Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Too Smart, Too Stupid: North Shore Edition

They are said to be among the smartest kids in the Chicago area.

Their parents are well-heeled and high-powered, the leaders in society and business. Children from the New Trier district are expected to achieve, to go on to Ivy League schools, and then come back to replace their parents as well-heeled and high-powered parents of the next generation.

Turns out those offspring of the North Shore are just as stupid as any other high school kids out there who don't have all the privileges that money can buy.

Six students from New Trier Township High School snapped some racy pictures and then used social media to spread them around. Maybe they used the latest iPhone, rather than some cheap model, but in the end it made no difference.

Not the first time kids have done it, but you'd like to think that kids with so many advantages in life wouldn't be so dumb.

No one has described what the subject of the inappropriate pictures was, but it was enough for the police to be called in to launch an investigation. Six young men were charged with distribution of harmful materials, in other words, they shared what an intelligent being would not have shared.

The group will face a jury of their peers rather than a judge in juvenile court. The school will scramble to add some instruction on proper use of phone cameras and social media to prevent someone else from acting on a lapse of good judgment. In a town where gossip flows freely, the parents are already facing a jury of their own peers, and nothing is more punishing than to suspect that your neighbors are laughing at you behind your back and questioning your abilities as a parent.

Whatever punishment is inflicted on the miscreants, it cannot be worse than the knowledge that they are not as special as they might have thought. They are just as capable of idiocy as the kids from underprivileged backgrounds.

It's like putting a little crack in the North Shore bubble and getting a whiff of ordinary air.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Good Deal For Authors...If They Own Stock

Assuming that the deal to merge Random House and Penguin passes anti-monopoly rules, two of the Big Six publishers will make the biggest one out of five.

The biggest publisher the world has ever seen, to be more precise.

Markus Dohle of Random House, which is being acquired by Penguin, has stated the case for the merger from the stockholders viewpoint. As you'd expect, a deal done at the higher levels is done to benefit the stockholders. That's how business goes.

But he also inserts a positive note into his remarks on the merger. Random House isn't going to change its ethos, he claims. At least that's his view at this point, before the actual fusing process causes unexpected results that could make his assertions moot.

This deal, Mr. Dohle says, is going to be good for authors and their literary agents because nothing will be different as far as Random House acquiring new books. The imprints will still be there, still looking for the same sort of book, still buying. The editorial focus will not be altered just because it's now Random Penguin or Penguin House or some computer-generated name.

Neither will there be synergies (mass firing of employees). He expects the big publisher to grow. This will not be a case of two big companies shrinking at all.

This will not resemble the merger of Riverdeep and Houghton Mifflin and Harcourt, which was intended to make the biggest educational materials publisher the world had ever seen.

But how can it not?

Penguin's sales are down. The industry, in general, is selling fewer books.

Digital publishing is changing the old ways of selling books, but can an even bigger, more unwieldy corporation come up with better ways to "reach out to even more readers around the world"?

Whatever is decided in the boardroom, you can bet that it will be a strategy to maximize shareholder value. Does that sound like more opportunities for new authors to break into the field? For more chances on unknown writers being taken, rather than focusing on the blockbusters and big names?

Time will tell, of course. A change of administration in Washington could bring a change to the mindset of the Justice Department, which may or may not look favorably on a mega-merger that could threaten American jobs. The current administration may not be keen to let jobs go, either.

In these early days, it's a lot of talk, and like any other romance, the talk is sweet.

No one will be fired. More books will be published. Authors won't be hurt. Assuming that they own stock in Random Penguin House, that is. Then they're assured of getting the maximum value from their holdings.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Prove You're Irish

Due to Hurricane Sandy, publishing is closed for the day.

Along with Wall Street, unless you're trading electronically, but where's the fun in that?

So you have nothing better to do all day. Why not prove that you're Irish?

All you need is a few euro (although American dollars are quite welcome) and the Irish Heritage people would be happy to provide you with written proof that you're Irish.

There is a catch.

You have to provide them with information on at least one ancestor who left Ireland. This isn't for the non-Hibernians, who might wish to defraud others on St. Patrick's Day. This is a genuine authentication for those who don't qualify for an Irish passport but wish to display their heritage in a lovely frame over the mantle.

The problem is, not enough of the millions of descendants of the Irish diaspora have taken advantage of the opportunity, to the consternation of the committee.

For the past year that the offer has been in place, only about one thousand certificates were sold.

That is not what the Department of Foreign Affairs had in mind.

They thought this would be a popular little scheme that would pay for itself through the cost of the certificate, but there's no money to be made if the fixed cost of the staff doing the research isn't covered by a sufficient income from sales.

While things aren't going as well as anticipated, the scheme is being extended in the hope that people with Irish roots will discover it and buy in.

Because of the hurricane, your day is largely free. Why not order your own certificate, before the hurricane passes and New York City opens up for business again? You'll be the envy of all your neighbors, with your certificate on display.

Prove you're Irish. The Department of Foreign Affairs will thank you.

Act now. The offer may not last. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Flightless Birds And The Synergies They Realize

A few years back, Barry O'Callaghan merged a few publishers into a big whale of a firm that is currently struggling to hold itself above water.

He took on an ocean of debt, believing that he could cut costs to such an extent that the merger would pay for itself.

What he called "realizing synergies" as departments were combined was a code word for cutting the work force.

A lot of people were given the sack, while those left were under pressure to do the work of 1.5 or 2 employees to compensate.

Both Pearson's Penguin division and Bertelsmann's Random House are officially courting, with a plan to unite their publishing units into something that will be more successful than their individual entities.

Pearson knows all about the debacle that was O'Callaghan's combination of Riverside, Houghton Mifflin, and Harcourt and a few other little minnow publishers. Like the newly created Educational Media and Publishing Group, Pearson is heavy into educational publishing.

The idea of buying up Random House outright would have been viewed through the HMH-Riverside-et al. prism, with the nightmare of unserviceable debt hanging over discussions. As for Pearson selling Penguin, the publishing firm is too large to be appetizing in the current economic climate.

Penguin and Random House would be combined in a 50:50 deal that would create a trade publishing entity owning about 20% of the market. Some predict it could extend its reach to control 40% of the market.

Assuming the deal passes muster with the anti-monopolists in the U.S. Justice Department, that is.

And if it does, what of the two sales forces, the two accounting departments, the two marketing departments, the two of everything else?

Penguin and Random House will realize synergies.

People will lose jobs.

Perhaps it's necessary to keep the publishers alive, to streamline operations and shrink back from their bulk gained in the fat years when people bought more books.Until the two owners reach some sort of agreement on how they'll combine the publishing units, it's impossible to say how many synergies they'll be wanting to realize to make the deal work for the stockholders.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Question

I have lost my query mojo, if I ever had it.

Agents don't seem to be interested in my latest version of a query that I thought had all the right elements to snag a little attention, lay out the protagonist's quest and hint at the dire consequences to follow if he failed.

Some feedback from agents who did request pages led me to do some revising, but I'm left with a question because of a suggestion from Jacqueline Flynn at Joelle Delbourgo's fine establishment.

Like the others, she noticed that the opening chapter was confusing because there wasn't enough backstory to set the stage for the reader.

Not everyone knows the history of this piece of historical fiction, which isn't set in the Tudor or Elizabethan era. Those periods have been covered so thoroughly that fans of historical fiction already know what's up.

But there was more than that.

Ms. Flynn suggested that I have a professional editor work on the opening.

The problem, beyond the financial, is the fact that Joelle Delbourgo also provides editing services.

Not that Ms. Flynn mentioned it. She didn't include any sort of contact information or mention the fact that Ms. Delbourgo is an editor. Just a simple statement, to have an editor go over it.

So is there something in the writing that has merit, enough that it would be worth my effort to send the first chapter off with a check? Or was the suggestion a subtle way to promote the agency's editing department?

The temptation's been placed before me. I would like to find out if the writing could be fine-tuned and tweaked into something a literary agent would consider.

Alas, the money to pay for it just isn't there.

I'm back to doing it myself, hoping that I've figured it out on my own. Now if only the query would do its magic and get some agents to take a look at the revised version of the manuscript...

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Go Small Or Go Home

Kindle hasn't exactly put wads of cash into Amazon's pockets, but that could be by design.

Don't the razor manufacturers give away razors with abandon? They'll take the loss on that part of the shaving device, knowing that they'll get you when you go out to buy blades. Profits come from the paraphernalia, not the device itself.

So too does the Kindle sell at cost or a near loss, with Jeff Bezos figuring on the buyer purchasing lots of books from Amazon to load onto the device. Profit in the paraphernalia, not the device itself.

Apple's iPad has been an enormous seller, a small computer that does more than display words of a book onto its screen.

If you were looking to buy something to read on, you might consider an iPad because it does more than a Kindle. What if you have a sudden urge to surf the net? Link to your iPod?Can't do that with a Kindle.

Price is the hurdle.

Kindles are cheap. iPads are expensive. If your budget is tight, you might want an iPad more than a Kindle but if the money isn't there, you settle.

Never a company to miss an opportunity to make money, Apple is planning to release a smaller version of the iPad to compete with Kindle.

If it can compete on price, Apple will win.

The company has a certain cache, with its lovely Apple stores and its many products that all interact so easily and beautifully.

Kindle is downright clunky by comparison, the old family sedan going up against a sleek Jaguar.

Amazon has their ebook format, and you can only buy from Amazon. Apple has iBooks, part of their iTunes division, and you can buy ebooks to download onto your iPad on Smashwords. Authors get a better deal there as well.

So where does Amazon go, to head off the Apple assault? The Kindle is a loss leader. Can they sell it for even more below cost and still keep at it, or will Apple do to Kindle what it did to the Sony Walkman?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Fracturing The Young Adult Genre

With the dazzling success of the Harry Potter series, literary agents across the globe are clamoring for more of the genre.

No, not fantasy with witches and spells and cloaks of invisibility.

Books aimed at young adults are hot, largely because the material is simple enough for mid-grade children to read but complex enough for their parents to enjoy as well.

That's hitting two segments of the book buying market.

But what about those who are not parents or wouldn't be caught reading some book aimed at kids?

Welcome to the "New Adult".

If Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is too difficult to read, with too many long sentences and big words, we'll soon have a revised version of the same theme, but geared towards "New Adult". Shannon Stoker has penned The Registry, which was sold to William Morrow as a "new adult" series that suggests a more mature version of The Hunger Games but with a nod to a very grown-up adult book.

What makes it "New Adult" rather than simply adult fiction?

The characters are not ten-year-old wizards. They are usually in their late teens going on their early twenties, the university years. So does that make Goodbye, Columbus a "new adult" novella? Has it been placed in the wrong category all these years?

Or is there really no need for a new category?

It sounds more like publishers have seen this demographic segment of society, with its love of electronic gadgets, and decreed that they would buy more books if they were led to believe that the books were written just for them, about them, and only them.

No parents intruding, asking when they'll be getting a job and their own place.

For those wee little ones who think they're far too mature for the young adult section, new adult is a perfect fit. They're almost new adults at the age of thirteen, aren't they? Not old adults like their parents who read stodgy, dull things that you'd find in some boring literature class.

Authors who have penned novels with characters fresh out of secondary school take note. When you query a literary agent, slip in a mention of the "new adult" genre. It's hot right now. It's a cod, but it's hot and it shows you're up to date on the lingo of publishing. It might be enough to get your manuscript a look.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Before You Buy That Book

Goldman Sachs wants you to know that former employee Greg Smith is lying through his teeth so you can't believe a word he's written about the corrupt culture at Goldman Sachs.

In fact, it's a waste of money to buy his book. It's a waste of time to read it.

Do you think anyone is really listening to Goldman Sachs? Or is it more likely there's an eager anticipation of Greg Smith's expose of the Wall Street behemoth?

The book will not be released until 22 October, so Goldmans Sachs is doing its best to damage the author's credibility as much as possible. If he fails to sell through, if the book is a flop, their work is done.

Through channels, Goldman Sachs has let it be known that Mr. Smith was one of their worst employees towards the end of his term. He only wrote the book, a work of fiction when you get right down to it, to get even for getting the sack.

Who's believing Goldman Sachs? Approximately no one.

Particularly not those who bought mortgage-backed securities at the behest of their Goldman Sachs broker, only to find that the securities lacked all security. The whole scheme, to offload junk investments to the unwary, soured the world on the investment banker.

Mr. Smith began his writing career with an op-ed piece in the New York Times that laid out his disillusionment with a company that had changed radically during his ten years of employment.

Since the letter was published last March, Goldman Sachs has had plenty of time to compile a dossier of mud to fling at their former employee. They hope to cause a potential book buyer to think twice, implying that whatever is in the book is too distorted to be believed, but Goldman Sachs has such a dismal reputation that all they'll end up doing is promoting the book.

If they're trying to besmirch the author just days before his tell-all book is laid down, they must be worried about what is written there. They'd like the public to think it's not true, so that when Goldman Sachs gets caught doing something else slightly illegal, that general public won't be bombarding their elected representatives with calls to lop off a few heads.

All the trash talking just makes the book that much more intriguing. Sales won't be harmed by Goldman Sachs' reports on a disgruntled employee. Sales will be boosted.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

No Paper, No Ink, No Newsweek

The publishers of Newsweek magazine have decided that the weekly rag can only survive as an electronic blip.

The cost of putting out a glossy color magazine is greater than the income to be derived from selling it. Not enough people are subscribing or purchasing to sustain a news journal.

Eliminating the physical copy will save money on printing costs, but the question still remains. Will enough people subscribe to the digital edition to make that viable? Or is Newsweek on its deathbed?

These days, a large portion of the population gets their news online. It's the old folks, who are dying out, who cling to the hard copy that they can hold in their hand and turn real pages. Online news is the wave of the future.

Given that evolutionary track, you have to wonder how many of Newsweek's current subscribers are old dinosaurs who don't have a tablet computer and will have to say good-bye to the magazine. They aren't going to run out to buy an iPad just to read a collection of news articles when they can switch to Time.

And what of the younger set accustomed to online news? Are they accustomed to getting their news in bits and pieces, or will they learn to love a site that provides the variety of a magazine?

Owners of news kiosks around the world are left to wonder where they'll be in ten years time, if this trend to online publishing takes hold.

Writers and editors have to wonder as well. Getting found online is not as easy as being placed on a rack in a public place with high foot traffic. Surviving in the online market could prove too difficult, or too expensive.

As for salaries, consider the sad fact that limiting publication to a digital edition is intended to cut costs. The next step is decreasing pay rates to further reduce expenses, or eliminating positions where one can do the work of three at the salary of less than one employee.

Already, Newsweek is paired with The Daily Beast, which doesn't sound like any sort of stodgy, serious news site. How long before it's only The Daily Beast, and Newsweek is relegated to the archives, to sit in the dust with Look or The Literary Digest?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scrapping Education At Northern Illinois University

In the hallowed halls of academia, so much is done on the honor system.

Students are expected to write papers without plagiarizing, and the professors don't go off to Google key phrases from every single composition. They assume that the quest for education and knowledge is enough guidance without checking.

So too do the maintenance workers go about their tasks at such places of learning as Northern Illinois University.

Waste bins are emptied, floors are mopped, and leaking faucets repaired. Buildings get renovated to provide a safe learning environment.

Paychecks are cut and distributed to those performing their tasks.

Then there are those for whom the honor system is a piggy bank into which they might dip their beaks and suck up a little more cash than those who would never think of doing something that violates the public trust.

At NIU, the associate vice president who was supposed to be ensuring that those greedy employees were held in check turned out to be one of the employees in need of observation. Robert Albanese, in charge of finance and facilities, was merrily selling scrap materials from university renovation projects and putting the cash into a private bank account that did not list NIU as a signatory.

The university tasked controller Keith Jackson with putting an end to the scheme when the private fund was uncovered last August.

Is there no honor among thieves? Apparently not. Mr. Jackson has just been accused of moving those illegal funds into his personal account. Rather than improve property control, he found a way to benefit from the recycling program that Mr. Albanese had begun.

Nine university employees have been charged with felonies relating to the theft.

The university's administrators are shocked by the size of the scheme, and they can't be feeling too good about their ability to vet employees. When the person in charge of stopping a crime engages in the same crime, it's not a ringing endorsement of the hiring process.

And to think that the taxpayers of Illinois were socked with an income tax increase, while the money gets put into the pockets of those devious enough to help themselves to it.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Will The Lie Become The Truth?

The literary world is still buzzing about Mo Yan's selection as this year's Nobel-est writer on earth.

His books, once obscure, are set to be reprinted for the curious who will buy at least one to find out what all that buzz is about.

So, who gets a share of the royalties? Who's the literary agent?

It should be a simple matter. The publisher of the books knows who is due the checks.

Andrew Wylie's elite agency says it's them what gets the money. They've been negotiating here and there among various publishers. They list Mo Yan as one of their clients, so doesn't that make it so?

Except that Sandra Djikstra says she is the agent of record. She's the one who represented the author when he was a nobody, toiling away and standing solidly on the side of the Communist regime.

If not for her efforts, no one in the Western world would know Mo Yan. Which means, of course, that he'd be sitting in his room in China rather than basking in the glory of the shining Nobel.

Should another copy of Red Sorghum be sold, Viking will cut a check for Ms. Djikstra's agency. As far as they know, she is the author's representative.

But there's the Wylie Agency, contacting publishers and doing what a literary agency is supposed to do for clients.

Is the powerhouse agency being less than honest? Do they plan to negotiate a contract, bring it to the author (or Hu Jintao who runs the country and everyone in it) and make their lie into a truth?

Ms. Djikstra may become victim to a "what have you done for me lately" scenario. Even though she pushed the author's works from the beginning, now that he's in the big time, he is considered ripe for plucking by an agency so exclusive they can poach clients with impunity.

The lie that Wylie is spreading may very well become the truth when he snags a lucrative deal, better than what Ms. Djikstra has negotiated to date, and she'll be erasing Mo Yan from her client list.

She was there for him back in the day, when he was obscure, and now that he's famous, she's about to lose him. And there's not much she can do, beyond topping whatever deal Wylie can do.

Ethically, one doesn't leave an agent without prior warning, but ethics don't exist in Communist China.

A country that wouldn't think twice about poisoning its children with tainted milk surely isn't concerned with screwing over a literary agent.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Demise Of The EU Is At Hand

When it comes to the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, the committee has developed a rather poor track record.

They've managed to provide plenty of fodder for comedians who mock the choices, but they've also shown an ability to select a winner who then goes off in the opposite direction.

You've only to look at the award being given to the U.S. President, who proceeded to order some not very peaceable drone attacks that have killed quite a few who would have argued that Mr. Obama was hardly a messenger of peace.

Now the committee has decided that the European Union has performed some magnificent feats of peace, and so a bureaucracy is given the prize. Considering the state of the economy in the EU, the money will be a welcome windfall.

It makes for a lovely parting gift for the Greeks, who are on the verge of getting the boot from the economic union of European nations.

How much longer will Catalonia remain part of Spain? They're talking secession, to escape the dismal outlook that's the result of too much spending, high taxes, and a system of governance that is not sustainable.

Ireland will hang in there, muddling along while the citizens do their best to survive. It's something they've done for centuries anyway.

Some have suggested that Germany get out because it has been too negative when it comes to cost cutting and tight budgets. Let them go live frugally while the Italians sit in the cafe and sip espresso, watching the world go by. Why work when you don't really have to? Everything is under the table in Italy anyway, a lot of cash transactions to avoid the taxman, which is something else the straight-laced Germans dislike.

The Nobel Prize for Peace has gone to the European Union, but the member nations are at war with one another. It's only a matter of time before the honor from Sweden tears the organization apart completely.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another Book For The To-Be-Read Pile

Mo Yan has won the Nobel prize for literature.

As usual, he's an author I've never heard of. I've never read one of his books. I'm not at all familiar with his body of work, even though Red Sorghum was made into a movie starring Gong Li. I've heard of her, at least.

According to Peter Englund of the award committee, once you read a few pages of Mo Yan, you know it's Mo Yan. The writing style is that distinctive.

The author is also noted for his prose, which combines fantasy and reality. Sounds like one of those Chinese martial arts movies, doesn't it? Bodies flying through the air in slow motion, utter fantasy, and then the fighting starts and it's a combination of fantasy and reality. Mostly fantasy.

So judging by the description from Mr. Englund, Mo Yan puts into words what you've already seen if you've watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There are elements of Chinese mythology mingled with the modern era, but seeing as Mo Yan lives and works in China, you'd expect him to depart from reality when depicting that modern era. If he hadn't, he wouldn't still be writing outside of a prison cell.

I am intrigued. If I can get my hands on a copy of Red Sorghum in any format, I'll give it a try.

It's not entirely due to the fact that the author won the Nobel. Gong Li has a lot to do with it.

Anyone have a DVD of Raise the Red Lantern or Curse of the Golden Flower I can borrow? Oh, and Mo Yan's book as well, a copy to spare? I did say I was going to read it before I was distracted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

With Evolution Comes Extinction

I suspect that the women mourning the demise of the Toronto Women's Bookstore are ladies of a certain age.

They speak of the shop, in business for almost forty years, as a jewel or a rare resource.

What they don't talk about is evolution. They don't equate the bookstore with sabre-toothed tigers or mastodons.

The independent book vendor specialized in feminist literature. There was a time, in a previous generation, when that sort of thing was cutting edge. It was difficult to obtain books relating to women and women's liberation.

Forty years later, we're at the third generation and the current crop of women don't know how it used to be.

They don't need a special bookstore to obtain books on female health or sexuality. Our Bodies, Ourselves isn't hard to find, if someone wanted a copy. Today's twenty-something female might not have ever heard of the book at all.

The feminist movement of forty years ago has evolved, like so many other life forms. Much that women fought for is now taken for granted. What used to be unique is commonplace.

To an extent, the big box stores did in this little independent, but not so much on price as on availability. The women of a certain age who wanted a feminist tome could get it easily, without having to resort to one particular shop.

And then there is the lack of interest among the second and third generation of liberated women. Feminist books have become a niche market that cannot sustain an entire shop. It doesn't matter how much effort an owner would put into providing interesting speakers or holding two-for-one sales or whatever. The audience has shrunk down to the point that the bookstore's life was unsustainable.

The Toronto Women's Bookstore is a victim of evolution, and it is about to become extinct.

Sic transit gloria mundi.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Must Present Proof Of Insurance And WeightWatchers Membership

Automakers are under pressure to produce cars with greater fuel economy.

The engineers are analyzing reams of data, calculating drag and friction, and they've come to an important conclusion.

The bodies within the car's cabin have gotten too big.

Increasing rates of obesity are cutting into a vehicle's fuel efficiency. The engineer can make the car's body as light as safely possible, but when they next add in a couple of adults and a few kids, all that poundage just spoils their well-crafted plans.

There is only one way to work around this critical issue.

In future, anyone purchasing or registering a motor vehicle must present proof of insurance and proof that they are enrolled in some sort of weight loss program. Not only will the clerks at the Department of Motor Vehicles test your vision, they'll weigh you.

Do you think automobile designers are going to keep on streamlining cars if the drivers supersize? Those people study for many years to become skilled at their craft, and they aren't going to put up with car owners reversing all those gains in fuel efficiency.

The cup holder of tomorrow will sense the contents of your beverage and eject any and all sugary drinks. Black coffee or sugar-free liquids only will be allowed, and you can forget about fitting any extra large drink container in one of them.

Sensors in the seats will sound alarms if you're beyond the weight limit. Advanced car models will not start if the driver or passengers are too fat.

We all know we're supposed to be watching what we eat and drop a few pounds, but so far, nothing the government has done seems to work.

It's time to step it up. Take away something that people really want---their cars. America would soon be the slimmest nation on earth.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Build The World For The Reader To Inhabit

The manuscript is back from the beta reader and the verdict is in.

Not enough backstory.

As an author, you don't want to bore your readers with an info dump right there in the first chapter. On the other hand, if you don't put in some backstory, they can't put the characters into the right context.

There is action, tension, but why are these people saying what they're saying?

So the first chapter must be re-written, to drop in bits and pieces of the history of the conflict that is at the heart of the manuscript. How much gets put in? That's the hard part.

With historical fiction, the author usually knows the subject matter well. So well that it's hard to pull outside of the past and realize that the readers aren't all so versed in that time period. They need a little guidance to orient themselves.

Today I head back to the source, to the history books that are stacked in piles around a bookshelf that is packed. I'll review key incidents and dates, write a rough draft that's all backstory, and then chop it up into a fine dice.

Those nuggets of information must then be distributed, here and there, just enough. After a re-write, the revised chapter will have to sit, to ferment, and to escape my thoughts. When I go back to look at it again, I'll need fresh eyes to see if the world I want my readers to inhabit is framed in, with a solid foundation and the rudiments of four walls.

Revising isn't as enjoyable as the writing. It's where the hard work of writing exists, when the author struggles to find the right word, the best turn of the phrase, and the shortest way to build an era in the past so that the readers know where they're at by the time they finish that opening chapter.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

The British Version Of A Life Sentence

Derek Brockwell was such a danger to society that the British courts finally threw the book at him. Twenty-two life sentences, served concurrently, were handed down.

That's a dangerous man, there.

He made his living in bank robbery, but he threatened the tellers and the customers with a gun in the process. Not the sort of person you'd want to see on the street.

You'd think you'd be safe from the possibility of being shot dead by Mr. Brockwell while he helped himself to the bank's cash, but a life sentence is England isn't quite so severe as it sounds.

No, indeed.

Mr. Brockwell wasn't doing hard time. He was put in Kirkham Prison where he was expected to be trustworthy. He was released during the day to go to work, but who would have guessed that a man with a penchant for armed robbery would not return?

And that the very day he went missing, another bank was robbed by an armed raider?

Last Thursday, Mr. Brockwell was featured on a BBC programme of the country's most wanted, but he was busy in Ireland and missed watching his story told on TV. He was robbing a bank in Blackrock, you see, doing his usual job with his gun.

Working abroad has its drawbacks. In the case of Derek Brockwell, he didn't know his way around and making a decent escape wasn't a simple matter. He tried to flee in a taxi, but traffic in Dublin is a nightmare and the gardai caught up to him in no time.

He'll be sent back to England soon, to finish serving his twenty-two life sentences.

Although he won't go back to his dormitory cot at Kirkham Prison. He'll just ruin the statistics on recidivism rates and no one wants the British public questioning the way certain prisons are run.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Fishes Without The Loaves

If he'd had bread, maybe fisherman Seamus O'Flaherty wouldn't have gotten himself into trouble for giving away fish to the hungry of Wexford. If you're serving fishes, you need loaves.

Like a good Christian, he cast his nets upon the waters and reeled in...not apostles, but monkfish.

Too much monkfish, actually. The European Union has rules on how many monkfish a vessel can haul in. Go over that quota and you're to toss those excess fish, all quite dead by this time, back into the sea.

To feed predator fish, perhaps. Or more likely, to rot.

Mr. O'Flaherty and his skipper Jimmy Byrne know that there are people in Ireland who are going hungry, and they know Irish history. How much food was exported by order of the British authorities in 1848 while people starved to death in the boreens?

So they boxed up the excess catch, listed it as an overage on EU-mandated reports, and put those boxes out on the quays in Wexford.

People were invited to help themselves to perfectly good fish that would otherwise have been thrown away.

And for that, the gardai were called out.

There's talk of Mr. O'Flaherty being prosecuted for violating the EU mandate that he discard perfectly good food, even if people go hungry, because that's the rule.

It's one thing to set a quota to prevent overfishing, which in the long run could damage the industry. Take too many fish and there's not enough to make new fish, which spells the end of that species.

But if the EU lets a fisherman overfish and then tells him to throw away the fish, it doesn't help solve an overfishing issue, if that is indeed the issue.

Mr. O'Flaherty can fall back on religious persecution and call out the ghosts of Black '47 if the authorities charge him with a crime. No jury in the land would convict him.

So it proves that no good deed goes unpunished, and in the bureaucratic tangle that is the European Union, charity does not begin at home but in the office of central planning. Anyone trying to follow their religion and give to the needy must be made to pay the price.

When Sales Are Down, Do It Yourself

Jon Clinch got the attention of Jeff Kleinman at Folio Literary Management. He landed an agent. He got a publishing contract with Random House.

That's what any author dreams of. It's supposed to mean that you've made it into the ranks of professional author, writing and getting published full time.

Maybe it used to be that way, before the publishing houses were overtaken by bean counters who are currently flooding the market with mommy porn because they ride the trends to make profits.

Mr. Clinch submitted his second manuscript and Random House published that, expecting that his followers would snap up the book. Oprah herself touted the novel, which is publicity gold, but Random House and Oprah weren't operating on the same schedule. By the time the book was laid down, the public had forgotten about it.

As it turned out, sales didn't meet expectations and Random House wasn't interested in Jon Clinch anymore.

So when sales were down and Random House didn't know him, Jon Clinch tried doing it himself.

He went to CreateSpace and put out his third novel, using a pen name just in case his agent managed to convince some other publisher that Mr. Clinch still had some good stories in him.

Using his marketing savvy, he promoted and it sold. Not Random House numbers, but it sold just the same.

Mr. Clinch is set to release a fourth novel, the second one he's done himself.

And he likes the independence. He says he wouldn't go back to a major publisher, even if they offered him a contract.

Is this the future of publishing, or is Mr. Clinch serving a niche audience that the bean counters in the publishing industry don't care about because there's not enough money in it?

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Opening The Door On A Sale

One executive leaves and another....dumps one of the company's signature products.

In publishing circles, it has long been held that Marjorie Scardino, CEO of Pearson, had a particular affinity for a daily rag. She would not sell the Financial Times, even if Pearson wanted to restructure and diversify and grow. So she didn't.

She did turn the publisher towards educational materials, and found success. Through her efforts, Pearson expanded, and the bottom line grew alongside. Ms. Scardino, in fifteen years, grew revenues. She did her job and did it well.

For some reason, she has decided to step down earlier than expected.

Her vow to allow the sale of the Financial Times over her dead body is made moot.

Those who have long lusted after ownership of the pink-sheeted newspaper are lining up, ready to pounce. Ms. Scardino's replacement, John Fallon, doesn't come out of a publishing background. He's not emotionally attached to the financial daily.

If he sees a reason to sell it, if he can generate more profit by selling than keeping, he'll do it.

He has quite a task ahead of him to begin with, given the drop in purchases made by U.S. school systems in these times of budget cuts. How does a CEO get his firm's educational materials into such a tight market? If it takes dumping the Financial Times, to focus on core elements of the conglomerate, then it will be dumped.

In which case, will Mr. Fallon find any need to hang on to the Penguin Publishing group?

Can that be a distraction that takes away focus from educational publishing?

It isn't a case of solidifying a bottom line that is already solid. Mr. Fallon does not need to go in and hold a sale.

But if his forward vision tells him it could be rough seas ahead, that Pearson would best serve its stockholders if it focused on core content, there might be a couple of divisions put on the block. There isn't much excitement about Penguin, of course, since publishing isn't a highly profitable venture.

The real interest in the market these days centers on the financial sheet. And shifting it is one way for Mr. Fallon to make his mark and make it large. Sell FT over her dead body? What better signal to give the world that he's his own man, and the Marjorie Scardino era is over.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Non-Graduate

As shocking as it may seem, there are people who are just plain smart.

They have skills that they did not acquire by sitting in a university lecture hall for four years.

It goes against what you've been told, about getting a college education to land a good job. So when Abbott elevated one of their outstanding employees to a higher position, a man without the requisite bachelor's degree, the corporate world exploded.

Richard Gonzalez worked at Abbott's for a long, long time, and worked his way up to a position of authority that required his name appearing on corporate filings. For six years, the last six years of his employment, his CV claimed he had a couple of college degrees in biochemistry.

He moved up the corporate ladder based on performance, not what pieces of paper he earned, but no one seems to know why the record listed a bachelor's from the University of Houston and a Master's from the U.

Did someone think it was a good idea to make things look good, to show that the guy who was perfect for a higher-paying job wasn't violating common wisdom? Did Mr. Gonzalez pad his resume when a resume couldn't adequately reflect what he was capable of doing?

Mr. Gonzalez retired in 2007, but came back to Abbott, and his CV was fixed. Since 2007, he officially has no college degrees.

Now, without those marks of educational achievement, he's set to take over the helm of an Abbott spin-off company.

He's just a high school graduate with some college classes under his belt. And decades of work-related experience.

It's as if he....gasp...learned on the job. And made use of what he picked up along the way.

Abbott is standing behind their choice of CEO for their new AbbVie unit. It doesn't matter that Mr. Gonzalez isn't a degree-holding professional.

He is that rare creature, a self-made man who rose through hard work and persistence and perhaps a particular set of skills...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Over The Top For Jesus

Once upon a time, Irish children made their First Communion and their family had a little party to make it easier for friends and family to make gifts of money.

Which we were then expected to cling to as if our entire future security depended on keeping that Communion money well into old age.

Now you have to hire a professional photographer to capture the moment, which is not a simple affair at all.

For girls, the dresses have gone far beyond the basic white collection of frills with veil. Boys can't get away with a standard-issue suit.

And Archbishop Diarmuid Martin would like to see the back end of the excess.

This is a sacrament of the Catholic Church. It's time for the faithful (and the not so faithful) to celebrate it as such.

Good luck with that.

The average parishioner isn't going to Mass very often, if at all, so preaching from the pulpit won't reach them.

Then there's the competition aspect, which for some reason has hit at First Communions rather than baptisms or funerals. A wedding is one thing, and no one begrudges a bride the chance to dress up like a princess and arrive at the church in a stretch limo. But a seven-year-old child?

Where's the room for God in all that? This is about the Last Supper, and there's no evidence that the twelve Apostles dressed to the hilt. As for money, well, there were thirty pieces of silver involved but the guest of honor didn't keep it.

The Archbishop isn't against giving gifts to the children, which is a custom so ingrained that there's no removing it. What he's troubled by is the expense the parents think they have to go to, and when people don't have much money to throw around, it can put a hole in the budget that can put a strain on the parents.

For some parents, it's a time to show off how well they've done, which also puts strain on a married couple who haven't done well but don't want the neighbors to think they're struggling.

So it's all to come to an end by order of the Archbishop. Parishes will operate under new guidelines that encourage the entire family to come to Mass regularly as part of the preparation for First Communion. The parish, rather than the school, will be involved in the over-all process.

And there's not to be fake tanning or stretch limos involved.

Save that for the wedding.

Monday, October 01, 2012

There's Publishers And Then There's Publishers

You've written a manuscript but you don't know the first thing about getting it published.

So you turn to the wealth of knowledge that is the Internet and you come away more confused than every.

But chances are good that one of the first items to pop up in your Google search is PublishAmerica.

And one of the second things to pop up is a collection of links that warn you of the scam that is PublishAmerica.

Several authors who fell for the vanity publisher's snake oil took the firm to court, claiming that they were defrauded. They went into the deal thinking they had made a connection with a real publisher like St. Martin's Press or Knopf, only to learn that they'd signed a contract that cost them money in the end. 

The court in Maryland that heard the case dismissed it without prejudice, and allowed the plaintiffs to refile and try again, but make the matter at hand more clear. In the opinion of the judge, the lawsuit did not demonstrate that the plaintiff was a consumer suing a business. It could have been a business, i.e. the author, suing another business, which is a different sort of tort. The Maryland Attorney General handles consumer fraud, but were there consumers, or were the authors individual businesses?

Those authors could have avoided the disaster they wandered into if they had been forewarned about what PublishAmerica is and is not.

A Google search will turn up all sorts of complaints about the vanity press. There is an entire forum dedicated to PublishAmerica fraud over at, and all you as the writer with manuscript would have to do is read some of it.

If more writers did so, how long would PublishAmerica be able to stay in business?

Getting published is not as easy as turning to a company that touts itself on a website. And if all you're after is a place to create a few copies of something for family and friends, it couldn't be easier at which is run by Amazon. For free.

You've written a manuscript and you want to get published. It isn't an easy process. Don't get taken. You'll end up losing, and it's PublishAmerica that stands to gain.