print on demand, for those who prefer their books made of wood pulp.

Ed Victor recognized the changes to the book industry that came about when e-books became acceptable to the reading public.

With the invention of the smart phone, it's possible to carry several books around, all neatly tucked into an electronic device that provides instant access to reading material. We can all read the latest novel on the train heading to work, in the car while waiting for the kiddies to be released from school, or even when waiting for the train to pass at a level crossing.

But Mr. Victor has fallen.

He had a couple of manuscripts that he loved. He was sure they were books that would sell. His publisher friends disagreed and didn't buy them.

So he published them himself through Bedford Square Books.

Sure he went the traditional route and followed protocol and all the rest. But when he was turned down, he thumbed his nose at those too blind to see the quality of Dead Rich, a novel by Louise Fennell which has sold nicely by the way.

The rise of e-books and print on demand has changed the industry, which Mr. Victor thinks is not responding to those changes. He's become pro-active for his clients, acting as literary agent and publisher to get their words out there.

As he stated in a recent article, Mr. Victor sees the shift in publishing, but like everyone else, he can't predict which direction things will go.

He feels that he is a better agent now that he's dipped a toe in publishing. He's certainly more aware of the commercial end of things, the selling aspect that was a publisher's concern.

And he can look at a manuscript through a different lens. If he loves a new work, it doesn't matter if a traditional publisher does or not. There's always Bedford Square Books.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Resist The Urge To Query

In case you have a fresh query letter or a fresh roster of literary agents to be queries, you are advised to put all of that aside for the next week.

No, it's not the usual summer hiatus to the Hamptons, although that can be an issue and it's true that most people in publishing disappear early on Fridays.

The literary agents are soon to be leaving their offices, to migrate to the Javits Center in New York.

You've noticed that they're still in the city, but there's no time for your query. Or your manuscript submission, if you're that lucky.

Full literary agent attention will be given over to Book Expo America, and not to you.

BEA, as it is called, is all about selling books. That's what a literary agent does. Ergo, the agents will be at the Javits Center trying to sell their clients' wares, while the publishers they sell to will be trying to sell their wares to book buyers and librarians.

It's a big deal in the publishing industry.

Your query, in comparison is not.

So don't waste a good query on an absent agent. Wait until they're back, and hope that you submit at the right time to get their maximum attention.

And hope the agent you're submitting to is in a good mood, maybe had a successful week at the expo, and knows a publisher who is looking for exactly the book that you've written.

The Devil Wears Second-Hand Prada Knock-offs

When Lauren Weisberger wrote The Devil Wears Prada, the world was a different place. So different that I don't know that we'd recognize it anymore.

The author has penned a sequel to the blockbuster novel, but ten years later, is the devil wearing Prada or has the economy taken its toll? Does the devil pick up inexpensive Prada knock-offs from the street vendors in New York City?

There was something about the original novel that fit the times, with the economy booming. It was the era of "Sex and the City", buy buy buy and don't forget the shoes.

Too many of those who read the first installment don't have jobs now and they can't even begin to care about fashion trends or nasty bosses. They'd be happy for any sort of boss at all, handing them some sort of paycheck.

Times have changed, drastically. Even so, Simon & Schuster is taking a chance that the audience that made The Devil Wears Prada a hit will come back for a second round.

The publisher is betting that women readers are more in need of escape than ever, and they're willing to look back ten years to find some rest from modern-day worry over paying the bills.

And there's no mistaking Ms. Weisberger's sequel as anything but escape reading. There's nothing to be taken seriously when the narrative revolves around a bridal magazine editor planning her own wedding while dealing with her former devil of a boss.

Fans of the original roman a clef will be waiting for the lay-down. But this time around, they just might be waiting in front of the shelf of new fiction at the local public library, where the price of two week's worth of entertainment is available at no extra cost.